Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 14, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, Nouri makes nods towards Syria, Sahwa remains under attack, national security state elements of the US government insist the US should go further in debt and allow Iraq to continue sitting on over $52 billion, and more.
Starting with the money, Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) observes, "A U.S. government study released Monday found that Iraq has a budget surplus of $52.1 billion, with $11.8 billion that is readily available for spending on its security forces. The study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, comes as lawmakers prepare to debate a $2-billion funding request from the White House for the Iraqi security forces."  For perspective, the topic of military spending was addressed today on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR0 with Diane and her guests noting how the US debts are piliing up and cuts will be made to the US military in some form to cover the debts.  Diane's guests were Gordon Adams (American University), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Kori Schake (Hoover Institute). Only the right winger could acknowledge that US troop levels in Afghanistan will likely remain where they are now after 2011.  But all could agree that cuts are coming. For the US.  But apparently, to hear the national security types insist, the US should go further in debt so that Iraq doesn't have to spend its own billions on its own security.  Blogger Dan Froomkin (Huffington Post) takes up back to Iraq as he adds:
The report makes a direct link between U.S. government spending -- including $642 billion on U.S. military operations there and $24 billion for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces -- and Iraq's cumulative surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009.  

For comparison purposes, Iraq's annual gross domestic product is $65.8 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt has soared from $6.4 trillion to $13.4 trillion since former president George W. Bush invaded Iraq and decided to borrow the money for wars and slash taxes.

Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) points out, "Absent from all of this is that the design for the US-armed Iraqi Army was developed under US occupation and with heavy US influence. Nowhere is it questioned whether Iraq needs the large air force the US envisions them having, which seems to be mostly an excuse to sell American planes that will sit on the ground and occasionally need to be repaired with US-sourced parts." The money has sat there. It wasn't used on potable water or any of the basic needs of the people. Nouri's always sat on the stockpiles.  The US Embassy in Iraq's Kenneth Fairfax (national security type posted to Vietnam until recently) insists that it's just not true.  Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Fairfax wants Congress to give "$2 billion for training and equipping Iraqi military and police in the 2011 fiscal year" while the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin thinks that's at least 1 billion dollars too many.
Violence continues in Iraq. 
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi Airways employee shot dead in Baghdad, one police officer wounded in Baghdad, an Iraqi army colonel's home shot up with bullets (no reports of anyone injured), 1 Ministry of Housing employee shot dead in Baghdad, 1 Sahwa commander shot dead in Babil (three of his bodyguards left injured), 1 man shot dead in Tikrit, and 2 people shot dead in Mosul. In addition, Reuters notes a Jurf al-Sakhar home invasion in which assailants hanged a woman, a Mosul attack in which 1 person was shot dead departing from a taxi and a Mosul shooting in which 1 person was shot dead while inside his car.  Alsumaria TV reports, " Gunmen opened fire on the car of Awakening forces Leader in Latifiya Abdul Rahman Mohammad, in Latifiya town, causing him wounds, a security source said."

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 1 in Babil (the Babil corpse is a woman who was "mutilated").
As the violence continues, so does the political stalemate. 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 seven days with no government formed.

