Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 13, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, Iraqiya makes a move to check Nouri, cancer rates remain high in Iraq, an Iraq War veteran releases videos of Iraqis being harassed in US custody, and more.
The Tehran Times reports that as Iraq's "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tries to hang onto his job," he visits Damascus and speaks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Nouri was hoping for a public signal of support.  Instead the Syrian president merely noted that his country supports all Iraiqs.  Alsumaria TV reports that Islamic Supreme Council head Ammar al-Hakim is in Egypt meeting with President Husni Mubarak to discuss issues such as "the formation of a new [Iraqi] government." DPA notes his visit follows that of Ayad Allawi. al-Hakim's party is part of the Iraqi National Alliance, however, he has not issued a statement of support for Nouri the way Moqtada al-Sadr has.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "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 seven months and six days and counting.
Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) reports that a counter-effort is taking place since the Nouri-Moqtada alliance was made public:
In a meeting on Tuesday, the Iraqiya bloc, the Sunni-secular party led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, held a tumultuous meeting at which Iraqiya decided to throw its support behind a rival candidate for prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, according to an Iraqi source who took part in the Iraqiya deliberations. More than seven months after the March 7 election, Abdul Mahdi and Allawi hope to establish a coalition to govern Iraq, toppling Maliki, isolating Sadr and bringing the Kurds into their alignment. Allawi and Abdul Mahdi will travel to the Iraq's Kurdish region to meet with Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader and most important power broker for the Kurds, to get his support.
UPI reports that Iraqiya is stating that it will back Adel Abdul Mahdi (currently Iraq's Shi'ite vice president) for the position of prime minister.  Alsumaria TV reports that Iraqiya claims to have 130 votes (memembers in Parliament) willing to support Adel Abdul Mahdi according to Hani Ashour. Former CIA agent and former NBC military analyst Rick Francona (Middle East Perspectives) offered (before today's breaking news) that he preferred Allawi to Nouri and that the horse-trading deals being made would be harmful to Iraq in the long term:
I believe that the Kurds have legitimate concerns that should be addressed.  That said, I am not pleased with the decision to support al-Maliki over 'Alwai.  I think 'Alawi is the better choice to unify the Iraqis, be they Sunnis, Shi'a or Kurds. Al-Maliki will simply continue the policies that most Sunnis believe are exclusionary to them. Unfortunately, the Kurdish support will easily give al-Maliki the seats he needs to form a new government.
Francona sees Nouri making a deal regarding oil-rich Kirkuk and that inflaming the Sunnis and the Turkmen. He also offers, "Political pundits in Baghdad have referred to al-Maliki as al-maliki al-irani, 'al-Maliki the Iranian,' and to his office as 'the Persian carpet'."
The stalemate continues and only the fools place bets.  The violence continues as well . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five police officers, a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured four people, four Baghdad bombings which injured nine people (four are police officers) and a Muqdadiyah roadside bombing which injured 7 Iranian pilgrims "and four of their Iraqi guards." AFP counts  comes up with a total of 28 people reported wounded today. Reuters adds that a North Oil Company employee was injured in a Kirkuk drive-by.
Alsumaria TV reported yesterday that the Adan school in northern Baghdad was one of the areas where cancer is breaking out at alarming rates and that the cancer is traced "to Dijla water pollution caused by wastes."  Today they report that breast cancer cases remain high.  Wastes in water again? Breast Cancer Society of Iraq [PDF format warning] surveyed Iraqi women and found that only 21% of conducted a self-exam for lumps.  Last July, Democracy Now! (link has text, audio and video) addressed the rising cases of cancer in Falluja:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Patrick, I'd like to ask you about this whole other issue of the report on -- by Chris Busby and some other epidemiologists about the situation in Fallujah and the enormous increases in leukemias and cancers in Fallujah after the US soldiers' attack on that city. Could you talk about that? 


