Monday, January 24, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, January 24, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri al-Maliki stages a power grab, ugly realities about Iraqi prisons emerge, a British citizen (and Iraq War veteran) stands trial in Iraq, and more.
The violence never ends in Iraq.  Yesterday, Jane Bradley (Scotsman) reported Baghdad experience "a series of car bombs" resulting in 6 deaths and twenty-nine more people left injured. Aziz Alwan and Liz Sly (Washington Post) noted the death toll rose to 8 and that the bombs "ripped through the city and its environs over a three-hour period starting shortaly after 7 a.m., and primarily seemed to target eitehr security forces or Shiite pilgrims setting out to attend rituals associated with the Arbaeen religious holiday." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "The Arbaeen is the culmination of 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, a grandson of Mohammed who died in a 7th century battle in Karbala."  John Leland (New York Times) observes, "Other parts of the country have recently been hit by large-scale attacks, mainly against security forces and religious pilgrims, but until Sunday Baghdad had been spared."  DPA adds, "Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi said Sunday the country should brace itself for an increase in attacks ahead of an Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad in March" and they quote him stating, "We should anticipate a possible escalation of terrorist attacks as we get closer to the date of the coming Arab summit in Iraq."  Peter Walker (Guardian) points out, "Despite the security, there have been a series of bomb attacks during the pilgrimage period, killing at least 159 people.  Last week, a triple suicide attack along the main roads leading up to Karbala killed 56 people, mainly Shia pilgrims."  Global Post adds, "On Sunday, an Al Qaeda front group in Iraq claimed responsibility for the series of suicide bombings north of Baghdad last week, in Baquba and Tikrit."
The emphasis today is on Kerbala. Reuters notes a Kerbala bombing claimed 6 lives with twelve people left injured followed by a second bombing with both blasts resulting in at least 14 dead and one-hundred and forty-one injured. AFP quotes Province Vice Chief Nusayef Jassem stating, "There were three car bomb explosions, two at 8:30 AM (05:30 GMT) and another 30 minutes later."  Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) quote eye witness Mohammed Thayish stating, "Many charred bodies were there, women, children and men. It was so sad and horrible.  Blood was everywhere.  It's so frustrating to have car bombs every few days against Imam Hussein pilgrims.  Where are the security forces? They should have better measures and intelligence to prevent such terrorist acts."  BBC counts 25 dead and later John Leland (New York Times) counted 30 dead while noting, "The attacks led to a flurry of theories and recriminations. Some Iraqis speculated they were meant to undermine confidence in security before the Arab League Summit, which is scheduled to be held in Baghdad in March.  Others offered conspiracy theories involving foreigners and Saddam Hussein loyalists. Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) counts "at least 18".  In addition, Reuters notes two Baghdad roadside bombings resulted in 1 death and nine people being injured and a Tirkit roadside bombing injured five of Governor Ahmed al-Jubouri's bodyguards, Taha Othman was injured after being shot outside his Mosul home, 1 Imam was shot dead in Falluja and the corpses of 2 Sahwa members turned up in Riyadh.
 Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) reports that the easily manipulated court system in Iraq has again bended to Nouri al-Maliki's will in what some are terming a "coup" as independent agencies -- such as the Independent Higher Electoral Commission, the High Commission for Human Rights and the Central Bank of Iraq -- put under the control of Parliament by the country's Constitution are being turned over to Nouri by the Supreme Court. Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) explain:

But some parties were suspicious of Maliki and the high court, remembering how the prime minister requested a ruling last year over who had the right to form the next government after an election that saw Maliki and his secular rival, Iyad Allawi, finish in a dead heat.
The court's ruling that the largest bloc in parliament could form the government after a vote effectively allowed Maliki to create a majority with the other main Shiite bloc in parliament.
Allawi's Iraqiya bloc expressed its alarm over the latest ruling in a statement Saturday.
"The decision of the federal court to connect the independent boards to the council of ministers directly instead of the parliament … is considered as a coup against democracy," the bloc said.

