Thursday, June16, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, US companies rake in the dough in Iraq, Allawi accuses Nouri of terrorism, a power player in Iraq praises Nouri and then cuts him off at the knees, the US press corps disgrace themselves to publicly slobber over Robert Gates and they all agree to keep it off the record (I didn't), Iraqi activists gear up for tomorrow's protests, Moqtada's fading strength is noted, and more.
Today Aaron Smith (CNNMoney) reports the International Energy Agency has issued a new report which finds that demand for oil will be more than the supply available. The report is entitled "Medium-Team Oil and Gas Markets 2011" and IEA's Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka says, "This report shows that oil's twilgiht as an industrial fuel continues, and it becomes ever more concentrated in the transport and petrochemical sectors. Gas on the other hand continues to increase in power generation as well as industry and space heating. In terms of market structure and pricing, oil is a genuinely global commodity, while gas markets, although globalising, remain bound by some key regional constrations, not least in terms of transportation." The report notes, "Growth in oil supply capacity through 2016 averages 1.1 mb/d [million barrels a day] annually, as higher prices unlock new supplies. Iraq, UAE and Angola lead growth prospects from OPEC, while Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan and Columbia drive non-OPEC increases." This evening, Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) reveals that although US companies didn't do so well in those public options, they will enrich their own coffers, "In fact, American drilling companies stand to make tens of billions of dollars from the new petroleum activity in Iraq long before any of the oil producers start seeing any returns on their investments." Yesterday afternoon, Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) reported, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the army to boost protection of the country's pipelines and refineries from sabotage." Nouri first became prime minister in 2006 and throughout his first term and his just begun second term he's never shown much interest in or desire to protect the Iraqi people but he'll make sure the oil is safe. For example, Al Rafidayn reports today on some Iraqis who fled their homes during the ethnic cleansing of 2006 and 2007 and relocated elsewhere in Iraq and they continue to live in fear, some "in houses built out of stones and reeds" and Jassim Jubayr Ugaili states he does not want to go back into Baghdad because he was threatened and three of his brothers and one of his nephews were killed. His 18-year-old son Mohammad adds that it would not make any difference for the family to move back because they would just be one or two returning since most families will not return due to the continued violence.
Then again, maybe being spared Nouri's efforts at protection is actually a blessing for the Iraqi people. No, we're not implying Nouri is the "huge snake" Dar Addustour reports hid under rubble and allegedly ate two children and four cats in a Nasiriyah neighborhood. We're referring to Roy Gutman and Laith Hammoudi's (McClatchy Newspapers) report that Nouri al-Maliki declared on "live television broadcast late Tuesday" that assassinations on government security officials were being carried out by a "militia" which has infiltrated the ministries -- he names Interior and Defense specifically.
Gutman and Hammoudi have a strong article that's sketches out what happened. Let's explore why. Human Rights Watch, more than any other organization, is getting under Nouri's thin skin. And primarily because they observe the reality of what an assailant was wearing -- often official security uniforms (such as a police uniform). In 2008, the press was very good about identifying what assailants were wearing when they were in official clothing. And then some of that got dropped. HRW continues to note it and it's becoming harder and harder for Nouri to fall back on his 2006 excuses of 'they're fake uniforms!' and 'a warehouse in southern Iraq housing uniforms was broken into!'
Going public with the fact that a lot of these officially garbed assailants are working for the government, Nouri gets to be seen as more honest and, he hopes, gets to inject a falsehood into the narrative the press will then repeat.
The narrative? Nouri declared on "live TV" that this infiltration has taken place and: "Those who have destroyed the Ministries of the Interior and Defense are we, the (political) parties, who come with a list and tell the officials, 'Employ these people'."
That little statement's not innocuous or an aside. It's Nouri's main point. And part of his efforts to convince the Iraqi people that not only is he the only thing keeping them 'safe' but that he needs more power and the ability to rework the current government.
