Monday, August 09, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 9, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, al Qaeda in Iraq blamed/credited yet again, DoD identifies a service member who died over the weekend, the political stalemate continues, Nouri cozies up to the Kurds, and more.
Atul Aneja (The Hindu) dubbed it the "weekend of violence" and indeed it was. By midnight US time last night, Saturday and Sunday's reported tolls were at least 77 Iraqis killed and at least 303 injured. It was just Monday that Barry Obama was happy talking violence in Iraq -- two days after the US military was attacking official Iraqi ministry figures on the July death toll. How long ago it now seems. Basra was rocked by bombings Saturday with a death toll that rose to 43. That would be Basra in the south. The south. Where US military brass have told reporters for three weeks now that there are no problems. Any violence remaining, the brass has insisted, is in the north. But, fact, Basra is in the south. And apparently so shocking that many attempted to spin it by insisting to the press it was a generator exploding and not a bombing.  Appearing Sunday on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, was one of the few who didn't attempt to spin.
Christiane Amanpour: Well, let me ask you about the violence. This weekend alone in Basra in the south there has been a big explosion that's caused dozens of deaths. What is it? Do you know what it is, in fact, was it a terrorist attack?
Gen Ray Odierno: Well, I think it probably was. We're still sorting through that, because there was conflicting reports, but my guess is it was probably some sort of an improvised explosive device that went off.
Odierno's guess was correct. Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) report today, "Basra's police chief had said over the weekend that the explosions were caused by a power generator. But the U.S. Forces-Iraq's deputy commanding general for operations, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, told reporters Monday that the explosions were caused by two car bombs and two roadside bombs. They left 43 people dead and 103 wounded." So many deaths, so many wounded.  What's the US military brass to do?  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports, "Though weakened by the deaths of top leaders and a drop-off in foreign funding, al-Qaeda in Iraq's 'cellular structure' remains 'pretty much intact,' Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Higgins said in his first interview since taking command in Baghdad last fall." So it's time to trot out al Qaeda in Iraq again. The homegrown, illegal war created group that the US military was swearing was waning and that the 'capture' and killing of various alleged high-ranking leaders had thrown into disarray. Interestingly, Michael Jansen (Irish Times) appears to be the only one offering anything other than that, "The rise in violence is attributed to two factors. First, analysts say al-Qaeda, which has claimed a number of recent attacks, is reviving because it is recruiting former members of so-called 'awakening councils', made up of Sunni militiamen who joined the US in the 2007-2008 war against al-Qaeda and its allies." Jansen goes on to note how Nouri never did supply the jobs the Sahwa needed.  But possibly noting that explanation would underscore just how much the violence is Nouri's fault?
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports that US Lt Gen Robert W. Cone stated they expected to see violence continue to increase "as the holy month of Ramadan begins this week". This follows Wang Fengfeng, Ran Wei and Xiong Tong (Xinhua) Saturday report that, "With the United States scheduled to withdraw all its combat troops from Iraq by the end of this month amid political stalemate and rising violence in that country, worries are mounting in Washington and elsewhere about the situation in Iraq after the drawdown."
The violence didn't stop today. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports a Baghdad bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi traffic police officer and 1 civilian while injuring ten other people and Faraj notes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, fighting to keep his job after narrowly losing the election, insisted the security situation was not getting worse, 'but some gaps have opened up, here and there, from time to time'." Nouri the comic. Reuters notes an Abu Ghraib medical complex bombing which claimed 2 lives and left seven people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left two people wounded, a second Mosul roadside bombing left six people injured, 1 man was shot dead in Kirkuk and, dropping back to Sunday for other violence, notes Sinan al-Shibibi's bodyguard was injured in a Baghdad shooting and 1 "official" was shot dead in Kirkuk and two of his bodyguards were injured.
Over the weekend, another US service member died in Iraq.  DoD issued a statement today noting "the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Spc. Faith R. Hinkley, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Aug. 7 in Baghdad, of wounds suffered when inusrgents attacked her unit in Iskandariya, Iraq. She was assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash."  
On last Monday's speech by Barack, we'll highlight this from Bill Van Auken's analysis for WSWS last Tuesday:
One would never know from this lyrical description that the US had waged a criminal war of aggression that has cost the lives of over a million Iraqi men, women and children and left an entire country in ruins.              
Nor, for that matter, would one guess from his words that the speaker was a candidate who won the Democratic nomination less than two years ago by proclaiming that the Iraq war "should never have been authorized and never been waged." One could be excused for thinking instead that it was George W. Bush.
Also weighing in on the speech, Eric S. Marolis (Gulf Times) observes, "Has America's goodbye to Iraq really begun? One suspects it's more a question of re-branding than retreat. The 50,000 US troops left in Iraq will supposedly 'advise and assist' and perform 'anti-terrorism' missions, and training. To this old war correspondent, that sounds a lot like white officers leading native troops."  Sunday Saad N. Jawad (Lebanon's Daily Star) observed, "The former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, recently described the Iraqi elections and their aftermath as 'high drama and low comedy.' It is the perfect description, yet he should have added that this was a natural outcome of the occupation, Iraq's vague and divisive Constitution, Washington's insistence on standing by the corrupt and failing people who came in with American forces after the invasion, and the sectarian-quota policy." 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. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 2 days.
Al Jazeera notes many of the problems facing Nouri al-Maliki's desire for a second term as prime minister. Press TV reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani -- strangely they give him no title (not so strange, they don't recognize the KRG) -- stated, "Maliki's visit to Kurdistan is not aimed at the formation of a new alliance, but is to reinforce an old alliance and a start to put an end to all the problems Iraq is suffering from." Again, the meeting will lead to rumors that Nouri's willing to give away Kirkuk.  Liz Sly and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) shared their belief that Nouri "received a boost" by a non-endorsement from KRG President Massoud Barzani whom he met with today. That would be difficult for that to translate into a boost. The KRG does not have enough votes to put him over the top and any embrace by the KRG of Nouri will be interpreted by Shi'ites as an under the table deal being made on Kirkuk which has long been a tug-of-war point between Shi'ites and Kurds. Just meeting with Barzani leads to those accusations, cries of "Nouri's giving the Kurds Kirkuk!" Which should make it hard for Nouri to pull off support from the Iraqi National Alliance (which is his only hope short of making some deal with Iraqiya). Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports Iraq's Shi'ite Vice President and member of the Iraqi National Alliance Adel Abdul Mehdi is calling out Nouri for Nouri's statements blaming everyone "but himself" which Mehdi finds contradictory and beneath the position of prime minister.  Pakistan's The News International speculates on the sort of deals Nouri could make to continue as prime minister:

