Friday, August 13, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, rumors swirl throughout Iraq, and more.
Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane discussed Iraq with Daniel Dombey (Financial Times), Yochi Dreazen (National Journal) and Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy).
Diane Rehm: And now we have Iraq's most senior soldier saying the Iraqi army will not be ready until 2020. What does that mean, Dan?
Daniel Dombey:Well I think one of the things that it really means is that if you were a betting person, I think you would be very advised to bet that there will still be US soldiers in Iraq after the 31st of December 2011.
Diane Rehm: The question is how many?
Daniel Dombey: Well at the moment there supposed to come down to 50,000 by the end of this month. That from a peak of over 140,000 when President [Barack] Obama took office. I have to say they talk a lot about the combat mission ending. I would say a large part of that is just semantics. They're still going to be involved in counter-terrorism, they're still going to be an essential part in terms of communication and logistics and transport -- all the really difficult actions against al Qaeda or against insurgengents are going to likely rely on US forces for some time to come, I would say.
Yochi Dreazen: Two quick points. One on this issue of semantics, it's important also to look at what General Zubari -- Babaker Zubari -- was actually saying. He was asked about Iraq's ability to defend its borders externally. Which is a very different issue when it has Iran on one side, Turkey on other side, I mean it has multi-powerful countries on almost all of its borders. That's a very different question from its ability to patrol within its borders. And clearly the US focus rightly has been can you get Iraqi security forces capable of fighting insurgents, controlling areas, operating on their own. And there's been really remarkable progress. I mean, admist all the bad news from Afghanistan, I've spent a lot of time with Iraqi forces over the years, they've gotten markedy, markedly better. So the question of what their main mission is in the near future, they're already doing it. I would also add that I totally agree with Dan's point. I think that there's no question in the mind of anyone I talk to in Afghanistan -- I'm sorry, in Iraq or the Pentagon, that there will be an amendment to the deals to allow for some number -- usually in the low thousands is the number I hear -- to stay after 2011 when they're supposed to all leave.
Susan Glasser:I think those are all really important points. I think a couple of things I would add. One, is Iraq unlike Afghanistan had a large standing army that was to maintain internal and external order. This was Saddam Hussein's police state which functioned in a very militarized way so they had something they were reconstructing there which is very different from in Afghanistan which has hadn't a very meaningful army in a long time.
Could Yochi explain this: "One on this issue of semantics, it's important also to look at what General Zubari -- Babaker Zubari -- was actually saying. He was asked about Iraq's ability to defend its borders externally. Which is a very different issue when it has Iran on one side, Turkey on other side, I mean it has multi-powerful countries on almost all of its borders." Is he implying that Iraq installed new borders after 2003 (when the illegal war started)? Or is he implying everyone overseeing the illegal war is so stupid they didn't know basic geography? Iraq's borders were well known. I believe a considerable amount of press ink was spent in 2002 and 2003, for example, on how Turkey might or might not allow the US to fly over (they decided not). Iraq's defense is its borders. It's stupid to act as if this just popped up or to say, "Woah, they can do the internal, just not the external!" That's stupid and crazy. And, point of fact, Iraqi forces can't protect the country internally. As AP notes, "Bombings continue almost daily in Baghdad and around the rest of Iraq, a grim reality illustrated by the fact that the number of civilians killed by insurgents in July was the highest in two years. Though violence is far lower than it was between 2005 and 2007, when revenge attacks brought the country to the edge of civil war, Iraq is far from secure." Matthew Rusling (Xinhua) speaks with Statfor's military analysist Nathan Hughes who also sees realities different than Yochi.
Michael Jansen (Irish Times) observes, "Iraq has just begun to receive some of the equipment it needs to defend the country. Eleven of 140 US battle tanks have arrived but crews will not be trained and the rest of the tanks will not be in service until mid-2012. Iraq has no independent air cover, an essential component of any defence strategy. Last March the government contracted to purchase 18 US F-16 fighter jets, but these are not set for delivery before 2013." Arab News notes the following in an editorial:
Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari went on to claim his troops might not be able to take control of the military situation for another decade. It is hard to imagine what the general thought he was going to achieve by this outburst, which surely cannot have been authorized by any government figure, if for no better reason than the deplorable fact that over five months after elections, Iraq still has no proper government.
It will be suspected, of course, that Washington may have been behind Zebari's words, since they constitute an invitation for the US to continue its occupation. However, there are powerful factors arguing against US complicity. Barack Obama won the presidency with a clear promise to quit Iraq. The American message has been that the Iraqi police and armed forces have reached a level of competence and equipment where they can assume responsibility for security. Indeed in recent months, much has been made of the fact that very few US troops have been out on the streets, leaving the job of dealing with the violence to the Iraqis. Only in the field of sophisticated signals intelligence is the US likely to have any future role alongside the Iraqi military. That contribution probably need not involve the continued presence of US boots on the ground.
Besides, if Washington's assurances about the standards achieved by the Iraqi security forces really are nonsense, what does it say about similar protestations over the level of training and efficiency currently being claimed for the Afghan police and military?
