Monday, February 07, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, February 7, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi Parliament and Nouri mouth a lot of pretty words over the weekend but apparently meant very few, protests alarm and worry the government, the US government seems to think it has money to waste in propping up Nouri's puppet government, and more.
Asked what Barack Obama plans to cut in the budget by Renee Montagne today on Morning Edition (NPR), Cokie Roberts observed, "Well we had a little hint yesterday when his budget director Jack Lew had an op-ed in the New York Times which was titled 'The Easy Cuts are Behind Us,' But he said the administration is ready to cut some things like community services which was near and dear to the president's heart as a former community organizer.  That they would cut $350 million out of that, that they would cut a $125 million out of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and another $300 million out of the community development bloc grants.  Now, Renee, I remember the community development bloc grants being on the chopping block back in 1981, thirty years ago when President Reagan was there and they're still with us because the president caught then a lot of flack from mayors and other local officers and, uhm, and so these are not cuts that are easy to make and even if they were they would still just be chicken feed in terms of cutting the deficit.  And Lew said that in his op-ed.  So it's going to be a big fight ahead."
And yet the federal government wants to drastically increase the budget of the US State Dept.  For Fiscal Year 2010, the State Dept budget was $16,389 billion, as noted in [PDF format warning] "The Budget In Brief Fiscal Year 2010." Of that $16,389 billon, "[a]pproximately $1.7 billion of the request is required to support the Department's activities in Iraq, previously funded through supplemental appropriations." From the report:
The Department requires a total of $1.715 billion to maintain operations at the U.S. Mission in Iraq. These funds will support basic mission operations, logistic support, information technology, the sustained operation of up to 27 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and overall security requirements.  Funding will enable the U.S. Mission to continue to work toward the strategic goal of a unified, democratic Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself.  The request moves to end the practice of funding these operations through supplemental appropriations, thereby normalizing the budget process.
If money is to be cut, the most obvious place to cut would be the unneeded programs.  "Unneeded" would include militarizing the State Dept.  Don't look for Jack [Jacob] Lew to suggest that since he doesn't even know how much money the State Dept is asking for re: Iraq.  Since he's the Deputy Secretary of State, he should know the money.  Of course, he may know the amount and may just be lying.  So whichever he sees as more flattering: ignorant or lying.  Last Tuesday he gave a press breifing in DC (click here for text and video) and declared, "In the FY 2010 supplemental, funding for Iraq is necessary to assure that these time-sensitive investments proceed on schedule.  The 2011 funding for Iraq is $2.5 billion.  The programs in Iraq will include police training, rule-of-law programs, and a transition from the current military footprint to a more diplomatic and development presence."  $2.5 billion?  He declared that Tuesday afternoon.  Yet, that morning, in Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, US Ambassador to Iraq declared 2011 would be 3 to 3.5 billion dollars. One might think that possibly Jack Lew found a way to save one billion dollars in a single afternoon.  However, Ambassador James Jeffrey also appeared before Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and he was using the same figures Thursday that he had used Tuesday.
So who is speaking for the State Dept and why is the department unable to speak in one voice on this issue? And why are we pretending the State Dept needs to spend money in Iraq -- anymore money than they spend for an embassy in England, France or Jordan? 
Let's remember this:
A Stable and Democratic Iraq.  Now that coalition military forces have ousted Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States will work side-by-side with the Iraqi people to build a free, democratic, and stable Iraq that does not threaten its people or its neighbors.  Our goals are for Iraqis to take full control of their country as soon as possible and to maintain its territorial integrity.  We will assist the Iraqi people in their efforts to adopt a new constitution, hold elections, and build a legitimate government based on the consent of the governed and respect for the human rights of all Iraqis.  We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, but not one day longer.
That was the State Dept's Mission Statement issued in 2004.  Where is the necessary?  Do you really think the Iraqis need the US government to burp, wipe bottoms and change diapers?  Iraq's now got a Constitution.  They've had elections.  Hasn't "as long as necessary, but not one day longer" arrived and then some?  Especially when the US is in the midst of a recession?
Now the senile and sexist Alan Simpson can go on CNN yesterday (link has video) and, in between discussing his apparently green penis ("Anybody giving you anything different than that, you want to walk out the door, stick your finger down your throat, and give them the green weenie."), demand that cuts be made to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense" and the defense industry will resist and protect itself by circling the wagons and preaching paranoia.  Libertarian Nick Gillespie (Reason) is the only one noting that Simpson mentioned gutting foreign aid and that he's saying there should have been a tax (should be one now?) on the Iraq War.  Gillespie notes, "Well, he's right that the actual folks fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the people who live in those misbegotten nations too) are the only ones who have sacrificed.  The real point, though, is that we don't need to be sacrificing anybody or anything there.  We need to get out, sooner rather than later."  That should include saying "NO!" very loudly to giving the State Dept monies to train Iraqi security forces, etc.
