Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 26, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, RAND publishes a book and gets attention, RAND publishes a study stating violence comes to Iraq (one way or the other) and the press miss that one, Iran and PJAK appear to be creating exactly the situation RAND was warning against, and more.
The RAND Corporation is in the news cycle.  AP reports their new book (The Long Shadow of 9/11: America's Response to Terrorism) finds that the United States government made many mistakes including "launching a war in Iraq that did little to weaken al-Qaeda" presumably weaken them in the world since al-Qaeda had no Iraq presence until after the start of the Iraq War and other mistakes include "actions that helped militant groups recruit more followers, like the detainee abuse committed at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad."
Of greater interest to us (and something's no one's reported on) is the RAND Corporation's  report entitled "Managing Arab-Kurd Tensions in Northern Iraq After the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops."  The 22-page report, authored by Larry Hanauer, Jeffrey Martini and Omar al-Shahery, markets "CBMs" -- "confidence-building measures" -- while arguing this is the answer.  If it strikes you as dangerously simplistic and requiring the the Kurdish region exist in a vacuum where nothing else happens, you may have read the already read the report.  CBMs may strike some as what the US military was engaged in after the Iraqi forces from the central government and the Kurdish peshmerga were constantly at one another's throats and the US military entered into a patrol program with the two where they acted as buffer or marriage counselor.  (And the report admits CBMs are based on that.)  Sunday Prashant Rao (AFP) reported US Col Michael Bowers has announced that, on August 1st, the US military will no longer be patrolling in northern Iraq with the Kurdish forces and forces controlled by Baghdad. That took years.  And had outside actors.  The authors acknowledge:
Continuing to contain Arab-Kurd tensions will require a neutral third-party arbitrator that can facilitate local CMBs, push for national-level negotiations, and prevent armed conflict between Iraqi and Kurdish troops.  While U.S. civilian entities could help implement CMBs and mediate political talks, the continued presence of U.S. military forces within the disputed internal boundaries would be the most effective way to prevent violent conflict between Arabs and Kurds.
As you read over the report, you may be struck by its failure to state the obvious: If the US government really wanted the issue solved, it would have been solved in the early years of the illegal war.  They don't want it solved.  The Kurds have been the most loyal ally the US has had in the country and, due to that, they don't want to upset them.  However, they're not going to pay back the loyalty with actual support, not when there's so much oil at stake.  So the Kurds were and will continue to be told their interests matter but the US will continue to blow the Kurdish issues off over and over.  Greed trumps loyalty is the message.  (If you doubt it, the Constitution guaranteed a census and referendum on Kirkuk by December 31, 2007.  Not only did the US government install Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in 2006, they continued to back him for a second term in 2010 despite his failure to follow the Constitution.)
Along with avoiding that reality, the report seems rather small-minded or, at least, "niche driven."  Again, the authors acknowledge that as well noting that they're not presenting a solution to the problems or ways to reach a solution, just ways to kick the can further down the road and, hopefully, there won't be an explosion that forces the issue any time soon. ("Regional and local CBMs have the potential to keep a lid on inter-communal tensions that will, without question, boil beneath the surface for a long time.  They cannot, however, resolve what is, at its heart, a strategic political dispute that must be resolved at the national level.") Hopefully? Page nine of the report notes that the consensus of US military, officials, analysts, etc. who have worked on the issue is that -- "given enough time -- Arab and Kurdish participants will eventually have a dispute that leads to violence, which will cause the mechanism to degrade or collapse."
The report notes that, in late 2009, Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq at that point) had declared the tensions between Arabs and Kurds to be "the greatest single driver of instability in Iraq."  It doesn't note how the US Ambassador to Iraq when Odierno made those remarks was Chris Hill who dismissed talk of tensions as well as the issue of the oil rich and disputed Kirkuk.
The authors argue that the unresolved issues could still be solved (and "civil war is not imminent") but that "the window is quickly closing".  So what's the problem?  The authors explain:
The issues that divide Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and other minorities in northern Iraq mirror the nation's most complex and contentious political challenges: disputed internal boundaries (which must be settled in order to determine the territorial boundaires of the Kurdistan region), the lack of clarity regarding control over Iraq's hydrocarbons, and the need to professionalize and integrate Iraq's military and police.  More locally, Arab-Kurd disputes extend to the sharing of power on local governing bodies, the ethnic composition of local police, rights to previously seized or abandoned property, the jurisidiction and condut of Kurdish security and intelligence services, and protections for minority rights.
If the US military leaves can the US State Dept fill the role?  While the authors note that the State Dept is interested in doing that and might be able to grab some roles, "U.S. diplomats would be ill-suited to join Kurdish and Iraqi security forces on armed patrols or at checkpoints, where disagreements on operations and tactics are more likely to lead to violence." The authors think the United Nations might be able to play a role in the CBMs but acknowledges that in June of 2009, UNAMI was uanble to please either side.
The report really ends there though the authors continue on -- including offering some ridiculous 'soutions.'  Reality, if the US wanted to make an impact on the issue, the time to do so was long, long ago.  It's an Iraqi decision and they'll have to decide it.  And they'll most likely do so in a violent manner.  The report notes, "Kurdish leaders hope that favorable demographic trends will strengthen their position over time, as will revenues from whatever energy contracts they are able to conclude themselves.  For its part, Baghdad seems to believe that improvements to Iraqi Army capabilities will deter armed conflict and prevent the KRG from seceding."
Again, in the report the KRG exists in a vacuum.  That's not the real world.  Currently, Kurds are under attack in Iraq and it's a development the RAND Corporation study didn't even factor in.  The Great Iraqi Revolution notes today, "Monday 25th July, 2011 -- 22 injured and killed yesterday and 1,200 families have now forcibly moved because of Iranian shelling in the North."  Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh Tweets on the subject:
The Iranian government has been shelling northern Iraq -- and possibly entering northern Iraq though the US State Dept claims borders are in dispute -- for weeks now.  The Iranian government maintains that Kurdish rebels (PJAK) are a threat to Iran and that Iran is defending itself.  James Calderwood (The National) explains, "The Kurdish villagers have been caught up in an Iranian military offensive that began on July 16 against Pjak, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan.  The organisation demands autonomy for Iranian Kurds and uses the isolated mountain range as a base to strike at military targets in Iraq."  Rudaw adds:

