Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's attacks on the press and protesters gets some attention, Ted Koppel declares the Iraq War was and is all about oil,  Iraqi Christians remain under attack, and much more.
Monday, Al Mada reports, was another day of protest in Liberation Square as Iraqis demanded reforms and basic services, jobs and an end to corruption. Dr. Sami Shati is quoted stating that they are an array of civil society organizations who, on the anniversary of the 2010 elections wanted to join with others in expressing regret. The Teachers Association, Iraqi Women's Association and the Organization of Women for Peace were among the other groups participating. New Sabah notes that the media was prevented from broadcasting live from Baghdad. David Ali (Al Mada) reports that security was again tight in Baghdad yesterday and that journalists decried the military's targeting of them. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports at Inside Iraq:

After one year of her participation in the last parliamentary election in March 7th 2010, Hiyam Tawfiq is completely disappointed because she feels that she had been deceived by the promises of the Iraqi political party she voted for. Her frustration and disappointment led here to Tahrir square in downtown Baghdad to join few hundred Iraqis organized a demonstration in March 7 2011; one year after the election. They call their demonstration THE DAY OF REGRET referring to their regret for participating in the parliamentary election. The demonstrators were confined to certain area of the square designated by yellow police tape and surrounded by dozens of Iraqi security forces who were searching those who join the demonstration.
"I feel a volcano inside me because of my anger that can damage the whole Green Zone if I release it", said Hiyam, a 34 years former employee in the high electoral commission that prepared for the election.

As pressure builds, Roads to Iraq notes, "[Grand Ayatollah Ali al-]Sistani's representative Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbalai offered escape route to Maliki proposing a plan to save the government from its current crisis. Nothing new, the same words again, the plan is to improve services and the performance of the officials to meet the legitimate demands of the people."  Meanwhile the US Embassy in Baghdad finally released a statement on the targeting of journalists. That was yesterday. Alsumaria TV reports on it today.  Iraq Oil Report Tweeted:
USEmbassyBaghdad issues statement, finally, about GOI abuse of journalists: pretty please stop doing it...if that's ok with you. 3:51 AM Mar 7th via web
Kelly B. Vlahos (Antiwar.com) eviscerates the US government's 'response' to what has been taking place in Iraq:
Because unlike Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other Arab states for which the United States has been blamed for giving dictators aid and comfort over the years, Washington is much more directly responsible for the conditions Iraqis are fighting against today. It helped now-embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into office in 2006, and strengthened his hand by using superior American firepower to pacify his enemies during the 2007 Surge. It armed and trained Iraqi security forces to look just like American security forces. It turned a blind eye to the building corruption, prisoner abuse, sex trafficking, and blatant civil injustice over the last two years, and now that those same security forces are turning against protesters and journalists, Washington is again, silent.
But the bi-partisan White House support for Nouri didn't end under George W. Bush.  Joe Biden, under Barack Obama's direction, put together the deal that allowed Nouri to remain prime minister in November 2010.  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reported yesterday on Ayad Allawi explaining a number of things about the power sharing agreement "brokered by US Vice President Joe Biden and backed up by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani" including Allawi revealing in this interview Allawi gave Alsumaria TV  that Joe Biden personally asked him to step away from the "his claim to be prime minister" and to instead lead the National Security Council.  Without the US government running interference for Nouri, not only would he never have become prime minister, he wouldn't be prime minister currently.  Vlahos quotes Dr. Adil Shamoo on how hypocritical the US government is being and how if the protestered killed by Iraqi forces had been killed by Iranian ones, the US government would be rushing in with a statement.  Dahr Jamail tells her, "The hypocrisy of the United States is astounding because they always claim that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was for liberation, and to bring civil rights and free speech to the Iraqi people, and then here they are fully backing the Maliki forces while they are killing protesters and beating and torturing journalists, while simultaneously backing revolutionaries, or at least claiming to back popular democratic uprisings, in all these other countries." Vlahos argues:
The irony here is that the Iraqi people are, possibly for the first time, spontaneously exercising their rights en masse, across every ethnic and religious line -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- without the help of American operatives, military lock-downs or purple-finger press management. And the U.S. government's response is, for all obvious reasons, muted at best.
On Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton spoke with Jason Ditz about the protests in Iraq, Nouri's response and the great big shrug from the US government.
Scott Horton: At least in liberated Iraq where America has gone and done those people a real big favor and gotten rid of their dictatorship everything is going swimmingly, right?
Jason Ditz: Yeah.  Iraq's protests have been some of the most interesting because they haven't been particularly covered in the West.  We see every once in a while, one of them will make a British newspaper or something, but in the US, the fact that there are protests in Iraq doesn't really seem to be reaching the media at all.
