Friday, April 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed by bombings, the US military announces another death, a new ruling knocks out an earlier one from 2007, and more.
Iraq was slammed today by multiple bombings. In the Iraqi city of Khaldiya, Reuters counts 7 dead and 10 injured in at least seven bombings. BBC News adds, "They were planted among several houses belonging to police officers and a judge." NPR also noted in hourly headlines that police and a judge were targeted. Khaldiya is part of Al Anbar Province which is Sunni majority. In the fall of 2006, Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily (IPS via Antiwar.com) reported on how children at the local school were so accustomed to the bombings that one "just outside the school" didn't even cause them pause. Noting anti-occupation sentiment in the fall of 2003, Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) described it as having a population of approximately 15,000.
The attack on the Sunnis has been tossed into the scrap heap because 8 dead in these bombings was no longer big or even moderate news for the cycle once Baghdad was slammed with bombings. Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) puts the number of car bombs at "at least five" and notes they went off throughout Baghdad, outside mosques. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) counts "at least 64" dead in Baghdad leading Moqtada al-Sadr -- whose supporters were among those targeted -- to call up the Mahdi Army (al-Sadr's militia) with the orders that they protect Sadr City. The regrouping of the Mahdi Army may have as much to do with the bombing today in Sadr City as it did with the reactions to and from Iraqi forces: "Minutes after the car bomb detonated in Sadr City on Friday -- as worshipers were leaving prayers -- residents began lobbing bricks and stones at Iraqi soldiers who responded to the scene, witnesses said. The soldiers opened fire in response, killing some and injuring several, according to some of the wounded and doctors in Sadr City." Though some may have found that news reassuring, others did not. Alice Fordham (Times of London) adds, "Fears that the attacks could heighten sectarian tensions reawakened by the elections were strengthened by a statement from Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist political and religious movement. He called, via a representative, for mosques to be protected by the Mahdi Army, the militant wing of the movement. The Mahdi Army, responsible for massive bloodshed during the worst years of sectarian fighting, has formally been disbanded." Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna (link has text and video) reports of the bombings:
Mike Hanna: A period of relative calm violently ended. In a series of apparently coordinated attacks bombs explode in six Baghdad neighbourhoods. There's no clear sectarian pattern as citizens are killed in both Shia and Sunni districts. The most serious attack though in the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City. There two car bombs killed well over 30 people shopping at the local market following Friday prayers. And intense anger among residents aquestioning how cars carrying explosives managed to pass through numerous check points to get into the area.
Sadr City Male Resident: The vehicle entered Sadr City without being searched. It is not acceptable when a car bomb goes off near a policeman. I think there must be a plot with the police. Why was Sadr City a target?
Mike Hanna: The escalation of violence follows what the Iraqi government said were major successes in the fight against the insurgency.
Jane Arraf, Sahar Issa and Mohammad al-Dulaimi (Christian Science Monitor teaming up with McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Iraqi security officials took the unusual step of announcing the death toll. In a statement run on Iraqiya television, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command said 54 people had been killed and 180 injured in the attacks in Baghdad. At least another six people were killed and 12 wounded by bombings in Anbar Province, an Al Qaeda in Iraq stronghold." Andy Winter (Sky News -- link has text and video) observes, "The deadly blasts came just days after the reported killings of the top two al Qaeda leaders in Iraq in what was seen as a major blow to the insurgency." Frank James (NPR) has posted the text to one of Quil Lawrence's top of the hour reports on the violence in Iraq today in which Lawrence notes Baghdad was slammed by car bombings and by motorcycle bombings and that "the blasts today may be in response to what Iraqi and American authorities have heralded as a hugely successful campagn to roll up al-Qaida's leadership." BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse offers this analysis: "Whoever did carry out the attacks, it is hard not to conclude that they were designed to inflame tensions between Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities at a time of political uncertainty." Sadr City wasn't the only area struck and Larisa Epatko (PBS' NewsHour) notes, "Other explosions struck the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, killing one person and wounding 12; a Shiite mosque in the northern Hurriyah neighborhood, where eight people were killed and 36 wounded; and the eastern neighborhood of Amin al-Thaniyah, killing 14 and injuring 36." NewsHour? No, it hasn't aired yet as I dictate this but remember they are increasing their online presence and they offer content throughout the day. Larisa Epatko's coverage is part of "The Rundown News Blog" for the program. Rebecca Santana (AP) terms it "the bloodiest day of the year in Iraq" and counts 69 dead.
