Tuesday, October 19, 2010. Chaos and violence continue,two AP reporters are assaulted by Iraqi forces, the UN is targeted in Iraq as the country is slammed with bombings, refugees who return don't find peace or safety, and more.
How is it possible for a country to be at war on two fronts for nearly a decade and not be plunged into constant fits of epic soul-searching? Whatever trick of light makes it possible to pretend "We, the People" have nothing to do with wars waged in our name overseas also blinds us to its tragic legacies at home.
In a little more than two weeks, a nation suffering from willful amnesia about Iraq and Afghanistan will either vote for new representatives who share their myopia -- or retain those incumbents most skilled at exploiting it. If polls are to be believed, these wars are too low on the list of voter priorities to prompt much turnout on Election Day. Although more than a trillion dollars has been spent on the wars, that's an unthinkable abstraction to the vast majority of us.
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape? How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they're returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities. In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans' health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren't the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
So did the people forget or did the press forget? Jared Hunt's article (West Virginia's Daily Mail Capitol Reporter) on the US Senate race between Joe Manchin and Governor John Raese appears to indicate that, when asked, candidates will discuss the Iraq War. Manchin terms it a distraction "with a tremendous cost to human life, the personal tragedies that the families had to endure, and the financial cost of this mission." Raese speaks of his opposition to "adherence to rules of engagement in combat" (which would put him at odds with the Pentagon's official position) and asserts that the US military in Iraq has been forced to conduct "a politically correct war". The two columns argue a point similar to the one made last Friday on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR):
Gordon Lubold: Well I don't disagree but it's just that you are not hearing that as part of the conversation. Even the veterans who are running for seats in the House are not -- that's not resonating. People are not paying attention to the fact -- And this is different from two years ago, uh, when the surge in Iraq was-was topic A and everybody wanted to weigh in about it. It's just not as much of an issue.
For more of that exchange, you can see Friday's snapshot. From Third's "Editorial: Media bites the people," "'It's just not as much of an issue.' The Iraq War vanished from TV. Most newspaper no longer have even a one-person Baghdad bureau. But somehow, Lubold wants you to know, the public just stopped thinking about the Iraq War. How strange that is? That the media creates a vacuum and, after time, the public goes along?" It's not strange at all, as a response from the public. It's very strange that the US media largelly withdrew from Iraq and now journalists want to act puzzled that people aren't focused on a war that few bother to report on.
PEW doesn't even bother to do their yearly (at least yearly) report on how Iraq's fallen off the media radar. But if there's no coverage, there's little awareness. This is reflected in past PEW reports. Take March 12, 2008 when PEW found only 27% of adults surveyed were aware of the general number (4,000) of US service members who had died in Iraq -- down 26% from the previous year. What else was down during that time period? News coverage and, as PEW noted, "As news coverage of the war has diminished, so too has public interrest in news about Iraq."
NPR is supposed to be reporting from Iraq. It's in the budget. They've had to justify that budget. So it's surprising that 'continuing' coverage translates these days into one or two reports a month. I don't think anyone thought 'continue' would mean one or two reports a month. Kelly McEvers last aired report was October 6th. That's 12 days ago. (And click here, an NPR friend says a report will air on All Things Considered today.) (McEvers and others have had reports from Iraq that were offered in tiny bits at the top of the hour news. There was one Monday, in fact, on Nouri going to Tehran.) The only significant thing since then has been Steve Inskeep's discussion on Iraq with Peter Kenyon (Morning Edition, October 8th). And look at the other programs NPR has. Where's Iraq? Where? And the programs they carry? On Point with Tom Ashbrook? It last covered Iraq when? What about To The Point? We can go through all the programs. The answers are not pretty. (PRI actually has covered Iraq, you can especially refer to PRI's The World this month.) It gets even uglier when you go to network so-called news and pick up nothing on Iraq but a bunch of crap like "car surfing" gets air time. It's disgusting. The American people can't follow what's not covered. Accusing them of disinterest when the press refuses to cover a topic is really sad and, honestly, weak. It, after all, takes some guts to call out the press but to attack 'we the people'? It's a breeze, it always has been which is why one blowhard after another hectors the people while refusing to call out the ones in charge of coverage.
Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.
Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can't predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.
Other than AP, what outlet have you seen take those steps? And where are the watchdogs? At CJR they're writing defensive, bitchy posts about articles in Women's Wear Daily while wanting to pretend they're some sort of journalistic oversight body. Get real. They're nothing but another useless and mythical watercooler -- with half the intelligence and none of the pertinence. They haven't done a thing of value online that they can point to in the last two years.
