Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, August 17, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Turkish military planes bomb Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr says there will be "war" with the US, Libyan War coverage returns to Flashpoints, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War, yesterday on KPFA Flashpoints Radio again spoke with their special correspondent in Libya, Mahdi Nazemroaya.  (Click here for KPFA archives, here for Flashpoints Radio website -- Flashpoints airs live from 5:00 to 6:00 pm PST, Monday through Friday).  Excerpt:
Kevin Pina: The world attention has turned back to Libya after NATO kills more than eighty civilians in a bombing raid on the town of Ziltan.  The toll includes 33 children and 20 women according to our special correspondent on the ground.  This comes on the heels of new reports that say Britian will have spent more than $420 million waging war in Libya by mid-September while the price tag to the US tax payer is an estimated $1 billion.  And joining us once again from Tripoli, Libya is our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya. Mahdi is also a research assistant with the Centre for Research on Globalization based in Montreal, Canada.  Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Pina: So Mahdi, give us an update. We know we haven't spoke for a couple of weeks here.  Tell us what has happened. There have been tremendous developments on the ground there, many claims by NATO, by the so-called 'rebels,' of victories.  There have also been claims of massacres by NATO.  And, finally, I understand Amnesty International actually doing something and calling for an investigation into an attack on civilians.
Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya:  Alright. Well since March 8th, there's been very heavy bombings here. Specifically one that's come to a lot of attention which resulted in the heaviest casualties that are known in one day -- civilian casualties was the attack on Ziltan.  Which took place, Ziltan is a district near Misrata.  And 85 people were killed, including 33 children, 32 women and 20 men.  And many of the civilians were also wounded very heavily and taken to hospitals either in the district or brought here to Tripoli.  It was bombed, according to NATO, at 11:30 [p.m.] local time on August 8th.  And there was further bombings several hours later at 2:34 [a.m.] on August 9th.  So there were, I believe, three sets of bombings.on August 8th at 11:30 p.m., about, and ending at 2:34 a.m. on the followng day. In between that what resulted was a lot of people who came to the rescue of the bombed people were also bombed. So that is why the casualties are very high.  [. . .], the military spokesperson of Operation United Protection for NATO has claimed that they bombed a military area but all the evidence on the ground has shown the usual civilians homes, farmers homes and civilians.  And it resulted in 3 days of mourning here in Libya and the mainstream media challenged the Libyan government on the numbers. I think they lost sight of the fact that civilians were heavily hurt.  And I've seen some of the children, I've talked to the victims there.  It is very distrubing.  Children now in the morning jump up instead of getting up.  So Ziltan was bombed.  Now there's been heavy fighting in the west.  There's been heavy fighting in Misrata.  The Libyan government has annouced here in Libya that Misrata has been freed.  Liberated.  The Libyan military entered there yesterday.  And there was heavy gun fighting there. And now they've left Misrata.  It's been freed. And they didn't stay in their positions in Misrata because NATO would bomb them and they're afraid of this. So they only moved in and moved out.  Now west of here there's been fighting.  Before I start on the fighting, I want to announce also that the local TV stations were again bombed exactly when Ziltan was bombed, as well as a concrete factory and a cultural center in al-Khams and some local municipal community buildings. At the same time that this happened, also, Human Rights Watch arrived. A few days earlier, Human Rights Watch arrived on the ground here in Libya, they sent representatives from the head office in New York. I was actually asked to go to a meeting involving members of the Human Rights Watch.  I didn't go.  It was at the Al Mehari. 
There's much more (the segment's over 30 minutes).  We always do an excerpt and we also need to excerpt briefly another segment.  Dr. Khaled Al Bazelya is the head of Libyan Television's LEC division (their English language channel).  Kevin Pina spoke with him about the NATO attacks on Libyan TV for the last three weeks, resulting in the deaths of 3 journalists, with twelve more injured.  "We are professional journalists. We have nothing to do with -- We are not politicians. We just transfer the news," Dr. Khaled Al Bazelya explained. "[. . .] We report what we see. We ask the International Journalist Association and Human Rights to look into this issue because journalists should be protected all over the world."  Kevin noted the silence on the attacks.
Kevin Pina: Reporters Without Borders has not commented at all on the bombing of Libyan journalists.
Dr. Khaled Al Bazelya: They didn't comment, no.
Kevin Pina: What about the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York? Have they commented at all?
Dr. Khaled Al Bazelya: No, not yet. Not yet.  Although the news has been transmitted by CNN, by AP, by Reuters, by most of the agencies. They all reported this incident and our statement on the inicdent We are a very peaceful people. We want peace. But we are a part of an organization that reports the truth.
[. . .]
Kevin Pina: Now of course NATO after the attack on Libyan Television said that they were halting the voice of terrorism of the Gaddafi regime.  How do you respond to that?
Dr. Khaled Al Bazelya: Well I don't know. I don't understand this philosophy at all. I mean, a journalist is a journalist. You see that the reports are coming from Tripoli from the New York Times and the Washington Post, they have journalists from all over the world.  The best of the world is in Tripoli at the moment and we give them the freedom, the freedom for their rights, the freedom. So we should be given the same as their journalists, as the French, the Italians, the British, the Americans.  That's what we are asking for.  We are journalists and we should be treated the same.
