Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry hears from UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, the US House buys the wars again, an archbishop dies in Iraq, and more.
Today in London, the Iraq Inquiry continued hearing testimony. This morning they heard from Lt Gen Andrew Figgures and Gen Robert Fulton. The issue of helicopters was explored -- much to the distress of Gen Fulton who came off agitated and anxious ("Yes! Yes! Yes!" at one point) as well as defensive (claiming that more helicopters provided would have just meant more requests for them). It was a comical exchange as he attempted to repeatedly maintain that all that was needed was provided to British forces while his speech, his demeanor, everything indicated otherwise. When stalling, he liked to rock his entire body back and forth in his chair. When especially defensive, he liked to hug himself and rock (such as with "Should they have?" being asked by Fulton to stall). He's fortunate that a lot of the press skipped his testimony in anticipation of the day's big witness: Hans Blix. The former UN weapons inspector was the focus of attention. [For video and transcript options of today's witnesses, click here.]
Well, from the Cold War, of course, the Security Council was paralysed. The security system of the UN did not work during the Cold War, but I think it changed completely with the end of the Cold War. In 1991, 1990 the Russians and the others went along with the action against Iraq, and Bush the elder, the President, said that this was a new international order. Well, that collapsed with his son and I think that the world has changed dramatically with the end of the Cold War. It is only recently in the last few years some American statement with Samman and others have said, well, we ought to re-discover, the Cold War is over. So the Security Council in my view was not paralysed in the 1990s. They are still not paralysed. That's why it is reasonable to look to it and to have respect for its decisions.
That was Hans Blix refuting the concern/fear that the United Nations Security Council was powerless. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, a shadow has been thrown across the Iraq Inquiry. That shadow falls on John Chilcot who is the Chair. If, as Carne Ross maintains, he was prevented from referencing a document or providing full testimony, that issue falls on Chilcot because he is the Chair. In what may have been a mistaken attempt at 'getting tough,' he felt the need to instruct Hans Blix as to what Blix's job was in his mind.
Chair John Chilcot: Your job was to say, "This is the evidence of the extent to which there is a breach of UN resolutions", based on the evidence you had. It was not to go further than that.
Dr. Blix: Well, I think you would have to distinguish between different types of revelations or evidence that you find. You know we were given sites to inspect by the UK and the US and we wanted these sites and felt, "These people are 100 per cent convinced that there are weapons of mass destruction, but they also then should know something about where they are". We went to these sites and in no case did we find a weapon of mass destruction. We did find engines that had been illegally imported, we found a stash of documents that should have been declared. They did not reveal anything new. So there is evidence of more or less grey things. Even the missiles I think falls into that category. They certainly violated their obligations on the missiles, but we concluded that the Al-Samoud 2 type missile was prohibited, because it had a longer range than 150 kilometres and they had performed a test flight I think with 180 or 183 kilometres. So our international experts that we consulted concluded they were banned, but still it was on the margin.
[. . .]
Chair John Chilcot: Dr Blix, I have really a single question, which is about the burden of proof and where it lay. I know from your book you have formed a view about it. So here we are. We have resolution 1284. We have resolution 1441. Now we are at the end of 2002. There is much international concern about Iraq's failure to comply with the will of the international communiy and some nations more troubled than that about possible holdings of weapons. So it was up to Iraq to prove through your inspection regime that it, Saddam's regime, was innocent, or was it up to the international community through yourself to prove that Iraq was guilty? Which way did that go, because it was both a political question, I take it, and a legal question?
Dr Blix: I think the Iraqis tried to say that the general legal rule is unless you are proved guilty, you must be presumed innocent, and I tried to explain to them that this was not a parallel when it comes to a state, that a guy may be accused of having a weapon illegally and if he is not proved guilty, then he will be innocent. However, I said with regard to Iraq, you had these weapons, and people would laugh at me if I said I should presume you were innocent. We make no assumption at all. We do not assume you have weapons and we do not assume you don't have weapons. We will simply look for evidence. Of course, it was difficult for them. It is difficult for anyone to prove the negative, to prove they didn't have it. They said so, "How can we prove this?" I admitted in public, "Yes, it is difficult for you to do so but it is even more difficult for us. You after all have the archives and people, etc. You must make best use of this''.
