Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the cost of the illegal war continues to rise, Ayad Allawi outlines his strategy, Obama and Odierno meet up, and more.
We'll start with some of the financial costs of the Iraq War for the US. The Institute for Public Accuracy issued the following today:
Comerford is executive director of the National Priorities Project, which analyzes budget choices. She said today: "Over the weekend, the National Priorities Project Cost of War counter -- designed to count the total money appropriated for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- passed the $1 trillion mark.
"Taxpayers in Natick, Massachusetts have paid $206.9 million for total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. For that amount, instead of implementing a proposed 4 percent cut for Natick's libraries in 2011, the town could double its total current library budget, and pay for it for 56 years.
"To date $747.3 billion has been appropriated for the U.S. war in Iraq and $299 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The pending supplemental making its way through Congress will add an estimated $37 billion to the current $136.8 billion total spending for the current fiscal year, ending September 30."
See NPP's Cost of War counters.
For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020 or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. To form the next government, the magic number is 163. No political party or slate reached that number. The leading slate was Iraqiya which won 91 seats. They were followed by State Of Law (Nouri al-Maliki's slate) with 89 seats, the Iraqi National Alliance with 70 seats and the Kurdistan Alliance with 43 seats, minorities have 8 seats, Gorran has 8 seats, Iraiq Accord Front has 6 seats, Unity Alliance of Iraq has 4 seats, Kurdistan Islamic Union has 4 seats and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan has 2 seats. Speaking on BBC's HARDtalk today, Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi outlined a strategy though talk of and focus on the violence may have prevented some from absorbing that.
Ayad Allawi: This is what we are seeing now. There is, again, a new trend of sectarianism emerging in the country which can be -- which can be very bad and this is causing a lot of violence already.
HARDtalk: Do you understand those Shi'ites though who say, "Look we were ruled by Sunni regime, we were ruled by Saddam Hussein. We know that your party is backed heavily by Sunnis and we just don't want to go down that road again. We're not willing to take that risk."
Ayad Allawi: No -- Well, uh, you know, it's uh, the-the Iraqiya is Sunni and Shia, it's not --
HARDtalk: No, but you were heavily backed of course by Sunnis.
Ayad Allawi: Because they wanted to see change. As the Shi'ites voted for us, the Sunnis voted for us. The Sunnis want to see change and of course they don't want to align themselves with Shi'ite groups so they found a secular group which is us and they voted for us. And I think they should be encouraged. And people want to see change in the country ultimately. They don't want to be -- to have the country stagnate on sectarian issues and bases.
HARDtalk: You've warned that unless there is a deal, the country is in danger, and I quote you, "of descending into a new sectarian war." That's very strong language. What are you saying there?
Ayad Allawi: I am saying that if sectarianism comes to Iraq again, depending upon, of course, the drawdown of the American forces and withdrawal, this would lead the country into severe violence unfortunately as we have witnessed in 2005, '06 and '07.
HARDtalk: Are you worried -- you sound as if you're worried in particular about the reactions of the Sunnis who backed your party. That if they feel that they're being sidelined and left out of any government deal by Nouri al-Maliki and other Shi'ites that they will do something.
Ayad Allawi: It's not a matter of them doing something. It's a matter of getting Iraq back into the sectarian beginning when things went very bad -- because sectarianism is associated with extremism. And if this visits Iraq again and the landscape is reversed now back to sectarianism then of course Sunnis and Shi'ites will clash.
HARDtalk: I suppose the ultimate conclusion to that is that it still could lead to this very real worry that people have had for many years of the breakup of Iraq.
Ayad Allawi: Unfortunately. I hope this is not going to happen. I think Iraq is still holding itself very tight. Definitely sectarianism will cause a lot of trouble to the country.
HARDtalk: Aren't you fueling all of these splits though by talking about sectarianism. I was talking to an Iraqi friend of mine and she said very clearly, "Look, I'm secular too -- lilke Allawi. But he's destroying the country. He needs to accept that he's not won this election. He can't become prime minister. He needs to either do a deal with Nouri al-Maliki or just leave the political stage and let someone else get on with trying to form a government.
Ayad Allawi: No, we are -- Of course, we are ready to make a deal but we have won the elections definitely. The seats we have --
HARDtalk: But you're sixty or seventy seats short of an overall majority. That's --
Ayad Allawi: Fine. Everybody is short. Not only us. But we don't want to merge with a sectarian outlook -- whether it's Sunni or Shi'ite. That's why we think and believe our natural allies are the Kurds and will be the Kurds. And we are looking into the smaller groups that have formed the new Parliament -- are forming the new Parliament. And I think this will give us the edge again. But here we are not talking about this. We are talking about two separate issues. One is the spearheading the formation of the government and the second issue is the vote of confidence by the Parliament. It is not necessarily that we are going to get the vote of confidence. Of course, then people like Maliki and others will try their luck. But definitely as far as we are concerned, we should spearhead the formation of the government.