Today Alsumaria TV reports, "Member in State of Law Coalition Kamal Al Saedi said that the delegation visit to Syria does not aim at normalizing the relations between the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, but to normalize the relations between the two countries. Saedi said that the Premiership nominations are an internal Iraqi issue." Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters) adds that Nouri sent an aide to Syria to meet with the Syrian president today. And around Nouri and al Assad that the rumors fly with the biggest being that they are working out some agreement. Ma'ad Fayad and Sherezad Sheikhani (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) report an Iraiqiya source tells them there's been no change in Syria's opposition to Nouri and the source then states, "The Syrian leadership is free to take its political stands that serve the interests of its country and people. All changes are possible in politics though we regard such a change happening unlikely even if it came by Iranian mediations. We know the Syrian leadership's principled stand on Al-Iraqiya's right to form the government in accordance with the Iraqi constitution."  Gulf Times quotes Abdul Hamid al-Zuhairi stating, "We affirmed th depth of strategic ties between Syria and Baghdad. There have been (anti-Syrian) statements by Iraqi figures, but that's behind us now." Meanwhile Sami Moubayed (Gulf News) points out, "While it may have appeared that Syria was making advances to Al Maliki, in fact it was the exact opposite -- the Iraqi prime minister was cuddling up to the Syrians, in effect saying: 'I have mended fences with Damascus and will remain premier.' Syria, after all, can assist Al Maliki in ways that neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia could. It can mend his relationship with heavyweight Sunnis such as Tarek Al Hashemi and work on rebuilding trust between him and his former ally and now opponent, Moqtada Al Sadr. A multitude of players must sign off on any new Iraqi prime minister, and Al Sadr, who commands 40 seats in parliament, is top of the list. It is no secret that Al Sadr feels betrayed by Al Maliki, who failed during his years in power to protect the Sadrists from the US dragnet or to push for a timetable for withdrawal of US troops."  And Alsumaira TV notes that Iraqiya is stating it is willing to enter additional talks with the Iraqi National Alliance.
How did Nouri get picked the first time?  Oh, that's right, the US government shot down Iraq's first pick.  But how did Nouri end up the next choice?  "al-Maliki was chosen [prime minister] in a secret meeting of the Shia leadership, of all the Shia factions, that is Dawa, ISCI or SCIRI and the Sadrists and it was presided over by none other than General [Qassem] Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, which deals with Iraq. He was the day-to-day officer in charge of Iraq policy for Iran. So he was snuck into the Green Zone without the knowledge of the United States by the Shia leadership and presided over a meeting which then, in April of 2006, chose al-Maliki to be the next prime minister of Iraq."  That's Gareth Porter speaking on Antiwar Radio yesterday to Scott Horton  about the myths of the surge (click here to read the text report Gareth wrote on this topic) and we'll note this from the broadcast on the second myth of the surge:
Gareth Porter: [. . .] what was really going on in 2006 was that the Sunnis were scared to death that they were going to be abandoned to the tender mercies of a Shia government and the Shia death squads because what was happening in that year, of course, was the Shia death squads were eliminating the Sunnis -- anybody who was suspected of being an activist either on the political or military side of the Sunnis was being ruthlessly eliminated by the Shia in Baghdad and they basically carried out ethnic cleansing of the capital, turning it from a mixed city -- Sunni - Shia mixed population -- into an overwhelmingly dominant Shia capital.
Scott Horton: In other words, the Sunni insurgency lost the civil war against the American and Iranian backed Supreme Islamic Council and the Dawa Party government that we were installing in Baghdad.  And they cried uncle.  They said we have too many enemies.  We're fighting al Qaeda, we're fighting, we're fighting the Badhr corps and we're fighting the Americans all at the same time.
Gareth Porter: That's actually correct although it was primarily -- in Baghdad, it was primarily the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr which was ruthlessly carrying out the elimiatnion of the Sunni activists.
Scott Horton: And point of information here, I'm sorry I have to interrupt you but I have to bring this up. I just read the [David] Finkel book, The Good Soldiers, here, I interviewed Josh Steiber who worked for [Lt Col Ralph] Kauzlarich in that story and they're basically driving around in their Humvees getting blown up in east Baghdad, a Sadrist part of Baghdad throughout 2007, and none of these characters in the entire book -- including the author -- have any idea who they're fighting for.  They're actually fighting -- they're in the middle of a civil war fighting on the side of Moqtada al-Sadr while they're fighting against him and patrolling east Baghdad, protecting east Baghdad from itself, from the terrible terrorists who are, of course, the Mahdi army guys that they're on the side of. And they're dying over here for a year --
Gareth Porter: This is the perfect illustration of the basic reality of the Iraq War which is the United States had no idea what it was really fighting for and was essentially continuing to carry out a war that made absolutely no sense whatsoever from any point of view -- either, you know,  in terms of trying to foster reconciliation, foster peace, stability or the  cold war against Iran. None of that was being accomplished.
[. . . ]
Scott Horton: And Petraeus never followed through with his deal with the Sunnis that 'Don't worry, I'm going to make sure that you're intergrated into the Iraqi army and into the government and etc.  He just left them high and dry and now they're all going back to suicide bombings.
Gareth Porter: Well of course Petraeus never had the power to make that stick.  He may have told them that we're going to integrate you into the Iraq army but it was really always going to be up to the al-Maliki regime to carry out such a policy and al-Maliki made it clear from the beginning -- and this is very well documented.  He was very aware of this policy and was making no promises beyond very minimal integration of the Sons Of Iraq into the security structure of Iraq. So Petraeus had no ability to promise that sort of integration to the Sunnis.
As noted, 2 Sahwa were reported dead in today's news cycle.  Today on NPR's Morning Edition, Kelly McEvers reports the latest on the Sahwa ("Awakenings" and Sons Of Iraq are two other names for the largely Sunni group) which includes the constant threats they receive. Sahwa Abu Hussein explains the letter he received this month: "You, those who have sold yourselves and honor to the occupier, our swords will be very sharp and we will kill you and your house will be stormed and will be burned to the ground." And those lucky enough to find jobs (security forces or civilian government jobs being one group, Sahwa still waiting being the other) have the same problem they've had since Nouri took 'responsibility' for payment, McEvers explains, "members in both groups rarely get paid on time -- if they get paid at all." Excerpt:
MCEVERS: Ali Abu Jihan used to fight against al-Qaida. He says two months ago a homemade bomb planted outside his parents' house killed his 21-year-old son.  
Ms. SHAIMA SAADI: (Foreign language spoken)  
MCEVERS: Walking toward the courtyard of his two-bedroom house, Abu Jihan says he worries so much about security that he's taught his own wife how to use an AK-47. 
She grabs the magazine off the couch.    
(Soundbite of clicking)  
Ms. SAADI: (Foreign language spoken)  
MCEVERS: Holding her pudgy, wide-eyed eight-month-old in one arm and the loaded gun in the other, Shaima Saadi says she has no choice but to defend herself.  
Yes, the Iraq War continues though many seem unaware of that. Heather Wright (Pacer Times) lays the blame for that at the media's door, "The true culprits are the media. The headlines and leads placed in publications report things such as: 'End of United States combat in Iraq' and 'End of Operation Iraqi Freedom.' These items lead some people to believe that the troops are no longer in danger, which is far from the truth." Matthew Peterson (Vanguard) agrees:
It's a public relations move, and the U.S. media fell for it.    
TV crews and reporters were there to watch the 42 Stryker Brigade leave Iraq on the 19th, and they enthusiastically toed the line in saying this was the end of combat operations in Iraq. We all love a heart-rending story, but we also deserve the truth.   