The only real flaw in Gutman and Hammoudi's article is that they repeat Nouri's assertion and fail to provide perspective. The two reporters go on to say that some feel the tensions between Nouri and Ayad Allawi are harming the country but that's not the main issue. Here's the point they should have made, one that would have made their article much stronger: 'Today Nouri al-Maliki accused other political parties of destroying the Ministries of Interior and Defense by demanding that their people staff the agencies; however, if the two ministries are in disarray that blame would be shared by Nouri who refused to appoint a Minister to head either of those ministries and has instead declared himself the temporary head of those two ministries as well as the Ministry of National Security.'
Those are the facts. If the two ministries have been infiltrated, then that goes to the fact that they have no permanent head. If the two ministries are in trouble or struggling, that goes to Nouri who's decided he can be prime minister and head three ministries. Of Nouri's lousy job performance, Francis Matthew (Gulf News) offers:
He promised that officials at any level would be sacked if their performance did not match standards, and he spelt out that "the performance of the government and the ministries will be evaluated separately in order to know the extent of success or failure in carrying out the duties given to them". He also made it clear that each minister would have to be responsible for stopping corruption in their ministries. Despite the drama of his announcement, nothing happened. This week, at the end of his 100-day deadline, Al Maliki met his cabinet (no one had been sacked). He later claimed to the public that each ministry now has a four-year plan, and he seems to be insisting that he has achieved all his goals, and he claims "massive progress" in the 100 days. It seems unlikely that all Iraq's ministries have just become models of efficiency, and that its famously corrupt officials have all stopped taking bribes. The opposition does not agree with Al Maliki's rosy view of what has happened, and its leaders have called for renewed protests to start this weekend. It remains to be seen if they can get the people back onto the streets, and also if Al Maliki's large and very tough security forces will let them march again. The events this weekend will indicate how political life in Iraq might run for the next few months.
Nouri took 100 Days, he reset the clock and he accomplished nothing. Repeatedly. Of course, he had help in his incompetence. The 100 Days was a device which attempted to derail the protest movement in Iraq. Aiding him at that time was Moqtada al-Sadr who occasionally breezes through Iraq but prefers to reside in Iran. He fled Iraq when he feared Nouri would use the arrest warrant to put al-Sadr behind bars (the arrest warrant is for murder -- that's a warrant, not a conviction and even were it a conviction we don't mistake Iraqi 'justice' in the puppet, US-imposed system for actual justice). He did a few pop-over visits recently and, as a result, his influence has waned. His big 'protest' in May? We focused on the absurdity of calling observers participants -- he had his militia march through Sadr City and he and many in the press counted as 'participants' people who stepped out of their homes to watch the march go by. But equally ridiculous was the fact that the 100,000 present in Baghdad number was coming from . . . a telephone interview . . . with a Sadr loyalist not in Baghdad but in Najaf -- in Najaf, where he could survey all in Baghdad with the naked eye, apparently. But the most ridiculous thing about that 'protest' was the efforts to make it appear Moqtada was present. Oh! Look! It's his car! Everybody run to it! Oh! Look! It's pulling away!!! Oh, Moqtada . . . No, he wasn't present. (The same Najaf spokesperson insisted to the press that Moqtada was present but his followers were just too enthusiastic to allow Moqtada to safely exit his car. Yeah, right.) If you missed any of that crazy, read Mohamad Ali's report for AFP, they were the most grounded of the outlets reporting on the 'protest.' As we've long noted, US intelligence and that of England's, France's and two countries neighboring Iraq's all say Moqtada's influence has waned. Today Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) speaks to Mehdi militia members and finds that's the case. What if Moqtada declares war -- as he says he will if the US military stays beyond 2011? One member explains that he's focused on college and becoming an attorney, he needs three years without "any trouble" and he's got the life he wants. Oops, Moqtada