Kurdistan has deployed 12,000 forces to an area along the Iran-Iraq border as ongoing fighting between Kurdish rebels and the Iranian military has killed civilians and raised concerns that Iranian troops are crossing into Iraqi territory.

Salah Dilmani, a high-ranking Peshmarga officer, told Rudaw that the Kurdistan Region has sent around 12,000 Peshmargas or Kurdish military forces, to the Pishdar border district where Iranian forces have reportedly launched ground attacks on the rebel fighters of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) over the past two weeks.

"We will confront any forces that may attempt to cross the borders of Kurdistan," Dilmani said.

Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The Iranian army has launched a powerful operation against the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, in Iran, reportedly crossing the Iraqi border as it intensified its efforts in recent days to reach the group's headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq."  The Tehran Times states, "During a skirmish in Sardasht, West Azarbaijan, on Monday night, Basij members surrounded and killed a number of PJAK members but the rest of the criminals escaped.  Earlier, Press TV reported that 35 PJAK terrorists were killed during the clash. According to the report, several PJAK members were also captured by the IRGC." Press TV also notes, "Iran recently deployed 5,000 military forces in the northwest of the country along the border with Iraq's Kurdistan. Military maneuvers are being held with the aim of stabilizing the border area." Today's Zaman observes, "Iranian authorities have called for the support of the international community in its fight against the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) as the country has recently engaged in another round of deadly clashes with the terrorist group on the border it shares with Iraq's northern region ruled by semi-autonomous Kurdish administration."  They may already have reason to believe they have the US government's support.  Rudaw
speaks with a US political science professor:
William Anderson, professor of political science at Wright State University in Dayton Ohio believes that the Obama administration has taken a very soft approach toward Iran compared to the Bush administration.
"Since Obama came to power, the US policies towards Iran have changed," Anderson told Rudaw. "His administration has branded PJAK as a terrorist organization; therefore, it is unlikely that Obama would say anything about the fight between PJAK and Iran."
Alsumaria TV reports that as early as July 2nd, KRG President Massoud Barzani has been calling on the Iranian government to utilize a dialogue and stop their bombings.  They also note, "Kurdistan Alliance senior official Mahmoud Othman criticized on the other hand the 'silence' of Baghdad central government and Kurdistan regional government towards Iranian-Turkish ongoing shelling on Kurdistan."  (Turkey is shelling northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK -- another Kurdish independence group.  Turkey does so with the approval of Nouri al-Maliki.)  Now that's violence going on right now and if you're not getting what we're talking about when we point out that the RAND Corporation report presumes the KRG exists in a vacuum, this violence towards Iraqi Kurds is stirring up discontent within Iraq.  Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Hundreds of civil activsts have launched a demonstration in front of Iran's Consulate in Arbil on Tuesday, condemning the continued Iranian bombardment of the border villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, criticzing the Iraqi government's silence towards violations against human rights, a Kurdish activist said."
Does the anger build for a few more weeks in silence and then boil over or are there any adults in the region who can address it? This is exactly the issue the RAND Corporation paper should have anticipated.
Staying on the topic of violence, Reuters notes 1 Shi'ite gynaecologist was shot dead in her Mosul clinic, 1 corpse of a man (signs of torture) was handed over to the Mosul morgue, 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Kirkuk, a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured a police officer, a roadside bombing in a village outside Baquba claimed the life of the mayor of the village while injuring "his wife and daughter," 1 student was injured in a Baquba shooting and they update the motorcycle bombing Monday in Muqdadiya by noting that the death tolld has climbed from 2 to 5.  The Great Iraqi Revolution adds, "American occupation troops kill 3 citizens in Maysan Province."
