Tuesday, August 3, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, at least 26 Iraqis died today and at least 62 injured, Iraq gets coverage and gas baggery, one and only broadcast one network thinks to report from Iraq, the political stalemate continues, and more.
Yesterday US President Barack Obama served up some pretty lies on Iraq and the result was a 'surge' of media interest in Iraq. Today on PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke with Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) about Iraq.
John Hockenberry: So Jane, let me begin with you. Is there any way of assessing the quality of life in Baghdad and what the trend line stands at this morning as, the president says yesterday, we're on schedule for the drawdown of US forces?
Jane Arraf: Well I think that's a great question but like so many of those simple, vital questions, a little difficult to answer because the standard is so different here. As you pointed out, it's not normal in New York City or Chicago or anywhere else to face roadside bombs, no electricity every day -- all the other things that people face here routinely. And this is a country where people are used to war, they're used to hardship. But by that measure, things are really still tough. They're not nearly as dangerous as they were three, four years ago at the height of the civil war. The economy is somewhat better but day to day you see people struggling. A lack of jobs, a lack of electricity, a spike in violence. It might not be a rise in terms of a long-term trend but it is certainly a spike and things are very, very fragile here still.
John Hockenberry: Jane Arraf didn't even mention the fact that since the elections earlier this year, there is still no official government in place in Iraq. Joost Hiltermann, what do we make of that? The surge was supposed to be a success. If there's no government and a spike in violence, it seems like something's come awry here.
Joost Hiltermann: No, it's a -- it's a serious problem. And for ordinary Iraqis who are suffering from the problems that Jane has listed, the absence of a government just makes things worse because there is no governance, there is no prospect that some of these issues will be addressed. And, moreover, the bickering politicians give Iraqis the image that there is no solution to their problems and that the politicians don't reallly care about their concerns. And they fear that if things continue this way, violence will recur because they-they think that, if no agreement can be reached, these various political faction leaders will resort to violence through their various militias and that civil war will return.
[. . .]
Lynn Sherr: Jane Arraf, what about ordinary people in Iran -- in Iraq, excuse me. Are they basically glad or sad that the troops will be leaving?
Jane Arraf: Well it's kind of a very complicated set of emotions, Lynn. You know a lot of people -- most people, I would say -- do not want to see foreign troops in their streets. They haven't seen them in the streets for awhile ever since they've withdrawn to the bases for the most part. There aren't a lot of visible combat operations anymore that include US forces. But there is but there still the perception that this is a country that is under occupation -- even though legally Iraq has full control of its sovereignty and its security, it's considered still an occupation.
Chip Reid: When he came into office, there were 144,000 US troops in Iraq. Today there are 81,000 and, by the end of this month, there will be 50,000. Officially, they'll be designated as non-combat forces but that may be misleading because the troops will still be in harm's way and continue to support Iraqi combat forces. They also can engage in 'targeted counterrorism operations.' And while the US troop reduction is on schedule, Iraq's transition to a stable nation is not. The President today said violence is near the lowest level in years but the Iraq government disagrees. They say July was the most violent month in more than two years
Brian Williams: Our NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is back in Iraq tonight, a place where he spent much of the last eight years. He's with us from Baghdad tonight for a closer look at the fragile state of things. Again, after seven or so years of war, Richard, I talked to you earlier today. You had the rare distinction of hearing the President speech from Baghdad. What is the state of life there these days?
Richard Engel: Many people here don't share the same kind of optimism that was expressed not only by the President but also by analysts across the United States today. Life in Baghdad right now is very difficult. This is not what you could consider a normal or stable city. Just coming in from the airport this morning and driving to our bureau -- it's about a twelve mile journey along a short stretch of road -- we had to pass through six different checkpoints, there is a curfew in place tonight as there is every single night. And that gives you an idea of how much stability there is here -- not very much at all. Also, Iraqis only have about three hours of power every single day. They had 24 hours of power here in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. While the United States might want to 'close the door' and 'turn off the lights' on this conflict, many Iraqis are not even able to turn the lights on in their own homes. Many couldn't even watch the speech today because they didn't have power.
