Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's political slate makes noises about ousting the Speaker of Parliament, Moqtada gets another fan rave from the press, British documents show the government of Tony Blair meeting with the oil industry ahead of the Iraq War to ensure they got a "fair slice" (British official's words), and more.
Last week Dan Amira (New York magazine) wanted to have a few laughs at Donald Trump's expense. No problem there but don't mistake your own thoughts for universal. Specifically, Amira wanted to ridicule Trump for believing that the US should sieze Iraq's oil and assume that his revulsion over Trumps's proposal (link has transcript and video) was shared by many. I'm not sure it is nor do I think Amria can demonstrate that more people agree with him than agree with Trump. (For the record, I believe that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people -- only to them. Not to foreign governments, not to US-installed puppet governments in Baghdad.) The video is of Trump being interviewed by the Wall St. Journal, excerpt:
Trump: We have thousands of people that died, our great soldiers. They died. Men and women, lots of people. We have thousands of people all over this country that are wounded, horribly wounded, with legs and arms. And lots --
WSJ: I think that they thought they were --
Trump: Excuse me.
Trump: And I would not want to be the one that would tell their parents that your son, your daughter, has died in vain, been wounded in vain. But I would not want to be the one who goes up to somebody that has a son or daughter that died in Iraq and tell them, "By the way, Iran has taken over Iraq, because we have so weakened that nation that they essentially don't have an army that can fight back as they have for hundreds of years." So I would absolutely keep the oil ...
WSJ: I think that the soldiers fighting in Iraq were also fighting for freedom, not necessarily fighting for oil.
Amira has all sorts of would-be pity remarks mixed in between excerpts. And he appears to have felt very proud of himself. But how accurate was he?
"National security" is a catch all that, less and less in the US government's use of the phrase, means preventing an attack on the country. More and more, it's used to note the perservation of a way of life. I don't agree with that switch in definitions but that switch has been ongoing for sometime now -- including all the years ago when I was a college student -- and, unlike Amira, I've had conversations with people who live more than five blocks from my home and there are many in this country -- and a lot of them in the government -- who happen to feel that "national security" is "preserving the way of life."
The Iraq War was sold and continues to be sold on numerous lies. In the US, those lies have included (but are not limited to) WMD, 'another Hitler,' democracy, freedom, etc. But no one in the White House since the illegal war began has been able to give a plausible reason for the ongoing war. This was what upset Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan, you may remember. George W. Bush was declaring that those US troops who died in Iraq died for a noble cause. Cindy camped out in Crawford hoping to ask him what noble cause? For what nobel cause did her son Casey Sheehan die in Iraq April 4, 2004?
It would appear that oil was at least one of the main causes. Whether or not you consider that a noble cause (I don't) or national security (ibid) is up to you. The reaction of most Americans to the news has not been mass revolts. The reaction has been less than shock or even mild surprise. For example, one of the most respected (by the press) people in the US releases a book in the fall of 2007. The Los Angeles Times reported September 17, 2007 that the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World included: "The Iraq war is largely about oil."
Graham Paterson (Times of London) offers the full quote running continuously, "I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Did you see Congressional hearings called on the issue? No, you didn't. Greenspan told the truth, a few were bothered, so he offered a half-hearted 'clarification' -- as if the brief statement contained subtle complexities hidden to the average reader? -- and everyone moved right on.
These are the topics the man given the title of Vice President of the United States (Dick Cheney) discussed with oil companies, before the Iraq War started. Judicial Watch made the documents public. Many media outlets looked the other way. (A number of news outlets supported the Iraq War because they did see oil as "national security." And you were "very naive" -- or I was told that I was -- if you couldn't 'see' the need for the war.) Project Censored provides context on the documents here. Some were bothered by the secrets revealed by the documents. Most took a pass.
Trump's position isn't a 'new' one. He's modified it a bit recently. George Stephanopoulos blogged about the interview he did with Trump for ABC News this week and includes some excerpts:
Trump: George, let me explain something to you. We go into Iraq. We have spent thus far, $1.5 trillion. We could have rebuilt half of the United States. $1.5 trillion. And we're going to then leave. So, in the old days, you know when you had a war, to the victor belong the spoils. You go in. You win the war and you take it.
Stephanopoulos: It would take hundreds of thousands of troops to secure the oil fields.
Trump: Excuse me. No, it wouldn't at all.
Stephanopoulos: So, we steal an oil field?
