Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 6, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack pretends to want to cut waste but continues to waste trillions on the wars, Iran and Iraq firm up their friendship, denials fly all over about the US military staying in Iraq beyond 2011, and more.
Starting with Libya.  Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war.
Kevin Pina:The US Congress delayed a vote for a resolution supporting the NATO-led air campaign in Libya amidst reports of new bombing raids on Tripoli just this weekend.  This comes on the heels of last week's revelations that France had flouted a UN resolution barring arm shipments to Libya by providing guns, ammunition and rocket launchers to Libyan forces opposed to Muammar Gaddafi  The French government has since said that the armaments provided to elements aligned with the Libyan National Transitional Council were intended for defensive purposes only. However, no sooner had the French provided that qualifier, Libyan rebel commanders announced offensive military plans to take the capitol of Tripoli. And you're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio and now joining me from Tripoli, Libya is once again our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya.  Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: Thanks for having me, Kevin.
Kevin Pina:  So I understand that the bombs fell again this weekend on the capitol Tripoli.  Give us an update, what's going on on the ground there?
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: Well the last time I talked to you, right after we finished our discussion, bombs had started falling and very close to me actually.  I was in a civilian residential area  at a fact-finding NGO, talking to the organizers there and during the middle of our conversation: Bombs.  I've talked to foreigners living here.  Italians, people from other Arab countries and Europe, even a Canadian who lives here.  They've gotten so used to the bombs they can tell the difference between a missile and a bomb from the noise -- what's hitting what.  Their lives have changed.  The Italian lady I talked to who lives here, she was never into politics or the media or scrutinizing it until she lived here because she's saying what the media is reporting is her life and a total contradiction of reality.  She can't get the reality of her life to-to correspond with what she's saying about Libya.  She's totally disgusted about what's happening.  So, yes, they've been bombing at night, they've been bombing during the day and there's been flights overhead on the hour almost.
Kevin Pina; And so what are the effects of the bombings been?  Have they been hitting military targets?  Have they been -- saying they're hitting military targets but striking civilian neighborhoods again as they did in the past?
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya:  They have not been hitting military targets.  There's no more military targets to hit after the first two days.  There's nothing military left.  All they've been doing is carpet bombing this place.  That's essentially what it's coming down to.  It's a watered down form of carpet bombing and they've been giving aerial support to the forces opposed to the government and Col Gaddafi here.  That's what they've been doing. They've been bombing places that have nothing to do with war, have nothing to do with commanding control, they've been bombing civilian areas.  I've taken pictures of them, others have.  They've bombed food storage  facilities. They've bombed a place where bank notes are made.  They've bombed the university -- one of the main universities.  They've bombed medical facilities and hospitals.  They bombed a place used to bring oxygen for people in the hospital.  Like oxygen needed in hospitals.  They haven't bombed any military -- Libya really doesn't have a strong military at all.  In fact, I was telling somebody today, what we're seeing on the ground is mostly volunteers and semi-organized people, people of all walks of life.  They're fighting against the Libyan people, they're not fighting against the Libyan military because all or most of these people are volunteers who are fighting for their country.
Kevin Pina: Now we had talked about this last week, you had said that there was going to be a large demonstration in Tripoli against the war and against NATO's bombing campaign.  We had this discussion about whether they were coming out pro-Gaddafi or whether they were coming out pro-Libya.  And you had made it very clear that they were pro-Libya more than they were pro-Gaddafi.  What happened with that demonstration?  Did it happen?  Did it occur?