Still on violence, MIT's John Tirman has been exploring the death toll from the Iraq War and just published "1 Million Dead in Iraq? 6 Reasons the Media Hide the True Human Toll of War -- And Why We Let Them."  Excerpt:
As the U.S. war in Iraq winds down, we are entering a familiar phase, the season of forgetting -- forgetting the harsh realities of the war. Mostly we forget the victims of the war, the Iraqi civilians whose lives and society have been devastated by eight years of armed conflict. The act of forgetting is a social and political act, abetted by the American news media. Throughout the war, but especially now, the minimal news we get from Iraq consistently devalues the death toll of Iraqi civilians.
Why? A number of reasons are at work in this persistent evasion of reality. But forgetting has consequences, especially as it braces the obstinate right-wing narrative of "victory" in the Iraq war. If we forget, we learn nothing.
I've puzzled over this habit of reaching for the lowest possible estimates of the number of Iraqis who died unnecessarily since March 2003. The habit is now deeply entrenched. Over a period of about two weeks in May, I encountered in major news media three separate references to the number of people who had died in the Iraq war. Anderson Cooper, on his CNN show, Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times Magazine and Brian MacQuarrie in the Boston Globe all pegged the number in the tens of thousands, sometimes adding "at least." But the number that sticks is this "tens of thousands."
Cooper, Myers and MacQuarrie -- all skillful reporters -- are scarcely alone. It's very rare to hear anything approximating the likely death toll, which is well into the hundreds of thousands, possibly more than one million. It's a textbook case of how opinion gatekeepers reinforce each other's caution. Because the number of civilians killed in a U.S. war is so morally fraught, the news media, academics and political leaders tend to gravitate toward the figure (if mentioned at all) that is least disturbing.
Scott Horton: Well and that's not all just shot by American soldiers.  That's the excess deaths so that includes people who couldn't get to the hospital for all the checkpoints and road blocks --
John Tirman:  That's right.
Scott Horton: Or died from an easily curable disease in a normal time.
John Tirman: All Iraqis.  Yeah.  Not just civilians.  But the point is is that war creates havoc in lots of ways.  It's not just direct violence, it's also what we call structural violence as you were just describing and I think they need to be counted as well. And also in Iraq, the idea of who's a civilian and who's not a civilian sometimes gets a little bit fuzzy, this line.  And so I think it's better just to count all Iraqis rather than try to differentiate whose a bystander and who isn't.
Scott Horton:  Right. In essence, what we're talking about is comparing the death rate from before [the war] and after --
John Tirman:  That's right.
Scott Horton:  -- and saying, "This is how much it increased."  That kine of thing.
John Tirman:  That's right.
Scott Horton:  So now so onto Anderson Cooper.  I have a theory why Anderson Cooper would only say "tens of thousands" as you point out in your story here. My theory is, he doesn't know the first thing about it.  He doesn't sit around and read Antiwar.com.  [. . .] He's heard once, out loud, someone told him 'it's about tens of thousands.'  And so that's all he knows. So he goes on TV and tells and that's what the rest of  America thinks too then.  What do you think about my awesome theory?
John Tirman:  Well I don't know specifically about him but I think the problem generally with the news media is that they have not really looked at it carefully, that I think is true.  A few editors, a few reporters took up the John Hopkins survey which is the one that I commissioned in 2006 -- and others but have not really engaged in why these are done the way they're done. Are they  more plausible than the simple counts from English language new media stories and so on?  And so they kind of throw up their hands and say, "Okay, we'll give the bottom line here, the lowest number because that's the safest thing to do." 
 New Sabah reports that the US Defense Dept and White House want to know "immediately" whether or not US troops are wanted in Iraq beyond 2011 and quickly emphasizes statements by Gen Ray Odierno and the State Dept's Alan Stevens. Al Sabah reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey. A source close to Talabani tells the paper that political blocs have prevented the discussion thus far of extending the US presence in Iraq. It's also noted that Nouri's official spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh has stated he sees a chance that US combat troops will remain in Iraq.

