Monday, April 11, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 11, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, at least 23 Iraqis are killed in today's waves of violence, the government of China 'responds' to the US government, Nouri may be under pressure from the military to sign an extension of the SOFA, Nouri may have signed the extension, Nouri may get out of his political party and more.
Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic) observes, "After the September 11 terrorist attacks, mainstream newspapers and television programs briefly chose to be more graphic in their coverage, rightly judging that sanitizing the events of that day would do us a disservice. But why is it less important to fully confront the reality of what is happening now in Afghanistan and Iraq? The United States Armed Forces has lost 5,885 people in those two countries.  When did you last see a photograph of one of their coffins?  Has the story of an innocent Iraqi killed by our forces ever flashed  across your TV screen?  The figures are mere abstractions." Yesterday, AP noted another American soldier has died in Iraq and this "marks the sixth U.S. soldier to die in Iraq so far this month." If that's new to you, see last week's "5 US soldiers have died this month."
Gareth Porter: I mention that both American officials -- an American official and the Iraqi intelligence source that I got this story from agree that there's no guarantee that the al-Maliki regime is going to survive this summer.  But he is under a lot of political pressure there from a protest movement that the Sunnis are mounting and one of the big questions is whether the Sadrists will join that protest movement?  And should that happen, then the short term outlook for the al-Maliki regime is very dark indeed.  But there's another factor even beyond that.  And that is that the Iraqi military is quite upset that -- that al-Maliki is dawdling over and refusing to go ahead with signing this letter -- sending a letter to the White House requesting the stationing of troops.  The Iraqi military which is very close to the US military wants that very badly. And I had a hint -- even more than a hint -- that it could be the case that the Iraqi military would try to carry out its own move against the Maliki regime.
Scott Horton: In order so that they can keep the American troops there --
Gareth Porter: Exactly.
Scott Horton: Which means that they're going to have to fight another civil war against Moqtada al-Sadr.
Gareth Porter: Exactly. Yep.  And I think that is certainly something to watch for very closely.
Scott Horton: Well now -- so -- It's been a long time and I know the Supreme Islamic Council ain't what it used to be and whatever, but is it fair to say that the Iraqi army right now, I guess it's the leadership roles that are most important, but that's mostly made up of old Badr corps type rather than Madhi Army guys?  Because I know there were a lot of Mahdi Army that went to volunteer for the Iraqi army as well, right?
Gareth Porter: That's right.  Although there are some -- in key positions -- there are some Ba'athists as well.
Scott Horton: Well look, if-if Maliki's biggest threat is from Sunni protesters then he's going to really need Moqtada al-Sadr -- which means that he's not going to sign Obama's document. 
Gareth Porter: Oh, I think that's right. I mean I am absolutely convinced that this is not going to happen.  I think it's very, very unlikely, let's put it that way.  I would be very surprised if he were to move in that direction at this point.  It just seems to me the factors are all lined up in the same direction.
No one knows what will happen and Porter's an informed observer of the scene so his take is worth listening to and considering.  That doesn't make it right.  Counter-take on Porter.  Under pressure from the military, Nouri signs up for the US soldiers to remain on Iraqi soil.  Most likely scenario in which Nouri extends the SOFA?
