Friday, September 10, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, despite insisting they were bringing 'democracy' to Iraq the US government undermines rule of law, England stands accused of not only forcibly deporting Iraqi refugees but also of beating them, and more.
Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) Diane was joined by Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy), Martin Walker (UPI) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy).
Diane Rehm: Susan Glasser, tell us what's happening in Iraq where 2 US soldiers were killed and others were wounded.
Susan Glasser: Well I think this is one of the reminders that we're going to get that just because we declared a moment in time to have occured last week, of course, with the formal change of the mission in Iraq from a combat mission to something different doesn't mean that there isn't combat still occuring in Iraq and that there are 50,000 US troops still present there and, of course, they're going to come into hostile situations. And I think that's a good reminder that we're going to be seeing more stories like this at a moment of political instability and uncertainty in Iraq. After all there is still no new government that has been formed, and that's very much in the news right now as well.
Diane Rehm: And this Iraqi soldier had a uniform on which should have meant he was friendly to US troops fighting side by side.
Martin Walker: Well the reports suggest that there was some kind of argument between him and the security detail -- this was around Mosul, up in the north, with a visiting American -- and that that escalated and the Iraqi soldier who was from their Fourth Division [of the Iraqi Army] which is supposed to be one of their better units, better trained units, then opened up upon the US patrol or the US security forces and killed two, wounded nine and was then shot himself. I think it's a reminder of three things, not just as Susan said, that we're going to get more casualties as this mission goes. Secondly, the violence is not just hitting American troops. We're seeing something like two to three hundred Iraqis being killed a month in ongoing bombs by al Qaeda or whoever it's sympathizers might be, or local forces trying to make it clear that they're still in action. And the third thing is, as Susan said, we have got an absolute morass of incapacity, of inaction, on the part of the political front in Iraq. And that's something that the US government in Iraq is now trying to fix, is trying to cobble together -- some kind of alternative government to get through this stalemate between the Iraqi political forces.
Diane Rehm: But explain this power sharing arrangement that's in place now, Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: Well, as Susan mentioned in March, there was an election for government and the Iraqis have still not been able to form their government and so there's an effort to get the two top winners -- a slate led by Nouri al-Maliki, the outgoing -- current prime minister, depending on your take and Ayad Allawi a former prime minister who sort of sold himself as a secular candidate to agree on some kind of government. One that, frankly, would leave everyone weaker, primarily the prime minister, but hopefully sort out -- One of the basic questions in forming the government is who gets what ministry and who gets power throughout the government because that's really what's been holding this back because who controls key ministries like the Ministry of Interior and Defense, some would argue, actually controls the country. And so that, that's the debate going on.
Diane Rhem: How long do you think, how much longer is this going to take?
Susan Glaser: Well, you know, Diane, I think that is really the key question that you've honed in on. You know, there was a very interesting report in the New York Times today that discusses the possibility of the power sharing arrangement that Nancy was discussing and there's an interesting quote in there from an American saying, as we've seen many times before, "Oh, we think this can be hammered out some time in the next month." And then we'll have Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton travel there to sort of bless the arrangement. And I think that's, frankly, wildly optimistic once again. In fact, you could probably go back and find similar background quotes from officials every month for the last six months saying exactly the same thing. And what this highlights is a couple of things. One, the incredible instability. No matter what our wishful thinking about this, it's very hard to proclaim any kind of true success in Iraq when we've walked away from a long term mission in a country that doesn't have a functioning political succession plan. They had an election without the thing that's supposed to happen after the election which is the transfer of power to the winners. So that's number one. It's hard to call that election a success -- as American officials were quick to do -- when they haven't been able to do -- Elections are only successful when they produce governments, right?
Diane Rehm: Exactly.
Susan Glaser: So I think that's really an important thing.
