Monday, September 06, 2010

Combat operations never ended

Steven Lee Myers and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) report, "Insurgents mounted a coordinated attack on one of the main military commands in Baghdad on Sunday, briefly drawing fire from American soldiers, an event that underscored the ambiguity of the American military’s role in Iraq." For those late on the news, we'll again note The KPFA Evening News Sunday, where David Landau explained:

In the Middle East today, American soldiers helped Iraqi troops battle insurgents in downtown Baghdad earlier today, repelling a major attack in the capital five days after President Obama had declared an end to US combat operations there. At least 18 people were killed and 39 injured when a group of suicide bombers and gunmen attempted to storm the army's east Baghdad headquarters located in a former ministry of defense building in a busy market district along the Tigris River. No Americans were among the casualties, according to a US military spokesman, but US soldiers did join in the fighting alongside Iraqis to repel the assailants, two of whom managed to enter the army compound. The US military also dispatched helicopters, bomb disposal experts, unmanned aerial drones and other unspecified intelligence, surveillance and reconassiance assistance to the scene of the downtown battle, the US military spokesman said. According to an Iraqi official, speaking anonymously, the Iraqi security forces had requested American help in the battle and US soldiers shot 2 snipers who had taken up position in nearby buildings. It was the first significant attack in Baghdad since President Obama's address to the nation on Tuesday in which he told Americans that US combat operations were over and said it was time to "turn the page" on Iraq.

Two correspondents for the New York Times -- Anthony Shadid and Michael R. Gordon -- were on PRI's The Takeaway today. Excerpt:

John Hockenberry: It's safe to say it's a new dawn in Iraq but it's partly cloudly.

Celeste Headless: That's -- that's a pretty good weather forecast. Accurate but not pretty.

John Hockenberry: Exactly. The lack of clarity over what the "new dawn" and the end of combat operations in Iraq actually means for US forces was demonstrated over the weekend. And, you know, less than a week after combat operations ended, US forces were reportedly called in to repel a coordinated attack on an Iraqi military. No American casualties there -- or at least none killed. But in the bombing and the shooting that came after at least 12 Iraqis were killed and more than 20 were wounded. Iraqi forces were also involved in this firefight as well. Iraqi Defense Spokesperson Maj - Gen Mohammed al-Askari denied though that US troops had been involved.

Maj - Gen Mohammed al-Askari: [Translated by PRI] This is not true. We didn't call the American troops. The Iraqi troops did it, foiling the attackers. And we wouldn't use American troops in this kind of operation. I don't think only six attackers represents a threat to Iraqi national security. I'm in direct contact with the operation room and the Defense Minister and we never used the Americans in this incident.

John Hockenberry: But a US military spokesman, Lt Col Eric Bloom, said the Iraqi military had requested help from helicopters, drones and explosive experts. The details in this incident? Well we're going to go to two reporters with our partner the New York Times: Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times based in Baghdad -- we welcome him back -- he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting this year and in 2004 for his coverage of the Iraq War and he joins us from Baghdad and Michael Gordon, New York Times military correspondent and author of The Generals of War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf and Cobra II. He joins us from northern Virginia. Anthony, since there's a delay on your line, let me just start with you. What are the details and the truth as we know it about this incident that took place over the weekend?

Anthony Shadid: You might be able to reconcile those two accounts, actually. I don't think the Americans were called in to the base, they were actually already in the base as part of what they consider these partnership programs. And American soldiers were there. Now what role they exactly played is still a little unclear. The way the American military portrays it, they did what they call suppressive fire. But the actual raid on where these two insurgents were holed up, that was done by Iraqi troops. Now when you look at this raid itself, the general, the Iraqi general may have been dismissive of six people posing a challenge, but we have to consider that this is one of the division commands in Baghdad and an operation of just six men managed to breach the security and actually enter the base -- only two of them managed to get inside. I think it is a blow in some ways to the perceived Iraqi security forces that the insurgents were able to pull off this attack. It lasted a few hours, it was a very loud scene, as-as you reported there were American helicopters involved along with drones. It's something that's going to be remembered here for a little while, I think.

