Thursday, July 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Jalal Talabani prepares to host another house party, Political Stalemate II continues, US officials think discussions about the US military staying in Iraq could go on for months, and more.
Kevin Pina: And now we are joined once again by our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya direct from Tripoli, Libya. Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Thank you, Kevin, good to hear your voice again.
Kevin Pina: Well listen, overnight everything has changed. It wasn't but yesterday and two days ago that the Obama administration and France and the NATO coalition were saying 'No solution to this unless Muammar Gaddafi stepped down.' Today they've completely reversed their position and changed their tune. They're saying now that that is not a prerequisite to negotiating a deal. You actually called it on the ground yesterday.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes, yes, Kevin, I've seen the negotiators they've been sending. And to be very frank with you, there are journalists here who are acting in the position of feelers, let's say. The journalists here -- Okay, let me qualify what I'm going to say. One of the reasons I came to Libya was as a member of a fact finding mission for the current events in Libya. This is part of an international group. People came from all over including ex-Congress member Cynthia McKinney. People have come from all over western Europe, Africa, all over the world, Canada included. And studying the media has been a point of mine. My notebook was actually mysteriously disappeared, so my original documents disappeared in the Rixos Hotel which is where the international journalists stay. But I want to point out that a lot of the journalists are way far more than just journalists. They're here for other things like mapping social relationships. I even suspect they're trying to see how they can find Gaddafi and report it back to Brussels or Washington for assassination. Now going back to what --
Kevin Pina: Woah, woah, woah, Mahdi. That's a very serious allegation. You're saying that journalists there are actually acting as espionage agents for certain foreign governments.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes, yes. I'm very serious about what I said. I believe even yesterday I told you that a German gentleman was kicked out for suspicion of spying. Like I'm being very cautious with my words here but he came here presenting himself as an expert on Depleted Uranium. He had no qualifications whatsoever. He came to the fact finding commission. He brought machinery with him that he claimed could find DU. It was right after the really strange bombings of the previous night which I said the bombing was not like before. And he was very eager to see the weapons used and if any weapons remained. And he insisted on going to the sites. And how they caught him was he made some stories that didn't follow through. Yes, I'm dead serious about this. The media center has been watching journalists. They're been journalists who've applied to come here with fake passports. I haven't seen these obviously but I've been told that passport pictures are not even proper. They've looked up some of these journalists' backgrounds. It does not even concur with the nationality or the place of birth they've presented. So, yes, I'm saying that they sent spies. Whether you want to say CNN, Sky News -- The mainstream media's here far more than just to cover the news, they make the news. Number one, they make the news. They're not here to report the news at all. So I'm going to emphasize that. They're here to make the news. They've sent [CNN's] Ivan Watson from their Istanbul bureau. I was at the fact finding commission when he came. And they sent Jomana Karadsheh [also CNN]. She's a producer based in Baghdad. Look, I'm going to point it out. She told us that she's Lebanese at the fact finding commission but her background says she's Jordanian. So she was dishonest right there. The questions they brought were not about finding facts, they were more like negotiating points. These people are here on a very ominous standing and it has to do with the fact that the Obama administration, Barack Hussein Obama, Hillary Clinton and NATO are on very weak footing. France's prime minister -- this is an official position when France's prime minister or president make these statements -- said Gaddafi could stay. They are in a very weak position and everybody in Libya and in Libyan capitol Tripoli on the Mediterranean Coast knows that full well.
Turning to Iraq, Ed O'Keefe and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report that Iraqi and American officials are both stating that the 'deadline' for informing the US that they want the US military to stay will not be kept. That deadline was Jalal Talabani's deadline. Set and announced by Talabani. Among the problems O'Keefe and Alwan state is that there is some speculation, on the American side, that "a request might not come until March." For those late to the party, the Status Of Forces Agreement extended the US military occupation of Iraq by three years -- unlike the UN mandates which had been used previously and only covered one year at a time. December 31st of this year, the SOFA (negotiated by the Bush administration) expires. If it is not extended it can be replaced with a new agreement or all US forces (except those protecting the sprawling US Embassy in Baghdad and the US consulates sprouting up all over Iraq) can leave.
The White House's primary plan is to reach an agreement and keep the US military in Iraq as is -- meaning under the Pentagon. The back-up plan is sliding them over to the State Dept and keeping them in that way. With Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio), John Glaser discussed the US military staying in Iraq. Excerpt:
John Glaser: Whatever sort of contingent forces remain in Iraq -- there surely will be some amount -- they're going to be in combatant capacity despite the denials of US officials that are saying right now they're going to be noncombat and so on and so forth. They will have to continue to fight against an insurgency whose main aim is to get them out of the country. There's no -- There's really no indication that the national security state in America will treat Iraq any differently than they've treated the many other countries which they continue to okay. Why would they treat it any differently than South Korea where we still have 50,000 some odd troops. There's just no indication that they would. And so we need to either come to grips with the fact that they will be there and they will continue fighting or -- I'm not really sure what the alternative is.