Diane Rehm: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: You know, I was in Baghdad for the handover ceremony last week. Vice President [Joe] Biden was there. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was there. Adm Mike Mullen, the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was there. And I was talking to Iraqis and this was the cloud that was hanging over the ceremony. And really the problem is sort of setting artificial dates for withdrawl. You know the United States had said, 'This was a conditions-based withdrawal.' And the Iraqis were saying, 'These are acceptable conditions for the United States military to draw down? No government? An Iraqi military force that may or may not be able to handle the threat we're seeing in al Qaeda purposely attacking their military installations in an effort to check that? And rising instability?' And the real question, at least the response the United States military frankly says is: 'We're not sure what more we can do. What more can we do?' So we're going to keep the 50,000 there and sort of monitor and transition and train these Iraqis and work side by side. And that happened, by the way, in the US military, that happened, excuse me, in the attack on the Iraqi military compound. It's been the United States military that's come through and get the Iraqis out of these predicaments.
Martin Walker: It's not just the US government that's involved with the Iraqis in trying to put together some kind of a government. There's another player which is, of course, Iran. And the Iranians have made no secret of their partiality for in effect the Shia group, in effect for Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr who've made a kind of an alliance and that is something I think for the United States, I think, is a bottom line to stop. So the other point is when we talk about a new government, we're talking about money. To be in charge of a ministry is to be in charge of jobs to reward your supporters and above all of who is going to be in charge of the new of dispositions of what seems to be the beginning of the boom in the Iraqi oil industry.
Stay with the ongoing political stalemate in Iraq. 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 six months and two days with no government formed.
Let's just recap that, markedly lower turnout, a stalemate that's lasted over six months now, efforts to purge candidates before and after the election and there was also Nouri's repeat charges of fraud and calls for a recount (the recounts did not back up his claims of fraud). Strangely the paper's editorial board appeared more clued in to reality -- for example, March 15th: "The latest election results in Iraq point to a heated and possibly lengthy power struggle between the Shiite coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the rival secular slate led by Ayad Allawi." March 9th, the editorial board observed, "That means there will likely be weeks, we hope not months, of political horse-trading ahead." They hoped not months but were already aware of the possibility. The editorial board was frequently so much better aware than reporters on the ground (I'm not referring to the Times' reporters).
Today Anthony Shadid and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report on what we've already called out, the US pushing for the country's Constitution to be ignored. Instead of pushing for the legal process to be followed (it has not been followed which is why this has dragged out for over six months), the US government has made their main concern keeping Nouri in power. Shadid and Gordon report that the US is pushing for Nouri to stay on but some "curbs" on his power to be put in place.
This is offensive. Think for a moment of the US 2008 elections. John McCain lost. But what the US is proposing is very similar to installing McCain (as George W. Bush was installed in 2000 despite getting less votes). It doesn't matter if Ayad Allawi's slate is ahead by 1 vote or 1 million, they came out ahead. Iraqiya has the legal right to have the first crack at forming a government. That is the Constitution. Instead of demanding that the law be followed, Joe Biden and the administration have worried about how to keep Nouri in power. (Nouri has assured the administration he will not oppose plans for the US military to remain in Iraq past 2011 if he retains the post of prime minister.)
Joe Biden was lecturing on the importance of democracy in the interview he did with Michael Gordon. So, Joe, why don't you promote democracy? Democracy is following the laws. Democracy is following the laws on the books, not creating new 'processes' to keep whomever you want in power. Asked by Gordon about Iraq and democracy, Biden replied, "It is important that it become a democracy because that is the only vehicle by which you can hold together such a diverse population that has such a history and inclination to actually be at each other's throats. Otherwise, what you do is you end up having something in the form of an authoritarian government that just builds hostility, and eventually it will explode, implode. And so that's why the democracy is important, in my view, here in Iraq, because there are, you have the Sunni-Shia split, but you got the Arab-Kurd split. You have got further sub-splits within the Kurdish region. And so what happens is if they all think they have a piece of the action, if they all think they are better served by being part of this larger whole, then from the Kurds and their inclination and desire to sort of rectify 1921 to the Sunnis, who feel they, that they are a minority in Iraq, but a majority in the region ... All of those inclinations get, not subsumed, but get buffered when it is a democracy. Democracy in the sense that there is a political outlet for their aspirations, not a physical need for an outlet. That is kind of how I view it." Reality: Outsiders cannot make a democracy in another country.
