Monday, August 1, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a day so hot that Iraq closes government offices, Nouri announces he has presented the Parliament with the report on Iraqi forces readyness, Osama al-Nujaifi says Nouri did not present that report, Adm Mike Mullen visits Iraq, and more.
This morning at 6:00 am EST, it was already 120 degrees in Baghdad. AFP reports that, due to the heat, a public holiday has been called in Baghdad and that the heat is expected to stay high tomorrow and Wednesday. Aswat al-Iraq notes that along with the rising heat, today is also the first day of Ramadan. Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) observes, "Iraq's central government shuttered its offices and sent public-sector workers home across most of the country Monday as temperatures surpassed 122 degrees Fahrenheit and Muslims began fasting to mark the start of the holy month os Ramadan." Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweeted that the governmental shut down was the "first time in recent history due to heat." Ed O'Keefe and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) explain, "Television news programs began announcing the closures Sunday night -- just as American newscasts might inform viewers of snow days. The closures apply to government offices in the Baghdad region, Diyala provinces in central Iraq and all southern provinces -- including Iraq's second-largest city, Basra. Government offices in the northern Kurdistan region remain open, thanks to slightly cooler temperatures (110 degrees) and the region's more reliable electricity supply." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "The electricity shortages, which have deprived even government ministry buildings of their air conditioning, have become a politically explosive issue. Amid protests sweeping the Arab world, those in Iraq have focused on poor public services, particularly electricity shortages. With billions of dollars poured into reconstructing the electricity sector by the United States and Iraq, most people blame the continuing shortages on corruption as well as incompetence."
Climbing along with the heat is the violence. Salam Faraj (AFP) reports July has the second highest death toll of the year in Iraq with 259 reported dead by the ministries. Iraqi Body Count lists the monthly death total at 307. Let's review the month's violence.
That's 200 dead and 528 injured but we left out the first week of July (44 dead, 78 injured) because half that week was June and there's no cut off point. It should be remembered that as violence in Iraq has risen, there are no heads for Iraq's security ministries (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of National Security). Though the Constitution called on Nouri to name them by the end of December (the 25th actually, if you go by Jalal's late naming of Nouri as prime minister-designate), he never did. All these months later, he still hasn't.
July saw the deaths of 5 US soldiers in Iraq. Today the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, arrived in Iraq and he immediately raised the issue of keeping US troops in Iraq beyond 2011. Lolita C. Baldor (AP) quotes him telling reporters upon landing in Mosul, "Now is the time. We have to know." Thom Shanker (New York Times) notes, "On his visit, Admiral Mullen repeated a message from Washington that the leadership in Baghdad must decide quickly whether it wanted continued American military support. Without an official request by the Iraqi government, all American militiary units must leave the country by the end of the year, as required by a bilateral agreement."
Staying on the subject of withdrawal, Saturday Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) reported that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen, has documented in his latest "quarterly report to Congress and the Obama administration" that Iraq is more dangerous today than it was a year ago and O'Keefe notes, "The findings contrast with public statements by U.S. diplomatic and military officials in Iraq and come as Washington awaits a final decision by Iraqi leaders on whether they want U.S. troops to stay in the country beyond the expiration of a three-year security agreement in December." Today David Isenberg (Huffington Post) emphasizes that SIGIR Stuart Bowen's report notes the lack of cooperation his office is receiving from the State Dept on even the most basic of numbers. The State Dept, for those who don't remember, wants a large amount of money, $6.2 billion -- US tax payer money, they're not selling lemonade by the Lincoln Monument to get this money -- and have been upset that Congress has asked questions. They've brushed aside questions and only provided the most general of details. That's what they're going to the SIGIR's office as well. The budget they have for Iraq needs to be public and broken down. The whispers are that State's numbers are not adding up. (State is over the back-up plan. Should the White House not be able to get an extension of US troops in Iraq, soldiers would be switched from DoD to State and be covered by the Strategic Framework Agreement.)
Saturday the issue was supposed to have been raised to the Parliament if only in the status of Iraqi forces report Nouri was supposed to provide the legislative branch with. Aswat al-Iraq reports that 222 MPs (out of 325) attended the Saturday session. Nouri al-Maliki did make time before Parliament to advocate for trimming his Cabinet. Dar Addustour reports his explaining, in a press conference after his appearance, that he's eliminating the ministries of state with the exception of the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of the House of Representatives and the Ministry of Provincial Affairs and that he plans to merge remaining ministries together in a plan that's yet to be made fully clear. The plan will cut the 46 ministries down to 29. [The Los Angeles Times states: "reducing the Cabinet from 44 to 33 ministries."] 46 was an excessive number but he needed to increase the size of the Cabinet during the nine month Political Stalemate I to create positions for all the people he told he'd give a job if they'd support him as prime minister.
