Tuesday, March 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the counting of ballots continues, the US military announces another death, Gen David Petraeus is not in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (despite what some outlets are 'reporting'), he did offer curious remarks re: the draw-down, in DC peace activists are gathering, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- A United States Division - North Soldier died of injuries sustained in a vehicle roll-over while conducting a patrol in northern Iraq, March 15. Three other Soldiers were injured and evacuated to a military medical facility where they are currently being treated. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/, The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." Two service members were announced dead over the weekend (see yesterday's snapshot) and with today's announcement, the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War should be at 4385. ICCC has only 'discovered' one of the weekend deaths and not yet discovered today's so their count is currently 4383. Should this continue for long, we may switch to either AP or DoD's count.
Staying with today's violence . . .
Jim Loney and Robin Pomeroy (Reuters) report that twin Mussayab bombings have resulted in at least 8 deaths. BBC News adds, "Police told the BBC the devices - a type known as "sticky bombs" - had been magnetically attached to the underside of two minibuses carrying passengers." Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing left three people injured and 2 Baghdad roadside bombings left five people wounded. Lin Zhi (Xinhua) notes that the death toll for yesterday's Falluja bombing increased by 1 (to eight, twenty-five is the number wounded). Alsumaria TV also notes the death toll is eight from the Falluja bombing.
Reuters notes 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul and, dropping back to Monday, 1 Mosul store owner shot dead in his store.
Iraq wrapped up Parliamentary elections Sunday March 7th. The counting of ballots continues. Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Parliament constitutional term ends today." At Inside Iraq, an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy observes, "It looks that our politicians want to design a kind of democracy that fits their demands and wishes regardless the wish of millions of people who voted only to have a real national government that can provides their basic needs which they have been waiting to gain for decades." On today's Morning Edition (NPR), Quil Lawrence spoke to a dairy farmer in Falluja, Suhaib Munaim, who "believes that the Americans are trying to impose sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the votes won't make any difference." Quil notes that belief. With no sense of irony and with no sense of responsibility. Quil has repeatedly hailed Nouri as the winner for over eight days. If people in Iraq see Nouri as the US choice, maybe US reporters in Iraq need to take some accountability? Monday March eighth -- the day after voting concluded -- Quil Lawrence took to Morning Edition.
Steve Inskeep: Well let's remember here, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party was trying to maintain control of the government. That was one key question here. Do you have a sense about whether he succeeded?
Quil Lawrence: He seems to have done very well. I'm talking to people all over Baghdad as well as hearing reports from friends in the south -- but it's probably not possible for him to form a government without a couple of allies. [. . .]
The elections were for the Parliament. That's what the people voted for. The Parliament then decides who is Prime Minister. The votes had not been counted -- not even a partial return from even one province but there Quil and Steve were gas bagging on how Nouri would maintain control. Golly, Quil, why might Iraqis think the US wanted Nouri?
Thursday on All Things Considered (NPR) -- or maybe All Things Except The Facts Considered -- Michele Norris and Quil spoke.
Michele Norris: Fivce days after the polls closed in Iraq's general elections, the first preliminary results were released today and they confirmed what many had predicted. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to have done well, but not well enough to form a government without convincing a few of his opponents to join with him. And, as NPR's Baghdad correspondent Quil Lawrence reports, that won't be easy. Maliki's closest opponents from the secular bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi have already started claiming fraud.
Quil Lawrence: About 12 million ballots are being counted and then entered into two separate computer systems in a building deep inside Baghdad's Green Zone. Almost two days later than expected, Iraq's electoral commission announced results in only five of the eighteen provinces based on less than 30 percent of the votes from those provinces.
