Monday, April 4, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, protesters in the KRG demand the government resign, journalists remain under attack, political jockeying in the Parliament and more.
Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A U.S. service member died April 3 in a non-hostile incident in northern Iraq. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of deceased service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are published on the website no earlier than 24 hours following notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Today's announcement follows yesterday's: "Two U.S. service members died April 2 of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." Dar Addustour reported on the two deaths and noted that "indirect fire" usually means mortars or rockets. The paper added that a Babel police source reports 3 rockets hit/landed on the US military base Camp Kalsu in Iskandariya. Those three deaths bring to 26 the number of US service members who have died serving in Iraq since August 31st when Barack Obama declared combat operations over. Cpl Brandon Hocking died March 21st in an enemy attack and was buried March 29th. He died ten days before he was scheduled to return home. Brandon Hocking's family spoke to Eric Wilkinson (KING 5 News). His father Kevin Hocking said, "We were counting down the days not only for him to bet back but for him to be moved up here for his family to be around him." He worries that Iraq has become the forgotten war and stated, "I don't want him forgot. I don't want any of them to be forgot." Megan McCloskey (Stars and Stripes) speaks with the family and Brandon's sister Britney explains that when she tells people about her brother's death, "I've actually had people ask me: 'Do you mean Afghanistan?'" McCloskey observes, "Iraq was once the dominant story on any given front page and nightly newscast. Today, attention has dropped to less than 1 percent of the daily news, according to the Pew Research Center."
Iraq receives so little attention that even hosts of the Sunday chat & chews are unaware of what is going on. Yesterday, Senator Lindsay Graham appeared on CBS' Face The Nation today (here for transcript, here for video). We'll focus on his Iraq War remarks. "Well, here's the back-up plan. If all military forces have withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, the State Department has come to the Congress and said we're going to need over fifty MRAPs, mine resistant vehicles. We need a fleet of helicopters and thousands of private security guards to protect us as we go to the four consulates in Iraq to do our job to help the Iraqis build a civil society out of a dictatorship. I think that is a losing formula. I do not believe the State Department should have an army, that-that that's not the way to provide security to our State Department." On that, he's correct. And militarizing diplomacy should be a non-starter for all members of Congress.
Here's the section where host Bob reveals he's unaware of the plans to militarize the State Dept if the SOFA isn't extended.
Bob Schieffer: I -- I -- I'm sorry. But I find this a -- a hard to believe. Are you talking about we're going to arm our diplomats and put them in these kind of vehicles that people are driving around Iraq now?
US Senator Lindsey Graham: Yeah. You -- you -- you've got it, Bob. That we're going to have private security guards providing security. I think American soldiers and the Iraqi army should provide security. We're talking about helicopters, a fleet of helicopters so they can get around to the four consulates, spread throughout Iraq. We're talking about MRAPs, mine resistant vehicles bought by the State Department, a mini State Department army. We've never done that before. That will fail. I'm urging the Obama administration to work with the Maliki administration in Iraq, to make sure that we have enough troops ten to fifteen thousand beginning in 2012, to secure the gains we've achieved to make sure Iran doesn't interfere with the Iraqi sovereignty and-- and to develop this country. We can't do it with a State Department army and I will not support that. This is a defining moment in the future of Iraq. And the Obama administration has the wrong strategy in Lib -- Libya and, in my view, they're -- they're going down the wrong road when it comes to Iraq.
Bob Schieffer: Well, I find all of it hard to believe. [. . .] All right. We'll you certainly made some news this morning, Senator. I'll give you that.
Amazingly, Bob Schieffer expresses surprise when Graham's speaking of the State Dept using contractors and US forces -- and this has been discussed at length by Congress. I know it wasn't reported at length by the media so we won't mock Bob for not knowing. But it's been addressed at length. And Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have signed off on it in a report they issued earlier this year. From the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's [PDF format warning] "IRAQ: THE TRANSITION FROM A MILITARY MISSION TO A CIVILIAN-LED EFFORT:"
But regardless of whether the U.S. military withdraws as scheduled or a small successor force is agreed upon, the State Department will take on the bulk of responsibility for their own security. Therefore, Congress must provide the financial resources necessary to complete the diplomatic mission. Consideration should be given to a multiple-year funding authorization for Iraq programs, including operational costs (differentiated from the State Department's broader operational budget), security assistance, and economic assistance programs. The price tag will not be cheap -- perhaps $25 - 30 billion over 5 years -- but would constitute a small fraction of the $750 billion the war has cost to this point.