HARDtalk: This would seem on the face of it a very dangerous moment for Iraq.
Ayad Allawi: It is. It is very critical. And that's why everybody has said this is an important milestone for the country.
Key points (in terms of freshness) from the interview: "That's why we think and believe our natural allies are the Kurds and will be the Kurds. And we are looking into the smaller groups that have formed the new Parliament -- are forming the new Parliament. And I think this will give us the edge again." Is it possible? Assuming that the current power-sharing coalition between State Of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance holds and assuming he meant only the Kurdistan Alliance, that's 43 plus 91 for 134. 29 seats would still be needed. Gorran might come on board (might not) to give an additional 8 seats. for example. But if the SOL and INA power-sharing coalition held, that would mean Iraqiya would need -- plus the Kurdistan Alliance -- all the groups (Gorran, Unity Alliance, Iraqi Accord Front, Kurdistan Islamic Union, Islamic Group of Krudistan and the minorities) to not only reach the magic number but to ensure that SOL and INA didn't reach it. At 159, the coalition is only 4 seats away from the magic number.
And with the above, you have a little bit of information. Not all. Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed, Suadad al-Salhy, Jim Loney, Mark Heinrich and Eric Beech (Reuters) report that the Supreme Court ratification of the vote yesterday was "final" and that Chief Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud declared the new parliament will need to be called "into session within 15 days." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) adds, "The court decided that the largest bloc on the day the 325-member parliament convenes will be the first contender to appoint the prime minister and cabinet. It is unclear whether the ruling is binding, but the tentative merger of Maliki's coalition with its Shiite rival, the Iraqi National Alliance, could mean that Allawi's bloc, most popular among Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis, won't get to form the government." When Parliament is seated (sworn in) what else can happen? Bloc voting can fall aside. Once your sworn in, you are an MP. You can't be replaced by your political party. Right now you can be. And the two candidates that weren't signed off on (one from Iraqiya, the other from the Iraqi National Alliance) are being replaced by their respective political parties. Once you're an MP you may or may not stay in a bloc vote. You may cut a deal. You may loathe Allawi or al-Maliki so much that you cut a deal. Any number of factors could figure into this. Should that happen, Nouri and Ayad will not only need to make deals with individuals in attempts to woo, they'd also need to make sure those already showing support remained firm.
Persecution.org notes that the 325 MP seats include 5 for Christians: "In total, 14 seats out of the 325-seat legislature are held by non-Msulims, five of which are Christians. In comparison, Christians held two seats last term." In other Iraqi Christian news, John Pontifex (Catholic Herald) reports on the continued violence aimed at Christians and notes, "It is not clear whether the objective is primarily political - to force Christians out of Mosul into the neighbouring Nineveh plains - or is purely an act motivated by religious bigotry. What is beyond dispute, however, is that Church leaders see a strong government as a pre-requisite for reducing the security risk." Evan Williams (England's Channel 4 News) is embedded with the United States Third Infantry Division explored Mosul for last Friday's broadcast of Unreported World. Williams blogged:
On February 27 this year, he said, three Arab gunmen entered their family home shouting that they had to leave. When Father Marzan's father and two brothers tried pushing the them out of the house, the gunmen opened fire killing all three men instantly.
Father Marzan wouldn't allow us to film his mother, but as he started to describe in detail how her husband and sons were brutally gunned down in their own home, I had the horrible sudden realisation that I should have asked the old lady to leave the room. The look of pain and shock on her face was almost unbearable, as if someone were going to walk in at any moment and tell her it was ok and they were all still alive.
Father Marzan is priest in the Chaldean Church, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, founded 2000 years ago among the Assyrian people of northern Iraq, who have been here for millennia.
They have suffered pogroms and attacks in the past, of course, from the Persians, Arabs and Turks. But a new level of violence is now driving many out of the country for good. When the Americans invaded in 2003, there were about one million Christians in Iraq. Now, Church leaders told us, half have already fled the country and more are trying to leave.