And while the US government can find money for propping up Nouri, they've never been willing to invest even a fraction of that into aiding Iraqi refugees.  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports on refugees being forcibly returned to Iraq from European countries:
Refugee officials say those flown back from Sweden to Baghdad include Christians from Mosul, where the religious minority has been specifically targeted over the last year.
Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have each signed bilateral agreements with the Iraqi government to return failed asylum seekers, says Umran Riza, the United Nations' top refugee official in Jordan, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have sought temporary refuge.
"We've advised these governments to still be cautious about it and we consider it the wrong message to be sending at this time where there is still a great deal of insecurity," he said in a recent interview with the Monitor.
The UN automatically considers any Iraqi from central Iraq to be at enough potential risk to be automatically considered a refugee – a position not shared by the Iraqi or many European governments.
Unrest in Egypt has dominated the news cycles for days and days.  Abigail R. Esman (Forbes) ponders the issue of whether "democracy" will come to Egypt and points out:
Five years ago, when a friend was struggling to arrange asylum for a young Iraqi refugee, she ran up against continuing refusal by the US government to open its doors to any of the four million Iraqis displaced by the war in Iraq, many running for their lives simply because they had assisted American journalists or soldiers.  "Iraq is a democracy now," US officials said.  "She doesn't need asylum here." 
If what we saw in Iraq five years ago is what "democracy" really means, then I have, indeed, no doubt: we'll be seeing democracy in Egypt.  But I don't believe it is.
Over the weekend, Nizar Latif (The National) reported, "Protesters who stormed government buildings and a police station in a small, poor southern Iraqi town on Thursday continued their demonstrations yesterday, despite a crackdown by security forces." You can refer to Thursday and Friday's snapshots for more on the Diwaniya protests.  Saturday, Alsumaria TV reported, "Hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday in protest against unemployment, freedom restrictions and other demands. Demonstrators waving the photo of late Argentinean revolutionary leader Che Guevara said they had no one to represent them in Iraq. Iraqi demonstrators urged to change the policies in Iraq and accused Parliament of shortcoming." Al Rafidayn noted that they marched on Muntanabi Street, activist, young people and intellectuals, demanding improved services. Al Rafidayn reported Sunday that approximately 250 people demonstrated in Baghad over the continued problems with basic services with some protesters carrying a coffin upon which the term "services" was written and demonstrations took place in Basra. On the Basra protest, the paper quoted a protester who states, "My children and I depend entirely on food rations and will die without them. " The man is a construction worker who gets temporary jobs and he wonders, since they have been unable to afford kerosene, if the government wants his family to burn each other to stay warm? Ramdi and Mosul also saw demonstrations Sunday according to Al Rafidayn. Xinhua reports the Baghdad protest had 3,000 participants. Al Mada notes that the Basra protests demanded that the provincial governor resign. The UK Morning Star quotes professor Nidal al-Sarmad speaking at the protest Sunday in Basra, "The people feel they have been deceived, they are frustrated.  The change the Americans brought has brought us a new set of thieves, a new set of dictators, not justice and freedom."  Al Mada also features an essay which notes protests in Falluja as well and stresses that these protests are not an attempt to "imitate" either Egypt or Tunisia, that this is the Iraqi people -- with their proud heritage -- demanding that basic services be provided and demanding that the "cake" stop being eaten by politicans while the people starve.
Salar Jaff and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) added that MP Abbas Bayati declared Saturday that the Parliament "will also enact a law that guarantees equilibrium between the salaries of officials and ordinary Iraqis. The current circumstances are pushing us to descrease expenses and salaries, and spend them on the low income classes." Pushing? The Parliament's not held sessions during the recent holiday and only sprung back into them last week. Last week has seen a lot of words but not a lot of action.
And words versus actions?  After airing words of salary cuts, Al Mada reports today, there is a split in the Iraqi National Alliance on this issue and that it was said they would not be voting on the issue of salary reduction.  Al Mada notes they were not the only political bloc in Parliament objecting to cutting their own salaries and allowances.
Of course no one does easy, meaningless words like Nouri.  Saturday, his words included the announcement that he wouldn't seek a third term.  His spokesperson discussed the 'decision' and Nouri himself announced the decision to Sammy Ketz of AFP in an interview. Ketz reported him stating he won't seek a third term, that 8 years is enough and that he supports a measure to the Constitution limiting prime ministers to two terms.

