Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 25, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, post-election madness continues, fear rise, a gold robbery takes place in Baghdad, and more.
"Two months after elections, the main political parties are no closer to forming a government, some progress has been made towards ratifying the results of the vote but the negotiations over the next prime minister might take weeks if not months," observed Riz Khan on his self-titled program last week (Al Jazeera, May 17th). "Iraqis are concerned that if either Shia or Sunni groups feel left out of the political process, sectarian tensions will rise again."  Yesterday, newly elected MP Bashar Hamid Agaidi of the Iraqiya slate was assassinated in Mosul. In the lead in to reporting by Peter Kenyon (NPR's Morning Edition) notes today, Renee Montagne observed, "One of the biggest fears in Iraq is that it'll be overtaken, again, by sectarian violence before it can form a new government. And that fear was reinforced yesterday after a newly elected lawmaker was murdered."   Iraq's not going to fall apart, it is falling apart and has been falling apart for some time.  Catholic Culture reports Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem delivered "The Middle Eastern Synod in Geopolitical and Patoral Context:"
The U.S. invasion decimated the Christian community. Before 1987, it numbered 1.25 million followers, mostly Chaldeans. Today they are less than 400,000. One of the great disasters of this century is the massive exodus of Iraqi Christians due to the insecurity and harassment of which they are victims. In Iraq, the war unleashed forces of evil in the country, among varying political streams and religious denominations. It has taken a toll on all Iraqis, but the Christians have been among the main victims because they represent the smallest and weakest of Iraqi communities. Even today, global politics completely fail to take them into account. This is in addition to other calamities that have struck the Christians of the Middle East in the past two centuries:                
The genocide of one million and half Armenians in Turkey in 1915;                        
The genocide against the Maronites in 1860 and the Lebanese Civil War caused the exodus of many Christians;                           
The constant emigration of Christians from the Holy Land for more than a century.
Meanwhile Vatican Radio reports that Erbil has a bishop after not having one since 2005: "Pope Benedict XVI appointed Redemptorist Priest, Father Bashar Warda bishop of the Diocese" and "[s]ince the outbreak of war in Iraq it has become the place of refuge for thousands of persecuted Christians from the south."  The persecution of the religious minorities has never stopped in Iraq.  It is part of the reason Iraq has the largest refugee crisis in the world.  And, in fact, for all the credit given to the "surge" and paying off Sahwa to stop attacking US troops and equipment, another reason why what's known as the "civil war" (ethnic cleansing) decreased may be due to the fact that so many who were being targeted fled the country -- over two million.  Equally true is that another approximately two million Iraqis fled their homes but remained in Iraq (internal refugees). 
A fear of being overtaken by sectarian violence?  It's that fear, in part, that motivates Kirk Johnson (The List Project To Resettle Iraqi Allies) in his work attempting to garner asylum for Iraqis who were US collaborators during the illegal war.  Johnson appeared on NHPR's Word Of Mouth today and told Virginia Prescott that the project currently has "a slate of several thousand names" of Iraqis they would like to resettle.
Virginia Prescott: Well what is the plan? I mean the US plans to have half of its 100,000 troops out of Iraq by the end of August of this year.  What is the strategy for the Iraqis left behind?
Kirk Johnson: Well right now . . . I hate to say it but I'm worried that the plan is wishful thinking. 
Asked for an estimate by Prescott of how many Iraqis are being discussed, Johnson revealed that the US has never kept a tally of how many Iraqis have worked for the US.  When the British left Basra, Johnson asserted, those collaborators with the British military were targeted: "There were Iraqi interpreters that were dragged through the streets to their deaths.  There was a single, public execution of 17 interpreters and their bodies were dumped in the streets."  Earlier this month, Johnson wrote on the topic at Foreign Policy in "Left Behind in Iraq."  Johnson left out an important development (it wasn't known when he appeared this morning) that will effect all Iraqi refugees including the ones his group wants to help.
Today the White House announced that Mark C. Storella was being nominated to be the US Ambassador to Zambia. This really is not the time for anyone in his position to be relocated (unless they're doing a poor job, we'll get to Chris Hill in a moment) and the White House notes:
Mark C. Storella is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.  He currently serves as the Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  He previously served as Deputy Permanent Representative and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva.  Mr. Storella was also the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  His other overseas assignments include Rome, Paris, Bangkok and a previous tour in Phnom Penh.  In Washington, Mr. Storella worked on the NATO and Japan desks, and as Executive Assistant to the Counselor of the Department of State.  He received his A.B. degree from Harvard College and an M.A. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Storella is the Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons at the US Embassy in Baghdad.  Johnson (rightly) worries that the US government has no plans regarding the refugees Johnson's concerned about.  Not only do they not have a plan but the go-to person in Baghdad, the US diplomat overseeing the refugee issue, is about to be transferred to another continent.
And for those left behind in the ongoing war?  Zeina Khodr (Al Jazeera) looked at Iraq's children who have lost their parents to the illegal war:
Zeina Khodr: Hameedd and Abbas are victims of Iraq's War.  Still traumatized from events three years ago, Abbas rarely speaks.  His brother tells their story.
Hameed Abed Ali: My mother had psychological problems, terrorists captured her, they wanted ransom and asked my father whether we were Sunni or Shia.  He didn't have the money.  They put an explosive belt around her and blew it up among worshipers coming to Karbala.
Zeina Khodr: Many have similar stories. Three brothers and a sister are among scores of orphans left behind due to killings and violence. They all saw their father taken by armed men wearing masks from their home in Diyala just over two years ago.
Moustapha Sabah Hassan: First of all they took my father from the house and after three days they brought him back tortured and badly beaten.  He died a few days later.
Zeina Khodr: Many of those who lost their parents in violence don't understand why they were killed and they have little understanding about the war and politics in their country; however, some of them fear for their future. They are aware of the world outside this orphanage. The realities in today's Iraq. Violence is still a part of daily life.
Social worker Intisar Shaker: Sometimes they're worried about the security situation. They ask me whether the terrorists will come and hurt them. We do our best to comfort them.