Grasp that. With less than 30% of the vote in 5 provinces -- not even half the vote in half the provinces -- it was time for more gas baggery about how Nouri was a winner! It never ended. It never stopped. Live by the gas baggery and you can die by the gas baggery. We didn't engage in it, we're not going to now. The ballot counting at present -- about 80% of the votes counted according to Reuters and McClatchy's Hannah Allam and Laith Hammoudi via Christian Science Monitor note that the votes counted make up 79% -- has the race much tighter than anything NPR informed of you. Gas bagging served no one. It was a waste of time. It will be a waste of time regardless of the outcome of the vote. Reporting isn't let's all make like we're on MSNBC talking to/shouting at Chris Matthews. In engaging in the gas baggery -- NPR was only one outlet to do so -- many messages were sent to Iraqis. The first was that the US wanted Nouri as prime minister. On this week's Listening Post (Al Jazeera), Richard Gizbert observed, "As they scan their new media landscape, Iraqis are under no illusions about what they see. They know the channels covering the elections had their favorite candidates as did the newspapers." He was speaking of Iraqi media. But Iraqis have every reason to think what they see in their media is similar to what goes on elsewhere. Please note, now forgotten, the HUGE number of young, first-time voters in this election. This was their moment and the Western press failed them. If the US press wanted to set an example of how to report on an election -- which includes facts and objectivity and distance -- they failed. Iraqis paying attention to the Western coverage learned that you don't need results before calling an election and that you could run with anything -- facts be damned. I have no personal preference on who is prime minister. I'm not Iraqi. But I know it does matter to them -- as it should -- and I know they got cheated by the Western press. Vote counting continues, that is known.
Also know is that Iraq's minority populations are targeted non-stop. This includes Iraq's LGBT community. At the end of last month, David Taffet (Dallas Voice) reported on Iraqi refugees Yousif Ali and Nawfal Muhamed who were in Dallas speaking about what they'd experienced in Iraq ("being kidnapped, raped, robbed and stabbed in Baghdad") for the 'crime' of being gay. After being designated refugees by the United Nations, the US granted asylum to the two men. Last Thursday, the US State Dept issued "2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" which noted the persecution of the LGBT community in Iraq:
During the year there were reports of discrimination and violence against gay men and lesbians, mostly by nongovernmental actors. Press reports in April indicated that approximately 60 gay men had been murdered during the first four months of the year, most of them in Baghdad. According to UNHCR, during the year approximately 30 boys and men from Baghdad were murdered because they were gay or perceived to be gay. On April 4, local and international media reported the discovery of the bodies of nine gay men in Sadr City. Three other men were found tortured but alive. Numerous press reports indicate that some victims were assaulted and murdered by having their anuses glued shut or their genitals cut off and stuffed down their throats until they suffocated. The government did not endorse or condone these extra-judicial killings, and the MOI publicly stated that killing men or lesbians was murder.
On May 29, Muqtader al-Sadr, leader of the JAM militia, ordered that the "depravity" of homosexuality be eradicated. Although he publicly rejected outright violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals, reports attributed the killings of gay men to radical Shia militias, as well as to tribal and family members shamed by the actions of their LGBT relatives.
Authorities had not announced any arrests or prosecutions of any persons for killing, torturing, or detaining any LGBT individuals by year's end.
Last May, Paul Canning explained , "The campaign started in 2004, following the religious decree of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that said gay mena nd lesbians should be 'punished, in fact, killed . . . The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing'. Since then Iraqi LGBT has received reports and information of over 600 LGBT people killed. But Iraqi gays and media reports say that the killings have massively escalated since the end of 2008."
We'll stay with LGBT issues but move over to the US for a moment. Gen David Petreaus appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee (as did Adm Eric T. Olson). The general was asked about Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the current policy in the military which is supposed to translate as 'If you are gay, you can serve but you cannot discuss your sexuality or personal life or loved one or much of anything. If you do, you're kicked out of the miltiary. Oh, but your surperiors can't ask you if you're gay.' Allegedly, President Barack Obama is going to keep a campaign promise and end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not anytime soon. Maybe at the end of the year
Ranking Member John McCain: Finally General Petraeus and Adm Olson do you believe that Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs a thorough review before action is taken?
Gen David Petraeus: Uh, Senator, my position is . . . Can I -- can I give my statement on that?
Ranking Member John McCain: Yeah. We're short of time. But please go ahead.
Chair Carl Levin: Well how long is this statement?
Gen David Petraeus: About eight minutes sir.
Ranking Member John McCain: No. No.
Gen David Petraeus: Well look sir this is not -- this is not a soundbyte issue.
Chair Carl Levin: I understand.
Ranking Member John McCain: It's a pretty straight forward question, though.
Chair Carl Levin: We respect -- we respect -- believe me the thoughtfulness that you are applying to it, we've read your public statement but an eight minute answer unless someone else wants to use all their time for it, I'm afraid would violate the spirit of our rules. I would suggest however that if nobody asks you that question and their time is used for that purpose that you make that part of the record. But someone may well ask you. I just don't -- because of our time limit -- to take eight minutes.
