Wednesday, January 5, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada al-Sadr returns to Iraq, Span wants answers about the attack on Camp Ashraf, 2 US Senators raise the issue of burn pits, and more.
Friday, we noted: "True or false, there's a feeling in DC that some of Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters can be peeled away with 'incentives' (money) provided Nouri doesn't launch another attack on them. al-Sadr's influence was seen as waning as 2007 ended and 2008 began but then Nouri attacked Basra and then Sadr section of Baghdad elevating Moqtada al-Sadr to new found heights where he appeared a leader as he issued one statement after another from outside Iraq. As always, from outside Iraq. There are no facts that demonstrated al-Sadr's supporters can be peeled away, that is a judgment call that's been made by the US government. That's DC gossip, take it for what it's worth or not." Guess who's back? Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reports, "Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made a surprise return to Iraq on Wednesday, ending nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran." Global Post adds, "A spokesman for the cleric said Sadr would 'address the country' Wednesday night or Thursday morning." Daniel W. Smith, Ben Van Heuvelen, Ben Lando and Iraqi staff (Iraq Oil Report) explain, "The cleric is a staunch nationalist who has called for a review of all oil contracts with foreign oil companies, and has indicated special hostility toward American and British firms. On his website he recently counseled a follower not to accepts a job from a British oil services company because that country had participated in the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq." The April 30th snapshot included this:
UPI reports that Moqtada al-Sadr "has demanded that 'illegal' contracts signed with foreign oil companies in 2009 be negotiated." Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) adds, "The Sadrists, fervent nationalists although they have been heavily linked with Iran, where their leader is currently based, say the deals break Iraqi laws. The Iraqi oil ministry says the contracts will result in 'more than US $100 billion' (Dh367bn) worth of investment."
Gulf Research Center's Mustafa Alani tells Bloomberg News, "I think he felt the longer he stayed outside the country the more power he will lose and gradually have less control over his group." Which is probably the most accurate statement today. Martin Chulov (Guardian) states Nouri "views [. . . al-Sadr] as an unpredictable and potentially subversive figure." Saad Fakhrildeen and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) add, "In recent weeks, [. . .] some tension has been introduced in the relationship between Maliki and the Sadrists in government. The Sadrists have grumbled that Maliki has not delivered on expected positions. The Sadrists had demanded the post of deputy prime minister and secretary of the cabinet but were thwarted." Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Rebecca Santana (AP) bring up another effect of al-Sadr's return, "His return caused trepidation among many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis who remember vividly the sectarian killings carried out by his militia, the Mahdi Army, and believe he is a tool of Iran." northsunm32 (All Voices) quotes a supporter in Najaf stating, "He is our hero. We sacrificed for him. He said 'No' to the Americans and fought the Americans, and he is brave." By contrast, professor Firas al-Atraqchi (Huffington Post) opines, "The return of Muqtada Al-Sadr, a junior Shia cleric and head of the Mehdi Army militia, from his refuge in Iran to a prominent role in Iraqi politics is not only a sad testimony to the sham democracy in Iraq but also serves a humiliating end to America's adventure here. Unless there is a military coup by nationalists in Iraq or an about-face by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malliki, Iraqis will live in perpetual fear for the foreseeable future."
Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers, "Sadr had vowed not to return to Iraq until all US forces had left the country. Around 45,000 troops remain [. . .]" Moqtada al-Sadr left the country in part due to one of those miracle arrest warrents that always seem to be in a cabinet drawer, ready to be pulled out and waived around. In fact, Reuters notes al-Sadr "fled Iraq some time in 2006 or 2007 after an arrest warrant was issued for him". BBC News' profile (not yet updated to include news of his return to Iraq) of al-Sadr includes, "An Iraqi judge has released an arrest warrant for Moqtada Sar in connection with the death of a moderate Shi leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, in April 2003, just two days after the fallof Baghdad. Moqtada Sadr strongly denies any role in the murder." The warrant was issued in April of 2004. From Patrick Cockburn's book Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Battle for the Future of Iraq:
I though of this small incident when, a few weeks later on March 28 , the U.S. viceroy and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Paul Bremer closed al-Hawza for sixty days. I suspected that the U.S. officials in the Green Zone were going to get a bigger reaction than they expected. The reason for the closure of the newspaper was that it had carreid a sermon from Muqtada praising the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York as "a miracle and blessing from God," though the letter handed to the editor said only that it had browken the law on fomenting violence. "Close the rag down," Bremer had said to aides when he read a translation of the offending issue. In his account of this disastrous year ruling Iraq, Bremer shows extreme animus toward Muqtada, descrbing him as "a rabble-rousing Shi'ite cleric" and even comparing him to Hitler. As early as June 2003 he quotes himself as thinking: "Muqtada al-Sadr has the potential of ripping this country apart. We can't let this happen." In the second half of 2033 Bremer repeatedly portrays himself as decrying the timidity of the U.S. military, the CIA, and the British, all of whom hesitated before confronting Muqtada. Their fears were understandable and, as events soon demonstrated, wholly justified. Given the escalating armed resistance by the Sunni community it did not make sense to provoke a Shia uprising at the same time.