John Hockenberry: Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the New York Times reporting from Baghdad. Michael Gordon, in a situation where combat operations are said to have ended, what are we to -- How are we to characterize this incident? Is this purely defensive combat? There's going to be a lot of this over the next year or so, right?

Michael R. Gordon: Well I was just in Baghdad last week with Vice President [Joe] Biden and I've been at that particular base that was attacked. I was embedded there in '08. I think it's not the case that combat operations have truly ended. The way I put it is: The combat phase is over but the fighting goes on. When you read the fine print of what the administration is talking about, it's clear that offensive American combat operations in partnership with Iraqi forces will continue in the realm of Special Operations. It's called "partnered counter-terrorism" but what it means is Special Operation Forces will hunt for al Qaeda -- Iraqi and American. And also American conventional forces retain the right to defend themselves either with the Iraqis or without them.

Liz Sly and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) add, "An official with the Interior Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Iraqi security forces requested American help to defeat the insurgents, and that it was U.S. soldiers who shot two snipers who had taken up position in nearby buildings." Hurriyet notes that Barack's claim of the end of combat operations "should be taken with a grain of salt".

To the Pacifica whiner, insisting Iraq was being covered last week (it wasn't) by various Pacifica outlets, let's note that Aileen Alfandary couldn't even cover Sunday's attack on this morning's headlines for The Morning Show. She could reach back to Saturday to whore/play Barack's weekly speech but she couldn't cover Iraq. That's surprising because AP did cover it at length and Aileen's so very good at reading AP on the air word-for-word, without credit, and passing it off as her own 'writing.' When KPFA lost Sandra Lupien, they lost a great deal. But Aileen's an old whore who knows how to play everyone in order to keep the job she long ago grew tired and stale in. Saturday, I was speaking with a friend on the Pacifica board about Aileen and others like her and how they really should have the equivalent of term-limits to clean the tired trash that offers nothing but refuses to ever 'move on' thereby dragging down the entire station.

And, still on Pacifica, a WBAI friend asked that I note ballots are due by September 30th for the Local Station Board Election 2010 and that, in addition to mailing in your ballot you can drop it off in person at WBAI (you always have to call first to visit WBAI and bring a photo ID). If you have not received a ballot and you believe you are eligible to vote (having donated either money or volunteer time to the station), call 347-329-4533.

Violence continued today in Iraq -- even if Aileen didn't have a clue as usual.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing which injured fifteen people and a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured two foreign mercenaries. Reuters adds a Mosul mortar attack injured one person.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Brig Gen Abdul Mohsin Kathem was assassinated in Baghdad this morning, Mohammed Ghazie (of the Ministry of Agriculture) was taken to a Baghdad hospital following unknown assailants shooting him and 5 people were killed in a Samarra attack (shooting). Reuters adds the five in Samarra were construction workers. Of the five, Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports, "Authorities discovered their bullet-riddled bodies in an apartment where they were living in the center of the city. Two of the men were engineers and the other three laborers for a construction company refurbishing a police station and a youth center."

On the continued violence, Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) observes, "There have been concerns that insurgents would take advantage of the political vacuum to try to reignite the sectarian bloodshed that gripped Iraq for years." 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 29 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. Khalid al-Ansary, Serena Chaudhry, Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul (Reuters) report that Allwi is stating that, "I hope in Ocotber some time, late October (things will be sorted out)." Allawi also states that he is fine with someone else from Iraqiya becoming prime minister.

At IPS, Phyllis Bennis explores the realities of Iraq in "What We Didn't Hear from Obama on Iraq" (and link is to her text article but there are also two videos of Bennis analyzing -- on Fox News and the Real News Network -- the situation in Iraq):

But what he left out was more significant. Just on the cost of war, while acknowledging the overall cost, and speaking separately about job loss and the economic crisis in the U.S., he didn’t make the crucial link between the two. He didn’t say, for instance, that the cost of keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq another year and a half, more than $12 billion, could instead pay for 240,000 new green union jobs back home -- and still have funds left over to begin paying for real reconstruction and reparations in Iraq.
What else didn’t we hear? We didn’t hear that the 50,000 troops in Iraq now ARE still combat troops -- even if the Pentagon has "re-missioned" them for training and assistance. We heard about the 4th Stryker Brigade leaving Iraq, but not about the 3,000 new combat troops from Fort Hood in Texas, from the Third Armored Cavalry -- combat troops -- who just deployed TO Iraq 10 days ago.