The US military is training police forces in the area and they (Iraqi security forces) tell Williams their guess for what happens when the US departs is "civil war." Aamer Madhani (USA Today) reports from the area (Hamdniyah) and notes threatening calls to nuns and a bombing of the Immaculate Virgin convent, the flood of refugees the violence is creating and, "The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government panel tasked with monitoring religious freedoms around the world for the State Department, recently recommended that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton designate Iraq as a 'country of particular concern' because of the violence against Christians and other religious minorities." AINA notes, "In a recent BBC radio interview, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams lamented that the 'level of ignorance about Middle-Eastern Christianity in the West is very, very high.' According to Williams, many even well informed Westerners think Middle East Christians are primarily 'converts or missionaries,' rather than indigenous communities that predate Islam. Of Tony Blair and George W. Bush, the archbishop surmised their Christianity was 'on the whole, a very, very Western thing,' and, 'I don't sense that either of them had very much sense of the indigenous Christian life and history that there is in the region'."
Meanwhile, the always embarrassing Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) makes the usual idiot of himself today with a whine that could be entitled, "Iraqi Christians Have It Easier!" Based on what, he never can say. He can whine about more of them being in the US (on the first page, burying on the second page the UN point that they make up a huge precentage of Iraq's external refugees) and he can hiss and boo. It's really embarrassing. Elizabeth Campbell of Refugees International might want to think twice before speaking to him again. Her comments are taken out of context and reassembled by Peter to push the story he wants. (Read her comments carefully, she's not backing up the thesis Peter is proposing -- her conditionals undercut his thesis.) The Monitor itself might want to ask why Peter (or as I always think of him: DICK) is pushing something as news when it's not news, it's his opinion. This isn't a column, it's passed off as reporting. He has no proof, the UN does not release the figures he would need, Campbell gives him conditional quotes, and there's no independent backing, just DICK PETER writing about his hunch as if it were fact. For the record, that press pulling that sort of crap? That's exactly what led Mary Baker Eddy to start the Christian Science Monitor. DICK PETER is not only an embarrassment, he's a disgrace to the news outlet.
Yesterday, assertions were made and denied that the Iran had entered Iraq. Xinhua reports, "The Iranian troops entered the Iraqi semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan on Tuesday, Dubai-based Arabiyah Pan Arab news television reported. The Iranian troops have entered 5 km inside the Iraqi territories, the channel said without giving further details about where exactly the incursion took place." Aysor Armenian News adds, "Iranian troops were operating three kilometers inside Iraqi territory following a series of clashes in recent days between Iranian forces and rebels of Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an Iraqi official said, requesting anonymity." The Kuwait Times runs an AFP report making the same assertion; however, Iran's Fars News Agency quotes KRG Minister of State for Peshmerga Affairs Jafar Mustafa stating, "Infiltration of the Iranian forces into the soil of Iraq's Kurdistan region is a baseless and false claim. We have not witnessed anything like this."
Meanwhile Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports, "But the Green Zone now is American no longer. On Tuesday, Iraq took full control of the 4-square-mile enclave in the heart of Baghdad that, to many Iraqis, symbolized so much of what went wrong with the U.S. military presence in Iraq. At a brief ceremony held beside a bomb-damaged palace, the battalion of U.S. military police that had been advising Iraqis at Green Zone checkpoints cased their colors and prepared to redeploy to a base near the Baghdad airport, and is to depart this summer." Let's translate, having conquered (killed off the natives and run off those they couldn't kill) the West, the fort was turned over to sympathizers who will continue to run it as an outpost. In Sly's report, is all of world's history for any paying attention, repeating yet again and, as always, sold as a breakthrough, an advance, and done so via silencing the dissenting voices. The Green Zone belongs to Nouri now and all that might have had other claims will be shut out. Those against the US occupation will not be heard from. Those suffering under the government the US military propped up will not be asked for an opinion. Today Obama met with General Cust -- General Ray Odierno. This afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton declared on Air Force One:
To start, I've got a readout for you on the President's meeting with General Odierno, which he made -- which he had before we left. The President met today with General Odierno to review security and political progress in Iraq. General Odierno provided a positive assessment of the current security conditions and the ongoing transition of responsibilities to Iraqi security forces ahead of the change of mission of U.S. forces at the end of August. The President and General Odierno also discussed the encouraging step taken by Iraq's federal supreme court to certify election results, as well as U.S. support for an inclusive government formation process. The President thanked General Odierno for his service to the nation.
Margaret Warner (NewsHour, PBS) interviewed Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday. He is the Turkish Foreign Minister. If you click here, you get an extended interview. And it's not real 'extended' if that should translate into "in depth." Why did PBS interview an official from another country? If it was to illuminate or inform viewers, they failed at that task. If it was just to fill out air time and to offer their chance to chase after the same damn topic every other outlet is obsessing over, they achieved their goal. Yesterday, we were noting that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, would be holding a terrorism summit today and addressing the issue of the PKK. Guess PBS didn't think that was important. Guess PBS didn't feel that Americans might benefit from any discussion of that -- or any information on it. AFP reports KRG President Minister Massud Barzani is in Turkey today, "making his first visit to Ankara as regional president". AFP also reports:
A soldier and two outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, members died in the latest clash in Turkey's Southeast near the Iraqi border, local officials said Wednesday.