Brian Williams: Richard Engel, our veteran of that conflict, back in Baghdad for us tonight. Richard, thank you for your reporting.
Click here and here for The NewsHour (PBS) coverage (audio, video and transcript). The first link is Gwen Ifill covering the speech and providing an overview of Iraq. The second link is a waste of time and really kind of tacky and cheesy in a reality-TV manner -- they pit two advisers (one to Barack, one to Bush) against each other. The NewsHour, you would expect to tell you about Iraqis, but instead they went with strong-winded American gas bags who really aren't experts on much of anything. At CNN (link is text and video), Rick Sanchez reviews some of the supposed key moments in the war that didn't turn out to be key moments. Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Michelle Norris spoke with Anthony Shadid (New York Times) about the situation on the ground in Iraq.
Anthony Shadid: Well you know we're experiencing what's turned out to be a remarkably long stalemate that followed Iraqi elections in March. Iraqis went to the polls, the elections by most accounts were pretty successful. But what's followed has been basically a standoff between the winners of that election. It's nearly five months now and that stalemate seems to be nowhere near reaching an end. In fact, some predictions are saying they could last weeks, even months longer. What it leaves us with in Baghdad is basically political paralysis, a dysfunctional political system, an environment where you haven't had a law passed in months, you don't have a government and you have minisitries adrift and perhaps even security forces fraying around the edges with no leadership in the country.
1. The Iraqi Police hate the Iraqi Army. Sounds like a poorly-scripted domestic dispute -- wife clawing at husband, husband slapping wife. And it is. Everybody's heard of the conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a, but few are aware that the Ministry of the Interior hates the Ministry of Defense and, by proxy, the local cops hate the hometown troops. (Note to self: the U.S. State Department isn't exactly on the best terms with the Pentagon, either.) While I was in Iraq, nobody could quite explain to me the roots of the problem, but it all looked like the usual turf war, with two government rackets fighting for lucrative territory. Since Iraq is still in a state of emergency, the army is actively involved in the internal security of the country, stepping with their military boots on the bare toes of the cops. As one Iraqi police general, Abdul Kareem Hatim, complained to me, "Right now our biggest problem is the Iraqi army. We want the army out of internal security, out of the cities. When a bomb goes off, the police and the army start arguing who's responsible for the breach of security. We need the army out, so we can take full responsibility. All the security breaches happen because of lack of coordination." The main problem in Iraq today, if I had managed to follow his logic correctly, was not too little security but too much. I wonder if the road to peace in Iraq might not be getting rid of the security forces altogether.
Today Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) spoke with the Commission on Wartime Contracting's Grant Green about what happens if the US military leaves and Green explained that the US State Dept takes over the contractors who will "fly an aircraft, [be] driving armored vehicles, providing Medivac, dealing with explosive ordinance disposal" -- "contractors who are doing military or quasi-military functions."
The Iraq War has not ended. Nor have US forces even left Iraq. Something a great many seem unaware of. 4413 US service members will not be returning home and who knows how high the death toll will be when the US military finally leaves Iraq -- whenever that may be.
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
-- "Till They All Get Home," written by Melanie (Safka) and first appears on Melanie's Crazy Love.
Over a million Iraqis have died in the illegal and never-ending war. Deaths continued today. Lu Hui (Xinhua) reports a wave of attacks today on police officers in Baghdad with 5 dead and fourteen injured and one group of assailants planting "the flag of al-Saida's self-styled Islamic State of Iraq on the site before they fled the scene". Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports "gunmen armed with pistols with silencers ambushed Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in western Baghdad, killing five, Iraqi police officials said" and observes it's the second time in a week that the group has planted a flag. Kelly McEvers (NPR's All Things Considered) reports some residents of Baghdad are stating that the attacks would not be taking place if Sahwa ("Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq") were still patrolling. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) notes that it's "the second deadly attack in a week on security checkpoints" while BBC falls back on another news agency, "An AFP correspondent in Kut said the streets were 'covered in blood'." Mu Zuequan (Xinhua) explains twin bombings in Kut have resulted in at least 20 deaths (fifty more injured). In other violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded two people, two Baghdad roadside bombs resulted in the death of 1 "traffic police officer" and left three bystanders injured, a Baghdad bombing injured two police officers and two Iraqi soldiers who were part of a team attempting to defuse another roadside bomb, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured one person and a second Baghdad sticky bombing left two people wounded.