Scott Horton: Well that's a little contrary to our narrative.  We're on the side of the people of Libya and Bahrain, don't you know?
Jason Ditz: Some of these have been pretty good sized protests in Iraq too and there have been some very violent crackdowns which were accompanied by the US embassy praising the Iraqi government for its restraint in the wake of the protests.
Scott Horton: I can't find it anymore.  I was looking for it and I can't find it from news from Antiwar.com where you can run down all the headlines, I couldn't find it anymore but I could have sworn it was one that you wrote that said the Iraqi government was cracking down on intellectuals, on the leadership, writers and, you know, Pol Pot style, looking for people with glasses, I guess.  Like back when the CIA gave all the lists of the Socialists to Saddam Hussein to murder, that kind of thing.  Is it -- Was that you that wrote about that?
Jason Ditz: Uh -- Yeah, yeah.
Scott Horton: So tell me more about that and if you remember the headline tell me that.
Jason Ditz: I don't remember the headline unfortunately. I think that was the day before yesterday.  They're arresting -- Well, of course, they've been arresting journalists right along.  And when we say arresting that's not really a great term for it because what they're really doing is sending these guys out in, uh, turtle neck sweaters that are supposedly members of the Special Forces that just sort of drag the journalists off the street and put them in some sort of detention center and threaten to cut their heads off if they keep covering the protests. But we've also had reports that the leadership, some of the people that have been speaking at the protests, the intellectual types, are-are just being disappeared into these detention centers and never coming back out. So whether they're still being held, they're executed or what, we don't know but it seems like the attempt is pretty similar to what the Egyptian government tried early on and what the Libyan government tried early on and, really, what every government has tried early on -- which is get rid of the leadership of the protest and assume that everyone else will just go back to business as usual which, of course --
Scott Horton: Yeah, that was based on [former US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld's strategy for the insurgency, right?
Jason Ditz: Right. Which, of course, hasn't worked at all in any of these cases.  It just riles people up when their leadership gets disappeared like that.
Scott Horton: Well I'm sorry, audience, that I still can't find this one.  It's not "At Least 21 Dead in Iraq Protest Crackdowns"?  That's not the one, right?  It had the "intellectuals" in the title, I thought.  Right?
Jason Ditz: No, I don't think it did. .Let me, let me find it here.  Uh,
Scott Horton: I've been flipping through news Antiwar.com and there's so much here, so much important news.  But I guess while you're scanning Jason, I'll go ahead and remind people what you --
Jason Ditz: Yes, here it is.
Scott Horton: -- wrote the other day about these protests in Iraq. "From Mosul" which I think is the northern most major city up there in Kurdistan "all the way down to Basra and every population center in between."
Jason Ditz: Yeah.  The title of it was "Report: Maliki Using Special Forces To Shut Down Protests."
Scott Horton: Oh, okay.  Jeez, isn't that on the front page of Antiwar.com today?
Jason Ditz: I believe it is.
Scott Horton: Okay.  So, yeah, the point is that we had Human Rights Watch here on the show talking about Maliki's secret torture prisons that the Red Cross don't have -- doesn't have access to.  Now we have these basically -- I'm so happy to see Iraqis rising up in peaceful protests. It's been awhile since we've seen those. against the government there.  And I guess they've seen the same price inflation as everybody else in that region and the horrible effects of it.  But you're right, I think, probably Jason, the most important part of this is just how it goes completely unmentioned in the media.  You know, they can count on the fact that Americans really don't know that much about American backing for Hosni Mubarak or for Ben Ali in Tunisia or even for [Muammar] Gaddafi over the last eight years. They certainly don't know that about Libya.  But, uh, it would really screw up their narrative if the people of Iraq feel like they live under an American backed tin pot dictator just like the rest of these people in the region and want to rise up and create some kind of more democratic system that serves their interests. That doesn't go along with the American empire narrative about what happens in Iraq at all so TV just blacks it out. 'Let's talk about Libya only and no Iraq at all.'
On NPR's Talk of the Nation today, Neal Conan spoke with NPR's Mike Shuster "wisely the Iraqi troops held back" -- really?  The five journalists that were assaulted by the Iraqi security forces in Basra is an example of 'holding back'? Rebecca Santana, Hamid Ahmed, Saad Abdul-Kadir and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) report on the attacks on journalists and protesters, "The crackdown has raised doubts about how committed Iraq really is about protecting human rights and freedom of speech and what type of country U.S. troops will leave behind when they depart later this year."  Today the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning one of the latest attacks on journalists:
Nearly a dozen gunmen stormed an independent radio station in Sulaimaniya's Kalar district on Sunday, vandalizing the office, breaking most of the equipment, and confiscating the rest. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assault on Radio Dang and calls on the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan to thoroughly investigate the attack.  It is the second armed assault on an independent radio station in Sulaimaniya in a less than a month, according to news reports.
