Monday, July 18, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 18, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, the little noted Stalemate II continues in Iraq, Iran invades Iraq, Sibel Edmonds offers some strong media criticism, and more.
On Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton interviewed Jason Ditz about the ongoing wars including the Iraq War.
Jason Ditz: Of course people may remember that in the last few months of the Bush administration there was a Status Of Forces Agreement signed with the Iraqi government saying that the US would keep troops there through the end of 2011 and that all the troops would be out by then.  And at the time, of course, President Obama and the other candidates on the Democratic side were saying that 'oh this is way too long' and suggesting that they were going to get the troops out sooner.  They never actually gave concrete dates, but they certainly hinted that they would have the troops out much sooner than that.  And now President Obama is pretty clear on keeping the troops there well beyond this deadline and the talks are already ongoing for exactly how long and in what fashion they're going to do so.
[. . .]
Scott Horton: I wonder whether he thinks he really needs the Americans.  Really the question is does he need us or Moqtada al-Sadr more?
Jason Ditz: Well it definitely does seem to be the case.  In fact, it seems to be that he can only have one or the other, not both.
Scott Horton: Well now Americans have been killed in some violence over there recently.  Are the headlines right that these attacks basically are attributable to the Sadrists and then further that must mean the Iranians are behind it?
Jason Ditz: Well I think they're going -- they're jumping to a lot of conclusions.  Most of these attacks are happening in Shi'ite controlled areas, they're happening probably by militias that are Shi'ite in nature. Whether you can jump from that to concluding that Sadr is directly behind it isn't clear.  And the conclusion beyond that -- that this is the Iranian government -- seems completely far fetched because despite Adm [Mike] Mullen's claim that they have proof, the only evidence they've presented is that some of these weapons these militias are using contain some parts that you could buy in Iran.  Now that may well be the case but Iran's a big country and those are some pretty big borders between those two countries.  I think drawing the conclusion that this is direct Iranian government intervention in this war as opposed to just commerce across borders seems a little bit -- a little bit far fetched.
Scott Horton:Right. I mean even if it did have a "MADE IN IRAN" stamp on it, it still means it could have come from the black market in 600 directions.
Jason Ditz: Absolutely. Iran is not this big giant monolith that is all one agency operating as a single entity.  There are a lot of militant factions in Iran that don't like the Iranian government that might get involved in this as well.
Scott Horton: There are plenty of business men too -- in and outside of government and their ties and circles.
Jason Ditz: Right.
Scott Horton and Jason Ditz were noting the deaths of US soldiers in the Iraq War and the Associated Press reported this morning that the US military announced the death of another US soldier in Iraq. This brings the death toll for this month to 5 and the death toll for June and July combined to 20.  ABC News Radio quotes from the statement: "A U.S. service member died Sunday in a non-hostile incident in central Iraq."

Two of the five this month were Nathan Beyers and Nicholas Newby. KPVI reports (link is text and features a slide show) the Pocatello, Idaho National Guard Armory last night was the scene of a rememberance for the two fallen as approximately 50 people paid their respects in a candle light ceremony. Lucas Elliott was killed Friday while serving in Iraq. WTVD notes, "On Monday, Lucas Elliott would have celebrated his 22nd birthday."  Lucas Elliott's death was known because his family came forward on Saturday.  WRAL first reported the fallen was Lucas Elliott. Patti Elliott, his mother, told them, "On 9/11, we were sitting there watching everything unfold and Lucas turned to us and said, 'I'm going to be a soldier'." Ed Elliott, his father, stated, "All I can say is I'm going to miss my hunting and fishing buddy." And Trisha Elliott, his wife, talked about how they met in a college class and said, "I'm not sure how he did it, but he convinced me to marry him and I don't regret it."  Today the Defense Dept issued the following:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.
            Spc. Daniel L. Elliott, 21, of Youngsville, N.C., died July 15 in Basra, Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to the 290th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command, Cary, N.C.