At the February 3rd Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Chair Carl Levin noted in his opening remarks, "One major question is what security relationship the United States and Iraq will have once the 2008 Security Agreement expires in December. It is unclear whether the Maliki government will seek any type of continuing US military presence after December given the terms of the security agreement that all our troops be removed by this December. Iraq needs to engage with the United States sooner rather than later if such a request is going to be forthcoming." At the same hearing, in his questions, Ranking Member John McCain noted one obvious problem with the claim that US forces leave at the end of December.
Ranking Member John McCain: Are they [Iraq] going to be able to build an air force without US presence there?
Gen Lloyd Austin: They-they do have a number of options to both aquire equipment from-from or training from other nations. Certainly --
Ranking Member John McCain: So they would have to acquire equipment and trainers from other nations?
Gen Lloyd Austin: They-they would.
Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported on Robert Gates' Congressional appearance February 16th: "In an impassioned plea during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on next year's Pentagon budget, Gates cited the loss of more than 4,000 American lives in Iraq and the expenditure of some $900 billion. He said it is 'a critically urgent concern' that a planned $5.2 billion allocation for fiscal 2012 be approved, so that the State Department can carry on the training of Iraqi police and other programs once handled by the Pentagon." From the Feb. 16th snapshot:
US House Rep Dunan Hunter: Let's talk about Iraq for a minute. If the Status Of Forces Agreement is not changed or the Iraqis do not ask for our help and ask us to stay, what is our plan for 2012? At the end of this year, what's going to happen?
Secretary Robert Gates: We will have all of our forces out of Iraq. We will have an Office of Security Cooperation for Iraq that will have probably on the order of 150 to 160 Dept of Defense employees and several hundred contractors who are working FMS cases.
US House Rep Duncan Hunter: Do you think that represents the correct approach for this country after the blood and treasure that we spent in Iraq? My own personal time of two tours in Iraq. There's going to be fewer people there -- and that 150 -- than there are in Egypt right now. Somewhere around 600, 700 of those types of folks in Egypt. How can we maintain all of these gains that we've maintained through so much effort if we only have 150 people there and we don't have any military there whatsoever. We have more military in western European countries than we'd have in Iraq -- one of the most centralized states, as everybody knows, in the Middle East.
Secretary Robert Gates: Well I think that there is -- there is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence and the truth of the matter is the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they're going to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers. They will not be able to do the kind of job and intelligence fusion. They won't be able to protect their own air space. They will not -- They will have problems with logistics and maintenance. But it's their country, it's a sovereign country. This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government and we will abide by the agreement unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.
One way or another US troops stay -- either under DoD as they are presently or under the State Dept.
The last weeks have not been a pleasant time to be an Iraqi journalist. As the protests got into full swing, the government began attacking journalists. Not just preventing them from covering protests (bad enough -- and that happened again Friday) but hunting them down in Baghdad cafes after the protests, beating them up and hauling them off to jails where they were tortured. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory explains the latest journalist to be targeted is Morteza Aahtor who was arrested in Nasiriya by a "special security force sent from Baghdad" for articles he'd written. Attorney Ghassan Saleh states that Morteza was arrested not on a court order but on a government order. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory is calling for the immediate release of Morteza.
Assaults on journalists have included Iraqi forces raiding news outlets in Baghdad and throughout Iraq such as February 23rd when the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory was raided by Iraqi forces who smashed the equipment. Dropping back to that day's snapshot:
Iraq where the governmental war on the press never ends. Dar Addustor reports on the Iraqi military raid of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad after midnight this morning with the military seizing things including computers and personal items. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes JFO's Bashar al-Mandalawy stating, "The only reason behind this is to stop freedom of the press and expression in this country." Wael Grace and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) report [. . .] that it was the Iraqi military and the police raiding the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and that they entered by breaking down the main door and that the Baghdad Centre for Media was also raided at the same time.
The Director-General UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing of Iraqi freelance journalist Sabah al-Bazee in a gun attack on a government building in Tikrit, Iraq, in which more than 20 people were killed and dozens injured.
"I condemn the killing of Sabah al-Bazee," the Director-General declared. "The vicious attack that took his life, and many others as well, is an attack against the whole of Iraqi society and must not go unpunished.
"Free and independent information, the basis of open informed debate, is essential for the reconstruction of Iraq where all too many journalists have been paying with their lives to keep civil society at home and abroad informed.
