Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 5, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, US war resister Andre Shepherd is denied refugee status in Germany, Falluja remains an issue in Iraq, Iraq's Integrity Commission has findings, Republicans (and some Democrats) lodge objections to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and more.
We last noted 33-year-old Iraq War veteran Andre Shepherd March 30th.  Andre is a US war resister in Germany. After serving in Iraq, he self-checked out of the military.  James Dao (New York Times) reported this evening that Andre has been denied asylum: "The German government, in a statement issued on Monday, said it had rejected his petition because Mr. Shepherd could not cite concrete examples of war crimes committed during his first deployment to Iraq. The German government did not say in its statement whether it would try to deport Mr. Shepherd."  AFP speaks with his attorney Rienhard Marx who notes Andre is married to a German citizen (Jacqueline Edith) so he does not feel it is likely Andre will be deported.  Andre is the only war resister seeking asylum publicly to do so in Germany. 
Shepherd said he grew up on East 94th Street in Cleveland, attended Lakewood High School and studied computer science at Kent State University until he ran out of money.
He enlisted in 2004 with the hope of flying the Apaches, but was urged to become a mechanic first.
Scharf said he doubts that Shepherd's expected order to return to Iraq would, by itself, constitute an unlawful order.
"His best argument would be that Apaches are used to kill civilians," Scharf said, but he still viewed it as a weak case.
In 2009, AP's Patrick McGroarty reported that Andre was one of 71 US soldiers who had self-checked out from "European bases in 2008".  Samantha Haque interviewed Andre for the UK's Channel 4 news in January of 2009:
Samantha Haque: As an asylum seeker he is currently in a camp in Germany with people from places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. All in a similar position to him.  The difference is that Andre Shepherd is a US citizen.  And an Iraq War deserter.  For security reasons, we were not allowed to film in the camp.  Shepherd has a friend, a peace activist, who lives within the restricted boundary he's allowed to move in.  He took us there.
Andre Shepherd: I was working on the Apache helicopter.  Those Apaches won't fly unless we take care of them.  The Apache helicopter is a deadly weapon a lot of people call it a flying tank.  What started my doubts was when I saw the Iraqi people, when they would come and help us, the looks that they gave us weren't the looks of heroes or people that you know were bringing freedom. We looked like conquerors and oppressors.  That really bothered me a lot.  So I started to look into the reasons why we were actually there in Iraq. I thought that what we were doing was a great thing and a positive thing.  That we were actually bringing freedom to people and making them happy but what I found out instead was that we completely destroyed an entire country on a pack of lies.  It started to weigh very heavily to the point where my actions when I was a soldier were starting to deteriorate so as this was going on I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to back to Iraq.
Samantha Haque: None of the criteria that the US military offered for discharge were availble to Mr. Shepherd.  To be a conscientious objector in the US means to be against all wars, something he was not.  While in Germany, he was faced with a second mission to Iraq.  On April 11, 2007 he went absent without leave.  Unable to apply for German residency without official military discharge papers, he decided that applying for asylum was the only way forward.
In terms of US outlets, Andy Eckardt (NBC News) interviewed Andre in February 2009. Andre told NBC, "When I enlisted in 2004 and later was sent to Iraq, I believed I was doing the right thing.  But then, like other comrades around me, I started questioning why we were there and what we were fighting for. . . . My job was harmless until I factored in the amount of death and destruction those helicopters caused to civilians every day.  The government made us believe we would be welcomed as heroes in Iraq, but we saw nothing but hostility from the Iraqis that came to work for us, they wanted to kill us."  Last month,  Russia Today reported on him:
Ekaterina Gracheva: After hiding out for more than a year, Andre Shepherd surfaced.  He married a German, secured himself support from a number of human rights organizations and is now officially seeking asylum.  Tucked away on the border of Germany and Austria, Lake Chiemsee has long been popular with holiday makers but now the idyllic spot may go down in history as the home of the first US Iraq War veteran granted political asylum.  To become this first is not going to be easy though.  Germany is the main staging post for the US military with around 60,000 US troops stationed there.  Each year, some of those soldiers go AWOL and get picked up by the police.
Jacqueline Edith: The pressure is very high on Germany and Andre often said in his speeches he's so sorry about that, you know, putting so much pressure on the German government.  Also he really loves this country so much.