But they can undermine one. How? By ignoring the established laws thereby sending a message to the emerging government and its people that when there is conflict, you don't refer to the establish process, you just create a new one. If you don't have a society built upon laws and the belief in precedents, you're not going to have a democracy or anything short of a dictatorship. That's how dictators operate: They make a show of respect for laws but when the laws conflict with their own desires, they ignore them. That's what the White House is encouraging Iraq to do and you start down that road and there's no turning back.
Shadid and Gordon note: "American officials assert that they do not have a preferred candidate for prime minister. But the proposal is intended to make Mr. Maliki, or a strong-willed successor, more palatable to the rest of a broad-based governing coalition. The redefined authority would be codified by new legislation but would not require that the Constitution be amended."
Meanwhile Karen DeYoung and Janine Zacharia (Washington Post) report that the White House is pinning their hopes on the fact that Ramadan concludes today. While the stalemate could end at any moment, it's also true that Ramadan has not lasted six months. In other words, the White House now has a pattern -- see Susan's remarks on The Diane Rehm Show above -- of making 'just around the corner' announcements/predictions which have thus not come true.
Q.[Michael R. Gordon:] Is the Obama administration willing to maintain a limited U.S. military presence in Iraq after the Status of Forces agreement if the new Iraqi government requests such assistance?
A.[US Vice President Joe Biden:] It would depend on what was asked, and it would obviously be considered just like we have similar arrangements with a whole lot of other countries. We do think it is important that they end up in a position of eventually being able to actually generate and execute based on their own intelligence, that they are able to have an air force to protect their airspace and that they have physical capacity to maintain control and use more sophisticated equipment. But the first thing we got to make clear to the Iraqi people, because it goes to motivation, is that we have to make clear we stand ready to meet the absolute letter of the agreement. Our intention now is that we will be out completely. It has been made clear in a thousand ways that if in fact there are residual needs -- nothing like 50,000 troops or 30,000 troops or 20,000 troops staying in Iraq -- if there is a residual need for training and helping them further refine their command and control, I am sure we would entertain that. And we would look to, you know, our military, the Pentagon to give us an assessment, the intelligence community, as to what that capability was and how much of a reach or a lift that would be. The interesting thing to me, Michael, is that every time I have been to Iraq -- every time since the election, not since being sworn in, I think I've been here six times -- in talking to [Gen.] Ray [Odierno], Ray keeps making the point that this has just been a progressive evolution that where he has real confidence in their special forces and he has increasing confidence in the capacity of the force. The one caveat … I have ever heard him express about the capability, competence and continued competence and the ability to handle all that a modern military of this size has to handle is that there has been a budget freeze on the top number. They have not been bringing in new troops on an attrition basis…. At some point they are going to have to make a hard decision … whether they want an army of 168,000 or 165,000 people or they only need an army the size of 100,000 people or whatever the number is.
The SOFA does not and never did mean the end of the Iraq War. The SOFA replaced the yearly UN mandate. That's all it did. 2011 could end with both sides deciding they were done with each other. In which case, the contract just runs out. But it can be extended or it can be replaced with a new contract. Why might that happen? Well, as Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reported today, "a close ally to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki" -- Minster of Defense Abdul Qader Obeidi -- has stated that Iraq will require a US military presence (in "some form") "at least until 2016 to provide training, support and maintenance for the vast quantity of military equipment and weaponry that Iraq is buying from America" and that they will require assistance on "intelligence gather" after 2011 as well as help with their air force "at least until 2020." That's one way that a decision could be made to extend or replace the SOFA.
