Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wendesday, March 17, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, ballot counting continues, a British court rules against the Ministry of Defence ordering them to pay the parent of a soldier who died in Iraq, Gordon Brown corrects his testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, the US Congress hears about what veterans and veterans' families need, Dennis does what's best for Dennis, and more.
 "The voting may be over," observes Jim Loney (Reuters), "but the March 7 parliamentary election viewed as a make-or-break moment for Iraq as it tries to emerge from decades of economic decline, dictatorship and war is far from over." The ballots counted thus far is still estimated to be approximately 80%. Al Jazeera reports that Nouri al-Maliki's party (State Of Law) are complaining of election fraud, stating the tallies are being manipulated. No concerns until al-Maliki's perceived lead was thought to drop. (Thought to. The ballots are still being counted.) Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) also note 80% of the ballots have been counted and state that the biggest vote getters thus far apper to be the Iraqi National Movement (led by Ayad Allawi and also known as Iraqiya) and State Of Law.  Alsumaria TV reports, "After counting votes of around 80% of polling sations till Tuesday night, figures showed former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in the lead by a difference of 9000 votes in comparison with Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki in all Iraqi provinces." These are preliminary numbers and unofficial.  Not only are they subject to change, they do not include the Iraqi refugees or the Iraqi security forces. BBC News points out, "The BBC's Andrew North, in the capital, says the picture could well change by the time all the votes are counted."  Xinhua explains, "However, the rivals on Wednesday are keeping their eyes watching the remaining count of about 20 percent of the elections votes that may either widen Allawi's margin or reverse the balance." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) adds that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc appears to have done well by the votes counted thus far and may even be the second most popular Shi'ite bloc in the election behind Nouri's political party. At War (the paper's blog) has video of Shadid speaking to Stephen Farrell about al-Sadr's bloc and another Shi'ite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has done very well in previous elections. (However, leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim died last fall of cancer and his son Ammar al-Hakim is the new leader.) Jason Ditz ( weighs in on al-Hakim's party.  Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) notes that the ballot counting is supposed to be completed tomorrow (that may or may not take place) and that a count will be known.  Reminder, this will not be the official (certified) count.  Spencer notes that as the unofficial count stands now, State of Law and the Iraqi National Movement would each receive 87 seats in the Parliament.  That would be 174 seats leaving 151 for other parties (there will be a total of 325 seats in the Parliament, up from 275. Spencer notes that an individual political party needs to win 163 seats to have a majority or else they need to enter into a power-sharing coalition with other parties to reach the 163 number.  The unofficial results thus far do not indicate any political party will be able to rule without entering into a power-sharing agreement.  That was expected before the election (though some gas bags on March 8th tried to insist Nouri's party was likely to win enough seats to rule without a power-sharing agreement.)

