Tuesday, August 2, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a church in Kirkuk is targeted, officials continue to be targeted, the political blocs meet and give the go-ahead to start negotiating with the US for US troops on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War. On this week's Black Agenda Radio -- hosted by Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey, first airs each Monday at 4:00 pm EST on the Progressive Radio Network -- they highlight a speech former US House Rep and 2008 US presidential candidate as part of her report back from her fact finding mission to Libya. This is an excerpt of Cynthia speaking at Atlanta's Church of the Black Madonna, use the link for the speech in full.
Cynthia McKinney: As a student of the Counter Intelligence Program, I know my own government will lie. And as a student of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I know that the media will lie. And so I decided to try my best to take a delegation of alternative journalists who would go to Libya and tell the truth, let the chips fall where they may. But the only problem was there were sanctions that our president had put on making it very difficult for Americans to travel there. So that meant that I had to borrow money -- about $25,000 is what it took. And I got a friend to put this on his credit card. And the money that you have just given will help to pay that back. [Applause.] At every stop along the way, there are people who say, "I want to go to Libya." In fact, where is Derreck? Derreck is going to go if we can raise some of that money so that we can take another delegation because the truth continues to need to be told. Now I've got some very bad news in this final minute that I have left. And that is that as of yesterday, I received an e-mail from a Russian who is concerned about what is going on in Libya. 70% of the drinking water has now been contaminated by NATO bombing [. . .] the facility that supplies 70% of the people with their drinking water. Not only was NATO not content, and exactly they did the same thing in Iraq, if you will remember, this also is a War Crime. In fact, there have been many War Crimes that have been commited against the people of Libya. But not only did NATO not content itself with destroying the access to clean water, but they also bombed the manufacturing plant that makes the pipes for the Great Man-Made River. If oil is the war for the 20th century, water is the war for the 21st century. There's one more thing before I have to take my leave of this microphone that I want to report to you. And that is, how in the world are you going to have a Race War on the African continent? [Applause.] Please explain it to me! [Applause continues.] When the American guys land -- well the guys that are not supposed to be there, right? But when the Americans land and they see people who look like me, they say, "Oh! There are African mercenaries!" Well I am here to tell you that Libya is at least 50 to 60% people who look like me. [Applause.] But unfortunately, if there's anything that our government knows how to do it is how to use racism to incite people to do the unthinkable. And so now you have had what I have suspsected, well, maybe it's an identity issue, or is it Arab, or is it Black or is it African or what? But now you've got these people who have called in NATO to bomb their own fellow country people. Now they are killing people who look like me and you. And there is a very real sense of insecurity now because people who look like me have some concern about whether or not some one who looks like some of the people in this audience are going to kill them, are going to lynch them, are going to torture them, are going to murder them? But in the end, I will close with this, and that is, sadly, we are seeing the reintroduction [new imperialism] politics onto the African continent. But who is doing it? The first person to use the word "mercenary" in regards to what is happening in Libya in an official capacity was United States' United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, a woman who looks like me. This policy of bombing is being perpetrated by a president who looks like me. And so now I take this personally because I have been blessed to be able to travel all over this planet and everywhere I go, I walk with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [Applause], I walk with Malcolm X [Applause], I walk with all of the great people who have struggled in this country and provided a modicum of dignity in the face of oppression. I walk with them because people understand that Black people in the United States never go along with war. [Applause.] They understand that Black people in the United States sing the song of oppression every day. [Applause.] So now when I go around the world now I have to make excuses for Colin Powell, Condaleeza Rice, President Barack Obama and Susan Rice and [deafening Applause] and I am not going to do it any longer! [Loud cheering and Applause] -- I make no excuses [Cheering and Applause] a War Crime committed by George W. Bush is a War Crime committed by President Barack Obama.
Turning to Iraq, last night on Adam vs The Man (RT, airs at seven p.m. EST, Monday through Friday and streams online), Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh noted the latest on Iraq.