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: Let me point out that many of these people like Col Gaddafi, not all of them.  It is pro-Libya first, yes. But a lot of them, they know or they see Col Gaddafi and Libya as being on the same line. And, yes, I was at the protest. It was remarkable, it was big. It was energized and no one forced these people to come.  And I want to point something out, Kevin.  All the people in Tripoli -- not just Tripoli, in Libya, the part of Libya that are not of the rebels are armed.  The government's armed them.  Every house is armed here.  They have civilian defense contingency plans here that's been put into effect.  It's not that organized but there's neighborhood watches, there's neighborhood armories, there's green tents in every neighborhood, every house has weapons that have been distributed.  If these people wanted to get rid of Col Gaddafi, believe me, they could have.  They all have arms --
Kevin Pina: So let me just interrupt real quick, Mahdi.  So you're saying that there has been a campaign by the Libyan government to arm the population.  And that if the population wanted to overthrow Gaddafi, they're armed and could do that now?
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: 100% there have been independent journalist here who have verified this.  And you can easily find this on the internet now with pictures, with descriptions of these civilian defense contingency plans.  And it wasn't recently that this happened.  Col Gaddafi said at the start that they were going to arm the people and  if they wanted to get rid of him, they could have.
Turning to the illegality of the LIbyan War, at Antiwar Radio, they've posted Horton's interview with Matthew Rothschild where they discuss his article "Stop the Bombing of Libya" (The Progressive).  Excerpt.
Scott Horton:  You start out by describing the extent of the war going on over there --whatever the president wants to call it.  And you know I think, gee there's so many wars for people to keep up with, it can be hard.  I'm amazed when I saw your assertion here that NATO has conducted 11,500 sorties in Libya thus far.
Matthew Rothschild:  Isn't that amazing?  I mean here we have a campaign that was started ostensibly to protect civilians and to impose a no-fly zone.  Well it didn't take 11,500 sorties to impose a no-fly zone and to protect civilians in Libya from an imminent massacre -- that was what we were sold. No, this is a campaign that's entirely different from it's intentions right now.  It may have been entirely different from the intentions that were sold to us at the very beginning because, look, there's no reason why these bombing raids should have continued after the no-fly zone was imposed because, at that point, Muammar Gaddafi could not have sent in his pitiful airforce to bomb those people who were supposed to be in such peril.  So the no-fly zone and protection of civilians in Libya was accomplished really within 48 hours and everything else since then has been something designed to do quite a great deal more than what the UN signed off on and that was to protect civilians.  Now what's going on now is a campaign to get rid of Gaddfi and seize the oil in Libya for US control of the oil supplies in the Middle East which is, of course, what the Iraq War was largely about to and what our connivance with Saudi Arabia's been all about for the last many decades.
Scott Horton: Well now, there's so much there.  I guess first of all, it's probably worthy of note that "no-fly zone"?  It's been months since we even heard anybody talk about that.  I kind of almost forgot it's supposed to be a no-fly zone.
Matthew Rothschild: Yeah and it's certainly not applying to NATO.  NATO's flying all over the place.  And the amazing thing about Obama's doctrine here is that the War Powers Act doesn't apply.  And the reason he's saying the War Powers Act doesn't apply -- and if Bush had said that I think the peace movement in the United States would be in the street in the tens of hundreds of thousands.   Obama's reasoning just gives  a justification for the next president to go in and attack any country that doesn't have a decent air force or surface to air missiles because what he is saying  and what his lawyers are saying is that the War Powers Act doesn't apply right now because our military is not at risk of being killed because essentially we've so wiped out the Libyan air force and surface to air missiles that there's no chance that our bombers are going to be shot down -- or almost no chance -- and so they're not really in a zone of hostilities which is what the War Powers Act was dealing with.  Well that's -- this is a crazy doctrine then because the United States now has carte blanche to go attack any weaker country as soon as its air force has been obliterated.
Scott Horton: Well, yeah, and funny about that, the lawyer for the Pentagon and the lawyers at the Justice Dept, they didn't buy that argument for a minute.  They were over-ruled by the president.