 Should the trend continue in the remaining 20% of the ballots and should it hold in the official count, each party end up with 87 votes, to reach the magic number of 163, one of them would need to grab 76 seats out of the 151 seats remaining.  151, point, is 76 plus 75.  If the current vote holds and the official vote is similar, there could be some intense negotiations as each of the two parties rushed to form a power-sharing agreement with other parties.  Potentially even the minority candidates could wheel and deal -- such as the 5 seats that will go to Iraqi Christians.  That's not gas bagging, by law, the Iraqi Christians are guaranteed 5 seats in this Parliament.  3 other seats are guaranteed to religious minorities. The Yazidis in Nineveh Province are guaranteed one seat, the Shabakis in Nineveh are guaranteed one seat and, in Baghdad, the Saibis are guaranteed one seat.  Kadhim Ajrash, Caroline Alexander and Henry Meyer (Bloomberg News) quote Control Risks Group's Julien Barnes-Dacey stating, "It is up to Maliki and Allawi to make the best offers. No one is showing their cards yet because the full results have not yet emerged and they are going to wait and see what they are offered."  Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observed earlier today, "A narrow lead would make it harder for Maliki to garner allies he needs to form a coalition government." And substitute Allawi for al-Maliki in that sentence because it's true of both of them.  And, should there be a major upset in the official count, true of a third party as well.
If the results are similar but not exact, say side A ends up with 6 extra seats, it could be the 'winner' but not the group to end up with the power-sharing coalition that puts it in charge.  Andrew England (Financial Times of London) explains, "It is not even guaranteed that the victorious coalition, or 'list', will form the government as no side will have an overall majority, meaning there will be weeks or months of political bargaining."  Jim Loney and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) run down election possibilities here.
To claim that the war is a success because we established something that looks like democracy is an interesting one to make. First, it presupposes that an establishment of democratic principles in the region is an actual goal of American foreign policy. This is clearly not true, as seen by our relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and the Gulf States–we don't pressure those folks too much about their democratic principles. Secondly, it presupposes that the only(or certainly the most effective) way to bring democracy to the Middle East was to invade Iraq. This, I think, is a claim that should be subject to debate, and the winning argument should be pretty obvious. Perhaps we could have used our economic leverage with our above mentioned allies to push them towards democracy first, and maybe then that would have the "democratic domino" effect on Iraq, all while avoiding a war!
Meanwhile Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) scoops everyone by discovering "A Strategic Plan to Improve the Political Position of the Islamic State of Iraq:"
The 55 page document, published under a pseudonym, is a remarkably frank "lessons learned" analysis which does not shy away from identifying where the ISI's strategy went wrong.   It's not an "official" document, whatever that means, but it's fascinating nonetheless and demonstrates some deep thinking about the fortunes of the Islamic State in Iraq.    It explains its setbacks, which it argues came at the height of its power and influence, on what it calls two smart and effective U.S. moves in 2006-07: an effective U.S. media and psychological campaign, which convinced many that the "mujahideen" had committed atrocities against Iraqis and killed thousands of Muslims; and the Awakenings, achieved through its manipulation of the tribes and the "nationalist resistance."   The document doesn't mention the "Surge" much at all, at least not in terms of the troop escalation which most Americans have in mind.         
Building upon a lengthy post-mortem on the Awakenings and the media campaigns, the Strategic Plan sets out a detailed agenda for the coming years during and after the U.S. withdrawal.   It calls the coming war "a political and media war to the first degree", with the winner "the side that best prepares for the period following the withdrawal."  It recognizes that the Islamic State can not control all of Iraq through military force alone, and that only a wise political strategy can succeed.  It then offers a detailed five point plan, including a process to unify the ranks of the jihad, in part by reaching out to the old nationalist resistance and convincing them to return to the fold;  detailed military preparations, including recommendations to conserve men and resources until the right time; and an enhanced media operation designed to rebut the most damaging charges against the Islamic State and carefully tied to a coherent political strategy.  Perhaps its most striking concept is a detailed plan for creating "Jihadist Awakenings", mimicking the U.S. engagement of the tribes to create broader popular support.  
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes an Abu Ghraib bombing which injured two children.
 AFP reports that Iraqi Christian Sabah Gurgis was shot dead by unknown assailants in Mosul. This appears to be the latest in another wave of persecution of Christians in Mosul. Reuters notes a Baghdad shooting resulted in a Human Rights Ministry official being wounded.
Turning to England and legal news.  Robert Thomson died serving in Iraq at the age of 22 on January 31, 2004 in what England's Ministry of Defence termed "a tragic accident."  A court of law begs to differ.  BBC News reports that a British military inquiry "blamed Mr Thomson" for the "tragic accident" (he was buried alive when the trench he was in collapsed) but the Court of Session overruled that and awarded Margaret Valentine forty-two thousand pounds (US equivalent: approximately $64,398). His mother is quoted stating, "It has taken six years and it was never about the money. Money would never bring him back, supposing they gave me forty-million pounds. My laddie died a horrific death. He struggled to get out [of the trench] but couldn't. It was about getting here, a judge ruling that there was negligence. It was totally unsafe work and there was no regard for his safety. I always knew he never entered the trench of his own volition."  Still in England, Gordon Brown testified to the  Iraq Inquiry March 5th. Miranda Richardson and Ruth Barnett (Sky News -- link has text and video) report that while taking questions on Wednesday Gordon Brown's claim to the Inquiry that when he was Chancellor (under Tony Blair) defense spending rose each year ("in real terms") and confronted, with it today, Brown admitted he had mispoken.  [PDF format warning] Sky News has posted the letter from Brown here. Richardson and Barnett point out, "The four-page document does not acknowledge that the Prime Minister made an error in the way he described defence spending." Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) gets the last word on Brown's letter, "It is typical Brown -- no admission of error, no apology, a lot of spin. It may be Brown's way of limiting the political damage, but to puff such a letter out with so much spin must have seriously alienated the Inquiry."  