Factoring in the military, Nouri signs up (if he hasn't already) because he's aware Moqtada al-Sadr is (a) weak and (b) all talk.  Moqtada is in Iran.  He's made a life there for years -- largely due to the outstanding arrest warrant in Iraq that he fears may be enforced. Moqtada was among those wanting a referendum on the SOFA and Nouri promised that in November 2008 -- swore that in July 2009 it would take place.  Never did.  He kicked it back and kicked it back.
And what did Moqtada do?  Not a damn thing. 
Does Moqtada have a great deal of power?  That hasn't been tested in a very long time.  He had a popular resurgance in 2007 when Nouri ordered the attacks on Basra and the Sadr City of Baghdad.  Attacking Moqtada did help build his popularity.  However, not enough that Moqtada could fight back.  As most will recall, Nouri won that battle, Moqtada caved -- just as he would later do on the referendum -- and went along.
"Caved and went along," many could argue (and some in the State Dept do), is Moqtada al-Sadr's m.o.  Moqtada can get supporters to attend a speech or rally.  What he can't do -- at least thus far -- is get them to risk their own lives while he remains in Iran.  That's been demonstrated repeatedly.  Moqtada is popular with a certain international set -- Amy Goodman for example (who notes him and credits him a protest -- that wasn't his protest "across Iraq" -- he is a very minor figure in the entire country, his base is a huge sub-set of Iraq).  They love to turn the homophobic and sexist and fundamentalist thug into a cuddly bear.  That's not reality.  Nor has reality ever demonstrated that Moqtada has the power he's supposed to have.
Should Nouri stand firm against him (again) and should Moqtada attempt to issue orders for combat from Iran, Moqtada might grasp just how much sway he's lost by making Iran his home. 
Maybe not, but that is a counter-take. And it is also speculation based on the facts that are known.
It's not know if the SOFA has already been extended; however, Saturday  New Sabbah reported that a source in Parliament states that Nouri's Council fo Ministers has voted to extend the SOFA and that they signed the extension as well "during the last meeting of the Council of Ministers."   Since US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told US troops Friday that the whole purpose of his visit was to raise the extension of the SOFA, if New Sabbah's source is being truthful, it would appear Gates will be leaving his post later this year feeling "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." If the extension was signed, did Gates sign on behalf of the US or did US Ambassador James Jeffrey? (Then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker signed the original in 2008.) If the extension was done, this is not a "national security" issue and not only should the US Congress be informed but so should the American people.
 Alsumaria TV reports Nouri al-Maliki is stating that Iraqi forces are capable of standing on their own. However, Robert Burns (AP) notes, "The U.S. wants to keep perhaps several thousand troops in Iraq, not to engage in combat but to guard against an unraveling of a still-fragile peace. This was made clear during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit Thursday and Friday in which he and the top U.S. commander in Iraq talked up the prospect of an extended U.S. stay." Al Mada reports former US envoy (during the Bush administration) Zalmay Khalilzad is visiting Iraq. You can probably guess why. Note that sending in the big guns does not require utilizing Chris Hill -- his reputation in Iraq helps no one. Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) notes that the US pressure also includes pressure on Nouri al-Maliki to name the security ministers.