Not only are 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq, but other soldiers are coming in to replace those who left.                       
Further, 3,500 mercenaries are scheduled to be deployed to Iraq to replace those regular troops that just left.                            
Moreover, regular U.S. troops are still being sent to Iraq, like the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was deployed a week after the supposed end of combat operations.           
Last week, Antiwar.com's Jeremy Sapienza was one of the guests on Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio and they addressed the lie of 'war is over.'  Excerpt:
Scott Horton: So let's talk about Iraq, man. Obviously, I walk around with a chip on my shoulder all day and all night over this but just this week it's driven me to the edge of sanity. After all of this, the American people have deemed the Iraq War a success and they're proud of themselves for mongering it and it's great. Well tell us about the American involvement in this because it's very interesting to me in its own silly little small or -- context that they really seem to have said, across the propaganda, it was honest at the same time it was lying, all week, last week: We're leaving 50,000 troops, war's over. They didn't lie about the 50,000 troops at all.
Jeremy Sapienza: No.
Scott Horton: Even on TV, they're like, 'Yeah, 50,000 troops, but the war's over.'
Jeremy Sapienza: Well, yeah, you just call them 'advise-and-assist' and not 'combat troops.' The same troops are holding guns. They're still walking around, they're still -- As I recently said in a piece I wrote because Wikipedia declared the war over, that just because they're redefined doesn't mean that they're not -- They may nominally being backing up Iraqi troops but, come on, who are we kidding? Iraqi troops are going to take the lead in anything?
Scott Horton: Didn't American soldiers die in a combat mission yesterday [interview was recorded Wednesday]?
Jeremy Sapienza: No, not a combat mission. An Iraqi soldier shot them dead on base.
Scott Horton: Oh!
Jeremy Sapienza: Yes.
Scott Horton: War's over! It's all good. Yeah, it's amazing, the ability to do the double think. I mean, there was a point, wasn't there, when the Democrats took both houses of Congress by more than a dozen seats in the House or something back in 2006 because why? Because the American people hated the Iraq War and they wanted something done about it. Now --
Jeremy Sapienza: They did do something, they declared it "over."
Scott Horton: Yeah, so well, let's talk about this Wikipedia thing because you got a piece published in the newspaper about the fight that went on at Wikipedia over whether the war was over or not and really how the technology, the platform of Wikipedia made for an entirely different set of circumstances then the kind of thing that we were reading in the newspaper last week.
Jeremy Sapienza: The way Wikipedia works is that there are dominant editors so you can -- anybody can go in and edit something, but if it's being watched closely enough, a dominant editor will go in and change it back immediately. So if you vandalize something and it's a prominent article like Iraq War, say, then the editors can change it right back. So the dominant editors allowed somebody to declare that, per Obama, the war was over and it had the end date as August 19, 2010. So immediately, this is what's great about Wikipedia, is that there's a discussion area and people immediately started taking them to task for that saying the war isn't over and even [Gen David] Petraeus and various other generals -- One of them literally said, I even have a quote right here, "I don't think anybody has declared the end of the war as far as I know" -- Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. So people were in the discussion area talking about this and haranguing the editors until finally they changed it and they said that August 19th was the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Scott Horton: Right, now it's Operation New Dawn.
And also addressing the issue was Al Jazeera correspondent Rawya Rageh speaking to Teymoor Nabili at the start of last week's Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday night).
Teymoor Nabili: And of course on that Sunday attack we saw the involvement of US troops which obviously immediately raises this whole idea that the [US] troops are not going to engage in combat any longer. So how does Washington explain the whole hype behind the 'no more combat' and what exactly is the role of these troops now?
Rawya Rageh: It is important to point out, Teymoor, that the involvement of US soliders in that attack on Sunday, they were actually drawn into fighting, they were not involved in direct combat that they had initiated. Now that being said, all along, US military generals on the ground have maintained that the rules of engagement of US soldiers here do not change despite this gradual drawdown and the announcement of an end to combat operations. US forces here still maintain the right to open fire under the onus of force protection. In fact, they actually still have the right to go out of their bases to carry out pre-emptive strikes against areas where they believe attacks against them are eminating from. So no change in the rules of engagement as far as that's concerned. In that particular attack on Sunday, Teymoor, there were at least 100 US soldiers based at that Iraqi army base to carry out their new stated role which is to 'advise-train-and-assist' the Iraqi security forces. Now they too came under attack so they had to open fire under defensive measures and it's also important that both -- to point out, that both US military and Iraqi military generals are pointing out that their involvement, the US soldiers' involvement, was in suppressive fire. In other words, they were not opening fire to directly kill those targets or those assailants but actually to force the assailants to duck while another force steps in to contain the situation -- that force being the Iraqi force on the ground during the attack, Teymoor.
Part of the media spin is lying -- as Barack did in his August 31st speech -- that the US made things better for Iraq. Leo Shane III (Stars & Stripes) reports on a just released Harris Poll which finds 57% of respondents bought into the spin (repeatedly endlessly by the media) that the US had made Iraq 'better.'  That ignores the lack of potable water.  The annual cholera outbreaks that come about post-invasion.  The electricity shortage is ignored, the Iraqi refugee crisis is ignored, the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community is ignored, the trashing of women's rights is ignored, the destruction of Iraq's already fragile medical system is ignored, the brain drain is ignored, the never-ending violence is ignored and the effects of that violence is ignored.  Azzaman's editorial board notes the demographic change in Iraq as a result of the war, "One in every six Iraqis is an orphan. That is the toll Iraqi children are paying in a country which is supposedly under the occupation and protection of the world's only superpower. Not all the orphans are the result of the violence that swept the country in the aftermath of the 2003-U.S. invasion. But the invasion has caused untold miseries for Iraqis, surpassing those inflicted on them by their former tormentors, the clique that ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein. There were unconfirmed reports that Iraq has turned into a country of orphans. But the exact figure only became a reality recently, when the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs made public its own statistics."
The US troop drawdown may assuage the concerns harboured by a number of Middle East countries since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but there is no guarantee that the remaining troops will leave as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa) signed between the two countries in 2008.                       
Reading between the lines brings one to different conclusions. On the ground, there are those who are sceptical about the US' true intentions.            
The reasons for the scepticism are varied. For one thing, the only countries the US has fully withdrawn from after invading are North Korea and Vietnam. In both instances, the US went through a difficult war and was then forced to withdraw during the prevailing Cold War circumstances because both countries were geographically adjacent to an Eastern bloc country.                 
There is no reason to think that Iraq will be another exception, especially since the US presence in the country has not been resisted to the point of expulsion as it was in North Korea and Vietnam.