Radio Dang Executive Director Azad Osman said he believes the station's coverage of recent anti-government demonstrations in Sulaimaniya was the reason behind the attack. "We covered the demonstrations in a direct, professional way and I think that some did not like that, especially officials and the authorities," he said.
There have been scattered protests in northern Iraq for the past three weeks; it has killed five and injured 158 so far, the head of the country's emergency health department, Dr. Nozad Ahmed, told CNN. Today in Sulaimaniya, hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government, according to international news reports.
Alsumaria TV reports on Nouri al-Maliki's targeting of the Iraqi Communist Party and the Iraqi Nation Party and closing of their Baghdad headquarters, "Parliamentary parties criticized the decision of Prime Minister Maliki to evacuate headquarters of Iraqi Communist Party and the Nation Party of former MP Mithal Al Alussi. They deemed the decision as constitutional violation mainly that there are no charges against these parties involved in the political process, they argued." Al Mada quotes the Communist Party's Jassim Hilfi stating that this is an effort by Nouri al-Maliki to quash voice of democracy and liberalism, voices who decry corruption. He endorsed the efforts of the protesters (the Communist Party has been among the organizations helping to lead and get the word out on the demonstrations) and noted that the protests will continue, regardless of the Party's headquarters. He joined with the Iraqi people in rejecting tyranny and in pursuit of civil liberties.  AFP reports Moqtada al-Sadr made "only his second visit to the Iraqi capital since the US-led invaion of 2003" as he wandered through the Sadr City section of Baghdad apparently on a Yes-I-am-here-at-least-for-now good will tour. Al Rafidayn adds that he met with officials in the Sadr bloc. Meanwhile Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) speak to Ali al-Saffar of the Economist Intelligence Unit about the changing alliances in Iraq and he tells them it "would be devastating".  Aswat al-Iraq reports that a member of the Iraqiya slate is stating over "200 draft laws are defunct inside the Iraqi parliment". 
Throughout the Iraq War minority populations have been targeted in the 'new' Iraq. The targeting comes in waves and the press attention in much smaller waves. For Iraqi Christians, the latest wave of targeting began October 31st with the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. That attack and the ones that followed forced many Iraqi Christians to flee Baghdad and Mosul for northern Iraq or for places outside of Iraq. Aidan Clay (Continental News) observes:

The U.S. government had received numerous cries for help. In July 2010, Christian leaders from Iraq visited Capitol Hill to beg for the preservation of their communities. They came as representatives of a newly established council of churches. Putting aside denominational differences, the council was formed by the common belief that together they could best withstand persecution. At the time of the visit, some estimate that only 400,000 Christians remained in the country, a fraction of the 1.4 million who were there before the war.
"We have no militia. We have no way to defend ourselves. We are sitting ducks. And when we are attacked, no one is prosecuted. How can we survive?" the head of the council told a congressman's office. However, pleas and policy recommendations fell on deaf ears and the Christian council grew void of hope. "Nothing is going to change," one council member told me. "Who is concerned about Christians whent he U.S. is trying to win a war?"

If you're new to the issue, you may be interested in the recent timeline the article provides. Brooke Anderson (Catholic News Service) reports on some of the Christians who fled to the KRG in hopes of safety. Suhail Louis is one such person and now he wonders if he should attempt a life there or attempt to leave Iraq? Another is Rakan Warda who says, "I want to leave Iraq. I'm thinking about my daughter and her future. I'm no longer thinking about my own future."  AFP reports that Austria has granted 30 Iraqi Christians asylum. But in Iraq, questions remain about the October 31st assault and fingers are pointing towards Nouri al-Maliki. Ken Timmerman (Assyrian International News Agency) reports:

Four months later, Hana and her husband continue to mourn Ayoub in their home in Karakosh, where they fled from Mosul a year earlier after jihadi Muslims murdered her husband's brother. A portrait of the 27-year old Ayoub sits on a chair in their living room. He had just gone down to Baghdad to visit family.
But the story of what happened to Ayoub Adnan Ayoub is much more than just a sad testimony to the persecution Iraqi Christians are enduring on a daily basis at the hands of jihadi Muslim groups. It is also prima facie evidence of criminal malfeasance on the part of the Iraqi government.