            For more information, the media may contact the 200th Military Police Command public affairs office at 301-677-1079.

A few words on Antiwar Radio which airs on KPFK most Fridays.  We note Antiwar Radio and we note  Most of the voices featured are libertarian because that's who runs the sites.  But they are not the only voices featured.  All the voices featured -- left or right or center or apathetic to election politics --  are serious about ending the wars.  That's why we include them (and Antiwar Radio is probably the only radio program that has not forgotten the Iraq War.)  However, please, stop wasting your time and mine sending me Lila Garrett garbage. (You know who you are.)  Connect The Dots could be an important show; however, Lila choses to trash her own show repeatedly.  I have no use for her.  If the wars are going to end, it's going to take everyone calling for an end to it and Lila's non-stop hate speech towards Republicans isn't doing anyone any good.  She needs to be told to cut it out.  It's taken her forever to find the strength to criticize Barack (the threat to her Social Security check appears to have finally pushed her firmly) and any meek criticism has required -- as it did today -- that Lila move into trashing Republicans as racists and more.  Lila Garrett hasn't spoken to Republicans in years.  She has no idea what most Republicans in this country -- we're talking about voters, not office holders -- believe in.  I find her destructive and damaging   Her stereotypes are offensive and off-putting and do nothing to allow for a left-right bridge to end the Iraq War or even for the left to understand what the right is after.  Stop sending me Lila's garbage, I'm not interested.  Again, on most Fridays, KPFK features Antiwar Radio.  Last Friday, historian and journalist Gareth Porter was on to discuss his new article "What Is Sadr's Game on Future US Troop Presence" (IPS via Dissident Voice):

The big question looming over U.S.-Iraqi negotiations on a U.S. military presence after 2011 is what game Shi'a leader Moqtada al-Sadr is playing on the issue.
U.S. officials regard Sadr as still resisting the U.S. military presence illegally and are demanding that Sadr call off his Promised Day Brigades completely.
But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's main point of contact with Sadr says Sadr is playing a double game and does not intend to obstruct the negotiations on a deal for the stationing of 10,000 or more U.S. troops from 2012 onward.
Sadr made a crucial move over the weekend toward accepting such an agreement between the Barack Obama administration and the Maliki government, according to a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the International Liaison Office (ILO). The ILO is an arm of Iraqi military intelligence that is run by a former East German intelligence official who was Sadr's political adviser during the height of the U.S. war against the Sadrists in 2007-08.
Sadr agreed in an unpublicised direct exchange of views with Maliki that he would not exploit a request by Maliki to President Obama to station U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year by attacking Maliki politically or threatening his government, the senior Iraqi intelligence official told IPS.

Friday, Scott Horton discussed the article with Gareth Porter (click here for KPFK archives, not yet up at Antiwar Radio).  Excerpt:
Scott Horton: Here's the thing, you sit there for a couple of moments, I'm going to make a couple of assertions and then I'm going to turn it over to you. 
Gareth Porter:  Okay.
Scott Horton:  So it used to be that the Ba'ath Party ruled Iraq. It was a predominately Sunni party especially at the heighest levels. And the Arabs are the majority in Iraq as opposed to the Kurds but the Sunnis are the minority among the Arabs in Iraq.
Gareth Porter: Right.
Scott Horton: So then America invaded and overthrew the Ba'athists and fought a giant civil war on behalf of the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Islamic Council and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and safely completed the ensconcing of them in power in Baghdad in say oh I don't know 2007, '08 they pretty much finished up winning that civil war.  And so now the only problem is there's this religious leader on the Shi'ite majority side. that we've fought this war to install in power who wants us to go.  Or not. Tell us about Moqtada al-Sadr.