The judgment comes at an interesting time.  The White House just announced yesterday their State Dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel (June 7th).   Merkel and US President Barack Obama have frequently been on opposite sides -- here and here and here and here, for example.  How interesting that the decision comes just as a thaw is said to be taking place between the two.
Turning to Iraq, as protests took hold in Baghdad, Nouri al-Malik and Moqtada al-Sadr joined forces to put up false fronts that would derail public anger. Among the measures they both pushed was just-give-me 100 days. Corruption? Lack of adequate public services? Give the government 100 days and just you wait! For what? They couldn't even settle an election in 100 days.   June 7th the 100 days is up. March 23rdAl Mada reported part two of the 'plan,' demand 100 more days! The latest plan was to declare one hundred days not enough so the government's going to take 200. That's over half a year. And it's been a year since elections but Nouri still doesn't have a full Cabinet. Firas Qaisis (Al Mada) reports today that sources are saying extending the dealine is still being discussed with Nouri seriously examining it.  State of Law MP Saad Muttalibi denies that any extension is being considered and, based on his past track record, see that as a confirmation.  Iraqiya's Hani Ashour notes that the 100 days include no criteria for the evaluate the performance of the government and sees the 100 days as a tool for procrastination and delay as opposed to a device that will allow for real reforms to be implemented. By contrast, Ashour believes that Parliament has acted clearly in its actions, allowing them to be measured and offers examples such as reducing the salries of the president and two vice presidents as well as the salaries of members of Parliament.
It's really amazing to watch nothing happen in Iraq (politically) over and over while people keep insisting 'progress.'  Trina called out Tom Bowman for his idiotic remarks on All Things Considered (NPR) yesterday."Iraq is, sort of, you know, working its way out." (That quote's from the official transcript, use link.)  As Trina noted, "What a damn fool. 
Over a year after they held elections, they still do not have a full Cabinet. They have no Minister of the Interior and they have no Minister of Defense. [. . .] Add in that the violence is up again."   Working itself out, he said.  On the same day when another US soldier was announced dead? Today Tim Arango (New York Times) notes the 4 recent deaths in Iraq of US service members including the  2 who were announced dead on Sunday and 1 announced yesterday. But Bowman saw Iraq working itself out?    On the same day Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported, "Monday was a scary day for Iraqis living in and around Baghdad, as people weren't even safe in their own homes."

In Iraq, Parliament's Integrity Committee held a press conference Monday. Dar Addustour reports that among the findings spoken of was that many "Ministers and agents and ministries and general managers and senior officers in the army" had taken part in corruption. They have names for the money wasted buying 'wands' that allegedly detected bombs (if you held the wand just so and stomped your feet on the ground) but those names may or may not be made public. The Committee noted that the British Foreign Office vouched for those wands. (The wands were made by a British company.) In addition, though the US military always ridiculed the wands (and were correct to do so), there was an effort on the part of Americans to push Iraq to buy spare parts for these wands from US companies. Committee member Edoganp Nassif noted that civilian aircraft was purchased which is "unfit for flight" and the Committee states this corruption is via the son of an unnamed official. Al Rafidayn adds that the Committee is in possesion of 9,003 documents and that the names of 35 officials have been passed on for further investigation by legal authorities. Enas Tariq (Al Mada) argues that it makes no difference that it's "a moral crime" or a a misdemeanor, the climate of culture is so entrenched with so many living parasites sucking the life out of the system. Tariq argues this leads to further resentment on the part of the citizenry and continued corruption and that the orruption is now moving into the media where "material rewards" are exchanged for silences on the part of reporters who print only what the officials tell them to.

If you're optimistic that the Committee's findings might amount to anything, read Ali Hussein's Al Mada report which notes that it's not for nothing Iraq has made the list of the most corrupt countires in the world and that one of the historic decisions was a law providing the prime minister (Nouri al-Maliki) with the right to decide whether or not corrupt employees are referred to the judiciary. Meanwhile Al Rafidayn notes that Nouri has pulled Kahlid al-Obedi's name as nominee for Minister of Defense (95% of Iraqiya voted against al-Obedi) and is seeking a new nominee.  In potentially related news, Kholoud Ramzi (Niqash) reports, "The Iraqi parliament wants to abolish almost 14,000 laws made by both the interim American rulers and former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime. But critics fear replacement legislation will take longer."  Iraq's inability, over a year after elections, to name a Minister of Defense or a Minister of Interior does not build confidence in their ability to pass new legislation to replace 13,500 orders.  These things they would like to strike and replace also include Bremer orders issued by L. Paul Bremer:
Not all of the laws that the CPA instituted were considered negative. Bremer also suspended the death penalty and came up with more liberal criminal defamation laws, which related to media in Iraq. Civil society activists have described these as "worthy reforms". However the Allawi interim government rescinded these too, cancelling the suspension of the death penalty and re-activating criminal defamation laws. The latter threatens journalists found guilty of the defamation of a political figure with capital punishment.

