Monday, August 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq is slammed with bombings, US State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland appears to believe "Why tell just one lie when you can tell several?," Parliament clashes continue, Law & Disorder Radio discusses free speech rights, and more.
Yesterday in the Iraqi Parliament, Al Rafidayn reports, some thought they would be discussing the nomination of former Minister of the Interior Jawad al-Bolani to be Minister of Defense; however, it quickly arose that he had not in fact been nominated. Somewhere in that 'realization' is an indictment of the current government and Nouri's failure to appoint a Minister of Defense, a Minister of National Security and a Minister of the Interior back in December. Nizar Latif (The National) points out today, "As recently as Friday, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki indicated in an interview with an Iraqi television station that he sees no reason to appoint a minister of defence or minister of interior. He has filled both posts in acting capacity since the government was partially formed last December and argues that security has improved in the absence of ministerial chiefs." Somewhere in that failure to fill those security posts may be the answer to the continued and, yes, rising violence in Iraq.
Today is being called not just a bloody day, but, Ben Farmer (Telegraph of London), "the bloodiest day of the year so far." AP sees a "wave of violence" rolling through Iraq today with "nearly 60" dead. It was a series of attacks and the Washington Post offers an AFP - Getty Images slide show here. The Globe & Mail offers a photo essay here. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) cites 67 dead and one-hundred and seventy injured -- 34 killed by a Kut car bombing and roadside bombing; 8 killed by a Twareej car bombing; 4 killed by twin suicide bombers in Tikrit; 8 killed by a suicide car bombing in Khan Bani Saad; 3 dead from four Baghdad bombings and "attacks also occured in Najaf, Kirkuk and Baqouba, killing at least 10 people". CNN's updated the death toll to 75 and the number injured to "more than 250". Fang Yang (Xinhua) explains the 2 suicide bombers in Tikrit were attacking "the counter-terrorism headquarters" and that they "entered the headquarters with faked IDs in an attempt to enter the main building, but were discovered and traded fire with the guards, the source from Salahudin's operations command told Xinhua." Catholic Culture notes that a Syrian Orthodox church was blown up in Kirkuk.
"This is our destiny," said Eidan Mahdi, one of more than 250 Iraqis wounded Monday. Mahdi was lying in a hospital bed in the southern city of Kut. One of his eyes was closed shut with dried blood, and burns covered his hands and head.
DPA quotes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi stating, "I place the responsibility on officials in charge of the security bodies and the government for those violations, that killed many innocent citizens." Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) adds, "The Iraqi government declared a curfew in the wake of the blasts while Iraqi politicians criticized the security forces for not having stopped the attacks. Hakim al Zamili, a member of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee, said an investigation would be launched and that both provincial police officials and Iraqi military commanders would be questioned." Aswat al-Iraq quotes Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, "We strongly condemn those horrible crimes, they were committed due to the existence of security loopholes, most reasons of which had been the negligence to implement the understandings, reached by the Political Leadership in Arbil." In the US, at the State Dept, spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated, "We remain concerned about these kinds of terrorist acts in Iraq, and we are working closely with out partners to address them. In net terms though, overall, the violence in Iraq is significantly down this year over previous years. We consider these to be desperate acts by desperate people. We believe that the Iraqi security forces are getting stronger by the day, and our goal is to continue to strengthen them, and we remain on track to withdraw all our forces at the end of the year." So she lies and expects people to believe her? We should believe her about "remain on track to withdraw all our forces at the end of the year" when she lies with "the violence in Iraq is signficiantly down this year over previous years"?
Victoria Nuland, meet Stuart Bowen. He is the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. He's often in the news but was in the news at the end of last month for what main reason? Lara Jakes (AP) reported: "Frequent bombings, assissinations and a resurgence in violence by Shiite militias have made Iraq more dangerous now than it was just a year ago, a U.S. government watchdog concludes in a report being released today." Report by Bowen and among the findings? That Iraq "is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago." Got it, Victoria? Need more? Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) covered Bowen's report, "The findings contrast with public statements by US diplomatic and military officials in Iraq and come as Washington awaits a final decision by Iraqi leaders on whether they want US troops to stay in the country beyond the expiration of a three-year security agreement in December." So we're lied to about that (so poorly that Nuland may as well have been channeling Jay Carney). And we're supposed to believe on the timeline? Let's drop back to Thursday's snapshot:
Turning to the Iraq War, if it ends at the end of 2011, why are they still deploying troops to it? Today the Providence Journal reports a send-off is scheduled this Friday (9:00 a.m., Quonset Air National Guard Base) for two units of the Rhode Island National Guard who are deploying "to Iraq for a year. They will provide aviation support for combat and reconstruction operations, the National Guard said." Jennifer Quinn (WPRI) also notes the deployment, "A Company, 1st Battalion 126th Aviation and D Company 126th Aviation will deploy to Iraq for one year."