can't count on that one. Abu Sadiq (whom al-Salhy describes as a "senior Mehdi Army leader in Sadr City") maintains, "Despite his huge number of supporters, if Moqtada decided to fight now, only a few would fight. The only ones who will fight are those who have not become contractors, or parliament members or gained salaries, cars, homes or government posts." And what about the assertion we've repeatedly noted, that there's real competition among those still dedicated to the cause and they aren't likely to see the Iran-bound Moqtada as 'representative' of their needs and interests? Abu Moqtada ("former Mehdi fighter") tells al-Salhy, "The danger that Moqtada faces is from his leaders who are competing with each other for wealth and positions." al-Salhy adds, "The biggest splinter group, Asaib al-Haq, is already challenging Sadr, eroding his militia from within by infiltrating the top echelons of his organization, Sadrist sources say." (To be clear, this is not, "I was right!!!!" I am not intelligence for any country -- and there are those who know me who would never connect my name and intelligence or intelligent together in the same sentence. But we did note what people were saying -- especially from diplomatic circles -- that their countries' intelligence was saying regarding Moqtada's influence. And if I'm hearing it -- from several sets of people -- I really didn't understand why the press wasn't aware of it even if they weren't reporting on it. And in fairness to reporters in Iraq, any such reports would more likely have been expected to come from reporters in DC or in the capitals of other countries.)
There are a number of political moves taking place and the most intriguing may be what Al Mada is reporting. One of Iraq's power brokers is Ammar al-Hakim. And while he inherited his position (head of the Islamic Supreme Council) after his father died, you can't inherit power. al-Hakim has established himself as powerful in his own right. So any moves he makes are worth following. Today, Al Mada reports, he gave a speech in Baghdad in which he praised Nouri for holding public meetings with his Coucil to review the 100 Days. And al-Hakim also notes that the 100 Days didn't begin to deal with what the people said they needed: electricity, potable water, etc. He also spoke of the violence in Iraq and noted with regret the attack on the provincial council building in Diyala Province this week (click here for Laith Hammoudi's McClatchy Newspapers report), noting how when acts of violence and terrorism become the response of groups "in broad daylight" it indicates serious problems which need to be addressed. He declared, "Denying the decline in our security does not solve the problem." Nor, he added, does it fill the vacancies in the security ministries. As noted earlier in the snapshot, there are no heads for the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of National Security or the Ministry of Defense. Nouri has never appointed anyone to those posts. Nouri is 'temporarily' (he says) filling them. And doing a lousy job of it. Back to al-Hakim, he stated that peaceful means and a peaceful process were necessary for a stable Iraq and spoke with displeasure about the incident last Friday in Tahrir Square ("Liberation Square") where the Youth Activists and other peaceful protesters were attacked by pro-government non-activists who tore up posters of Ayad Allawi, attacked women (hitting them with their shoes) and assaulted others. (The pro-government non-activists brought posters of Allawi with them -- posters they had defaced.) al-Hakim is a major player and that's a major speech. It will be interesting to see how Nouri responds.
As part of the continued propaganda effort, David Ali (Al Mada) reports, Nouri and company are working to stage a pro-Nouri rally in Tahrir Square this Friday. The pro-government non-activists showed up last week and attacked the real activists. This appears to be an effort at propagandizing the world population (a successful one when you think about the press attention the pro-government non-activists got last weekend when you contrast that with how little attention the real Friday activists have been receiving all these months later) and also an effort to run off the real activists. A Youth Movement activist states that if they have to leave Tahrir Square, they will continue their protests elsewhere. This Friday will find them attempting to rally in Tahrir Square. The Great Iraqi Revolution asks, "Between PUNISHMENT FRIDAY AND THAT OF DECISION & DEPARTURE WHO DO YOU THINK WON? THE KNIFE OR THE CAMERA WHICH EXPOSED THEM?????" They note that this Friday is Determination Friday.
