Thursday, July 8, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the targeting of pilgrims continues, the stalemate continues, England has a partner in shame (Australia -- which is also deporting Iraqi refugees), the United Nations releases a new report on Iraq, US House Rep Charlie Rangel calls for a draft, did the US Justice Dept refuse to prosecute theft of over $100,000 in US tax payer monies, and more.
In Iraq this week, the big target has been pilgrims. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) explained Tuesday that the pilgrimage is "to commemorate the martyrdom of Iman Musa al Kathim on July 8." Pilgrims were targeted on Tuesday, on Wednesday and today. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports, "On Thursday, more than 4 million people had gathered in the city to commemorate the death of the revered Shiite figure Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. Pilgrims had walked from all across the country to reach the Shiite shrine, despite attacks in the previous days. The attackers hit as tens of thousands of security forces patrolled the streets and most roads were blocked to allow pedestrians." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) explains, "Security measures included using vehicles to transport pilgrims; thousands of deployed troops; security cameras in and around the shrine; aerial surveillance; and 500 personnel to combat the threat of female suicide bombers." Timothy Williams and Omar al-Jawoshy (New York Times) reported this morning, "Less than a day after a suicide bomber killed more than 50 people in a crowd of Shiite pilgrims at a police checkpoint in Baghdad, more explosions struck worshipers on Thursday, killing seven and wounding about 60 despite intensive efforts by Iraqi security forces to foil such attacks." Sahar Issa counts the pilgrims death toll (by Thursday afternoon) for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to be 68 with 449 wounded. Scott Peterson and Sahar Issa (Christian Science Monitor) note, "Regardless of the death toll, pilgrims were defiant as they completed their march on Thursday and headed back home." And they quote a woman named Hussein stating, "It is like a treasure. I am not the loser by going on this pilgrimage. I am the winner. Security forces can secure the streets. They cannot cleanse intentions and hearts." Nizar Latif (UAE's National Newspaper) offers details that others haven't reported:
While the huge pilgrimages undertaken by Iraq's Shiite community are a reflection of powerful religious sentiment, the significance of poverty is a commonly overlooked factor in the willingness of so many to endure gruelling hardships and to face the bombers.
Hospitality tents, paid for by wealthy businessmen, political parties or foundations, line the roads used by pilgrims, who come from as far away as Basra, 550 km south of the capital. Meals are provided free of charge to the walkers, and sometimes cash handouts or food supplies are given to the needy.
It is a massive incentive for the likes of Abu Abdullah. Unemployed and painfully thin -- like his sons -- he said he was unable to provide for his family and used the opportunity of religious celebrations for a practical purpose -- to eat.
"At home, we have little food," he said. "When we walk, we get better meals than I could dream of getting; there is rice and meat and vegetables and Pepsi in the tents, we can eat three times a day."
Turning to today's actual numbers, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 3 lives and left twenty-one injured, a second one which claimed 4 lives and left twenty injured, a Baghdad car bombing wounded ten people, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and wounded twenty, a Baquba roadside bombing wounded three people and Ramadi house bombings which claimed 3 lives and left four wounded (the homes belonged to police officers). Reuters adds that 5 pilgrims were shot dead in Baghdad and a Kirkuk sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left another person wounded.
Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, described the attacks as "horrific crimes committed against defenceless civilians who were practicing their faith."
The formation of a broad-based government will be the most effective response in the face of insurgents who are aiming at destabilizing the country, added Mr. Melkert, who is also head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) offers this opinion, "By targeting Shia pilgrims, it seems clear that the bombers are intent on reigniting that sectarian violence which nearly tore the country apart." [For video of Gatehouse on the bombings, click here and scroll down.] Liam Stack (Christian Science Monitor) offers another opinion, "The attacks highlight fears that insurgents may try to take advantage of Iraq's political uncertainty to destabilize the country, four months after elections in March failed to produce a government and just weeks before a US troop drawdown is set to begin." Usama Redha and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) stick to context, "Since 2003, Shiite religious festivals have been marred by bombing attacks. This year's ceremonies for Imam Musa Kadhim were no different."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and one day and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. If Iraq's the 'success' so many want the world to believe, then surely it will take less time this go round, right?
US Vice President Joe Biden just wrapped up a three-day visit to Iraq (Saturday, Sunday and Monday -- see Tuesday's snapshot for details) and the outreach didn't stop there. Alsumaria TV reports that he and Kurdistan President Massoud Barazani spoke on the phone yesterday about "a number of issues" and that he also spoke with Iraq President Jalal Talabani over the phone Wednesday: "Biden praised the application of President Talabani seeking to reach agreement over the next government and enhance the political process and democracy in the country."