Iraqis have died in isolated violence and in waves of violence. Over one million Iraqis have died in this illegal war. In Barack's pretty lies speech yesterday, he failed to note that Iraqis died at the hands of the US military. He insanely hailed the assault on Falluja as something praise worthy. At World Can't Wait, Chris Floyd observes:
I was attacked at the time for my "wild accusations" by many people, across the political spectrum, even by stalwart dissidents, who felt that such "exaggerations" undermined the "effectiveness" of the anti-war movement, preventing it from being taken "seriously" by the "serious" players in the power structure.
Over the years, small-scale medical studies have pointed to the horrific effects of these USA-WMD attacks. Now, a new comprehensive medical study has shown that the "dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia" in Fallujah since 2004 have "exceeded those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945," The Independent reports.
The Independent story follows up on an initial video report by top BBC journalist John Simpson last week -- a story that was almost universally ignored, not only in the fawning corporate press but also across the "dissident" blogosphere (except by a very few, such as Winter Patriot). Both stories make clear that the chief victims of the American WMD are, overwhelming, children:
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Didn't Obama use his opposition to the highly unpopular Iraq War to advance his presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008? Yes, he did, but once he succeeded in exploiting the Iraq War to gain the nation's highest office, Obama became commander in chief of the world's greatest imperial killing machine. He and his handlers hardly want to do anything that might inhibit the American military's freedom of action as he conducts a "five-front terror war" (Glenn Greenwald) in Iraq (where Obama has defied his campaign promises by acting to sustain the U.S. occupation), Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It should also be remembered that U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Obama repeatedly voted to fund the Iraq occupation, campaigned for pro-war against anti-war Democrats in the 2006 congressional primaries, and never once criticized Cheney and George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq on moral or legal grounds. Candidate Obama's only problem with the Iraq occupation was that it did not make strategic sense for the interests of the supposedly benevolent and exceptionally humane and democratic American Empire. He saw the Iraq occupation like the elite Democratic "doves" of the late 1960s saw the Vietnam War -- as a tactical "mistake" carried out with the best, indeed an excess, of democratic intentions. In late 2006, speaking to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, Obama even had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his claim that most U.S. citizens supported "victory" in Iraq: "The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah [emphasis added]." This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for colossal U.S. atrocity – American crimes included the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city – by the U.S. military in April and November of 2004. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dared to resist U.S. power. Not surprisingly, Fallujah became a powerful and instant symbol of American imperialism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It was a deeply provocative and insulting place for Obama to have chosen to highlight American sacrifice and "resolve" in the imperialist occupation of Iraq. For these and many other reasons detailed in the fourth chapter of my early 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), it is hardly surprising that Obama as president is going after an America Iraq war crime whistleblower, not American war crimes in Iraq.
Barack Obama insists his daughters should be off limits but then continues to go on yacking about them in public -- most recently, calling dinner with them a "prize." In his speech on Monday, he never once noted the many children killed in the Iraq War. Apparently, to him, they were no prize at all.