New Sabah reports that Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujafi is stating that the US is pressuring the government to extend the SOFA but al-Nujafi is deckarubg that will not happen. Of course, Parliament declared in 2006 that it would not happen -- but it did (with the UN mandate).  And Parliament declared in 2007 that it would not happen -- but it did. In both cases, Nouri ignored their wishes and their will and just extended it all by himself.   Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) feels the problems facing Iraq are rather obvious:

One of the current problems is the insistence of Al Dawa party (and the State of Law coalition) headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, to hold the reins of power, despite the fact that the results of the election were not in its favour. The State of Law coalition, through guile, was able to use loopholes in the constitution, and struck complicated and fragile deals, and added foreign pressure, to remain on top. These actions also saw a clear split between the Iraqi masses and the elite. There was criticism from individuals and also mass demonstrations against government policies.
This year, the demonstrations widened and took the form of angry strikes which flared through many Iraqi cities and governorates, turning into protests against unemployment, and lack of basic amenities, such as electricity.
However, the demonstrations, some of which turned bloody, did not cause the government much concern, as it was able to contain them through false promises.

A number of people increasingly consider Nouri to be a problem.  For example, Ma'ad Fayad (Aswat al-Iraq) reports: that the Dawa Party, according to "key" party member Salim al-Husni, is on the verge of announcing Nouri al-Maliki has been kicked out of the party for "abuse of the principles and ideas adopted by the Islamic Dawa Party."  al-Husni insists that "the ideas and principles of our party are far from power-mongering. Instead, it is a cultural and mass party that is founded on the principle of serving people, rather than serving officials and covering up for them."
Dropping back to Saturday, Dar Addustour reported Sadr supporters, "tens of thousands" of them, rallied despite Iraqi forces shutting down bridges and imposing a vehicle ban. US flags wer burned, a call for national unity was made and, in a statement Moqtada al-Sadr issued (but had someone else read), it was demanded that all US forces leave Iraq. His statement denounced the presence of US forces noting "the occupation is still among us with assassinations, terror and tyranny." Al Rafidayn reported that, in his statement, he threatened to bring back the (armed) Mehdi militia if US forces were in Iraq after January 1, 2012. The paper notes that the Sadr bloc has 40 seats in Parliament (there are 325 total seats in the Parliament which means that they hold approximately 12.3% of the seats in Parliament) and they hold 7 of the 43 Cabinet ministries (which is about 16.28% of the ministries). If US forces do not leave, Sadr's representative, MP Kamel Saadi, declared that armed resistance will return to Iraq. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN -- link has text and video) reported:

That prospect of American troops staying in Iraq disturbs many citizens, including the thousands who support al-Sadr, a cleric with grassroots appeal in Iraq's Shiite cities and neighborhoods.
Sheikh Salah al-Obaidi, a cleric who read a statement to demonstrators on behalf of al-Sadr, raised the prospect of American troops staying in Iraq into next year and beyond.
"What if the invading forces decide not to leave our country? What if they decide to stay? What if American troops and others decide to stay in our lands? .... Will you keep silent? " al-Obaidi said, reading al-Sadr's statement to chants of "God is great."
"If they decide to stay in our country, then we have to do two things: first is to escalate armed resistance and lift the freeze on Mehdi Army," al-Obaidi said.

Al Mada noted that the protesters also demanded no US bases. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported:

Black smoke rose from the square from the burning American flags, and protesters set up a grisly display of Americans in business suits being burned in cages.
"We are time bombs," the protesters chanted between a choreographed wave of young men dressed in the satin colors of Iraq's flag.
The protest was the first major Sadr demonstration since demonstrations began sweeping the Arab world this year. Sadr – who has reinvented himself as s serious political figure after his leadership of the paramilitary Mahdi Army, which fought US forces in 2004 – has called for restraint in protests against the Iraqi government, in which his party members now play a key role. Instead, the young cleric has used the possibility of massive protests as a veiled threat against the government.

The Daily Mail (in an article feature multiple AP photos of the protest) quoted protester Haidar Nuaman stating, "It seems that the government does not know what to do. Muqtada's is an important voice to stand against any intention by the government to extend the presence of forces." RIA Novosti reminded, "Al-Sadr lives in Iran where he is engaged in religious study. During a visit to Iraq in January".

Though Moqtada al-Sadr is a media created hero, there were protests elsewhere in Iraq having nothing to do with him. Dar Addustour reports that hundreds rallied in Salahuddin Province also calling for US forces to leave, for detainees to be released and hundreds gathered in Nineveh Province also calling for US forces to leave while hundreds rallied in Anbar Province calling for US forces to leave Iraq and for George W. Bush to be tried as a War Criminal while.
A key city in Anbar Province is Falluja which was slammed with twin bombings today. DPA reports after the first bomb exploded, police arrived and then the second bomb went off. Fadel al-Badrani, Jim Loney and David Stamp (Reuters) report the bombs went off near a busy market. Tang Danlu (Xinhua)adds that a police source tells the news agency 6 people are dead and twenty injured. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes that 2 Khan Bani Saad roadside bombings claimed 10 lives and left two people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi police officer and left "his driver" injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 3 lives and left eleven injured and a Baghdad bombing left one person injured. Reuters adds that an Iskandariya roadside bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers.

