Wednesday, August 4, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the costs of war are noticed, Barack's broken promises are as well, and more.
Today United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon addressed the issue of Iraq in a report the the United Nations Security Council. His [PDF format warning] remarks included:
I am concerned with the overall human rights situation in the country, notably the high rate of indiscriminate and targeted attacks against the civilian population. Ongoing violence and targeted assassinations also continue to be reported against government officials, newly elected members of the Council of Representatives, media workers, minority and ethnic and religious groups. In May, approximately 100 Christian students travelling in buses to the University of Mosul were injured and a bystander was killed when two roadside bombs exploded as the buses passed. In April, approximately 50 civilians were killed as the result of bombings in Shi'a neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Between May and June, political figures were also the target of indiscriminate attacks: five family members, including three children, of an Awakening Council member were killed in Baghdad; a newly elected member of the Council of Representatives, Bashar Hamid al-Egaidi, was assassinated in Mosul; and a parliamentary candidate, Fares Jasim Al Jabour, was killed in his house in West Mosul on 5 June. Journalists and media workers continued to be targeted in attacks aimed at restricting freedom of expression and opinion. A 23-year-old freelance journalist, Sardasht Othman, was kidnapped outside the Salahaddin University in Erbil and was later found shot dead on 6 May near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in eastern Mosul. Mr. Othman was known for his writing critical of members of the Government. KRG is currently investigating the matter.
The UNAMI Human Rights Office continued to monitor government detention centres in Kirkuk, Basra and Erbil, in which poor conditions have been reported. In the detention cenre in Basra, the Human Rights Office reported that the physical conditions of the prison did not meet minimal international standards. In another incident of concern, on 12 May, seven detainees suffocated while in transit from Al-Taji detention centre to Al-Tasfirat pretrial detention facility in Baghdad. It was reportedly the result of Iraqi army personnel transporting 100 detainees in two windowless vheicles whose capacity was for only 15 persons.
Not quite the rah-rah Barack Obama spun earlier this week. He also spoke of the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. 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 28 days. The Secretary-General noted:
[. . .] I am concerned that continued delays in the government formation process are contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the country. Not only does this risk undermining confidence in the political process, but elements opposed to Iraq's democratic transition may try to exploit the situation. The number of recent security incidents throughout Iraq, mainly in the north of the country and in Baghdad, including attacks against newly elected members of parliament and religious pilgrims, are of particular concern.
In this context, I urge all political bloc leaders to work together through an inclusive and broadly participatory process to end the present impasse. After exercising their right to vote on & March, there are high expectations among the Iraqi people that their leaders will adhere to the Constitution and ensure an orderly and peaceful transition of power. I firmly believe that this will contribute to the country's stability and the prospects for national reconciliation. In accordance with their mandate, my Special Representative and his team in UNAMI stand ready to assist.
[. . .] what is the difference between Nouri al-Maliki and Saddam Hussein? Al-Maliki is saying that Allawi won the elections by only one vote, and that he does not consider this to be an election defeat, while Saddam used to say that the Iraqis had elected him with 100 percent of the vote; therefore what is the difference between them? The most important question that must be asked here is, in this case, why did the US forces even topple Saddam Hussein, if they are going to allow another Saddam -- Nouri al-Maliki -- to rise up and appear to us and the people of Iraq, but this time with democratic cover?
This latest phase in Iraq's struggle began with March's parliamentary elections. Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Prime Minister who was initially placed in power by the United States, won a slim majority over the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi won in part through support from secular-minded Iraqis, but also through the votes of many Sunnis -- who were wary of al-Maliki -- and divisions between al-Maliki and some of the religious parties who had been his partners. The vote was too close to call, however, and al-Maliki refused to relinquish power. The ensuing stalemate continues -- despite intervention by Vice President Biden -- resulting in sectarian tensions and degraded government capabilities.
My arguments about the danger al-Maliki poses still hold true. Al-Maliki proved willing to stir up sectarian sentiment when it benefited him politically, then reframed himself as an Iraqi nationalist when facing opposition among some Shiites. His attempts after the election to hold on to power, which included threatening comments about his role as commander of the military and a move to disqualify some candidates in Allaawi's bloc due to reputed Baathist ties, demonstrate he is still likely to place personal advancement over Iraq's stability.
