Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, November 16, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, a major piece of reporting emerges from independent media and the news outlet panics and buries it, Iraqi Christians remain targeted with two more deaths today, the power-sharing arrangement appears more difficult to maintain, and more.
 A special envoy from President Barack Obama raised the possibility in a secret meeting with senior Iraqi military and civilian officials in Baghdad Sep. 23 that his administration would leave more than 15,000 combat troops in Iraq after the 2011 deadline for U.S. withdrawal, according to a senior Iraqi intelligence official familiar with the details of the meeting.
But the White House official, Puneet Talwar, special assistant to the president and senior director for the Gulf States, Iran and Iraq on the National Security Council (NSC) staff, said the deployment would have to be handled in a way that was consistent the president's pledge to withdraw U.S. troops completely from Iraq under the 2008 agreement, the official said.

That's the opening to Gareth Porter's "U.S. Envoy Secretly Offered Troops in Iraq after 2011" (IPS). And this morning, we observed, "It's probably one of the most important articles of the week so look for it to be roundly ignored." Ignored?  Boy was I wrong (I've been wrong before and will be wrong many times more).  Ignored?  Try disappeared.  Use the link and you're taken to IPS main page.  Hit the Iraq page of IPS and you can't find the story that way.  A search demonstrates they're now playing Rupert Murdoch and burying the story behind a pay wall.  IPS, for those who forgot or never knew, was part of the Cult of St. Barack and it's been really difficult for it to return to being a news agency.
Want to read the story?  Don't waste your money on Jim Lobe's crap ass site which doesn't have the brains to grab traffic or the guts to call out Barack.  Gareth's story can be found -- in full -- at Dissident Voice and Common Dreams links go directly to Porter's story.  Too hot to be freed by IPS where they now attempt to bury it.  We'll discuss the report in more detail and with context tomorrow.  Right now, I want to note I was wrong.  The story was not ignored -- it was buried..
From Iraq, Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports a Mosul sticky bombing today claimed the life of 1 adult male Iraqi Christian and his six-year-old daughter, the latest in the continued wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians.  Yesterday, the targeting of Iraqi Christians continued with two more killed in Mosul home invasions. Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reminds, "Attacks in October 2008 on Christians in Mosul prompted a mass exodus from that city of 1.8 million. Many Christian families in Iraq who spoke to CNN said they feared for their safety and wanted to leave the country, but didn't have the means to do so." That was 2008, only one of the many waves of attacks on Iraqi Christians, and Nouri did nothing then to protect Iraqi Christians either. Nouri's 'leadership' this go-round includes castigating France and Italy for offering medical treatment to the victims and asylum to victims and their families who deisre it. The latest wave of attacks garnered international attention when Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was seized October 31st and 70 people -- including two priests -- were killed and 75 injured.  Two nuns, Sister Alice and Sister Martine, were in the Church during the attack and (at Asia News) they share what they saw:
The church was attacked on Sunday, 31 October, past midday, right after Fr Tha'er's homily. Fr Wasim, who is the son of a cousin of Sister Lamia, was hearing confessions in the back of the church. Fr Raphael was in the choir. The attackers were all young, 14-15-year-olds. They did not wear a mask but had machine guns and hand grenades. They also carried explosive belts. When they arrived, they opened fire right away, killing Fr Wasim who was closing the church's door, shooting in every direction, telling people to lie on the floor, and not to move or shout. Someone was able to send some text messages with a mobile phone, but the attackers shot at anyone who was using a mobile. Fr Tha'er was killed at the altar in his liturgical vestments, still celebrating the mass. His brother and mothers were also killed. Then the slaughter began. We cannot tell you what everyone told us. Even crying children were killed. Some people fled to the sacristy, and blocked the door. Yet the attackers went up to the church's balcony and threw hand grenades through the sacristy windows, which are high up.

Joe Sterling and Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) report on an Iraqi Christian woman who no longer allows her children outside or to go to school due to the threats that Iraqi Christians are living under, a woman who informs that "security hasn't been beefed up since the assaults began on October 31" and who thought of moving her family to 'safer' Mosul until her sister who lives there "called, told her about the latest attacks targeting the community, and advised her not to come."  The assault has led to international protests. Xinhua reports approximately 500 people protested the assaults in Sydney, Australia today, "A sea of Syrian and Iraqi flags waved through Martin Place in Sydney Central Business District on Tuesday, as about 500 protesters chanted 'stop the violence, stop the killing'." AAP quotes Raymond Elishapour stating, "There are many people there that are not only being wiped out but who want to seek asylum on Australian shores that are being subjected to long bureaucratic processes. They're being caught up in violence that they can't escape. Australia is liable because they were involved in causing the destabilisation (in Iraq) that has aggravated the circumstances for these people." Tom Reily, Yuko Narushima and Glenda Kwek (Sydney Morning Herald) add, "About 160 detainees reportedly went."