"I encourage the authorities in Iraq to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice."
Sabah al-Baze, 30, worked for several media organizations including Reuters, CNN and other international news outlets. He was among more than 20 people who were killed on 29 March when gunment seized control of the provincial government building in Tikrit, 140 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.
Reporters Without Borders notes the various journalists that have recently gone missin gin Iraq. Naliya Radio and Television's Dana Bakir went missing at the start of the month "when security forces attacked journalists who were covering a demonstration in Freedom Square (Saray Azadi) in Sulaymaniyah." Sources state he was arrested and is in prison. The same day Lvin Magazine's Jiyar Omer was taking pictures in the square, "At no point did I think they [security forces] would target me until the moment when they tried to arrest me. Demonstrators came to my aid. Later, when I tried to take photos of security forces firing on the crowd, they hit me in the stomach and back with the butts of their Kalashnikovs." The next day security forces attacked Kornal's Goran Othman, Hakar Muhammad, Mohamed Jamal and detained Zmnako Ismail. Those are only some of the journalists listed.
Grasp how this has taken place with little-to-no Western press coverage (the Washington Post has covered some of it in reports, they've also done an editorial on the subject; the New York Times hasn't reported on it but they have done an editorial).
Excuse me but did Barack Obama not say last Monday that he declared war on Libya becuase, "Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted and killed"? Yes, he did say that. Meanwhile that's happening in Iraq, in the US client state of Iraq where puppet Nouri al-Maliki is allowed to terrorize the people and to wage war on a free press. And while the US government uses it as a reason for the Libayn War and while the press repeats it unquestioningly, we're all supposed to play Diane Rehm and ignore what's going on in Iraq. Diane and the others have ignored the attacks on journalists in Iraq, the power plays, the protests, everything.
Al Mada reports on the protest in Baghdad Friday with "security forces surrounded [Tahrir Square] and blocked citizens access to the square." Al Mada notes that many families were present carrying photos of their family members who had disappeared into the Iraqi 'justice system,' calling for the release of their loved ones. As protests took root in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki began desperately spinning for time and came up with a "100 days reform" -- the political equivalent of hitting the snooze button. The 100 days come to a conclusion on June 7th. Today Nouri al-Maliki tells the Associated Press that it will not be any problem for he and his Cabinet to meet the deadline: "But Premier Nouri al-Maliki opened several escape clauses for his ministers should they fail to meet the June 7 deadline, which he set in an effort to appease protests by crowds demanding better public services and an end to corruption. He also dodged questions in an interview with The Associated Press about whether he would also step down if his government is deemed to have fallen short of demands for change that have resonated throughout Iraq over the last six weeks." Press TV calls Nouri's statements of Iraq's future "an optimistic picture."
Is there a scramble on to replace Nouri? May be. Various parties are now throwing accusations at one another when they were oh-so-close last November.
Over the weekend, Al Rafidayn reported the Iraqi National Alliance had started calling for an investigation into "the crime" that took place in Falluja which the Iraqi National Alliance is calling a "genocide" -- Ayad Allawi was prime minister when US forces attacked Falluja -- and it is being compared to the Halbaja genocide when Saddam Hussein ordred a chemical attack on the city March 16, 1988 (the Iraqi Parliament declared the Halbaja assault a genocide in a vote on March 17th). Meanwhile New Sabah noted that Ayad Allawi's Iraqi was stating a "coup" has taken place because KRG President Massoud Barzani has not implemented the 19 terms he agreed to including the creation of the National Supreme Council which would have been headed by Ayad Allawi. This is in reference to the deal made in Erbil by State Of Law, the KRG, Iraqi, the National Alliance, the Sadr bloc and Joe Biden to 'end' the political stalemate and allow Nouri al-Maliki to continue as prime minister. The two sides made charges against one another and who was going to blink first? It wasn't Iraqiya.
Today Alsumaria TV reports that the vote on whether or not Falluja was a massacre has been shot down "due to rows between the National Alliance and Iraqiya on considering Falluja incidents as a massacre." Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) notes that many saw the proposal as political jockeying and notes that most of the parties in Parliament were members in 2004 and that such a measure would point the finger at more than just Ayad Allawi (Allawi was prime minister then).