In other reported violence today, Reuters notes 1 corpse was discvoered in Shirqat. Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A U.S. Soldier died of non-combat related injuries in Baghdad Thursday. 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." This brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War to 4393.
Today on the second hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Diane was joined by Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) and Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) and they addressed Iraq multiple times. We'll note this section at the start of the show (however, calls and e-mails promoted the topic to be revisted throughout the show).
Diane Rehm: This death toll in Iraq, two top al Qaeda leaders were killed. Tell us about it, Roy?
Roy Gutman: Well today's bombings show that even though the leadership has been decapitated so to speak, al Qaeda Iraq is alive and still has a lot of suicide bombers trained and ready to go and to attack. It's still so incredible to me. People at their Friday prayers in the mosques of Baghdad. I think it should just induce a certain amount of humility in the Americans and Iraqi officials who somewhat triumphantalist mood this week proclaimed that they had really broken the back of al Qaeda --
Diane Rehm: You know we've heard that before and now to have this kind of enormously effective retalitory effect, as you say, should bring some humility, Abderrahim.
Abderrahim Foukara: Absolutely, Diane. We've heard this before, we've heard it under President Obama and we certainly had heard it during the Bush administration and every time that they say they've broken the back of al Qaeda, they'll kill one or two top leaders and then they'd be replaced and things go back to business as usual. What's really sinister this time from the point of view of the plan that the Obama administration has to get out of Iraq is that all this mess now is happening in Iraq six weeks after the-the election. And six weeks after the election, the Iraqis --- We don't even know yet who's actually won the election. So if there was trepidation in light of the vacuum that happened post the 2005 election for several months before they actually got a government going, think about it this time. Six weeks -- we don't even know who the winner is.
Diane Rehm: Trudy, are they still counting ballots?
Trudy Rubin: Yes, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party appealed the count in Baghdad and the votes are being recounted there and, needless to say, this has encouraged other parties to talk about wanting recounts in their areas. This Baghdad recount should be finished in a week but it is important to say that al Qaeda here clearly has a strategy. You only need a handful of people to have a strategy like this and suicide bombers who come from outside and come in. And the strategy is to provoke sectarian warfare. I was in Baghdad just a week ago, and there were warnings that al Qaeda was trying to steal an airplane and fly it into a holy Shi'ite shrine, possibly the shrine of Iman Ali the holiest in Najaf. And, in fact, there were stories out of the Czech Republic that that might have been where they tried to get a plane and somebody was stopped there -- Iraqis. So there is a clear effort to provoke sectarian war. I don't think the country wants it, they are sick of it. But it will take a lot of careful manuevering for this election process to not spin off the rails. Right now the United States is trying to stand back. I think they're going to have to get more involved in mediation.
Diane Rehm: Now what about the questions of allegations of fraud and what's happening in terms of violence, do you think this could effect US decisions to move out, Abderrahim?
Abderrahim Foukara: Well we've had reassurances from the-the top brass of the US military in Iraq that it will not effect the decision to withdraw US troops. But those decisions were made when things looked promising that there would be elections in Iraq and that some sort of government would emerge -- even if emerges a little late -- that could take care of the security situation. Now we have this thing that's just been mentioned. You have Iraqi -- You have Prime Minister Maliki contesting the results of the election. Because of that, you also have [Aya] Allawi, his competitor, contesting the election now and demanding a recount in the south, you also have some of the Kurdish parties also demanding a recount in some of northern Iraq. So this whole thing seems to be unraveling and then you get the violence, the thing about al Qaeda and also about the prison that the Prime Minister was accused of running where inmates were alleged to have been tortured.
Diane Rehm: And you also have the case of Navy Seals accused of abusing a prisoner, Trudy?
Trudy Rubin: Let me say that I think that Navy Seal case is peanuts compared to previous cases. I really don't think that Iraqis are going to pay too much attention to the relase because, you know, after much bigger cases like Abu Ghraib and higher ups were not punished or the case where Blackwater shot up 17 people in a major square in Baghdad, you know this is really tiddly winks. I think the torture case has more possibility of upsetting people because there is -- there was -- a secret torture facility at the Muthana Airport Base where I was just nearby last week. And many Sunnis were held there and the key in this election situation is whether Sunnis feel they have sufficient place in the government. Let me add, my driver was tortured in that facility just in January and this is typical now of the problems in Iraq, he is a Shi'ite who protested against the killings of Sunnis in his neighborhood by Jaish al-Mahdi, Shi'ite militia men. He helped US and Iraqi forces to roll up those militia men and when the US pulled out the Jaish al-Mahdi got their revenge and they have contacts in the army and the police. And this man has been in jail for sixteen months and been tortured because he helped Americans and Iraqis. So I think Prime Minister Maliki, the other political leaders will have a lot to do to prevent sectarian tensions from getting out of hand and, as I said, I think the US is going to have to play a bigger role than they now want to do.