Wow.  Imagine Nouri doing a power grab after he secured the post of prime minister.  Who could have ever seen that happening?  Good thing Moqtada al-Sadr is in Iraq, right? Oh wait, as noted in Friday's snapshot, Moqtada al-Sadr is back in Iran. For a visit or another two-year-plus stay no one knows. BBC News notes he was only in Iraq for two weeks (and think of all the press he got for what might have been a vacation). Moqtada al-Sadr's presence didn't make a damn bit of difference (only the ruling came down Friday, Nouri's the one who brought the case).  We're dropping back to the January 10th snapshot for 11 paragraphs where we explained that, having gotten the post, Nouri didn't care about anyone else or the laws and that this was evidenced by his first term as Prime Minister:
Last night, we wrote: "He's reporting on al-Sadr's threats to leave Maliki's government should the US stay beyond 2011. Guess what, Chulov, al-Sadr left Maliki's government in 2007 for just that reason. It didn't topple then either. We'll address that and Rebecca Santana's conclusions for AP and Gulf News' opinions in a snapshot this week (hopefully tomorrow)." He was Martin Chulov. Moqtada al-Sadr has no power now in terms of the government, not if you judge by the past experience.  He pulled out of the government in April 2007, remember? 
In Iraq today the six cabinets filled by Moqtada al-Sadr's block are now vacant.  Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) explains: "A key Shiite Muslim bloc in Iraq's governmental pledged Sunday to quit over Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a move that would further weaken the country's leadership at a time of soaring sectarian violence."  Edward Wong and Graham Bowley (New York Times) listed "protest at the refusal of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to set a timetable for American troops to withdraw from Iraq."  (No link.  Currently the New York Times has 'withdrawn' the story.  You can find it quoted here.)  AFP quotes a statement issued by the puppet of the occupation: "Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki welcomed the announcement of his eminence Muqtada al-Sadr."  The puppet was the only putting up a brave front, the Turkish Press quotes White House flack Dana Perino who steps away from her stand up schtick on the beleaguered US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales long enough to declare, "Doalitions in those types of parliamenty demoncracies can come and go."  That funny Perino!  "Democracies"!  She cracks herself up.  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) noted: "The Sadr movement controls six cabinet posts and a quarter of seats in Iraq's parliament.  The pullout follows one of Iraq's bloodiest weekends in months. McClatchy newspapers is reporting nearly 300 people were killed in violenace around Iraq Saturday." [CBS and AP's count on Sunday for the Karbala bombing Saturday was 47.]  Jim Muir (BBC News) offers analysis, "Nobody expects Mr Sadr's move to bring the government down.  Nor did observers believe that was his intention.  Rather than leave the cabinet seats empty, he himself suggested that the six abandoned portfolios be given to non-partisan independents, and some of his aides urged that competent technocrats be appointed. . . .  The Sadr bloc has 32 of the 275 seats in the current parliament, and intends to continue its activities there and in the Shia coalition, despite withdrawing from government.  Another member of the Shia coalition, the Fadhila party, announced early last month that it was pulling out of that alliance because of the government's poor performance and sectarian quota composition.  But only if other major factions such as the main Sunni bloc and Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqi List were also to walk out of the government, would it be at risk of collapse."  Ross Colvin and Yara Bayoumy (Reuters)  note "concerns about whether Sadr's Mehdi Army, which Washington calls the biggest threat to Iraq's security, will maintain the low profile it has so far duing a U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad." 
 Kawther Abdul-Ameer and Mussab al-Khairall (Reuters) reported April 17, 2007 on his withdrawal of support (the ministers from his bloc left Nouri's Cabinet) and how Nouri al-Maliki told the reporters, "The withdrawal (of the Sadrist bloc) does not mean the government is witnessing weakness."  Nor did it mean the government collapsed.  Iraq's Constitution is not being followed by Nouri.  Did no one grasp that at all during his first term? 