"There was an outside door to the side chapel where those people were hiding," said Yohanna Josef, who made an unsuccessful campaign last year for the Iraqi parliament as an independent. "They could have gone in through that door and rescued many people," he told Newsmax in an interview at the Ayoub home in northern Iraq. "Instead, they burst in through the front doors and shot everyone in sight."
Iraqi bloggers and even some politicians have openly accused the Iraqi government for its handling of the Oct. 31 attack.
They point out that the terrorists brought explosives and weapons to the church in cars with dark-tinted windows and no license plates that are only available to officials with high-level security clearance. This allowed them to get waved through checkpoints without being stopped.
They also point to the slow reaction of the security forces, and the botched handling of the rescue attempt itself. It still remains unclear how many of the victims were killed or wounded by the Iraqi rescue team, who opened fire wildly once they burst into the church.
A senior officer in the Iraqi police, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that for the 10 days prior to the attack that the Interior Ministry security forces gradually moved barriers closer to the church, until the terrorists could drive right up in front.
Turning to some of today's violence.  Aswat al-Iraq reports that US Special Forces did "an air drop operation on a village in al-Huweija district and raided some houses, killed a physician and arrested his brother" -- and if you're wondering, US Special Forces roam free in Iraq.  Osama al-Nujefi, Speaker of Parliament, wants an investigation into US actions. In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes a Mosul IED killed 1 Iraqi soldier, an 18-year-old man was shot dead in Falluja and a Mosul roadside bombing left two police officers injured.  Mo Hong'e (Xinhua) reports 1 University of Mosul professor was shot dead outside his Mosul home, a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured a Diyala Province sticky bombing left three people injured in Baquba and Diayal Province was the focus of searches "during the past 14 hours and arrested 14 suspects and wanted individuals". 
Today is International Women's Day. Suha Alsaikli and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) report that women from such groups as the Association of Iraqi Women, Iraqi Council for Peace and Solidarity and the Iraqi Communist Party gathered in Baghdad today to address the new realities for women in 'new' Iraq where they face harsh social and economic conditions, many live in houses made of tin, widows and divorcess struggle.  The Communist Party's Umm Ammar called for the Communist Party's building to be returned. Benoite Martin (Insight on Conflict) notes the 'new' Iraq included "a backlash against women's rights and feminist activists" and that, "Women's bodies and women's independence became the battleground of ethnic, religious and political strife."
Religious groups launched pressure campaigns on women to avoid 'immoral' or 'un-Islamic' behaviour, forcing them to wear headscarves -- including Christian women in Baghdad. Unmarried women dressing improperly became the target of violent attacks in the streets of Basra. Women were increasingly used as a bargaining tool or gift among tribes, while forced marriages, kidnappings and honour-related crimes increased, in particular in the region of Kurdistan.
The violent conflict in Iraq has resulted in the disappearance of women from the public sphere and has minimised their role in decision -- making processes.
In order to ensure a sustainable post-conflict reconstruction process, and a sincere national reconciliation process, it is necessary to encourage an increased participation of women within the society and to seriously combat the occurrence of gender-based violence.
Baghdad Women Association and the Women Leadership Institute are two organisations that have adopted an agenda to combat gender-based violence, and to build the leadership skills and capacities of women, so that women can play an active role in private and public spheres through increased participation in economic, social and political processes.

In other news, and how appropriate that it come on International Women's Day, Pig Ritter is in the news cycle.  Reuters reports the man busted at least twice before for attempting sexual encounters with underage females, arrested for a third time in late 2009, has a court date, April 12th. 
On the first season of Ellen (then called These Friends Of Mine), Ellen Degeneres' groundbreaking sitcom, she had lunch with "the most irritating, annoying, life endangering person on the face of the planet," Audrey Penney (Clea Lewis) in the episode "The Anchor" written by Neal Marlens, Carol Black and David Rosenthal.
Ellen Morgan: So uhm did you see Nightline last night?
Audrey Penney: Oh don't you hate Ted Koppel?  He's so superior. It's like there's only one opinion in the world and Ted has to have it.
Sounds like Audrey was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation today, when Neal Conan spoke with Ted Koppel and NPR's Mike Shuster.  Conan wondered what Iraqis think when they here US Defense Secretary Robert Gates say that the US is in talks with Iraq to extend the deadline of all US forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011?
Neil Conan: Is there an Iraqi airforce?
Mike Shuster: No, there's not an Iraqi airforce and that's in fact one of the key issues that the Americans here want to focus on. 