Gareth Porter: Well first of all, just one point that I would make which is a bit different from the presentation that you just made which is otherwise perfectly correct and that is that Sadr although he did not resist the initial US invasion of Iraq, it's quite true, within one year -- or year and a half -- he had begun a military resistance to the US and has maintained that degree of resistance to US presence -- in varying degrees, I guess I should say, resistance to US presence ever since. And of course it's important to understand that the real -- within the Shi'ite community or the Shia community, the real big conflict here has been the Badr Brigade people who represent the middle and upper class of the Shia community and Sadr whose constituency clearly is the poor and dispossed of the Shia community.  So that's part of the background of this story.  So now what is Sadr's game here?  He has --
Scott Horton: Wait a minute. Hold on Sadr's game.  Because as long as you're going to clarify that, we should also clarify that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Badr faction, the Supreme Islamic Council, has died.  His son didn't have the wherewithal to hold it together and Moqtada al-Sadr is now the dominant force inside the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council* as well as the Iraqi National Alliance -- the majority party that rules the Parliament and supports Nouri al-Maliki to be prime minister. So he resisted and our guys fought battles with him from time to time over the years but still the war was to make him the Ayatollah basically -- whether that's what they were trying to do or not.
Gareth Porter: Well I think that that is in fact the larger and longer term effect of the US war.  But neverthelss in the wake of the Shi'ite -- basically their victory over the Sunnis in the civil war in 2007 -- 2006, 2007 -- the fact is that the United States and Sadr are still very much at odds.  And so Sadr is a very complex figure politically at this point and really this is the main point of my article -- is that he wants to play an apparently ambiguous two-sided double-game if you will with regards to the US presence there. Despite the fact that he continues publicly to rail against the US military presence and indeed has continued to carry out attacks on US military targets.  Nevertheless, the evidence now is that he's trying to maneuver so that the Nouri al-Maliki government can allow or reach an agreement that he will allow between the government and the United States to station troops. And this is coming from the office of Iraqi military intelligence which is responsible for relations between the al-Maliki government and Sadr.
We'll note it when it goes up at Antiwar Radio.  "*" On Scott Horton's statement that Moqtada al-Sadr dominates the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, that's his take and we'll offer a counter-one.  I don't know what he means by "dominates." If he means "dwarfs," that's true in terms of press attention.  He may mean it in another way.  If he means in terms of power I don't see it. (Popularly, he's Howard Dean after the "scream" takes Dean out of the running.)  Ammar al-Hakim is not in a position of weakness when it comes to Moqtada al-Sadr.  In the 2005 elections, ISCI was the leader.  Voters grew disenchanted.  In 2009, Iraq held provincial elections (we're leaving the KRG out of this because they held provincial elections months after the rest of Iraq), the disappointment could be clearly seen in those elecitons when the previously dominant part accounted for approximately 1/8 of the seats in the 14 provinces. (Again, the KRG held their provincial elections months later and are not included in that count.)  At the time of those elections Ammar al-Hakim was not in charge of the party, his father was.  His father would die in August of 2009 and the party would vote for Ammar al-Hakim to take over months before the parliamentary elections (March 7, 2010).  Ammar al-Hakim would oversee the building of the coalition (National Alliance) which included Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc.  That National Alliance came in third.  Approximately seven months in power, I don't know that he can be judged to be responsible for the election results; however, predictions for further erosion did not take place.  The recent death of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim might have been a rallying point or it might have been hopes for the new leader (his son Ammar).  But at this point, I don't see how you say that Ammar al-Hakim is less powerful than Moqtada al-Sadr when al-Hakim is as popular within Iraq and is more popular than al-Sadr with Iraq's neighbors and that includes Iran.  If you asked the neighboring countries to pick a prime minister for Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim would be the choice.  That may change as he gets more of a record of leadership but that is currently where he stands. Within the Islamic Supreme Council itself, Ammar remains leader and Moqtada al-Sadr could never challenge him in that post.  The issue of family is huge in Iraq (as are tribes) and Moqtada really doesn't have that to offer in the way Ammar does.  In fact, had Moqtada not called in favors from his late father's friends in Iran and gotten to be recognized (by them) as something of a holy man, he'd still be the petty thug he was seen as in Iraq for most of 2003.  My call on al-Hakim's
position in the Iraq hiearchy is based on the usual sources and I could be wrong.  (They were correct about Moqtada.)  Scott Horton may very well be right. But we rarely cover al-Hakim and with all that's been said, I'll offer the counter-opinion.  (Scott Horton may very well be right.  I could be wrong and often am.)  He appears to argue al-Sadr's power because al-Sadr "represents the poor."  Traditionally, in any society, the poor are the disenfranchised.  That's true in the US, that's true in most countries.  The idea that there was a scramble on in Iraq where anyone could achieve power existed in the early days of the US-invasion (and was false even then).  Again, we'll note it when the Gareth Porter interview goes up at Antiwar Radio.
