Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 31, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the Kurds talk of a sit-in if the Kirkuk issue isn't resolved, a vice president announces his resignation, the US government's desire to extend the military's stay in Iraq gets attention, and more.
Monday was Memorial Day for the United States -- a time to note the sacrifices of the fallen.  From Kelley B. Vlahos' "Memorial Day in Wartime" (Antiwar.com):

Another Memorial Day. Of course it's been around for 103 years, but this is our ninth during wartime, which means we're simultaneously honoring dead soldiers, while were putting new ones in the ground at Arlington Cemetery.

As of Friday, 4,454 American servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq; 1,595 in Afghanistan. That doesn't seem like a lot when you consider the more than 58,000 dead in Vietnam and over 415,000 killed in World War II, but we know that today's singular medical capabilities have allowed for tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines to live today who wouldn't have made it off the battlefield 40 years ago. Let's just say it's been a war of a hundred thousand casualties.

Kimberly Hefling (AP) reminds that there are over "4,3000 children of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars".   Yesterday on PRI's The Takeaway, Celeste Headlee spoke with Iraq War widows LaNita Herlem (her husband, Sgt 1st Class Bryant Herlem, was killed in Baghdad April 28, 2006) and Tayrn Davis (her husband Cpl Michael Davis was killed in Baghdad May 21, 2007). Davis has started the American Widow Project.

Taryn Davis: I guess it all started when my husband Michael was killed in Baghdad, Iraq. I was 21-years-old and basically felt ostracized from society -- even though I had family and friends around -- due to my age and it being written off because I was 21. And I found myself on the internet looking for a way to embrace this title that I held as a military widow because I already knew it signified my husband's sacrifice and my own but I wanted to find the answers on how it could one day symbolize my survival. So I typed in "widow" and it came back with "Did you mean 'window'?" Which probably discouraged most. But it led me to doing more and more research and over half of those serving now are married so we're looking at around 3,000 military widows from Iraq and Afghanistan alone and over 83% of those are under the age of 35. So I just saw this need to bring together this new generation of military widows. Not so much find them counselors, but give them peer-to-peer support, let them see other twenty and thirty and forty-something-year-old widows that really had just started out this amazing lives with their spouses and had them torn apart.

Last week, Danielle Berger (CNN -- link has text and video) reported on the American Widow Project and explained, "When a widow first makes contact with the American Widow Project, Davis sends her an introductory packet that includes her documentary film. The website provides a 24/7 hot line that allows immediate connection to another widow, information on support and services, and personal stories from women who have lost their husbands. It constantly reminds the women that they are in familiar, accepting company."  And where was the president of the United States?  Niles Gardiner (Telegraph of London) reports:
Can you imagine David Cameron enjoying a round of golf on Remembrance Sunday? It would be inconceivable for the British Prime Minister to do so, and not just because of the usually dire weather at that time of the year. Above all, it would be viewed as an act of extremely bad taste on a day when the nation remembers and mourns her war dead. I can't imagine the PM even considering it, and I'm sure his advisers would be horrified at the idea. And if the prime minister ever did play golf on such a sacrosanct day he would be given a massive drubbing by the British press, and it would never be repeated.
Contrast this with President Obama's decision to play golf yesterday, Memorial Day, for the 70th time during his 28-month long presidency. For tens of millions of Americans, Memorial Day is a time for remembrance of the huge sacrifices made by servicemen and women on the battlefield. The president did pay his respects in the morning, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, but later in the day traveled to Fort Belvoir to play golf. The story has not been reported so far in a single US newspaper, but was made public by veteran White House correspondent Keith Koffler on his blog.
So, with US troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack basically tossed a wreath and then ran to the links, making clear his priorities.
Today Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) quotes State of Law's Izzat Shabandar stating that it is too soon to determine a position on whether or not to extend the presence of US military on Iraqi soil beyond 2011. Dar Addustour reports that US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has stated in a media conference that the issue of withdrawal or remaining remains up in the air.  Sunday on Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen wrapped up her strong tenure as host of the program (she will be strongly missed and hopefully will return as guest host from time to time -- she offers her goodbye to Sunday Weekend Edition here) and she examined Iraq with the US weapons inspector sent to Iraq (after the start of the war) to find WMD, David Kay. "We've taken our eye off Iraq,"  Kay observed and noted of telling the truth about WMD (he was sent to Iraq post-US invasion to locate WMD and there were none) that "you lose some friends by what position you take on various issues. I discovered -- although it really wasn't a new discovery -- that candor is one of the values not valued in Washington.  Oh, what I miss most are the friendships that were shattered by that, just had staked too much of their career on there being weapons of mass destruction.  And not only didn't we find them, we found that they didn't exist prior to the war."   For any who have forgotten the lie of WMD is one of the biggest lies the US government told to start the Iraq War.  The Sunday broadcast also  featured a report by Kelly McEvers on Nouri's recent declaration that, if the majority of the political blocs agree, US troops can stay on the ground in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011.