By "here," Shuster meant Baghdad (he was on satellite phone).  Ted Koppel shared that US forces would stay one way or another.  Either there would be an extension or the White House would (this is all public knowledge -- or should be) pull some US soldiers out from under the Defense Dept umbrella and put them under the State Dept umbrella.  He noted, "You're going to have this bizarre situation where the State Dept is going to be, in effect, running the military situation." And though this has been trotted out before Congress repeatedly, he may be the most public fact to share, "Speaking quite frankly, I think it would be a disaster."  
He objected to "the State Dept running its own little army over there [Iraq] and running missions for which diplomats have not been trained" for many reasons including the issue of money.  Since they wouldn't be able to maintain all US soldiers currently in Iraq, they'd have to use more contractors and he estimated a security contractor would make $100,000 a year.  (A caller who had been a contractor stated he had made $150,000 a year in Iraq.) 
Ted Koppel is against the US leaving Iraq.  He started yammering away about the blood and time and money invested.  Never sit at the black jack table with Ted.  Long after he's lost everything, he'll be attempting to bum a few chips fro you.  And he rejected a caller who stated that the US would be smart to cut their losses as he rejected the idea that the US could not make things better for Iraqis.  It would be "very unwise" to leave, he insistead and those who think the US is trying to help Iraq are looking at it wrong because "the prism that we're there for Iraq's interests? We're not.  We're there because of US interests."  That includes a staging platform for the region, according to Koppel, and, of course, the vast amount of oil Iraq has:
Ted Koppel: We're there because of U.S. interests, and those U.S. interests can be summarized quite simply in one or two words: oil and natural gas. The stability of the Persian Gulf is of enormous national interest to the United State. No politician wants to send young men and women to die for oil. But the fact of the matter is that it is one of the politically most - no pun intended - inflammable issues. When the price of gasoline goes up, as it is going up right now, to $4 a gallon, if we were to leave before there is genuine stability in Iraq, if that area no longer had the oversight of American military, I think you could very easily see the price of oil go up to seven, eight, nine dollars a gallon. And the fact of the matter is then you would have all kinds of political yelling and screaming on Capitol Hill, all kinds of pressure being raised by the American public, which would not want to see that happen to its economy.
His conclusion is, "In one form or another, we're still going to have thousands of people operating out of Iraq," it just depends on whether they'll be under the Defense Dept or the State Dept.  He also took a swipe at the public, insisting, "As it is the US public pays little enough attention to US troops in Iraq."  That's the second NPR program that's suggested that this week.  Know what happens when you ride your high horse?  You get knocked off.  Ava and I will revisit this topic on Sunday at Third.
Koppel's always been the voice of the beltway.  "Good morning everybody," declared Senate Armed Services Committe Chair Carl Levin today as he began the Committee hearing.  "I want to welcome Secretary [of the Navy Raymond] Mabus, Adm [Gary] Roughead and Gen [James] Amos to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the Department of the Navy in our review of the fiscal year 2012 annual budget and overseas contingency operations request to the administration. We are pleased to welcome Gen Amos to his first posture hearing as Commandant and to welcome Adm Roughead for what will probably be his last posture hearing before the Committee as the Chief of Naval Operations."  Ranking Member John McCain subscribes to the same belief of continued US forces in Iraq that Koppel does.  We'll note this exchange.
Senator John McCain: Gen Amos, in the withdrawal from Iraq, is it your personal opinion that Iraq will be able to take over logistics, intelligence and air sovereignty --  missions that the US has been carrying out?
Gen John Amos: Senator, I've always believed that, uh, I can't speak to the degree of where they are today because the Marines are out of there and we're focused primarily in Afghanistan and other parts of the world but we were certainly on a glide slope to make that happen.
Senator John McCain: Adm?
Adm Gary Roughead: Uhm.  I believe we are on that path, yes, sir.
Senator John McCain: So you're not concerned about a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq as far as  logistics, intelligence, training of an air force, a navy? None of that is of concern?
Adm Gary Roughead: As of my most recent visit there, Senator, where I focused primarily on the Navy, I see very good progress and, in addition to that, because that Navy will also offshore our Fifth Fleet that operates in the Arabian Gulf I believe it will be a very supportive relationship, addressing the needs of Iraq from the naval perspective.
Senator John McCain: So they need no other assistance?
Adm Gary Roughead: I-I believe that assistance will continue the way that we interact with all navys in the region with our Fifth Fleet headquarters and the ships that deploy there, the exercise programs that we have. And that will continue on with the Iraqi navy and not have to have people ashore.
Ted Koppel won't be participating in a rally against the Iraq War this month.  But many will be, 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.