Trump: Excuse me. You're not stealing. Excuse me. You're not stealing anything. You're taking-- we're reimbursing ourselves-- at least, at a minimum, and I say more. We're taking back $1.5 trillion to reimburse ourselves.
Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary at the time of the war and now head of the World Bank, told Congress: "We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."
[. . .]
Before the war, Mr Bush endorsed claims that Iraq's oil would pay for reconstruction. But the shortage of revenues afterwards has silenced him on this point. More recently he has argued that oil should be used as a means to unify the country, "so the people have faith in central government", as he put it last summer.
A number of people were bothered by such talk but it wasn't a majority judging by the response. So this oh-Donald-Trump-is-so-crazy-and-who-could-agree-with-him? Actually a lot more people might agree with Trump than may agree with either Dan Amira or me. I'd love for that to be reversed but if we're dealing in reality, there are no facts to back up the idea that Trump's going to be ridiculed throughout the land for his comments. (He will be ridiculed by a number of talking heads. They may get some cheap laughs but they'll fail to tackle the issue and likely only succeed in shoring up support for Trump.)
The issue is back in the news today not due to Donald Trump but due to a new batch of government documents -- this time UK documents. Paul Bignell (Independent) reports, "The papers, revealed here for the first time, raise new questions over Britain's involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair's cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." Bingell explains:
Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change. The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being "locked out" of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms. Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: "Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis."
Paola Totaro (Sydney Morning Herald) adds, "Another minute quotes Edward Chaplin, the Foreign Office's Middle East director at the time, who noted that Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in Iraq for the sake of their long-term futures, adding that 'we were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq'." The Daily Mail notes, "The theory that Iraq's oil was of interest to the UK was even dismissed as 'absurd' by then prime minister Tony Blair as the British government prepared for the invasion while BP also insisted they had 'no strategic interest' in Iraq." Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) picks up on that last point, "At the time of the invasion, officials insisted BP had 'n o strategic interest' in Iraq -- yet they were clearly tellling the Blair government the opposite." The Independent's Patrick Cockburn offers this conclusion, "It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11 was surely a greater motive. The UK went along with this in order to remain America's chief ally. Both President Bush and Tony Blair thought the war would be easy. But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not." AFP (link has text and video) notes, "A new book by oil campaigner Greg Muttitt claims oil was one of the UK Government's main strategic considerations for going to war in Iraq and that there was collusion with oil companies." David Swanson (War Is A Crime) writes a parody of an apology-fest caused by the revelations: "Former Congressman David Obey, who screamed at Congressman Dennis Kucinich in a Democratic caucus meeting for suggesting that oil might be one factor in the war, is currently on a plane back to Washington to MC the mass apology."
Puppet and thug of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki is gearing up for another power grab. Al Mada reports that Nouri's State Of Law is stating that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi needs to go and quotes State Of Law's Hussein al-Asadi stating that al-Nujaifi isn't "fair" and al-Asadi's whine continues that "some cases" find al-Nufaifi allowing topics to be aired and some do not. [Flayeh al-Jourani (Zawya) covers the charges -- in English -- here.] that They say they can replace him the way Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was replaced.
For those who have forgotten, though supposedly on the same side, al-Mashhadani stood in Nouri's way (Nouri being a puppet, al-Mashhadani stood in the way of the US as well). The theft of Iraqi oil was one of the big stumbling blocks, as the US government saw it, and reason enough to give al-Mashhadani the heave-ho. So a campaign of lies was started. This went on for months and months. At its worst, the MSM was enlisting and whoring (as were elements of the 'left'). They were running LIES about al-Mashhadani. These lies included that he was "despondent" and hiding out in his father's home. At the time, Parliament was in recess and al-Mashhadani was traveling the region, al-Mashhadani was in Jordan meeting with government officials. It was disgusting. It was beyond whoring. You never expect people to be so willing to be caught lying in public. But they were.
Moving to an item a friend's wanted noted for the last two days: Where is Mahmoud al-Mashhadani? On Tuesday, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was 'the' news in many Iraq reports. Was he on his way out? One report noted that al-Mashhadani didn't return a phone call -- why was that? Marie Cocco (Truthdig) offers today that he's "openly toying with relinquishing his post". From where? From where is he openly toying with the idea? Juan Cole (Salon) offers that "when the Iraqi parliament reconvenes next month, the first item on the agenda will be firing Mashhadani." Cole feels that al-Mashhadani "has put his foot in his mouth too many times." al-Masshadani may very well be on the way out next month but right now he is in Jordan working on a trade agreement. It's an interesting part of the story left out of the mainstream media's he's-so-out-of-here narrative. Whether or not he remains speaker after the parliament reconvenes may be influenced by what's going on in Jordan.