In overnight violence, Alsumaria TV reports that two assailants disguised themselves as women in Baquba to gain access to a home where they killed a police recruit's wife and they note a missile attack on a US Army base in Kirkuk. Reuters notes a Tikrit bombing injured one of Iraq's security forces today. Yesterday we noted the prison break. Today Janine Zacharia (Washington Post) reports, "In an embarrassing and potentially dangerous foul-up, four Iraqi detainees with alleged links to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq escaped from U.S. custody at a Baghdad detention facility late Wednesday." And if I wanted to provide a belly laugh today, I would link to the outlet that calls Ahmed Chalabi a "secular" politician. Ahmed? Justice and Accountability Ahmed? What are they smoking in Baghdad? We will note Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) who provides this context:
American officials transferred the site to Iraq's Justice Ministry on July 15 as part of an agreement paving the way for the exit of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. Iraq renamed the site Karkh Prison and asked U.S. forces to retain custody of about 200 detainees there, most of whom are alleged to be members of al-Qaeda. This week's incident was the second escape from the compound in about three months. Days after the handover, four men broke free, including al-Qaeda's so-called local ministers of finance and interior, state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television reported at the time.
In other criminal news, European countries are ignoring the warning of the UN and returning Iraqs -- forcibly returning Iraqis -- seeking asylum back to Iraq. Last week, England began another round of deportation flights. Amnesty International noted:
More than 40 Iraqi nationals were returned from the UK to Baghdad by charter flight on Monday 6 September 2010. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR has asked governments not to continue with the forcible returns of Iraqi citizens to Baghdad.
Amnesty International supports UNHCRs guidelines for Iraq which asks governments not to forcibly return people originating from the five provinces identified as the most dangerous in Iraq and declared unsafe namely Baghdad, Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Diyala and Salah al-Din. AI believes that all individuals from these five provinces be granted refugee status or a complementary form of protection.
Several Western European countries including the UK are forcibly returning Iraqi nationals to Baghdad. On 1 September a charter flight to Baghdad returned Iraqis who had been living in the UK, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Since June the UK and other European governments have returned a number of Iraqi nationals to Baghdad including Kurds destined for the Kurdistan Region in the north. Some of those returned to Baghdad from the UK were initially detained on arrival.
When we arrived in Baghdad we refused to get off the plane. One Iraqi policeman came on and said if we did not come down they would make us go down by force but we said we are being forcibly deported: we will not come down.
We stayed where we were but the G4S security guards forced handcuffs on us and started to beat us when they were dragging us off the plane. They were swearing at us, beating us. Four of them grabbed me to force me off the plane. They grabbed my neck and punched me. My eyes went dark. I could not see any light. I saw many other refugees with blood running down their faces.
When I was on the steps on the plane they were still boxing me. There were a lot of Iraqi police there. They took over from the G4S guards when I had got off. Then the Iraqi police beat us with their sticks.
Those of us who had Iraqi ID were released. We had to get across Baghdad to get to the bus station. We felt very afraid: I do not speak Arabic and I had to get from the airport to the bus station. From there I took a taxi up to Kurdistan in the north. Now I can't sleep. I'm not safe here and all my body is painful after the beating.
These are not isolated incidents, these are not new accusations. In other forced deporation of Iraqis, British guards have been accused of beating the deportees. At what point does the government of England start taking this abuse seriously? But then, this is the same government forcing them out of England -- the country that with the US launched the illegal war on Iraq.
Washington, D.C. -- Refugees International today expressed disappointment that President Barack Obama failed to recognize the plight of Iraqi refugees during his speech marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. In his address to the nation last night, on August 31, President Barack Obama failed to take the opportunity to highlight the humanitarian plight of the Iraqi people. For the half a million refugees unable to return home, and the one and a half million Iraqis displaced inside the country, the end of U.S. operations in Iraq does not mean that peace has returned. Their original homes and communities are either destroyed or insecure, and they remain in a dangerous and unsettled limbo.
"The Obama administration has provided funding and resettlement opportunities for Iraqis. But resolving the displacement issue is a long-term project, requiring U.S. funding and engagement and commitments from the Iraqi government to give them the help they need. In last night's speech, humanitarian issues were not given the priority they deserve." said the Vice President of Refugees International, Joel Charny.