Adam Kokesh: We may be wrapping up operations in Iraq but it's good to know Obama is still kicking ass -- or at least someone is kicking ass in Iraq. Either way there's blood in the sand. In fact, Iraq may be more dangerous now than it was a year ago. Shi'ite militias continue to pose immediate threats to both troops and Iraqi officials bringing forth a constant stream of assassination attempts and rocket attacks but perhaps more pertinent to the American people 15 US troops died in June -- the highest number in two years. A review by Stuart Bowen Jr., Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has released a new analysis stating, "Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work. . . . It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago." Now US forces are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year but have been vocal in their offer to Iraqi officials that 'we could keep our young men and women in harm's way beyond the deadline if they so choose.' I guess George Bush's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" ceremony in 2003 was a little premature after all. Maybe so was Obama's announcement that we were going to be pulling out some time in the near future or during his presidency even.
Dar Addustour notes US Adm Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq and spoke with Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, about the US military remaining in Iraq, spoke "in detail" and al-Maliki assured Mullen that the political blocs would take up the issue today when they attended Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's meet-up. Meanwhile 2.5 million residents of Baghdad have signed a petition calling on US forces to leave Iraq at the end of this year. Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) adds, "Though many Iraqi leaders agree that U.S. forces should continue providing air defense and training for Iraqi military forces, they remain far apart on how to make the request and for how long American forces should stay -- prolonging the process much longer than American officials expected." In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes that Mullen spoke with Talabani on Monday about the status of US forces in Iraq. Jim Garamone (American Forces Press Service) notes, "Though U.S. forces in Iraq are planning to draw down to zero in December, they are preserving capabilities in the country should the Iraqis ask for continued help, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said here today. Speaking to reporters traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III said Iraqi leaders are thinking about the way ahead and are trying to figure out the direction they want to go." Phil Stewart (Reuters) reports that Mullen stated today any agreement with Iraq to extend the US military presence beyond 2011 must include immunity for US troops. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) quotes Mullen stating, "That kind of agreement, which would include privileges and immunities for our American men and women in uniform will need to go through the Council of Representatives (parliament)." Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf explains, "There's a lack of clarity so far on the issue of whether US troops should stay. Essentially what Mullen is talking about is an agreement to ask the US to start negotiations and not an agreement to ask US troops to stay."
Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Legislature Khalid al-Assady of the State of Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has expressed confidence that the meeting of Iraq's Political Leaders, scheduled to take place at the residence of President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday 'would reach a national accord on the withdrawal of the American Forces from Iraq, by the end of the current year'." Alsumaria TV adds, "Iraq Premier Nouri Al Maliki said on Tuesday he hopes that Iraq political blocs leaders could reach during the meeting to be held today a finall decision about whether Iraq needs to keep US troops or not and called to carry on cooperating and coordinating between the two parties." AP adds that the polical blocs have met and they have given the approval for negotiations to commence. AFP covers it here. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera) Tweeted the meet-up, including the following:
janearraf#Iraq political leaders agree US military trainers needed next year - agree to discuss in parliament - significant first step.
Staying with politics, Aswat al-Iraq reports that Iraqiya is telling the press Nouri al-Maliki is indicating he's responsive to their desire to end Political Stalemate II and "settle all the suspended dossiers and complete the articles of Arbil Agreement, including the nomination of the National Council for Strategic Policies." Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweets:
janearraf#Iraq meeting seems major reconciliation between PM Maliki and Ayad Allawi, with new promises of power. Part of deal sidelining Sadrists?
Meanwhile Ali Hussein (Al Mada) wonders about the political elites and notes that an Iraqi mother's options narrow and narrow and yet there's not even a safe place to beg, or the millions who suffer this summer in Iraq without electricity as they fast (for Ramadan) in tin houses and their needs and interests continue to be ignored. Hussein writes that Iraqi's feel powerless and see the Parliament as a body that does not look out for the people while political forces and blocs grab the power and that law has become nothing but a weapon for the ruling party. Where, Hussein wonders, is the country all Iraqis love, where is the homeland? Sacrifices have been made, a river of blood has been shed, where is the Iraq they have dreamed of?