Maliki becomes prime minister, a Sunni member of Iraqiya gets the speaker's post, and Allawi becomes head of the National Security Council with broad authority.                            
Maliki becomes prime minister, and Allawi president. This is hard to imagine. Sunnis say they would regard Allawi as an honorary Sunni as prime minister, but not if he is president. Kurds would likely object to this scenario as well.
Maliki becomes prime minister, and Iraqiya picks half the government. This scenario is possible, but it hinges on Sunni leaders within Iraqiya sacrificing Allawi or on Allawi sacrificing himself for the benefit of Iraqiya.
Iraqiya combined with Maliki's State of Law would have 180seats in the 325-seat parliament.           
An Iraqiya deal with INA, including ISCI and the Sadrists, would give the combined bloc 161.               
On the latest edition of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday), Teymoor Nabili was joined by State of Law and ministry adviser Saad al-Muttalibi, Arab Lawyers Association president Sabah al-Mukhtar and, from the US, noted 'scholarship' provider Jack Burkman. We're not noting Burkman.  He wants to show his ass to the world, he can.  It's a shame many Al Jazeera viewers will think that's how Americans are -- that we snicker and laugh while someone else speaks and then immediately ridicule them.  It's a shame he had no parent or guardian who cared enough to instill manners in him. 
Teymoor Nabili: Well let me allow Sabah al-Mukhtar to respond to this.  The idea or notion that the ability to criticize a non-existent government somehow represents progress, tell me about that?
Sabah al-Mukhtar: Well Mr. Saad is living in the Green Zone so, of course he feels --
Saad al-Muttalibi: No, I don't live in the Green Zone --
Sabah al-Mukhtar (Con't) -- that --
Saad al-Muttalibi: No, I don't --
Sabah al-Mukhtar: All of you live in the Green Zone. All of you live in the Green Zone.  All of you work in the Green Zone.  And when you go out, you have thirty people protecting you from the people. So the idea that somehow that the life of people does not matter because you can speak and because you have 20 newspapers or some satellite station while people can not even go to --
[Pushy, Ignorant American John Burkman attempts to interrupt even though it is not his turn to speak.  The Ugly American: John Burkman.]
Sabah al-Mukhtar: -- and work without being bombed and killed and the figures show that and that's what we're discussing.
Jack Burkman: [. . .]
Teymoor Nabili: Let me stop you there and not ask that question, John, if I may, because that's not really the question at issue here.  Let me put a question to you, when General -- when General -- when General Ray Odierno says that when the Americans pull out they may well have to send a peace keeping force to keep the peace in Kurdistan, you've got to ask yourself whether anything has been achieved.
Jack Burkman: [. . .]
Teymoor Nabili: Well alright, I'll tell you -- I'll tell you why -- I'll tell you why there's a degree of skepticism being raised, not necessarily by me, but by a lot of people, and I'll put this to Mr. al-Muttalibi, and that is the question of comparing it now to what it was seven or eight years ago, is not necessarily the right one because the question is what's going to happen when they leave. Now if there's trouble in Kurdistan, if as we have seen and our reporter has reported, the attacks in July represent evidence that the insurgency or some kind of violent tendency remains fairly strong then once the 'combat' operations or however President Barack Obama wants to phrase it decides to move on, those forces of anarchy and violence remain and will once again reassert themselves.  Do you not have that fear?