And the line Yochi's attempting to draw -- "security" relegated to internal -- is as false as the claim that "combat" missions are now over and the US has housed Iraq with "non-combat" troops.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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 6 days. Andrew England (Financial Times of London) visits the Parliament and speaks with an unidentified MP who tells him, "Ten per cent of parliamentarians [those involved in political negotiations] are active, the other 90 per cent have nothing to do. The whole of Iraq is a vacuum, for God's sake. You know when you get a black hole in the universe? It's exactly the same now." Hayder Najm (Niqash) states:
Iraqis have no idea when both the US and Iran have agreed to throw their combined support behind Nouri al-Maliki's candidacy for Prime Minister . The leader of the State of Law coalition has never been a 'key ally' to Tehran or Washington. In fact, he has probably been more of a source of concern for both. The US and Iran have managed to align their interests on the future of Iraq, despite their clashes over many issues. The US accuses Iran of supporting armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. Iran is critical about Washington's stances on Israel at the expense of its neighbours' interests. The Iranians recently detained three US citizens who crossed the border, who it accuses of spying. Iran's nuclear ambitions also remain on the US file.
·The crime of killing medical doctors is back in Baghdad in full force.
·Al-Qaeda is luring Sahwa Councils -- the Sunni militia the U.S. raised and armed -- by paying them salaries higher than those the U.S. offers.
·The Iraqi army is asking U.S. troops to extend their occupation of the country for another decade. The reason is that the army comprises mainly candidates from sectarian parties who are not capable of guarding the country.
·Iran wants free shipments of Iraqi oil in return for compensations of the 1991 Gulf War.
·The bombing of fixed U.S. military bases is easier than smoking a cigarette.
·Militia leaders have returned to Baghdad camouflaged in parliamentary garb and quiet and moderate turbans.
And there are currently 4.5 million displaced Iraqis languishing on the outskirts of Iraqi cities and scattered throughout nearby Jordan and Syria. This represents the largest urban refugee crisis in the world.
Most displaced Iraqis fled Iraq amid the height of the civil war in 2006 and 2007. At the time, as many as 30,000 Iraqis per month poured into Syria. Thousands fled to Jordan everyday. The torrent slowed by 2008, but the refugees remain.
Dozens of them have shared their stories with me.
"I don't own a thing and even if I owned the world, if Iraq would become a country again, I would never return," said an Iraqi I met two years ago in Jeramana, a hub for Iraqis in Damascus, Syria. He told me between sobs about the kidnapping of his youngest son, whom he later found dead in an abandoned Baghdad schoolyard. He fled to Syria with his wife and two surviving children the day after he recovered the body.
"Everything is gone," an Iraqi living in a crumbling apartment in East Amman, Jordan, told me in 2008 while his pregnant wife paced nearby. In 2006, his house in Baquba, Iraq, burnt down amid crossfire between Iraqi insurgents and US forces. He sat at home and smoked cigarettes while pondering the future. "I never want to go back. [Iraq] will be divided," he said.
The Iraq War was also a 'growth industry' for ophans. Kelly McEvers (NPR's All Things Considered) reports, "The war in Iraq has taken a heavy toll on children, many of whom saw their own family members kidnapped, tortured and executed during the brutal sectarian fighting from 2006 to 2008. More recently, orphanages are filling up with children left without parents after attacks from insurgent groups, including al-Qaida. But there are very few services for Iraq's estimated 4 million to 6 million orphans. Plans to open the country's first ever child-psychiatry clinic have been approved. But the project has stalled because there is still no government amid political wrangling after the March election."
Not really. Tens of thousand of U.S. troops will remain in the country to train the Iraqi army and provide it with logistical support. If need be, they will be engaged in combat missions. Meanwhile, the number of private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq in sectors such as security, communications, utilities, and commerce is estimated at 100,000. This number is likely to increase significantly once the "combat forces" are gone, especially in the security sector.
Move on US Marines, here come Xe Services (better known as Blackwater)!
Cindy Sheehan: Well, you know I've learned in the last five years, I think I've learned -- I couldn't even measure how much I've learned. But I know in the last five years I've learned more than the previous years I lived put together. And I've learned, Republicans will be Republicans. And you know they're very unapologetically pro-war. Not every Republican but, you know, most Republicans are unapologetically pro-war. The faction that I learned the most about, I think, would be the anti-war movement or the so-called anti-war movement. The people who are supposedly on the left, the progressives. And, you know, it's just very disheartening that all of my -- my colleagues -- most of my colleagues, or friends or associates that I worked with before Obama was elected have basically fallen off the face of the earth or they support now what Obama is doing or they're not as energetically against it as they were when Bush was president. So the major thing that I've learned, I think, is that we have one party system in this country and it's the War Party. And it just depends on if you have an "R" or "D" after your name if you support what's happening or if you're against what's happening. So that's what I've learned. There's no noble cause for war, there never has been, there never will be. And, you know, we just have to stop being such hypocrites and such supporters of empire depending upon who is president. It doesn't matter who's president. The empire is what has the momentum, not political parties.