For months Bremer hovered on the edge of ordering the arrest of Muqtada and his closest lieutenants for the murder of Sayyid Majid al-Khoei. Iraqi judge Raad Juhi had even issued an arrest warrant for Muqtada in November, saying that he had two eyewitnesses who said they had heard Muqtada give the order for al-Khoei to be killed (the pretense that there was an indpendent Iraqi judiciary operating at the time was never going to cut much ice with Iraqis). Bremer held two beliefs that were dangerously contradictory. For him, Muqtada was at one and the same time a powerful and menacing figure capable of tearing Iraq apart, and so weak that he would tamely submit to arrest, while his following would be too small to make effective protests. Iraqi ministers were struck by the degree of Bremer's hatred and how much he belittled Muqtada. They were told not to refer to the "Mehdi Army" but to call it "Muqtada's militia." Ali Allawi, the highly intelligent independent Islamist who was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, once tried to explain to Bremer how the Sadrists were the political representatives of the millions of Shia poor. Bremer furiously retorted that he "didn't care a damn about the underclass and what they [the Sadrists] represented."
John Leland and Anthony Shadid (New York Times) report, "On Wednesday, it was unclear whether any criminal charges hung over Mr. Sadr's return. Jawad Khadhum, a Sadrist member of Parliament, said that there was no warrant for the cleric's arrest" and he tells the Times, "That was just from the previous government to target the Sadrists, to take us away from the political process. We proved to everyone that we are an important part in Iraq and the political process."
Kadhim Ajrash and Vivian Salama (Bloomberg News) cites al-Sadr cleric Nazar Mohammed as stating Moqtada al-Sadr had returned to Najaf and note, "A member of al-Sadr's political movement, Qusai al-Suhail, was named first deputy parliamentary speaker in the Iraqi Cabinet last month after the cleric's bloc supported Shiite leader Nuri al-Maliki to continue as prime minister." Hassan Abdul Zahra (AFP) reports, "Sadr, who wore the black turban of a 'sayyid,' or descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, visite the shrine of Iman Ali about 5:00 pm (1400 GMT), with a group of grey-clad bodyguards in tow." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, "The Sadr movement emerged as one of the kingmakers in Iraqi politics in March, when it won 39 parliamentary seats. The bloc's support played a major role in al-Maliki getting his second term in office." Nizar Latif and Phil Sands (The National) note, "As part of the political deal for its support, hundreds of Sadrist prisoners were freed from jail. The movement was also assured control of seven government ministries, although none of the coveted offices of oil, finance or security fell into its hands."
While many outlets note Moqtada al-Sadr's late support to Nouri this go round and a few note he also backed Nouri for prime minister in 2006, no one's talking about the referendum al-Sadr held. More than anything else, it's going to be an issue if he's back in Iraq for good (this may just be a visit -- Nassir al-Rubaie says it's permanent). March 7, 2010, Iraq held elections. Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc came out with the most votes but Nouri was determined to hold on to the prime minister post. In April, al-Sadr held his own elections to see who his bloc should vote. From the April 7th snapshot:
Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).
When al-Sadr's out of the country, it might not be that much of an issue. But he's back and you can be sure some supporters are wondering, "Why did he tell us that we needed to vote again and that our votes would determine who the bloc supported when that's not what happened?" Nouri is who Moqtada would throw his weight behind starting in August but he wasn't even one of the two top choices among Sadr's supporters. The thing about being the 'returning hero' is that after the parades are over, questions tend to get asked.