Meanwhile theUnited Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued their latest [PDF format warning] "Human Rights Report" covering Iraq from July 31st through December 2009. In the 26 page report, even the most casual reader will see, there is no 'success' in Iraq. In Iraq, all but the thugs elevated by the US government to 'rulers' are targeted regularly. Pick the targeted segment you follow most closely and, chances are, the report's covered it. For example, "Situation of Women" covers many, many issues but we'll zoom in on this, "During a visit to a female detention centre in Dahunk on 3 August, UNAMI observed that nine women were being detained there for their 'own safety'. The authorities argued that detention was the only safe solution due to threats on grounds of family honour. According to the investigating judge, the women may be released with a written guarantee for their safety from a male family member. The likelihood of such a guarantee is remote, as many of them are facing threat to life from their families for honour-related issues." It further notes that 'new Iraq' has many laws on the books unfair to women and that, "The laws are inherently discriminatory as men may effectively by exonerated from punishment for crimes such as murder and assault. They criminalise adultery committed by women while granting to men broad exemptions from punishment for the same act."
The report provides a breakdown on the 2009 Parliament Committees. Guess which committee had the most female members? Human Rights. Eight women serve on that comittee (five men also serve). On the Women's Committee, the seven members are all women. Which committees do women serve the least on? Security and Defence and Oil & Gas. No woman sits on those committees. After that, the worst is, no surprise, the Legal Committee and the Finance Committee (one women serves on each committee).
The targeting of the disabled and challenged continues. Among the things noted in the report is: "Structures have been established to support the disabled community, for example, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs runs various programmes for the disabled community, including a modest monthly stipend to approximately 50,000 disabled Iraqis. ICR operates at least 12 physical rehabilitation centres but accessibility is an issue due to security reasons and lack of transporation."
On refugees, UNHCR estimaed that there were 2,764,111 internally displaced refugees. But moving to external refugees, Paige Taylor (The Australian) reports that the Australiang government "'has sent an an Afgan and an Iraqi asylum-seeker home for the first time in five years,' Immigration Minister Chris Evans revealed yesterday." This move puts Australia on the same level as England (among others) which elected to force people out of England in some perverse 'response' to World Refugee Day. And it makes a mockery out of the speech Evans delivered on World Refugee Day in 2008:
The Australian Government works closely with UNHCR on a number of fronts to promote and support the protection rights of refugees. So it is only appropriate that today we stand under the same banner of 'Refugee Protection'.
This is a perfect theme for World Refugee Day, but it inevitably leads us to ask: how is Australia's role in providing refugee protection understood? What does it mean to average Australians?
It is no secret that under the previous government, the issue of refugee protection was the subject of a deeply divisive debate. Australia's international reputation was tarnished by the way the previous government sought to demonise refugees for its own domestic political purposes. This is unfortunate, since it overshadowed some of the positive work on refugee protection that continued during those years.
The Rudd Labor Government brings a different approach to refugee and humanitarian issues.
In fairness to Rudd, it should be noted that Julia Gillard is Australia's new prime minister and that it was feared she would attempt to use the immigration issue (specifically 'crackdown' on immigration) to drive up support within Australia. Peter Boyle (Green Left) reports:
What a difference a month and a change of leadership makes. In late May this year Julia Gillard said that Liberal-National opposition leader Tony Abbott's call for a return to the "Pacific solution" on refugees was just a "slogan not a solution" but now she's PM (with the blessing of mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata), it has once again become a "solution".
In a July 6 speech to the Lowy Institute Gillard announced that her government was pursuing a regional agreement for offshore processing of "unauthorised arrivals".
Turning to England where the Iraq Inquiry held no public hearing today but did release a statement:
The Iraq Inquiry has now heard from 35 witnesses in private. This means that by the end of the this round of public hearings, the Inquiry will have heard from more than 140 witnesses. Sir John Chilcot made clear at the start of the Inquiry that whilst the Committee is determined to hold as many of its proceedings in public as possible, there were circumstances where a private hearing would be necessary. These were laid out in the Inquiry's protocols.
Iraq Inquiry Chairman Sir John Chilcot, said:
Some witnesses gave evidence in private because the evidence concerned matters which, if revealed in public, could damage national security or other vital national interests. In some cases, sessions took place in private because of the personal circumstances of the witnesses, either because of the organisations for whom they worked, or because they were relatively junior officials at the time that they served in Iraq or were giving evidence as part of a group with other people who were junior officials at the time.
