Thursday, March 31, 2011

US forces were on the ground in Tikrit during the hostage situation Tuesday

Al Mada reports that the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) has declared, via a MP yesterday, that they feel they are being marginalized in the Iraqi government. Leaving Al Mada, to provide background. ISCI is headed by Ammar al-Hakim who took over when his father Abdul Aiz al-Hakim died in August of 2009. (Ammar al-Hakim assumed leadership after ISCI voted to make him the leader.) During the long stalemate, they sent conflicting messages before finally agreeing to back Nouri al-Maliki. They are a Shi'ite group and one that is frequently at odds with Moqtada al-Sadr and his backers as well as with Nouri al-Maliki. During the stalemate, although the White House had already decided to back Nouri, the administration was regularly lobbied by Americans (including the CIA) who felt ISCI would be a better bet and that al-Hakim would better represent America's interests in the region. Al Rafidayn carries the same story and notes that Iraqiya has also floated a trial balloon about withdrawing support from Nouri's government. Al Rafidayn reports Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujafi has noted the gulf between the people and the people's representatives in Iraq. He was speaking at a conference attended by the provincial council heads and governors and declared that the errors and doubts were "eating away at the body of this young nation."

Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa Party (not to be confused with his State Of Law slate) are behind the shutting down of many nightclubs, wedding lounges and alcohol stores, Al Raifdayn notes, and yesterday Nouri was forced into publicly insisting that Iraq was a civil state, not denominational or sectarian but "a civil society and people have the freedome to embrace demnomiations and religions of their choice." Dar Addustour explains the word is that today the Parliament will vote on Nouri's latest Cabinet nominees and that Ali al-Lami, in reference to the nomination of Khaled al-Obeidi, is insisting that Nouri doesn't have the legal power to grant exceptions to "Ba'athists" the Justice and Accountability Commission is investigating or lodging harges against. Ali al-Lami is the Miss Hathaway to Ahmed Chalabi's Mr. Drysdale. The two used the Justice Accountability Commission in 2009 and 2010 to weed out serious rivals with false charges of "Ba'athist!" Nouri didn't complain at the time because he benefitted from the actions.

In other Parliamentary news, Al Mada reports the legislative body is questioning the claim that Iraq has the ability to produce 12 million barrels a day of crude oil. The infrastructure of Iraq's oil industry is only one of the questions being raised. It's also noted that the International Monetary Fund is skeptical of the claim. Tuesday AFP reported that the IMF, citing "infrastructure constraints," expressed grave hesitation over the claim that Iraq could be producing as much as 13 million barrels of oil per day by the year 2017. Reaching 12.2 million barrels per day would be "the very best case scenario" and "huge investments" were needed "in port facilities, pieplines, desalination plants (for water to be injected into oil fields) and storage facilities." Jaafar al-Wannan (Zawya) reminds, "The Oil Ministry announced at the end of last year a five year plan to raise the country's oil production to 12 million bpd from the 2.7 million bpd currently produced."

Aswat al-Iraq reports
that Osama al-Nujafi has led a moment of silence in Parliament today to remember the victims of the Tuesday assault on the Salahuddin provincial council building. Alsumaria TV reports that AP released film of the Tirkit attack: "A soldier on the building's roof shows as pointing to the place of hostages while employees were seen going down the stairs to escape the building". Xinhua has posted video from CNTV of the assault and they note, "Iraqi security force surrounded the building and engaged in heavy fighting with the gunmen. Hours later, US and Iraqi SWAT teams stormed the building and killed the attackers." If correct (I'm not doubting it), that's in direct contrast to statements released by the US military which has insisted they did no more than provide helicopter support. Xinhua notes the final death toll is 65. Dar Addustour reveals the Ministry of the Defense is blaming the assault on the building's security guards. If true, that really doesn't explain the five hour standoff, now does it? And the investigation is not supposed to end with 'how it started' but, most importantly, why Iraqi forces were unable to save a single hostage. Online yesterday, The NewsHour (PBS) spoke with Jane Arraf of Al Jazeera TV and the Christian Science Monitor to get her take on the assault's meaning. (Starting with CNN before the Iraq War, Arraf has a long track record of covering Iraq and is not an insta-expert but someone who can speak with real authority on the topic.)

What's the security situation like in Iraq?

ARRAF: Since the protests started (in February), there actually has been a lull of attacks in Baghdad. Baghdad has traditionally been one of the more violent places -- it's a very target-rich environment with a lot of government ministries and basically all the symbols of not just the Iraqi government, but of the U.S.

