Tuesday, August 31, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Barack prepares to give a big speech (which won't end the war), Iraqis are less than impressed, the CIA had the biggest office where?, the War Hawks and War Whores crawl out of the woodworks, and more.
As Barack prepares to speak tonight about the Iraq War, the world learns that blood for oil worked out very good for Halliburton. Dick Cheney's cesspool has landed a contract. AP reports it is "from Italian firm Eni" for an Iraqi oil field. Reuters adds Eni wants Halliburton "to help squeeze more oil from 20 wells in the Zubair field in southern Iraq." Dick Cheney spent 8 years running and ruining the US government while Bully Boy Bush struggled with his addicition to games of dress up. John Dickerson (Slate via CBS News) weighs in on how Bully Boy Barack's helping out Bully Boy Bush, "As for Obama, he is not consciously trying to improve the public's view of the Bush years. Indeed, he is actively reminding people of the mess he inherited from his predecessor. It is a key theme of the entire Democratic campaign. At the same time, as Obama demonstrates the natural limits of presidential action, he unwittingly adds perspective to assessments of what President Bush could do. As he benefits from policies he once opposed--such as the surge in Iraq, which helped make tomorrow's speech possible -- Obama proves that even a smart politician with the best of intentions can be wrong. And as he champions making tough calls even in the face of popular opposition, he often sounds eerily like his predecessor." Maybe they discussed that in their phone call to one another today?
As his troops return home, Iraqis are marginally freer than in 2003, and considerably less secure. Two million remain abroad as refugees from seven years of anarchy, with another 2 million internally displaced. Ironically, almost all Iraqi Christians have had to flee. Under western rule, production of oil -- Iraq's staple product -- is still below its pre-invasion level, and homes enjoy fewer hours of electricity. This is dreadful.
Some 100,000 civilians are estimated to have lost their lives from occupation-related violence. The country has no stable government, minimal reconstruction, and daily deaths and kidnappings. Endemic corruption is fuelled by unaudited aid. Increasing Islamist rule leaves most women less, not more, liberated. All this is the result of a mind-boggling $751bn of US expenditure, surely the worst value for money in the history of modern diplomacy.
The News Chief editorial board notes that this is the second time the US government has declared combat operations over and points out, "Now we are proclaiming the end of 'formal combat operations,' meaning that what the troops do will be either reactive or in support of Iraqi troops. It still will be combat." Anne E. Kornblut (Washington Post) reports on the advance swirl around the speech:
"Maybe he's entitled to the partial victory lap, but this is not the right moment for it," said analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, who has been critical of both Democratic and Republican approaches to the war. "If I were him, I'd wait until we have an Iraqi government, and do it with the Iraqis together." O'Hanlon said he was "confused about the planned Oval Office speech." It could raise unrealistic expectations among the public about the chances for calm in Iraq, he said. And the timing of the pullout of combat troops may be seen as having more to do with the president's political needs than with real signs of progress on the ground.
In Iraq, desperate not to be John Howard at the War Dance -- the former Australian prime minister tried very hard to hop on Bush but Tony Blair was always in Bush's lap -- Nouri al-Maliki decided to hold his own little press conference and ensure he was not the wallflower of the news cycle. Reuters reports that Nouri crowed on Iraqi TV, "Iraq today is sovereign and independent." Was the would-be New Saddam announcing he was stepping down as prime minister -- something the people and the politicians want? No. He was ignoring that and ignoring the fact that his term of office expired sometime ago. He was, however, hiding behind the semantics that will allow US President Barack Obama to lie to the American people tonight and declare the Iraq War over. Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) points out, "Mr Maliki, the leader of the Shia State of Law party has refused to relinquish the prime ministership, six months after March elections which saw the Iraqiya coalition, a secular alliance led by Iyad Allawi, his rival, win the most seats." Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna observes, "Nouri al-Maliki is essentially a caretaker prime minister. There is no government in place." 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 24 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted. Yesterday, Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reported that the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is stating that the political stalemate could cause harm and "I worry about that a little bit." AFP quotes the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim stating, "We have started to reach the end of the tunnel. In the next few days, we are heading toward resolving the issue and accelerating the formation of a new government."