Saad al-Muttalibi: You see with the military disengagement now taking place in Iraq, we will see or we're hoping there will be a political engagement by the free world with Iraq, helping Iraq, pass this very critical time.  I must disagree with your guest in the United States because we cannot compare between now and Saddam Hussein because they're two different worlds completely.  Now if we go back to your question, sir, yes, there are elements of unrest, there are elements of differences between how the Kurds see the circumstances in Iraq and how the Arab side see the political situation with their northern colleagues. There are differences, there are problems.  But we are all resorting to resolving these differences through dialogue.  If you have noticed in the last few months, we don't view political violence between competing political parties. There is an open dialogue and the dialogue is taking place. The insurgency have gone down tremendously.  As you know, I am in charge of reconciliation and I deal with insurgents every single day. It's my job.
Jack Burkman: [. . .]
Teymoor Nabili: Let me give Sabah al-Mukhtar, another-another comment here because he hasn't had too much of a say.  Go ahead.
Sabah al-Mukhtar: The reconciliation is taking place between the people who are actually in power. You know when you have a Hakim, a Maliki and and Ayad Allawi having reconcilation, this is an absolute abuse of the terminology. Reconcilation is beween people who differ.  Those people have all come with the Americans, they all have the same agenda. They all want the Americans to stay.  They all will leave before the Americans leave. 
"I made a mistake," Mohammed said. "I just hope I will be allowed to go back to Riyadh. I want to leave."
He would not be going home soon. A U.S. military advisor, dressed in jeans and with a pistol strapped to his thigh, was monitoring my talk with Mohammed. The Iraqi who interpreted, also with a pistol on his hip, was an overweight police official. The Saudi, the American, and the Iraqi in this room were in a deep mess, as were their homelands. There were many reasons, and a core one was evoked when Mohammed ventured a guess as to why Iraq had been invaded.
"The Americans want to control Iraq's resources," he said. "They came here for oil."
Shortly after the Marines rolled into Baghdad and tore down a statue of Saddam Hussein, I visited the Ministry of Oil. American troops surrounded the sand-colored building, protecting it like a strategic jewel. But not far away, looters were relieving the National Museum of its actual jewels. Baghdad had become a carnival of looting. A few dozen Iraqis who worked at the Oil Ministry were gathered outside the American cordon, and one of them, noting the protection afforded his workplace and the lack of protection everywhere else, remarked to me, "It is all about oil."            
The issue he raised is central to figuring out what we truly pay for a gallon of gas. The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reminded Americans that the price at the pump is only a down payment; an honest calculation must include the contamination of our waters, land, and air. Yet the calculation remains incomplete if we don't consider other factors too, especially what might be the largest externalized cost of all: the military one. To what extent is oil linked to the wars we fight and the more than half-trillion dollars we spend on our military every year? We are in an era of massive deficits, so it pays to know what we are paying for and how much it costs.               
The debate often hovers at a sandbox level of did-so/did-not. Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, insisted the invasion of Iraq had "nothing to do with oil." But even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, rejected that line. "It is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows," Greenspan wrote in his memoir. "The Iraq war is largely about oil." If it is even partly true that we invade for oil and maintain a navy and army for oil, how much is that costing? This is one of the tricky things about oil, the hidden costs, and one of the reasons we are addicted to the substance -- we don't acknowledge its full price.
Peter Maass' latest book is Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil which is out  tomorrow in softcover. 

