Monday, March 1, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Hillary Clinton says Iraq must receive US billions of dollars because it's a national security risk on the same day that England announces they're cutting aid to Iraq because it's not a national security risk, a new rumor is reported that the US flooded the Green Zone last Friday with US military (including sending them in from out of the country), violence remained high in Februrary (look at the numbers, not the headlines and claims from the ministries), NPR explored US forces in Iraq past 2011, Nouri gets called out by Moqtada al-Sadr, and more.
MCEVERS: This kind of spending puts the U.S. military in a difficult spot, especially back in Washington. On one hand, they have to say Iraq is a success story, that all that American blood and treasure wasn't for naught. On the other hand, they have to say there's still work to be done, so lawmakers increasingly averse to spending will continue funding military efforts here. If a large contingent of US troops doesn't remain in Iraq, the plan is to shift much responsibility to the state department. But that means funding a private army of contractors to do things that Austin says the real army does best.
Gen. AUSTIN: If you're talking about combined arms training and joint training, then uniformed people probably do better at conducting that type of training.
MCEVERS: For U.S. troops to stay and do that training, Iraq has to formally ask them. Many analysts believe Iraqi officials will wait until the last minute to do so, mainly because no Iraqi politician wants to be seen as pro-American. But Austin says the Iraqis simply can't wait forever to ask.
Gen. AUSTIN: The answer is we always need as much time as we can possibly get.
The US plan currently to continue the Iraq War past 2011 (US forces remaining in Iraq) are two-fold: One push for a new agreement or an extension of the SOFA to allow DoD to continue to keep forces there while also preparing to switch the forces over to the State Dept (US troops under the State Dept's umbrella) in case no extension or new agreement is reached. Either way, US troops remain past 2011. Today UPI reports on Rasmussen Reports' poll which found "a plurality of U.S. voters think the Arab world's growing unrest makes it unlikely U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the year's end as planned". We'll go into the poll more tomorrow.
On her Twitter feed, Kelly McEvers tells another interesting story about a conversation with a US contractor today -- payoff comes in fourth Tweet:
Is that true? Is the contractor telling the truth? Is anyone going to ask the State Dept or the White House or the Defense Dept if this assertion is true?
Today US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared:
Let me walk you through a few of our key investments. First, this budget funds vital civilian missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda is under perssure as never before. Alongside our military offensive, we are engaged in major civilians effort that is helping to build up the governments, economies and civil societies of both countries and undercut the insurgency. Now these two surges -- the military and civilian surge -- set the stage for a third: a diplomatic push in support of an Afghan process to spilt the Taliban from al-Qaeda, bring the conflict to an end and help stabilize the region. Our military commanders are emphatic they cannot succeed without a strong civilian partner. Retreating from our civilian surge in Afghanistan with our troops still in the field would be a grave mistake. Equally important is our assistance to Pakistan -- a nuclear armed nation with strong ties and interests in Afghanistan. We are working to deepen our partnership and keep it focused on addressing Pakistan's political and economic challenges as well as our shared threats. And as to Iraq? After so much sacrifice, we do have a chance to help the Iraqi people build a stable, democratic country in the heart of the Middle Esat. As troops come home, our civilians are taking the lead, helping Iraqis resolve conflicts peacefully and training their police.
It was from her opening remarks to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen set a relaxed but serious tone for the meeting. She and Ranking Member Howard Berman both touched on multiple issues in their opening statements (Berman's appeared to go on forever). Our focus is Iraq. They weren't concerned with it in their opening remarks or in the hearing. Chair Ros-Lehtinen asked Hillary to please summarize her written remarks and, though Hillary agreed she would. she read her prepared remarks outloud. US House Rep Gregory Meeks was one of the few obviously listening to every word (or polite enough to make it appear he was). US House Rep Donald Payne appeared as though he were about to fall asleep during the opening remarks (and Payne and Hillary are friends). When Hillary was talking about State needing to put their "war" money into the Overseas Contingency Operations account (8.7 billion) US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle's facial expression was an editorial of opposition -- to what wasn't made clear.
In her opening questions, Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked, "And I ask for US protection for the many residents of Camp Ashraf, many of who are here today in the audience and are concerned about their relatives. Thank you, Madam Secretary." It was a series of questions from the Chair and Camp Ashraf was the last of the series. Time ran out before it was dealt with by Hillary.
An excited and red faced US House Rep Dan Burton was concerned about national security due to the fact that so much of our "energy" (oil) is coming from outside the country. If you thought he might have a real discussion on "energy," you were wrong. He wants to open up drilling for oil in the US. Burton announced that "this administration is being derelict in its responsibility." Ron Paul had a long editorial statement that name checked the Iraq War and a hundred other things. A specific question did include Iraq.