Jasim Al Azzawi (Gulf News) feels that Allawi has three reasons to refuse to take second place to Nouri including his age (could be his last chance to again become prime minister), Iraqiya (which won't want a second place role after winning the most votes) and
waiving Nouri through comes with "no guarantees that his [Allawi's] future decisions and actions will not be reversed and nullified by Al Maliki's powerful generals in charge of security and intelligence services. Given his limited options, Allawi's strategy is to stay firm, watch Al Maliki stew in his own juice and wait for him to commit a blunder." Meanwhile Zhang Xu (Xinhua) reports, "Arab and Islamic countries, basically Egypt and Turkey, should send peace-keeping troops to Iraq with the coordination of Arab League, Iraq's cross-sectarian Iraqia List bloc's media official Ahmad al-Dileimi told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Damascus on Sunday." If you're late to the party on Iraq's attempts at elections, Xiong Tong (Xinua) provides a comprehensive overview here. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that there are rumors that Al Iraiqya has internal disagreements "over the government formation" but that the spokesperson Haidar Al Mulla denies the rumors. Siobhan Gorman (Wall St. Journal) reports that unnamed "US spy officials" are concerned over Iraq's inability thus far to form a government and notes that "eyes and ears" have een provided in Iraq by "spy agencies like the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" and the unnamed "official . . . declined to say how many officers from the spy agencies will be moved out of Iraq. Until this year, Baghdad, for example, was the Central Intelligence Agency's largest station, and it's now been eclipsed this year by Afghanistant." Reuters notes that Ben Rhodes declared on Air Force One today that, "Iraq should move forward with a sense of urgency." Who is Rhodes? The White House Deputy National Security Adviser. Remember, pay attention to who's in charge of Iraq -- it's the US national security group. Reporting on the increase in murders in Iraq, Usama Redha and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) explain, "But like other killings and assassinations in a wave of violence that has crept up on Iraq during an unnerving political stalemate, no one really knows who the "bad men" are. Was Fakher killed by a Sunni Arab insurgent group like Al Qaeda in Iraq, or a Shiite Muslim militia like the one that once controlled the neighborhood, or did the attack stem from a personal feud? Iraqis are left muttering one word, vague yet ominous: Terrorists, the television announcer intoned about Fakher's killers. Terrorism, police recorded in their books. It was terrorists, his parents say."
Marie Colvin (Sunday Times via the Australian) examines Sahwa -- aka Sons of Iraq, Awakenings -- and explains they are both "angry and disillusioned" and, "Many have not been paid for two months. They believe their job prospects have diminished because they are not favoured by the Shi'ite dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mudhir al-Mawla, the official responsible for integrating the 52,000 members of the Sons of Iraq, confirms that the process has been frozen for a year. Worse, the militia is being targeted by a resurgent al-Qa'ida, particularly in Anbar province, including Fallujah. Here al-Qa'ida is offering young men $US200 ($224) a time to take part in attacks, a huge sum in a city with few jobs." And this comes, as Nafia Abdul Jabbar (AFP) noted, at a time when "[d]ozens of fihters, who helped avert a civil war and were crucial to curbing Iraq's sectarian violence when it peaked in 2006 and 2007, have been killed in recent months in acts of retaliation." Barbara Surk and Rebecca Santana (AP) remind, "The Sunni militias, also known as the Sons of Iraq, were a key element in turning the tide against Sunni-led terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, and the American military began paying the militias to fight on their side. That responsibility now lies with the Iraqi government, which is also supposed to incorporate many of them into government ministries. But many Sons of Iraq complain the government is turning its back on the militias, failing to pay them on time or find them good jobs."
Hadani Ditmars: Of course, there's still a huge US presence in Iraq. An embassy the size of Vatican City, several desert bases that are going to remain. I think we really shouldn't be focusing so much on the 'withdrawal.' What we should look at are the larger systemic issues. The huge humanitarian catostrophe that Iraq is-is experiencing at the moment where seven years after the invasion, as you can read about in the new issue of New Internationalist which I traveled back to Baghdad in February, March to write and photograph. Seven years later the legacy of this invasion is that 43% of Iraqis live in abject poverty, 70% don't have access to clean drinking water, huge unemployment rate, terrible security situation, drastic decline in the status of women and a secular society that has become Islamicized in a bad way -- I mean, I don't even want to call is Islamicized, just militia rule has become the norm. So I think we have to look at these larger underlying issues. I don't think that the so-called withdrawal is really going to effect those issues one way or another. It could have a shorterm, as it has in the past several weeks. upswing in violent attacks, further deterioration of the security situation. But the underlying issues and the underlying damage that has been done by this disastorous invasion and occupation are still there, still need to be addressed.