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq Tweets:
mtawfeeqCNNSome of Ramadan shows on Iraqiya State TV show miserable life under Saddam, while some other TVs showing miserable life in post- Saddam Era!
Today a bombing rocks Kirkuk, one apparently targeting Iraqi Christians. Xinhua notes that "a booby-trapped car" exploded leaving a church partially damaged and at least 19 people injured. Jamal Taher Bakr (AGI) reports the church is Holy Family Church, that four children and a nun are said to be among the injured and that an additional two car bombs were discovered. AFP speaks with Father Imad Hanna who states the church had not previously been targeted and that, "Women, children and men from this neighbourhood were wounded in the explosion." Asia News reports, "This morning, Mgr Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk, visited the wounded in hospital. Many of them have already been released and gone home." The Archbishop Sako states, "We are shocked because Christians play no role in the political games." Ivana Kvesic (Christian Post) quotes police deputy Torhan Abdulrahman stating, "It was a coordinated attack to target churches at the same time." Carol Glatz (Catholic News Service) explains, "Police defused two other car bombs -- one in front of a Christian school and another in front of a Presbyterian church." AP counts 23 wounded and notes that Father Imad Hanna was among the wounded. They also quote Rev Haithem Akram stating, "The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail." Vatican Radio observes (link has text and audio), "This is an unusual attack for Kirkuk -- often seen as a haven of relative security for many Christians fleeing the rampant sectarian violence of Mosul and Baghdad. The Christians of the city and their leaders -- Archbishop Sako -- at the forefront -- are renowned for their work and efforts to promote inter-religious harmony and peace. [. . .] A US State Department report says Christian leaders estimate that 400,000 to 600,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from a preward level of as high as 1.4 million by some estimates."
Iraqi Christians made up a tiny section of Iraq's internal population but they compose a large portion of the refugee population. Throughout the Iraqi War, Christians have been repeatedly targeted. The most infamous attack is the October 31, 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad which was invaded and taken in the middle of a religious service. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reminds, "An October 31 attack on the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral, or Our Lady of Salvation Church, left 70 people dead and 75 wounded, including 51 congregants and two priests." David Kerr (CNA) notes, "The
attack comes on the day that three men were sentenced to death in Baghdad for their role in a church siege last October [. . .] A fourth man was sentenced to 20 years." Atul Aneja (The Hindu) adds, "The convicted men have one month to file an appeal."
In the aftermath of the attack on the Baghdad church, many Iraqi Christians fled the country and, of those who remained, many sought refuge in Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq. Violence against Iraqi Christians did not end with the October siege of the church in Baghdad. From last Wednesday's snapshot:
Charisma News alerts, "A house church leader has been kidnapped by Muslims in Duhok, Iraq, according to a report from Voice of the Martyrs, Canada. A young Iraqi girl recently told VOM contacts that Muslims broke into her home and took her father, Jamal." He is a pastor to the Shabak and is being referred to in accounts as "Pastor Jamal." Minority Rights Group International notes, "The Shabak are an ethnic and cultural minority located in a handful of villages east of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains, and a small group in Mosul itself. Their language is a confection of Turkish, Persian, Kurdish and Arabic. About 70 per cent of the group is Shi'a and the rest Sunni. Shabak have been in Iraq since 1502, and today are mainly farmers." The Voice of the Martyrs Canada adds, "Several weeks ago, the home of one of Jamal's recent converts was sprayed with machine gun fire. Many fear that the militants, possibly members of al Qaida, will not give Jamal any option of release but immediately kill him." Mission Network News covers the details above here but also offers an audio option. Iraq's religious minorities have been under attack throughout the Iraq War.