Dar Addustour reports that the tensions between Nouri and Allawi have led to a dialogue between Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with the two said to be working on a way to resolve the crisis. The crisis can be traced back (most recently) to the failure by the parties (Nouri) to abide by the Erbil Agreement which was reached when all the major parties came together in Erbil (all major political parties in Iraq plus the US) and divided up this and that to move the nine month and counting stalemate along. The crisis can be traced back even further to the refusal by the UN and the US to appoint a caretaker government. Had that been done, the stalemate would not have continued for nine months and Nouri would not have been able to abuse his position and remain as prime minister.
But the US White House wanted Nouri to remain prime minister (Samantha Power came up with a lengthy list of 'reasons' why it was 'the only sane thing to do') and with the US and Iran backing him, everyone else -- including the people of Iraq who actually thought they'd have a say in their government -- got stabbed in the back. Ben Van Heuvelen (The Atlantic) reports on the conlict:
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has accused Iraqi security forces of imprisoning and torturing a political opponent of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, part of an alleged effort to frame Allawi as a sponsor of terrorism. Allawi, in an interview with TheAtlantic.com, presented as evidence a letter that he said was from Najim al-Harbi, a member of his own political party. The letter describes months of detention and brutal mistreatment by government forces, who told Harbi they would relent if he accused Allawi of organizing terrorist attacks against the Iraqi government. Though allegations of abuse have swirled around Maliki's tightly controlled security forces for years, Allawi's charge of a political conspiracy is unprecedented. Allawi and Maliki were on opposing sides of a months-long political crisis in Iraq after their respective political parties nearly tied the March 2010 national elections. Though the stalemate ended in November with Maliki retaining the Prime Minister's office, the split has raised tension and distrust in Baghdad politics. Allawi's allegations and Harbi's letter are impossible to verify, but the former Prime Minister's accusations against his own government reveal the level of animosity and suspicion that remain in Iraqi politics. Last fall, after losing the premiership to Maliki in a post-election contest of back-room coalition building, Allawi stood aloof from the gritty politics of government formation, preferring to spend time in London and other foreign capitals in a sort of self-imposed exile reminiscent of Al Gore's bearded soul-searching following the 2000 elections. Allawi felt he had been robbed. A power-sharing agreement was supposed to give him a high-level post in Maliki's administration. Instead, Maliki had cherry-picked allies from Allawi's coalition, sidelined Allawi himself, and consolidated power. Allawi finally returned to Baghdad shortly after I had left. I had written him several weeks earlier requesting an interview, and he agreed to a phone call. Our conversation, part of Allawi's entrance back onto the political stage, consisted mostly of accusations against the prime minister. But when I asked Allawi about his exclusion from the government, he brushed the topic aside. Instead, the former prime minister accused Maliki of using his control of the armed forces to intimidate, arrest, and even torture his political opponents. "The Parliament is being terrorized," Allawi told me.
In the Parliament today, Aswat al-Iraq reports, Khalid al-Assady was sworn in as an MP replacing Khudhier al-Khuzae who is a Vice President. May 12th, Iraq's three vice presidents were officially appointed to their posts: Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Tareq al-Hashimy and al-Khuza. Abdul-Mahdi and Tareq al-Hashimy were returning as vice presidents. The decision was made to increase the number to three; however, at present there are only two since Abdul-Mahdi has turned in his resignation.
In today's violence, Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk ("signs of torture and gunshot wounds"), 1 man shot dead in a Mosul vegetable market, 1 man shot dead outside his Mosul home, a Hilla home invasion resulted in the death of 1 Iraqi contractor "and his Indian maid and his Turkish engineer guest" and 1 Iraqi police officer was left wounded in a Baghdad shooting.