PATRICK COCKBURN: Sure. I think what's significant, very significant, about this study is that it confirms lots of anecdotal evidence that there had been a serious increase in cancer, in babies being born deformed, I mean, sometimes with --grotesquely so, babies -- you know, a baby girl born with two heads, you know, people born without limbs, then a whole range of cancers increased enormously. That this was -- when I was in Fallujah, doctors would talk about this, but, you know one couldn't -- one could write about this, but one couldn't really prove it from anecdotal evidence. Now this is a study, a scientific study, based on interviews with 4,800 people, which gives -- proves that this was in fact happening and is happening. And, of course, it took -- you know, it has taken place so much later than the siege of Fallujah, when it was heavily bombarded in 2004 by the US military, because previously, you know, Fallujah is such a dangerous place to this day, difficult to carry out a survey, but it's been finally done, and the results are pretty extraordinary. 


AMY GOODMAN: What were the various weapons that were used in the bombing of Fallujah in 2004? 


PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, primarily, it was sort of, you know, artillery and bombing. Initially it was denied that white phosphorus had been used, but later this was confirmed. I think one shouldn't lose sight of the fact, in this case, that before one thinks about was depleted uranium used and other things, that just simply the use of high -- large quantities of high explosives in a city filled with civilians and people packed into houses -- often you find, you know, whole families living in one room -- was, in itself, going to create, lead to very, very high civilian casualties. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the increase in cancers and so forth, and the suspicion that maybe depleted uranium, maybe some other weapon, which we don't know about -- this is not my speculation, but of one of the professors who carried out the study -- might have been employed in Fallujah, and that would be an explanation for results which parallel, in fact exceed, the illnesses subsequently suffered by survivors of Hiroshima. 

The study referred to is by Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi and is [PDF format warning] entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009" (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health).  The study, published this summer, was not on a topic that had just been noted.  In 2005, James Cogan (WSWS) was reporting that Iraqi doctors were finding an increase in both birth defects and cancers:
The statistics point to the long-term consequences of depleted uranium contamination. Munitions containing an estimated 300 tonnes of DU were unleashed by coalition forces in southern Iraq in 1991. A decade after the war, DU shell holes are still 1,000 times more radioactive than the normal level of background radiation. The surrounding areas are still 100 times more radioactive. Experts surmise that fine uranium dust has been spread by the wind, contaminating swathes of the surrounding region, including Basra, which is some 200 kilometres away from sites where large numbers of DU shells were fired. 

Dr Ahmad Hardan, who served as a special scientific adviser to the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, says that there is scientific evidence linking depleted uranium to cancer and birth defects. He told Al Jazeera English [3], "Children with congenital anomalies are subjected to karyotyping and chromosomal studies with complete genetic back-grounding and clinical assessment. Family and obstetrical histories are taken too. These international studies have produced ample evidence to show that depleted uranium has disastrous consequences."


Iraqi doctors say cancer cases increased after both the 1991 war and the 2003 invasion. Abdulhaq Al-Ani, author of "Uranium in Iraq" told Al Jazeera English [4] that the incubation period for depleted uranium is five to six years, which is consistent with the spike in cancer rates in 1996-1997 and 2008-2009.