Blix himself raised the criticism he received that his reports became more positive on Iraqi cooperation and how he responded, "Look here, if I am there to observe and the circumstances change I damn well ought to also change my reports" because "That is what happened, the Iraqis became more cooperative." And to Committee Member Usha Prashar, Blix stated, "I think what was really important about this business of sites given was that when we reported that, no, we did not find any weapons of mass destruction, they should have realised I think, both in London and in Washington, that their sources were poor." He noted he would have liked to have continued inspections through April but that Colin Powell (then-US Secretary of State) told him "that's too late" while Condi Rice (then-National Security Adviser), he suspected, was eager to get the war started in March due to the fact that temperatures would continue rising and the date couldn't be pushed back any further.
A key moment in the hearing was this.
Dr Blix: The first reflection that occurs to me is that if the British Prime Minister or Bush had come to their parliaments and said, "Well, we are not sure that there are weapons of mass destruction but we fear they could reconstitute," I can't imagine they would have got an authorisation to go to war for that purpose.
Near the end of the testimony, Blix was asked by Chilcot for reflections and he noted he had already shared one.
Dr Blix: The other reflection I have is a broader one about the going to war. I am delighted that I think your intention is to draw lessons from the Iraq war rather than anything else, and I think that when states can go to war still remains a vitally importnat issue, and the UN Charter in 1945 took a giant leap forward in this and said, "No, it is prohibited to do except in the case of self defence and armed attack or authorisation by the Security Council". Well, here in the case of Iraq you can see how the UK in the summer 2002 or the spring 2002 said, "Yes, we might, but it has to be through the UN power". Self-defence against an armed attack was out. Regime change was out. Straw was adamantly opposed to a regime change. Authorisation by the UN, yes, that's the path. So they insist upon [UN resolution] 1441 and they get it, but it is a gamble. 1441 is if they had shown or if the Iraqis had continued to obstruct, as it was expected, then they could have asked the Security Council for a second resolution and said, "Look, they are obstructing and we now ask for authorisation.' They never knew whether they would get that. Eventually they had to come with I think very contstrained legal explanations. We see how Mr Goldsmith, Lord Golsmith now, wriggled about and how he himself very much doubted that it was adequate, but eventually said, "Well, if you accumulate all these things, then that gives a plausible . . ." -- he was not quite sure that it would have stood up in an international tribunal. Most of your legal advisers did not think so either. Nevertheless he gave the green light to it. I think it shows the UK was wedded to the UN rules and tried to go by them, eventually failed and was a prisoner on the American train, but it is true at the same time that this rule against going to war is under strain.
He told the inquiry: "Once they went up to 250,000 men and March was approaching, I think it was unstoppable or almost unstoppable - the (US) president could have stopped it, but almost unstoppable.
"After March the heat would go up in Iraq and it would be difficult to carry out warfare."
He added: "The whole military timetable was, as rightly said, not in sync with the diplomatic timetable.
Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) notes that Blix criticized Bush and seemed to take the heat off Blair. That was really ridiculous. (Not RN-T's observation, that is what Blix did, but Blix's assertion.) Tony Blair went along with Bush. The US did not hold the UK prisoner. The idea of Tony Blair as damsel in distress would be hard to stomach even without all the Inquiry has exposed regarding the Crawford meeting or that -- even while the legal advice Blair was receiving said war without a second UN resolution would be illegal -- Blair was already telling Bush that they were in it together.
Turning to Iraq, Rania El Gamal, Suadad al-Salhy, Jim Loney and Matthew Jones (Reuters) break the news: The Iraqi Parliament will not meet today. Though already in violation of the country's Constitution, they are not meeting for their second time. (The first lasted less than 20 meetings.) Unlike their last stall, they have not this time provided a date for when they might meet again. Why aren't they meeting? Meeting means proceeding with forming the government and there's no movement there. Salam Faraj (AFP) quotes MP Fouad Massum (who has been acting as spokesperson and leader) stating, "We are postponing the session until further notice because the political entities failed to reach any agreement. We held a meeting this morning with tthe heads of the parliamentary blocs and we agreed to give more time to political entities to reach agreement regarding the selection of a speaker and his two deputies."
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 five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 4 months and 20 days. No government. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) explains, "Nearly five months after elections in March ended without a decisive winner, Mr. Maliki and the leaders of the other political blocs remain deeply divided over his efforts to stay in power for a second term and remain even more deeply suspicious of losing power to rivals."