Matthew Rothschild: Yeah, it's extraordinary when the president's own lawyers want to follow the law and the president of the United States doesn't.  That gives you an idea of just how far out there Obama has gone in expanding presidential war powers.  This from a presidential candidate who played footsie with the left, played footsie with the progressive peace movement, said he would never unilaterally engage the US military overseas unless there was an imminent threat against the United States  which there wasn't.  Gaddafi didn't attack the United States, he didn't represent a threat to the United States.  [Former] Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates even admitted that on TV.  I saw him when he said it.  And my jaw kind of drops because, you know, why are we there if he's not a threat to us?  And yet Obama has expanded this idea that he, the president of the United States, and, of course, future presidents can go start a war or at least a bombing crusade anywhere they want without asking Congress' permission, without getting Congressional authorization.  After all the Congress has the sole power to declare war under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution.  And now he wants to completely violate the War Powers Act which he's violated three times now.  He violated it at the beginning because the War Powers Act says a president can go in without Congressional permission at first if there's an imminent threat against the United States -- there wasn't an imminent threat.  And then within 60 days of that  the president has got to get approval from Congress -- Obama didn't get approval from Congress.  And then 30 days after that the president is supposed to withdraw those troops if he hasn't gotten Congressional approval -- and, of course, Obama hasn't gotten Congressional approval and hasn't withdrawn the bombers.  So he's really in illegal territory here and he's kind of gloating about it.
Onto Iraq.  Yesterday  Lara Jakes (AP) reports 10,000 is the number of US soldiers the White House is floating to Iraq to keep with an understanding that Iraq will respond by September to the offer. Jakes reports, "Already, though, the White House has worked out options to keep between 8,500 and 10,000 active-duty troops to continue training Iraqi security forces during 2012, according to senior Obama administration and U.S. military officials in interviews with The Associated Press."  Today David S. Cloud and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) add that the White House has "made its proposal now in hopes of spurring a request from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government, and to give the Pentagon time to plan, the officials [in the administration] said. The troops would be based around Baghdad and in a small number of other strategic locations around the country, the officials said."  Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) explains, "While that word 'offer' has been repeatedly used by US officials named and unnamed in recent months, a better word might be 'pleading'."  ABC News Radio adds, "In Washington, D.C. keeping American support forces in Iraq past the deadline could start a mutiny in the president's own party." Zeke Miller (Business Insider) points out, "The plan would put Obama on the wrong side of his promise to remove all U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2011."  Ryan Blethen (Seattle Times) observes, "We have no business staying in Iraq. We shouldn't have been there in the first place. Obama must live up to his campaign promise to get us out of Iraq. We have wasted too many lives and too much money. It is time to leave the rebuilding of Iraq to Iraqis and turn our attention to fixing our own country."   Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) notes that offer is being made "despite vows to bring U.S. forces home by the end of the year."  She also notes Vice Adm William McRaven told Congress a "contingent of commando forces should remain in Iraq."  Last Tuesday, McRaven appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and this was the exchange:
Ranking Member John McCain:  Adm McRaven, do you believe that the United States should have a residual force in Iraq in order to assist --  with particularly special operations, functions and intelligence?
Vice Adm William McRaven: Sir, I think that it would be mutually beneficial to us and the Iraqis if in fact that was the case. Obviously, remains to be seen whether the Iraqis will want us to stay past the intended drawdown time.  But clearly there is still a threat in Iraq. And a small, soft presence there I think would be advisable.
Ranking Member John McCain: And if you look at recent US casulties, the situation -- at least in some respects -- politically as well as militarily has shown some deterioration.  Would you agree?
Vice Adm William McRaven:  Sir, I would. Statistically that appears to be the case, yes, sir.