Meanwhile Ahmad Al Akabi apparently took his own life last night. Australia's ABC reports that he was among many immigrants at Sydney's Villawood detention center and that he had been attempting to receive asylum in Australia and that efforts were being made to expel him from Australia and send him back to Iraq: "Mr Al Akabi came to Australia by boat 12 months ago. He was a teacher and a truck driver in Karbala in southern Iraq. His fellow asylum seekers say his bid to stay in Australia was based on claims of persecution from the Shia Mahdi Army." AFP adds, "Human rights supporters said the man who had hanged himself in a bathroom on Tuesday was an Iraqi in his 40s who had left a wife and four children behind in Iraq, and arrived in Australia on a boat about a year ago."
Meanwhile in England, Martin Revis (Christian Century) notes that the Christian Muslim Forum issued a statement yesterday: "We stand shoulder to shoulder with Iraqi Christians to confront the terror and fear that this important part of Iraqi society now faces, emphasising that these terrorist attacks will not succeed in dividing us and destroying the great values that we share, and our long history of peaceful coexistence."
Now turning to the Mandaeans.  This group goes back centuries -- and may date back to Antiquity -- and now is estimated to number less than 100,000.  Until the Iraq War began, the majority of Mandaens could be found in Iraq.  Like other religious minorities, they've become external refugees (many have fled to Iran, others to Syira and Jordan and a small number have left the Middle East). It's estimated that as much as  90% of the community has left Iraq since the start of the Iraq War.  In 2007, US professor Nathaniel Deutsch wrote a column for the New York Times calling for the US to grant this community refugee status (which did take place) and noting, "Unlike Christian and Muslim refugees, the Mandeans do not belong to a larger religious community that can provide them with protection and aid. Fundamentally alone in the world, the Mandeans are even more vulnerable and fewer than the Yazidis, another Iraqi minority that has suffered tremendously, since the latter have their own villages in the generally safer nother, while the Mandeans are scattered in pockets around the south.  They are the only minority group in Iraq without a safe enclave." Nadia Keilani is an Iraqi-American, an attorney and a Mandean.  In 2008, she explained for CNN: "I belong to a religious minority called Mandaean, also known as Sabeans or Sabean-Mandaean. We are a Gnostic sect that claims Adam as the first in a line of "teachers" and John the Baptist as the last. Even today, our baptisms are conducted in the same manner that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and others of his time. Mandaeanism is a pacifist religion that forbids violence even in defense of life. In the anarchy that is today's Iraq, this has proved fatal to the existence of this small but important part of human religious history."  The water issue is important to the faith when resettling.  Lakes and rivers being ideal due to the baptisms. Settling is not a small issue and it goes beyond the issue of needing to be near a body of water.  Keilani noted, "To be a Mandaean, you must be born to two Mandaean parents. To survive, Mandaean communities must exist in large enough numbers for young people to meet, marry and have children. Since 2003, the number of Mandaeans inside Iraq has dwindled to fewer than 5,000. Tens of thousands are scattered throughout Europe, Australia and the United States. The results of this diaspora are clear: Our religion probably will cease to exist in my children's lifetime." 
Today Matthew Hay Brown (Baltimore Sun) notes that there are problems resettling this refugee community and notes that Dr. Wisam Breegi argues that if the community is not resettled together, "it will disappear." In September, IRIN reported on the Mandeans who fled Iraq for Syria due to being targeted and IRIN noted, "UNHCR does give special consideration to refugees 'who have special needs based on various vulnerabilities,' but religion is not counted as one of those."  Russell Contreras (AP) quotes UNHCR's Vincent Cochetel stating, "It makes sense to keep them together, but no one nation can provide them with effective protection. Nations also have to take into consideration affordable housing available. That's just the social reality."
Today Abdul Rahman al-Rashid (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) offers his opinion that "the most moderate political bloc of all, the al-Iraqiya List, has lost its chance to form the new government. It is the bloc that most accurately represents the composition of the Iraqi people, in terms of its denominations (Sunnis and Shiites), and its ethnicities (Arabs and others). Furthermore, it was the bloc which won the most seats in the March parliamentary elections (91 seats). We were hoping that the Iraqiya bloc would have the opportunity to rule the country, in order to reinforce the concept of a cosmopolitan Iraq, rather than a divided and partitioned one, particularly at a time when the state itself is being remoulded. Yet unfortunately, the bloc that lost the elections has managed to win the leadership posts. The Iraqis, the Americans, and regional forces with interests in Iraq's stability and future, are all to blame for this."