Well Jalal Talabani declared he wouldn't seek a second term as President of Iraq in an interview and then . . . took a second term. Point, if you're speaking to a single journalist, it really doesn't seem to matter what you say. Did Nouri announce his decision to the people? No, is quite clear that an advisor made an announcement and that Malliki made no "public statement" today.

In other words, a statement in an interview is the US political equivalent of "I have no plans to run for the presidency" uttered more than two years before a presidential election. That's Iraqi politicians in general. Nouri? This is the man who's never kept a promise and who is still denying the existence of secret prisons in Iraq. Deyaar Bamami ( notes the Human Rights Watch report on the secret prisons and that they are run by forces Nouri commands.
And Nouri couldn't even make it 24 hours with his latest 'big promise.' Sunday, Ben Lando and Munaf Ammar (Wall St. Journal) reported that Nouri's spokesperson, Ali al-Mousawi, declared today, "We would like to correct this article. Maliki said, 'I think that the period of eight years is adequate for the application of a successful program to the prime minister, and if he is not successful, he must vacate his place'." Of course he's not announcing that. He's a thug. His previous four year term was an utter failure.

That's not speculation, that's not opinion. He agreed to the benchmarks that the White House set. He was supposed to achieve those in 2007. Those benchmarks, supposedly, were what would determine whether or not the US tax payer continued to foot the bill for the illegal war. But he didn't meet those benchmarks and apologists rushed forward to pretend like they weren't a year long thing and that, in fact, he had 2008 as well. Well 2008 came and went and the benchmarks were still not met. Nor were they in 2009. Nor were they in his last year in 2010.

That's failure. When you agree you will meet certain things -- such as resolving the Kirkuk issue -- and you do not, you are a failure. Not only did he fail at the benchmarks, he failed in providing Iraqis with basic services. He failed in providing them with security.

There is no grading system by which Nouri can be seen as a success.

But just as he will not admit to or own his failures from his first term as prime minister, do not expect to own or admit to his failures in his second term. In other words, Little Saddam wants to be around, and heading the Iraqi government, for a long, long time.

In other Nouri news, Al Mada reports that there are rumors of a reshuffling on Nouri's Cabinet in the next few months. Nabil al-Haidari ( reports that efforts are now underweigh to provide the ration card system with actual rations the way they once were (US pressure has repeatedly led to more and more items being dropped from the rations system) and Nouri and his cabinet promised Friday that provinces will not experience shortages of what is currently offered. (No more will they experience shortages, that's the promise. A Nouri promise so refer to earlier for what that actually means.) Al Mada reports that Parliament wants an investgiation into the police interaction with protestors in Diwaniya (they shot at them). Al Sabaah notes that the Wafaa Amer Council has issued a call for Baghdad to train the country's security forces on how to interact with protestors.