Nouri told the press he also presented a report on the status of Iraqi forces and that it was necessary for the US to remain as "trainers." While he stated that the extensions was up to Parliament, Dar Addustour is clear that Nouri stated that the US needed to remain as "trainers" with no qualifiers. Al Mada also catches this claim that the US remaining or not is up to Parliament and political blocs, on the one hand, while Nouri then states that the US military must remain in Iraq as "trainers" on the other hand. Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report Nouri made time today to announce that the purchase of "36 US fighter jets" was back on. This purchase would also require US troops to remain in Iraq. As with the helicopter contracts, the jet contract includes a training provision. They don't mention that part of the contract but it is in there. Dar Addustour notes he also made clear that despite his failure to win support Thursday on his plan to do away with the Electoral Commission, he plans to have his political slate (State of Law) bring it up again and he declared the Electoral Commission unconstitutional.
Nouri said, in his press conference, he gave the security report. Sunday Aswat al-Iraq reported Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi states that no plan to extend the US military presence in Iraq was presented (Nouri also stated that) and that no report on the status of Iraqi forces was presented either. Nouri claimed in his press conference yesterday that he presented that report. Alsumaria TV also notes al-Nujaifi's denial that the report was presented. In addition Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) notes that Nouri al-Maliki's Saturday press conference not only found Nouri saying that Iraq needed the US military to remain as trainers but that he stated "trainers" didn't require a Parliamentary vote.
Parliamentary Security and Defence Commission submitted today its report on US bombardments in Babil and Misan provinces, according to field visits made by commission members. The report proposed not allowing US forces to conduct any military without the knowledge or approval of Iraqi forces and allocating a judge with every military division. It added that it is permissible for the US forces to conduct a military operation only in case of self-defence, as stipulated by the security agreement, in coordination with Iraqi forces and knowledge of local government.
Meanwhile Tim Arango (New York Times) reports today Al Rufait today where a joint US-Iraqi raid left three people dead and five injured in what is a confusing incident and one that has enraged local Iraqis: "The raid and the deaths prompted outrage on Monday in Parliament and in the local press, and coincide with an ongoing debate about the future role of the United States military here." Aswat al-Iraq reports 4 were killed and quotes Sheik Yousif al-Rufeie stating that the US must answer for "having executed the four persons, including an old man, with cold blood." Incidents such as this do not assist the US government's desire to remain in Iraq. Nor does a similar attack in Basra today. Aswat al-Iraq quotes stating "American forces had carried out an air-landing in southern Iraq's Basra city, arrested 3 citizens, beaten women, stolen money and terrified children, in al-Quran township's Nukheilat village."
In other news, War Hawks enjoy whining, "The US must stay in Iraq due to Iran's influence!" Iran and Iraq do not get along historically. The two countries get a long very well today but that's only due to having a common enemy (US). Left to their own devices, the two countries are usually in conflict. Were the US to leave, Iraq and Iran would have to square off over many issues including the large amount of salt running into Iraqi waters from Iran. In what may be a case of overstepping and is certainly a way to create new tensions, the Iranian government is preparing to make a request. The Tehran Times observes, "Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast says the Iranian government is pursuing the case of obtaining reparations from Iraq." The eight-year war is not a healed wound in Iraq. Iraq's very young population has been taught about it in school and more of them learned of it than can remember it. It's a stupid over-reach on the part of Iran and it is exactly that over-reach that will continue to create obstacles between the two countries if the US were smart enough to withdraw. Backing the point of over-reach up, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The Legislature of al-Iraqiya Coalition, led by Iyad Allawi, Zala Neftchy, has stated on Monday that Iran's demand of compensations from Iraq due to their 1980-88 War 'shall step up tension between both countries,' adding that 'Iraq was supposed to demand such compensations from Iran, because the latter had started the war operations at that time'." Another conflict is the fact that Iran's military is shelling -- and possibly entering -- northern Iraq. Mohammed A. Salih (Rudaw) explains:
As fighting intensifies between a Kurdish militia and the Iranian military along the Iraq-Iranian border, questions are being raised over whether the violence could affect Iran's imports into Kurdistan. Iraq and the Kurdistan region remain heavily dependent on imports such as food and construction materials. Iran is second only to Turkey in exporting goods to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iranian-Kurdistan trade relationship is so crucial that even at the height of the recent border shelling, an Iranian trade delegation was meeting with members of Kurdistan's Import and Export Union in Sulaimani to discuss boosting trade deals. Yet concerns are growing that skirmishes between the Kurdish rebel group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and the Iranian military could hurt business and economic interests in Iraqi Kurdistan.
On that conflict, the Tehran Times notes, "According to Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah, in the last session of the Iraqi parliament, the security and defense committee compiled a report on the military operations carried out by the Islamic Revolution Guards corps against PJAK and reacted against Iran's operations, the Fars news agency reported on Sunday. The committee advised Iran to settle the conflict through diplomacy and respect the territorial integrity of Iraq."