Victoria Nuland, if all is on schedule for departure at the end of the year, why were those National Guard members deploying to Iraq "for a year"? You might have pulled off one lie, but both? Especially the lie about the violence after Stuart Bowen's report (and finding on the violence in Iraq) has been covered by every outlet imaginable.
Ned Parker and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) explain, "The violence shook at least seven cities from north to south and appeared timed to undermine confidence in the Iraqi army and police as the U.S. military ends it formal combat mission in the country." Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) note the assaults appear "to be part of a coordinated wave of attacks" and they quote Mohammed Abbas who lost a cousin in one of today's bombings: "There may be a state, there may be a government. But what can that state do? What can they do with all the terrorists? Are they supposed to set up a checkpoint in every house?"
Wait, it gets worse:
Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explain, "Car bombs were used in the attacks in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Baquba, Kirkuk and Wasit, the officials said in statements." In addition, they note, "Vice President Joseph Biden and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said at separate events yesterday that the administration is confident Iraqi forces are capable of taking on the primary security role."
That was August 25, 2010. And Iraqi forces weren't ready then and don't appear ready today. Nizar Latif (The National) quotes Abu Abbas who was injured in the Kut attack stating, "It's unacceptable to have the same thing happening twice. It means the security forces are not learning their lessons. We have the same flaws in security as we had a year ago." Of today's attacks, The NewsHour (PBS) notes, "The attacks come as Iraqi political leaders consider requesting U.S. troop presence beyond the planned Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline, as questions persist about the ability of the Iraqi government to maintain security and combat insurgents." Sara Sorcher (National Journal) adds, "The Obama administration has made clear that it would be open to leaving approximately 10,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely at the request of the Iraqi leadership, but Baghdad has not yet requested such an extension." Jamal Hashim and Yamel Wang (Xinhua) point out, "Maliki frequently said that SOFA cannot be renewed as stated in the agreement, but talks with the Americans is expected to let small force of U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond the end of 2011 deadline only gor training Iraq forces under the Strategic Framework Agreement, which was signed earlier with the SOFA between the two countries." Annie Gowen and Asaad Majeed (Financial Times of London) add, "Kirkuk's provincial governor, Najmaldin Karim, has called on American troops to stay in the country past the deadline."
News coverage has included the by now obligatory-hand wringing over whether Iraqi security forces are up to the job. The New York Times says that "the violence raised significant questions about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces." The Washington Post writes "they also raise questions about the Iraqi government's ability to maintain security as American troops prepare to leave the country by December."
This is journalese. "Questions" aren't really being raised. It's evident that the ability of Iraq's security forces to end militant violence by force alone is nonexistent. The reason why is that the number of people willing to engage in attacks isn't small enough yet, that a substantial portion of the population looks at the Shiite-dominated government with sufficient suspicion to provide passive support to the fighting (by, say, deciding not to inform security forces of a neighbor who appears to be building a bomb in his garage), and that fighters -- whether Sunni insurgents or Shiite militants that the US alleges are receiving support from Iran -- still believe there's power and influence to be won at the end of a gun.
Let's stay with the possible extension because there was an important development over the weekend. Sunday, AFP reported Tareq al-Hashimi, Iraq's Sunni vice president, has stated security in Iraq would improve if US forces left. AFP explained his role is "ceremonial." AFP missed the point. Is al-Hashimi being sincere? That's the most important question. The second most important question is will an extension go through Parliament?
Why are those two questions important?
al-Hashimi does have duties and powers in his role of one of Iraq's two vice presidents (two currently due to the resignation of a third). Does AFP remember the most recent Parliamentary elections?
Maybe not. But those elections took place March 7, 2010 (that was a Saturday, early voting actually started the Thursday before). Maybe the long do-nothing period that followed the elections (the nine month Political Stalemate I) has erased long term memories?
Those elections were supposed to take place in 2009, remember? Why didn't they? Because the Parliament could not agree on a draft election law. Any of this ringing a bell? The United Nations repeatedly warned that the deadline for 2009 elections was in danger of being missed. Finally a draft law got passed by Parliament.