Last week, 6 US soldiers died in Iraq. (Two have died this week.) Five of last week's soldiers who died were killed in an attack in Baghdad and one of the five killed was Spc Christopher Fishbeck. Paige Austin (Patch) reports "According to his loved ones, Fishbeck, a former wrestler and football player at Kennedy High School in La Palma, was a playful and mischievous young man with 'spunk,' but he was also a solemn soldier, who studied missile trajectories, worked in intelligence and expected to die in Iraq. [...] Fishbeck is survived by his wife of three months, Stephanie Kidder, his mother and father, his sister Rene Gutel of Paris, France, and his sister Randi Jean Fishbeck of Anaheim." The memorial service will be this coming Monday, St. Irenaeus Church in Cypress at eleven and Paige Austin notes that the public is welcome to attend. Both Austin and Michael Mello (Orange County Register) note that the public is also welcome Friday for Hero Mission starting at 11:30 in the morning -- his body is scheduled to retun at noon Friday and Hero Mission is a recognition provided by Honoring Our Fallen. Also killed in that attack was 20-year-old Spc Emilio Campo Jr. Matt McCabe (St. James Plaindealer) reports Campo's services will be Friday "at the Calvary Cemetery in Madelia, Services at St. Mary's Catholic Church begin at 1:00 p.m." and McCabe also has an article about the reactions of those who knew Emilio Campo Jr. like his teacher Donna Roesch who he visited with even after he graduated, "He came in his uniform once, I thought those buttons were going to pop right off of there. He was so proud. He was proud of what it stood for and he was proud to be doing something for his country that he loved so much." The soldier killed last week on Wednesday was 22-year-old Matthew J. England. The Baxter Bulletin reports his memorial service "is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at First Christian Church in Gainesville [MO]." The two who died in Iraq this week were identified yesterday by the Defense Dept:
The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation New Dawn. They died June 13 in Wasit province, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas P. Bellard, 26, of El Paso, Texas; and
Sig Christenson (San Antonio Express-News) reports on the late Glenn Sewall and quotes his father Mike Sewell who states, "He was a great man; he was a warrior. He was a man among men, fearless." Christenson notes, "A guitarist and member of the Judson High band, he was known for yarns and a sense of humor. It showed in a Christmas message from Kabul in 2008 when he told his mom, 'I know the mustache looks terrible, but it will be gone by the time I get home'."
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates continued The Robert Gates Farewell Tour today with a press conference at the Pentagon. As even he noted, "These past few weeks have truly been the long goodbye" -- try months.
And the key is how do we complete our mission, as we have largely done in Iraq, in a way that protects American national security interests and the American people and contributes to stability? I think most people would say we've been largely successful in that respect in Iraq. I think we're on a path to do that in Afghanistan. The costs of the wars is huge, but it is declining. The costs of these wars will go down between FY '11 and FY '12 by $40 billion, from $160 (billion) to less than $120 billion. There's every reason to believe that between FY '12 and FY '13 there would be another significant reduction. And, of course, with the Lisbon agreement, the size of our forces left in Afghanistan in December of 2014 would be a small fraction of what they are today. So I think that -- I understand the impatience. I understand the concern and especially in hard economic times. We also have to think about the long-term interests, security interests, of the country. And that's where I come out on this.
Iraq was barely mentioned. It was even the real basis for a question. Real basis? A reporter asked why 800 troops from the Oklahoma National Guard that were supposed to go to Afghanistan have instead been diverted "to Kuwait to help with Iraq?" All she wanted to know was what it meant for Afghanistan and had the drawdown already begun in Afghanistan and apparently just wanted to sound like a raving loon. If troops are being diverted (and 800 are) from Afghanistan to Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan really isn't an issue. Supposedly all US troops leave Iraq at the end of 2011 (they don't -- whether there's an extension or not, they don't). That's supposedly a hard date, it supposedly can't be massaged. But the Afghanistan one is a soft date. So your story wasn't acting like a crazy idiot and whining about Afghanistan and was Barack lying about when the drawdown started. Your story was, "What does sending an additional 800 troops to the Iraq War -- troops who were supposed to go to Afghanistan -- say about either the supposed withdrawal at the end of this year or about the US military leadership's concern over the increased violence in Iraq?" (The 800 are supposedly "trainers.")