And the denials grow even less believable.  Pentagon spokesperson Col Dave Lapan declared today that stories about the US government having a number in mind that they would like to remain in Iraq? Untrue, huffs Lapan.  "The process for troops to remain in the country after the date begins with an official request from the Iraq government and no such request has been made.  Until the government of Iraq makes a request, there is no number."   At the US State Dept, Victoria Nuland was in denial mode:
QUESTION: With regards to Iraq situation, especially that they haven't requested officially for the U.S. troops to remain there, if it doesn't happen, what is the take on that? I mean, is there an action plan on the – Iran's effort to influence Iraq situation?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that we have grave concerns about what Iran has been doing in terms of supplying weaponry and trying to stir up violence in Iraq. Ambassador Jeffrey spoke to this yesterday, trying to exploit the current situation. That said, we have a lot of confidence in Iraqi security forces and in their ability to maintain security in Iraq. We continue to say that if Iraq were interested in some residual U.S. presence staying in Iraq, we would be willing to have that conversation. But at this point, we haven't had a request.
QUESTION: But there is two key position in Iraq Government. Defense and internal ministry hasn't got any minister there. These are two key position. Are you confident within the – Iraq's government to handle their conflicts internally? Because they don't seem to be reaching any substantial unity amongst themselves.
MS. NULAND: This is democracy in action in Iraq. They are involved in trying to take their internal situation to the next level. So from our perspective, we continue to work with them on the full range of issues, including the security situation today and the security situation as we head towards the end of the year and the withdrawal of the remainder of forces.
Andy, did you have something?
QUESTION: May I have one more question?
MS. NULAND: I think we've done it on that subject.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iraq?
QUESTION: I've got an Iraq one.
MS. NULAND: Lots of Iraq today. (Laughter.)
While the relationship with the US remains in doubt, Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports, "Iraq on Wednesday signed six agreements of cooperation with its neighbor Iran during an official visit of Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad."  Alsumaria TV adds, "Iranian First Vice President Mohamed Rida Rahimi arrived to Baghdad on Wednesday heading a senior delegation to discuss bilateral relations between both countries."  Press TV notes, "Iraq is currently the third trading partner of Iran after the United Arab Emirates and China. Tehran seeks to turn Baghdad into its first trading partner, Rahimi told reporters ahead of his official visit to Iraq on Wednesday."  And before that visit takes place, Aswat al-Iraq observes that Iraq has sent Rafi'e al-Issawi, Minister of Finance, to Tehran yesterday where he met with Mohammed Riza Rahimi.  AAP notes of the Baghdad meeting that the two countries representatives made a promise "to strengthen ties and put the past behind them, even as Washington accuses Iran of supplying new and more lethal weapons to anti-US militias." Aswat al-Iraq reports former MP mithal al-Alousi decried the visit and deals stating, "Iran wants to compensate its loss in Syria by controlling Iraq.  Signing these agreements proved that Iraq lost its independence before the Iranian regime."   al-Alusi is a former Ba'athist who was already in Germany when Saddam Hussein put his name on a hit list.  The US was happy to bring al-Alusi back to Iraq and happy to see him become part of the government. They weren't bothered at all that right before the war -- December 2002 -- he took part in the seizure of the Iraqi embassy in Germany.  Even more interestingly, al-Alusi was a member of Parliament and on the de-Ba'athification committee until he visited Israel in the fall of 2004 at which point he was kicked out of Parliament and off the committee -- kicked off via a law outlawing contact with 'enemy states' -- the current Parliament and the de-Ba'athficiation committee used that 1969 law.  From Saddam's era.  While claiming to be against the Ba'ath Party and all it did, they used that law to get rid of al-Alusi in 2004.
QUESTION: Iranian vice president was visiting Iraq today, and he said that Iran is ready to build and provide security to Iraq. He added that the relation between the two countries has reached a very high level. Do you have any reaction to this?
MS. NULAND: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS. NULAND: I think I've already spoken to our – (laughter) – I think I've already spoken to our concerns about Iran's intensions and Iran's activities in Iraq.
 Aswat al-Iraq notes that President Jalal Talabani met with thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday and quotes Kurdish MP Fuad Maasoum insisting it was a success and paves the way for a meet-up next week among all parties. Meanwhile Iraq remains without potable water and Al Rafidayn reports Iraqis are resorting to bottled water which are overpriced. The article estimates it will require $100 million to fix Iraq's water infrastructure alone. Despite the lack of potable drinking water, Iraq is moving forward with plans for an agricultural revival, Al Sabaah reports, including a major investment in livestock.