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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with via "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, nine days and counting.

Meanwhile Marina Ottaway and Danial Kaysi examine the deal the parties have signed off on with a frankness not generally found in analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Second, the agreement does not really appear to be legally enforceable. Its implementation depends on the good will of all major political factions, but particularly that of Maliki. And the provisions can only be implemented quickly by taking some liberties with the constitution and the law. This is particularly true regarding the National Council for Higher Strategic Policies. There is no written agreement about the powers of the National Council, although the verbal agreement apparently indicates that the Council will not simply be an advisory body. When the idea of creating a National Council was first raised by the United States, it was seen by Maliki's opponents, and even by some of his supporters who worried that he was becoming too powerful, as a way of curbing his power. But Maliki compared it to the U.S. National Security Council, a body that advises the president but has no autonomous power of its own. The differences over its authority remain and even a law will not solve the problem. No matter what the law says, the Council cannot reduce the powers of the prime minister without a constitutional amendment and the constitution precludes amendments until the end of the second election cycle four years hence. Therefore the power of the National Council will depend on Maliki's willingness to comply with its decisions. The likelihood he will is not great.
The problem of reversing the de-ba'thification decision against al-Mutlaq, al-Awadi and al-Aani is also complex and is likely to entail either a process that takes too long to satisfy immediate political needs or one that overlooks legal niceties. The Justice and Accountability Commission that decides on de-ba'thification is undoubtedly a highly political and partisan body; indeed some Iraqis believe that it acted unconstitutionally when it banned many candidates from taking part in the elections.
Technically, though, its decisions can only be reversed by the courts -- at least this is what happened during the election campaign -- and the courts would have to review all decisions, not just those against three individuals. But the agreement requires the Council of Representatives to reverse a decision by the Commission. Indeed the walk-out by a majority of Iraqiya members during the first parliamentary session took place because Iraqiya feared the parliament intended to ignore the de-ba'thification issue -- it was supposed to take action on this issue before electing the president, as required by the verbal agreement. During their second session on November 13, the Council of Representatives voted to form a committee to study the issue.
Also weighing in on the deal is Michael Jansen (Deccan Herald) who observes, "While Iraqiya lawmakers attended the session on Nov 13 after they were assured the ban would be lifted, the bloc is divided. Its head, Ayad Allawi, a former post-war premier, announced that the deal is 'dead' although a majority of Iraqiya deputies disagree. They could change their minds if Maliki does not deliver on the deal. Allawi has been promised the chairmanship of a national security council but if it is not vested with powers to oversee the armed forces and police, he and his followers could either boycott the assembly or go into opposition."  John Irish (Reuters) reports on the emerging conflict which found Jalal Talabani declaring today that the power-sharing arrangement would mean the end of violence in Iraq while Ayad Allawi came off more sober as he declared that the arrangement was a sham and would not last for long. Martin Chulov (Guardian) points out, "A government must now be formed within 30 days. The appointment of ministers is likely to prove difficult. The month will probably be a cooling-off period in which power-sharing roles will be tested."
In other news, As'ad AbuKhalil (Angry Arab News Service) notes, "Iraqi puppet Ministry of Interior admits that US controlled its puppet intelligence until end of 2008. (thanks Hassan)"   The article?  Swalefna al-Helwa reports that the Adnan al-Asadi, deputy minister at the Ministry of the Interior revealed to the Kurdish press today that Iraq was unable to handle intelligence duties (Paul Bremer disbanded the existing Iraqi intelligence community) and so the duties were done 'outside' the government, by US military forces, from 2003 through the end of 2008 and, therefore, the Iraqis had no control over the intelligence or ability to determine its veracity.  That need to verify and vouch for the intelligence is why the country's constitution (in Article 15) requires the the President of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service be the primary advisor to the prime minister.  In 2009, Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani was fired from his post as director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service by Nouri al-Maliki with 'conflicting reports' as to why but security breaches was the accepted reason.

In the US, the military wants service members . . . but won't let gays or lesbians serve openly.  Today Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) weighs in on Don't Ask, Don't Tell:
Protesters chaining themselves to the White House gate today, objecting to what they called the "silent homophobia of those who purport to be our friends and do nothing," capped a tumultuous few days in the fight to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- and the larger fight for equality.
There was the one step forward represented by the leak of a Pentagon study showing that 70 percent of active-duty and reserve troops surveyed thought lifting DADT wouldn't have a negative impact on America's armed forced. Followed by the two steps back of the Supreme Court's order on Friday allowing the ban on openly gay soldiers to remain in effect while the Obama administration fights a federal appeals court ruling that the policy is unconstitutional, and John McCain -- who has said in the past that he'd be open to repealing DADT -- making it clear that, in fact, he wouldn't. Not now. Not yet.