As mentioned above, a friend had asked that we note where al-Masshadani was. And we did and, goodness, didn't the whiners e-mail. From that night's "And the war drags on:"
First, picking up from the snapshot today where it was noted that Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was in Jordan, five (count 'em five) reporters wrote in and Ava and Jess say they were their usual 'charming selves' as they argued that (basically) "you can't just make something up!" Oh, can't you? Seems the mainstream does that quite often. Their problem is that there is no "proof." The Jordan item was passed on verbally over the phone by a friend who is a foreign correspondent (mainstream media). I take the friend's word, I've known him for many years. He's wanted that noted for two days now and pestered me to do so. (Which is sometimes the only way something gets included, there's a lot to cover and I don't have a lot of time.) Though I'm not surprised that the five e-mailers weren't quick to take my word, I am surprised (maybe I shouldn't be?) that the five can't do their own research instead of screaming "liar! liar!"
Jordanian and Iraqi parliamentarians held talks on Tuesday in Amman on bilateral ties and means of strengthening them, especially in the economic and
parliamentary fields. Talks, which were co-chaired by Speaker of the Lower House of the Parliament Abdel Hadi Al Majali and his Iraqi counterpart Mahmoud Al Mashhadani, also covered regional developments, especially in Iraq. [. . .] For his part, Mashhadani stressed the Iraqi keenness on enhancing relations with Jordan in all fields, noting to Jordan's supportive stances towards Iraq. '' Jordan, under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah II, exerts great efforts to restore security and stability to Iraq,'' said Mashhadani, calling on Jordan to play a greater role and build ties with all segment of Iraqi people. He also underlined the importance of promoting parliamentary ties between the two sides, calling for benefiting from the Jordanian parliamentary expertise in this regard.
Mashhadani highlighted the necessity of establishing the Jordanian- Iraqi parliamentary brotherhood committee, which is expected to have a vital role in developing bilateral ties.
Speaking during talks with Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, Al-Zoo'bi said "Iraq is considered Jordan's number one trading partner since both countries have strong commercial and economic links." He added the free trade agreement with Iraq was waiting for Iraq's endorsement to become official.
Nouri got his way (and the US' way) back then. Will he this time? Dar Addustour notes that among the complaints is that al-Nujaifi, last Thursday, did not go in alphabetical order when putting vice presidential nominees forwardfor a vote (none were voted in) but, as Dar Addustour notes, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Speaker to go in alphabetical order. If you're confused by the sudden need of Nouri's supporters to attack al-Nujaifi, let's drop back to yesterday's snapshot:
Alsumaria TV reports that Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament, declared in a press converence today that if the government cannot resolve the current problems (corruption, imprisonment and other issues which started the protests this year) within the 100 day period . . .. "if the Cabinet fails to provide people with their rights and to deal with the services, unemployed, security and foreign relations files. . . therefore this partnership shall not last for a long time and there will be demands to hold new elections." The 100 days is supposed to end June 7th. But then again, Iraq held national elections March 7, 2010 which was supposed to create a new government; however, all these months after the election, they still have no vice presidents and no full Cabinet.
Hopefully al-Nuijafi won't be as naive as Mahmoud al-Mashhadani who, as late as 2009, continued to insist that Nouri was his "ally" and not involved in his ouster. Can the current Speaker be ousted?
Yes. If Nouri's State of Law can get enough votes, they can oust the Speaker. How many votes? 163. That number may be familar. It should be. The Constitution demands an absolute majority to vote out the Speaker and the Parliament was expanded (in the 2010 election) to 325 seats. 163 is the absolute majority of 325, it is also the magic number that a would-be prime minister had to reach following the March 7, 2010 elections. You remember how long it took for that to be reached? How much horse trading? Nouri may very well already have the 163 votes needed. Or he might just think he does. He thought he had it in October of 2010, right before he visited Syria. That trip was planned to show how 'statesmanly' he was. But they had to kill the the circus (but not the trip) because he was four votes short of 163 at the start of October (and would remain short of the necessary votes throughout all of October). So this could just be a trial balloon being floated and it could be a trial balloon that's supposed to distract from an appeal to the courts that Nouri's filing or has already filed (he's fond of that step as well).