US House Rep Dannis Cardoza: Madam Secretary, at least 70 people were killed during an attack last October on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad making it the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since 2003. Less than two months later, extremists bombed the homes of more than a dozen Christian families in Baghdad as well. And on New Year's Eve 23 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, Egypt while coming out of mass in St. Marks and St. Peter's Coptic Church. Since these tragic incidents in the Middle East have -- Since these tragic incidents, the Middle East has been rocked by wide ranging protests and regime changes as we've seen in the last few weeks. How has this ongoing instability effected the already heightened risk to vulnerable religious minority groups like Assyrians, Jews, Cops and others?
Secretary Hillary Clinton: Congressman, thank you for asking that question. I think this has not gotten the level of attention and concern it should. We immediately went into action when the bombings took place in Baghdad. Our Ambassador  was deeply involved with the government, making sure that there was protection and security. The ambassador went to Mass in order to show solidarity with Iraqi Christians. But there's no doubt that Christians and other minority groups are feeling under pressure and are leaving countries from North Africa to south Asia because they don't feel protected. I think we need to do much more to stand up for the rights of religious minorities and obviously I'm deeply concerned about what happened to the Christians in Iraq and the Christians in Egypt. I'm also concerned about what happens to minority Muslim groups in Pakistan and elsewhere. So you have raised an issue that I think is one of deep concern and we have to be speaking out more. And we have to hold governments accountable. When I spoke with the prior Egyptian government after the Alexandria bombing, they expressed the same level of outrage that I felt. They said that the Cops are part of, you know, Egyptian history. As you recall from Tahrir Square there were a lot of inter-faith efforts with Cops and Muslims together, worshipping together. Let's hope that continues and let's do whatever we can to make that the future instead of what I am fearful of which is driving out relgious minorities. And the final thing I would say on that because it's an issue that I have paid a lot of attention to, we want to protect religion and religous believers but we don't want to use some of the tools that other countries are proposing -- which is to criminalize defamation, criminalize in the broadest possible definition blasphemy -- and then use it to execute, harass and otherwise oppress religious minorities. So we have to come up with an international consensus about what we're going to do to protect those who are exercising their conscience.
While Hillary was repeatedly saying that the billions to go into Iraq -- a third surge, was how she billed it -- were necessary for national security, a curious thing was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Alex Stevenson (Politics) reports, "Britain has shaken up its international development budget by placing renewed emphasis on poor countries which directly affect the UK's national security. The move means 16 countries including Angola, Niger, Cameroon and Lesotho will no longer receive any funding from Britain. Neither will Russia, Iraq, Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia and Burudni." That's very interesting. The Iraq War was started and led by the US and the UK. They spent the most money on the illegal war and sent the most bodies to fight it (and had the most foreign people die in Iraq). To sell the Iraq War in the US, Bully Boy Bush resorted to many lies including that Iraq had sought yellow cake uranium from Africa. Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, had the ability to use chemical and/or biological weapons on England within 45 minutes. That's much quicker than an attack on the US and that's because England is physically closer to Iraq than is the US. So why is it that the UK argues today that they don't need to give Iraq anymore aid because it's not a threat to their own national security but the US -- White House and Hillary Clinton -- is arguing differently?
February 10th, Oxfam released their report "Whose Aid is it Anyway?" which argues that aid is not the military (or lunch money you fork over for protection on the playground). They make a solid argument and one I agree with. I'm not taking the State Dept's position that we give aid only for national security. But I am saying that today England announces they're giving aid for their own national security and that means dropping Iraq for them. But in the US, the claim is being pushed that it is our national security that is at stake so we must fund billions and billions more just for next year (that's not even acknowledging what happens after next year when more billions are budgeted for Iraq). It doesn't make sense. And someone needs to clarify it. One country's government is wrong in their classification of Iraq as a national security threat. (And it looks like it's the United States that's wrong.)