Let's stay with the 'withdrawal' issue.  Al Mada reported Saturday that MP Sabah al-Saadi called on Nouri al-Maliki to reveal his on stance regarding US military troops staying beyond 2011 and he called for Nouri to release an evaluation of Iraq's security system currently. Noting the "lack of readiness on the part of the security forces to maintain the country," al-Saadi wonders "what did the government do for the last three years?" It is implied that any faliures would fall at Nouri's footsteps because he was prime minister when the SOFA was signed and it would appear -- either through "negligence" or a desire to keep US forces -- Nouri has not been up for the job. Today Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) embarrasses himself and the outlet (do I detect Serena's hand?) with a bunch of garbage about how "trainers" not "troops" will stay.  That's a false term.  al-Salhy's in Iraq and unaware of what the US Congress has heard in repeated hearings this year.  I've been at everyone of those public hearings and we've covered them in the snapshots here.  Whether it was military brass or the US Ambassador to Iraq or US State Dept employees, over and over Congress has been told that the US military will be acting as "trainers." And, in fact, that's the claim currently about the US military on the ground in Iraq right now.  So why Suadad al-Salhy thinks his nonsense today was needed, I have no idea.  He writes, "The difference between troops and trainers, usually former soldiers and police contracted to the U.S. government, may be critical for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [. . .]" Grow the hell up.  I'm not interested in your pathetic, juvenile delusions (or have you gone to work for the CIA? In which case you're serving up propaganda).  Here's reality on the 'untrained' forces still needing training.  They were getting training.  They were getting police training and plenty more.  Remember?  2006?  And what happened? The US military made the decision to stop those programs in Jordan and elsewhere.  Had those programs continued, don't you think the Iraqi forces would be up to speed by now?  Or do we need to see the 'training' video on YouTube again?  Where the US military comes in, screams at the Iraqi police trainees, using derogatory, sexist, homophobic and other 'good' language and has a hissy fit while playing "Dumb Idiot Iraqis!"  You really think a 'teacher' like that was ever going to impart a damn thing?  Really?  The report that Reuters missed -- through cowardice or ignorance -- is that Nouri's trying to sell the extension of the US military presence by claiming that they aren't "troops," they are "trainers." 
Over the weekend, Al Mada also reported that KRG President Massoud Barzani is attempting to return everyone to the Erbil Agreement (which ended the nine month plus political stalemate) and, most importantly, introduce a proposal calling for the security ministries being pulled from Nouri. On the topic of the Erbil Agreement, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "President Jalal Talabani and the head of al-Iraqiya Bloc Iyad Allawi have discussed the implementation of the Arbil agreement, a presidential statement noted." Alsumaria TV added, "In a statement to Alsumarianews, Al Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoun Al Damlouji accused Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki of aiming to take over the defense, interior and national security ministries and of refusing to engage Al Iraqiya in the ministries. Maliki's statements over the strategic policy council are a proof of his denial to national partnership and his aim to establish a dictatorship, Al Damlouji argued."  But for all the talk, nothing happens.  It's Stalemate II, if anyone wants to notice.  November 11th, hopes were high.  After nine months and counting, the political stalemate was finally going to end, Parliament would meet, they would name a prime minister, a president, vice presidents would be declared, the prime minister would nominate a cabinet -- and do so within 30 days of being made prime minister-designate -- because the political blocs had met in Erbil and all signed off on the Erbil Agreement. 