The political stalemate has consequences. Kari Lyndersen (In These Times) reported yesterday, "Last week electricity union offices across Iraq were raided under a July 20 decree from the Minister of Oil and Electricity, Hussain al-Shahristani, which banned trade unions in the energy sector and threatened serious legal action against union activity." While that's appalling by any standard, it should be noted that Hussain al-Shahristani is NOT the Minister of Electricity. Karim Wahid was the Minister of Electricity until he resigned June 21st. By June 25th, Hussain al-Shahristani was the acting electricity minister though the press reports were leaving out "acting." Reality, he has NO power. It's not just that Nouri's ass should have already been out of the prime ministership, it's that al-Shahristani has not been approved for that post. He is the Minster of Oil -- a Western puppet in that position, but not enough of one that he got to become the Prime Minister as 2004 rumors swore he would be. But he was approved for that post.
Yes, we're all aware Nouri al-Maliki thinks he is God. But delusions aside, he can only nominate cabinet positions. Check the Constitution -- I know no one bothers to, but laws are on the books for a reason. Nouri can name anyone to the Council of Ministers but they don't have that position and title unless and until the Parliament approves the person. The Parliament has never approved Hussain al-Shahristani to be the Minister of Electricity. For those who have forgotten, the Parliament has only met once and for less than 20 minutes. No, they did not approve al-Shahristani for that post. Let's repeat, Karim Wahid was the Minister of Electricity until he resigned June 21st. And the Parliament met once and only once when? June 14th. Even if they'd wanted to approve al-Shahristani for another post (debatable), they didn't and haven't. He has no powers.
But Nouri's refusing to step down and what has some US government figures concerned is the belief/fear that Nouri is dragging out the process because he thinks that it will be easier for him to refuse to step down after the US drawdown. Kari Lyndersen adds, "International labor groups are calling the decree part of a systematic attack on unions in Iraq in recent years. US Labor Against the War (USLAW) says the 'anti-union decree is the latest in an escalating series of measures designed to incapacitate and destroy the Iraqi labor movement'." And this is why you don't let things drag out. The US, under Bush, should never have gone along with a delay in the 2009 elections. What 2009 elections? That's when they were supposed to take place. Bush went along. Barack came in and went along with further delays. Now all this time later, Nouri's still stalling the political process. And you have his henchmen acting without any legal authority. That's why you don't let it drag on and why, if Barack's too much of a damn wimp, you bring in the United Nations immediately and force all parties to the table to hammer out something and do so quickly. This was nonsense and happened under the US occupation. Happens under the US occupation. US Labor Against the War is asking that people join them in protesting the attempts to destroy the electricity unions:
Police raided and shut down electricity unions across Iraq in mid-July, carrying out an order from the Minister of Electricity that could have been lifted from Saddam Hussein's rule book.
The order prohibits "all trade union activities at the ministry and its departments and sites" and authorizes the police "to close all trade union offices and bases and to take control of unions' assets properties and documents, furniture and computers." [Details below.]
The Iraqi trade union movement is calling on trade union members and labor solidarity activists everywhere to raise their voices in protest.
PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TOSEND OIL MINISTER SHIRASTANI AND PRIME MINISTER MALIKI A MESSAGETO PROTEST THESE VIOLATIONS OF BASIC LABOR RIGHTS THAT ARE THE CORNERSTONE OF ANY TRUE DEMOCRACY.
Hussain al-Shahristani, Oil Minister of Iraq, who was also appointed Electricity Minister, issued a decree that
1. Prohibits all trade union activity and ceases all forms of cooperation and official discussions with the electricity sector unions;
2. Directs management to help police enforce the closure of union offices and confiscation of documents, furniture, computers and anything else present;
3. Orders all enterprises to take immediate legal action against anyone who threatens or uses force or causes any damage to public property under the 2005 anti-terrorism law; and
4. Orders all departments and enterprises to repeal any benefits and privileges union members have gained.
This outrageous action violates all of the norms of internationally recognized labor rights. It escalates a broad attack on unions that has been taking place in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that has included:
* Continued enforcement of Saddam's ban on unions in the public sector and public enterprises;
* Freezing union bank accounts and assets;
* Banning union leaders from traveling outside Iraq without prior government approval;
* Transferring union leaders to remote locations far from their homes, families and union members;
* Issuing criminal charges against Oil Union Federation officers alleging they are undermining the Iraqi economy by protesting privatization of oil resources and companies;
* Ignoring the requirement in the Iraqi Constitution calling for enactment of a basic labor rights law;
* Violating ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining to which Iraq is signatory.