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 27 days. Sunday Ernesto Londono (Washingont Post) reported that the Iraqi National Alliance has broken off talks with Nouri's State Of Law -- apparently damaging Nouri's efforts to remain a strong-man/dictator in Iraq -- and MP Bahaa al-Aaraji is quoted stating, "We found that our negotiations with State of Law weren't serious." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that Ahmed Chalabi is stating Nouri will give up his desire to continue as prime minister or the Iraqi National Alliance will not have further talks with State Of Law. His spokesperson Entifadh Qanbar states, "It's becoming clear that it's going to be very difficult for him to remain as prime minister. His insistence to stay in power is the main reason for the delay." During all of this, Kelly McEvers (for NPR's Morning Edition) reported that Iran is using "a more soft-power approach" and attempting to influence politics while providing Iraq with a growth industry in tourism (predominantly to relegious sites). Michael E. O'Hanlon (Brookings) who, to his credit, notes that the Iraq War has not ended, then goes on to explain what the political stalemate means in his opinion:
But the plan to leave next year was negotiated by Iraq and the Bush administration, and is now codified in a formal bilateral understanding. It cannot just be discarded. It must be formally renegotiated and revised. And only a new Iraqi government will have the legitimacy to do that.
So we have to wait while the Iraqis find a way to end their political stalemate -- even if that means Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden may need to increase their role in coming months. The president is not done with the hard work needed on this project just yet.
Obama made no mention of it, but today is the 20th anniversary of Iraq invading Kuwait and the beginning of the buildup to the early 1991 Gulf War.
DENIS HALLIDAY Available for a limited number of interviews, Halliday is a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and headed the humanitarian effort in Iraq during the 1990s until resigning in protest over the economic sanctions on Iraq.
JOY GORDON Gordon is author of the new book Invisible War: The U.S. and Iraq Sanctions. She said today: "Twenty years ago Iraq was subjected to the most severe economic sanctions in the history of global governance, followed by a war in which the U.S. and its allies systematically destroyed all of Iraq's infrastructure -- electrical generators, water treatment plants, roads, bridges. When the occupation began in 2003, also led by the U.S., there was massive corruption on the part of U.S. agencies, and virtually nothing was done to rebuild and to restore critical public services. For the last 20 years, the U.S. has continuously imposed destruction and hardship on Iraq. We must really consider that the U.S. presence is one of the significant sources of violence in Iraq, not a force for peace or stability."
HADANI DITMARS Ditmars, author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone, has been reporting on Iraq since 1997 when she wrote a feature for the New York Times. As a co-editor at New Internationalist, she recently traveled to Iraq during the March elections to write and photograph the May issue, "Iraq, 7 Years Later, the Legacy of Invasion."
According to Ditmars, "Almost a fifth of Iraq's population are refugees or internally displaced, and almost half live in abject poverty -- despite $53 billion in 'aid' spent since the 2003 invasion (funds that lined the pockets of foreign military contractors and corrupt officials but left 70 percent of Iraqis without potable water or predictable electricity)."
BBC News recently reported: "A U.S. federal watchdog has criticized the U.S. 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 U.S. Department of Defense is unable to account properly for 96 percent of the money. Billions have gone to rebuild Iraq but much of the money is impossible to trace, says a U.S. audit. Out of just over $9 billion, $8.7 billion is unaccounted for, the inspector says."
PHYLLIS BENNIS Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies; her books include the 2009 Ending the Iraq War: A Primer. She said today: "No question Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a violation of international law -- but it was hardly the first country in the region to invade and occupy a neighbor. Bush Senior's decision to use that violation as justification for a unilateral war, however masked in forced UN endorsements, was not about Iraqi human rights violations -- which the U.S. had long accepted and even helped by providing arms to use against Iran, money, and seed stock for biological weapons. Certainly it was about control of oil and preventing either of the two potential regional powers (Iraq and Iran) from challenging U.S. domination in the region. But the most important reason Amb. April Glaspie gave Saddam Hussein at least a 'yellow light' anticipating his invasion of Kuwait was to maintain Washington's position as a global super-power when its super-power rival, the Soviet Union, was collapsing.
"There is no question that the aftermath of that war, including the devastation caused by years of U.S.-driven sanctions and the invasion and occupation that began in 2003, was one of the major causes of violence against Americans in the Middle East and beyond."