Sonali Kolhatkar: What is the so-called advisery role that the US troop will play to the Iraqi army. What dot that mean?
Hadani Ditmars: Well, you know, I don't work for the Pentagon so I can't tell you exactly, but I assume it's going to be a very hands-on approach rather than arms' length. At the same time there is a sense of abandonment. I mean, I'm sure you read the Tariq Aziz interview in the Guardian a few weeks ago where he said that Iraq is not ready and that the Americans by withdrawing are abandoning Iraq to the wolves. Well I would say that Iraq has already been abandoned to the wolves, sadly. So this could just make a bad situation worse. It's not really a full withdrawal. It's not really the end of ocupation. But in terms of an advisory role perhaps there will still be some sort of military advice going on. It's really just kind of window dressing, as I say, for the larger issues. There's still a political power, there's still a huge issue around sectarian violence and the sectarian strife. You know, it's a bit frustrating when you've been covering Iraq for as long as I have -- since 1997 -- that the media in the West is primarily interested in Iraq when there's some news that is really more about America than Iraq, you know? When there's been a bombing, or even the elections which were kind of pseudo democratic I would say, there was a flurry of media interest in Iraq. But it's very difficult to get people interested in the status of women and how it's declined drastically or in the larger issue of how this once secular society has become radicalized and fundamentalist, etc. So, yeah, you know, I think obviously the $53 billion that's been spent on "aid," a lot of that has gone to military hardware in the name of military advisory activity. A lot of that has gone into the pockets of American military contractors. And, of course, to this growing army of mercenaries.
Sonali Kolhatkar: And I want to ask you about that privatizing -- further privatizing of the occupation. But first, what do ordinary Iraqis -- what is the view of most Iraqis? Obviously, it's not going to be homogenius but if you can give us a sense of what most Iraqis think about the security situation in their county it would be helpful
Hadani Ditmars: Well I don't know if you read the issue that I wrote and photographed but there was a sixty-eight-year-old architect, Muwafaq al-Taei, a former Saddam-era town planner and he's quite an interesting fellow because as he was being forced to build these terrible villas for Saddam, he was also a Communist and a Shia so he was being spied on at the same time. So he was almost killed by US troops post-invasion when he was doing a project with the Marsh Arabs. So he's rather philosophical as are many Iraqis. And he says in the issue that Iraqis always sort of make do and anarchy is the mother of invention and we'll get through this. But, you know, there's this incredible sort of resilience that people have which I just find staggering really because the average Iraqi has been through so much. At the time of elections, they were -- they were quite cynical about what was going on -- and rightly so because there was nothing really in the way of campaign finance laws. There were incumbents like Ahmed Chalabi who were simultaneously running for office and at the same time nixing the bids of rival opponents under the auspices of the infamous de-Ba'athification Commission. Government forces were rounding up opponents and jailing them under trumped up terrorism charges. So, you know, some Iraqis -- a lot of Iraqis I met were not voting and they were quite cynical about it. At the same time, when the polling stations were being bombed, this sort of encouraged Iraqis to actually get out and vote -- almost in spite of what was going on. Lately when I've been speaking with Muwafaq in Baghdad, he just says, "Well we're just getting on with it, you know, the country isn't really being run by the politicians, it's being run by the Iraqi people and we're just trying our best to make do." It's almost like they've been set a drift. They have no real functioning state. And this is really a contrast from, of course, the Ba'athist when the state was the great provider, when Iraq had the best public health and education system in the Arab world. Having said that, the state still remains the main employer. So it's -- it's really sad to see what's happened to the country. Going back even for the first time in seven years, I was shocked to see how Baghdad had been so completely broken and colonized and walled off into sectarian neighborhoods. If you look at the fact spread, in the May issue of the New Internationalist, there's some quite damning statistics. But there's also a very telling map of Baghdad -- one from 2003, before the invasion, one from 2008. And I don't know if you had a chance to look at that but you'll see that in 2003 most of the neighborhoods were mixed -- meaning Sunni, Shia, Christian, Muslim, Arab, Kurd. After the invasion, in 2008, the majority of the -- in particular after the sectarian wars of 2006 and 2007, most of Baghdad neighborhoods were sectarian enclaves and the majority Shia. So the whole social fabric of -- not to mention the political landscape has shifted radically. And Iraqis are really, I think, just left reeling from it all and trying to struggle for daily survival.
