Thursday, June 23, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, Nouri wants to stop the Electoral Commission, Nouri wants to complain about Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi meets with the White House, a US civilian dies in Iraq today, the War Hawk Barack's bad speech, talks between the US and Iraq on the US military staying continue, and more.
Last night US President Barack Obama gave a speech. (We covered the speech in yesterday's snapshot.) The reaction outside of the Cult of St. Barack has not been pretty.
John Hamilton: We've just heard the president promise troop reductions by the fall of 2012. interestingly, just in time for elections. Of course, we should remember that the much ballyhooed surge of 30,000 troops that Obama ordered into the country in December of 2009 was actually the second major increase in troop levels. On taking office, he immediately ordered an increase of 17,000 soldiers. With that in mind is it fair to call this the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan War?
Phyllis Bennis: No, it made clear that the continuation of a huge number of US troops, NATO troops and US-paid mercenaries is going to continue for an indefinite period. This announcement of what amounts to a really token withdrawal leaves in place a huge component of the current 250,000 US and allied military forces. This is not going to change that. The fact that 33 [33,000 by September 2012] out of 250,000 military forces are going to be pulled out in the course of a year and a half is hardly the beginning of an end.
John Hamilton: And of course, in the past when we've seen troops removed from Afghanistan, we've often seen them a concurrent escalation in the number of contractors sometimes by a ratio of 2:1 or even higher --
Phyllis Bennis: It's very unlikely we're going to see that now. Most [audio goes out . . .] Already 100,000 private contractors in Afghanistan. I don't know that they can even absorb significantly more than that.
Phyllis Bennis: It remains a very difficult question and what we're seeing is that there is no strategy that's been determined here. There's no definition of a military victory. The announcement had been made at the very moment just after President Obama had first been inaugurated, when he first sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he said, 'We're going to send these troops and then we'll decide on a strategy.' Rather backwards logic but nonetheless what didn't happen was any decision about a strategy. We've heard lots of discussions about counter-insurgency versus counter-terrorism, boots on the ground versus small groups but none of that has been a real strategy for what everybody agrees will never be a military solution to this conflict in Afghanistan but will have to have political solutions. That political solution remains as far away tonight as it has ever been.
Noting some other reactions, US Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
"Tonight President Obama took a step in the right direction by outlining a drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan over the coming year. I have called for a sizeable and sustainable drawdown because I believe the human, economic and military resources we are spending in Afghanistan are unsustainable. The President's announcement is a step forward, but I will continue to push the President to bring this war to a close and redeploy troops out of Afghanistan while providing the support they and their families deserve.
"Our brave men and women in uniform have done everything we've asked of them -- including finding Osama Bin Laden. But we need to make sure our military operations are targeted to meet the threats of today.
"Our terrorist enemies are not bound by lines on a map. Leaving tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan is not the best use of our resources --especially as we work to tackle our debt and deficit. It's time to redeploy, rebuild our military and refocus on the broader war on terror. I was glad to see President Obama take a step in that direction today.
"But as Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I know that the costs don't end when our men and women leave the battlefield -- for so many troops and their caregivers, that is just the beginning. This must be a consideration for the President and our entire nation whenever we make strategic military decisions. I will continue to push to make sure our veterans and military families are one of the foremost concerns during this drawdown and that they get the care they need and deserve."
US Senator Bernie Sanders's office issued a statement as well:
This country has a $14.5 trillion national debt, in part owing to two wars that have not been paid for. We have been at war in Afghanistan for the last 10 years and paid a high price both in terms of casualties and national treasure. This year alone, we will spend about $100 billion on that war. In my view, it is time for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for waging the war against the Taliban.
While we cannot withdraw all of our troops immediately, we must bring them home as soon as possible. I appreciate the president's announcement, but I believe that the withdrawal should occur at significantly faster speed and greater scope.