The statement goes on to list the names of those offering private testimony. BBC News counts 35 names on the list and notes, "They include two former heads of the Secret Intelligence Service M16 -- Sir Richard Dearlove and Sir John Scarlett. Former UK ambassador David Manning and UK special representative to Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock have given evidence in both public and private." Iraq Inquiry Digest's Chris Ames writes a column for the Guardian on the news of the secrety testimony:
A few new transcripts involving junior officials will be published, but most of what we really need to know will remain secret.
Are the old excuses of national security and international relations being used to hide personal and national embarrassment?
Like most people, I have always accepted that at least some of the Iraq inquiry would have to take place in secret session, if the inquiry is to find out all of what happened and, hopefully, tell us about it. It's a necessary trade-off and we have to trust that when Sir John Chilcot says that as much as possible will take place in public, he really means as much as possible. But, as Tory MP Andrew Tyrie has noted, the inquiry doesn't entirely command public confidence. The trouble is that even the inquiry and the government can't agree about what really needs to be secret, so how can the rest of us have confidence?
Turning to the US where the Justice Dept issued a press release on US Maj Charles Sublett who has copped a plea "to making false statements to a federal agency" and, as you read through, ask the obvious (the obvious isn't dealt with in the press release):
WASHINGTON - U.S. Army Major Charles E. Sublett, 46, of Huntsville, Ala., pleaded guilty today in federal court in Memphis, Tenn., to making false statements to a federal agency, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.
Sublett was charged in an indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Jan. 5, 2010, following his arrest in Huntsville. According to the indictment, Sublett smuggled more than $100,000 in currency, concealed in a shipping package, into the United States from Iraq in January 2005.
According to the indictment, Sublett was deployed to Balad Regional Contracting Center on Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Iraq from August 2004 through February 2005. LSA Anaconda is a U.S. military installation that was established in 2003 to support U.S. military operations in Iraq. According to the indictment, Sublett served as a contracting officer while deployed to LSA Anaconda. As a contracting officer, Sublett was responsible for, among other things, evaluating and supervising contracts with companies that provide goods and services to the U.S. Army.
Sublett admitted that, on Jan. 11, 2005, he sent a package from Balad, Iraq, to Killeen, Texas, which was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Memphis. Sublett admitted that, on the international air waybill, he falsely described the contents of the package as books, papers, a jewelry box and clothes with a total declared customs value of $140 when, in fact, Sublett knew the package contained $107,900 in U.S. currency and 17,120,000 in Iraqi dinar. Sublett also admitted that he failed to file a currency or monetary instruments transaction report (CMIR) as required by federal law when transporting currency in amounts of more than $10,000 into or out of the United States. During the plea hearing, Sublett admitted to making false claims to investigators regarding his attempt to bring the currency into the United States in an effort to impede their investigation.
The maximum penalty for making false statements to a government agency is five years in prison, and a $250,000 fine, to be followed by a term of up to three years of supervised release. Sublett is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 8, 2010. As part of the plea agreement, Sublett also consented to the forfeiture of the $107,900 and the 17,120,000 Iraqi dinar that he concealed in the package.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Daniel A. Petalas and Justin V. Shur of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section. This case is being investigated by Army Criminal Investigation Command; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the FBI; Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation; the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The package contained $107,900 US dollars (in addition to Iraqi dinars)? Where did the money come from? Why isn't that in the press release. Why is he being allowed to cop a plea to a minor charge when most likely we're dealing with theft/embezzlement of US government money?
Lawrence Buser (Commercial Appeal) reports, "There was no allegation that the money was stolen and prosecutors would not say why the case took five years to be indicted." Where'd the money come from? The major was someone over supply contracts in Iraq.
Are these CERP funds? For those late to the party, DoD Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble described Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) to the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) on February 2, 2009:
CERP funds are appropriated through the DoD and allocted through each major command's sector of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to $500,000 can be allocated to individual CERP projects, and CERP beneficiaries often receive payments in cash. We have also identified occasions where soldiers with limited contracting experience were responsible for administering CERP funds. In some instances, there appeared to be scant, if any, oversight of the manner in which funds were expended. Complicating matters further is the fact that payment of bribes and gratuities to government officials is a common business practice in some Southwest Asia nations. Taken in combination, these factors result in an environment conducive to bribery and corruption.
CERP was an issue during the September 10, 2008 House Armed Services Committee hearing (and see this entry by Mike). This is Committe Chair Ike Skelton's exchange with DoD's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman:
Skelton: The issue raises two serious questions of course. Number one is they have a lot of money of their own. And number two the choice of the type of projects that are being paid for. I would like to ask Mr. Secretary if our committee could receive a list of expenditures of $100,000 or more within the last year. Could you do that for us at your convience please?
Edelman: We'll work with our colleagues in the controller's office and - and . . . to try and get you --
Skelton: That would be very helpful.