On August 31st, President Obama spoke from the Oval Office, assuring us that the War on Iraq had been launched to disarm a nation.  Disarming a nation is a criminal basis for a war, a fact that I wish would quit getting lost in the madness of what we actually debate in this country.  But Obama's claim to have opposed this war that he funded as a senator and continued as a president rests on the idea, not just that he was lucky enough not to yet be in the Senate when it started, but that he didn't at that time yet pretend to believe the lies.  Now he finds it important to put up that pretense when nobody else believes it anymore, in order to urge us to "turn the page" on the crime of the century.      


Obama's embrace of the Iraq war lies, which included the "surge" lies so valuable now in Afghanistan, coincided with Tony Blair's book tour.  When Blair was performing his poodle tricks in 2002 and 2003 he was questioned and mocked at home and in Parliament, but given endless standing ovations in Congress.  Nothing has changed.  In Ireland on his book tour -- the current equivalent of a triumphal march after a return from foreign slaughter -- Blair faced protests and an attempted citizen's arrest.  In London the planned protests were so large that Blair canceled his event, stuck his tail between his legs, and whimpered away.  In Philadelphia, on the other hand, Blair has just been presented with a Liberty Medal at the Constitution Center by none other than Bill Clinton, as reward for Blair's . . . wait for it . . . "steadfast commitment to conflict resolution."  Only in America.  


I haven't read Bliar's book (Bliar is the proper spelling) and I don't think I could be paid enough to do so.  But I want to recommend a different book instead.  Someone else who was part of the British government during the lead up to the War on Iraq has also just published a book.  It doesn't have any cute stories in it about sitting in the wrong chair in the Queen's palace, but it does tell the truth about Blair's deadly lies, for which he should have been -- and nearly was -- impeached, and for which he should be prosecuted.