Though the coverage fades for many, the violence continues on in Iraq. Xinhua reports bombings in Diyala Province today have claimed at least 8 lives following the bombing of a police officer Major Qaid al-Rashid's home in Tikrit. So far the only known survivor is a six-month-old infant. Police Lt Col Khalid al-Baiyati's home was also bombed leaving two family members injured (the lieutenant wasn't home during the bombing), a Samarra roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers (four people left injured) and a Baiji bombing injured one Sahwa member. Reuters raised the death toll from 8 to 11. Reuters adds a Baghdad sticky bombing injured eight Iranian pilgrims and a second Baghdad roadside bombing wounded six Iranian pilgrims. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two people and another one claimed the life of 1 Sahwa with four more injured and a Najaf roadside bombing targeted the United Nations Special Representative to Iraq Ad Melkert. Alsumaria TV reports that Melkert was in Najaf to visit Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al Sistani at his home. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains, "Mr. Melkert [. . .] is one of the few Western officials with whome Ayatollah Sistani meets. The cleric, who does not appear in public, has played an influential role in Iraq." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) notes the bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi police officer with two more injured while Ad Mlkert was not harmed. Londono adds, "Investigators suspect that the militant Shiite group Asaib Ahl-al-Haq carried out the attack, possibly assuming that the convoy included US military officials".
The Secretary-General strongly condemns today's attack in Najaf, Iraq, on a UN convoy carrying his Special Representative for Iraq, Mr. Ad Melkert, his Deputy Special Representative, Mr. Jerzy Skuratowicz, and UNAMI staff. All UN staff escaped without injury. Regrettably one member of the Iraqi security forces was killed and several others injured.
The Secretary-General sends his condolences to the family of the deceased and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General wishes to express his appreciation to his Special Representative and the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), who are working under difficult circumstances to implement the mandate of the United Nations in Iraq. This attack will not deter the UN from continuing its efforts to assist the Iraqi people on their path to reconciliation and prosperity.
In addition, Al Jazeera reports that "an Iraqi military general said he will investigate his troops in connection with the alleged beating of two journalists a day earlier. Two AP journalists were among those assaulted by Iraqi soldiers while trying to cover a Monday morning bombing that killed a Baghdad provincial council member. An AP Television News cameraman had his foot broken while soldiers punched and kicked an AP photographer."
Staying with the United Nation, in Geneva today, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming addressed the issue of Iraqi returnees, "A poll of Iraqis who have returned to Baghdad from neighbouring countries found that physical insecurity, economic hardship and a lack of basic public services has led the majority to regret their decision to return to Iraq. The survey also found that 34 percent said they were uncertain whether they would stay permanently in Iraq and would consider seeking asylum in neighbouring countries once again if conditions do not improve." Fleming noted that the bulk of the returnees were unable to live in their own homes (presumably they were occupied by squatter and those who ran them off to begin with) and the bulk of those who returned did so due to economic conditions (the savings they'd been living on were gone). The University of Chicago's Will Taylor reports for Global Post on Iraqi refugees Mohammad and Marwa and their daughter Noor who have arrived in the US after fleeing Iraq for Syria. Mohammad is a journalist who covered politics and government in Iraq until "local hostilities and militia" forced them to leave the country. Mohammad explains, "I wrote about a high officer in Iraq. He is official officer and besides that he has a militia." As a result, the Mahdi militia visited Mohammad's home and "kidnapped Mohammed and his mother." Though they eventually released him, the whereabouts and status of his mother remain unknown.
Of today's violence, Mohammed Tawfeeq and CNN observe, "The spurt of violence highlights U.S. and Iraqi worries over the tenacity of insurgents and anxieties that the parliament's political impasse is generating insecurity." Yesterday at the US State Dept, spokesperson Philip J. Crowley was asked about Iraq and his responses included, "Well, our message to Iraq has not changed at all. We want to see the formation of a new government expeditiously. And we also want to be sure that the new government is inclusive of all four winning blocs. So our message has not changed. And it has been more than six months since the election, but we do notice that the pace of political action to try to form a governing coalition has picked up in Iraq in recent months -- recent weeks. Prime Minister Maliki is visiting Iran today. I wouldn't over-interpret this. We understand that Iran and Iraq are neighbors. They have to have a relationship. But we certainly think that Iran can be a better neighbor by respecting Iraqi sovereignty and ending it support to those who use violence in Iraq. [. . .] Well, we are concerned about any neighboring country that would meddle in Iraq's affairs. Ultimately, this has to be an Iraqi decision as part of its own political process and we have every indication that Iraq's leaders are working to try to form a government. We just want to see that government be as inclusive as possible. Our concerns about Iraq and its -- I'm sorry, our concerns about Iran and its meddling in Iraq's affairs are longstanding, but that said, we would expect the Iraqi Government to work on behalf of its own citizens and not on behalf of another country."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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 twelve days and counting.