As America ends it combat mission, the humanitarian needs in Iraq persist. Many Iraqis are living in slums, and are completely dependent on the United Nations and other agencies to provide water and food. Politically, Iraq has failed to form a government, and violence in the country continues.
"Refugees International welcomes the engagement of civilians in government, but the reality of the security situation means that people don't walk freely on the streets, and, outside the Green Zone, there is limited access to give civilians the help they need," said Charny. "Humanitarian agencies need to work with local non-governmental organizations, and also make their security rules more flexible, so they are able to move quickly to gain access to Iraq's most vulnerable."
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. www.refugeesinternational.org.
For Immediate Release: September 1, 2010 Contact: Refugees International, Gabrielle Menezes +1 347 260 1393 P: 202-828-0110 x225 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Many people here today just woke up (whether abruptly or gradually) to the fact that the US Empire is a criminal construct capable of murdering, oppressing, impoverishing, and enslaving its own citizenry for the sake of power and profit.
Just because we awoke that day, doesn't mean that the Bush regime was the first to perpetrate these crimes.
Speaking of awakenings, on the morning of 9/11/2001, right before I awakened from my sleep on the West Coast -- I had a dream. I dreamt that I was putting a large, delicate crystal vase on the back of my toilet and it slipped out of my hands and crashed into the bowl and broke into a million pieces, some of them getting into my eyes and imbedding them into my face --my thought in my dream was: "Great, now I have to go to the ER and wait to have these splinters removed from my eyes." The very next scene in my dream, a fire fighter was escorting me out of my office and we were both covered in soot and grime. When I awoke from this nightmare, my daughter told me of the real life horror that was unfolding at the World Trade Center.
My dream was precognitive about what was in the planning to ruin my life and this world for the neocon agenda. My life has been profoundly changed since 9/11 with the loss of my son and with personal and public struggles to make meaning of these losses and sense out of what is so senseless.
However, as tragic and awful as 9/11 was and still is, we can't ignore the fact that this nation was never "noble" and the founders were just men, slaveholding men, that excluded women from participating in civil society -- they were not gods to be idolized or paragons of virtue to want to "return to." Our Constitution may as well have been written in the blood of our native population and nailed to every slave-whipping post in the South.
This weekend there will be a great symposium on 9/11, hosted by the International News Net here in Lower Manhattan. The line-up is staggering: Don Siegelman, Coleen Rowley, Ray McGovern, Hank Albarelli, Danny Schechter, Cynthia McKinney, Cindy Sheehan and many others-including, on a panel with yours truly, Peter Dale Scott and Michael Parenti.
The full schedule is accessible below, along with all the info that you'll need to get there, if you can.
How the World Changed After 9/11
Presented by the International News Net. A made for television event in lower Manhattan on September 11th and 12th, 2010
WHERE: Walker Stage – 56 Walker Street, New York, NY (1 block below Canal St., betw. Broadway & 6th Avenue – 6, R, or N train to Canal St. station)
WHEN: 12 noon on Sat. Sept. 11th through 6pm Sun. Sept. 12th
ADMISSION: $20 suggested donation per session, each session includes 2 panels, seating limited to 175 TICKETS: See Paypal links or call (206)-338-0319
NOTE: Can't come to New York? Stream all the events live including the Press Conference from NY City Hall and workshops Thursday the 9th, the rally at All Souls Church Friday night the 10th, street actions from Ground Zero Saturday morning the 11th , and the entire conference "How The World Changed after 9-11″ Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th. $10 for all of it. A portion of all proceeds goes to help 9/11 First Responders. You'll receive the web address and access code on Thursday the 9th.
For more on the symposium, you can listen to the Tuesday broadcast of the WBAI Evening News (click here for audio archives and you have 85 days to hear it before it vanishes from the archives) which opened with Lenny Charles discussing the event with WBAI's Jose Santiago.