Still on the topic of violence, Spero News reports that a group of Iraqis held an event Saturday to call it out:
The Free Union of Women (Christian) of Bethnahrain (Mesopotamia) in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, today held a conference focusing on "violence against women" in the great hall of the Chaldean cathedral. The event was attended by more than 100 Christian and Muslim women, along with personalities from the government and civil society. Ahead of the event, the Union carried out a survey on a thousand women in the city of Kirkuk to understand the incidence of phenomena of violence suffered in the past. The vast majority of respondents (88% of the total) said they had suffered some form - more or less serious - of violence and the tendency of continuous growth clearly emerged.
In alarming news, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports on another development, the US military is contracting/outsourcing with a private company (undetermined at presented) to train Nouri and his thugs in electronic eavesdropping: "The proposed system would allow Iraqi officials to monitor and store voice calls, data transmissions and text messages and would be installed with the acquiescence of the three current cellular communications providers in Iraq, according to documents accompanying the solicitation." Is this really technology to give a man who, when his political slate came in 2nd in the March 7th elections, refused to step down and demanded a recount and then accusses others of voter fraud. This is who is being given the ability to listen in on private conversations.
The big meet-up over the weekend wasn't. It has been repeatedly postponed but was supposed to be back on according to Dar Addustour which reports that the political blocs were supposed to meet today. Maybe they can discuss Iraq's territorial integrity? Iran continues shelling and possibly crossing into Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq reports that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (the Sunni vice president) has called out Iran's actions:
Hashimy said that Iraq's foreign policy "does not allow using Iraqi territories to undermine the security and stability of neighboring states, being a constant position by Iraq, but it won't allow neighboring states to do the same thing." The Iraqi Vice-President, meanwhile, "has called on Iran to allow the Wand River and other rivers, stemming from Iran, to flow into Iraq," calling for the signing of a joint agreement to share the border rivers waters, in order to satisfy a suitable share for Iraq.
The Palestinian ambassador in Iraq, Daleel Al Qassous, stated that the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq is the worst compared to any other place on earth, adding that the number of Palestinians in Iraq dropped from 35.000 before the US-led war to 22.000, and continued to decline to 7.000. Al Qassous stated that the refugees in Iraq are being attacked for being Sunni Muslims, and for allegedly supporting the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. He said that Iraqi leaders from different sects have being trying to ease the suffering of the refugees, and that he personally met with Sunni and Shiite leaders in the country in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis, and the ongoing assaults against Palestinian refugees in Iraq Al Qassous also met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual reference and grand mufti for Shia Muslims all over the world. "There are only 7.000 refugees in Iraq now, they are living in At-Tweija, Al Za'faraniyya, Al Doura and the city of Al Hurriyya", the ambassador stated, "They are living in extreme poverty due to high living costs and the lack of work, the UN provides some services to them but their situation is very miserable". Dozens of attacks were carried out against the Palestinian refugees since the war on Iraq in 2003 leading to the death, injury and abduction of hundreds of refugees.
Turning to England, Saturday, Simon Walters (Daily Mail) broke the news that the upcoming report from the Iraq Inquiry is said to be damning for War Hawk Tony Blair: The Mail on Sunday has been told that the former Prime Minister will be held to account on four main failings:
* Bogus claims that were made about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. * Not telling the British public about his secret pledge with George Bush to go to war.
* Keeping the Cabinet in the dark by his 'sofa government' style.
*Failing to plan to avoid the post-war chaos in Iraq.
Sunday the War Criminal Tony Blair tried to push back whining about "an attempt to pre-judge." The verdict he'd hoped history wound render long after he was gone might come in early. David Gunn (Scotsman) quotes MP Angus Robertson stating, "The tapestry of deceit woven by Tony Blair over the past decade has finally unravelled. Despite his best attempts to fudge the issue when he was called to give evidence, the Chilcot Inquiry has recognised the former prime minister's central role in leading the UK into the worst foreign policy disaster in recent history." Nigel Morris (Independent) notes, "The former prime minister faces criticism for not admitting to a secret agreement with President George Bush that Britain would join the invasion, and for claiming wrongly that Britain's intelligence showed "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. [. . .] Alastair Campbell, his former director of communications, is set to be criticised for 'spinning' intelligence material ahead of the war. Mr Campbell declined to comment last night." James Lyons (Daily Mirror) also notes the expected criticism, "The former Prime Minister is to be slammed over bogus claims about Saddam Hussein's doomsday arsenal. He will also be savaged for making a secret pact with George Bush on going to war – and for keeping his Cabinet colleagues in the dark. Finally, he will be blasted for failing to plan for after the invasion, sources close to the Chilcot inquiry said." Until the report's released, no one's going to know what it says but right now it does appear a War Hawk might have to pay in some form for his lies and for starting an illegal war. Sky News reminds that "critics of the war and families of the 179 British troops who died in the conflict condemned his [Tony Blair's] appearance [before the Inquiry], saying he evaded the panel's questions and refused to admit his mistakes." Craig Woodhouse (London Standard) notes that whatever the report says, it won't be released until January. And Crispin Black (The First Post) cautions, "We should not perhaps get too excited. The public's expectations of the inquiry are so low, and our distrust of politicians so strong, that we are pathetically grateful for anything that does not look like an establishment whitewash."