Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The distraction that saved Nouri?

Late Sunday, Ned Parker's "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" was published online by the Los Angeles Times detailing Nouri al-Maliki's off-the-books prison where he was holding and torturing Sunnis. Michael Roston (True/Slant) reports:

This story was probably set to lead off foreign coverage this morning, especially with the results of Maliki's re-election fight against former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi still up for grabs... .until Prime Minister Maliki appeared on the scene to announce in a press conference that Iraqi commandos in a joint raid with US forces had killed two senior al Qaida in Iraq or 'Islamic State of Iraq' leaders. And then suddenly, it was as though the the secret torture site had never been uncovered!
You won't find reference to it in Tim Arango's coverage in the New York Times. Ernesto Londono elides mention of the Muthanna in his report for the Washington Post as well. And Yochi J. Dreazen steers clear of it in the Wall Street Journal, too. And of course it wasn't on Vice President Biden's mind when he touted the mission in a press conference today -- of course, hours after Maliki got to tee off the announcement.
But these reports do reveal a couple of crucial facts. For instance, the Post notes that the two leading Al Qaida in Iraq figures -- Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi -- were killed in an operation late on Saturday night/very early Sunday morning, i.e. less than 24 hours prior to the LA Times's newsbreak on Old Muthanna. And the Journal reports that DNA testing on the corpses of the two killed leaders by the American military had not yet been completed to confirm their identities. Is it possible that they weren't certain of who they had killed, or whether this was the opportune moment to announce it?

From yesterday's snapshot:

Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that a huge number of people are stepping forward to sing praises of the operation including Gen Ray Odierno (his comments are actually in the previous military press release we linked to above) and Nouri al-Maliki (we'll come back to the singers, the Three Tenors, if you will, in a moment) and she notes that the US and Iraq spokespersons are claiming that Abu Hamza Muhajr and Abu Omar Baghdadi were the two killed on Sunday in the US forces-led operation. US forces-led operation? That's me, not Sly. But let's be clear that if air power was supplied, it was a US-led operation. Baghdad's air force is non-existant and expected to be that way until late 2013 by the most positive estimates. So while the US makes those claims, Sly points out, "The Iraqi government has on numerous occasions claimed to have captured Baghdadi, and last year televised the confession of a man who claimed to be Baghdadi, to widespread skepticism. U.S. officials said privately they did not believe the man was Baghdadi, and some Iraqi officials said then the real Baghdadi was a man with the same name as that given by the U.S. military." Sly leaves out the fact that the press ran with that claim -- that false claim -- with very few exceptions. It was embarrassing (and we called it out in real time). But let's underscore that today we have confirmation that it was false and we know that the confession was false. Remember that the next time the Iraqi government parades a confession or makes an assertion. But he's not the only one they've claimed to have caught in the past. As Laura Rozen (Politico) reminds, "Al-Masri, an Egyptian also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, had previously erroneously been reported killed in late 2006 as well as in 2007." In other words, this heavily panted over 'operation' which netted 'two' 'evil doers'? Don't be surprised if six months to a year from now we're again being told that al-Baghdadi and al-Masri have either been killed or captured.

As Liz Sly and Laura Rozen explained, both men have been trumpeted as 'dead' and 'caught' before. Michael Scherer (Time magazine) observes, "The killings may hold more symbolic value for the Iraqi government, and the White House, than strategic value. Al Qaeda in Iraq has long been a weakened body, far less concerning to U.S. intelligence leaders than other Al Qaeda groups in Yemen and Pakistan." For audio on the story, you can listen to Quil Lawrence and Renee Montagne discuss it on today's Morning Edition (NPR).

Yesterday Little Nouri's foot stomping and sulking paid off and he got a Baghdad recount (which should take between eight to ten days). Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports:

The legal decision raised Maliki's hopes that his Shiite-dominated coalition would be awarded more parliamentary seats than his rival Iyad Allawi's secular bloc, which had stunned the nation by winning a slim plurality in the March 7 vote. But it also raised fears that if the results are overturned, Iraq's minority Sunni Arab population, which had turned out in large numbers to cast ballots for former Prime Minister Allawi's alliance, would view the elections as stolen and launch a new armed revolt.

Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "As political maneuvering continues over the election results, US and Iraqi officials say the key political parties have yet to begin serious negotiations on forming a coalition government. Before the election, Maliki broke away from his traditional Shiite partners, leaving both his coalition and Allawi's a broad range of potential political partners." And here's Noam Chomsky (via ZNet) on a US election:

The Massachusetts election in January, which undermined majority rule in the Senate, gives some further insight into what can happen when the center does not hold and those who believe in even limited measures of reform fail to reach the population. In the election to fill the seat of the Senate's "liberal lion," Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against health care, which Kennedy had fought for throughout his political life. A majority opposed Obama's proposals, but primarily because they gave away too much to the insurance industry. Much the same is true nationally.
One interesting feature was the voting pattern among union members, Obama's natural constituency. Of those who bothered to vote, a majority chose Brown. Union leaders and activists reported that workers were angered at Obama's record generally, but particularly incensed over his stand on health care. As one reported, "He didn't insist on a public option nor a strong employer mandate to provide insurance. It was hard not to notice that the only issue on which he took a firm stand was taxing benefits" for the health care won by union struggles, retracting his campaign pledge.
There was a massive infusion of funds from financial executives in the final days of the campaign. That was one part of a broader phenomenon, which reveals dramatically why Joe Stack and others have every reason to be disgusted at the farce that they were taught to honor as democracy.

And we'll close with this from Whitney Pandil-Eaton's "Protestor goes to court
Man arrested at silo to face federal charges
" (Minot Daily News) which was published Saturday:

James Richard Sauder, 55, of San Antonio, Texas, was arrested after allegedly scaling the fence of the H-8 missile silo southwest of Parshall to conduct a peaceful protest against nuclear weapons. He was initially charged with criminal trespass, a Class C felony, and spent the night in the Mountrail County jail in Stanley.
Special Agent E.K. Wilson of the FBI said Sauder has been charged with one count of federal criminal trespass and was taken into federal custody Friday afternoon. Wilson said a criminal complaint filed Friday morning was pending, but would not speculate on any additional charges.
Dressed in a green plaid, button-up shirt and khakis, under which ankle shackles could be seen, Sauder made his initial court appearance Friday afternoon at the U.S. District Courthouse in Minot in front of Magistrate Judge Charles S. Miller Jr. via videoconference.
Throughout the 45-minute hearing, Sauder repeatedly interrupted Miller by raising issues of jurisdiction, intent and his right to trial by jury, all of which were rebuffed until the appropriate hearing.
Sauder was appointed a public defender and was placed in the custody of the Attorney General until a detention hearing is held on Monday. He'll remain in custody until then in the Ward County Jail. No trial date has been set.

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liz sly
laura rozen