Kelly McEvers: Before the speech, few thought Maliki would be bold enough to take such a position in public, mainly because many Iraqis still view an American troop presence as an occupation. Now, though, Maliki's advisers, along with officials in the U.S. military, are working on changing the narrative. They're not combat troops anymore, they say. The soldiers who'd be here next year wouldn't even be advisers. [. . .] Analysts in Iraq say a new agreement between the U.S. and Iraq to authorize some 20,000 American troops beyond December is likely; there are just under 50,000 troops now. But like other political debates in this deeply divided country, analysts say, it's going to be a long and drawn-out fight.

Sunday, on Weekend Edition, NPR became the first US mainstream news outlet to tell the truth about what the US government is working on.  For weeks now, relying on the Arab press, we've noted the pressure that is taking place to extend the SOFA or develop a new arrangment. Day after day, the US press has ignored it. And, in the beggar media (the so-called alternative press), they've flat-out lied and told you nothing or told you it's all Robert Gates. Robert Gates is stepping down as the US Secretary of Defense. When that happens, who are these cowards going to hide behind to avoid placing the blame where it rightly goes?
Monday the New York Times' Tim Arango appeared on Talk of the Nation (NPR) and discussed Iraq -- specifically the variables if US forces stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 -- thereby allowing NPR to be out front on the story. Arango observed of Moqtada al-Sadr's threats of violence if the US stays beyond the end of this year, "At the same time, you know, a lot of people, you know, a lot of people believe it's a bluff, and a lot of people say that he would have no chance with the, you know, fighting the Iraqi security forces today. The last time he did so was in 2008, and they've - you know, they're much improved." And, in 2008, he lost in Baghdad and he lost in Basra.

Arango then acknowledges what a minor presensce al-Sadr's bloc is in Parliament ("roughly 40" seats out of 325) but goes on to talk about how Moqtada backed Nouri for prime minister.  While that is true, Nouri became prime minister.  Unless there's a vote of no-confidence, it doesn't matter if Moqtada supports him or not.  (In 2007 and 2008, Moqtada openly refused to support Nouri.  Didn't force his government to collapse.)  If Moqtada wants to push a no-confidence vote, it needs to be remembered that Moqtada would only be 40 votes and you need to be figuring who would align with Moqtada?

Let's play this out. Say the majority of the blocs vote to extend the SOFA and keep the US military beyond 2011 and Moqtada is against that. Is that issue going to be the one Moqtada rides to a no-confidence vote?  Not at all. He can't. If the bulk of the blocs votes that way why would they then turn against Nouri over it? It makes no sense.

Moqtada vowed he would not support Nouri. He also vowed that he would hold a referendum and abide by the vote. Nouri was not the number one choice in the referendum or the number two choice. But Moqtada ran with Nouri when Iran broke down the facts and handed out the orders to Moqtada. What he did in October and November is now meaningless. He can't say, "I take back my October support!"  We'll note this exchange.

CONAN: Secretary Gates, who of course retires next month, but he has said if we're going to stay beyond the end of this year, we're going to have to have a request from the Iraqi government for that pretty soon. Any idea of what's the drop-dead date?

Mr. ARANGO: You know, it's funny, when you talk to the military commanders, they'll say, and they'll remark, and it's been a trend throughout the war. Like, the Iraqis march to a different time than the Americans do, and there really is no drop-dead deadline. And I guess the drop-dead deadline is December 31st because I think - which is a bit of an exaggeration, but I think as they're planning the drawdown, they will always have these contingencies, the American military to leave X amount of troops should the Iraqis finally, you know, make this request.

What will happen if there's no extension by December 31st is that any US troops in Iraq will switch to State Dept's oversight and that a significant number will be deployed to Kuwait where they would wait in limbo if the White House believed that an extension of the SOFA was going to take place (though it hadn't by December 31st). That is the actual plan at this point.

