Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 18, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Tikrit rocked by bombings, over the holiday weekend the US military announces multiple deaths, some Iraqi leaders speak out against the violence aimed at Iraq's Christians, the time is running for US servicemembers to receive their stop-loss back pay, and more.
Today Tikrit was slammed with a bombing in the latest news from the ongoing Iraq War. AFP calls it the worst bombing in Iraq since October 31st while Liz Sly (Washington Post) terms it "the bloodiest incident since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the formation of a new government in December".  Xiong Tong (Xinhau) reports police recruits were queued up when a suicide bomber in their midst detonated. Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) quote police spokesperson Hatem Akram stating, "We have a lot of unemployment. All those people are poor people trying to find a job."  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes, "Local television reports have urged people to donate blood for victims." Tang Danlu (Xinhua) reported this morning that the death toll had climbed to 60 with at least one hundred and fifty injured and reports:

A doctor named Mustafa in Tikrit hospital told Xinhua that dozens of patients were taken to the hospital and there were very dangerous situations.
"We tried best to save lives of those wounded people," he said.
Charles Stratford (Al Jazeera -- video and text) explains, "Tikrit's hospital couldn't cope with the number of casualties An Interior Ministry official says some were being rushed to hospitals in Baghdad and other cities." BBC News has video of the blood stained ground as well as some of the wounded at the hospital.  Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) quotes Abu Muhammad outside the Tikrit hospital stating, "My brother was there between the recruiters. I don't know if he is still alive or dead." Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) provide this context, "Militants from Iraq's onetime Sunni elite have long opposed efforts to recruit members of their sect to position in the new security forces, and have used intimidation and violence to keep them away."  Charles McDermid and Nizar Latif (Time magazine) points out, "The latest is almost certainly going to increase pressure on al-Maliki, who rode to re-election on a strongman persona and promises to restore stability. But the Prime Minister has not yet appointed anyone to the nation's top security posts; he is running the departments himself in the interim."  Ned Parker and Hameed Rasheed (Los Angeles Times) report these numbers: 60 dead and 160 wounded.  They also quote Mohammed Ahmed Jaboori (possibly speaking for many Iraqis) stating, "This explosion shows the big security infiltration and violation. They cannot control all of these poples. They don't have any observation or inspections."
In other reported violence today, Reuters notes 1 police offficer was injured in a Baghdad shooting, 1 Iraqi soldier and 1 bystander were injured in a Baghdad shooting and 3 Baghdad roadside bombings left eleven people injured.
The Economist wonders about the violence and feels, for Iraqis, Moqtada al-Sadr's call for them not to attack one another might prevent another sectarian war, "Instead, says Al-Sadr, they should resist 'the occupation through armed, cultural and all kinds of resistance'.  That implies a worrying year ahead for the 50,000 or so American troops who have remained in Iraq after the official departure last summer of America's combat troops."
Saturday three US soldiers were killed, a fourth died on Monday. DoD issued the following yesterday: "The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation New Dawn. They died Jan. 15 in Mosul, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an Iraqi soldier from the unit with which they were training shot them with small arms fire. They were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Killed were: Sgt. Michael P. Bartley, 23, of Barnhill, Ill. [and] Spc. Martin J. Lamar, 43, of Sacramento, Calif. For more information on this release, media may contact the Fort Hood public affairs office at 254-287-9993." And they issued this yesterday as well: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn. Spc. Jose A. Torre, Jr., 21, of Garden Grove, Calif., died Jan.15 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with a rocket-propelled grenade. He was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. For more information related to this release, the media may contact the Ft. Riley Public Affairs office at 785-239-2022." When DoD updates the count -- today around ten a.m. EST -- the number will rise from at 4435 to 4438. They haven't yet announced Monday's death so they won't include it in their count (unless they make an announcement before they issue the count).
While The Economist sees a civil war as unlikely, libertarian Ivan Eland (Antiwar.com) has another view:
The lull in Iraqi mayhem was mainly achieved by the U.S. bribery of Iraqi Sunni tribes (the "Awakening") to fight against their foreign-led Sunni brethren from al-Qaeda. The bribery worked because even Sunnis were shocked at the over-the-top brutality of al-Qaeda against civilians, including Sunnis; these ruthless foreigners were eventually perceived as being worse than even an American occupation. A similar outcome occurred in Malaya from 1948 to 1960, as majority Malayans hated the minority Chinese (perceived foreigners) more than the British occupation. It enabled Britain to tactically defeat the largely Chinese insurgency and adroitly exit Malaya.
Despite the likely ephemeral nature of the respite in Iraq, the United States should similarly withdraw its remaining 50,000 troops from Iraq and not be suckered by any Iraqi government requests to stay longer. The longer U.S. forces stay, the more likely they are to be engulfed in any renewal of ethno-sectarian violence.
Neighboring Iran wielded its now significant influence in Iraq to end the nine-month post-election stalemate, allowing the return of the fiercely anti-American critic Muqtada al-Sadr. The United States, even with its remaining troop presence, was eclipsed by Iran in ending the political gridlock. Al-Sadr's triumphant return as a key pillar in support of Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government means the pressure for a full U.S. withdrawal will increase. Thus, a seemingly hidden goal of the George W. Bush administration for invading Iraq in the first place -- gaining access to Iraqi military bases to safeguard Persian Gulf oil, replacing those in Saudi Arabia that were lost -- would need to be abandoned. With al-Sadr back in the country and acting as a power broker in al-Maliki's governing coalition, an Iraqi request for U.S. forces to stay past their end-of-2011 withdrawal date is less likely.