With that settled -- or seemingly settled -- Adm Olson was asked (by McCain) and he spoke a few words (but didn't press the button on his microphone) while nodding his head indicating "yes." Which, based on McCain's question, means he does believe a review is needed. After that, Petraeus jumped in.
Gen David Petraeus: I believe the time has come to consider a change to Don't Ask, Don't Tell but I think it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner -- that should include the conduct of the review that Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates has directed that would consider the views in the force on a change in the policy and it would include an assessment on the likely effects on recruiting retention morale and cohesion and would include an identification of what policies might be needed in the place of a change and recommend those policies as well.
Chair Carl Levin: And as I believe you said in my office the likely effects could go in either direction. The likely effects could go in either direction, I believe you told me, either negative or positive
Gen David Petraeus: It could. It could.
That is what was said. Some outlets are declaring Petraeus supports the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That is not what he stated. He stated he supports a thorough review before anything is done. And Levin's remarks at the end really nail that down -- which may be why they're not reported. Petraeus has only endorsed the study. We'll return to the hearing later in the snapshot. Yesterday Marcia wrote about Jene Newsome who was dischared from the Air Force for the 'crime' of being in a loving relationship with another woman. Robert Doody (ACLU's Blog Of Rights) provides background on how the police, while in Jene and Cheryl's home, saw their marriage certificate and dropped a dime on them with the Air Force. As Marcia rightly points out, this is NOT the compromise that was agree to in the early nineties. Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs to be tossed out (and all who want to serve should be able to). But it is the law now and it's not Don't Ask, Don't Tell, But Snitch. Jene's rights were violated under the policy. She did not go public with those she served with. She followed the policy and she's been punished for following the policy. Marcia notes this:
Congress.org has a page where you can contact your members of Congress to let them know where you stand on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Congress.org's Ryan Teague Beckwith provides an update, "After a week, more than 2,500 letters were sent, with 64 percent opposed to changing the policy and 36 percent in favor of ending it."
Between those numbers and the obvious reluctance on the part of many (put Petraeus on that list), the repeal is not a "done deal." And while it's in effect, it's not fair to expect Jene or anyone else to follow it but not demand that the superiors follow it. A snitch calls? So what. It's really not your business and, in order for you to make it your business, you have to be in violation of the policy because a 'tip' that leads to questioning means you violated the Don't Ask aspect of the policy.
Meanwhile 2011 looms around the corner. The Iraqi air force is not ready (as has been noted since 2007). The Congress continues to complain about the administration not sharing a withdrawal plan with them. (Michele Flournoy always offers such lovely excuses.) And people are beginning to grasp that if the US government wanted troops out of Iraq, they'd be out by now. Just last week, the Afghanistan War was debated on the House floor and the bill being voted on would have pulled all US troops out of Afghanistan by . . . the end of this year. And yet our 'antiwar' (or at least 'antidumbwar') Barry O's done damn little. Well that's not fair. He's done an amazing job of embracing and continuing the policies of George W. Bush. Michael Schwartz asks "Will the U.S. Military Leave Iraq in 2011?" (Huffington Post):
Like so many others who have been following the recent developments in Iraq, I do not have a settled opinion on what will happen to the US military presence there between now and the end of 2011, when the Status of Forces Agreement calls for the withdrawal of all troops (not just "combat" troops). For me, the (so far) definitive statement on this question by Obama was his 2006 election campaign statement at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where he firmly asserted the need to maintain a (approximately 50,000 strong) US "strike force" in or near Iraq to guarantee US interests in the Middle East, to allow Washington to move quickly against jihadists in the region, and to make clear to "our enemies" that the US will not be "driven from the region." (I am attaching that document, which I still think is the most explicit expression of his thinking on this issue.) In that statement he said that this force could be stationed in Iraq, perhaps in Kurdistan, or in a nearby country (despite the absence of nearby candidates).
Since taking office he has neither reiterated nor repudiated this policy, but his actions have made it very clear that he is unwilling to sacrifice the 50k strike force, even while he has also said he would abide by the SOFA and remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. In the meantime, Gates and various generals have released hedging statements or trial balloons (see the recent Tom Dispatch article by Engelhardt) saying that the 2011 deadline might be impractical and that various types of forces might stay longer, either to provide air power, to continue training the Iraq military, or to protect Iraq from invasion. Any or all of these could translate into the maintenance of the 50k strike force as well as the five (previously labeled as) "enduring bases."