Senator Tom Harkin's statement notes thanks to those who have and are serving in the Afghanistan War, the death of Osama bin Laden and the disruption of the Taliban before noting that a real withdrawal is needed:
We cannot justify the continued loss of life when we have already lost thousands of men and women in our military, including 71 Iowans since 9/11; we also can't sustain the nearly $10 billion we are spending each month in Afghanistan this year.
The President is taking the right action in redeploying troops from Afghanistan, but as I and several other senators urged him earlier this month, there should be more troops coming home sooner.
Not all senators had something worth saying. At the Senate Foreign Relations hearing this morning, for example, Senator Barbara Boxer (one of my two senators) made a point, while questioning Hillary Clinton to giggle -- yes, giggle -- about Afghanistan. If she thinks death and dying is funny, she ought to check out her eye make up in a hand mirror, that should really have her howling. Having giggled, she then declared that her role, as a US senator, "we have to be humble if we don't agree." I'm sorry, I missed that 'humble' attitude when Bush was in the White House. Barbara Boxer's a fool and her tired and embarrasing self needs to be out of the Senate.
From the Senate to the House, US House Rep Mike Honda's office has sent out this statement from theh Congressional Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce (which he co-chairs with Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey) and from the Congressional Progressive Caucus (which he co-chairs with Raul Grijalva):
The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce call on Congress and the President to immediately end our war in Libya. The US has been engaged in hostilities for over 90 days without congressional approval, which undermines not only the powers of the legislative branch but also the legal checks and balances put in place nearly 40 years ago to avoid abuse by any single branch of government. We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war. Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect," we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war. For decades, the House recognized the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged. We must do the same. We call on Congress to exhibit similar foresight by promptly ending this war and pledging to uphold the laws that characterize America's commitment to democratic governance.
US House Rep and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement which included, "It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out -- and we will continue to press for a better outcome." In 2004, when everyone was taken in by Barack, Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) saw through that hideous DNC speech. He should have been primed, in 2008, to see through more nonsense. He missed all that but does regain his footing with a firm critique of yesterday's speech which includes:
The president's rhetoric, overall, was hideous. "The tide of war is receding," he said, and he repeated the "tide" metaphor a little later on. But war is not a fact of nature, like an ocean. It is a rash act of rulers.
Obama all but claimed to be clairvoyant, saying, "The light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance." I'm not sure what telescope he's using, but I wouldn't rely on that, either in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
Then, when he decided to draw the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama fed the American superiority complex. "We must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events," he said. He told us not to succumb to isolationism -- a spiel that echoed George W. Bush. The only difference was that Obama stressed the need to be "pragmatic" about the way the United States responds, arguing that often "we need not deploy large armies overseas" or act alone.
While Barack 'saw' progress, reality has begged to differ. Tom Engelhardt (CounterPunch): "Here's the funny thing though: a report on Afghan reconstruction recently released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic majority staff suggests that the military and foreign "developmental funds that have poured into the country, and which account for 97% of its gross domestic product, have played a major role in encouraging corruption. To find a peacetime equivalent, imagine firemen rushing to a blaze only to pour gasoline on it and then last out at the building's dwellers as arsonists."
I'm sorry that I don't have time for lengthy statements and am editing down some of the releases sent. This is from the national Libertarian Party:
WASHINGTON - Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle responded to President Obama's June 22 speech with the following comments today:
"President Obama's speech was disappointing, but not surprising. The withdrawals he announced are painfully inadequate. Obama's withdrawals, even if they are carried out as he described, will still leave about 70,000 American troops in Afghanistan, probably for years to come. The president is commander-in-chief of the military. He has the power to end the war now, and withdraw all American troops, and that's what he should do.
"The U.S. has no business fighting a war in Afghanistan. Nearly three years ago, our Libertarian National Committee adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of our armed forces from Afghanistan. We are saddened and angry that there are now more troops there than ever.