The release of 90,000 secret U.S. military files by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, in its broadest context, reveals that the Obama administration and the Pentagon brass have been and still are fully aware that they are not only losing the war in Afghanistan, but also have no possibility of winning. 

The documents present a powerful indictment against the Pentagon, the Obama administration and the Bush administration for their failure to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan. They provide documentary evidence of the killing of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians by U.S. and NATO troops.  

The files reveal that the Pentagon set up a secret commando unit called Task Force 373 that is nothing other than a death squad. Task Force 373, made up of Army and Navy Special Operatives, is seeking to assassinate individuals from an assembled list of 2,000 targets. 

And despite rosy-sounding publicity missives coming from the Pentagon, the information released on Wikileaks shows an obvious pattern of intensifying bomb attacks against U.S. and NATO forces. 

The decision by the Obama administration to send 60,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009 is exposed as nothing other than a decision to send more human beings to their death in an ongoing war that cannot be won, so as to avoid taking the political responsibility for a military setback. That is the rule that all U.S. policymakers abide by. No matter what, they must avoid the appearance of military defeat at the hands of an armed resistance. 

The White House condemned the release of the classified documents in the most disingenuous and hypocritical way. It denounced those who provided the files for putting "the lives of U.S. and partner service members at risk." That is turning reality upside down. It is the Obama administration that is putting the lives of U.S. service members and Afghan civilians "at risk" every day by continuing a war just so that it can avoid the political backlash for suffering a defeat on its watch.  

The released documents paint a grim picture that is repeated over and over again involving a large number of previously unknown incidents where U.S. and NATO troops shot and murdered unarmed drivers and motorcyclists. 

The documents reveal another incident where French troops used machine guns to strafe a bus full of children in 2008. A military patrol machine gunned another bus, wounding or killing 15 of its civilian passengers. In 2007, Polish troops rained mortar fire down on an Afghan village, killing a wedding party, including pregnant women, in a revenge attack for an earlier insurgent assault.                        

In April of this year, Wikileaks published the now-famous classified video of a U.S. Apache helicopter murdering 12 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding children. The Pentagon arrested Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst in Iraq and has been holding him incommunicado in recent months. Wikileaks has not disclosed whether Manning was the source of the leak of the classified video or the recently released documents, but has announced that it will help provide legal assistance for Bradley Manning.                     

For months now, the web of lies spun by the White House and Pentagon about the Afghan war has started to come undone. Public support for the Afghan war, along with support from inside the military ranks, continues to decline. But it will take a resurgent anti-war movement to convert this latent frustration into a powerful political force that can finally bring the criminal occupation to an end.