Additionally some of Bremer's laws still remain in force today. One of these included legislation that increased the number of expert advisers to each state ministry from two to seven. Having more Iraqi interest groups represented among the advisers was supposed to democratize the flow of information to state decision makers. In reality though, observers say that the advisers, as representatives of different Iraqi groups, are not impartial and act more like partisan lobbyists on a government salary.

Meanwhile Falluja's the topic that just won't leave the news cycle.  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). Falluja was twice attcacked by the US miltiary in 2004.  First, in April 2004 due to the fact that Paul Bremer was offended by a cartoon of him in a paper.  Then the assault was put on hold until after the 2004 US elections as which point the major assault on Falluja took place.
Dahr Jamail reported on both Falluja I and Falluja II (as the Iraqi press is calling them). On Falluja I, we'll note this from his piece for The New Statesman:
As they had done during the April siege, the military raided and occupied Fallujah general hospital, cutting it off from the rest of the city. On 8 November 2004 the New York Times reported, "The assault against Fallujah began here Sunday night as American Special Forces and Iraqi troops burst into Fallujah General Hospital and seized it within an hour." Of course, this information was immediately followed by the usual parroting of US military propaganda, "At 10pm, Iraqi troops clambered off seven-ton trucks, sprinting with American Special Forces soldiers around the side of the main building of the hospital, considered a refuge for insurgents and a centre of propaganda against allied forces, entering the complex to bewildered looks from patients and employees."
Harb al-Mukhtar, my interpreter and driver, arrived at my hotel the next morning in a sombre mood. "How can we live like this, we are trapped in our own country. You know Dahr, everyone is praying for God to take revenge on the Americans. Everyone!" He said even in their private prayers people were praying for God to take vengeance on the Americans for what they were doing in Fallujah. "Everyone I've talked to the last couple of nights, 80 or 90 people, have admitted that they are doing this," he said as I collected my camera and notepad to prepare to leave. Out on the streets of Baghdad, the anxiety was palpable. The threat of being kidnapped or car bombed, or simply robbed, relentlessly played on our minds as Harb and I went about conducting interviews that had been prearranged. We tried to minimise our time on the streets by returning to my hotel immediately on completing interviews. The security situation, already horrible, was deteriorating further with each passing day.
In this video, Dahr discusses Falluja and we'll note this on Falluja I.
Dahr Jamail: We chose April 9th because according to the US military and, of course, then repeated by a complicit corporate media -- most of the corporate media,  April 9th was a ceasefire because of this 'truce negotiation' was ongoing.  But when we went into the city, we were watching -- I saw with my own eyes F16s bombing parts of the city, helicopters strafing other parts. 
Dahr covers both Falluja I and Falluja II in his book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist In Occupied Iraq.  Dropping back to The New Statesman piece, Dahr notes the crackdown on the media for Falluja II:
Media repression during the second siege of Fallujah was intense. The "100 Orders" penned by former US administrator Bremer included Order 65, passed on 20 March 2004, which established an Iraqi communications and media commission. This commission had powers to control the media because it had complete control over licensing and regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services, and media establishments. On 28 June, when the US handed over power to a "sovereign" Iraqi interim government, Bremer simply passed on his authority to Iyad Allawi, who had long-standing ties with the British intelligence service MI6 and the CIA. The media commission sent out an order just after the assault on Fallujah commenced ordering news organisations to "stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action". The warning was circulated on Allawi's letterhead. The letter also asked the media in Iraq to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear".