Security is always at risk in Iraq. And Iraq remains a violent country as a result of the illegal and ongoing war. Reuters reports today a Falluja roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier. Let's review the month. February 2nd, 5 people were reported dead and ten injured, February 3rd, 17 people were reported dead and forty-eight injured. February 4th, 10 were reported dead and twenty-seven injured. February 5th, eighteen were reported injured, February 6th, 1 person was reported dead and five injured. February 7th, 2 were reported dead and thirteen wounded. February 8th, 3 were reported dead and six injured. February 9th, 10 were reported dead and seventy-eight injured. February 10th, 1 person was reported dead and five wounded. February 12th, 38 were reported dead and seventy-four injured. February 13th, 151 were reported dead (we have always counted a mass grave discovered -- grave from 2003 and later -- in the violence count, it was 150 on this day and 1 protester died). February 14th, six people were reported injured. February 15th, 3 were reported dead and eleven injured. February 16th, 7 were reported dead and fifty-eight injured. February 17th, 9 people were reported dead and forty-seven injured. February 18th, 23 were killed and thirty-one injured. February 20th, 3 were reported dead and six injured. February 21st, 13 were reported dead and fifty-nine injured. February 22nd, five people were injured. February 23rd, 2 people were reported dead and twenty-two injured. February 24th, 18 were reported dead and thirty-eight injured. February 25th, 23 were reported dead and ninety injured. February 26th, 7 were reported dead and eighteen wounded. February 27th, 6 people were reported dead. February 28th, 1 person was reported dead and seven wounded.
For the month of February, 353 people were reported dead and 682 were reported injured. The150 corpses counted were not counted when they died. No one knew about it then. We've always counted them when they were discovered. (Which is the way most crime bases do as well in the US.) For those who insist, "It's not fair! It inflates violence!" Yes, it does. And not including in real time (when it wasn't known) made Iraq appear much less violent than it was. Those are the trade-offs. But for the whiners, if you take the 150 away you have 203. AFP tells us the Iraqi ministries ministries count 197 reported deaths. They then claim 330 people were injured. The wounded is obviously off.
It should further be noted that the numbers we are counting are probably way off because they're an under-report. McClatchy hasn't done a daily violence report since December 7th. Few bother to report violence anymore. Iraq Body Count has a total of 254 killed for this month. That's probably more accurate than either our number or the ministries. AFP notes the toll was 259 in January (according to ministries). IBC says 254, the ministries say 197. Go with IBC. And 254 is only 5 less than the ministries claims for January so you can say violence stayed more or less exactly the same in February as it was in January. Some outlets might need to correct their copy and especially their headlines.
Annia Ciezadlo: There's a story in the book, a short chapter, about a mother in Baghdad. And-and it was just this heartbreaking thing that I actually wrote for the Houston Chronicle. It was the first story I wrote from Baghdad. This mother who had been very, very spooked -- as had many parents in Iraq -- by this terrible bombing that happened right at the beginning of Ramadan. And, as it happened, it was the week before her daughter's birthday. And so she kept her daughter out of school for -- I think it was a week and a half. She-she finally -- Her daughter was going crazy, but it was this terrible choice that she had to make: Let my daughter go to school and take the risk that their might be a bombing on the very road she might be taking to school? Or do I say ''no, education comes first, we can't live like this" and send her to school? It was a horrible choice to have to make. So she decided that she was going to throw this extra special birthday party for her daughter and she was going to get her this fabulous cake. And-and the more she talked about the cake, the more I realized, really, it wasn't about having a fancy cake. The cake had become this symbol to her of normal life, her ablility to go to school and send her daughter to school and all of these things that they had lost. I think -- I think it's natural. I think we all do that with food. I think we all have a food that symoblizes to us something more than just that food.
Krys Boyd: And one thing that, you know, people may not make this direct connection a lot about market places being targeted in times of war, particularly in that part of the world. Even shopping for food can be a dangerous thing. This is this day-to-day thing we always have to do, even when there's a war going on. And it might be the most dangerous thing people go out and do.
Annia Ciezadlo: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's one of the first places that gets targeted: Marketplaces, restaurants, hotels, cafes. I think there's a couple of reasons for this. I think terrorists like to target these places because nothing sews fear like this attack on something you have to do every day, really an attack on normal life. And I should add that in a place like Baghdad where electricity is very irregular, you have to go shopping every day because you can't just keep stuff in the freezer or refrigerator. So all of these forces combine to make it absolutely essential that you go to the market but also dangerous. I think there's another thing about markets and I have a real -- I'm a real market nut. I love markets. And one of the reasons I love markets is that they're often in a city that might be somewhat segregated or somewhat, you know, Balkanized. But the market is usally the place where everybody goes. It's usually a place that's free of divisions or relatively free of divisions of sect or gender or, you know, religion, ethnicity, these kinds of things. And I think that's one of the things that makes them so wonderful and I think that's why terrorists like to target them.