The issue was supposed to have been addressed yesterday after Talabani and the blocs failed to address it this weekend. But Al Sabah notes that did not take place at the meeting and that not only could they not reach an agreement on extending (or not) the US military presence in Iraq, they also could not work out an agreement regarding whether the political blocs could return to the Erbil Agreement. The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I (March 7, 2010 through November of 2010 when the Erbil Agreement allows them to move forward). Political Stalemate II begins in December 2010 when, after becoming prime minister-designate, Nouri begins disregarding the Erbil Agreement.

Political Stalemate I was Nouri's refusal to accept the results of the election (Iraqiya beat Nouris State Of Law) and Nouri using his post as prime minister to ensure there would be no progress. Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Iraqiya floating the threat of early elections has State of Law in a tizzy and they're rushing to insist such statements are the equivalents of bombs (making Iraqiya terrorists). Nouri really needs to curb State of Law. That crap will play with his partisans but it just demonstrates to the world what a little trashy thug he truly is.
Turning to the US, the debt remains a conversation topic.  DC is unwilling to save money by ending all the wars, but that is the approach favored by the people.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has tried some smoke & mirrors claiming that his plan saves money by including the 'savings' by presuming the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars will not continue another decade.  From yesterday's snapshot:

Staying on Iraq and the US, Sam Stein (Huffington Post) foolishly insists, "In the end, the debt ceiling could come down to a simple accounting question. Should the money saved from drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan count as part of a deficit reduction package?" At least he wasn't stupid enough to say "ending." Lori Montgomery (Washington Post) notes this is seen "as a budget gimmick." But that's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to do. John Eggerton (Broadcasting & Cable) explains, "Reid gets $1 trillion of his total savings by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Judson Berger (Fox News) notes that this "might not satisfy ratings agencies" but that it is something "that has been used by both parties." And while he means they've both attempted to include this as a saving, more to the point they've both been stupid. Reality comes via Kristina Peterson (Dow Jones): "One caveat in this case is the unpredictability of war -- new developments in Afghanistan, for instance, could scuttle the intended timetable to withdraw troops." Did that thought really not occur to anyone else? Was Peterson alone at the grown ups table?

Set a place at the table for Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) who notes of the CBO estimates Harry Reid's claiming will not be needed:

In other words, the CBO number, which puts the cost of the wars at $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, was the projection if the U.S. kept the current number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020. However, nobody ever thought that was the plan. The CBO was required to do the math that way, as they do with all such projections.
The reality is that it is impossible to estimate the costs of the wars, because fundamental questions about U.S. policy toward both countries remain unanswered. For example, will the Afghanistan drawdown be complete by 2014, and what will be the pace of the drawdown? Will all U.S. troops be out of Iraq by the end of the year?
The CBO also put out numbers for war costs that assumed a gradual drawdown of troops. In fact, they put out two numbers, based on two different possible policy options. If U.S. policymakers decided to drawdown to 45,000 troops in both countries by 2015, the CBO projected that the cost of the wars would be $624 billion over 10 years. A steeper drawdown to 30,000 troops by 2013 would make the projection $422 billion over the next decade.

The San Francisco Chronicle and Bloomberg News quote former CBO director and Urban Institute fellow Rudolph Penner stating of Reid's move, "It's just one more thing that makes you cynical about what's going on in Washington."

Actress, activist, author Jane Fonda was judged too controversial for QVC.  But people who value free exchanges and Jane's body of work and activism can see and hear her August 17th, 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley ($15 per ticket in advance, $18 at the door -- tickets are moving briskly and if they all sell out in advance, there will be none to purchase at the event, you've been given a heads up). The topic of the evening will be life, the same as the topic of her incredible new book (due out August 9th) Prime Time, Making the Most of Your Life.  I look at the cancellation as a badge of honor in a "banned in Boston" way.  Jane's written of her shock over it and I'm sorry about that.  Jane being Jane, she's found a way to find the positive in it all (click here) -- and click here for her addressing Vietnam last week.  My take on it: Those who are uninformed because they want to be (and want to wallow in hate) thought they were accomplishing something with their lobbying of QVC.  They accomplished nothing.  It got the book more publicity, it took Jane off the network (no offense to friends who go on it, but QVC really is tacky) and it ended up -- because she got pro-active -- allowing her to connect with friends and supporters as well as to take down a barrier that prevented communication with some people.  The Wednesday, August 17th event is a KPFA benefit and Kris Welch is the host.  It will no doubt be a very memorable event.