Willam Brockman Bankhead was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives for over four years. He died unexpectably of a heart attack on September 15, 1940. (For those unfamiliar with Bankhead, he was the father of Tallulah Bankhead.) The following day, Sam Rayburn became Speaker of the House. The following day. December 23rd, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was forced out of the Speakership of the Iraqi Parliament. The week prior he had stated he was resigning. He attempted to take that back but a large number wanted him gone as Speaker and had wanted him gone for some time with repeated public efforts to oust him. It is now January 12th and they have still not appointed a new Speaker.
April 19, 2009, Parliament would finally have a Speaker again. When al-Mashhadani was ousted, it was months and months before a replacement was agreed upon and that should bother a number of Iraq watchers. Nouri still lacks a full Cabinet all this time later -- specifically, he has no security ministers. And now he and State of Law are attempting to kick out the Speaker of Parliament? Whether that would happen again -- a long delay -- is guess work at this point. But it happened before and the long political stalemate following the March 7, 2010 elections would appear to indictate it is a possibility. However, in fairness to Nouri, he may have wanted a long delay. al-Mashhadani was ousted -- State Dept term, not mine, see [PDF format warning] "Iraq Status Report:" "The COR has yet to reach a consensus on appointing a new Speaker since Mahmoud Mashadani was ousted on December 23, 2008." -- at an important time for Nouri. As Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reported April 19, 2009, there had been talk of Parliament ousting Nouri. (And Nouri had pbulicly labeled such an effort a "coup" that Ahmed Chalabi had noted such a move would be Constitutional and not a coup.) No Speaker delayed that vote and bought Nouri time -- not just because the Parliament had to fill a position but would they really oust their sitting prime minister at a time when they had no Speaker of Parliament?
That may be what's going on here today. Nouri, fearing he will get a no confidence vote from Parliament, may be falling back to old tricks in an effort to ensure such a vote doesn't take place.
Moving over to news of Moqtada. Tim Aragno posts it at the New York Times' blog. The second paragraph includes: "[. . .] recent demonstratons demanding an end to the United States troop presence here by loyalists to Mr. Sadr" -- demonstrations? Plural? There have been many demonstrations against the occupation in the last three months and, hate to break it to anyone but Moqtada al-Sadr's name doesn't mean s**t in the Sunni-stronghold of Anbar Province. Falluja and other areas in Anbar have repeatedly seen protests against the occupation in the last months. Moqatada's weekend protest wasn't even the most recent protest against the occupation. That would be a protest that took place Monday. From yesterday's snapshot:
UPI reports approximately 700 Iraqis protested today in Mosul calling for the departure of US troops with Sunni tribal leaders among those participating. Mujbil al-Assafy informs Aswat al-Iraq, "A delegation, comprised of 76 tribal chieftains and leading personalities and religious men, has headed today (Monday) from Falluja to Mosul, to share in the peaceful sit-in demonstration in Mosul." However, they note that at least 40 people from Falluja were not allowed -- by security forces -- to enter Mosul and take part in the demonstrations. Aswat al-Iraq explains that protesters today joined protesters who had been present for the last ten days staging a sit-in.
Mosul, Iraq's second largest city (population wise), isn't a Shi'ite city. It's majority Sunni Arab (with Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians and others in the minority). Tim Arango may be unaware of the 2006 and 2007 ethnic cleansing in Iraq but Moqtada al-Sadr's death squads were among those targeting Sunnis and the Sunnis have not forgotten that. (Nor have many Shi'ites who did not approve of the thuggery and crime.) The Mosul protest against the occupation on Monday had nothing to do with Moqtada al-Sadr. Tim Arango declares that Moqtada is the Iraqi politician "with probably the most grass-roots support among the Iraqi people." Probably? You throw that weasel word in when you can't back up what you're saying. Is this a dispatch from a New York Times hard news reporter or did Moqtada just make the cover of People magazine cause it reads like a People magazine profile. (And, no, that's not a good thing.) If Moqtada were so damn popular, that would translate into votes for his political bloc. But Iraqis in the 2010 election (as well as the 2009 provincial elections) rejected the fundamentalists and Moqtada's bloc didn't win the horse race. Arango doesn't take the thoughts of an American official seriously and that's got to be a New York Times first. And while we'll applaud him for that, he actually might have needed to pay attention because what's being stated is the US government consensus on Moqtada, yes. It is also the consensus of the British government and of two Arab governments. Doesn't make it true but Moqtada is seen, by government analysts, to be at his weakest right now. (If need be, we can return to that topic later in the week and go over some of the indicators.) From Arango's post:
The Americans, meanwhile, privately play down Mr. Sadr's influence.