Iraq's Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War.  The latest wave of targeting began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.  Al Mada reports today that Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President, met with EU ambassadors whose countries are accredited to Iraq and stated that at the forefront of the challenges facing Iraq are terrorism and the targeting of Christians.  He noted that he met with Muslim and Christian religious officials about the targeting on Friday and Talabani spoke of a "new Iraq" where Iraqis live with one another "in harmony and peace" and live with their neighboring countries and the world "in harmony and peace." KRG President Massoud Barzani also met with religious leaders.  Al Mada reports he met with offiicals from the Chaldean Culture Society, National Council, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Chaldean Democratic Forum, the Federation House of Mesopotamia and others to discuss the targeting of Iraqi Christians.  Barzani told the "delegation that he will always ben an advocate and strong supporter for the Christian brotherhood."
Friday's snapshot included the following:
However, approximately at the time Talabani was speaking to reporters, the Christian Association of Ashurbanipal in Baghdad was under attack and their property was damanged by unknown assailants and by, according to eye witness, Baghdad police officers.  Abdul-Karim, speaking for the police, denied that they were connected to the attack. One eye witness reports that the Baghdad police could be seen with the assailants and exclaiming, "We are an Islamic state!" and "No place for Christians and Yazidis in Baghdad!"   Iraqi Christians have long been targeted throughout the Iraq War and the latest wave of attacks started October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad leading to the deaths of approximately 70 people with approximately 70 others left injured.
Saturday John Leland (New York Times) reported on the raid (but states it took place Thursday night) and quotes  Christian Association of Ashurbanipal in Baghdad board member Sharif Aso stating, "They came in and said, 'You are criminals. This is not your country. Leave immediately." From Leland's article:
The intruders wore civilian clothes, said Mr. Aso and others at the organization, but their arrival was preceded by three police vehicles that blocked off the street. He said the men stole his ring and bashed him ont he leg with a pistol.