Polly Curtis and Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) explain, "The prime minister was forced to correct his official evidence to the Chilcot inquiry -- which he repeated just last week in the commons -- after Ministry of Defence figures revealed that once inflation was accounted for, the budget declined in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2007. The revelations are particularly damning because some of the real-term cuts spanned years when the armed forces were at war in Afghanistan and Iraq."  James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) terms the incident "an embarrassing retreat". Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) observes, "The truth was extracted by Tony Baldry (Con, Banbury), who put his question in an unhysterical but assertive manner. Mr Baldry spoke along the lines of 'come on now, there's a good boy, say you're sorry, then we can all start afresh and nothing more will be said of the matter'. Mr Brown hated admitting it. Shades of a child drinking its spoonful of cod liver oil."   Cathy Newman (Channel 4 News) quotes MP David Cameron offering his thanks to Brown, "In three years of asking the prime minister questions I don't think I've ever heard him make a correction or retraction." Nico Hines and Philippe Naughton (Times of London) note that Brown's correction still wasn't accurate since he claimed that it was only one or two years that his statements were incorrect: "In fact, it fell in three separate years, according to figures compiled by the House of Commons library -- four years if 1997/98 is included, although the financial year had already started when Labour came to power." Jon Craig (Sky News) wonders what other things Brown might "own up to between now and election day?" 
Monday the US House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing which started a little after 5:30 p.m. There wasn't space for it in yesterday's snapshot so we'll pick it up now.  US House Rep Susan Davis is the Chair of the Subcommittee, Joe Wilson is the Ranking Member.  Appearing before them were the National Military Family Association's Kathleen Moakler, Dr. Barbara Cohoon, Kelly Hruska, Candace Wheeler and Katie Savant.  Chair Davis explained at the opening that the "hearing is a review of the priority legislative initiatives needed to support military families. We have asked the National Miliatary Family Association, the association with the greatest expertise regarding family issues, to help us understand how the Congress can best assist our military families."  Various issues were raised, including housing on Guam by US House Rep Madeleine Z. Bordallo.  We'll emphasize the following exchange:
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: For any of you, I'd like to ask, it's been mentioned in the testimony that there are redundancies in military programs and some programs don't meet the needs of today's military families. Are there any programs existing today in your opinion, that should be terminated? If so what are they?
Kathleen Moakler: Well I think we need to look at the myriad of services that are provided by each of the services and especially in the area of information and referral.  It seems like people are starting up new programs to collect information from community sources and get them out there for military families but there's so many areas to choose from that it gets confusing. So if there could be one list. The National Resource Directory is a good start. That'd be a purple list. We are all about having purple programs for families.  Not that they would lose their individual individuality but sometimes too many resources can be confusing.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And the internet could be a real resource to help cut through, so you can find it for a particular community.
Kathleen Moakler: Yes, you could put in your zip code and find out where these resources are.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And to me, again, it's exciting that they're so available technologically for families. Another recommendation has been to establish a unified joint-medical command structure within DoD.  Can you explain how that would be helpful?
Dr. Barbara Cohoon: That would be me.  On this particular one. I handle health care for our organizations. What we're talking about right now we're dealing with the funding happens under 3 different srevices rather than it being joined and we're looking at what's happening with the national capital region and how that's rolling out. And as we're looking at programs that are rolling out sometimes the best practices aren't necessarily shared across. And as we've seen up at the national capitol region where you'll have Army and Navy working together and then down in the San Antonio region you have Air Force and Army working together -- the ability to be able to share resources so you're purchasing the same equipment, you're teaching your staff as far as utilizing the same policies would go a long way as far as keeping down cost but also improving the quality of care through efficiencies but also as far as patient safety .
Joe Wilson: And another example would be the Uniform Services University which is a joint-service university. And since one of my sons [Add Wilson]  is a graduate, I know it's a great institution. So I hope we can possibly look into what you suggest.
Dr. Barbara Cohoon: We'd look forward to working with you on that.
Joe Wilson: That'd be great. And then for anyone who would like to answer, it's been suggested the system of multi-layered case managers for wounded service members and their families may be aggregivating the delivery of necessary services to the families. How would you streamline the process to make it more effective.
Dr. Barbara Cohoon: What we're seeing again is all the services are rolling out their own programs and their own level of case managers. The VA's doing the same thing, also we have DoD doing the same thing.  And our families are getting confused as far as who do you go to for what when?  So we've been asking for maybe a report to take a look and I knew the GAO was looking at the Federal Recovery Coordinators to see how effective they're being, but also we need to look at the Recovery Care Coordinators and everyone else. What we're finding is that the families sometimes aren't aware that certain case managers are available that they could utilize -- i.e. the Federal Recovery Coordinators -- or that they're in the VA and now they could be using the VA Case Managers and instead they're still utilizing the services on top of that. So there are a lot of great programs but we want to make sure that we take a look that we haven't added so many on that it's getting confusing for the families.
Joe Wilson: Well your organization serves such a vital function as a safety net and as a means of providing assistance to families and so I hope you'll continue that effort and I'm particularly concerned about persons going from DoD to VA care -- that that be as seamless as possible and without a hiccup so that people receive services with nobody to fall between the cracks so thank you very much for your time.
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and Kat covered it at her hearing last night in "Senate Armed Services Committee," while Wally covered it in "Saxby Chambliss wants clarification" at Rebecca's site and Ava covered it in "Guantanamo, Bagram" at Trina's site.
Individuals, organizations and groups are gearing up for the demonstrations Saturday against the wars Barack Obama now owns. DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco have scheduled demonstrations. One organization participating is A.N.S.W.E.R. and they note:

In just days, we will be taking to the streets! We are hearing from people all over the country who are coming to bring their message to D.C., and we want to share with you some of the plans and ways that you can make an important contribution to the impact of the March 20 National March on Washington to demand "U.S. Out of Afghanistan and Iraq Now!"             

Visual Impact       

As always, there will be thousands of printed and handmade signs. We will also be making hundreds of coffins with flags representing the multinational victims of U.S. wars of aggression, and many people are bringing coffins that they are making themselves. You can help make and carry coffins in the march by arriving at Lafayette Park between 10 a.m. and 12 noon.            

In just days, we will be taking to the streets! We are hearing from people all over the country who are coming to bring their message to D.C., and we want to share with you some of the plans and ways that you can make an important contribution to the impact of the March 20 National March on Washington to demand "U.S. Out of Afghanistan and Iraq Now!"      

Visual Impact                  

As always, there will be thousands of printed and handmade signs. We will also be making hundreds of coffins with flags representing the multinational victims of U.S. wars of aggression, and many people are bringing coffins that they are making themselves. You can help make and carry coffins in the march by arriving at Lafayette Park between 10 a.m. and 12 noon.              

You can also bring visuals that are specific to the stops on the march. We will be marching from the White House to the offices of Halliburton, Washington Post, Mortgage Bankers Association of America, National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.          

For example, Cheney puppets would be great to have when we go to Halliburton. You might want to bring a copy of the Washington Post to return to their doorstep since it's functioning as pro-war propaganda rather than real news. Think about each stop and be creative!                            

Be Seen AND Be Heard     

We'll have speakers on the rally and march, and of course we'll be chanting. We also want to have as many drums as possible, so we are encouraging everyone who can to bring a drum (or a bucket or other implement on which you can drum). The drums should have straps so you can hold them while at the rally and on the march.                  

If you are not able to bring anything, don't worry. You can pick up a sign when you arrive.              

The plan had been to note a hearing and to note a report released but those we'll wait (or maybe never appear here.)  Reality: If women don't make a point to note things to do with women, usually no one else steps up to the plate.  Hillary Clinton, for example, had an incredible proposal regarding funding for breast cancer research when she was running in the Democratic Party primaries and the press ignored it.  One of the few to cover it was a woman at the Boston Globe. -- a tiny bit of coverage. That's only one example. [Click here for real time commentary on the way the press buried it.]  Let's stay with the Globe.  When you're talking about women in the service or female veterans who have been the victim of sexual assault, you don't go to a man who's never been sexually assaulted for your quotes.  You go to a woman.  It's basic but at the Globe no one thought before they wrote an article allegedly about sexual violence aimed at women in the military and spoke to men in the military but forgot to speak to women.  Now we could go to any outlet and do that, note where a woman stepped up and where a man wrote women of the story (even when they were the story).  We don't note everything of Women's Voices, Women's Vote.  This community (including me) supports single-payer, universal health care and not Barack's BigBusinessGiveAway (see Betty last night for the most recent community commentary on that).  So we don't break our necks to include that sort of thing.  But they've released a new report and we'll will note their press release in full:

There's legislation now before the 111th Congress that would dramatically advance the economic security of unmarried women -- a fast-growing group that is not recognized or understood by the nation's lawmakers.  

That was the message today for the standing room-only crowd gathered for the release of a joint comprehensive report by Women's Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) and the Center for American Progress (CAP).  The report
"Advancing the Economic Security of Unmarried Women,"  details the legislation before this session of Congress that, if enacted, would lift the lives of unmarried women.   

In addition, WVWV released a summary of a demographic report that details a seismic shift in America since 1960 -- the move from a nation of married couples to a nation of unmarried people.  (To download copies of the legislative report and demographic report summary, click on the link below.) 