Yet, there is also much going for Allawi besides not being al-Maliki. Despite becoming Prime Minister while Iraq was under U.S. control, Allawi proved a responsible and effective leader, albeit one undone by his U.S. ties. Moreover, his Shiite identity and secular tendencies make him legitimate to a majority of Iraqis and less threatening to its Sunni and Kurdish minorities than the more Islamist al-Maliki. Finally, his Sunni-Shia coalition gives him cross-cutting appeal. This provides Sunnis a stake in the system and Allawi a disincentive to draw on sectarian tensions to increase his political standing, as this would alienate many of his supporters.
For those late to the party, you have not missed this site's endorsement. I'm not an Iraqi. Their leader is a decision for them to make. Nouri is a thug and he's always been a thug and we've called him out since he first showed up as the compromise candidate. Iraq would be a lot better off if Nouri were out of office for a number of reasons. But other than that, we're not making any calls because the issue goes to Iraq to decide. That should not be read as, everybody kick back and relax. The White House has done an awful job of helping to resolve this crisis. Iraq continues to receive money from the US and it continues to receive special status that other countries (Iran, for one) do not. It would be very easy to convey that if talks are not conducted and a leader not chosen quickly, certain favors and actions will be placed on hold. The US could have done that and should have done it. Long gone are the White House claims that Iraq would install a new government long before the August drawdown. Does the press even remember those claims? They don't appear to.
But instead of the White House doing the above, insisting that the groups come up with a leader, they've interfered. It's one thing to say, "We'll take this back, we'll place this on hold." That's fine. It's another to say, "You will choose this person." And, as UPI again reminds today, the White House continues to insist that a deal must be worked out (okay so far) which allows Nouri and Allawi to share power.
No, no such deal MUST be worked out. In fact, such a deal isn't even genuinely possible in Iraq's Constitution. Part of the reason for the stalemate has been that instead of putting pressure for parties to come to a decision, the US government has felt the need to tell Iraqis, "This is what your decision will be." That's how colonialism worked (or 'worked') and how empire works (or 'works') but it's not how democracy works.
Since the White House appears to have forgotten the Iraqi Constitution (or maybe Barack never knew it -- Joe Biden used to know it), let's go over how it works. Parliamentary elections are held. Votes are counted and certified. The political slate or party receiving the most votes has first crack at forming a government. They need 163 seats in Parliament to become the ruling government. If they get that either due to the results of the Parliamentary elections or due to being able to assemble a power-sharing government with other slates and parties, then that's that. If not? First crack only. If, after the first attempt, others want to form their own, that's fine. It's a scramble and whomever can get to the magic number first (163) is the government. That's how it works. It's a winner take all system. There is nothing in the Constitution about "You be prime minister this year, then I'll be prime minister. We'll share the term."
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into such an agreement, the US government is sending a number of messages and none of them are appropriate. The most irresponsible message is: If you don't like what the Constitution says, just ignore it. The March elections were only the second Parliamentary elections since the start of the Iraq War. If the Constitution is being tossed aside now, don't expect it to last through a third round or Parliamentary elections.
By insisting that Nouri and Allawi enter into a power-sharing arrangement, the US is also guaranteeing Nouri a seat at the table -- the government table, not the formation. And yet one of the biggest stumbling blocs has been Nouri. State Of Law was supposed to trounce everyone and come in far ahead of the others. That didn't happen and the fact that it didn't happen is a reflection of the will of the Iraqi people. The will of the bulk of Iraqi leaders is that Nouri needs to go. That's why the alliance between State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance just collapsed. As Iraqi leaders work to convey the message of the people (as well as their own message) that Nouri's not welcome, the US government should not be demanding that Nouri get a spot in the new government.
And to be clear, my criticism above is of the White House and the 'leadership' provided by Barack Obama. Peter Henne can have any opinion he wants and is free to express it (and, having expressed it, he's open to any and all criticism -- that's life in the public square). I'm not slamming him for his opinion and I'm not endorsing his opinion.