Scott Horton: Well, you know, I think one of the things about your story that really captured everybody's attention is the specificity of your complaint -- particularly that your son was sent off to die for -- in a war that should have never been fought. That he was betrayed. And I read -- you know me, Cindy, I'm, into this. I read about it all day. And yet still the casualty reports come in -- 'A couple of soldiers died in Iraq today.' That's still going on. Summer of 2010 here if you're listening to this on MP3 format years from now, doing your thesis on it. Soldiers still dying. Soldiers still dying obviously more than ever in Afghanistan as the war escalates there. And often times, even for those of us who deliberately try to not think this way or whatever, you know, 'a number's a number. Some soldiers died, some soldiers died.' But, you know, I've been reading -- you just get desensitized to it. It's not a scene that you see. It's words and a headline, you know what I mean?
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Scott Horton: That's what you get to picture -- is the shape of the news article, not the event that actually happened. So I've been reading The Good Soldiers by David Finkel which is about a group of guys, a battalion, that were part of the surge in 2007 in Baghdad. And they were basically -- they were part of the ground crew from that Collateral Murder video actually. But anyway, it's the story of 'Hey these are real people driving around in aluminum Humvees getting their bodies torn apart by EFPs and IEDs on the side of the road, getting their brains sniped out by some guy hiding behind a wall. These are -- you know, there names are Gary and Dave and Bob and DeShawn and, you know, Juan and whoever, they're our friends and our neighbors. Their names are Casey.
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Scott Horton: And they're out there dying for nothing. Real people, individuals, crippled for life, brains scrambled by shock waves and by the things that they've seen. And that's if they're lucky! That's if they come home with their arms and legs and life intact. This is not playing around. It's not some movie scene we're talking about here. These are people's sons and brothers and brand new husbands and fathers in a lot of cases as well.
At one point McCord criticized media war analysts, whom he called "these supposed war analysts [who] were going over this video, who knew nothing of what happened that day..."
In the wide-ranging interview with Cindy Sheehan on her weekly radio program Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox, McCord also again attested to witnessing a high-level war crime, that of random execution of civilians in retaliation for an attack on U.S. forces, a crime which was successfully prosecuted after World War II. McCord's allegation was broadcast widely across the Internet two months after he first made it in an interview in April.
Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Pig-Pen Ambassador," from April 5, 2009, commented on Chris Hill's confirmation hearing (see the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th snapshot ). Today Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reports Chris Hill is out of Iraq and "Hours before his departure from Baghdad, he said a power-sharing arrangement between the main winners in the March election was just weeks away." Though Hill makes that assertion, Shadid notes Iraqi officials are not rushing to agree with it. It's a portrait of the manic depressive Hill that comes as close as the press will probably ever come to telling the truth about the uninformed Hill. The Iraqis are the most honest in their assessment. Hill spoke no Arabic and struggled with the basics. He goes on to outline some of James Jeffrey's past work experience (Jeffrey is the new US Ambassador to Iraq) and see how many in 'independent' media bother to comb over that.
Also worth noting is this from the article, "Preparation for the election, the vote and the negotiations on a new government have dominated the tenure of Mr. Hill, who took over the American Embassy at a time when Iraq was less violent and more stable, but only in comparison to the anarchic months of 2006 and 2007." Good for Shadid for not applying the false baseline/benchmark when evaluating the violence. Alsumaria TV reports, "In an interview with a US TV station, Hill explained that the political situation in Iraq is normal and doesn't differ from any other country where the difference is slight between two winning parties." Hill has a tendency to repeat himself (heavily scripted) in one interview after another; however, they may be referring to the interview Steve Inskeep did with him for NPR's Morning Edition earlier this week.
The National Lawyers Guild has issued their [PDF format warning] Summer/Fall 2010 publication. You can check out a photo of the new federally trademarked NLG Legal Observer caps with Heidi Boghosian and Joel Kupferman wearing them and Jamie Munro contributes "Lynne Stewart re-sentenced to 10 years in prison" which contains this quote from NLG President David Grespass.
It appears that being a vigorous and conscientious advocate for one's clients is becoming ever more dangerous. As you know, our former president, Peter Erlinder, was held in a Rwandan jail for the better part of a month because of his representation of a client before the ICTR. From Puerto Rico to the Philippines, lawyers who display principle and courage face dire consequences, including assassination. I know it is cold comfort, but you have long since joined that illustrious company. Our colleagues in Pakistan were arrested and beaten for defending the rule of law but they, in the end, triumphed. We hope the same will be said of you and we remain committed to you and to doing all we can to secure your freedom. Whatever you call upon us to do, we stand ready.
There's much more in the issue but those are two things that stood out. And remember that Heidi co-hosts Law and Disorder with Michal Ratner and Michael Steven Smith -- WBAI airs it on Mondays and other radio stations air it throughout the week. Lynne Stewart is a political prisoner.
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