Marco Werman: Jane Arraf is in Baghdad for the Christian Science Monitor. She says Iraqis have mixed feelings about this transition.
Jane Arraf: Now everybody here wants to see occupation forces gone. That's indisputable. They don't like seeing American soldiers in the street. They don't like seeing any foreign soldiers in the street. It's fairly natural. But having said that, there is a real sense here that this is still a broken country and it was the Americans, pretty much, who broke it. That's the feeling in the streets. And until they fix it, they shouldn't just leave. Now the US will say -- US officials who are here will say they're not just flipping a switch, they're not just leaving, they're going to remain engaged. That doesn't actually mean a lot to people in the street because really what matters to them is, "Are the car bombs going off? Are those rockets being fired?" Is there a sense that someone will protect them? Increasingly that's looking towards the borders.
MARGARET WARNER: After nearly two years of steadily declining bloodshed, violence has been on the uptick for the past two months. The Iraqis are in charge of security in the cities and their main line of defense are checkpoints like these.
CAPT. MOHAMMED RADEWI, Iraqi Army (through translator): For the present moment, the situation is unstable, and the army is using these checkpoints to control the situation.
MARGARET WARNER: Iraqi checkpoints themselves are becoming targets, as they were last week in a string of attacks aimed at undermining Iraqis' confidence in their government and security forces. Baghdad resident Janan Jezma was gloomy when asked about the U.S. force drawdown.
JANAN JEZMA, resident of Baghdad: I think we need America here. We need America here. I think so.
MARGARET WARNER: One city that has had its fill of American troops is Fallujah, west of Baghdad, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle.
Amid much fanfare last week, the last supposed "combat" troops left Iraq as the administration touted the beginning of the end of the Iraq War and a change in the role of the United States in that country. Considering the continued public frustration with the war effort and with the growing laundry list of broken promises, this was merely another one of the administration's operations in political maneuvering and semantics in order to convince an increasingly war-weary public that the Iraq War is at last ending. However, military officials confirm that we are committed to intervention in that country for years to come, and our operations have, in fact, changed minimally, if really at all.
After eight long, draining years, I have to wonder if our government even understands what it is to end a war anymore. The end of a war, to most people, means all the troops come home, out of harm's way. It means we stop killing people and getting killed. It means we stop sending troops and armed personnel over and draining our treasury for military operations in that foreign land. But much like the infamous "mission accomplished" moment of the last administration, this "end" of the war also means none of those things.
50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and they are still receiving combat pay. One soldier was killed in Basra just last Sunday, after the supposed end of combat operations, and the same day 5,000 men and women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood were deployed to Iraq. Their mission will be anything but desk duty. Among other things, they will accompany the Iraqi military on dangerous patrols, continue to be involved in the hunt for terrorists, and provide air support for the Iraqi military. They should be receiving combat pay, because they will be serving a combat role!
Of course, the number of private contractors -- who perform many of the same roles as troops, but for a lot more money -- is expected to double. So this is a funny way of ending combat operations in Iraq. We are still meddling in their affairs, we are still putting our men and women in danger, and we are still spending money we don't have. This looks more like an escalation than a drawdown to me!
The ongoing war in Iraq takes place against a backdrop of economic crisis at home, as fresh numbers indicate that our economic situation is as bad as ever, and getting worse! Our foreign policy is based on an illusion: that we are actually paying for it. What we are doing is borrowing and printing the money to maintain our presence overseas. Americans are seeing the cost of this irresponsible approach as our economic decline continues. Unemployed Americans have been questioning a policy that ships hundreds of billions of dollars overseas while their own communities crumble and their frustration is growing. An end to this type of foreign policy is way overdue.
A return to the traditional American foreign policy of active private engagement and non-interventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.