Alsumaria TV reports that "Baghdad Operations Command Chief of Staff Brigadier General Hassan Al Baidani affirmed that a series of assassination attempts targeted a number of Interior and Defense Ministries officials. So called Islamic State of Iraq and the League of the Righteous (Asaeb Ahl Al Haq) are behind recent attacks in Iraq, Al Baidani revealed." As officials in various ministries are reportedly targeted, UPI reports that Nouri al-Maliki's continued inability to compile a full Cabinet is "creating major security challenges for the new government" according to Kadhim al-Shimmary of the rival Iraqiya political slate. Iraqiya is calling on Nouri to appoint Ministers of Defense and Electricity. Meanwhile the Cleveland Plain Dealer's editorial board offers:
Now that a new unity government finally has been formed in Baghdad, al-Qaida affiliates that draw strength from Sunni disaffection will become more marginalized. But the country's long period of political instability reinvigorated Sunni radicals, whose internal attacks are intended not just to undermine majority Shiite rule, but also to secure their share of Iraq's rich trade in stolen goods -- in which they're competing with shady Iranian Shiite groups tied to elements of the Iraqi government.
Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War. The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Irfan Husain (Dawn) notes: "In Iraq, a church full of Christians was taken over on Oct 31, with nearly fifty killed. In the resulting atmosphere of fear and sorrow, hardly any Iraqi Christians celebrated Christmas publicly. As it is, around half the million-strong Christian population has fled persecution and violence at the hands of the majority." Elias Sakr (Daily Star) writes of the targeting of Christians across the MidEast: Lebanese political leaders called Monday on Arab states to outline a united strategy to promote the role of Christians across the Arab world, with the head of the Kataeb (Phalange) Party describing extremist attacks against Middle Eastern Christians as "genocide." Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said New Year's suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt that killed 21 people was part of a larger plot to divide the Arab world. Jumblatt called on Egypt to boost the political participation of Christians in state institutions in a bid to counter attempts to spark strife and tamper with civil peace. "This a criminal act that aims to shake stability with suspicious fingerprints seeking to foment strife and spread organized chaos," Jumblatt said.
The 56-year-old organization Open Doors released their [PDF format warning] "2011 World Watch List" today documenting the countries in which they find Christians to be the most persecuted in. Last year's number eighth placed Mauritania has been kicked out of the top ten by the 'biggest gainer' Iraq which moved from number seventeen in the 2010 report to number eight in this year's report. Peter Elliott (Everday Christian) quotes Open Doors' Paul Estabrooks stating, "Our perspective is that what is happening in Iraq is just one more example of Islamic extremism that can be seen in Pakistan right through the Middle East to Morocco. Much of it is the perception that America is leading another crusade against them. The interesting thing is there is in-fighting between their groups as well. The targeting of Christians has been really heightened since the Iraq War and it's continuing on. It's almost like an ethnic cleansing or a religious cleansing that's going on. It's like they want to get rid of them because they remind them too much of the decadent West."
In today's violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left another person injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people, a second Baghdad sticky bombing left two people injured, a Taji roadside bombing left three Iranian pilgrims wounded, 1 person was injured in a Mosul drive-by shooting and 1 employee of the Ministry of Housing and Reconstruction was shot dead in Baghdad.
Today Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited Baghdad where he met with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as well as with Nouri al-Maliki. The Daily Times reports Zebair declared, "Our constitution doesn't allow any organisation to be on our land and attack our neighbours, and we are committed to that." Publicly, the issue of salt water was not commented on but may have been addressed in either of the private meetings. Furat News reported last month that the Minister of Water Resources had told Iran that they must stop polluting the waters with salt, that salt water is entering Iraq from Iran and that the Swaib River must be protected. Al Swaib River brings in the marshes and the Al Swaib Farm in Basra is a restoration project. It is known that they discussed the MEK.
Since long before the start of the Iraq War, Iranian dissidents have lived in Iraq. Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28th the world saw what Nouri's 'promises' were actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents.