Right or wrong, many feel that the political stalemate has resulted in increased rates of violence in Iraq.
I lost my husband while I was pregnant with our daughter, who is now six years old. She became fatherless even before she was born.
My husband was killed in 2004 in a family dispute and left me with two daughters to take care of, alone. I have tried to get my husband's entitlements but no-one seemed to help, neither the government nor my family.
My first source of income is from my neighbours and well-wishers who collect money for me every now and again. My second source is from working as a cleaner at party and wedding venues.
More than half of my income goes on rent for the house that I live in at the moment, which consists of one room. I currently live with my two daughters and my 35-year-old orphaned nephew who is completely disabled.
We want only one thing from the government, and that is a small piece of land to build the simplest house just to keep the family all together under one roof.
Barack didn't speak to or of the Iraqi widows in his 'big speech' at the start of the week. Dale McFeatters (Scripps Howard News Service) observes, "Obama will be giving a series of speeches this month, drawing attention to the fact that his administration had met the Aug. 31 deadline 'as promised and on schedule.' But Operation Iraqi Freedom has left behind a familiar litany of problems -- armed Shiite and Sunni gangs, Kurdish separatists in the north, a meddling Iran on its borders, al-Qaida seeking to regain a foothold ,and dysfunctional power grids and oilfields." Abdel-Karim Abedl-Jabbar tells Anthony Shadid (New York Times), "Wherever the Americans go, the situation is going to stay the same as it was. If anything, it's going to deteriorate. The peace Obama's talking about is the peace of the Green Zone." But did Barack keep his promise? Gareth Porter (IPS via Asia Times) provides a walk-through:
That statement was in line with the pledge he had made on February 27, 2009, when he said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end." In the sentence preceding that pledge, however, he had said, "I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months." Obama said nothing in his speech on Monday about withdrawing "combat brigades" or "combat troops" from Iraq until the end of 2011. Even the concept of "ending the US combat mission" may be highly misleading, much like the concept of "withdrawing US combat brigades" was in 2009. Under the administration's definition of the concept, combat operations will continue after August 2010, but will be defined as the secondary role of US forces in Iraq. The primary role will be to "advise and assist" Iraqi forces. An official who spoke with Inter Press Service (IPS) on condition that his statements would be attributed to a "senior administration official" acknowledged that the 50,000 US troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline would have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn.
Part of that "transition" to civilian control is the construction of a new U.S. army in Iraq managed by the State Department rather than the Defense Department. The U.S. military's Stars and Stripes magazine announced on July 21: "Already, however, the State Department's requests to the Pentagon for Black Hawk helicopters; 50 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; fuel trucks; high-tech surveillance systems; and other military gear has encountered flak on Capitol Hill."
And Obama's announced withdrawal does not include the army of private security contractors employed by the United States in Iraq. National Public Radio reported on August 3 that the "Pentagon estimates about 86,000 private contractors in Iraq and more than half of those contractors are American."
There's much in the exchange to note but the most telling moment may have been at the end. Melissa Block asked, "And, Tom, another deadline coming up at the end of next year, 2011, when every U.S. soldier is supposed to be out of Iraq. Is that a realistic timetable?" Once upon a time the only answer -- remember how we were lied to? -- was the SOFA means the US leaves!!!! Remember Jar-Jar Blinks and all the other liars -- many of whom have attacked this site for stating the obvious and providing a legal analysis of the SOFA from the start (one that is and was accurate)? Tom Bowman replied, "You know, many people I talk with say it's not realistic. That deadline is part of a deal signed two years ago by the U.S. and Iraq, and we may see that agreement renegotiated. That's because the Iraqis will still need these trainers, logistics help, maybe even security help at the end of 2011. So the sense is some number of soldiers will end up remaining, not to mention American contractors." The SOFA replaced the UN mandate. Another agreement will replace the SOFA, that's a given. Whether or not it allows for US forces in Iraq is the only question.
Along with all the deaths, the Iraq War has had other costs. "So thinking about the war in Iraq, America, you already bought it -- but do you have any of the price?" John Hockenberry asked that question today on PRI's The Takeaway. He and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke to economist Linda Blimes.