Zeina Khodr: But social workers and psychologists can only do so much. Shelter, food and care are just not enough for some to deal with the psychological scars.
Ahmed al-Amari of the Sayyed Hussein Sadr Institution:  Maybe after years, they will be able to get better and re-integrate into society but we have one child who has been here for three years and continues to suffer, sometimes cries for hours.
Zeina Khodr: There are others who just don't remember their ordeal. Ali is one of them.  He survived a car bombing in which his parents were killed in 2008.  But those who do remember wish they could provide safety they themselves didn't know.
Hameed Abed Ali: When I grow up, I want to be a police man. Police men protect people and, when people need help, I can  assist them.
Zeina Khodr:  It is children like Hamid who need assistance now. A whole generation that will have to reconcile with a past while trying to build a future.  Zeina Khodr, All Jazeera, Baghdad.
And for those lucky enough to be part of intact families?  Peter Kenyon (NPR's Morning Edition) reported today that the violence and the uncertainty "Hamed wouldn't call it a panic, but the families he sees are those who have decided to play it safe by leaving now - to Syria, Jordan, and sometimes onto Europe or elsewhere - at least for this period of uncertainty." On The Real News, Paul Jay spoke with Amjad Ali about life in Iraq currently. 
Paul Jay: Iraq has enormous oil reserves. The leaders of all these various ethnic factions are sections of the Iraqi elite who are fighting over who's going to divide up this enormous wealth. There's a lot to fight over, and it has been very violent in the last few years. What are the possibilities -- or how serious is the threat of civil war in Iraq?
Amjad Ali: Civil war is always on the verge. Iraqi people are always on the verge -- not the people, actually; those factions. As I mentioned earlier, the issue of armed groups, it's still there. Each faction has its own armed group and wants to get to a point that they cannot resolve their problem, their disputes, they resort to weapons, they resort to killing each other. And it happened just prior to the election -- a number of candidates were assassinated in Mosul. It happened in Baghdad prior to the election, when the government security forces went to Adhamiyah district, which is a Sunni-dominated area. They arrested a number of people there for no apparent reason. They were jailed, and they were released after the election. The election result right now, nobody got the majority. Nobody can form a government by himself. They are in the face of each other. Just yesterday there was a meeting between the Islamic Supreme Council group or faction with [Ayad] Allawi faction, Allawi who had 91 seats, who had the highest number of seats in the Parliament today. He said, I must -- and this is what -- I'm quoting -- he said, I must form the government because I do have the highest seats in the Parliament. The other faction, which is the Islamic Supreme Council, who formed another faction with al-Maliki, they are trying to be a mediator as to who's going to form what and what sort of government it's going to be, who's going to be the prime minister. There are a number of ministries or posts they are going to fight over, just like happened in 2005. The Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, they call it, the Ministry of Oil, the Ministry of Finance, these are the ministries that there will be major issues among these factions.
Paul Jay: It's often said in the American press that it's the American troops—and the U.S. says this quite officially as well, that they think it's the U.S. troops that are preventing this civil war from breaking out. So to what extent is that true? And if in fact the U.S. does leave at the end of 2011, is that actually going to create the conditions for the beginnings of this kind of conflict?
Amjad Ali: Well, actually, no, that is not true. The American troops were in Iraq since 2003, and we saw a version of sectarian conflict and of kind of civil war in Iraq. The American troops did not participate, did not prevent that. They were just watching the whole issue. They wanted to know -- this is what we think they wanted to know -- who's going to win in the end. They did not have a serious intervention as to be a mediator to solve this conflict. They never did that. And what happened, who settled that, and this is what we strongly believe who settled that, is the people themselves did not want to be part of the civil war. They did not want to be part of the killing and kidnapping. It is right that we saw a lot of people were displaced from their neighbourhood to somewhere else.
In 2007, Bully Boy Bush started the escalation ("surge") and did so, he stated, because it would provide the space for diplomatic developments and advances.  That never happened.
Ernesto Londono and Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) report that US diplomatic staff in Iraq no longer feel "overshadowed by their military counterparts"; however, as you read in, you grasp there's been no diplomatic surge, they're just referring to a tiny decrease in the number of US service members and, on the issue of Iraq descending into violence (as opposed to what today?), "U.S. diplomats say the oft-heard concerns of their military counterparts are unfounded. They argue that they are better suited to build on the security gains that the military helped achieve." The US military can't do anything. The Iraq War was illegal but the first step of the illegal war was a military mission: take out a leader. That was done. (Illegally, but it was done.) Everything since has not been a military operation. And the alternative is to have the US military continue to play mall cops for the next forty or fifty decades or to withdraw them. They should have never been sent to Iraq. There is nothing the US military can do. There's little the diplomatic team can do now either and that's thanks to Chris Hill who should never have been confirmed. You have to wonder how furious Ryan Crocker is when he looks at what he handed to Hill and what Hill didn't do with it? Chris Hill was never qualified for the post and the idea that the ass will remain in Baghdad -- continuing to create chaos with his personal drama -- until July shows that the diplomatic mission is still not a serious one. 
Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) notes that the MP Bahsar Mohammed Hamid al-Aqidi was buried today. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports, "Mr. Hamid's cousin, Mahmoud al-Qaidi, said two men approached Mr. Hamid's office next to his home at 7:45 p.m. and joined a meeting in progress with six others. After a few minutes, they drew pistols and fired, hitting Mr. Hamid with seven bullets, the cousin said. One gunman was reported arrested." Mu Xuenquan (Xinhua) adds, "Two killers were captured in the northern city of Mosul, the third killer escaped, but was wounded by police, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." Alsumaria TV notes that Bashar Hamid al-Ukaidi's driver was injured in the shooting and reminds, "Al Ukaidi is the second candidate of Al Iraqiya List to be assassinated in Nineveh. The first candidate was Soha Abdullah Jarallah Al Shammaa who was assassinated by unknown gunmen early February." Michael Jansen (Irish Times) provides this context:

The killing coincided with a call by the ministries of interior and defence to the electoral commission to disqualify two candidates who won seats in the March 7th parliamentary election. The first, from the Iraqiya list faces criminal charges, and the second, from the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), allegedly broke the law by standing for parliament while serving in the armed forces.
While the exclusion of these winners does not alter the result, the move shows that prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who continues to hold the levers of power, is not ready to admit defeat. His State of Law bloc, with 89 seats, was edged out of first place by Iraqiya, headed by Iyad Allawi, with 91.
According to the 2005 constitution, Mr Allawi's slender lead should have given him first crack at forming a government, but Mr Maliki mounted a blocking campaign which failed, leaving Iraqiya the largest grouping in the assembly. However, Mr Allawi has been unable to secure partners for a coalition commanding 163 seats.

Alsumaria TV notes that Ayad Allawi is traveling to Qatar on a visit "aimed to put Arab leaders in the loop of the situation in Iraq."  Allawi and Tariq al-Hashimi (Sunni Vice President of Iraq) were among those visiting Ayatoallah and an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers share this observation:
From my own point of view, visiting Sistani is the most obvious sign of failure. It represents the miserable condition of our politicians. Since the announcement of the elections' results until now, they could not reach an agreement about the biggest parliamentary bloc and I don't expect them to agree about it soon. Although the fight over the prime minister position is exclusively between Iraqiya list and State of Law Coalition but truth is much bigger. Its a fight between the Islamists' ideology represented by Maliki and the secular ideology represented by Allawi. The two men always say they want to create a new Iraq where law is the real master. yet, the two man ruled Iraqi and we barely noticed any changes in Iraq. Bribes and administrative corruption was common during Allawi's reign in 2005 and it was the same since Maliki became the prime minister in 2006.