"Obama talked about 'ending the war responsibly.' I think the word 'responsibly' is a weaselly escape hatch in case Obama doesn't want to withdraw more troops later. He will just say, 'That would be irresponsible -- I need to keep the war going strong.'
"This war causes the Afghan people to justifiably feel a greater hatred toward America. It makes American taxpayers poorer. And it emboldens other would-be aggressors, who can point to American intervention in Afghanistan whenever they feel like doing the same elsewhere.
"There are two big winners from the continuation of this war: Our military-industrial complex, which seems to have the president in its back pocket, and the Afghan government, which continues to enjoy tremendous benefits at the expense of the American taxpayer.
"If anything, Republican reactions to the president's speech were even more ridiculous than the speech itself. Republican Senator John McCain fretted that this withdrawal was not 'modest' enough. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, feeling the need to criticize Obama despite the fact that they basically agree on everything, complained of an 'arbitrary timetable.' Republican House Speaker John Boehner worried about losing our 'gains' in Afghanistan. All these comments show an inability to comprehend an intelligent, modest foreign policy, as well as a serious lack of respect for American taxpayers."
Though the Green Party didn't e-mail a statement, I did check to see if they had one. As has been the case so frequently since Bush departed the White House, when the Green Party should have been speaking out, they elected to be silent. Their silence is duly noted and if they're not a real political party, it's not my job to note or cover their candidate for president in 2012. For more on the nonsense of the Green Party, please visit Trina's site tonight for a guest post. In this community, Elaine weighed in on the speech with "The lousy speech" and Stan weighed in with "That awful speech." The most amazing thing about today was to watch who whored. Among the saddest was Tom Hayden who keeps insisting this is a 'victory' for the peace movement. At some point, you really need to consider seeking help. Truly. The thing that should have been done today was to take Barack's 'promises' on Afghainstan and put them through the Iraq prism. For example, in 2014, Barack 'promised' last night, all US troops will be out of Afghanistan. And that lie should have cause reflection on the Iraq War. Barack said 16 months and 16 months came and went. He didn't keep that promise. He swore all US troops would be out of Iraq in his first term. And yet the White House is attempting to extend the SOFA and to also keep US troops in Iraq by moving them from Defense Dept to State Dept.
Instead of whoring like Tom Hayden did, real leaders would have been stepping up and saying, "He told America ___ last night and yet when you look at his promises on Iraq versus what he has actually done . . ." We don't have a lot of real leaders. We've got a lot of liars. We've got a lot of cowards. And we saw that today as so many tried to spin this into good news. What it felt like to me? It felt like the moment the peace movement knew they couldn't trust LBJ -- that no lie or spin or promise out of his mouth would secure the votes needed for re-election. Ameen Izzadeen (Daily Mirror) weighs in:
Righting the wrong is part of civilized behaviour. But it is not known whether the Nobel committee believes in this norm. If it does, it should request United States President Barack Obama to return the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and the prize money.
The call to strip Obama of his Nobel peace prize is as old as the decision to award him the prize. At that time, the president, just eight-month in office, had hardly proved his peace credentials except for rhetoric. But the committee in its defence said Obama's speeches had revived the hope for peace in a conflict-ridden world. It cited Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".
Far from being so, in retrospect, it appears that the committee has only given a veneer of legitimacy to the United States' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover it has given a licence to the Obama administration to launch wars in Libya and if necessary in other places where the US interests are in jeopardy or where resources, especially oil, gas and minerals, make US capitalists salivate.
When Obama decided to join the war on Libya in March this year, Bolivia's socialists President Evo Morales asked: "How is it possible that a Nobel Peace Prize winner leads a gang to attack and invade? This is not a defence of human rights or self-determination."
Morales was right, the decision to attack Libya was taken well before the peaceful means of conflict resolution were fully exhausted.
Rawya Rageh: Three explosions took place roughly around 7:00 pm time here, in a crowded market using three carts, shopping carts -- wooden carts that are often used here to haul around merchandise in markets in Baghdad. The three carts were placed at the entrance of the market -- two of those -- and one at the heart of the market. The market was quite crowded actually. This is Thursday evening preceding the Muslim weekend here.