Scott Horton: Yeah, well, I'm already making bumper sticks that say: "End The Iraq War: Ron Paul 2012."
John Glaser: Right.
Scott Horton: Cause Obama sure ain't doing it.
John Glaser: No, absolutely not. I'm glad that Ron Paul is running again. I think he sort of invigoarted a d a distinct class of antiwar and I think he'll build on that this time around and we'll get some more colleagues in that endevaor.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's go to some of the international issues you touched on very quickly. You want to bring troops home. What should the U.S. footprint be internationally? What is the U.S. role in the world?
REP. RON PAUL: Well, it should be a footprint of trade and friendship, as we were advised and as the Constitution permits. The footprint shouldn't be a military footprint. It shouldn't be -
JUDY WOODRUFF: So bring -
REP. RON PAUL: The footprint we're leaving now - our drone missiles dropping bombs and killing innocent civilians, launched from the United States with computers. That's not the kind of footprint I want.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan. How quickly would you bring the troops home?
REP. RON PAUL: As quick as the ships could get there. It's insane on what we're doing. And I'll tell you one thing about this business about the military: We just had a quarterly report, and they listed all the money that all the candidates got from the military. I got twice as much as all the other candidates put together on the Republican side, and even more than Obama got, which tells me that these troops want to come home as well because they know exactly what I'm talking about.
Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reported earlier this week on Kirkuk, "Nowhere, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, is the argument for keeping American troops in Iraq past Dec. 31 stronger than in Kirkuk." He quotes stating the Governor of Kirkuk Najmeldeen Kereem, "The Iraqi security forces do not have the ability to secure Iraq's borders, its airspace or its sole seaport in Basra." The governor wants the US military to stay on.
While Kirkuk might want the US to stay on, supposedly the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq) will be keeping US troops. Al Rafidayn reports the Iraqi president gave an interview to China Central Television in which he explained that the Kurdistan region is planning to keep US forces. And what of outside the Kurdistan region? In the rest of Iraq? Well there are a few problems, Jalal explained. See Iraqi has trouble protecting itself. It can't, he declared, protect its own air space, the land or the sea. I'm confused, what does that leave? By air, land or sea. What else is there? How does that passage in the US Marines' Hymn go?
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea
What else is there?
I guess we could go Wiccan and talk the four corners? Earth, Air, Water and Fire? So Jalal would be saying that Iraq has the capacity to protect the fire?
Who knows but it's pretty clear that if you're the president of the country and you're maintaining your forces can protect your country . . . except by land, air and water, you've just tossed out a huge "but" and, no, your forces can't protect your country. (Or, at least, you don't think they can.)
To keep the US military in Iraq, Jalal Talabani hid behind "trainers." That's the lie that the Iraqi government currently thinks it can trick the Iraqi people with. The US will remain in "a limited number" as "trainers." Strange. I don't see how "trainers" can protect your air space, or your waters, or your land. Al Sabaah also notes Talabani's non-stop use of "trainers." Phil Stewart (Reuters) notes, "Legal safeguards for U.S. troops could become a major stumbling block to any potential deal with Iraq to keep some American forces in the country beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline."
Nizar Latif (The National) reported at the end of last month that a number of Shi'ites were worried about a possible US departure and fear that civil war could return and they worry about the Mahdi militia of Moqtada al-Sadr: "Critics now worry that the militia, which supporters claim can call up 150,000 fighters will pick up weapons if a new security vacuum opens up when Iraq's army and police take over the departs." Moqtada al-Sadr made many threats to rain down fire and brimstone should the US military stay in Iraq. Then he announced he wouldn't oppose such a decision. NPR's Kelly McEvers (All
KELLY McEVERS: This is the issue with Sadr's organization. Despite its new image as a political player, it still maintains a militant wing that stands ready to threaten or even fight its rivals. In the case of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the ostensible reason for keeping guns is to resist Israel. For Sadr, it's to resist the U.S. But what happens when the enemy occupier leaves? Here's Thanassis Cambanis again.
Professor THANASSIS. CAMBANIS: If the logic of resistance is what defines you as a movement, you're going to have a lot of trouble shifting to some other footing when the enemy you resist is gone.