Regardless of how serious the words are, they indicate grave concern over the protests that have been taking place in Iraq especially when put in context with the other protests in the region.
Meanwhile Nouri is called out for still not naming a Minister of Security with many worrying that armed militias will once again call the shots in the streets. And there is still no National Council -- the body Nouri promised to end the political stalemate, the one that is supposed to be headed by Ayad Allawi. (Anthony Shadid has a lengthy feature article profiling Allawi in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.) Al Rafidayn notes the upcoming meeting between Nouri and Allawi is said to be "crucial" for Iraq's future and survival. Al Mada notes that Allawi released a statement Sunday declaring his belief that the National Council will be created and that it's creation does not conflict with the Constitution. The statement comes one day after Alsumaria TV reported that Allawi was asking KRG President Massoud Barazani to intervene on this issue.  Alsumaria TV reports today, "Al Iraqiya List cashed in on the lack of services issue brought to light recently in Iraq to pick holes in the new government which they are still reluctant to take part into. In a meeting with his bloc, Al Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi stressed the necessity for the Iraqi government to take drastic measures in order to resolve the services shortage in the country."
Today's reported violence?  Reuters notes a Taji roadside bombing which left two people injured, a Baquba roadside bombing which left three people wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing which left two police officers injured, 2 Iskandairya roadside bombings which claimed the lives of 1 Iraqi military officer and 1 woman, a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded four people (two were Iraqi soldiers) and another Baghdad roadside boming which left two people wounded.
Among the many targeted groups in 'democratic' Iraq have been women.  Manal Omar is the author of  Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos.  At the University of Southern California, she spoke with Professor Najeeba Syeed-Miller about what she found in Iraq -- here for part one, here for part two.  Excerpt from part one.
Manal Omar: Amazing, powerful Iraqi women were on the ground. And there's always been a tradition of very strong women in Iraq.  I mean, Iraq, like many other things in terms that they were the lead in the region on health care, they were the lead in the region on education and they were the lead on women's rights.  The Iraqi Personal Status Law which deals with inheritance and divorce and marriage was one of the strongest laws since 1958.  You know, Iraqi women had the right to vote since 1980.  A lot of their neighboring countries still don't have that right.  So when I came in, you find these really strong, older women who have been working on Iraq -- on rights for a long time. I say older because one grandmother, an Iraqi grandmother, told me 'Iraq is one of those countries where you've actually had to watch generation after generation get worse.'  And you know, every grandmother's dream is to see her granddaughter have opportunity to do more than she did. Whereas you'll find in Iraq, the grandmothers who have traveled, who have higher education.  You'll find the mother who maybe has a BA but has traveled only to neighboring countries. And the granddaughter who's only finished high school -- if she's lucky -- and never left her area.  And that's because of sanctions and the Iran - Iraq War and these other wars. So by the time you got into Iraq, you saw this huge discrephancy between the younger generation and the older generation. And the older generation is where I started forging the allies.  A lot of these women that I mentioned in the book, as they become exposed, some of them were participants.  So people who were part of the program, as they became exposed to the program, the way that they just started leaping forward -- something that we would plant, they would, you know, start trail blazing in their own way what was important.  And other women like Khanim who runs a women's shelter in the north of Iraq, in the Kurdish area, was really very much taking huge risk in providing shelter and support for Iraqi women all across the country. And she did it in a way that I think is very unique in the region itself which is that she didn't just provide protection to women, but she actually would capture all their stories. So, for example, women who were, you know, violence against women or under 'honor' crimes were killed, she had a deal with the hospitals where they would usually call her before they called the police.  And she would come to the morgues and she would actually take pictures of the burn victims and all these corpses.  And the next time, which is the third component of her work -- So she had this research component -- was when she started campaigning and advocating with decision makers about it, their first response, as we all know, is 'This never happens. This is exaggeration. This is a western ploy'  She would show them the pictures.  And she would always say that would make everyone automatically quiet because she was able to show them proof.  And she also worked within the community.  And she always emphasized this isn't part of the culture, this isn't part of the religion.  She provided a safe space where people didn't have to be on the defensive and was saying, "This isn't normal in our society.  We have to fight it."
 Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos. documents the lives of many Iraqi women and girls.  Kalthoum is a young girl, not yet an adult, that Manal Omar attempted to help.  She's already been forced into a marriage at 13, then into prostitution.  From the book:
I called several Iraqi women's organizations for information, as I knew they would be the only people to tell me the truth about her situation.  They all confirmed my worse fears: her return to her family would be a death sentence.
Yet Kalthoum was fully aware of this.  In her heart of hearts, she seemed to believe it to be a reasonable sentence.  Over the span of a few days, Kalthoum had developed a strong sense of the cosmic powers of karma, and she begged me to allow her to pay her dues to her family so that her suffering would end.
She explained to me repeatedly that her live was over and that the decisions she had made had left little room for her to start over.  However, she had four unmarried sisters at home.  Her scandal had reached the tribe.  Before, she believed that people would think she had been kidnapped or killed, and there would be no way to confirm she had abandoned her husband and broken the family honor. Now it was confirmed.  If she were to go back to her family and face her sentence, then honor would be restored.  If she were to run away, then her four unmarried sisters would pay the price.  They would be shunned by society and would never marry because of their sister's tarnished reputation.  Worse yet, she argued, they would be forced into unsuitable marriages as a third or fourth wife.  Her mistakes were hers alone, and Kalthoum wanted to be able to face them directly.  She smiled at me and explained that she had been given choices in her life, and she had made the wrong ones.  Now it was time for her to pay for her poor choices.  Kalthoum was only sixteen.  That was the lone thought that went directly rhough my mind as she pleaded with me to help her get back to her family.  What life was this girl talking about?  What choices?  Was she really given a choice when she was married off? Or tricked into prostitution? Was her family really given a choice, fighting to survive war after war and a decade of international sanctions?
I shook my head.  I knew that the final decision would rest in my hands. For God's sake, how was I supposed to make such a judgment call?  Whatever I would decide would mean life or death for Kalthoum and a string of unpredictable consequences for her sisters.  Only in a war zone would a twenty-eight-year-old have so much power.
Turning to the US, last week came the news that home foreclosures were increasing among veterans and that 15.2% was the unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following on Friday:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), released the following statement after the Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate for veterans rose to 9.9% overall, and 15.2% for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is a very disappointing report that demonstrates clearly the need for us to move quickly to help our nation's veterans find jobs.