Staying with violence, over the weekend Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reported:

U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been causing huge civilian casualties with 63 percent of some 109,000 people killed in the Iraq war being civilians, according to a report on the U.S. human rights record released on Sunday.

The figures were quoted from a WikiLeaks trove by the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010, which was released by the Information Office of China's State Council in response to the country reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 issued by the U.S. Department of State.

The Chinese government's report is said by some to be a retaliation for the US State Dept's release last week of a report critical of the Chinese government, the 2010 Human Report on Human Rights Practices.  In their report, the government of China doesn't just zoom in on Iraq, it notes that poverty has increased in the US, it notes the gender discrimination that is widespread and a great deal more.  The question shouldn't be whether or not China was angry about the US report, the question should be why aren't Americans angry about the report -- specifically that the Iraqi 'government' continues to receive support (military, financial, diplomatic, etc.)?  From the report:
The constitution expressly prohibits torture in all its forms under all circumstances, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. During the year there were documented instances of torture and other abuses by government agents and similar abuses by illegal armed groups. The government's effectiveness in adhering to the rule of law in these circumstances faced obstacles from continuing large-scale violence, corruption, sectarian bias, and lack of civilian oversight and accountability, particularly in the security forces and detention facilities.
Local and international human rights organizations, the MOHR, and the human rights directorates of the MOI and Ministry of Defense (MOD) continued to report allegations of torture and abuse in several MOI and MOD detention facilities, as well as in KRG security forces' detention facilities. A MOHR prisons report for 2009 indicated that there were 326 documented cases of torture and mistreatment at MOI facilities, 152 cases at MOD facilities, 14 cases at Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) facilities, one case at Ministry of Justice (MOJ) facilities, and 12 in Peshmerga facilities in the Kurdistan region during that year.
As in previous years, reports of abuse at the point of arrest and investigation, particularly by the MOI's Federal Police and MOD battalion-level forces, continued to be common. Allegations of abuse included use of stress positions, beatings, electric shocks, sexual assault, denial of medical treatment, death threats, and death.
On April 19, the local and international media reported the discovery of a secret prison operated by security forces under control of the Prime Minister's Office containing more than 400 Sunni detainees, of which over 100 were reportedly tortured. The detainees were arrested by the ISF during October 2009 security sweeps in Ninewa Province and then transferred to a prison in Baghdad. One prisoner reportedly died in January from the abuse, while others were allegedly beaten, raped, suffocated with plastic bags, and had electricity applied to them. Authorities initially arrested three officers, but they were later released without charge. There were no prosecutions of any officer or judge associated with the event. Subsequently, 75 of the prisoners were released and 200 were transferred to other jails, according to government officials.
In May 2009 three detainees at the MOI's Al Forsan detention facility in Ramadi were allegedly tortured, and in June 2009 prison guards allegedly tortured and raped female detainees at an MOI detention facility in the Adamiya neighborhood of Baghdad. Charges were brought against the officers involved; no further updates were available. In June 2009, in response to three COR members' allegations that 11 detainees had been subjected to abuse and torture by MOI officials, the government established a committee that charged 40 police officers with abuse. According to government reports, one general, two colonels, two majors, and two lieutenants were suspended pending additional investigation into charges of detainee abuse; no further updates were available.
Still on violence, CBS and AP report that US humanitarian aid was finally allowed into Camp Ashraf.  AP's Lara Jakes reports that the Iraqi Parliament voted today to close down the camp. 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 reported Monday that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. 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." Friday saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Iraq4All News explained that the 2500 security forces present at the assault are commanded by Nouri al-Maliki. Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) reported that Iraqi forces are saying one thing and Camp Ashraf spokespeople another while "Journalists were prevented from entering the sprawling settlement, known as Camp Ashraf, which is home to about 3,000 people and has polished representatives in Paris and lawyers and congressional allies in Washington." UPI noted, "[US Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said no U.S. troops stationed near Camp Ashraf were involved in the clash, but may have offered medical assistance."
Saturday, Tim Arango (New York Times) reported that Nouri's forces refused to allow "the delivery of American humanitarian aid" to Camp Ashraf today according to the US military and that "some reporters" were permitted to visit the camp today; however, they were prevented from speaking to the residents. CNN added, "Camp dwellers staged angry protests, hoisting banners and inviting journalists to talk to them. 'Please journalists -- come visit us and check on our people,' one sign read." Tim Arango noted some of Reporters Without Border statement, we'll include their statement in full:

Reporters Without Borders condemns the news blackout imposed by the Iraqi authorities on events at Camp Ashraf, a camp in northern Iraq that houses 3,500 Iranian exiles. An attack by the Iraqi army yesterday reportedly resulted in the deaths of around 30 residents and many wounded.

"This news blackout is unacceptable," Reporters Without Borders said. "The security forces are denying journalists access to the camp to hide abuses committed against civilians. Anyone trying to take photographs of the clashes is being attacked in a systematic and targeted fashion."

According to several news organizations, the camp is surrounded by armoured vehicles and army trucks. Journalists have been forced to remain at the camp gates. No media personnel have been allowed inside.

Located 60 km west of the Iranian border and 120 km north of Baghdad, Camp Ashraf was set up in the 1980s to house members of the People's Mujahideen, a militant Iranian movement opposed to Iran's Islamic regime.

US forces began disarming them after the 2003 invasion. Since then the camp's residents have been protected under the Geneva Conventions. After overseeing the camp for six years, the US military handed over control to the Iraqi authorities in January 2009.

The Iraqi authorities have banned journalists from entering the camp since July 2009, following clashes between Iraqi security forces and the camp's residents (,34012.html). The residents accuse the Iraqi authorities of trying to please the Iranian government while the Iraqis blame claim the violence on the Mujahideen.