One of the things we've seen evolve over the past year or so is a change in tactics. Al-Qaida and other groups seem to have moved away from things like bombings in marketplaces, where they indiscriminately kill civilians, because there's been a huge backlash against that. They're still specifically targeting Shias, because one of their aims appears to be to reignite the sectarian violence that led the country into civil war, and they're still targeting security forces: police, the army and government officials. Government officials are harder to get to in Baghdad because they're in the Green Zone for the most part, and it's very well-protected.

But certainly security officials are out there, and we've seen a lot of targeted assassinations -- things like gunmen using silencers and a lot of sticky bombs, or bombs placed under the carriage of a person's car that explodes when they get in.

The biggest one like (Tuesday's siege in Tikrit) that we've seen is the church attack in October. That was a similar incident -- a coordinated attack involving layers of attacks and then a response by Iraqi forces that led to further deaths. Al-Qaida in Iraq took credit for that one and said it would continue to attack Christians.

We'll try to note Kelly McEvers' All Things Considered (NPR) report in today's snapshot. Yesterday morning, I typed: " Mike Shuster (NPR's Morning Edition) has a report on Kirkuk -- we'll note it in the snapshot later today, he starts by explaining the peshmerga's actions last month." That didn't happen. My apologies. I'll try to pick it up today. I was dictating the snapshot and juggling phones already when a very good friend called outraged over Samantha Power's latest public insanity. Knowing that everyone takes a pass in criticizing the War Hawk Power (who did such a good job seducing Panhandle Media in 2008, remember?), I knew we had to include her and call her out. After that section was dictated, Ava passed over a phone with a friend at The Nation calling to say Tom Hayden was calling out Power (not for the article, his piece was written before NYRB published Power online yesterday) and I got an excerpt over the phone, killed two paragraphs I'd dictated because Tom addressed that topic better in the excerpt we were using, and was done with the snapshot. I said, "Just type it and send it." Even though I was being reminded that I hadn't included Shuster. If I'd been reminded that I had also forgotten to note the day's violence, I might have spent a few more minutes dictating but the Power thing through me and I knew it had to be addressed. So I'll try to note both the NPR stories in today's snapshot. Again, my apologies for not noting the Shuster one yesterday.

And a phone call right now wants to know why I ignored Laith Hammoudi's piece on the Tikrit assault? I never saw it. I never would have looked for it because, as I just explained to the McClatchy friend, "Your outlet isn't filing from Iraq."

Laith Hammoudi is an Iraqi journalist who works for McClatchy. In the snapshot, I'll fit this from Hammoudi's report in with Xinhua, "Witnesses said U.S. troops responded to the attack and entered the building with Iraqi forces trying to rescue the hostages. No U.S. casualties were reported, however, and it wasn't clear how many of the dead were hostages, gunmen or members of the Iraqi security forces. At least three of the gunmen were wearing explosive suicide belts, Iraq's Interior Ministry said." SO the US military, please grasp, lied publicly. It'd be really great if the outlets who carried the statements claiming that the US military did nothing but offer helicopter coverage were to pursue this but don't count on that happening. As I've said before, with Xinhua, don't doubt if they say it. The Chinese outlet has incredible sources and stringers in Iraq. But you've got Hammoudi now as well and that's someone who, if you've followed Iraq at all in the last years, you should know is very dependable and factual in reporting.

We'll close with this from David Swanson's "Prediction Twenty Years of War In Libya" (War Is A Crime):

Johan Galtung, sometimes called the father of peace studies, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and the refusal of Egyptian soldiers to attack civilians. His prediction of the collapse of the US empire in 2020 appears to be on schedule. So, it was noteworthy when he predicted on Tuesday at the University of Virginia that the war in Libya would last 20 years. If, however, NATO and the opposition were to kill Gadaffi, he said, the fighting could go on for more than 20 years.

This prediction came the day after Obama gave one of those speeches, like his speeches on Gitmo or Iraq, where he persuades you that something is already over without actually making that claim. How can the war (excuse me, humanitarian intervention) in Libya be over and have 20 years left to go?

Galtung argues that predictions of quick success in Libya depend on an ignorance of history and a reduction of broad social forces to the caricature of a single person. There are five forces at work in the Arab Revolution, Galtung argues: opposition to dictatorship (demand for civil rights), opposition to inequality and poverty (demand for economic rights), opposition to the U.S. and Israeli empires, the revolt of the youth, and the revolt of women. When a government is on the wrong side of all five forces, Galtung claims, it is doomed.

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