Of course, not everyone was barred.  Dexter Filkins wrote "In Falluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagry of an Urban War" for the New York Times and won a little prize for it.  As we noted the day the piece ran, "The point here is that the story on today's front page (November 21, 2004) begins with a battle from November 15th without ever alerting the reader to this fact. An occurence six days prior is their front page Iraq story."  See, when you have to let the military vet your copy, you can't make it into print the next day or even the day after that.  Dexy wrote just what the military wanted him to -- always.  For example, once, Dexy was off to the meet the resistance.  But -- Dexy couldn't stop singing his own praises and just knew military brass would be thrilled for him.  So he goes bragging to them.  He gets a dubious look and Dexy cancels the meet up.  What the brass wanted done, Dexy did.  May his tombstone include that notation.  Darh and Jonathan Steele (Guardian) noted of Falluja II:
This time Washington's allies had been talked to in advance. Consistent US propaganda about the presence in Falluja of a top al-Qaida figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was used to create a climate of acquiescence in the US-appointed Iraqi government. Shia leaders were told that bringing Falluja under control was the only way to prevent a Sunni-inspired civil war.
Blair was invited to share responsibility by sending British troops to block escape routes from Falluja and prevent supplies entering once the siege began.
Dahr took part in the documentary Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre which Democracy Now! broadcast in full November 8, 2005.  Falluja I and Falluja II are two big events in the Iraq War.  And when opponents raised it over the weekend,  New Sabah noted that Ayad Allawi leveled his own charge: 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.  Yesterday Alsumaria TV reported 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) noted 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). Today New Sabah reports Ayad Allawi is stating that the ones resonsible for for the mass murder in "Falluja I and Falluja II" are the ones calling for an investigation into his actions (he was prime minister when the US assaulted Falluja in 2004). He says those who spoke the accusations live "in glass houses." He also states that he is ready to go before the Iraqi people with any accusation of his actions. Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqiya bloc threatened to reveal 'massacre' scandals in some Iraqi provinces if leader Iyad Allawd is summoned over 2004 Fallujah incidents, a source told Alsumaria."  UPI notes that one bloc is objecting to some of the language being used: "Kurdish lawmakers objected to putting Fallujah on the same footing [genocide] as the gassing of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein's forces in Halabja in 1988."
In today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing left provincial council member Jasim Mohammed injured, two Baghdad roadside bombings claimed 2 lives and left six people injured, a Baaj suicide bombing claimed the life of the bomber and 3 other people while leaving seven injured, a Mosul attack left 1 person shot dead and the corpse of a kidnap victim was discovered in Mosul.
Turning to the US, last week Lewis Griswold (Fresno Bee) reported on 26-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Morado who was facing a discharge hearing.  GetEQUAL has this action alert. Ashley Ritchie (KMPH) reported Friday that Morado was not discharged. While he wasn't discharged, Don't Ask, Don't Tell remains law: "In fact, a navy spokesperson tells KMPH News, the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy has to be certified by the Secretary of Defense, Chairman and President. After that, it will take another 60 days before it goes into effect." Joseph Neese (RNN) notes Morado isn't the only one who will face a discharge hearing and Pentagon spokesperson Eileen Lainez states, "The law commonly known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' remains in effect until 60 days following certification."  And will it be certified?
Nothing is a done deal until it is, in fact, done. Friday we concentrated (in the snapshot) on the protests in Iraq  and I had to hold off on a Congressional hearing.  A DADT hearing took place and there's another this week so we'll squeeze Friday's into this snapshot.
"It is now essential that the Congress ask some of the questions that were glossed over during the comprehensive review.  We must get the process for considering the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell back on track and ensure that our military is truly prepared to allow the open service of gays and lesbians," declared Joe Wilson Chair of the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel in his opening remarks.  Wilson objected to the fact that Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation took place in the lame duck session.  The Subcommittee heard from the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Vice Adm William Gortney and DoD's Clifford L. Stanley.
In his questioning Wilson touched on many topics that would appear to indicate his opposition. "How will you know the troops in the field believe they're prepared to cope with  the complications that will follow?" he wondered at one point.  At another, he wanted to know how chaplain's would be protected.  (I'm avoiding a cheap shot there -- feel free to insert your own.) .  US House Rep Susan Davis is the Ranking Member.  In reply to her questions, Stanley said that "to date" there had been no visible impact on recruitment. Stanley then tossed to Gortney for further remarks.