If you cheerleaded Barack, maybe you have an obligation to work overtime to hold him accountable?  (Arianna cheerleaded Barack and that's why Huff Post's 'big' story on Barack broke late on Friday -- the 'cling to religion and guns' story -- instead of earlier, they didn't want it in the news cycle and that's also why the 'writer' refused all requests to take part in the Sunday shows after the story broke.)  Read over Arianna's otherwise well written piece and try to find Barack's name.  She has the nerve/gall to bring up Abraham Lincoln but lacks the guts to call out the sitting president who does have the power to ensure that Congress addresses the issue.  But he had that power in 2009 . . . when he did nothing.  And he had that power at the start of this year . . . when he decided to play kick the can by doing that useless year-long study.  Again, if you scraped and bowed to Barack, worked overtime to ignore the caucus fraud, the disenfranchisement of Michigan and Florida, further disenfranchisement by the 'rules' committee and the refusal to allow a floor vote -- Pelosi stopped it, remember -- at the convention, maybe it's about time you took your nipple out of Barack's mouth, put your breast back in your blouse and demanded that the little tyke grow the hell up and be the leader you all swore he was.
Matthis Chiroux has never felt it was job to burp, feed or wipe Barack.  The Afghanistan War veteran and Iraq War resister has held Barack to the same standard he held the previous occupant of the White House.  (To clarify, Barack was elected and we do say "President Barack Obama."  We do not say "like the previous president" because the previous occupant was not elected in 2000 and we have never, ever applied the p word to Bully Boy Bush and never, ever will.) Since Barack was sworn in, Matthis has fought against the ongoing wars and destruction of civil liberties at home the same way he did when Bush occupied the White House.  Killing and destruction did not suddenly become fashionable for Matthis because it was overseen by a man with the label "Democrat" after his name.  Alexa Sasanow (Tufts Daily) profiles Matthis in -- not surprisingly -- a very forthright and candid piece.  Excerpt:
After his five years in the army, during which he served as an army strategic communicator and journalist, touring in Japan, Germany, Afghanistan and the Philippines, Chiroux returned to the United States in 2007. He got an apartment in Brooklyn with the one person he knew in New York, a fellow veteran. The two engaged mostly in reckless behavior after returning to civilian life, Chiroux said.
"I was drinking excessively and being very physically impulsive," he said. "One Sunday morning, I'd been up all night with a couple of women I was hanging out with -- it was around 9 a.m. -- and somehow we managed to get up on top of a skyscraper right next to Ground Zero. I was wasted and I remember standing on the edge of that building and looking down at the ground and seeing the wall stretch down from the tips of my toes to the sidewalk, 68 stories and the wind blowing. I went off like a rocket and it took me a while until I finally realized I may be having a good time, but there's something wrong with me."
Such self-awareness is difficult for many veterans to manage, Chiroux said, particularly if they're dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as a reported 319,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are. Chiroux's New York apartment-mate is one of them.
"She was very deep into cocaine and she couldn't come down," he said. "It was like she was trying to relive the rush of combat."
Substance abuse is one of the most common consequences of PTSD, Chiroux said, and the most common way he has seen veterans self-medicate is with excessive amounts of alcohol and cocaine.
The Afghanistan War isn't our focus here.  But on tomorrow's The Diane Rehm Show (airs on most NPR stations and streams live starting at 10:00 am EST), guest host Susan Page addressed the Afghanistan War with a panel of guests -- and takes your calls on the issue.  And we'll close with this from Page Gardner of Women's Voices, Women Vote:

I wanted to make sure you had the latest data from our post-election research. It includes important information from two surveys conducted November 1 and 2: one is a national survey of voters and the other looks at our program participants.
Research shows that reaching out to and increasing the participation of members of the Rising American Electorate-unmarried women, people of color and youth voters-is critical to ensuring everyone has a voice in our democracy. Indeed, the marriage gap was shown to be a major factor this year: at 30 points, it was more than double the 13 point gender gap, however, it was narrower than in years past. Further, the marriage gap nearly doubled among our program participants compared to the general pool of voters.
There were other bright spots in the research about our programs: only 3% of the electorate this year was made up of new voters, but 27% of our program participants were new voters. Further, there was a very high recall rate of our mail-62% of program participants recalled mail from WVWV's Voter Participation Center urging them to register or vote this year.
You can view these and other results here: http://www.wvwv.org/assets/2010/11/15/wvwvpostelectionsurvey.pdf.
We look forward to doing a thorough evaluation of all of our programs this year and will report the results as soon as we have them.