McEVERS: That's why following the Hezbollah model too closely might eventually be Sadr's undoing, Cambanis says. Two decades after its civil war, Lebanon remains volatile and divided, and Hezbollah, he says, is losing credibility. In the short term, though, Cambanis says, as long as Iraq's weak and incomplete government remains unable to provide security and basic services, Muqtada al-Sadr will remain a reasonable alternative.
Staying on the topic of Moqtada al-Sadr, we have maintained that he would back down on his 'vow' to reform the Mahdi militia to attack US soldiers. The 'vow' (empty threat) was similar to ones he had made before and not followed through on and there was also the issue of hs long stay in Iran while he was supposedly a 'leader' to 'his people.' More and more US, European and Arab opinion (intelligence and diplomatic community) was that Moqtada had lost hold of 'his people' and was at a very weak point -- one similar to 2008 when the Bush administration elected to attack him (with Nouri joining in) and allow him to play 'dangerous rebel' and up his prestige and 'cred.' By remaining out of Iraq after being seen as strong (after the 2008 attack), he lost what he'd gained. That's what we based our opinion on.
Events have backed up that view. Gareth Porter has a different take on why Moqtada changed his mind. He explains it in his article "What Is Sadr's Game on Future US Troop Presence" (IPS via Dissident Voice) which we've noted twice this week. And he explained it in his conversation with Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio). We noted that interview twice this week. Read his piece but my summary of it is that Moqtada realized he will be the next prime minister and is now interested in perserving the system and not destroying it.
Gareth Porter could be correct. The opinion we've offered here could be completely wrong. But Gareth's opinion really doesn't make sense. And even Scott Horton seems to sense that as he returns to that topic (such as in the interview we noted earlier). It's possible that Moqtada had an about face on this because Jalal Talabani, who's been meeting with everyone, pointed out the details Gareth presents. And hearing that from Talabani, Moqtada did an about face. For Gareth's version to be correct, it appears to require someone points out to Moqtada all that 'will happen.' If Moqtada had come to the realization on his own, the sudden about face makes no sense.
So maybe something like that happened. Gareth could be correct. But I don't think it makes sense and I'm sticking with what we've argued for months. In that scenario, Moqtada has little to command because his refusal to keep 'skin in the game' by staying in Iraq, loosened his hold on his organization and all of its aspects. That hypothesis may be backed up by Moqtada's own remarks that he had to bring the Mahdi militia under control. This is again hit upon today in a report by Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters):
Anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army has spawned dozens of renegade splinter groups which frequently assassinate Iraqi officials on behalf of foreign sponsors, Sadrist and security officials say.
[. . .]
A popular Shi'ite cleric who leads the militia as well as his own political bloc, Sadr has repudiated the splinter groups, describing them as "murderers" and "criminals", and has called on Iraqi security forces and tribes to expel them.
"They have turned into mercenary groups which have no ideology or specific agenda. They are more like contract killers," said Major-General Hassan al-Baidhani, chief of staff for Baghdad's security operations command.
While Moqtada spent the last years in Iran, time did not stand still and common sense will tell you that if Ida is the leader but Ida's out of the county and Jose, Mia and Bill have to do all the wok in country -- including risking arrest, including risking death -- Jose, Mia and Bill aren't going to be thrilled when Ida pops back into the country three years later and expects everyone to listne to her. Moqtada can't run a 'revolution' by remote.
Gareth Porter may be right and I may be wrong. Wouldn't be the first or last time that I was wrong. But the yarn being told does not add up and that's why Scott Horton's trying to suss it out in his conversation with John Glaser. That's why he keeps returning to it trying to figure out what Moqtada is thinking. Because it doesn't add up.
Why the sudden turn around by Moqtada? In Gareth's version it's because Moqtada realized he would be the next prime minister in a couple of years and realized he couldn't afford to tear down the system he would command. Okay. Well why did Moqtada all the sudden realize that? Every step on the ladder begs another question because on the most basic level -- human nature -- it does not make sense. We've excerpted from Gareth's article and we included lengthy quotes on this from his conversation with Scott Horton. There's a link to his piece several paragraphs up. I'm not trying to distort what he's saying. But what he's saying doesn't currently make sense. It may be missing a step or it may be invalid. I don't know. But my opinion is that Moqtada lost control of his group -- and we've argued that repeatedly pointing to the low turnout for parades and Moqtada's sudden decision to turn a parade into a march by his armed supporters. Moqtada's own remarks appear to back up that he's lost control (but his remarks indicate also that he thinks he can take back control -- maybe he can).