Turning to the United States.  Yesterday, Elaine Quijano followed up on her earlier CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley report. Last week, she reported on how, if your loved one takes their own life or dies in a training exercise, you receive no condolence letter from the president. Yesterday, Quijano reported that the White House announced they will do condolence letters to those whose loved ones take their own lives in a war zone. Dan Lothian (CNN) makes it more specific, "In the statement Tuesday, the White House official said a review had been completed, and the president will send condolence letters to families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat operations" (and notes that CNN has been reporting on this issue since 2009). In her report last week, Elaine Quijano noted:

Sara Conkling didn't receive one either, for her daughter, Jessica.
"She was willing to put her life on the line and she did lose her life doing it," Sara says. "But it doesn't count as much to them."
Conkling was a Marine Corps pilot training for deployment in combat when her helicopter crashed in San Diego. She was 27.
Families of active duty military who die in stateside training accidents do not receive presidential condolence letters. But Sara Conkling says her daughter's sacrifice deserves that recognition.
Sara says, "You'd like people to have appreciated and understand what she did, that she was important and her loss is a big loss."

The policy change does nothing for Sara Conkling or others in similar situations. While it's good news for those who lose a loved one to suicide, it does nothing for those like Conkling. A change should have covered both. Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) notes that condolence letters will be sent out by both President Obama and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
US President Barack Obama held a Twit-fest.  He was allegedly talking about the economy and how to help improve it but the only time he mentioned 'war' at any real length was the war on drugs.  (Click here for transcript.)   This despite the fact that Kim Geiger (Chicago Tribune) reports "The House began debate Wednesday on a $650 billion spending bill to fund the Pentagon and continue paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill increases the Pentagon's budget by $17 billion for fiscal year 2012, a spending hike that comes at a time when Congress and the White House are in heated negotiations over the deficit and reigning in federal spending."  $650 billion dollars.  If you've forgotten last week's press conference (where Barack acted like a dick and bitchy), Ava and I noted:
Take Barack Obama and his tantrum at the press conference last week (here for transcript). At the top, Barack declared that "$4 trillion in savings" had to be found and the best he could offer was apparently cutting the "tax break for corporate jet owners." So proud of this 'plan' was he that he mentioned it six times in his press conference. US House Rep. Eric Cantor responsed that cutting that tax break will save $2 billion and that he didn't see that as a big deal.
Six times he boasted about this $2 billion 'saver.'  But he wants to spend $650 on wars and that's a $12 billion increase.  David DeGraw (at Pacific Free Press) explains:
When Obama launched his re-election propaganda campaign to trick the American public into thinking that he intends to end the Af-Pak War, he said that the "War on Terror" has cost $1 trillion over the past decade. While that is a staggering amount of money, he was being deceitful once again.
As you may have heard, a newly released study by the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University revealed that the cost of the War on Terror is significantly greater than Obama has said.
The little passing coverage the study received in the mainstream press cited $3.7 trillion as the total cost, which was the most conservative estimate.
The moderate estimate, which the mainstream media ignored, was $4.4 trillion. In addition, interest payments on these costs will most likely exceed $1 trillion, which brings the total cost up to at least $5.4 trillion.

Yesterday, by a 12 to 1 vote, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution calling on the White House to end the wars and to spend the money domestically instead. Council member Bill Rosendahl is quoted by Fox 11 News stating, "We're spending $1 trillion over there. We should be investing in education, health care and infrastructure. We need to focus on ourselves and stop playing big shot all over the earth." Council member Janice Hahn, who is running for Jane Harman's old set in the US Congress, states, "This country, I believe, is war-weary. It's time to invade this country with resources. We know that our schools need more resources. We need to spend more money creating jobs. We need to get our economy back up and running."  But, again, Barack avoided the issues in his pretend press conference today.