Rageh counts over one hundred injured. Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) quotes local teenager Sijad stating, "I was on my way to the market when the first bomb blew up. People ran to see what was going on and the second one blew up. Suddenly there were bodies everywhere around me, most of them women and children, and their things were scattered everywhere." Ned Parker quotes survivor Ahmed Dandar stating, "I was drinking juice from a shop together with some of my friends when the first explosion happened. It was near mosque as worshippers were entering. We saw a ball of fire and people started to run."
The United States condemns a terrorist attack in Baghdad today that claimed the life of international development and finance expert Dr. Stephen Everhart and wounded three others. Dr. Everhart was an American citizen who was working in Iraq for an implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development's Mission in Iraq. He was killed while working on a project to introduce a new business curriculum to a Baghdad university in a program supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education. His support of efforts to advance a modern and efficient financial sector has benefited the people and business enterprises of Iraq and his lifelong dedication to public service has improved the lives of countless people around the world.
We are saddened by this tragedy and extend our thoughts and prayers to Dr. Everhart's family and loved ones, and to the three other injured victims and their families.
In addition, Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi security forces, 1 person was shot outside his Mosul home, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one person and an al-Zab flashlight bombing injured an Iraqi soldier.
Today Al Sabaah reports that a "tentative deal" has been reached on keeping US soldiers ("a limited number") in Iraq beyond 2011 according to an unnamed "senior" US source. This was addressed, according to the source, by President Jalal Talabani and US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and would cover only the US military forces being shoved under the State Dept umbrella. As addressed here many times before, they would still have the same duties. But they would be under the State Dept and not the Defense Dept. Their presence would be covered by the Strategic Framework Agreement and would not need an extension of the SOFA or a new treaty. The article notes that Jeffrey is also meeting with MPs to press for an extension of the SOFA. If that's confusing, the State Dept umbrella is choice 2. The preferred choice of the White House is an extension of the SOFA. But either way, US forces are not leaving Iraq.
On the preferred choice, Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that a member of Parliament's Committee on Defense and Security has told the paper that "lack of readiness" on the part of Iraqi forces will be used to explain the SOFA being extended. The article cites numerous press reports (Arabic press, the US press has ignored these reports) on the talks and secret meetings that have taken place over extending the US military's stay in Iraq. The Dialogue Front is said to be a firm supporter of extending the US military presence while Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) is said to be playing it close to the vest and insisting he must have answers from DC before he makes a decision. The article runs through the other players. (As noted here before, the Kurdish officials want the US military to stay.)
While these discussions continue (some say a deal has already been reached on extending the SOFA), Alsumaria TV reports, "Basra provincial council voted on a decision to prevent US Forces from entering the province, Al Sadr Front's Ahrar Bloc said on Wednesday. Basra provincial council called to withdraw US Forces from Basra International Airport and affirmed that the council's decision stipulates compensating damaged citizens from US military operations." Meanwhile Walter Pincus (Washington Post) speaks with US Lt Gen Frank G. Helmick. I trust Pincus, I don't trust a word from Helmick. He's either out of the loop or he's lying. Not only is he wrong about forces (and that may be intentional -- the article may be directed towards Iraqi politicians, an attempt to force them to make a move), he's wrong about discussions and his comments regarding Iraq's airspace and radar, while accurate, conflict with something that happened in Iraq yesterday. I was begged to note and I said we don't include Operation Happy Talk. I'm surprised other outlets didn't notice it. But Iraq and air and the US had a little announcement yesterday. It was pure spin but that's never stopped the press from running with it before and since the US military was pimping that story, it's difficult to grasp why a general wouldn't also be promoting it to Pincus.