Vice Admiral William Gortney:  Once again, all of the subjective assessment from the commanders have been that the training has gone well.  None of the issues that have come up were not things that we were not already aware of as a result of the survey that was out there that we were then able to tailor the training to to then answer.  So thus far, no surprises. uh, and we're pretty pleased with where we are.  And, again, 90% of the force has been trained.
"Bottom line," Stanley would note after Gortney, "is that the training has been very effective, and we've been very pleased with what we're seeing but our antenna our up because this is not a rushed process and we want to be deliberate and purposeful in doing this."
Ranking Member Susan Davis:  The Army, as I understand it, is going to be the last to conclude their training and I wonder what timeline you would expect then, if they do do meet their deadline, what is the timeline that you would expect the President, the Secretary [of Defense] and the Joint-Chief [of Staff], that they could actually send that certification to Congress?  Have you looked at that and what we might be looking at here in terms of a timeline?
Vice Admiral William Gortney:  Yes, ma'am. As-as the Secretary said, we anticipate about mid-summer in order to meet the completion of the preponderance of the force to be trained and the regulations to be in there and to get the recommendations from the service secretaries and the service chiefs to the -- to the Chairman.  That deadline is really a function of the Army in order to get, just because of the size of the force and to include the Reserves and the National Guard in that, that's really the long goal there.  And it's just a function of numbers that have to be trained.
Davis (and many other Democrats) spoke in terms of "where are we in the process"; however, that was not the case with the Republicans.  US House Rep Mike Coffman objected to the fact that he had requested data "and I think that that was not provided until about a month after the vote and I want to say for the record that I think that was intentional." Combat personnel "opposed in greater numbers" a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and if his request on the data had been completed in a timely manner, he believes the discussion would have been different.  He registered his objection to a repeal and deemed the findings of the study "a conclusion looking for a study" and objected to repeal because he believes "this is a political decision made by the Executive Branch".  In his second round of questioing, he was highly concerned about sleeping arrangements.
Democrat David Loesbsack appeared to be siding with Republicans.  (General rule: Watch for those who use "homosexual" and especially when they have a special way of pronouncing the word.)   Republican Allen West referred to being gay as "a behavior" -- which, yes, sounds an awful like "a choice" since behavior can be modified.  He made one of the strangest remarks in the entire hearing, saying of repeal,  "I'm just very worried that this could be the camel getting his nose under the tent."  Was that a sexual euphamism?  (No, but it might make more sense if it were.)   He then brought up the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (November 5, 2009) and his "disturbing behaviors."  Apparently, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will leave gays and lesbians with itchy trigger fingers?  He wondered whether those seeing failures "in the implementation of this program" were "free to speak up"? He fears "a witchunt" because of "social engineering" -- apparently unaware that the witchhunt took place in targeting gays and lesbians to begin with.  As usual, US House Rep Niki Tsongas attempted to provide a calming and informed voice.
US House Rep Niki Tsongas: But just to reiterate why we moved to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Since 1993, more than 14,000 gay service members have been discharged under the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.  And of these discharges, nearly 1,000 were specialists with vital mission critical skills --  Arab linguists, for example.  We hear those figures over and over again. I have always believed that this policy actually threatens the readiness of our military by discharging hundreds of military personnel critical to our national security and shutting the door to thousands more.  And it's also unconscionable  to maintain a policy when at least 24 other countries including allies such as Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel already allow open service by lesbian and gay service members. And that's why I've always strongly supported repeal of this policy. And I concur wholeheartedly with Adm Mike Mullen's distinguished leadership about this issue, his assessment when he stated in his testimony before the Armed Services Committee last year that this policy "forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens." Undermining a basic tenet of military service which is to be honest.
US House Rep Vicky Hartzler declared, "I'm new, I wasn't here when it passed."  She's a Republican who deemed repeal "radical" and thought it would harm "the ability to win wars."  (Real quick, what war does she think the US is currently winning?  Other than the spending war, of course.)   "I'm new, I wasn't here when it passed." Put that with the other statements including Georgia's Austin Scott who was very clearly opposed to repeal and everyone needs to remember a "done deal" isn't done until it's done. Thursday the Subcomittee meets again on this issue.   Many comments made Friday by Republicans (and Dems who appeared not to support repeal) appeared to be trial balloons for future lines of attack.
Reminder: If you served in the US military and you were stop-lossed, you are owed additional money. That money needs to be claimed. DoD announces the date to file for that additional payment has been extended:

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.