At present, he really shouldn't matter but he continues to be a focus. Largely because he's a press created object -- like a bad actor who sleeps with his director to get that big break and gets the Vanity Fair cover and then, two to three years later, people ask, "What ever happened to . . ." and "What did anyone ever see in . . ." (For those playing guessing games, that actually describes two actors on the cover of Vanity Fair in the last two decades.) At some point, maybe an interviewer will ask him if he's still relevant? Who knows. But he's taken himself out of the conversation of should Iraq keeps US troops or not by his own statements.
Dar Addustour reports Jalal's got another house party planned. And that they will again discuss implementing the Erbil Agreement but that Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi) is making warning noises about what might happen if the agreement is not implemented (this agreement was signed off on in November and ended Political Stalemate I). Al Mada adds that Iraqiya is floating the prospect of a vote of no confidence in the current government. What does that mean? A call for early elections. The country is in Political Stalemate II and Reidar Visser (Carnegie Endowment) offers these thoughts on it: When Iraqi politicians finally formed a new government in December 2010, nine months after the parliamentary elections, many voices in the international community were congratulatory. Observers emphasized that the Iraqis had managed to create an "inclusive government" in which all the different ethno-sectarian groups in the country were represented. Critics of the deal that led to the formation of the second government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointed out that it simply papered over persisting conflicts among Iraqi politicians. It also produced an oversized, ineffective, and unstable government with lots of unnecessary, bogus ministries (including such portfolios as civil society and the southern marshlands), whereas ministries that were truly needed, especially relating to national security, remained unfilled.
Eight months on, it seems the critics got it right: the government remains incomplete and lacks key ministers for the interior and defense, whereas the strategic policy council (celebrated by the United States as a key power-sharing instrument of the government-formation deal) has yet to even be formed. Much of 2011 has been spent agreeing on three unnecessary deputies for the ceremonial presidential office (one of whom has already resigned), while progress on the debate between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad over oil exports has been limited to a pragmatic agreement to export from two fields -- and the pending parliamentary agreement on oil and gas laws still seems a long way off.
And yet we constantly hear half-truths and fantasies of 'progress' in Iraq. Sometimes 'progess' is nothing but a repeating PR stunt. Case in point, Al Sabaah reports that Iraq's Museum will be opening in the next three months. And there's a nice little picture of the museum. We do love it when the museum's 'opening' is in the news. Remember February 24, 2009:
"As for when the rest of Iraq will be able to see the museum, that's unclear. Iraqi guards Monday afternoon told journalists it would be a couple of months," notes the Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond (credited that way here and in the snapshot yesterday because no writer is named in the blog post). That's really the heart of the story. Yesterday, you had a limited, for-show opening. Sudarsan Raghavan and K.I. Ibrahim's "Six Years After Its Pillage, Iraqi Museum to Reopen" (Washington Post) reports puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki insists the 'opening' indicates an "embrace of democracy" -- embrace by who and of what by whom? Democracy for invited guests only?
It was an opening of sorts, a one-day opening. It's all smoke and mirrors to establish 'progress' in Iraq. If we all agree to be stupid or lie, we can be Ad Melkert and claim progress in Iraq (see yesterday's snapshot).
Iraqis who can't find their loved ones wouldn't argue 'progress' in Iraq. At the heart of the protests in Iraq has been the wives, mothers and daughers whose husbands, sons and fathers have disappeared into the Iraqi 'justice' system. Wednesday NPR's Isra' al Rubei'i and Kelly McEvers (Morning Edition) reported on the women who take part in the Baghdad protests. (And please note, the women can be found all over Iraq and have been protesting throughout Iraq since January.) They speak with Umm Haidar whose son Haider was taken away by US troops five years ago and she has searched for him ever since, "All I want to know is if my son is dead or alive."
McEvers notes the women say "we've searched the prisons and morgues" and that they come to Baghdad's Tahrir Square "as a last hope." Nouri did come up with a program to help these women back in February.
KELLY MCEVERS: Earlier this year, as uprisings around the region toppled some leaders and forced others to announce reforms, the Iraqi government said it would launch a new program to search for the missing. The plan was that the Iraqi Army would take requests from families at a battalion headquarters like this one. Then a joint civilian-military committee would search prison rosters, hospitals, and lists from newly discovered mass graves. At this station alone, some 600 families registered.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: This soldier, who doesn't want to give his name, worked on the new committee. He says the registration is now closed, and nothing has been done with the list of the missing. The soldier says the program was simply a way to placate anti-government protesters.
Unidentified Man: (Through translator) People who we received in the beginning, are coming now and asking us, what did you do? And we tell them, nothing. We couldn't find anyone.