Roy Gutman: I wanted to come back to the elections if I could because -- and the recount because it is often assumed that Iraq being a third world country without a great tradition of
re-elections cannot conduct good elections. But the actual fact is-- and the record is -- that their own independent electoral commission has run very, very solid elections. It's true the politicians want recounts and what politician doesn't if he's on the losing end? But in fact, in the last -- I think it was the provincial elections -- I was there myself in Iraq some months ago and talked to commission members and they said of the 40,000 polls or polling places around the country in the previous provincial elections, only about, I think, 1% had general problems of -of too many ballots, or something going awry. So I think that part of the process is actually more in tact than most people realize.
Abderrahim Foukara: If the recount, at least in -- If the recount -- at least in Baghdad, which I understand represents about 20% of the vote, the overall vote -- if the recount gives an additional two, three seats to the prime minister Maliki who is, by the current results, is lagging behind his competitor Ayad Allawi by two seats -- If that happens, number one, we don't know how Ayad Allawi is going to react. Number two, and this has a very important regional dimension, Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite but because he canvased heavily among the Sunnis in Iraq, he gave hope to the regions of Iraq, the Sunni regions of Iraq, the Saudis among others, that if the government emerges in which he plays a very active role, then they could do business with the Iraqi goverment. As opposed to al-Maliki who is perceived by the Sunnis as being too close to Iran.
Diane Rehm: Could you end up with something like a mixed government? And if you did, what kind of power would there actually be, Trudy?
Trudy Rubin: I think that is the goal. It is certainly the goal of Prime Minister al-Maliki. I talked to one of his top advisors last week and he told me that their strategy is to try to bring all the blocs in. There are two major Shia blocs, one major Sunni bloc headed by a Shi'ite, a Mr. Allawi, and a big Kurdish bloc. And Maliki is talking to all of them. The Kurds have not ruled out going with Maliki. And there are probably Sunnis who might make a deal. There are all kinds of issues in place such as whether the president of Iraq, instead of being a Kurd as he now is, might be a Sunni, what cabinet posts -- The consequence of parceling everything out by sect and ethnicity; however, is going to be a government of patronage that really doesn't hold together and perform well. On the other hand, such a government might be necessary to prevent sectarian upheaval. And my guess is this is the direction it's going to go. The question is: How long will it take them to agree on a prime minister?
Reporting on today's bombings, Steven Lee Myers and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) note, "A member of Parliament from the [Sadr] bloc, Balqis Koli al-Kafaji, put the attacks in the context of several recent vents that she said contribute to the overall chaos here: the still unresolved elections, the controversy surrounding a previously undisclosed prison in Baghdad that held Sunnis from northern Iraq, and the government's claims of recent success in dismantling the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq, also know as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the main insurgent group here." The secret prison Trudy Rubin was referring to? Khalid al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Nick Carey, Michael Christie and Lin Noueihed (Reuters) report, "The unit that operated the detention centre reported directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, but officials denied any connection to or knowledge of the facility in Maliki's inner circle." And if that doesn't make you roll your eyes, how about this? They're reporting the prison closed down today. This despite claims that the prison was already closed since Ned Parker's "Secret prison for Sunnis revealed in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times) broke late Sunday -- including claims by Iraq's Human Rights Minister. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) offers this on the process post-election thus far:
Positions in the 325-seat parliament were split between four main political blocs, meaning that at least three of them would probably have to band together to form a comfortable majority. But six weeks after the vote, serious talks still haven't begun.
"I don't detect serious movement yet on the real decisions regarding government formation," says Ambassador Gary Grappo, political counselor at the US embassy in Baghdad. "I could envision a scenario where it might go relatively quickly and you could have something by early June but it could drag through the summer."
US and Iraqi officials say the political parties are willing enough to bargain that a coalition government could take almost any kind of form but will have a hard time overcoming their objections to the leaders themselves.
The Committee to Protect Journalism notes the disappearance of Iraqi journalist Saad al-Aossi who is "editor-in-chief of the critical weekly Al-Shahid." They explain:
Armed men entered al-Aossi's home in central Baghdad on the morning of April 14, seized his computer and took him to an unknown location, according to local and regional news reports. The identity of the armed men remains unclear; various news sources have described them as being a "mixed force" consisting of police and military elements, belonging to the Baghdad Operations Command, or to a special security force attached to the prime minister's office.