Back to Congress on Iraq. The 'deadlines' for draw-downs and withdrawals were addressed in the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning in testimony from Gen David Petraeus. Also offering testimony was Adm Eric T. Olson. "By September 1st the US combat mission will end" in Iraq declared Committee Chair Carl Levin speaking of the planned draw-down. That something more might be coming was probably most noticeable with Petraeus' prepared remarks which, typed, ran 56 pages. Wait, he didn't read the whole thing outloud, did he? Olson noted that he'd submit his prepared remarks for the record and just make a few brief statements to which the Chair replied, "That'll be fine." Did Petraeus read his entire prepared remarks? No. He declared, "I too have submitted a written statement for the record and will summarize it here." He declared that. As opposed to everything else which he read word-for-word from a prepared statement. That is correct. Petraeus showed up with a 56 page statement and also with a written statement that was supposed to be more 'off the cuff' and 'brief.'
Brief? Eighteen minutes and thirty-four seconds after he began his opening remarks he used the phrase "In conclusion." A minute and sixteen seconds later, after referring to "our troopers" when he meant "troops" and "unvavering" when he meant "unwavering," he was finally done. Finally. Nearly 20 minutes for an opening statement?
In his written remarks and read-aloud-but-written (opening statement) remarks, he gave what he always gives. For example, does he ever speak of Iraq without offering "but the gains there remain fragile and reversible"? Senator Joe Lieberman noted that phrase as well. And during his exchange with Lieberman the issue of the draw-down was raised. "[. . .]" indicates I'm not interested in Joe Lieberman's Happy Talk of the illegal war and have edited him out.
Senator Joe Lieberman: [. . .] whether it is still going to be possible or we should desire to draw down to 50,000 American troops in Iraq by September 1st of this year? It's obviously not a goal, a draw down required by the Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq. It's a good goal but I'm sure -- you'd say -- you'd be the first to say, we don't want to arbitrarily go to it if we think there's risk of a reversal as a result. So give me your sense at this moment of whether we'll be able to get down to the 50,000 by September 1st?
Gen David Petraeus: I think we will be able to do that, Senator. I think that in fact we may reconfigure the force a bit over what we were originally were thinking it would look like say four months or so ago. We're constantly tinkering with it There's a possibility we may want to keep an additional brigade headquarters, as an example, but then slim out some of its organic forces and some of the other organic forces elsewhere. Headquarters really matter in these kinds because they're the the element of engagement. And if indeed we think there's a particularly fragile situation say in a certain area in the north, we might do that. And that's something we are looking at. But we still believe we will be able to stay on track to get down to that 50,000 figure.
Lieberman stated that would mean there would be a 7th Brigade headquarters and Petraeus agreed and that it would be somewhere around Kirkuk. Kat 's going to cover some of the hearing at her site and Wally will cover another exchange on the numbers in Iraq at Rebecca's site tonight.
Switching to Suzy Sority, the New York Times' Matthew Longo. A pampered child who, like all the brown nosers who came before him, goes for the easy applause from the adults by attacking other students. (Let's hope those undergraduates caught what the prissy grad student had to say about them.) Apathy, Matthew Longo has discovered it and it's here, in River City, right here in River City, with the young! They're apathetic and so disconnected from the war, unlike him, Longo wants you to know. It's the apathy of the young, he insists. So much easier to blame the people than to offer a media critique, right? Iraq disappeared from the media radar some time ago and only resurfaced in the last two weeks as a means for gas bagging over the (unknown) election outcome. But blame the people and not the media. What the brown noser can't find, Cindy Sheehan (Cindy's Soapbox) sees in DC:
Well, I have good news for all these people who have been lamenting over the lack of young people in our Peace Movement: they are out here at Camp OUT NOW on the lawn of the Washington Monument.
We set up our Peace Camp today (Obama flew over us in his helicopter twice) with very little glitches, except a few involving our permit and the Park Police. For the very first, very cold day, we had a solid 50 people, and the best news is, 25 of them are college students, and one of my organizers is a senior at Catholic University.