Was that the end of the story? No. Because the presidency council has to approve it. That's the President of Iraq and its vice presidents (at that time it was only two vice presidents). Here's where the power comes in: If any one of them says "no," just one, the passed bill doesn't become a law.
Citing the large number of Sunnis making up Iraq's external refugees, al-Hashmi expressed reservations about the bill long before it passed Parliament. He felt more efforts were needed when it came to letting Iraqi refugees now living in other countries vote and that the refugee population was not being properly counted (counting Sunni refugees properly, he felt, would triple the number of seats allocated in Parliament for refugees).
Parliament ignored his objections. al-Hashemi responded November 18, 2009 by vetoing the bill when it came before the presidency council. When he did that, State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly stated the following:
We're disappointed at these developments related to the elections law. We urge the Iraqi leaders and Parliament to take quick action to resolve any of the outstanding concerns that have been expressed. And this is so elections can go forward. And these elections, of course are mandated by the Iraqi Constitution. We believe that it's the responsibility of all Iraqi partiest to ensure that the Iraqi people are able to exercsie their democratic right to vote and this election law represent the best way forward for the Iraqi government to be able to consolidate the democratic and political achievements.
Eventually, al-Hashemi came around. But not before delaying the proceedings considerably.
So (A) al-Hashemi has considerable power if the Parliament is included in the issue (and if the Parliament votes to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond Dec. 31st). And (B) if he really gives a damn about the issue, he can delay it, he can event halt it. The Parliament can override his objection. With 3/5 of the members voting to override it. This is outlined in Section Five of Article 134 in the Iraqi Constitution:
A. Legislation and decisions enacted by the Council of representatives [Parliament] shall be forwarded to the Presidency Council to approve it unanimously and to issue it within ten days from the date of delivery to the Presidency Council, except the stipulations of Article (114) and (115) that pertain to the formation of regions.
B. In the event the Presidency Council does not approve, legislation and decisions shall be sent back to the Council of Representatives to re-examine the disputed issues and to vote on by the majority of its members and then shall be sent for the second time to the Presidency Council for approval.
C. In the event the Presidency Council does not approve the legislation and decisions for the second time within ten days of receipt, the legislation and decisions are sent back to the Council of Representatives who have the right to adopt it by a three-fifths non-appealable majority vote and shall be considered ratified.
In reality, were al-Hashemi to object, to veto? There would be an upswell, a populace wave, among the Iraqi people. And it would be really hard to get that many members to vote to override the veto. It could happen even though it would be difficult. The US was spreading favors in cash in November 2008 to get people to vote and to get no votes to agree to leave Baghdad and not attend the session in which the Status Of Forces Agreement was voted on.
With Moqtada the question the US government always wants to know is what does he want? (Followed by how much it will cost?) So Moqtada al-Sadr isn't taken all that seriously. But it required the UN and the US and a lot of hours of cajoling to get al-Hashemi to go along with the election draft law in 2009. (He was also allegedly pressured/blackmailed with the argument that they would hang all delays on him, they would destroy him before the Iraqi people as the fall guy for the long, long delays.) If al-Hashemi is serious and firm, he could throw a real road block up against what the White House wants. And there's not a lot that al-Hashemi can be given. He's been vice president twice. No one believes that a Sunni will be the next prime minister and it's known that the Shi'ite politicians have already decreed after Jalal Talabani finishes this term (his second), the next president of Iraq will be a Shi'ite. (Talabani is a Kurd.) So what does that leave al-Hashemi? Nothing. Vice president's as far as he can advance.
If he's firmly against it and sincere, this is the biggest obstacle against keeping US troops in Iraq beyond December 31st. And if he's not sincere? Assuming that any negotiation would have to move quickly (not for the US' sake but for Maliki's), al-Hashemi could be staking out this position for bargaining power -- for example to ensure that the long-promised national council is created as agreed to last November.
Presiding over the federal administration and in control of the security ministries, Maliki is able to withhold funding, maneuver provincial alliances, and even deploy armed forces. But the Sadrists are positioned to fight back: in control of key ministries -- water, housing and construction, municipalities, and planning -- they are organized locally and best able to mobilize Iraqis in the streets.
Southern Iraq remains the primary battleground. On the verge of establishing a stronghold in the provinces of Maysan, the Sadrists are slowly but surely making strides in the neighboring provinces and threatening Maliki's State of Law coalition in the provincial councils of Basra and Baghdad.