Tunring to news of basic services, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Yahya Barzanji (AP) report on Abdul-Rahman Mustafa, Governor of Tamim Province, and his decision to stop supplying Baghdad with electricity while his capital (Kirkuk) makes do with less than four hours of electricity each day. Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) adds, "Rizgar Ali, chairman of Kirkuk's provincial council, said the procedure of separating from the national grid was completed on Tuesday evening."  An unnamed US embassy official expresses concern and remind, "We saw riots last summer . . . that's a concern."  Al Rafidayn terms it a "secession" and notes local demonstrators ("dozens") protested between Kirkuk and Erbil over the fact that they have daily power outages in excess of twenty hours.  Al Sabaah reports that Monday saw over 1,000 people demonstrate in Diyala Province's Khan Bani Saad over the poor services and the deterioration of edcation offered -- on the latter, specific complaints include that the sole school was so small and "built with mud" and has over 1300 students enrolled in it.
In England, they're gearing up for War Hawk Tony Blair's testimony this Friday before the Iraq Inquiry and Mark Townsend (Guardian) has reported that "Tony Blair is set for fresh embarrassment over the Iraq War this week when he is cross-exmined about contradictions relation to the manipulation of intelligence before the invasion."  Brian Brady (Independent of London) adds, "Members of the five-strong Chilcot inquiry have grave doubts over the truthfulness of statements the former prime minister made to them last January and in his memoirs, published last autumn. The Independent on Sunday understands that the inquiry is concerned over Mr Blair's evidence on the legal advice he received before agreeing to join the invasion, and the timing of the decision to go to war. He also faces claims that he misrepresented the findings of a report from international inspectors sent into Iraq following the invasion to look for evidence that Saddam Hussein had been building an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."  If you're late to the Iraq Inquiry, the Guardian has a tongue-in-cheek overview here.  The Daily Telegraph reports:

In written evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the war, Lord Goldsmith said statements made by the ex-prime minister in the months before the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein were incompatible with the guidance he had given.
On January 14 2003 the Attorney General advised Mr Blair that UN Security Council resolution 1441 was not enough on its own to justify the use of force against Iraq.

The Inquiry has published Goldsmith's written statements questioning Tony Blair's testimony of events. The Iraq Inquiry might be taken more seriously were it not for the WikiLeaks revelation that the British government told the White House that they'd ensure the US wasn't embarrassed by the revelations. Add in that Tony Blair played the committee for fools last January and what needs to be proven on Friday is that the Inquiry is truly independent.  That's even more difficult when they've just lost a power struggle.  Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports, "Britain's top civil servant, Sir Gus O'Donnell, is preventing the official inquiry into the Iraq invasion from publishing notes sent by Tony Blair to George W Bush -- evidence described by the inquiry as of 'central importance' in establishing the circumstances that led to war. O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, consulted Blair before suppressing the documents, it emerged tonight."  John Chilcot is the Chair of the Iraq Inquiry and, in his opening statement at today's session, he commented on the efforts to keep things from the public:
The Inquiry will always seek to take evidence in public unless there are specific grounds under our protocols why it cannot do so. The Inquiry is determined to be as transparent as possible in its work. I thought that was important when I took on the role of Chairman and our commitment to make public as much as possible continues. Yesterday we published the transcripts of five of our private evidence sessions on the Inquiry website. In places, extracts have been redacted in accordance with the protocol with the government. We are pleased that we have been able to make so much public. We will continue to publish further transcripts and declassified documents in the coming weeks to assist the public understanding of our work.
There is one area where, I am sorry to say, it has not been possible to reach agreement with the government.
The papers we hold include the notes which Prime Minister Blair sent to President Bush and the records of their discussions. The Inquiry recognises the privileged nature of those exchanges but, exceptionally, we sought disclosure of key extracts which illuminate Prime Minister Blair's positions at critical points. The Cabinet Office did not agree this disclosure. On 10 December last year, in accordance with the Protocol, I asked the Cabinet Secretary to review that decision. I also made it clear that, if we could not reach agreement, I would publish the correspondence between us. I am doing so today.
The Inquiry is disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary was not willing to accede to its request. This means that in a narrow but important area the Inquiry may not always be able to publish as fully as it would wish the evidential basis for some of its comments and conclusions.
The Inquiry is free to say what it thinks. We shall complete our task and make our own independent judgements about the UK's involvement in Iraq.
Rosa Prince (Telegraph of London) emphasizes, "He made clear that it would be more difficult to question the former prime minister when he gives evidence for a second time on Frdiay without reference to the letters and notes."  Gonzalo Vina (Bloomberg News) notes Steve Field, spokesperson for UK Prime Minister David Cameron, stating today that the decision to censor did not come from his boss, "It's very much the Cabinet secretary's decision."  [Labour Party Tony Blair was replaced as Prime Minister by Gordon Brown who was replaced last year by Conservative Party David Cameron.]  Tony Blair's questioning is already thought to be difficult since so much of what he testified to has been contradicted by other witnesses.  AP notes that Peter Goldsmith, Blair's then Attorney General, rejects the claims Blair made to the Inquiry about his legal advice. Blair groupie Glen Oglaza (Sky News) words it this way: "Lord Goldsmith, former Attorney General, has made an astonishing claim in written evidence to the Inquiry: That on January 14th 2003, he advised the Prime Minister that invading Iraq would be illegal without a second UN resolution, but the very next day, January 15th, Mr. Blair stood up in the House of Commons and told MPs that such an invasion would be LEGAL under the existing UN Resolution 1441. Asked if that was compatible with his advice, Lord Goldsmith wrote: 'No', and went on to say he felt 'uncomfortable' watching the Prime Minister's performance."  Stop the War UK is organizing protests against War Criminal Tony Blair.