Today as I observed the young people interacting with each other and the other activists, I felt such energy and a renewed sense of real hope. For some people, the struggle for peace has lasted decades, even for me. I have been working so hard for almost six years now.
Students for a Democratic Society aren't apathetic. They released the following last week:
Funk the War 9: Bad Romance
Student power against Obama's recession empire
Funk the War, light the bed on fire, and break free from this bad romance!
Washington, DC. March 19, the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
Student mutiny against the War on Terror: Fund Education, Not War & Occupation.
Obama's got us singing like Lady Gaga, "I want your love and all your lover's revenge." Thousands of anti-war youth fell in love with Obama and dropped everything to build his campaign. He seduced us with promises of hope and change from Bush's abuses, all the while refusing to give up his lust for the War on Terror.
We've been together a while now and Obama keeps expanding the War on Terror in the Middle East and Central Asia. He's taking advantage of record youth unemployment and skyrocketing college costs to drag young people into a war we've got nothing to gain from. More soldiers trapped in the War on Terror are committing suicide than ever before. Obama, "Baby, you're sick."
March 19th is the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and the occupation's going strong. It's time to Funk the War, light the bed on fire, and break free from this bad romance.
"Walk, walk, fashion baby, work it!" DC SDS is calling for a massive student power dance party against empire to disrupt the corporate-political war machine in streets of the capital city. We refuse to let another year of war in Iraq and war on our youth pass by without resistance. Join us in the streets and help build an unstoppable student & youth anti-war movement in 2010.
Assemble your crew, practice your moves, and throw on them dancing shoes. We'll be hosting anti-imperialist education events, direct action trainings, dance floor mayhem, and smaller actions in the lead up to March 19th. Get in touch if you'd like to attend or host an event or if we can help support your resistance efforts: strategic planning, action trainings, logistical support, we'd love to help. We'll see you in the streets.
Upcoming events in Washington, DC:
[. . .]
* March 19: Funk the War: Bad Romance
* March 20: Mass march against the war; Funk the War post-action meet-up
visit us on the interwebs at dc-sds.org
phone: Sam 202-436-2075; Rachel 609-529-6415
Most likely, the problem isn't the students Matthew Longo encounters; the problem's Longo himself. March 20th, in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, marches against Obama's continued wars will take place. The wars continue. In an essay entitled "Changing the Dynamic" (World Can't Wait), Debra Sweet nails it. By refusing to force Bush out of office in disgrace -- he didn't even have the threat of impeachment hanging over his head (thanks, Nancy Pelosi) -- we're now stuck with this cloud of 'normalcy' lingering over his policies which Barack Obama has embraced and continued. Read the essay. We'll note this from it on what you can do:
You can join in and support this resistance now.
Sustain World Can't Wait's work! Help spread this national movement.
Join in protest Saturday March 20, marking the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Washington DC, noon, The White House, or other cities nationwide.
Become a War Crimes Watcher; help bring the Bush era war criminals to justice by protesting wherever they appear publicly.
Get involved with the We Are Not Your Soldiers Tour, bringing Iraq & Afghanistan war veterans into high schools to help students resist recruiters.
Finally, TV note. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
There are places in the world where the success of a soap opera is measured not just in TV ratings, but in human lives. On March 19 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW travels to Kenya, where ambitious producers and actors hope one such TV show, "The Team", can help foster peace amongst the country's 42 official tribes.
During presidential elections two years ago, tribalism-influenced protests in Kenya left almost 1,500 dead and nearly 300,000 displaced. Tensions continue today over issues including extreme poverty and widespread corruption.
In "The Team", soccer players from different tribes work together to overcome historic rivalries and form a common bond. The hope is that commonalities portrayed in fiction can inspire harmony in the real world. Early reaction to the show's inaugural season is promising.
"I was very surprised to see how Kenyans want change, how they want to live in peace and the way the responded to us," Milly Mugadi, one of the show's stars, noted during a local screening. "There were people from different tribes talking about peace and how to reconcile with each other... they opened up their hearts."
John Marks, whose organization Common Ground produces versions of "The Team" in 12 different countries, is cautiously hopeful. "You don't watch one of our television shows and drop your submachine gun," explains Marks, who says he was inspired by the influence of "All in the Family" on American culture. "But you can change the environment so it becomes more and more difficult to be in violent conflict."
Can this soap opera for social change really make a difference in stopping violence? Next on NOW.