If you click here, US Labor Against the War has made sending e-mails to object very simple.
From war on the unions to other violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left four people injured, a Karbala suicide car bombing which claimed the lives of 20 people with another fifty wounded, and a Mosul home bombing which wounded two people. (I think Karbala was yesterday, FYI, but it's billed as today.)
In other developments, Catholic News Agency reports a passing, Auxiliary Bishop Andraos Abouna, 67-years-old, died today in an Erbil hospital -- possibly from kidney complications. The Auxiliary Bishop was ordained as a priest June 5, 1966 and had been working in Iraq all that time. The Assyrian Democratic Movement notes, "Mar Andraos is known for defending and fighting for peace between Iraqi factions and has great stance in maintaining the unity of the people of our Chaldean Syriac Assyrian. H.E. Mar Andraos is also known for promoting a unified religious dialogue and strengthening the unity of Iraqis to safeguard and consolidate the national unity and supports the diversity of Iraq." In January 2003, John L. Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter) filed a story on the Auxiliary Bishop:
During his Christmas Mass, the pope prayed that humanity will strive "to extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict that, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided." On New Year's Day, he spoke in similar terms. "In dealing with ongoing conflicts and tension growing more threatening, I pray that peaceful ways of settling conflicts be sought after, driven by loyal and constructive cooperation in accordance with the principles of international law," John Paul said.
Few people were probably listening more attentively than Andraos Abouna, the new auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, who was personally consecrated by the pope along with 11 other new bishops on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. Abouna will aid Patriarch Raphaël I Bidawid of Baghdad in shepherding a community of some 600,000 Iraqi Chaldean Catholics, who may soon find themselves at ground zero of the war John Paul is begging the world to avoid.
[. . .]
"We asked the Holy Father to pray for peace in Baghdad," Abouna said, "and you could see that he was moved. When he speaks about Baghdad, he does so from the heart, because this is the land of Abraham, the first believer in God. For us it is the Holy Land."
Abouna said he also appreciates the letter from the U.S. bishops on Iraq, which he described as a "very, very good statement."
Still, he is a realist about the potential impact of such interventions from religious leaders, given that John Paul opposed the Gulf War in 1991 and it didn't stop the bombs from falling.
"Politicians act in their own interest, often for economic reasons," he said. "They don't so much care what religious leaders say."
Vatican Radio notes his kidney problems two months ago and that yesterday the Auxiliary Bishop was taken to the hospital, yesterday afternoon, that the funeral was expected to be held this evening, that he was born in the village of Bedare/Zakho in 1943, entered the Monastery in 1975 (in Mosul), was ordained in Baghdad June 5, 1966 and had been a parish priest in both Basra (1967 to 1971) and Baghdad (1971 to 1991).
Turning to Turkey, Today's Zaman reports, "A long-planned Kurdish conference which was to take place in northern Iraq under the auspices of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with the participation of delegates from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Europe is now back on the agenda once more." The news comes as Press TV reports that 4 Turkish security forces were killed yesterday -- possibly by the Kurdish rebel group PKK.
A US federal watchdog has criticised the US military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the US Department of Defence is unable to account properly for 96% of the money. Out of just over $9bn (£5.8bn), $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says. The US military said the funds were not necessarily missing, but that spending records might have been archived. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reminds this is far from the first audit which has turned up poorly or mismanaged funds in Iraq and that "In a written response to a draft of the audit, the Pentagon vowed to act on the inspector general's three recommendations to strengthen accounting mechanisms and dispose of the Iraqi money not yet relinquished. " Left unstated is that the Pentagon has repeatedly made similar promises. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) offers this context: "The report comes as Iraqis are increasingly frustrated with their own government's inability to provide basic services, or to explain how tens of billions of dollars' worth of oil revenue has been spent since 2007. The alleged U.S. mismanagement of Iraqi money is certain to revive grievances against the U.S. for failing to make a big dent in the country's reconstruction needs despite massive expenditures."
CNN notes Adm Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has arrived in Baghdad. He is visiting the country to review the drawdown plans.
Solomon today wrote the piece "State of Denial: After the Big Leak, Spinning for War," which states: "Washington's spin machine is in overdrive to counter the massive leak of documents on Afghanistan. Much of the counterattack revolves around the theme that the documents aren't particularly relevant to this year's new-and-improved war effort. ...