Reasons to protest when Tony Blair is recalled to give evidence to the Iraq Inquiry on 21 January:

QEII Conference Centre 8am-2pm
London SW1P 3EE

(Tube Westminster or St James's
Please publicise as widely as you can
In the US, Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports that approximatley 35,000 US Army soldiers are entitled to stop-loss pay but have not applied for it. To be clear, claiming the pay does not mean you are going to be stop-lossed. This is pay for people who were stop-lossed. Stop-loss is popularly known as the back door draft. It's where you have enlisted, you serve your agreed upon time, you prepare to leave the military and the government informs you that you're not leaving, that they've extended your contract. Those who experienced this are entitled to additional pay and that's what 35,000 soldiers have yet to claim. The deadline to apply has been extended to March 4th. You can visit this DoD page for more information including:

Apply Now for Retroactive
Stop Loss Special Pay

The following service-specific sites provide more information and allow you to begin the RSLSP claim process.






Marine Corps


Air Force

Turning to the topic of Iraq War veteran Bradley Manning. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. Paul Courson (CNN) notes Bradley is a suspect and, "He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say."

The Law Office of David E. Coombs (Bradley's attorney) offers:

The defense has raised its objection to the documented confinement conditions of PFC Bradley Manning on multiple occasions with the Quantico confinement facility and the Staff Judge Advocate's (SJA) Office. On 5 January 2011, the defense filed a formal complaint with the commander of the Quantico Brig. On the same day, PFC Manning also filed a formal complaint through the confinement grievance process. Both complaints requested that the confinement facility remove PFC Manning from Prevention of Injury (POI) watch and that his classification level be reduced from "Maximum" to "Medium Detention In." The confinement facility did not respond to either complaint.
Due to the lack of response from the confinement facility, the defense, pursuant to the provisions of Rule for Courts-Martial (R.C.M.) 305(g), filed a request earlier today with the Garrison Commander to direct the release of PFC Bradley Manning from pretrial confinement. This request is based upon the fact that the confinement conditions currently being endured by PFC Manning are more rigorous than necessary to guarantee his presence at trial, and that the concerns raised by the government at the time of pretrial confinement are no longer applicable. Further steps to address PFC Manning's confinement conditions will be taken, if necessary.

Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), a non-profit organization of psychologists committed to social change and social justice, has written a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, protesting "the needless brutality of the conditions to which 23-year-old PFC Bradley Manning is being subjected" at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia. He has been accused of unauthorized access to classified material, some of which he allegedly downloaded to his computer, as well as other computer and security-related charges.

It is widely speculated that these charges relate to materials turned over to the Wikileaks website, including a video of an Apache helicopter attack civilians in Baghdad, the Iraq War logs, and thousands of State Department diplomatic cables. The military charge sheet accuses Manning of "wrongfully introducing more than 50 classified United States Department of State cables onto his personal computer, a non-secure information system." It also alleges he downloaded a Powerpoint presentation, and "a classified video of a military operation filmed at or near Baghdad, Iraq, on or about 12 July 2007."

Manning was held for approximately three weeks at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait before being transferred to Quantico, where he has remained in solitary confinement since late last July. In an article last month, I reported on PFC Manning's current psychological state, as best as I could determine from speaking to David House, who had just visited him, and on the deleterious effects of solitary confinement in general. PsySR's letter speaks at length also about the harsh conditions of solitary, and notes "no such putative risk can justify keeping someone not convicted of a crime in conditions likely to cause serious harm to his mental health."