The Sadrists rely on a fluid chain of decision-making that issues policies at the top levels of government and implements projects through local committees in the provinces they run. In just a few months, their ministries have begun to build housing complexes in Maysan, implement infrastructure projects in Muthanna, improve the provision of electricity in Dhi-Qar, and improve access to water in Najaf. Starting with Maysan, Maliki has spared no time in disrupting this flow by limiting government funding, delaying approval for implementation, and hampering foreign investments.
In other Parliament news, Al Mada reports that Nouri and the Minister of Electricity Ra'ad Shalal al-Ani have agreed to submit his (al-Anier) resignation to Parliament.Iraqi Oil Report notes that this counters the narrative of 'tough Nouri' who did firing and sees a lot of conflict on the horizon due to al-Ani being a member of Iraqiya.
In 2005, US citizens Nathan Ertel and Donald Vance went to Iraq to work as contractors for Shield Group Security. While working for the company, they felt they were witnessing illegal activities and reported their concerns to the FBI. The 'investigation' resulted in them being thrown into Camp Cropper where they state they were tortured. After 97 days at Camp Cropper, they were released/expelled without charges. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled last week that Ertel and Vance's lawsuit against former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could go forward. Russia Today spoke with World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet (link is video) about the case:
Debra Sweet: Well I suppose it could go to revealing the sorted business that stands behind this illegitimate occupation of Iraq and I would add Afghanistan by the United States. One can only hope that there actually is the potential for the whole story coming out in this lawsuit. Of course, it is not just by happenstance that the lawsuit has not been heard before this because it's the Obama Administration that has resolutely opposed any prosecution of the former Bush regime's War Criminals in office -- like Rumsfeld, like Bush himself, like Dick Cheney and all the torture lawyers that actually created the justification for torture carried out in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and across the whole rubric of the war on terror.
Russia Today: So can you explain please why Obama would take this position when this is all about the previous administration?
Debra Sweet: Well I can only quote his words and he said 'Of course torture was wrong but that he preferred to go forward rather than look backward. And, in fact, there's been numerous attempts to seek justice in US courts by people who were detained in Guantanamo completely without charges, by people who were kidnapped and taken to US black torture sites like Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, and like the relatives of three prisoners in Guantanamo who died in 2006. None of these people have been able to convince a court in the United States to allow their legitimate law suits to go forward. And this is, in each case, because the Obama administration's Dept of Justice has opposed these inquiries. And their justification is always "national security."
Among the seven speakers were four veterans, one active-duty serviceman, the wife of a recent military suicide victim and the mother of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Kirkland, 23, a two-time combat veteran who hung himself in his barracks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March 2010.Kirkland was sent home midway through his second tour in Iraq for putting a shotgun in his mouth. He also attempted suicide during a layover in Germany. A Madigan Army Medical Center psychologist diagnosed him as low-risk for suicide and he was assigned to a barracks room by himself. He hanged himself less than 48 hours later."March Forward" co-founder Kevin Baker accused the military Friday of paying lip service to --and even mocking -- soldiers like Kirkland, who have suffered combat-related mental illness."We're demanding justice for Sgt. Kirkland ... and also for every single active-duty service member and veteran ... and for the rights of those in the military who've yet to be deployed and traumatized," he said.
Keith Eldridge (KOMO -- link is text and video) reports on the speak-out and quotes Mary Corkhill Kirkland stating, "My son did not want to die. He wanted help. He was crying out for help." Also participating was Ashley Joppa-Hagemann whose husband Sgt Jared Hagemann took his own life less than a month ago and she stated her husband wanted to leave the military and, "He just wanted to know what it felt like to be normal again." John Stevens (Daily Mail) reports that Jared Hagemann had already deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times and could not take a ninth deployment.
US, Senator Patty Murray is also the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes this event tomorrow.
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Tuesday, August 16th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will hold a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide. This will be Senator Murray's first discussion with local veterans as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Senator Murray will use the struggles, stories, and suggestions she hears on Monday to fight for local veterans in Washington, D.C.
WHO:U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT: Veterans listening session with Senator Murray
Michael Ratner: Heidi when I opened the New York Times blog last week, I was pleased to see an article called "Courthouse Confidential." And there was our own Heidi Boghosian, sitting in front of a window with all kinds of law books in front of her and talking about a new initiative of the National Lawyers Guild and Heidi Boghosian which is to get lawyers for the people who the US is going after, the government is going after, for Anonymous and LulzSec which has to do with "hackers" or something like that. What's this about, Heidi?