Iraqis have had to endure a great deal throughout the illegal war, especially Iraqi children who were rendered orphans at a higher rate than in most countries.   Dr. Souad N. al-Azzawi outlined some of what they had to endure earlier this year at Global Research:
* Direct killing during the military invasion operations where civilians were targeted directly. Additional casualties amongst children have resulted from unexploded ordinances along military engagement routes.
* The direct killing and abuse of children during American troop raids on civilian areas like Fallujah, Haditha, Mahmodia, Telafer, Anbar, Mosul, and most of the other Iraqi cities[17]. The Massacre of the children in Haditha in 2005 is a good example of "collateral damage" among civilians.
* Daily car bombs casualties, explosion of buildings and other terrorist attacks on civilians.
* Detention and torture of Iraqi children in American and Iraqi governmental prisons. While in detention, the children are being brutalized, raped, and tortured. American guards videotaped these brutal crimes in Abu Graib and other prisons. 
* Poverty due to economic collapse and corruption caused acute malnutrition among Iraqi children. As was reported by Oxfam in July 2007, up to eight million Iraqis required immediate emergency aid, with nearly half the population living in "absolute poverty".
* Starving whole cities as collective punishment by blocking the delivery of food, aid, and sustenance before raiding them increased the suffering of the young children and added more casualties among them.
* Microbial pollution and lack of sanitation including drinking water shortages for up to 70% of the population caused the death of "one in eight Iraqi children" before their fifth birthday. Death of young children in Iraq has been attributed to water borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, etc .
* Contaminating and exposing other heavily populated cities to chemically toxic and radioactive ammunitions. Weapons like cluster bombs, Napalm, white phosphorous, and Depleted Uranium all caused drastic increases of cancer incidences, deformations in children, multiple malignancies and child leukemia. Children in areas like Basrah, Baghdad, Nasriya, Samawa, Fallujah, Dewania and other cities have been having multifold increases of such diseases. Over 24% of all children born in Fallujah in October 2009 had birth defects.The Minister of Environment in Iraq called upon the international community to help Iraqi authorities in facing the huge increase of cancer cases in Iraq.
I thought again of the Iraqi child, whose parents had a beautiful garden, who showed a friend and I her drawing book, before the invasion. One picture had an abundance of flowers, carefully colored, in numerous hues, on the side were American soldiers - shooting at the flowers. "Why are the soldiers shooting the flowers?" We asked. "Because Americans hate flowers", she replied solemnly. It was a deeply saddening moment, that she represented so many children, who saw American as representing only wrath, fear and deprivation. She knew nothing of those Americans who had worked tirelessly to reverse the situation. If she has survived, she will be a young adult. She is unlikely to have changed her views.
Meanwhile at Michael Moore's site, Iraq War veteran Ethan McCord posts videos that were shot in Iraq, videos of detainee abuse and he notes, "I want to point out, first hand, that these soldiers are doing EXACTLY as they ahve been trained.  I'm not trying to excuse their behavior, but simply pointing out that this is a systemic problem."  In one of the videos (the second one posted), two US service members sit on a bench with a bound Iraqi between them.  The Iraqi male is blinded via goggles.  The whiney voiced US soldier with no sense of rhythm attempts to start Sublime's "Santeria" off: "I don't practice Santeria, I ain't got no crystal ball" while the one with "EMERSON" listed on his uniform touches the prisoner in a 'familiar' manner and rests his hand on him as he presses his mouth against the Iraqi man's ear and tries to sing the second line but comes up with, "Oh I had a million dollars but I, I spend it all."  "EMERSON" then screams loudly in the Iraqi man's ear. ["I'd, I'd spend it all" is the second line as written by the late Bradley Nowell.]
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). Bacon's "Union Busting, Iraqi Style" which you can read at The Nation or at Agence Global -- links go to the article at each outlet:

The political deadlock in Baghdad, which has prevented the formation of an Iraqi government more than six months after the parliamentary elections of last March, has not prevented the lame-duck administration of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki from opening its southern oilfields to the world's giant corporations. Nor has it stopped the US Embassy and Commerce Department from reinvigorating the Bush-era program of selling the country's public assets to corporate buyers. And because Iraqi unions have organized public opposition to privatization since the start of the occupation, the Maliki administration is enforcing with a vengeance Saddam Hussein's prohibition on public-sector unions.  
The United States may have withdrawn its combat brigades, but it is not leaving Iraq. And while Washington may have scaled back earlier dreams of "nation building," it has not given up on a key aspect of the economic agenda behind that project: sacrificing the rights of Iraqi workers and unions to encourage corporate investment. 
Unions have been locked in conflict with the Iraqi government since the occupation began, but in the last year, that conflict has grown much more intense. In March, after oil workers protested low pay and their union's illegal status, worksite leaders were transferred hundreds of miles from home. The oil ministry banned travel outside Iraq for Hassan Juma'a and Falih Abood, respectively president and general secretary of the Federation of Oil Employees of Iraq. Both were hauled into court and threatened with arrest.   
"It is our duty as Iraqi workers to protect the oil installations, since they are the property of the Iraqi people," Juma'a explained in early 2005, when the U.S. was still directly governing Iraq. "We are sure that the US and the international companies came here to put their hands on the country's oil reserves." Juma'a's union chased Halliburton's subsidiary KBR from southern Iraq in the first year of the occupation. 
The union busting?  It goes to how little has changed at the White House, to the continuation of policies despite political party.  You can check the December 2003 issue of The Progressive for David Bacon's story about the union busting going on in Iraq and the Bush administration's efforts to ensure that the unions were crippled -- if not done away with -- for the tag sale on Iraq's public sector.  You can also read Rebecca Solnit's 2006 interview with Antonia Juhasz on this topic for LeftTurn.  (In addition to that interview, Antonia contributed an article entitled "Ambitions of Empire: The Radical Reconstruction of Iraq's Economy" to the March-April 2004 issue of LeftTurn.  Neither that nor David Bacon's Progressive article are available online.)
"If you believe in fairness," offers Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post), "then you cannot help but be overjoyed by the worldwide and immediate injunction against enforcement of the shameful ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military issued this afternoon by a federal judge in California." He then goes on to note Congress' unwillingness to act on the issue with a pointed nod to Harry Reid's failures in the Senate. And let's not forget Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's words of discomfort over the dysfunctional leadership in Congress, "With or without Congress, it will happen." And, lookie there, without Congress it did, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is on hold not because Congress overturned it, not because Barack issued an executive order -- though either could have done so -- but because a federal judge issued an injunction.
Bob Egelko (San Francisco Chronicle) reports, "U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of Riverside ruled the 1993 law unconstitutional on Sept. 9, saying it intrudes on service members' personal lives and freedom of expression and reduces military effectiveness by needlessly excluding qualified personnel" and yesterday issued an injunction suspending any discharges under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The Log Cabin Republicans brought the lawsuit against Don't Ask, Don't Tell and they issued the following statement yesterday:

(Washington, DC) - Log Cabin Republicans praises United States District Court Judge Virginia Phillips' decision to grant a world-wide injunction against enforcement of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Barring a stay by a higher court, the injunction suspends all investigations and prevents all discharges under the policy. However, Log Cabin Republicans urges caution by servicemembers considering coming out at this time, as the Obama administration still has the option to appeal.           

"After finding in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' violates servicemembers' First and Fifth Amendment rights, a world-wide injunction was the only reasonable solution," said Christian Berle, Deputy Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans. "These soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen sacrifice so much in defense of our nation and our Constitution. It is imperative that their constitutional freedoms be protected as well. This decision is also a victory for all who support a strong national defense. No longer will our military be compelled to discharge servicemembers with valuable skills and experience because of an archaic policy mandating irrational discrimination. The United States is stronger because of this injunction, and Log Cabin Republicans is proud to have brought the case that made it possible."          

"We are extremely pleased with Judge Phillips's decision granting an immediate and permanent injunction barring the US military from carrying out its 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. The order represents a complete and total victory for Log Cabin Republicans and reaffirms the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians in the military who are fighting and dying for our country," said Dan Woods, partner with White and Case, and the lead counsel for Log Cabin Republicans v. the United States.          

Log Cabin Republicans filed suit in federal district court against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2004. The case went to trial in Riverside, California in July of 2010, and Judge Virginia Phillips ruled on September 9, 2010 that the policy violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and member of Log Cabin Republicans, served as the named plaintiff in the suit.             

Judge Phillips' injunction can be found here.


Legal experts have concurred: President Obama can permanently end "don't ask, don't tell" today, simply by ordering the DOJ not to appeal the Log Cabin ruling. This is now the White House's ideal option for ending "don't ask, don't tell," for no shortage of reasons.

First, DADT is harmful to our military. Leading DADT expert Nathaniel Frank looked at the history of the policy, and found the disturbing facts: Far from improving unit cohesion, performance, and morale, DADT undermines it by encouraging gay and lesbian service members to be dishonest. It has harmed recruitment by making the military a discriminatory, anti-gay institution in the eyes of our young people. And it has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Perhaps most crucially, it has led to the discharges of hundreds of specialists serving in the very fields -- linguistics, intelligence, and medical services -- in which recruitment is sorely lacking.

Ending DADT now is not only good for the military; for the White House, it is also good politics. Nearly every article about the upcoming election has made note of the vast "enthusiasm gap" that has Republicans far more excited to vote than Democrats. Much of this gap can be traced to the failure to accomplish key Democratic priorities. If Obama's Department of Justice declines to appeal the Log Cabin ruling, he will not just fulfill a promise he has repeatedly made from the campaign trail to this year's State of the Union address -- he will awaken his base and their faith in his leadership.