"What has been most significant about 'the president's new policy' is the steady step-up of bombing in Afghanistan and the raising of U.S. troop levels in that country to a total of 100,000. None of what was basically wrong with the war last year has been solved by the 'new policy.' On the contrary."
Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death and president of the Institute for Public Accuracy, visited Kabul last year. He is available for a limited number of interviews.
The cache of classified U.S. military reports on the Iraq War as yet unreleased by WikiLeaks may be as much as three times as large as the set of more than 91,000 similar reports on the war in Afghanistan made public by the whistle-blower Web site earlier this week, Declassified has learned.
Three sources familiar with the Iraq material in WikiLeaks's hands, requesting anonymity to discuss what they described as highly sensitive information, say it's similar to this week's Afghanistan material, consisting largely of field reports from U.S. military personnel and classified no higher than the "Secret" level. According to one of the sources, the Iraq material portrays U.S. forces being involved in a "bloodbath," but some of the most disturbing material relates to the abusive treatment of detainees not by Americans but by Iraqi security forces, the source says.
Meanwhile, "Give Us One House And We'll End The War!" claimed the Democratic Party in the lead-up to the 2006 mid-term elections. The mistake voters made, apparently, was giving them control of two houses of Congress. With control of both the Senate and the House, the Dems were apparently too taxed to end the war. And the additional burden of having the White House via the 2008 elections? Well it means the wars continue. David Swanson (War Is A Crime) reports:
On Tuesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill already passed by the Senate that funds a $33 billion, 30,000-troop escalation in Afghanistan. The vote was 308 to 114. What could the good news possibly be?
The first good news is that, while we had no more than 35 congress members who would vote against war funding a year ago, or perhaps 55 when it was an easy vote with no pressure, we've now got 114. That's serious progress. That's a far more dramatic increase than we've seen in the number of congress members willing to vote for a non-binding unspecified timetable for a withdrawal. That number rose from 138 last year to 162 on July 1st (although the legislation was somewhat stronger this year). In other words, willingness to express mild interest in ending the war has reached a plateau. Willingness to take serious action to end the war is rapidly catching up. Of course, both have to top 218 before we win.
The really good news is that we finally have an essential ingredient in any recipe for legislative change: a record of which legislators are with us, and which against us. Almost any effective campaign to pass, or -- as in this case -- defeat, legislation requires at least three stages. First you run a trial to identify who stands where. Then you reward and punish at the polling booth in the next election. Then you try again and possibly succeed. Until now, we've been unable to reach step one. The "leadership" in Congress has packaged war bills in unrelated measures, or -- as was done four weeks ago -- passed bills without holding a vote at all. Now we finally know, unambiguously, who stands where. The question is whether we're willing to act on it.
I come from Tierra Blanca, a very poor town in Veracruz. After my children's father abandoned us, I decided to come to the U.S. There's just no money to survive. We couldn't continue to live that way. We all felt horrible when I decided to leave. My three kids, my mom, and two sisters are still living at home in Veracruz. The only one supporting them now is me. My kids' suffering isn't so much about money. I've been able to send enough to pay the bills. What they lack is love. They don't have a father; they just have me. My mother cares for them, but it's not the same. They always ask me to come back. They say maybe we'll be poor, but we'll be together. I haven't been able to go back to see them for six years, because I don't have any papers to come back to the U.S. afterwards. To cross now is very hard and expensive. My first two years in San Francisco I cleaned houses. The work was hard, and I was lonely. It's different here. Because I'm Latina and I don't know English, if I go into a store, they watch me from head to foot, like I'm a robber. After two years, I got a job as a janitor, making $17.85 per hour. Cleaning houses only paid $10. But then I was molested sexually. Another worker exposed himself to me and my friend. When we went to the company and filed a complaint, they took me off the job and kept me out of work a month. They didn't pay me all that time. That's when my problems started, because I called the union and asked them to help me. After that, the company called me a problematic person, because I wouldn't be quiet and I fought for my rights. Sometimes they wouldn't give me any work. When you work as a janitor you're mostly alone. You pick up trash, clean up the kitchen and vacuum. These are simple things, and they tire you out, but basically it's a good job. Lots of times we don't take any breaks, though. To finish everything, sometimes we don't even stop for lunch.