Referring to Mr. Sadr's residence in Iran, where he is continuing religious studies in Qum, a senior Untied States military official told reporters recently: "It's really incredible. He will come back in the country and he's kinda stuck on the same agenda that he had four years ago and the people have moved beyond that." The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules on briefing the news media.
The official also said Mr. Sadr's ability to mobilize popular support was overstated, and argued that the turnout for the recent demonstration was much lower than Mr. Sadr had called for.
"I think his goal was to have one million to two million people participate in this latest million man march," the official said. "We counted about 29,000. And that's after he bused up people from Basra and other areas of the south. There's over one million people in Sadr City alone. But you didn't see that kind of participation that he thought he was going to get to come out and be anti-American."
The official noted that Mr. Sadr's militia had fought hard against the Americans and the Iraqi Army in 2008 in Sadr City and Basra, but that it would be a different fight this time, should the Mahdi Army be reconstituted.
The assault wasn't smart for a number of reasons including that Moqtada's hold was fading and the assault on the Sadr City section of Baghdad and on Basra allowed Moqtada to command press attention yet again. But the assault revealed a number of things. In Sadr City, Moqtada had to order the white flag waived and few bothered to note that (or to note that Nouri had sent the Iraqi military into that area -- most just noted what was going on in Basra). In Basra, you had numerous defections -- from both sides -- but Moqtada's 'supporters' were the ones who defected in larger numbers and there was grumbling -- the US government documented this in real time -- from the defectors about how they were risking their lives for a leader who wasn't even present in the country. (I noted in real time here that the assault was a mistake if it was to weaken Nouri. Friends at the State Dept then countered that wasn't the case and pointed to these statements from defectors -- and I'm using the term "defector" -- the State Dept used the term "deserter." I still say that it was a mistake because Moqtada's hold was weakening due to his own actions.)
Another takeaway from the assaults, as Gen David Petreaus testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2008, Nouri pushed that operation. It was supposed to be a joint US-Iraqi operation. And the US certainly provided fire power, no question. But Nouri jumped the date, Nouri demanded more fighters than originally planned, go down the list. Nouri was eager to go up against Moqtada by that point. And Nouri won the physical battle. Moqtada had to back down. You really think Nouri's afraid to tackle Moqtada again? The Iraqi military has even more weapons now, even more training than they did in 2008.
Tim Arango doubts an official US government source and we will give him credit for that. I think he's wrong but I may be the one wrong (wouldn't be the first time, wouldn't be the last time). But good for him for refusing to be spoonfed by the US government. (And I mean that 100% sincerely. It probably more than makes up for the Moqtada as celebrity sections of his blog post.)
Reuters notes today's violence includes a Ramadi roadside bombing which left six people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people injured, 2 corpses discovered in Mosul, 1 pesh merga shot dead in Mosul, 1 Iraqi police officer shot dead in Baghdad, 1 "general director of the Education Ministry" was killed by a Baghdad sticky bomb which left two other people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing targeted guads of the Ministry of Finance and injured six people, a Mussayab roadside bombing apparently targeted an MP from Moqtada al-Sadr's group and, dropping back to last night, a Kirkuk home invasion resulted in three women being killed.
Back to Parliament, Dar Addustour notes that al-Najaifi called out the possible cancellation of the Aab Summit which is supposed to be held in May. This was supposed to take place in March but was cancelled due to security reasons. Over the weekend, Ayad Allawi (of the Iraqiya slate, as is Najaifi) called out what he said was a push to cancel the summit. Gulf Daily News notes that Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is stating that a delay could take place. Zebari's remarks are seen by some as part of a rollout to announce the summit will not take place as scheduled.
The US troops' withdrawal, according to the agreement, is supposed to be completed by December 31, 2011. However, reports point to Washington wanting 47,000 troops to remain in 10 major military camps spread around Iraq.
The US is not expected to face any difficulties in achieving its wish, as the final date of troop withdrawal according to the Sofa agreement was and still is a topic of disagreement, given the chaotic nature of Iraqi politics.
Away from ostentatious statements intended for public consumption, there are still those in the US and Iraq who see that extending troop presence is now inevitable, and may be in the interest of both parties.
The US has its own considerations. It did not come to the region to leave after a while, especially under the current circumstances of the Middle East. Furthermore, the dramatic recent events may just be a precursor to other occurrences, which the US does not want to be watching from afar.