By the end of December, it was obvious that wasn't happening and that Iraq was again in a political stalemate.  Just as he did during Stalemate I, Nouri continues to hold everyone hostage.   In order to remain prime minister, he made many promises and over-promised on positions which is how the Cabinet was left with way too many ministers and deputy ministers. Having gotten what he wanted -- continuing as prime minister -- Nouri's now ready to break promises and has announced that he will cut the number of ministries from 43 to 29. Aswat al-Iraq reports that the Parliament is expected to go along with his plan.
Al Mada reports on a poll of Iraqi conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in partnership (supervision?) of the National Democratic Institute. 42% of Iraqis said the country was headed in the wrong direction which is down 3% from July 2010. Southern Iraq appears to be more likely to see the country on the wrong track. The younger you were and the harder your economic condition, the more likely that you were to rank the country as headed in the wrong direction. The elderly had the most positive view of Iraq. Asked what situation was improving, top choices were education and security and power (electricity) and corruption were seen as the least improved. (The figures Al Mada gives add up to double 100% so we're not including the actual numbers on this item). The most important task the respondents felt the government needed to address? Jobs. Iraqis registered a positive attitude towards democracy in the abstract. Asked about their own government and whether or not it was democratic, 39% responded "no" and 42% responded "yes." Adam Youssef and Suha Sheikhly (Al Mada) report that Iraq is said to need 4 million tons of wheat and barley to feed Iraq's population and 2 million tons is what's estimated Iraq will produce this year. Among the problems farmers cite in the article is the heavy price of commercial fertilizer and what they are calling seeds from "testing laboratories" which sounds like genetically modified seeds. It would be very interesting to see if genetically modified crops are being forced off on Iraq.

The other big problem farmers list is the rising saline factor in the water. This has previously been blamed on Iran which has admitted to being responsible. On the topic of conflicts between Iraq and Iran, Eli Lake (Washington Times) reports, "Fighting erupted Sunday between Iranian Kurdish insurgents and the Islamic republic's military forces near Iran's border with Kurdish Iraq. At least two Iranian Kurdish rebels and one member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed during clashes along the border with Iraq, according to reports from Iraqi Kurdistan, citing officials on both sides." Kurdish rebels targeting Turkey are the PKK. Those involved in conflict with Iran are the PJAK. Kurds are said to be one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without an official and autonomous homeland. The KRG -- Kurdistan Regional Government -- in Iraq is the closest to such a land. CNN notes, "The Kurdish region is a contiguous area that spreads across Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey and the Kurdish rebels in those regions are fighting for an independent Kurdish state." Turkey fears that should the KRG become anymore independent, it will fuel the desires of the PKK for their own homeland within Turkey. On the clash this weekend, Al Jazeera reports:

Jabbar Yawar, the highest official in the Iraqi Kurdish ministry responsible for the region's security forces, earlier confirmed Iranian shelling of PJAK bases, but said he received no reports of clashes and had no death toll.
The shelling came despite a warning on July 3 by the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, over the cross-border operations.
Earlier this month, a senior Iranian military official accused Barzani of "giving 300,000 hectares of land to the PJAK terrorist group without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad", Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said.