In other news from Iraq's Parliament, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Saturday, approximately 95% of Iraqiya MPs refused to vote in favor of Khalid al-Obaidi for the post of Minister of Defense. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports that Ali Youssef al-Shukri was confirmed by Parliament as the Minister of Planning today. Now if only a Minister of the Interior and a Minister of Defense could be found.
Meanwhile protests took place in the Kurdistan Regional Government today. Reuters counts "thousands" and states they demand "the immediate resignation of the entire regional government, saying it had failed to provide democracy and justice." AP reports the response of the government: Arrest two clerics said to have supported protests. Mulla Mohammed Nasrallah's wife Fatime is quoted stating, "He did nothing wrong. He was calling upon the protesters to resort to peaceful means to achieve their goals. And he demanded the Kurdish government not to use violence against the protesters and listen to their demands." The KRG has members in the Iraqi Parliament. The KRG also has its own parliament. Aswat al-Iraq reports that "opposition blocs decided on Monday to boycott all regular sessions of the Kurdistan parliament, uring the parliament's chairmanship to hold extraordinary sessions to discuss developments in the region and the protestors' demands in Sulaimaniya."
Protests around Iraq have asked for many things, including basic services. Al Rafidayn reports the Minister of Electricity declared yesterday that there will be 8 hours of electricity this summer and 16 next summer. Iraqis will probably hold off on the cheering until they see how sincere the words are. Meanwhile journalist Jane Arraf Tweets:
Since long before the start of the Iraq War, Iranian dissidents have lived in Iraq. Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Iran's Fars News Agency reports that the Iraqi military is denying allegations that it entered the camp. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday."
The International Parliamentary Campaign in Defence of Ashraf condemns in the strongest manner the occupation of Camp Ashraf on Sunday by Iraqi armed forces at the behest of the Iranian regime.
Camp Ashraf houses 3,400 members of the main democratic opposition group People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) who are "Protected Persons" under the 4th Geneva Convention. The camp is a civilian zone.
In an extremely hostile act on the orders of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, overnight and during the day, Iraqi armed forces entered the camp with at least 30 BMP armoured personnel carriers and Humvees. They have taken up positions in hostile formation.
The military siege and occupation of parts of the camp by Iraqi forces violates the Geneva Conventions and international law. There is a serious risk of bloodshed.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and US forces in Iraq must urgently intervene to ensure that the Iraqi military withdraws from the refugee camp. UNAMI should also establish a formal and lasting presence at the camp, under US army protection, to monitor the situation and thereby restrict the sorts of abuse that is currently taking place.
International Parliamentary Campaign in Defence of Ashraf
3 April 2011
Rt. Hon. Lord Archer of Sandwell QC
Former UK Solicitor General
Rt. Hon. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC
Former Lord Advocate for Scotland
Turning to some of the reported violence today . . . Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports a Ramadi bombing late last night claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left thirteen injured while a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life (bodyguard for "a senior official of the Iraqi industrial ministry") and left three more injured while a second Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa member and a third Baghdad roadside bombing injuring Razzaq Issah ("director general of the government-owned Iraqi Investments Board") and leaving one more person wounded. Reuters adds that a Kirkuk roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraq soldier and left two more injured, a Yusufiya home invasion resulted in the deaths of 6 "young brothers" and the injuring of their mother and two sisters and a Jurf al-Sakhar bombing which claimed the lives of 5 Sahwa.
In other news, Al Mada reports Iraqi President Jalal Talabani congratulated the Iraqi Communist Party on their 77th year anniversary: "I congratulate you heartily on the seventy-seventh anniversary of the founding of your party [. . .] [which] worked hand in hand with the other political parties to fight for a free Iraq that would be free of social injustice and discrimination." No reports on Nouri congratulating them but he probably feels he did 'his part' by ordering the military to evict them from their Baghdad headquarters last month.
So contemptuous of the people is the elitist Barack Obama that he has plunged the United States into yet another war without so much as pretense of a Congressional vote. He emerges as more brazen by far than George W. Bush, who lied about Saddam Hussein's Al-Qaeda link and his weapons of mass destruction, in order to win a Congressional "authorization" for war. Obama simply ignored the Constitution and is playing the part of King. This is the highest of crimes and misdemeanors and the profoundest of threats to our already weakened democratic institutions.
Hence, we have begun a Right/Left Coalition to impeach President Barack Obama for violation of Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution which gives Congress, not the Executive, the sole right to declare war.
The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they've earned under the program guidelines.
The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.
Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.
When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit. Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply. Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.
To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.