What is Happening at the Hospitals in Fallujah Now
-- An Urgent Appeal toward the 8th Anniversary of Iraq War --
Time: PM 3:30-6:00, March 5, 2011
Venue: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Conference Room II
1) Ms Samira Alani: pediatrician
2) Ms Mayasah Waleed: radiologist
3) Mr. Abdulgader Abdulkareem: geneticist
4) Ms Yukiko Hashida: director, Hashida Memorial Mohammad Fund
5) Prof. Nobuo Kazashi, director, NO DU Hiroshima Project
Moderator: Ms Haruko Moritaki, executive director, NO DU Hiroshima Project
The three Iraqi doctors are going to report about the reality they are faced with now at their hospitals in Fallujah; lately the media has been reporting about the alarming increase of congenital deformities in Fallujah where it is suspected that various inhuman weapons including DU weapons were used during the fierce attacks by the U.S. forces in 2004. Last year it was also reported that WHO had started an independent study on the critical situation in Fallujah.
Three doctors are staying in Japan for about a month with the support of JICA and Hashida Memorial Mohammad Fund.
Yesterday morning we were noting how the New York Times couldn't be bothered mentioning the assault on Iraqi journalists. A day later, they still can't find the story. This despite the fact that by yesterday evening, The Committee to Protect Journalists had called out the assaults, as had Simone Vecchiator (International Press Institute) and Reporters Without Borders released their open letter to KRG President Massoud Barzani while Nouri al-Maliki had apologized to one reporter, Wissam Ojji (Turkman Eli TV), publicly.Al Rafidayn reports Ojji accepted Nouri's apology. No report on that in the New York Times today. Alsumaria TV reports the White House National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Visor issued a statement which included: "We were also deeply troubled by reports that Iraqi Security Forces detained and beat Iraqi journalists and civil society leaders during Friday's demonstrations." Those reports Visor refers to never ran in the New York Times. Even the Guardian manages a brief item today, "Over the weekend, a number of reporters were detained during and after their coverage of the mass demonstrations that took place in central Baghdad's al-Tahrir Square." But the New York Times, which was determined to sell Friday as a day of violence -- but to hang the blame for that on the protesters -- never managed to report on what was going on.
Meanwhile with Ayad Allawi, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr weighing in on the protests Saturday, New Sabah reports that Jalal Talabani has now issued a statement in support of the Iraqi people -- what a brave move. Why is it that the President of Iraq is always the last to make a statement or take a position? Al Mada notes that Talabani declared that democracy is the aspiration which drives people.
Nouri's press conference yesterday was to again proclaim "reform." New Sabah reveals that among the issues he floated was reducing retirement age from 63-years-old to 61-years-old. Dar Addustour reports he declared the proposed change was necessary to provide young people with opportunities. He also pledged more construction projects. (Day laborers and construction workers were among the first to join the recent wave of protests in Iraq.)
Meanwhile, though the New York Times misses it, the Iraqi press is all over Moqtada al-Sadr's remarks. New Sabah reports that al-Sadr has declared Nouri is the one responsible for the conditions in Iraq nothing that Nouri "tops the pyramid" of power. Dar Addustour also leads with al-Sadr saying Nouri had full responsibility for the conditions in Iraq and that he's compared it to what has taken place in Egypt and calls for Nouri to address the issues. If Nouri seems a little on the ropes, that may explain why, when asked about a rumored cabinet post for Ahmed Chalabi at yesterday's press conference, he begged off.
Raman Brosk (Zawya) reports that al-Sadr announced yesterday the seven-day referendum he's calling "People's Voice Week." The referendum is a rather silly idea. But it does keep Moqtada's name before the public and does give the appearance that he is doing something which may be the whole point. Meanwhile Dar Addustour reports that Iraqiya is accusing State Of Law of blocking the appointment of heads for the security ministries -- Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of National Security. The posts have never been filled. Nouri appointed himself the minister of all three 'temporarily' but that's gone on for months now. New Sabah notes that Iraqiya reminded Nouri is the head of State Of Law.
Maryland Caller (on the GOP line): I wanted to know what your thoughts were on what sort of example and therefore role Iraqi government might play in the Middle East uprising as it continues to afford more and more democratic opportunties to its people. Thank you.
Bobby Ghosh: That's a great -- that's a great question. And what we're seeing in Iraq right now, unfortunately, does not -- does not lend itself to a lot of confidence in the Arab world. You're seeing a lot of instability in Iraq. This is a country that took more than 200 days to create a government after elections. Iraq's new government has already proven itself to be very corrupt and not very responsive to its people which is why Iraqis have also been inspired by what's happened in Egypt and Tunisia and over the last week there's been a lot of uprising all over Iraq -- from the north to the south -- against the government and there have been demonstrations demanding that the government respond to the needs of the people. I think if Iraq stands as an example to the Middle East, it is that Iraqis now have an opportunity to express themselves. That Iraqis have the ability now to go out and, without fear, and demonstrate and protest and make themselves heard. And every four years, they have the opportunity to elect their own leaders. They have the opportunity to kick out a government that is not responsive to them.