(Not my plan. I'm for all troops out now. That's the White House's plan but they don't believe it's going to take that long. They believe they'll have an extension. And, of course, the back up plan has been -- as addressed in open hearings in Congress repeatedly -- to move the troops from the umbrella of DoD to the State Dept.)
As continuing the US military presence is discussed, the US military recently ticked off a community.  In Karbala, the US carried out a military operation involving a helicopter as they attempted to raid a home for a man . . . who died four days prior to the raid. And the response in Karbala? Aswat al-Iraq reports:

The deputy chairman of Karbala's Provincial Council disclosed that a letter of denunciation shall be handed to the U.S. Embassy due to the U.S. Army's airborne landing north of Karbala, calling on the central government to exert pressures on the U.S. army to cease its violations.
Nisayif Al-Khatabi told Aswat al-Iraq that "the U.S. forces carried out an airborne landing on house to arrest a citizen without any coordination with the local government or security forces."
Wen Xian (People's Daily -- link is text and audio) reports "According to sources, the United States, still keeping 46,000 troops in Iraq, hopes to keep 10,000 to 12,000 U.S. troops in nine military bases in Iraq after 2011 for as long as more than four years.  In other words, U.S. forces will remain in Iraq by the end of U.S. President Barack Obama's second presidency if he is re-elected to a second term in 2012." Aswat al-Iraq notes that Moqtada's bloc is stating they will have no conversations with any blocs about extending the US presence in Iraq.  Nouri got what he wanted from Moqtada.  He got what he wanted from the Kurds.  He promised everything to get to be prime minister. He promised the Kurds a referendum (one that Article 140 of the Constitution mandated be held by 2007) and a December census.  But then he got the post and called off the census and backed off the referendum.  Aswat al-Iraq explains Kamal Karkuki, Speaker of the KRG Parliament, declared today that if there is no movement to implement Article 140, Kurds will begin staging sit-ins and, he says, "The sit-ins shall be similar to those in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen to oblige the other party to make the consensus on the fate of the province.  The road map to solve this problem is Article 140. We will accept no bargaining in this regard."

Nouri first became prime minister in 2006.  Under his leadership, Article 140 was supposed to be implemented.  It never happened.  Now that he's got his second term as prime minister and things could be different but so far he's shown no indication to honor promises or to lead.  Dar Addustour notes that yesterday's big meet-up between political blocs did not go well and the Erbil Agreement was not honored. A source tells Dar Addustour that Iraqiya has reached a decision to pull out of the government in protest. That may or may not be true (the source is unnamed). More curious is the back and forth between State of Law and Iraqiya, specifically members of State of Law speaking to the Arabic press to attack Ayad Allawi. Alsumaria TV also notes the failed meet-up, "Iraqiya List headed by Iyad Allawi announced the failure of talks with the State of Law Coalition. Al Iraqiya blamed the failure of talks on the State of Law and affirmed that it will convene today to announce its final stand." Al Rafidayn also reports that Allawi will be announcing that Iraqiya is withdrawing from the government and has a source who states State of Law refused to budge despite pressure from the other blocs.
Yesterday, Iraqi vice president (one of three) Adel Abdul-Mahdi tendered his resignation. Most of the press (especially US) danced around the topic of Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, accepting it. Dar Addustour at least notes that Talabani is out of the country. AFP tells you what so many won't: "Hakim said Mahdi's resignation would not be official until it was offered directly to Talabani, who is currently in the United States receiving medical treatment." For years now, we've told you about Talabani's visit to the Mayo Clinic -- and about the collapse he had in the local bookstore shortly after leaving treatment one visit. I have no idea if the press is ignorant or just being dishonest. Ponder the choices as you read the US coverage.

And why did Adel Abdul-Mehdi resign? Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times ) report:

Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi's decision was meant to set an example for the rest of the government, which has been bloated with state ministries and the expansion this year of the vice presidency from two to three positions, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq said.
"I hope this will start a push to slim down the government," party chief Ammar Hakim said on the group's website. The party described the move as "a reaction to the popular will."
The government had not yet formally accepted his decision as of late Monday.

Adel Abdul-Mehdi was the Shi'ite vice president in Nouri's first term as prime minister as Tareq al-Hashemi who also continues a second term as vice president.  al-Hashemi is Sunni, Adel Abdul Mehdi is Shi'ite.  Iraq added a third vice president this year, Shi'ite Khudayr al-Khuzaie. Though Abdul-Mehdi's term had expired, President Jalal Talabani asked him to hang on until after new vice presidents could be voted in. He said he would and told the press that, after that, he was done, he did not want a second term. Despite that assertion, he took a second term. Not only that but, earlier this month, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "The President of the Republic, Jalal Talabani, has issued a Presidential Decree, naming Adel Abdul-Mahdi, as 1st Vice-President." That declaration took some by surprise and they saw it as an effort to give Abdul-Mehdi more power. He certainly didn't object to it publicly. Nor did he object to the size of the Cabinet. Nouri inflated the size in an attempt to create positions for all the people he'd promised posts if they'd support him in his bid to continue as prime minister.