Friday, AFP reported the US House of Representatives -- by a 402 for and 20 against vote (all votes against were Republicans who cited economic reasons for voting against the proposal) -- called on US President Barack Obama to create a post of religious envoy citing the targeting of Coptic Christians in Egypt and "the treatment of Christians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Ahmadiyah Muslim minority in Pakistan, Bahais in Iran and Hindus in Bangladesh." In response to the House vote, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "A Member of the Iraqi Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, Hassan Khudheir al-Hamdany, has said on Sunday that the U.S. appointment of an American Envoy to protect minorities in some countries, including Iraq, 'represents an interference in the country's internal affairs'." That's a rather touchy reaction since (a) Iraq was only one of the countries on the list (with Egypt got most of the attention) and (b) the measure still has to go to the US Senate.
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."
This afternoon, Tim Arango (New York Times) files a report at the paper's blog: "Surrounded by perhaps two dozen men, they took us through the village, recounting the raid and blaming the Americans. Not a cross word was said about Iraqi forces who the Americans said led the raid, nor of the Iraqi legal system, which had validated the raid with a judicial warrant." Arango notes that the US response to the raid is to refuse to answer questions and the Iraqi government is launching an investigation.
In other news of conflict, Iran continues to shell northern Iraq (and some say the Iranian military continues to enter northern Iraq). They say they are targeting "terrorists." The rebel group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, PJAK, is one of the many Kurdish rebel groups in the region who believe that the Kurds should have a homeland. AFP speaks with the International Organization for Migration and learns that "over 200 Iraqi Kurdish families" have had to flee their homes due to the shelling that started July 15th. It is thought that the refugee families cannot survive for long without financial assistance. Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi met with the US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey today and "stressed the importance of the immediate cessation of Iranian shelling of Iraqi territory, which is considered a violation of Iraq's sovereignty." Aswat al-Iraq also notes the meeting and states "that a parliamentary committee was formed to investigate this question and sbumit its report." The Voice of Russia (link has text and video) adds, "The Iraqi Parliament insists on the expulsion of Iranian Ambassador Hassan Danaie-Far over the continuing border clashes between members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan. Experts say that clashes on the Iranian-Iraqi border mark the start of a large-scale war." The Voice of Russia's Yelizaveta Isakova observes, "For today, Kurds are the world's largest ethnic minority. Since they have no state of their own, struggle for independence is in their blood." Dilshad Saifaddin (Zawya) adds, "Private sector bodies in Sulaimaniya issued a statement yesterday calling on Iran to cease its bombardments on the Iraqi-Kurdistan border in the interest of bilateral economic ties. The statement was announced at a press conference following a meeting of representatives of the city's Chamber of Commerce, the Kurdistan Contractors Union, the Kurdistan Economic Development Organization (KIDO), the Kurdistan's Businessmen's Union, the Development Unity group, the Industrial and Commerce Development group for Iraqi-Kurdistan Businessmen, and the Kurdistan Exporters Union." Mohammed A. Salih (Rudaw) speaks with the KRG's envoy to Iran, Nazim Omar Dabbagh. Excerpt:
Rudaw: What is the KRG's solution?
Dabbagh: All sides need to abide by international laws and respect their neighbors' borders. But the question is: How successful can we be in that regard? Can the KRG, with the assistance of the central government, (in Baghdad) implement laws that prohibit groups from using Iraq's soil to attack neighboring countries?
Rudaw: What if PJAK does not accept your solutions?
Dabbagh: If they do not accept, then we will take our stance. We hope that PJAK and PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party) put into practice their slogans. They believe that their existence is in the interest of Kurds. Let them define the Kurds' interests. Are the interests of the Kurds the same as PJAK's interests? If they are working for Kurds, they should not derail the achievements of the (Iraqi) Kurdistan Region. The KRG, despite being under pressure for years, has not yet succumbed to those pressures to oppose and fight PJAK and PKK. (Editor's note: PJAK is an offshoot of the PKK.)
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."
Walter Pincus points out that "the study finds matters 'exacerbated by the existence of parallel Kurdish and Iraqi security institutions.' The two Kurdish political parties have their own military, police and intelligence services. Their soldiers, referred to as the pesh merga, though nominally under Kurdish government control, are in reality affiliated with their separate political parties."