Advancing the Economic Security of Unmarried Women 

Unmarried America 2010:  The Status and the Importance of Unmarried America  

"Today, more than 45 percent of all Americans are unmarried and almost half of all women are unmarried -- widowed, divorced, separated, or never married.  But policymakers have failed to recognize this new definition of the American family or the economic disparity between married and unmarried women,"    explained WVWV founder and President Page Gardner. Unmarried women "are already half of all women, burdened and un-served by a set of policies designed for the America of 50 years ago.  That's why WVWV and CAP have joined in this groundbreaking effort to help elected officials understand that our government's policies must meet the needs of all Americans, regardless of marital status." 

(To download Page Gardner's presentation,  click here.)  

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the author of the Paycheck Fairness Act, also participated in the event and called on Congress to enact legislation that will help unmarried women.        

The legislative report focuses on key areas that would benefit unmarried women economically, including bills that would increase the minimum wage, access to job training and higher paying jobs, expanding the definition of family and increasing funding for child care.           

complete demographic report will be available on Thursday March 18, 2010 at 12:00pm.               

The 57-page report -- I'm leaving off "about the authors" and pages that follow it in my count but counting the appendix -- ends with an easy to follow appendix entitled "Laws and legislation discussed in this report" offering break downs of bills (and who sponsored them) for categories such as "Equal pay, better pay," "Child care and early education,"  housing, and both paid and unpaid family leave bills. On health care, more work should have been done -- IS ANYONE GOING TO DO THIS WORK? -- explaining how the working poor and slightly higher will be effected under ObamaCare.  The extreme poor and the poor are covered.  The people -- especially single mothers -- who are just keeping their heads above water right now -- how would ObamaCare effect them?  As Betty pointed out last night, a parent will postpone their own insurance to ensure that their child's needs are taken care of but, under ObamaCare, you're no longer able to make that choice.  It's an in depth report and worthy of much praise but I want to be clear before someone e-mails we DO NOT support ObamaCare and we do not support the 'findings' in this study on it.  Working women have been completely left out of this conversation and how working women will be hit if this passes isn't something that the press cares a great deal about.  But, hey, remember, it was the New York Times that told us the way to judge ObamaCare was by how it provided for prostate cancer -- a disease no woman will ever get.  But the paper thinks that's how you judge a health care plan or plan for reform of health care.  By how it treats the men. [Click here for real time critique and scroll way down into the entry.]
While we're on the subject of Obama's BigBusinessGiveAway, if you're a community member and you wrote me about Dennis Kucinich, I either wrote you or had someone write you one line: Dennis does what's best for Dennis. If you're not a community member but are a regular reader who e-mails often, you may have gotten that reply as well.  A number of people also wrote community sites and, when asked by anyone if they should include Dennis' 'brave' stand at their sites, I said, "Dennis does what's best for Dennis." Yes, Chris Floyd wrote a powerful piece.  But what's the point?  Dennis does what's best for Dennis.  Today he held a press conference to announce his caving.  He was going to stand tall, he was going to stand brave.
In 2004, as Rebecca loves to share, she and I were at the DNC convention in Boston and a young woman (college age) came up in tears because Dennis had sold out the peace movement.  I told her he wasn't worth her tears, that he was a little s**t (and he is) and that "Dennis does what's best for Dennis."  Dennis has no spine.  It's a myth.  If Nancy doesn't pull the chain around his neck, Dennis stands tall.  But you better believe when Pelosi snaps her fingers, Dennis falls in line.  I've seen it happen too many times. That is not why I didn't join others in 2007 (others in the community) in endorsing Dennis.  I didn't think I should endorse any one candidate for president. (This community has Democrats, Greens, Socialist, Communists, independents, swing voters and never-going-to-vote-for-any-of-the-bums.  It's not my place to offer an endorsement in that situation.)  We treated Dennis like a real candidate until he demonstrated that "Dennis does what's best for Dennis."  He did that by handing his delegates to Barack in Iowa, remember?  Peace man Dennis.  He did that.  Dennis does what's best for Dennis.  You should learn to take anything he says with a grain of salt and you should never, ever depend upon him keeping a promise no matter how many times he makes it publicly.  Dennis, all together now, does what's best for Dennis. Should this cite not be dark when the next Democratic Party primaries take place and should Dennis run again, we won't play fair this time.  He's demonstrated over and over again that he's not a real candidate and we won't bother to cover him.  It was fine to do so in 2008 because so many members thought he did something, thought he stood for something.  And he did what he always does which is prove you can't count on him for anything.  Having wasted time covering him once in the site's existence, I have no desire to do so again.  Bye-bye, Dennis.
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.