Granted, Nouri still hasn't named a Minister of Defense, a Minister of National Security or a Minister of the Interior; however, the increase in the size of his Cabinet (deputy ministers and all) was well known before January.

If indeed that's Adel Abdul-Mahdi's objection, it's a new objection or one he's not given much weight to until now. Alsumaria TV paints a different picture of Abdul-Mahdi's displeasure which includes, "The source stated that one of the major reasons for Abdul Mehdi's resignation is the fact that Vice Presidents' issue was included in the present political crisis and due to people's denunciation and religious authority's dissatisfaction over Parliament's vote on three Vice Presidents." Aswat al-Iraq offers Supreme Islamic Council's Jumaa al-Atwany offering the following:

Atwani said that "the struggle for narrow-party interests, on the expense of the supreme national interests, under the current situation passing on Iraq and the Region, and non-sincerity in the activity, all those reasons, as well as the appreciation of the supreme national interest had made Abdul-Mahdi to prefer to withdraw from his post as Vice-President."
"There is an important nucleus point for the resignation, being that the voting by the Parliament on the three Vice-Presidents had taken place in one consignment, that was agreed upon outside the Parliament," he said.
"After the entrance to the Parliament hall and the completion of the attendance by its members, the voting began, and the Legislatures of the Supreme Islamic Council rejected it, along with the refusal of the (Shiite) Religious Authority in Najaf of the voting in 'one basket,' he said, adding that all those reasons have made Abdul-Mahdi withdraw from his post.

Wildest rumor out of Iraq on this topic right now? Abdul-Mahdi, anticipating a vote of no-confidence for Nouri in the next weeks (over the corruption and services issues), is positioning himself to vie for the post of prime minister. Though it's unlikely, it is true that Abdul-Mahdi hoped to be prime minister in 2006 and again in 2010. (And he has many supporters.)
Yesterday, there was an assassination attempt on Nineveh Province Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi. New Sabah reports that while al-Nujaifi was not injured in the attack on him, Ministry of Defense nominee Khalid al-Obeidi was in a Sunday attack. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "Khalid al-Obaidi was heading home when the blast struck. He was transferred immediately to an area hospital and is in stable condition."  al-Nujaifi had been on his way to Baghdad. He and al-Obeidi both belong to the Iraqiya slate and Ayad Allawi (Iraqiya leader) is calling for an investigation into the attacks. al-Nujaifi is the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi who is the Speaker of Parliament.
Violence continued today.  Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and a Mosul armed clash resulted in three by-standers being injured. 
Meanwhile, at CNN, Gregg Keeslin contributes a column on a very important issue:

Two years ago, my son, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, died by suicide in Iraq. He was 25 and on his second deployment.
Shortly after his death, my wife, Jannett, and I learned of a long-standing policy in which presidential letters of condolence are withheld from families of American service members who die by suicide.
We wrote to President Barack Obama on August 3, 2009, asking him to reverse this policy, and since then we have tried to keep up a steady drumbeat for change. There has been a fair amount of media attention, including from CNN, and recently U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus, and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues sent a letter to the president on behalf of this issue, echoing a bipartisan request from House members.
We learned in late 2009 that the White House would be reviewing the policy, when then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told then-CNN reporter Elaine Quijano that the White House had inherited this policy and was reviewing it. Yet as of this writing, we and the hundreds of other families whose children have died by suicide while at war wait for a result.
I wonder: What is the White House reviewing and why it is taking so long?
An action by the president would send a powerful message throughout the military ranks to take mental health issues more seriously. Suicide among those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan has become an epidemic. Last year a Pentagon report found that every 36 hours, a soldier commits suicide.

While Keesling wonders why the White House won't pay the proper respects to those who have lost a loved one in the service to suicide, Iraq War veteran Miguel Valenzuela wonders what the government's problem with his mother is? Will Ripley (9news.com -- link has text and video) reports that Miquel's mother, Celia Novak, was forcibly deported to Juarez after living in the US for 25 years, with legal residency, and working as a registered nurse. Ripley notes, "Novak's family has hired an immigration lawyer, but her appeal could take months or even years. The Denver Post reports there are 7,200 pending immigration cases in Denver, with an average wait of 501 days for a hearing. Her lawyer is hoping to take the case to federal court." We'll note that Barack has set a record on deportations and has far outdone Bully Boy Bush on this issue and we'll also wonder what US Senators Mark Udall and Micahel Bennet are doing to help this military family?
Yesterday Kat: published three reviews: "Kat's Korner: Give 'em the keys" on Death Cab for Cutie, "Kat's Korner: It was nothing, he insisted loudly" on Ben Harper and "Kat's Korner: The Master of the Teen Drama" on Phil Spector. In addition, Mike posted "Memorial Day" at his site.