Fiona Govan (Telegraph of London)reports, "A Spanish judge has opened an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by Iraqi authorities at a camp for Iranian refugees in July 2009, the first international probe of its kind since the fall of Saddam. Spain's National Court number 4 ruled in favour of opening an investigation into a complaint filed by victims of a raid by Iraqi soldiers and police on the Ashraf camp which left 11 people dead and dozens injured." Ciaran Giles (AP) adds that Judge Fernando Andreu is calling on testimony to begin March 8th in Madrid and has issued a court write for Iraq's Lt Gen Abdol Hossein al Shemmari to provide testimony. BBC News notes, "Judge Andreu said that the Geneva Convention applied to the case, as it addresses the protection of civilians in wartime. Another factor was that Iraq was not investigating the incident properly, he added." AFP quotes al-Shemmari stating, "I am innocent. The force that entered the camp came from Baghdad, and they were an army force, not from the police. After they entered the camp, they asked Diyala police to establish a police station in the camp, and this is what we did."
Turning to the US Senate, Andrew Tilghman (Army Times) reports that Senators Bill Nelson and Charles Schumer have sent a letter to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stating that those service members in Iraq and Afghanistan who may be exposed to the fumes from the burnpits should be given respirator masks: "If the use of burn pits is a military necessity in a particular circumstance, military regulations should require that protective respirator masks be made available and shall be provided to all troops within range of being exposed to these potential toxins. These masks can, at a minimum, serve to mitigate the harm being cause by these burn pits and, thus, potentially prevent tragic cases like the death of Sgt. [William] McKenna." On the death of Sgt McKenna, his nephew posted the following at Leftovers Community Raiding:
Hey guys, I know this isn't really the place for this but I am really trying to get the word out on what happened to my Uncle who pasted away 12-28-10.
He served two tours in Iraq, and after an IED blew off his helmet and almost killed him he was medically discharged with a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. A few months later it was discovered he had cancer and it was ruled as an illness obtained from chemicals exposed to while in Iraq. My Aunt quit her job to help take care of her husband, for over a year getting chemo,radation, blood transfussions, and much more. He finally past away and the Army is not helping with the cost of the burial because he wasn't active duty when he died.
There are a lot of things my Aunt is trying to change in the future to help people that end up just like my Uncle Bill. She is trying to get people that are discharged, but have an life threatening illness full benfits as if they were still active duty.
If my Uncle was active duty when the cancer killed him (he would still be active duty but was forced to be medically discharged) his wife and two young children would be able to receive $100,000 plus burial expencess. Since he is not active duty my Aunt will get $2,000. The burial alone is going to cost over $12,000 and she is praying that enough kind people will donate, even $5 a person, in order to put my Uncle to rest.
I have been trying to get the word spread through all means possible, and it has been spreading pretty good on facebook. If you have a facebook account could you please help by updating your status to the links below?
Please take the time to read this story, I know it's right after the holidays and we're all short on cash but if there's anyway you could donate, even a buck or two, it would help a widow and her two young children to put their husband and dad to rest.
Thank you all for reading and God Bless!
Damangron - Ron Tappen
Here's the link to the story posted by the local Tampa News :
There's an address at the end of that story where donations can be sent.
And we'll note this from the office of the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Daniel Akaka:
PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS SENATOR AKAKA'S POST-9/11 VETERANS EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE IMPROVEMENTS ACT INTO LAW
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, President Barack Obama signed into law the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. The bill was introduced by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) last year to make improvements to the education benefit for veterans:
"The young men and women in the Armed Forces provide an incredible service to our nation," said Senator Akaka, a World War II veteran who attended college on the original GI Bill. "With the signing of this bill, young veterans will now have an easier time utilizing the education benefits they have earned. I applaud President Obama and my colleagues in Congress for enacting this important legislation."
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act (S. 3447) provides for a streamlined, less complex, and more equitable program for veterans who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001.
The new law expands the number of eligible veterans by including a group of National Guard/Reserves veterans who were inadvertently omitted from the original legislation in 2008. It increases educational opportunities by paying benefits for on-job and vocational training. It also provides an annual $1,000 book allowance to service members training while on active duty.
Monday we noted Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was sworn in. David Bacon (Political Affairs) reports, "Oakland Mayor Jean Quan walked through the city on her inauguration day. She is the first Chinese American woman elected mayor. She started at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Chinatown. She then stopped at the Asian Resource Gallery, which featured an exhibit of posters curated by Greg Morizumi, from the Third World Strike at the University of California and political movements in the Asian American community since the 1960s. Mayor Quan designed one of the posters in the exhibit, protesting the beating death of Vincent Chin." David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award.