Colonel Qassem Atta, spokesperson for the Baghdad Operations Command, issued a statement today denying government involvement in al-Aossi's kidnapping and stating that he is not in government custody.
Al-Aossi's abduction from his home took place on the same day that military and police personnel conducted wide-ranging sweeps in multiple Iraqi cities of upward of 100 Iraqis under the pretext of a preventive anti-terror sweep, according to a report in the Qatar-based newspaper Al-Arab that quotes an unnamed Iraqi police official. The same unnamed source stated that many of the detained individuals are vocal supporters of Ayad Alawi, a political opponent of the prime minister. Al-Aossi has regularly criticized the prime minister's performance in his columns.
"We are deeply concerned about the safety of Saad al-Aoosi," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem . "The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must clarify the circumstances of his seizure by men reportedly belonging to the security forces, and account immediately for his whereabouts."
They are calling for answers. And, if pattern holds, they'll be among the only ones doing so. That's really the biggest problem and why Saad is missing.
Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister in April of 2006. Shortly after the Green Zone was nearly breached in a Friday attack, Nouri announced a number of programs. Many of the programs were already in place and he hadn't created them. I know, it's very difficult to imagine Nouri ever grand standing, right? But one of his rules was an attack on journalists. And, except for the BBC, no news outlet covered what he was proposing. Other outlets, including the New York Times, covered every plank of Nouri's proposals . . . except the one to do with journalism.
Nouri should have understood there would be a loud and public international rebuke. Instead, the message was sent to him that even the press didn't care if he went after the press. Which is how you get his forces aiming a gun at a New York Times reporter and pulling the trigger -- for a joke, you understand. He set the tone. Things weren't perfect before him. I'm not trying to imply they were. (And the KRG is its own region with its own issues.) But Nouri repeatedly attacked journalists and repeatedly got away with it.
Journalists were harassed. Rules and regulations were repeatedly issued.
He tried to do that with regards to the January 2009 elections and got a push back from the UN and many in the press (including the New York Times) which caused him to drop that list of demands.
But even now, when he's claiming journalists need to be registered for their own safety, there has been very little pushback against him. There should have been a huge push back. Americans should be aware of that. McClatchy Newspapers' Iraqi journalists have won many awards.
In October of 2007, they were awarded the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and McClatchy noted:
In introducing the six McClatchy reporters — Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa — ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff said: "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.
All 88 journalist murders over the last 10 years are unsolved, putting Iraq at the top of the index for the third year in a row. All but seven cases involve local journalists, the vast majority of whom were targeted by insurgents. The victims include Al-Arabiya television correspondent Atwar Bahjat and crew members Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi and Adnan Khairallah, who were shot on assignment outside the Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2006. There is a positive trend: For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion, CPJ documented no work-related murders in Iraq in 2009. (Four journalists were killed in crossfire in 2009.) Nevertheless, with an impunity ranking nearly three times as high as any other country, Iraq has posed unparalleled dangers to the press.
Impunity Index Rating: 2.794 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
This climate is encouraged when the message is sent to Nouri that attacks on the press are no big deal.
Turning to updates, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) notes the latest on a 2006 case:
A military appeals court has overturned the murder conviction of a US Marine in the 2006 killing of an Iraqi civilian in the town of Hamdania. Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins had been the only one of seven US servicemembers involved in the killing to receive a murder conviction. On Thursday, the verdicts were overturned on the grounds Hutchins' attorneys were improperly dismissed before his 2007 trial. The victim, Hashim Ibrahim Awad, was dragged from his home, shot, and then planted with a weapon to make it appear he was planning an attack.
For court documents, click here. Last week, we noted that Binghampton, New York would be getting a financial cost of war counter for Iraq and Afghanistan. That has changed. Kai Liu (Binghampton University Pipe Dream) reports, "Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan announced Tuesday that he would reevaluate his decision to install a digital sign on Binghamton City Hall that would display the cost of American wars."
TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), John Harwood (NYT and CNBC), Janet Hook (LAT) and David Shepardson (Detroit News). And Gwen's column this week is "Remember Dorothy Height" who passed away this week and Gwen and company have dipped into the archives to provide a 2003 video interview Gwen did with Dorothy Height. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Dona Edwards, Nicole Kurokawa and Irene Natividad on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week's it's the effects physical discpline can have on children (more likely to bully). For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
Boosting Brain Power
Competing Against Time
60 Minutes, Sunday, April 25, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.