In a rare move for Camp Ashraf issues, the US State Dept issued a comment.  Mark C. Toner, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the State Dept, states, "The U.S. Government is deeply troubled by reports of deaths and injuries resulting from this morning's clash at Camp Ashraf. Although we do not know what exactly transpired early this morning at Ashraf, this crisis and the loss of life was initiated by the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi military. The U.S. Embassy, United States Forces-Iraq, and United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq are in regular contact with Iraqi officials at the highest levels to repeatedly urge them to avoid violence and show restraint. We reiterate our call for the Iraqi government to live up to its commitments to treat the residents of Ashraf humanely and in accordance with Iraqi law and their international obligations." David Alton is a member of England's House of Lords.  Today he contributes a column for The Hill calling on the US to protect Camp Ashraf and noting a similarity between Friday's attack and the July 28, 2009 attack: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq when both took place.  Alton writes, "In fact the attacks both happened only hours after a meeting between Nuri al-Maliki and Secretary Gates. Although Secretary Gates may not have had any knowledge of what was in the making by al-Maliki, this can hardly be a coincidence. There are not so many options: either Nuri al-Maliki has received some kind of green light from  the Secretary Gates or he wanted to demonstrate that he carries some sort of pre-arrangement with the US; or he is contemptuous of U.S. opinion."  AFP notes that the residents are "protected under the Geneva Convetions" and explains, "A left-wing Islamic movement, the PMOI was founded in 1965 in opposition to the Shah of Iran and has subsequently fought to oust the clerical regime that took power in Tehran after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution."
At the Left Forum last month, Debra Sweet, director of World Can't Wait, moderated a panel on "Why We Resist" with the Center for Constitutional Rights' Pardiss Kebriaei, Iraq War resister Matthis Chiroux and journalists Eric Stoner of the War Reisisters League.  This was the World Can't Wait panel and WCW posted the video of it on Friday.  We're noting an excerpt from Pardiss Kebriaei today and we'll note Matthis and Eric Stoner in two other snapshots this week. Just some background before we get to the excerpt.  Habeas corpus refers to producing the body.  It's Latin.  If you were going to charge someone with murder, you would be required to produce a corpse to prove that a crime took place.  When someone files a habeas petition today (write of habeas corpus) they are usually (and in the example below, they are) asking that the imprisonment be justified.  Produce your charges thereby demonstrating that someone is not being held in violation of the law or Constitution. That's a general overview.  We could get more specific but that handles what's coming up in the excerpt.  The only time it has been suspended in the US was during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln.  Unless they did it be 'secret order' (which really shouldn't cut it when you consider what the writ addresses), neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama suspended it. 
Pardiss Kebriaei:  I was going to talk about two aspects of what I work on at CCR which is Guantanamo and the issue of targeted killing.  And I guess it makes sense maybe to start with what the Bush administration and the Obama administration are continuing to do domestically. And then we can move on to some of the impacts abroad from my fellow panelists.  So starting with Guantanamo which I think is --  and the power of the administration it claims it has to detain people it deems enemies of the state.  You know, we're talking about a small group of people who are left but I think the power that's being claimed and the principle still holds and could apply to anyone really who the administration deems to be al Qaeda or associated forces or enemies. And I just wanted to start with a story about a man I represented who was released in July.  This is an example of one of the lucky people who was released and then to contrast that with the people who remain and what they face.  The person who I represented who was recently released, this was in last July, his name is Abdul Nasser.  He's a man from Syria.  About 50 but looks about 20 years older than he is because of the toll of his eight years of detention and abuse at Guantanamo. He was transferred to the prison with his son Muhammed in early 2002.  And they were both detained there without ever being charged of a crime. We filed cases for them in court.  The first chance they had after their arrivial at Guantanamo in 2002, the first chance they had to actually challenge their detention was in 2005.  We filed habeas petitions for them in court. Those cases were never actually reviewed -- even though there was the right to do so -- because of obstacles put up by the government and delays. So they're both out now but never actually had the legality of their detention determined by a court.  Because they're from Syria and because of the stigma of their detention at Guantanamo, they feared being returned to Syria, to their family and to their home there and so they needed resettlement and needed third countries to take them in.  So Muhammed was the first to go.  Portugal offered him resettlement.  But him alone, not with his father.  So he had to make the tortuous decision between his freedom or staying back with his father and waiting for a country to take both of them. And I was with him when he was making this decision.  I saw him when he was with his father saying goodbye.  It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to see. But he-he decided to go in the end because he thought one person in Guantanamo -- or one person out was better than two people in.  And he thought he could do more for his father on the outside than he could do than he could on the inside. So he left.  A year later, Cape Verde -- a former colony of Portugal -- offered Abdul Nasser, his father, resettlement. And again, it might seem like it wouldn't take much thought to decide, for someone detained, whether to leave Guantanamo.  But it was a very difficult decision for Abdul Nasser.  He wanted to be with his son in Portugal. He had just spent years in detention in a remote island in Guantanamo and knew nothing about Cape Verde other than it was another remote island off the coast of Africa. He, at least in Guantanamo, was with men he had known for years who he could eat with and pray with and speak Arabic with. There's no community of -- Muslim or Arabic speaking community to speak of in Cape Verde.  It's a very poor country with few resources to deal with victims of torture, with refugees. So he knew that he would be very isolated and that the transition would be hard.  So we spent a lot of time talking  about his decision and ultimately he did decide to go. And he's there now, he's been there now for three-fourths of a year. And I think, he's alone, he has no one to speak with.  He can talk occassionally with his family but he has no real community or support or structure to his day. But I think that every day -- or more days than not -- he's thankful to be out.  And I know that I feel that way despite the difficulty of watching his transistion.  And I know his son feels that way.  And I feel that way in particular because of what I've been watching with respect to the men who remain.  There are 170-plus people who are still in Guantanamo, this is facing their tenth year of detention there.