We'll be noting that and a radio interview by Phyllis in this week's snapshots. Today is Labor Day and this is from David Bacon's "THE FACE OF LABOR IN THE STREETS" (Truth Out):

This Labor Day the faces in the streets in cities across the U.S. are those of hotel workers, picketing some of the world's most luxurious establishments. In San Francisco, cooks, room cleaners, housemen and laundry workers laid siege to the Downtown Hilton recentlly, demanding that the corporation negotiate a new contract with their union, UNITE HERE Local 2.
This fall, the conflict between the union and the hotel corporations is spreading to over 40,000 workers in at least nine cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Minneapolis, Monterey, Vancouver, Honolulu, and Washington DC.
The San Francisco agreement expired on August 14. Since then, the union has been trying to bargain in the middle of an economic depression. According to Local 2 President Mike Casey, "The hotels are trying to exploit the bad economy to lower benefits. That's just not acceptable for corporations that are making significant profits, even now." The owners of the Hilton chain, the Blackstone investment group, told Wall Street analysts that it had $12.6 billion in available capital. CEO Stephen Schwarzman was given a compensation package of $1.39 billion in 2008.
San Francisco's largest hotels are demanding cuts in health and retirement benefits, and increased workloads. The luxury chains want workers to begin paying for their healthcare premiums -- $35/month this year, $115/month next year, and $200/month the year after. A typical San Francisco hotel worker earns $30,000 per year, and many can't work a full 40-hour week.
One Hilton housekeeper, Lupe Chavez, explains: "Some of us don't go on breaks or take shorter lunch breaks in order to finish. At the end of the day I'm exhausted. When I get home I just want to sleep. Now they're talking about increasing the hours needed to qualify for health benefits. That is what we're trying to avoid. I'm lost my health at the hotel, and all they think about is money."

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Now He's Soaking In It" went up this morning as did Kat's "Kat's Korner: Last Decade's Buried Treasure" and Kat has another music article which will go up shortly. And we'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "OBAMA LOSING LIBERAL BASE AND YOUTH
" (Global Research):

President Obama is not only losing support among the general public but also of the liberals and college students who did so much to energize his presidential campaign. Now, even some Democratic incumbents whose seats had been considered safe in November are in trouble.
According to Rasmussen pollsters, Obama's general approval rating plunged from 65 per cent upon taking office to 45 per cent today. Larry Sabato, director of the Center For Politics at the University of Virginia, says the Republicans are poised to have a net gain of 47 House seats and likely eight Senate seats. “If anything,” says Sabato, “we have been conservative in estimating the probable GOP House gains...”
What's turning off liberals is that on issue after issue, Obama appears to be little more than a slicker copy of his stumbling predecessor. When the Republicans under George Bush elected to bail out Wall Street, Obama helped them finish the job even though congressional mail ran overwhelmingly against it.
Instead, he might have created a massive jobs program to restart the economy with paycheck power as FDR did with his New Deal. But Obama's half-hearted make-work blueprint appears to be too little and too late. “For Vulnerable Democrats, Economy Fuels Election Fears,” The New York Times reported September 4th. “Seeking to keep the focus away from Mr. Obama and the national economy, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona emphasizes her work for rougher border controls and support for the stimulus money that saved the jobs of local teachers and public safety workers,” the paper said. Her campaign manager, Rodde McLeod, says, “We're running our own race.” Translation: the man in the White House is now a liability, not an asset.
A related article in the same issue is titled, “In a Shift, Fewer Young Voters See Themselves as Democrats.” Reporter Kirk Johnson writes, “The college vote is up for grabs this year---to an extent that would have seemed unlikely two years ago, when a generation of young people seemed to swoon over Barack Obama.” He quotes Mandi Asay, 22, spokeswoman for the University of Colorado's College Democrats, as saying: “People are angry---about the budget deficit, health care plan, angry about this and that. I feel like Republicans definitely, definitely have a chance of getting back on their feet.” The percentage of collegians who identify themselves as Democrats has dropped about five points to 57 percent in roughly two years, according to Pew Research Center.

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