A soldier states Nouri's 'plan' was "simply a way to placate" and to defuse the protests. That's 'progress'? The inability to name a Minister of National Security, a Minister of Defense or even a Minister of Interior all these months after becoming prime minister-designate is 'progress'? (Those posts were supposed to have been named within thirty days of Nouri being named prime minister-designate, per the Iraqi Constitution.)
As the security ministries remain without ministers to head them, as Political Stalemate II continues, violence has increased. Reuters notes today's violence includes 1 government employee being shot dead in Kirkuk, a Najaf bombing injuring three children, a Kirkuk roadside bombing claiming 1 life and leaving two more people injured, and, dropping back to last night, a Mosul grenade attack on an Iraqi military checkpoint which claimed the life of one soldier.
July 20 - As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travelled to Bali, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) urged her to condition U.S. security assistance to Indonesia on real improvements in human rights by Indonesia government and genuine accountability for violations of human rights. "The restoration of assistance to Indonesia's notorious Kopassus special forces announced a year ago should be reversed," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "Kopassus training was meant to be the carrot to encourage respect for rights. There is no evidence it has done so. U.S. law bars cooperation with military and police units with such egregious human rights records. The U.S should set an example by following it's own law." On the eve of Secretary Clinton's visit, ETAN issued the following statement:
In her February 2009 visit to Indonesia, Secretary of State Clinton praised democratic reforms since the fall of the U.S.-backed Suharto, saying "Indonesia has experienced a great transformation in the last 10 years." While Indonesia has made progress since the dark days of Suharto, crimes against humanity and other violations of human rights continue. U.S. policy has largely focused on narrow strategic and economic interests that have little to do with the well-being of the Indonesian people. Meanwhile, progress has stalled. Human rights remain under threat. The military continues to find ways to maintain its influence. The pleas of the victims of human rights crimes in Timor-Leste, Aceh, West Papua, and elsewhere in the archipelago are ignored. Senior figures responsible for the worst abuses prosper.
In recent years, the U.S. has provided substantial assistance to both the Indonesian military and police. This assistance is said to come with lessons on human rights. The human rights lessons are not being learned. People see the police as abusers, not protectors and military impunity prevails. Indonesia's security forces are learning is that U.S. will assist them no matter how they behave.
Over the past year, horrific videos and other reports of torture, the burning of villages and other crimes offer graphic proof that the people of West Papua and elsewhere continue to suffer at the hands of military and police. Soldiers prosecuted for these and other incidents receive light sentences. Just this past week, four civilians, a women and three children, were wounded when Indonesian troops shot into a hut in the Puncak Jaya area of Papua.
As many as 100 political prisoners remain jailed: prosecuted and jailed for the peaceful expression of opinion. In many regions, minority religious institutions are persecuted, often with the active or tacit assistance of local security officials. Vigilante groups, like the Islamic Defenders Front, seek to enforce their own extra-legal version of morality, again with the backing of officials. Journalists, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists are threatened and occasionally killed. The organizers of the 2004 poisoning of Indonesia's most prominent human rights lawyer, Munir, remain free and seemingly above the law.
In recent years, the U.S. has provided substantial assistance to both the Indonesian military and police. This assistance is said to come with lessons on human rights. Lessons that are not being learned. People see the police as abusers, not protectors and military impunity prevails. Indonesia's security forces are learning is that U.S. will assist them no matter how they behave.
We urge the U.S. to condition its security assistance on an end to human rights violations and to impunity. The U.S. should heed the recommendation of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR), which urged nations to "regulate military sales and cooperation with Indonesia more effectively and make such support totally conditional on progress towards full democratisation, the subordination of the military to the rule of law and civilian government, and strict adherence with international human rights, including respect for the right of self-determination." Indonesia does not yet meet this standard.
The U.S., as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should work to establish an international tribunal to bring to justice the perpetrators of human rights crimes committed during Indonesia's 24-year occupation of Timor-Leste. This would provide a measure of justice to the victims and their families and serve as a deterrent to future human rights violators. A tribunal is supported by the many victims of these crimes and by human rights advocates in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the U.S., and elsewhere.
Finally, we urge Secretary Clinton to apologize to the peoples of Indonesia and Timor-Leste for U.S. support for the Suharto dictatorship. Her visit offers the U.S. a chance to decisively break with past U.S. support for torture, disappearances, rape, invasion and illegal occupation, extrajudicial murder environmental devastation. Clinton should offer condolences to Suharto's many victims throughout the archipelago and support the prosecution of those responsible.
ETAN was founded in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for Indonesian-occupied Timor-Leste. Since the beginning, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. For more information, see ETAN's web site: http://www.etan.org.