"We all know that veterans going from the battlefield to the working world face a unique set of challenges. And as we see with today's numbers, far too many of our veterans coming home from overseas are having trouble finding work in this tough economic climate.

"Our veterans have the skills, determination, discipline and talent to succeed in the workplace, but despite learning a wide range of technical and leadership skills through their service, they often find it difficult to transfer these skills to civilian professions. And all too often, they fall through the cracks of existing employment assistance programs or do not qualify for their services.

"So I am going to keep working to pass legislation to help our veterans find jobs. Because no veteran should come home from serving their country and not be able find work that would allow them to support themselves and their families."

Last Congress, Senator Murray introduced the Veterans' Employment Act of 2010, which was the first comprehensive approach to address skyrocketing unemployment rates among veterans, especially those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill included a number of proposals that improve training, skills translation, education, and small business assistance. Murray plans to introduce similar legislation in the near future.

Patty Murray is the new Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Hal Bernton (Seattle Times) points out she's the first woman to chair the Committee and that "[t]he last time a Washington senator chaired a full committee was in the early 1980s, when Sen. Warren Magnuson chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. Henry Jackson led the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee."
On the subject of veterans, we'll note this  upcoming Iraq Veterans Against the War event:

February 25, 2011 9:30 - 10:30 am
Busboys & Poets, Langston room
14th & V st NW Washington DC
This report back will be to answer questions from media and the peace movement about the recent trip back to Iraq by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The war is not over but it is not the same as it was in years past. What is the humanitarian situation in Iraq?
How can we do reparations and reconciliation work?
Speakers are all returning from this delegation and include:
Geoff Millard (IVAW) Hart Viges (IVAW) Haider Al-Saedy (Iraqi Health Now)
Richard Rowely (
Big Noise Films)
And next month, A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in this action:

March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.

The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.

While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.

Actions of civil resistance are spreading.

On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.

Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.

Click this link to endorse the March 19, 2011, Call to Action.