Bobby Ghosh has an informed view. That doesn't make him correct. The Iraqi people have been fairly consistent about why they're protesting and that they're not copying. One element of Iraq has been pushing the notion that they're aping others: Iraq's Communist Party has repeatedly attempted to tie it in with Egypt. The press has treated the Communist Party as the spokesperson on the protests -- and they are not that. They are one segment of the protests. But while treating them like the spokesperson, the press has repeatedly refused to identify the Communist Party. I have no idea why. But that's what's happened over and over. And if you're a member of the Communist Party, you have a world view that is different than some people. For instance, you see a global struggle against capitalism and all its effects. If you're predisposed to see a global struggle, you're going to be making statements linking your actions to actions in other countries -- whether or not there is an actual linkage. (You can see that in the US with those who started the efforts to link Wisconsin with Egypt -- as well as those sad speakers who turn off half of America every time they use terms like "solidarity" and "brothers and sisters" and "comrades" in what are supposed to be working class, just US follks, speeches.) It is interesting that the Communist Party in Iraq (which the US government should have supported from the start of the invasion but did not and has not) is rendered invisible by so much of the Western press; however, they grab onto it for this instance.
Iraq's protests were inspired by Ned Parker and Human Rights Watch exposing the secret prisons. That's what got people in the streets besides Iraq's union workers (the leather workers were doing protests with very small turnouts). The secret prisons were denied by Nouri al-Maliki. The families of the prisoners turned out and they were protesting. They were the spine of the protests and you had day laborers and contructions workers and others joining but it was that higher purpose and that authority that inspired the original protests and it was the way these protesters were treated that allowed the spreading to other areas of Iraq. And you can see that even in the original areas where a number of women were not participating in the protests until the protesters started getting beaten up and locked up. That's when those areas came alive (though the US press still wasn't paying attention). That acted as an agent of change and the efforts to eradicate that from the story are very annoying and possibly very telling.
I think Bobby Ghosh is less than honest when he claims that now Iraqis can protest without any fears. Explain the secret arrests? Explain the crackdowns? Explain the targeting of journalists and academics? No fears? I don't know where he's getting that.
And then there is this remark: "And every four years, they have the opportunity to elect their own leaders. They have the opportunity to kick out a government that is not responsive to them." How does Iraq have that? They votes were counted and recounted. And Nouri succeeded in using the power of being the sitting prime minister to have many votes thrown out. Even so, Iraqiya got more votes than State Of Law (Nouri's slate is State Of Law). How were the people heard? They weren't heard. Nouri refused to budge and the man whose party got the least votes was allowed to put together the government and remain prime minister. (The US government backed all of that with promises, strong-arming and bribes.) So Bobby Ghosh might want to reconsider the claims that Iraqis have no fears in protesting and that they have had any real voice in their own government.
Authorities in Iraq are using a mixture of strong-arm tactics and financial persuasion to prevent anti-government protests gaining momentum.
The political stakes escalated significantly when thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad and other major cities last week to demand reforms, improved services and an end to the corruption associated with Iraq's new political elite.
Those demonstrations, the largest yet in Iraq, were met by force, as riot police opened fire on protesters with live ammunition. At least 29 people were killed, including a 14-year-old boy.
Since then, army and police units have beaten, arrested or threatened scores of political activists and journalists, their colleagues say. Meanwhile, government security and intelligence agencies are trying to root out the organisers of the protests, especially those who are using the internet in an attempt to organise another mass protest.
And we'll close with this from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
MURRAY TO CHAIR VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE PRESIDENT'S BUDGET
(Washington, D.C.) – Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 2, 2011, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will chair a hearing on the President's budget. The Committee will meet at 10:30 a.m. in Room 418 of the Russell Senate Office Building.
Witnesses will include:
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
The Honorable Robert A. Petzel, MD, Under Secretary for Health
Michael Walcoff, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits
Steve L. Muro, Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
The Honorable Roger W. Baker, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology
W. Todd Grams, Acting Assistant Secretary for Management
Independent Budget Representatives
Carl Blake, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed Veterans of America
Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans
Christina M. Roof, National Acting Legislative Director, AMVETS
Raymond C. Kelley, National Legislative Director, Veterans of Foreign Wars
Tim Tetz, Director, National Legislative Commission, The American Legion
Maryann D. Hooker, MD, Lead Neurologist, Wilmington, Delaware VA Medical Center, representing American Federation of Government Employees