Meanwhile today Baghdad has seen multiple deaths as a result of what Al Jazeera's terming "deadly gold robbery" as criminals "hit nearly a dozen stores . . . killing the store owners and planting bombs". Citing Ministry of Interior sources, BBC News states there were ten robbers and "They threw grenades and then made off with gold and money after shooting some of the shop-keepers, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad."  AFP notes the most recent big Baghdad robbery: "Eight police guards were killed in a massive bank heist in the Iraqi capital last July. The pre-dawn raid on a branch of Al-Rafidain bank saw the robbers make off with 3.8 million dollars, but the sum was later recovered."
And because some numbers matter, we'll again note this. Journalists like to hide behind numbers and claim that numbers are objective and they don't lie. They may not lie but journalists damn well do decide what to emphasize and what to ignore. If you want an example of how that works, note this CBS News story by David Martin, this ABC news story by Jake Tapper, and we could go on and on but those are two of the better reporters and if that's what the best are doing . . . . Are they lying about the number of troops in Afghanistan? No, they're hiding behind that number (fed to them by the Pentagon, no reporter did the actual work on the numbers) and avoiding telling you about other numbers.               

The most important number this week, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, is 171. That's the number of US service members who have died in the Iraq War since Barack was sworn in as President of the United States. "We want to end the war! And we want to end it now!" He hollered that often as tent revivals causing damp panties for many men and women. Now? End the illegal war now? He's been in office 16 months and the Iraq War drags on. The 'peace' candidate took office 16 months ago and has not ended the Iraq War, has continued it and is responsible for those 171 deaths.            

Now the Pentagon didn't supply that number. To get it, journalists would have to do what I did which was find out the death toll number when Barack was sworn in and then do the math. That may be more work than many of the well coiffed personalities are capable of. And certainly the fact the Pentagon isn't supplying that number makes it actual news -- as opposed to repeating and refurbishing the government's many press releases. Here's another number that matters but isn't being posted all over the place: The total number of US service members killed in Iraq to 4400. The 4400 number was noted by Hari            Sreenivasan on last night's The NewsHour (PBS).                        

The ease with which journalists rush to do the Pentagon's bidding (often out of laziness -- so much easier to file numbers the Pentagon gives you than to actually do the math yourself) makes it more jaw dropping that, as Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports this morning, the Pentagon is still working propaganda operations within the US:        

"It is essential to the success of the new Iraqi government and the USF-I [U.S. Forces-Iraq] mission that both communicate effectively with our strategic audiences (i.e. Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and U.S. and USF-I audiences) to gain widespread acceptance of core themes and messages," according to the pre-solicitation notice for a civilian contractor or contractors to provide "strategic communication management services" there.                     
Calling strategic communications "a vital component of operations in Iraq," the notice says one goal is "to effectively build U.S. decision makers' and the public's understanding of Iraq's current situation, future and strategic importance as a stabilizing presence and ally against terrorism in the Middle East."             

For propaganda the CIA weighed utilizing in the lead up to the Iraq War, click here for Jeff Stein's report. In other news, Waterkeeper Alliance's Kristine Stratton writes about the Gulf Disaster at Huffington Post (for 35 days now, the US government has allowed British Petroleum to oversea the disaster of their own making):
The implications of the BP oil disaster for the world are enormous - and far too great to be entrusted to a company with a history of environmental crimes, which is still on probation for some of them. The fact that BP will likely be named in upcoming criminal complaints and lawsuits is even more reason for observers to question their central role in response and their primary role in management of information.                       
White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton recently commented: "What we've done is worked with the responsible party to do everything we can to stop oil from leaking from the bottom of the Gulf and to mitigate the environmental disaster that we're seeing in the water right now. We are obviously working with BP because, frankly, they have the equipment that's necessary in order to get down to the bottom of the Gulf to help plug that hole."        
BP should not be in charge simply because they "have the equipment" - any more than the oil industry should be in charge of regulation simply because they "have the equipment." The devastating results of that approach are quite visible in the Gulf of Mexico right now. As recently as September 2009, BP lobbied Congress extensively in opposition to regulations designed to prevent exactly the kind of disaster that we are experiencing today.