John Hockenberry: You know, when we spoke quite awhile ago, your estimates [for the financial cost of war] were theoretical. We're much less theoretical now. Is there a running tally of what's actually gone out the door and -- versus what we're committed to?
Linda Blimes: Well I think that people are familiar with the fact that we've already spent close to a trillion dollars in real terms on combat operations in Iraq. But what is less well known is that there are still trillions of dollars of costs more that we have already incurred but not yet paid out. So drawing down the number of troops doesn't save nearly as much money as you would think.
John Hockenberry: And when you say what we're committed to, when you say trillions, is that two trillions or is that going to be six trilliion? You know, you used plural.
Linda Blimes: Well when you think about the costs that we still have ahead -- There are several costs which are going to add. We have estimated a minimum of two trillion dollars more ahead. And first of all we should just be clear that we're still going to have 50,000 troops or so in Iraq for the next year and a half.
John Hockenberry: Right.
Linda Blimes: And we also have troops, thousands of troops stationed in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and our Navy ships in the region who are not being withdrawn and who are supporting them. So it costs billions of dollars every month just to keep them there. But there are at least five big costs that are still ahead. First of all veterans disability claims.
John Hockenberry: Right.
Linda Blimes: And two million US troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and already about 450,000 of those who have returned have filed for disability compensation.
John Hockenberry: And that's a huge fraction.
Linda Blimes: I mean, that is huge fraction because --
John Hockenberry: It's 20%.
Linda Blimes: Well it's more than that because half of the troops are still deployed.
John Hockenberry: There you go.
Linda Blimes: So it's about 40%.
John Hockenberry: Wow.
Linda Blimes: And the vast majority of these claims will be approved and the government will be paying out benefits for many decades.
Lynn Sherr: And you're saying that figure is not counted in up front? That's a -- that's a lag figure?
Linda Blimes: That is a lag figure, that's a good way of putting it. That is not counted up front. Even though we know from previous wars that the peak year for paying out disability payment comes many, many decades later. But in this war we have fortunately a much higher survival rate, so that means we have a much higher rate of those who are wounded or for whom something happens to them during their period of service.
Deb Forter, Military Families Speak Out, 617-983-0710
Jose Vasquez, Iraq Veterans Against the War, 917-587-3334
As organizations, we represent veterans and military families. We have personally carried the burden of the war in Afghanistan, along with wars past. We are glad that the truth about the war is getting out to the public with the recent 92,000 documents on Wikileaks. Hopefully, this will inspire a massive outcry against this war that is wreaking so much destruction to our exhausted and demoralized troops and their families while draining our national coffers.
Obama administration officials are trying to spin events in their favor. Their words must be carefully examined. On the one hand, in an effort to downplay the significance of the release, we are told the documents contain no new information.
On the other hand, some high ranking members of the U.S. military are trying to: 1) intimidate anyone else from doing the same thing and 2) turn public opinion against whoever leaked the current documents. Towards those goals, we are told that grievous harm will surely come to many Afghans and U.S. military personnel -- if not now then certainly later.
A more damning statement could hardly be imagined than this one from Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
While we certainly do not wish to see one additional person put at risk in this tragic, wrongheaded war, we must state the following as clearly as we can.
As veterans and families with members in the military, we consider statements like Admiral Mullen's to be nothing more than calculated attempts to turn public attention away from the real problem – the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan that has already caused the deaths and injuries of many thousands of innocent people all the while millions of Americans are jobless and face foreclosure or eviction.
This suffering in Afghanistan and this bleeding at home will continue as long as our troops remain in that country. Congress must stop funding this war. We must bring our troops home now, take care of them properly when they return and pay to rebuild the damage we have caused to Afghanistan.
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Veterans For Peace is a national organization in its 25th year, with military service members from WWII and every conflict and period since then.
Military Families Speak Out is an organization of people opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have relatives or loved ones who are currently in the military or who have served in the military since the fall of 2002.
Iraq Veterans Against the War is a national organization comprised of active duty, guard, and reserve troops and veterans who have served since 9/11. We call for immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations to the people of those countries, and full benefits for returning service members.