Press TV notes, "Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Saeed Jalili stresses the importance of promoting mutual ties with Iraq, saying it would bring security to the region. The expansion of strategic relations between Iran and Iraq would play a leading role in establishing security and development in the region, IRNA quoted Jalili as saying in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Iranian capital of Tehran on Monday." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) adds, "Iran's deputy foreign minister says Mr Maliki is one of the suitable choices to lead Iraq's next government, a strong signal that Tehran wants him to stay in power." Press TV quotes Ayatollah Khamenei stating, "Despite relative stability in Iraq, the country is still suffering from insecurity and part of this insecurity is resulted from the pressures that are exerted by some powers whose political interests lie in creating insecurity in Iraq." The Tehran Times notes Khamenei is calling for "the immediate formation of a government". Pepe Escobar (Asia Times) notes:
All through these interminable seven months since the Iraq elections on March 7, the Barack Obama administration said it would "not interfere" in internal Iraqi politics. Even the ghosts of the whores of Babylon knew Washington wanted its own favored, slightly pro-Western "coalition" in power - a Maliki-Iyad Allawi "cohabitation", as the French put it, with that Arab version of Tony Soprano, former Central Intelligence Agency asset and former "butcher of Fallujah" Allawi as prime minister. (See The new Saddam, without a moustache Asia Times Online, July 16, 2004.) Now it turns out Washington is involved in - guess what? - a whole lot of interfering. Maliki is set to actually remain in power - thanks to support by the Sadrist bloc. Allawi's Iraqiya List had slightly more seats (91) than Maliki's list (89), but not enough to form a government. At the same time, the Sadrists became predominant over the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Iraqi National Alliance (10% of the 325 contested seats). Even said ghosts of the whores of Babylon also knew that after the elections the real kingmaker in Iraq would continue to be Muqtada.
John Leland (New York Times' At War) reports that "huge banners" have gone up in the Iraqi Parliament noting Moqtada al-Sadr or his late father and a member of the Sunni alliance Tawfiq, Mohammed Gessim, states, "This is a government institution that should not have signs like this. The Sadrists want to show that they are in control and are taking control of the place." Meanwhile Nussaibah Younis (Guardian) zooms in on Nouri, pointing out that he is the cause of the stalemate having destroyed a coalition earlier with the Sadr-bloc and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Amir's group) when the sticking point was no one wanted Nouri for prime minister, the same reason he was unable to move forward with Iraqiya. Younis observes:
As he used his first term in office to build a formidable power base among supporters and in the military and intelligence establishments, many fear the level of power that Maliki may be able to accrue with another four years in office. Some Iraqis are even asking: is Maliki destined to be another Saddam?
Perhaps most seriously, Maliki presided over a collapse of faith in Iraq's political system. The 2010 parliamentary elections were shambolic and the continued failure to form a government has undermined any remaining credibility. On the eve of the election, the Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC) -- headed by a Shia politician who was himself an electoral candidate -- disqualified 458 mostly Sunni and secular candidates from participation in the election. The JAC claimed that the candidates were Ba'athists, but failed to release the evidence on which these claims were based -- preventing those affected from mounting effective appeals. The debacle threatened to derail the entire election.
Even after the election the JAC attempted to retrospectively ban candidates accused of having links to Ba'athism without even awarding the lost seats to the political party that they had represented -- thereby changing the results of an extremely close election after the event. External pressure forced the JAC to drop their case, but faith in the political process had been well and truly shaken.
Please note that none of that was hidden. All she's writing about happened in plain sight and the US government did not give a damn. They just wanted to rush through Nouri's coronation because he's given his word that the SOFA will be renegotiated. It's not about stabililty or any other so-called concern for the White House. It's about extending the US military mission in Iraq.
Everyone still awaits the latest release from WikiLeaks releases some of their Iraq War documents. The WikiLeaks home page reads (as it has since at least Friday): "WikiLeaks is currently under[g]oing scheduled maintenance. We will be back online as soon as possible." From their Twitter feed this morning, these were the five most recent Tweets:
Note -- On October 20, Ethan McCord will be joining World Can't Wait for a live webcast on the Collateral Murder video released by Wikileaks. Ethan is the soldier in video carrying the young girl from the van. Today, he has also just released some videos showing humiliation of detainees...
A former US soldier in Iraq has come forward with video of his fellow soldiers subjecting Iraqi detainees to what he describes as "mental, emotional, degrading" abuse.
US Army Specialist Ethan McCord was a member of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, the same unit that was involved in a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad shown in a leaked video released last April by WikiLeaks.