The Iraqi political scene is one of stalemate and foot dragging. A story that best telegraphs that? Al Mada reports reports that journalists were not allowed access to the day's hearing due to the fact that a dog was 'out sick.' (Actually, the contract with the security company had expired.) The dog detects bombs. Dar Addustour covers the story here.
This morning the Iraqi press is full of reports that Ayad Allawi is not ill -- Al Mada here, Dar Addustour here and Alsumaria TV are only three examples. Dar Addustour not only notes the denial that Allawi is ill but also quotes Iraqiya insisting the rumors are attempts to disempower Iraqiya and to disrupt life on the Iraq street -- to discredit the political slate in the eyes of the people. Dar Addustour also notes that State Of Law has already broken an agreement to cease attacks in the press (see yesterday's snapshot for more on that).
Nouri attempts another power grab in the meantime. Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri has ordered the Electoral Commission to leave the Kurdistan region and walk out on UNHCR. The Electoral Commission has said no and responds that only Parliament has the authority to stop UNHCR work. Nouri has repeatedly attempt to gut the rights of the Parliament and he's making another attempt today. Aswat al-Iraq reports that Nouri "has criticized on Thursday the process of legislating the laws by the Parliament, saying that 'they had been slow and weak,' demanding putting a time ceiling for the legislation of laws." That's really something. Nouri criticizing others as being slow? That's really something. On the day when Iraq sees non-stop violence and multiple deaths, Nouri criticizes the Parliament as slow -- the same Nouri who was supposed to appoint a Minister of Defense, a Minister of the Interiror and a Minister of National Security back in November when he was made prime minister-desigante. It's June now, getting close to July, and he's still failed at that basic duty. Someone who cannot make appointments doesn't need to be prime minister. And maybe he won't be. There are rumors that he's on the outs with the Iranian govenment (which is eyeing another Shi'ite) and his relationship with the US government is currently strained. If both backers dump him, another prime minister may emerge. Possibly with the last name Hakeem. Ahlul Bayt News Agency reports that Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council leader Ammar al-Hakeem delivered a speech yesterday to SIIC's Cultural Forum stressing the need for all political blocs to continue conversations.
Still on Iraqi politicians, one was in DC yesterday. The White House issued the following yesterday:
Vice President Biden met today with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. The Vice President praised the Speaker's stewardship of Iraq's legislature and offered continued support for the development of Iraq's democratic institutions, including a national partnership government. The Vice President also thanked the Speaker for his work to secure approval for a $400 million compensation package for American victims of the Saddam Hussein regime. The Vice President and the Speaker discussed our shared interest in an enduring partnership between the United States and Iraq, across a range of sectors, under the Strategic Framework Agreement.
Despite the fact that al-Nujaifi made public and clear before he left Iraq that he intended to press the White House on the missing $17 billion, the White House statement made no mention of it. Briefly, money (Iraqi money) from the oil-for-food program is missing. How much can not be determined as yet due to the refusal of the Federal Reserve to share information with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) which the US Congress mandated to provide oversight in Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq quotes from Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's statement:
"Nujeify has conferred during his current visit to the United States, with U.S. Vice-President, Joe Biden, demanding him to "open an official investigation about the fate of Iraqi Fund, estimated at US$17.5 billions (b), withdrawn from Iraq's Development Fund in 2003-2004 and after that, without the appearance of any documents showing the reason for the withdrawal," the statement said, adding that Nujeify "had asked the United States to help in achieving that mission." He said that "there are efforts, exerted by the financial observation bodies in both Iraq and the United States, to gather information and uncover the details of the said issue."
al-Nujaifi's statments were carried by the Iraqi press and throughout the Arabic press. They were also covered by many US outlets. AP offers this morning, "But US officials trying to trace the funds say the Iraqi government is not cooperating and has so far not allowed them access to bank records they need to determine whether any of the money was misused." The editorial board of Gulf News observes, "The US had a duty to safeguard this cash and not being able to answer to the Iraqis is simply unacceptable. It is hoped that a serious investigation is started so Iraq can recover its money."