If you think that was embarrassing, you need to have been present. At the end of the press conference, Gates, Adm Mike Mullen who is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Hoss Cartwright who is the Vice Chair exited. So that was the end, right?
Wrong, an announcement was made (I believe by Bryan Whitman but I don't attend Pentagon briefings often enough to swear to that) as some of the press began standing (some already knew what was coming), "I want everybody to sit tight. Let's kill the cameras. He'll come back out in one moment and we'll say goodbye individually and so forth with photos for you guys. This is off the record." Oh my goodness! This is so exciting! Is Bobby Gates going to sign the waistband of Yochi Dreazen's BVDs?
What the hell was that? You should have seen the supposedly mature press corps turn into a bunch of giddy little school children,jumping up and down as if the Jonas Brothers were about to perform. And the ones who had to go last? You could watch them breathe with relief as the slow line suddenly began moving. As if they were thinking, "Oh, no! Oh, no! He's going to get on his tour bus and leave before I get my picture taken with him!!! I missed out on Selena Gomez, now I'm going to miss out on Bobby Gates too!"
Point of fact, this entire embarrassing moment (and I'm being kind and not listing all their names -- many of whom are known from TV) did not speak well for either the individual journalists or the outlets they were with. As awful as the photo posing was, so were the remarks being made -- remarks which indicate no one has any job duty other than to repeat whatever Robert Gates tells them too. My friend with ___ [outlet] who I went into the press conference with said I can't be specific here.
So I can't.
But I made no promises about my column in the gina & krista round-robin. So look for that to be the topic and for photos of the press embarrassing themselves (I took those photos with my camera phone) to run with my column. This was disgusting. This demonstrated there was no wall between reporting and government announcements, it demonstrated that there was no objectivity. In fact, there are people like Andy Worthington who've been fired (he was fired from the New York Times, click here for Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio interview with Andy Worthington in which Andy discusses what it was like to work for the Times for less than 24 hours) because they weren't seen as objective. As you look at the pictures and read the column, tell me how anyone pictured can truthfully claim to have ever been objective when reporting about Robert Gates.
If you wonder how the US military has managed to switch policies and now issue death announcements for incidents without noting the number wounded in the same release (the policy throughout the Bush adminstration and the policy with Barack until January of this year) and not get called on it, well you missed the Bobby Gates love-fest. You missed a bunch of middle-aged adults who damn well should have known better, gushing in public (off the record!) about how much they loved Robert Gates, about how his leadership was the best and you'd have to go back to WWII to find anyone who could even match him and blah, blah, blah. It was disgusting. Some might say, "It was a goodbye party." You have a goodbye party for your friends. You have a goodbye party for your co-workers. All that moment did was underscore just what lackeys the US press enjoys being. It was truly shameful.
The arguments made to "legalize" war, torture, warrantless spying, and other crimes by John Yoo and Jay Bybee and their gang are looking rational, well-reasoned, and impeccably researched in comparison with Obama's latest "legalization" of the Libya War.
Here's the key section from Wednesday's report to Congress:
"Given the important U.S. interests served by U.S. military operations in Libya and the limited nature, scope and duration of the anticipated actions, the President had constitutional authority, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and pursuant to his foreign affairs powers, to direct such limited military operations abroad. The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated by the Resolution's 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo. U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors."
Whatever the president's "foreign affairs powers" may be, they do not, under the U.S. Constitution, include the power to launch "military operations" or "hostilities" or "wars." Nor has the distinction between "military operations" that involve what ordinary humans call warfare (blowing up buildings with missiles) and "hostilities" that qualify for regulation under the War Powers Resolution been previously established. This distinction is as crazy as any that have come out of U.S. government lawyers in the past.
The War Powers Resolution forbids unconstitutional wars unless the United States is attacked.