Was the list provided?
Who is providing oversight?
Shouldn't be the Dept of Justice via charges and plea bargains.
How did someone over contracts end up with $179,000 dollars -- sequentially numbered, one-hundred dollar bills, by the way? How did he end up with that money? Does it matter that Adrian Sainz (AP) reports, "According to the indictment, the disbursement office where he worked provided payment in sequentially numbered $100 bills."
So let's put it together. The guilty tried to hide $179,000 dollars from the US government. The same government he was working for, by the way. He attempted to send it to the US and not be detected doing this. His $179,000 was in sequentially numbered one-hundred dollar bills and his office "provided payment in sequentially numbered $100 bills." Anyone seeing a problem and wondering why the Justice Dept didn't attempt to go for theft or embezzlement?
He may get two years or just one behind bars. But, in the real world, Deshawn Lamont Thomas is in trouble "for robbing and beating former NFL player Javon Walker," AP informs us but, more to the point, Thomas "was sentenced in April in Las Vegas in another case to five years in Nevada prison for the theft of a tourist's designer watch." Stealing a watch -- a designer watch -- resulted in five years prison -- state prison. Stealing over $100,000 of US tax payer money gets you what?
And here's a better question: Where's his court-martial?
He's an officer. A US major. He's supposed to be upholding certain standards and he's not, he's clearly not. Think of the way the military brass has gone after war resisters. Think of the way they tried to subvert the US Constitution in order to go after Lt Ehren Watada. But theft of over $100,000 and the man's still a US major? Not "a former US major today entered a plea . . ." War resisters are routinely stripped of any benefits by the military brass. So why hasn't Maj Charles Sublett been stripped of his rank, his benefits and been given dishonorable discharge?
Or does the code of conduct only to apply to those with a conscience?
In other news, Jack Phillips (Epoch Times) reports, "Representative Charles Rangel said no more tax dollars should be spent on 'hunkering down in Iraq and Afghanistan' and if the people in the United States really support the conflicts, then Congress should be willing to set up a draft." John Del Signore (Gothamist) reports Rangel made his position public yesterday outside a Time Square recruiting station. US House Rep Charlie Rangel's office released the following statment by Rangel:
In Congress, we will soon be voting to provide additional funding to support wars in the Middle East that seem to have no end. Going on eight years, the war in Afghanistan is the nation's longest military conflict, shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan where it all started after Nine-eleven.
I strongly support President Obama's policies, particularly his historic initiative to expand health care coverage to millions of Americans, an effort which I helped design and move to passage in Congress. The President's economic stimulus not only saved the country from a total collapse into a depression, it created and saved millions of jobs and started the beginnings of a recovery. Nearly $300 million has been funneled by the program into my Congressional district alone.
The oil spill in the Gulf, which the President has handled as well as anyone could, has highlighted our need for a new energy policy, as pointed out earlier by President Obama. It also points up the nation's vulnerability with respect to alternative petroleum sources, including those in the Middle East.
I cannot challenge the President's handling of the war in Iraq, where he was left with few options after inheriting the conflict from the previous administration. I support his intentions to withdraw, but I'd like to see it happen sooner. In my view, no additional tax dollars should be appropriated for hunkering down in Iraq and Afghanistan, where taxpayers have already spent over $1 trillion. From here on, all expenditures should be for one purpose: to safely bring our brave and exhausted troops home.
In the two Middle East conflicts, more than 5,400 of our young men and women have been killed, over 4,400 in Iraq, and 1,000 in Afghanistan, where monthly casualties are climbing fast. Troop shortages have caused multiple deployments, up to six tours. Incidences of head injuries, PTSD and suicides have increased dramatically.
Again in this war, troops recruited from the lower income groups, from the large urban communities and economically depressed small towns, are carrying the heaviest burden of service. Financial incentives to enlist have reached as much as $40,000 which, combined with the economic recession, has made for record recruiting results.
While the longest in our history, the Iraq and Afghan wars are far from the bloodiest. In Vietnam, 58,000 of our sons and daughters were slaughtered in in a months less time. Maybe that's why the television cameras long ago left the battlefields of Afghanistan and Americans stopped caring about the war. Not bloody enough.
For those 5,400 families who've lost loved ones, this war is as painful as any of the others that came before it. And I believe every family would feel that way if one of its sons or daughters were at risk -- or subject to be in harm's way.
Whether in Afghanistan, or any future conflict, the test is whether Congress -- in supporting a war policy --is willing to require all eligible residents of this great country to make a contribution -- to put their own children at risk.
In other words, in order to fulfill one's moral responsibility to this democracy, anyone who supports this, or any war, should also support a compulsory military draft.