AGI quotes Iranian Col Delavar Ranjbarzadeh stating, "All 3 camps on Iraqi land that supported the terrorist organization are now under our control."   Today's Zaman reports, "PJAK says Iranian forces entered Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region to fight them. They claim that PJAK has killed 53 Iranian soldiers and wounded 43 while only two PJAK members were killed and seven wounded in the fighting." Yes, it was just last month that Jalal Talabani, Kurd and president of Iraq, showed up in Tehran for a safety meeting and gave a speech decrying the residents of Camp Ashraf as terrorists and promising Iraq was addressing the issue. In his speech, he never said one word about the PKK which occupies northern Iraq and launches attacks on Turkey or the PJAK which are Kurds who launch attacks on Iran. Reza (Kurdish Aspect) weighs in:

Despite repetitive cautions by both Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad, Iran has not only not dissuaded from resuming its illegitimate aerial strikes, but also dispatched ten thousands members of its Armed Revolutionary Guards deep into Kurdish territory in North of Iraq, according to a report aired by the Iraqi al-Rafedain Television.
Iranian terrorist regime recently hurled baseless allegations against Kurdish Government President Massood Barzani, stating that his administration has granted 300,000 hectares of land to the members of PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan), a Kurdish political party struggling for Kurdish Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy in Iran, without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad.
Having been authorized to operate in Kurdistan for years, by now Iranian consulate agents must have collected sufficient intelligence realizing that for any purchase, sale or resale of real state, proper verified Iraqi documentations must be presented to the court to register such properties. Therefore, such groundless accusations are mere pretexts to distort the facts. The fact is Iranian military is conducting recon and maneuvering operations in Iraqi Kurdistan, something that can destabilize Iraq and imperil the lives of US troops.
In other news, Al Rafidayn notes that a doctor was released Saturday after three weeks of being held hostage and after a half a million dollars was paid as ransom.  Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa, a Mosul armed clash in which 3 people were killed and two police officers injured, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint in which 1 person was killed and two suspects were arrested by police, a Sulaimaniya shelling (from Iran) which injured one Iraqi woman, a Mahaweel roadside bombing which injured three police officers and, dropping back to last night, a woman was stabbed to death in Jurf al-Sakhar.

Turning to the US, on Boiling Frogs whistle blower Sibel Edmonds and Peter B. Collins spoke with journalist James Bamford about the administration's war on whistle blowers and more.  Excerpt:
Sibel Edmonds: We have all these secret wars, all these covert wars and all these overt wars, and all these attacks on transparency and whistle blowers, Jim, and yet we have even less media coverage of these important issues today, now, than we had during the Bush administration.  And this also applies to the so-called alternative media .  You either have Obama apologists who are actually defending this president's actions on all these different issues we just discussed or they simply don't write about it or analyze.  I mean, for example, The New Yorker.  I remember New Yorker's Seymour Hersh during the first three years of the Bush administration had fourteen, fifteen articles -- investigative pieces on these covert operations, whether the assassinations or the covert wars.  And he's been absent.  The New Yorker has been absent.  As far as the other alternative media channels have been silent.  The fundings for anti-war movement has dried up.  We had all these foundations and think tanks that supplied these organizations and coalitions -- anti-war coalitions with money -- you know, get out there and raise objections and raise your voice, and now they don't have the money because they are not opposing these wars because they have this Democratic president and they're still backing him despite all of this record. So, I mean, what is happening with both mainstream media and the alternative when it comes to these issues that we just discussed, Jim?
James Bamford: Well I would have loved to have had just half the amount of coverage that [former US House] Representative [Anthony] Weiner had on the issue of his uh his Twitter pictures. Just half that amount of press focused on Anwar al-Awlaki and the fact that we're targeting American citizens for murder without any judicial allowance just killing them.  To me, it's absurd that we haven't had enough, nearly enough, coverage of issues like that. And it's sort of a minor issue that attracts [press] attention and you just sort of wonder: Why, if they're going to pay that much attention to an issue like that, why can't they pay an equal amount or at least half as much to something as important as the US military and the CIA going after American citizens not convicted of any crime and not under any judicial kind of sentence or anything.