The clash erupted late Tuesday near the Cukurca town in Hakkari province, when a group of PKK members fired on a group of soldiers on patrol duty, the provincial Governor's Office said in a statement.
Seems like Margaret Warner should have asked about the PKK, doesn't it? Seems like the American people would have benefited from a dialogue on this issue. But they didn't get it. Israel's the 'hot' topic but, for the Turkish government, the PKK is the most pressing internal and external issue. And has been for some time. Some people may support the PKK, some people may not. But no one will never know where they stand or might stand when issues are not addressed. Warner spoke at length to Turkey's Foreign Minister. The day before Turkey holds a terrorism summit to address the PKK. When Barzani is in the country and represents northern Iraq where the PKK has set up another base. And the violence continues. But there wasn't time to address any of that on The NewsHour? No, there was time for it, it just wasn't judged 'hot.' When PBS chases after the 'hot' topic, we're all in trouble. This visit that The NewsHour ignored? Ayla Jean Yackley (Reuters) states it's being hailed as "a breakthrough for regional stability." Hurriyet Daily News reports that "Barzani is one of the most criticized regional leaders in Turkey as he has been seen as the protector of the PKK in northern Iraq." The Turkish Press reports that he will meet tomorrow with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey.
Ahmet Davutoglu. Hmm. That name is so familiar. Why is that name so familiar? Oh, that's right, that's who Margaret Warner was speaking to Tuesday night on The NewsHour. Again, she didn't ask about Barzani, she didn't ask about the PKK, she didn't ask about the terrorism sumit. Apparently referring to Barzani's visit -- and having noted the violence, US State Dept Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley stated yesterday that "iraq and Turkey are involved in high-level discussions about" the PKK.
Harold W. Geisel is the Deputy Inspector General of the US State Dept. Charley Keyes (CNN) reports on new findings from that office: the US Embassy in Baghdad cannot do inventory and has apparently lost or had stolen from it "vehicles and millions of dollars of other equipment, from cell phones to medical supplies" -- the medical supplies include oxycodone and morphine. Matthew Lee (AP) explains the findings cover July 2009 through November 2009 and quotes the report stating, "Embassy Baghdad has had difficulty controlling and accurately accounting for its U.S. government property."
Liu (Xinhua) reports that a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three people injured, another injured two people and "In northern Iraq, the body of an Iraqi soldier who was kidnapped late Tuesday night in eastern Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad, was found by the Iraqi police on Wednesday, a local police source said."
Turning to business news, yesterday in Shanghai, Iraq took part in the Shanghai World Expo. Xinhua quotes Iraqi diplomat Rahman L. Muhsin stating, "Iraq has overcome many difficulties in participating in the Shanghai World Expo and opening the pavilion at last." Rebecca Santanna (AP) quoted Iraq's Minister of Oil Hussain al-Shahristani declaring of the price of oil per barrel, "On the one hand it is sufficiently high to encourage investment, to develop marginal fields, mostly outside of OPEC countries. [. . .] On the other hand it is not too high to adversely affect the recovery of the world economy. I think we are at the right balancing point." The price of oil per barrel as this is being written is a little over US$72. Carl Mortished (Times of London) reports:
A clutch of big oil multinationals has entered into service contracts with the country to develop several huge oilfields, including Rumaila, a monster that already delivers 1.1 million barrels per day, almost half of Iraq's current output.
BP is charged with raising the bar at Rumaila and by 2016 it expects output to reach a plateau of 2.8 million bpd, a level greater than the present output of every Opec state except Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Oh, yes, the lovely and responsible BP. Cameron Scott (San Francisco Chronicle) has a photo essay on BP and it's 'care' of the Gulf, this is from his intro to the photos:
One cleanup worker took a New York Daily News reporter on a tour of alleged forbidden areas after watching pelicans trying to get oil off of themselves -- "They keep trying to clean themselves. They try and they try, but they can't do it" -- and discovering a dolphin carcass with oil "just pouring out of it."
AP photographers have gotten a few snaps, too, but relative to the number of journalists trying to get stories out of the area, the number of photographs is pretty low. If only BP's spill cleanup efforts (about which, detailed post tomorrow) were as successful as its press containment efforts appear to be.