The only power anyone had to stop Nouri was to stop him from forming a government.  He's done it.  He's now going to ride through the second term.  If ministers walk, so what?  It's not led to a vote of confidence by Parliament and it most likely won't.  Nouri never had a full Cabinet.  And he still doesn't, he's starting off his second term without a full Cabinet.  Rebecca Santana notes that, "Many Iraqis and U.S. officials are believed to want an American presence beyond the end of 2011, as currently planned under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement, to do such things as control Iraq's airspace and monitor the borders.  But al-Sadr's remarks made clear it will be difficult for al-Maliki to renegotiate that deal."  Moqtada's remarks suggest no such thing.  Moqtada's ministers left (in 2007) because?  The continued US presence was the reason give publicly.  They walked and the government continued.  If that's how Nouri behaved in his first term, why would anyone expect he would accept new impositions in his second term?  How do you logically infer that?
I don't see how you do.  Gulf News insists, "But Al Maliki's confidence comes from a very fragile base, and the political unity achieved so painfully around the new government could easily fall apart."  How?  Do we mean military coup?  That's a possibility. 
But if we're talking about the government falling apart because X walks out -- however many units you apply to X -- that doesn't seem likely because it's not what happened before or what's already happened.  During the many months without any government -- when the UN should have imposed a temporary government -- the Minister of Electricity resigned.  Nouri just made the Minister of Oil also the Minister of Electricity.  There is no Constitutional power that allows him to do that.  There is no "circumvent Parliament one time only" card that exists.  Currently, there are 13 empty spots -- 3 of which Nouri has appointed himself (temporarily, he insists).  And for those saying, "Well Moqtada has a lot of seats in this Cabinet!"  He has says 7 seats in this Cabinet.  And before some fool cries, "Well, see, it's one more than last time!"  Uh, not really.  They had 6 when there were 32 Cabinet positions (plus the Prime Minister).  Now they have 7 when there are 45 Cabinet positions (plus the Prime Minister).  Now that's just dealing with the 2007 walk out.  That was far from the only walk out of Nouri's Cabinet.  There was, for example, the great Sunni walk out of 2008.  It doesn't matter who walked out, it never crippled Nouri or even made him pause.
So you can have the opinion that Moqtada al-Sadr or even Ayad Allawi hold power in the executive branch of the government today but, based on pattern, that's not a sound opinion.  You may say, "In spite of pattern, I think this go round if A happens then B and C band together and . . ."  But the pattern's already established and until you acknowledge the pattern, if your opinion goes against it and you can't explain why that is, your opinion's not a sound one.
At any time during the walk outs of Nouri's first term, Parliament could have toppled the government with a vote of no-confidence.  They didn't.  That was due to the fact that Nouri was able to offer 'rewards' to those who were loyal and he didn't have to offer rewards to many because so few MPs were ever present for votes.  Now you can say, "Things will be different now, Parliament will be prepared to do a no-confidence vote."  And maybe they will and maybe they won't but if you're not acknowledging that Parliament refused to do so before then your opinion's not sound.
Nouri's not a new face.  How he's going to govern is no great mystery.  He's just started his second term.  Ayad Allawi's supporters will hate this but when Allawi (or rather Iraqiya) agreed to go forward without the security council being established, that was a huge mistake.  (Allawi did protest that.  He himself did not go along with that.)  Once Nouri got the vote and moved from prime minister-designate to Prime Minister, he didn't need them anymore.  That's why he could launch an assault on al-Sadr's supporters -- jump the gun on the US an launch an assault, as Gen David Petreaus testified to Congress repeatedly in April of 2008 -- without fears of reprisal. 
There will be unexpected and surprises but the pattern's established and those sure that a pear tree is going to bear apples this year can hope all they want but, based on what we know from past experience, that's just not going to happen.  Equally true, human development is A to B, A to C or A to D for most people.  Few of us ever experience an A to Z change.  In other words, Nouri today is basically the same Nouri he was from 2006 through 2010.
End of excerpt and, again, don't say you're surprised unless you want to admit how foolish you were to have ever believed that Nouri in term two would be vastly different than Nouri in term one.  And the . . .  Let's call it "news."  And the "news" just continues to pile up around Nouri.  Saturday, Jennifer Rizzo (CNN) reported the ACLU is, via Freedom of Information requests, in possession of "thousands" of documents which "show 'unjustified homicide' of detainees and concerns about the conditions of confinement in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay" and notes:

Others are thought by the ACLU to be new. In one such case, a detainee was killed by an unnamed sergeant who walked into a room where the detainee was lying wounded "and assaulted him ... then shot him twice thus killing him," one of the investigating documents says. The sergeant than instructed the other soldiers present to lie about the incident. Later, the document says an unnamed corporal then shot the deceased detainee in the head after finding his corpse.
In another example, documents note a soldier "committed the offense of murder when he shot and killed an unarmed Afghan male." But, according to the ACLU, the individual was found not guilty of murder by general court-martial.
And that's only one of Nouri's prison issues.  Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) followed that with a story about how Nouri al-Maliki's "elitist security force [the Baghdad Brigade . . .] is holding detainees in miserable condtions for months at a time [at Camp Honor] without access to lawyers or families despite Maliki's pledge last year to rein in the unit, Iraqi officials and diplomatic sources say. [. . .] A man held at the facility in April and May said he recognized one detainee as an official from Diyala, one of Iraq's most politically sensitive provinces.  The arrest of Najim Harbi, a member of the Diyala provincial council, has sparked accusations that the security forces had been politicized.  Harbi was elected to parliament last year, but has been unable to take his seat." In April of last year, Parker reported that there was an attempted arrest of Iraqiya's Sheik Qais Jaoburi and that this followed the arrest of Harbi who "was taken into custody before the national vote, but he was elected anyway while being held in an undisclosed location.  Another elected Iraqiya lawmaker from Jabouri's district, Madaen, southeast of Baghdad, has also gone into hiding after receiving warnings from contacts in the Iraqi security forces that a raid on his home was imminent." Assad Abboud (AFP) quotes Busho Ibrahim, the Deputy Justice Minister, stating, "It [Camp Honor] is under the control of the ministry of justice.  It is my responsibility, and I deny all these accusations -- they are all lies.  The prison is visited by the ministry of human rights and the International Red Cross.  They know about it.  There are 270 detainees and most of them were arrested over counter-terrorism offences and by Baghdad Operations Command."
This is who the US government installed -- twice over.  This is what they picked.  And this is what they risk US lives to keep installed.  Mark Brunswick (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) reports, "In its second-largest deployment since World War II, the Minnesota National Guard will send more than 2,400 troops to Iraq and Kuwait later this year." Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio) reports with text and audio on the deployment. Becky Purser (Macon Telegraph) reports that "soldiers from the Macon-based 352nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion" are deploying to Iraq, "The soldiers agreed that being remembered by folks back at home strengthens them while stationed overseas. 1st Lt. Jonathan Castillo, 26, of Orlando, Fla., has support from his parents, a 7-year-old sister and five brothers. He recalled what it meant to him and others deployed to Iraq at Christmas in 2007 to receive Christmas stockings with each of their names as well as letters of encouragement from people they didn't even know. Sgt. Kenisha Neal, 23, recalled the Girl Scouts sending cookies during her deployment in southern Iraq 2007-2008 and the letters from second-graders that 'told us how much they loved us'." Candace Hollingshed and Bofta Yiman (WMAZ) add, "Family and friends said goodbye to their loved ones after a deployment ceremony that took place at Macon State College on Sunday."  And who's leaving when?  Arieh O'Sullivan (The Media Line) reports:
More than eight years after arriving in the country, American troops are readying to leave Iraq by the end of December, but defense analysts say the U.S. Air Force will likely be staying for years to come.
Iraq's Air Force won't ready to maintain air sovereignty any time in the foreseeable future, the experts said. Last year, the government announced its intention of purchasing 18 F-16 Block 52 multi-role interceptors in an effort to fast track its way to an effective air defense, but delivery will only begin in 2013 and even this date is reportedly being pushed back, they said
"I don't think the U.S. Air Force will be able to leave Iraq for at least five years, as there's no way that the Iraqis alone will be able to deal with any kind of air threat for this period," said Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Musa Qallab, an independent defense expert and former program manager for Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Issues Gulf Research Center in Dubai
Who is leaving?  A large number of refugees.  But some Iraqi refugees are being forced to return to Iraq.  As Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reported last week, Sweden has forcibly deported 26 Iraqis back to Iraq (at least, Sweden's saying they were Iraqis; last year, Sweden forcibly deported an "Iraqi" back to Iraq only to discover the Swedish government didn't know what the hell were doing because he wasn't an Iraqi).The UNHCR tells Karadsheh that 3 of the 26 were Iraqi Christians. Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War but the latest wave began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. DPA noted, "The plans have been criticized by various international agencies - including the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR - citing fears that the refugees would be returned to areas where Christians and other minorities have recently come under attack. Swedish churches, human rights groups, and members of the opposition have also protested the move." Coming under increasing criticism for their move, CNN reported, "Sweden's Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, Tobias Billstrom, defended the decision by pointing to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which he said decided that there is no need to stop the return of Iraqis who had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Sweden." They don't come off very humanitarian with their actions. Nor do recent revelations indicate that they've acted out of humanitarian impulses. DPA reports:

While Sweden was prepared to receive asylum seekers there was need for 'a return agreement' with Iraq for refugees whose applications were rejected the ministers said, according to US diplomatic cables leaked by whistle-blower site WikiLeaks and quoted by the daily Svenska Dagbladet.
During a September 2007 visit to Iraq, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Tobias Billstrom, minister for migration and asylum policy, met with Iraqi officials and US embassy officials in Baghdad.
According to the US cable, Bildt and Billstrom mentioned concerns that many arrivals after 2003 were 'more difficult to assimilate.'
Contributing factors were that the asylum seekers were destitute, and often had poor education or lacked language or professional skills.

Sweden's The Local reports:

A Green Party member is considering reporting Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Migration Minister Tobias Billström to a parliamentary committee following a WikiLeak exposing statements that they made in 2007 about Iraqi refugees.
Bildt and Billström are the subject of renewed criticism following the revelation. At the time, Bildt stated Sweden's demands for a tougher immigration policy. The opinions were expressed during a meeting between the two ministers and a US ambassador.
Bildt and Billström attended a breakfast meeting with then-Swedish ambassador to Iraq Niclas Trouvé and then-US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, according to the classified documents on Iraqi immigration to Sweden, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reported on Friday.
The problem was the Iraqis that Sweden did not want to grant residence permits to. Bildt wanted an agreement with Iraq on the return of these asylum seekers. Without one, it would have been impossible to establish a Swedish embassy in Baghdad, said Bildt, according to the documents.

Ida Karlsson (IPS) reports, "Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have criticized Sweden for its latest expulsion of Iraqi migrants who fled their home country to seek shelter in the European nation, citing concerns that violence in Iraq continues to threaten the lives of deported migrants." UNHCR notes that the UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres addressed the issues declaring that efforts should be made "to address the security, property and reintegration issues that would allow people to return in safety and in dignity" but all returns should be Iraqis wanting to return.  He continued, "To force people to return home against their will where insecurity prevails is unacceptable."
Iraq War veteran Danny Fitzsimons remains imprisoned and on trial in Iraq. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as Iraq. He returned to Iraq in the fall of 2009 as a British contractor, or mercenary, accused of being the shooter in a Sunday, August 9, 2009 Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. BBC News reports that the trial has adjourned until February 20th so that the judges may examine the psychiatric evaluation and that the defense argues the three contractors were drinking, had an altercation, Dany Fitzsimons returned to his lodging and the other two broke in and began attacking him, threatening to kill him leading Danny Fitzsimons to shoot Paul McGuigan dead and then fight over the gun with Darren Hoare. Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds:

The judge, Ali Yousef, questioned Fitzsimons on forensic evidence prepared for a coroner, which said powder burns were absent from Hoare's body, not supporting Fitzsimons's account of a close contact struggle during which fatal shots were fired from a short range.
Fitzsimons said: "I think the evidence was manipulated by the security company. The crime scene was changed."
Salam Abdul Kareem, a lawyer for the victims' families, urged the court to hand down the maximum sentence, which is death by hanging, or life imprisonment. "He did not stop shooting until all 14 bullets were finished," he said.

Steve White (Daily Mirror) quotes
Fitzsimons testifying, "I was seconds away from death." In terms of the trial, my only opinion is that there's been no proof that justice can be found in the Iraqi legal system. But the issue of drinking has always been a part of the narrative from the moment the story broke. Point? Whether or not the two men were entering his residence to kill him, if they did break or burst in and he was drunk (as were they), his own perception of the situation would be influenced by that. As would their poor judgment be influenced by the booze leading them to think 'breaking in would be a great idea.'  Amy Corderoy (Sydney Morning Herald) adds, "A former team-mate from Mr Hoare's AFL football club, Peter Johnson, 47, said Mr Hoare and his wife [Molly-Joe] were well-loved and respected members of the Curra Swans football club, and local community."
We'll close with the opening of "Debra Sweet: Why I Oppose a Grand Jury Investigation of Anti-War Activists" (World Can't Wait):

A contradiction to ponder:

  1. A three-year investigation by the Department of Justice into the CIA operatives who carried out waterboarding, filmed the acts on 2 men, and then destroyed the tapes, ended this past November – with the government deciding not to prosecute anyone. Jason Leopold, in Special Prosecutor Declines to File Criminal Charges Over Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes wrote:It is widely believed that the videotapes were destroyed to cover up torture. It is also believed that the tapes were destroyed because Democratic members of Congress who were briefed about the tapes began asking questions about whether the interrogations were illegal, according to Jane Mayer, author of the book, "The Dark Side" and a reporter for The New Yorker magazine.
  2. A two-year secret federal investigation of the U.S. anti-war movement has been conducted by the Obama administration, apparently with a federal grand jury in Chicago hearing evidence from Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, looking into "possible links between U.S. anti-war groups and foreign terrorist organizations," according to the Chicago Tribune. Fitzgerald issued subpoenas beginning in September 2010, delivered via FBI raids to their homes, for activists to appear before the grand jury. With all the records sealed by court order, it is impossible to know about the scope and intent of the probe.
But knowing what we know about how the "war on terror" has been conducted, one can be suspicious that the aim of the first investigation was to find no crimes, while the aim of the second is to manufacture crimes.

23 anti-war activists have now been targeted by the FBI, many through September raids that confiscated a wide range of personal material.