Heidi Boghosian: Well --
Michael Ratner: Great picture and I advise --
Heidi Boghosian: (Laughing) Thanks, Michael.
Michael Ratner: -- everybody to go the New York Times and look for Heidi's picture if you want to see what the hostess of the mostess looks like.
Heidi Boghosian: Aw, gosh. Anyway, this is --
Michael Ratner: Heidi, that was really made up. You don't really think [I think] that?
Heidi Boghosian: No. Okay. Look, when WikiLeaks happened, a lot of activists went on line when PayPal and other banks denied access to money to WikiLeaks, people protested. You know, the way over the centuries people have protested things, in the streets. Now we have the internet. And we have stort of cyber-activism. And what they did was they downloaded software that lets you go to a corporate website and sort of hit it multiple times so what it does is it slows it down. And I think if people go and read some of the comments on the blog, you'll see a little debate going on about whether this constitutes a criminal activity. And the Guild thinks it doesn't.
Michael Ratner: In this case, it was PayPal. And I think it was PayPal because they had cut off, through Mastercard and Visa, the funding of Wikileaks.
Heidi Boghosian: Exactly.
Michael Ratner: And that's a big deal because here you have 95% of the market for donations is controlled between Mastercard and Visa, PayPal is the door, and private companies just decide on their own. Let's remember, there's no criminal indictment of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange at this point.
Heidi Boghosian: Exactly. They -- Corporations made a decision.
Michael Ratner: And they made a decision to just cut them off from any funding. Very dangerous. So what did you do, Heidi, as a result? There were these protests to which the Guild to its great credit and people ought to hear it again, what is it again, what does the Guild think of these kind of --
Heidi Boghosian: The Guild supports -- We are supportive of people's decision to engage in what we call civil disobedience, this being what we see as kind of the new frontier. Since so much of our daily communication, personal business -- and not just financial business, but personal information is floating out on the web. And corporations honestly don't listen to you if you write them a letter or do a little picket somewhere. They're creating laws like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to punish people who try to boycott a business.
Michael Ratner: So what did you see up, Heidi?
Heidi Boghosian: We set up a website called anonlg.com. And it's for activsts to go to have basically a repository of Know Your Rights information including a lot of information from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CCR's book is on there and some Know Your Rights --
Michael Ratner: CCR's book is a Know Your Rights type pamphlet.
Heidi Boghosian: It's When An Agent Knocks.
Michael Ratner: The Guild has one that you've been involved with.
Heidi Boghosian: We do. You Have The Right To Remain Silent. And then we have sort of scenarios of what could happen, cautioning of course that this is not a replacement for sound legal advice and so what we've also done is set up a hotline and there's a number to call or an e-mail on the website and we are trying to match individuals with pro bono attorneys around the country so if they've received a subpoena or if they've been arrested in the rash of recent raids that happened a few months ago where the FBI and Dept of Justice went after individuals they think are connected to this. And they face some harsh sentences.
Michael Ratner: This is a serious thing.
Heidi Boghosian: This is serious stuff.
Michael Ratner: And I think what you guys did on the website and what you've said is: 'This is really the equivalent of First Amendment type speech.' So when I came up to the office today to do this recording with you, there's a huge picket going on outside Verizon by CWA. A union picket because of legitimate labor grievances with Verizon. This is no different except on the internet.
Heidi Boghosian: Right.
Michael Ratner: And you've coined a great term for it. What do you call what's going on? We've had the Commmunist Scare --
Heidi Boghosian: The Red scare.
Michael Ranter: The Red scare. We had the environmental --
Heidi Boghosian: Green scare.
Michael Ratner: Now what do we have?
Heidi Boghosian: The nerd scare!
Michael Ratner: Oh my gosh. I hope all the anon people listening don't get offended at the "nerd scare."
Heidi Boghosian: We think it's a high compliment actually.
Michael Ratner: It is. In this day and age, the Nerd Square --
Heidi Boghosian: Nerds are the best.
Michael Ratner: Nerds have replaced the half-back for my football team. Yea! Go Nerds! Anyway, again, the website is www.anonlg.com . We really want to thank the Guild, Heidi, etc. Anything else you want to add Heidi?
Heidi Boghosian: We'd like to thank the New York Times for their interest in this story.