All the liars and whores try desperately to spin today. For example, BBC's Mark Mardell who today wants to scribble about the Iraq War being right. He whored yesterday, he whores today. He wants you to know the illegal war was right because, get this, Richie Armitage told him that. Read in vain for any reminder that Richie is the chatty gossip who helped out Valerie Plame. You won't find out about that. The War Hawk Richie gets to spin and, unlike when he was almost in trouble (and should have been), there's no effort to lie and claim he was ever against the Iraq War. (That was the cover story, if you've forgotten: Why would he intentionally out Plame, he was against the war!) Mark Mardell drools over Richie ("hardman," "massively built," "arms and shoulders muscled") and you just have to wonder what Richie did to get such fawning press.
It also bears recalling that almost none of the goals of the war as described by proponents of overthrowing Saddam were achieved:
-- An alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda wasn't interrupted because there wasn't one, according to any number of studies, including one by the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Pentagon's internal think tank. Indeed, it was only after the US-led invasion of Iraq that al Qaeda established itself in the country, rising by 2006 to become an insurgent organization that controlled most of Sunni Iraq.
-- There was no democratic domino effect around the Middle East. Quite the opposite; the authoritarian regimes became more firmly entrenched.
-- Peace did not come to Israel, as the well-known academic Fouad Ajami anticipated before the war in Foreign Affairs. Ajami predicted that the road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad.
-- Nor did the war pay for itself as posited by top Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, who told Congress in 2003 that oil revenues "could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." Quite the reverse: Iraq was a giant money sink for the American economy.
-- The supposed threat to the United States from Saddam wasn't ended because there wasn't one to begin with. And in his place arose a Shia-dominated Arab state, the first in modern history.
With few exceptions, all we're hearing from are the War Hawks and no one's supposed to notice that. No one's supposed to notice that the same whores who sold the illegal war are invited to weigh in again. Where are the voices of peace? Where are the voices of those who were right about the illegal war? Watch, listen and read in vain at most outlets. One who was right, Phyllis Bennis (Foreign Policy In Focus), issues the following statement:
The U.S. occupation of Iraq continues on a somewhat smaller scale, with 50,000 troops. These are combat troops, "re-missioned" by the Pentagon with new tasks, but even Secretary of Defense Gates admits they will have continuing combat capability and will continue counter-terrorism operations. The 4500 Special Forces among them will continue their "capture or kill" raids while building up the Iraqi Special Operations Forces as an El Salvador-style death squad. The only transition underway is not from U.S. to Iraqi control, but from Pentagon to State Department deployment. Thousands of new military contractors, armored transport, planes, "rapid response" forces and other military resources will all be shifted from Pentagon to State Dept control, thus remaining within the terms of the U.S.-Iraqi Status of forces Agreement that calls for all U.S. troops and Pentagon-controlled mercenaries to leave by the end of 2011. President Obama's speech will not use any terms remotely close to "mission accomplished" -- because with violence up, sectarianism rampant, the government paralyzed, corruption sky-high and rising, oil contracts creating more violence instead of national wealth, there is no victory to claim.
The second and last panel included: Josh Stieber, Iraq Veterans Against the War David Swanson, author Bill Fletcher, labor leader, scholar Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK and Global Exchange
Stieber discussed, from the point of view of a soldier who believed the war lies and came to reject them, the incoherence of the bundle of excuses for this war that we've all been offered. On the one hand this is a war to kill evil Muslims. On the other hand it's a war to spread human rights. We help people out by bombing them, something Stieber said many U.S. soldiers end up joking about, most of them quickly losing any belief in the morality of their cause.
I argued for voting out of office those who fund the wars, and for holding the war makers criminally and constitutionally responsible, including through launching an effort to impeach Jay Bybee and open up a congressional review of war lies and the crime of aggression.
Bill Fletcher picked up where Head-Roc had left off, arguing for the need to make peace not just a preference people have when a pollster asks them, but something that resonates with them as central to the betterment of their daily lives. He pointed to the Chicano Moratorium exactly 40 years earlier as a movement to learn from.
Medea Benjamin inspired, as always, with tales of recent activism by CODE PINK to oppose the war funding, to build alliances, and to hold accountable war criminals including Karl Rove and Erik Prince. And she pushed for participation on a massive scale in the march on October 2nd: http://www.onenationforpeace.org