Attacking journalists is a War Crime.  When US forces attacked journalists in a Baghdad hotel, Amy Goodman wrote about it and talked about it.  Non-stop.  In the 2000s, she also talked about (and wrote about) NATO bombing Serbia TV.  But Barack's in the White House and Amy Goodman will do her little headline so that when Barack's out of office, she can claim she covered it.  But gone are actual segments decrying the attacks on journalists.  Repeating, that is a War Crime, bombing journalists is a War Crime.
Turning to Iraq, a day after everyone's reported on Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, commenting on the US government's desire to keep US troops in Iraq beyond 2011, the Defense Department issues a press release.  A Tweet AFP's Prashant Rao highlighted actually said it all.
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In addition,  click here for Xinhua's text and audio report of the Clinton and Panetta Road Show/Eye Sore.  Barbara Starr (CNN) reports on another US official making remarks about continuing the Iraq War, US Maj Gen Jeffrey Buchanan, "Buchanan also confirmed the United States is informally talking to Iraq about a continued U.S. troop presence in the country after the end of this year. He didn't rule out that troops could find themselves in combat in a new arrangement, but emphasized the expectation is Iraq will ask for help with training its troops." 
Though The Nation and The Progressive are either unwilling or unable to inform their niche readers about the serious discussions taking place to extend the war,  Bill Van Auken (WSWS) lays down some hard truths today:
Washington is determined to continue pursuing the aims that motivated the invasion of 2003: domination of Iraq and its oil wealth and the use of Iraqi territory to project US military power throughout the region. Increasingly, US control over Iraq has been severely undermined by Iran's substantial influence as well as by growing economic interests of other powers, including Turkey and China.
This is why the Pentagon and the Obama administration -- Obama's campaign pledges about ending the US war in Iraq notwithstanding -- are determined to maintain a military grip over the country.
Whether or not the Maliki government is able to secure a negotiated deal for extending the stay of US troops, Washington has worked to assure itself a continued military role. In eight years of occupation, the US has deliberately limited the capacities of the Iraqi military, leaving it without an air force or a navy and consequently the ability to protect the country's borders. US air power will continue to control the Iraqi skies no matter what decision is taken by Iraq's parliament.
Also exploring what's taking place currently is CODEPINK's Medea Benjamin (OpEdNews):
"If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do," he thundered in the fall of 2007.  "I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank."
But don't count on cashing that check. The Washington Post brings the unsurprising news that Iraqi leaders have agreed to
begin talks with the U.S. on allowing the foreign military occupation of their country to continue beyond this year -- re-branded, naturally, as a mission of "training" and "support." The move comes after an increasingly public campaign by top White House and military officials to pressure Iraqi leaders into tearing up the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with the Bush administration, which mandates the removal of all foreign troops by the end of 2011.
As with any relationship, saying goodbye is always the hardest part for an empire. The U.S. political establishment has long desired a foothold in the Middle East from which it could exert influence over the trade of the region's natural resources. Remember, Iraq has lots of oil, as those who launched the invasion of the country in 2003
were all too aware . They aren't too keen on giving that up.
And as is to be expected when one maintains the most powerful -- and expensive -- military in world history, there are strong institutional pressures within the Pentagon for maintaining the status quo. Peace may be good for children and other living things, but it's boring for generals -- especially politically ambitious ones -- and bad for bomb manufacturers.
And extension or withdrawal was seriously addressed yesterday on TV thanks to The NewsHour (PBS -- link offers audio option, video and text). Excerpt:

MARGARET WARNER: Do they think it [violence] is related to the fact that, just two weeks ago, on Aug. 3, the Baghdad government, the Maliki government, and the U.S. announced that they were going to enter formal talks about extending the U.S. presence?

ANNIE GOWEN: Well, I think that's -- everybody has been holding their breath, you know, all the Iraqi citizens and the Americans here as well. I mean, that's like the $64,000 question here, which is, are the American troops going to go in total by the deadline? There's 46,000 here now, far fewer than were here during the surge in '07. But, you know, they're talking about maybe a force of 10,000 trainers that could stay, but, really, nobody knows. And the Iraqis haven't made a decision. And the American Army officials are just waiting for them to sort of agree behind the scenes as to what they're going to even ask for.

AFP reports that radical cleric and Tubby Toon Moqada al-Sadr issued a statement declaring if US forces remain in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011 "there will be war."  The statement was issued online where Moqtada likes to cultivate a presence with tweens (mentally) as he self-styles as a gentler despot, the older brother you're thankful you never had. It's there, for example, where he attacked a supposed ally this week.    Monday's snapshot noted, " Carnegie Middle East Center's Maria Fantappie sees additional problems between the political groupings and their leaders [. . .]" -- and she noted the growing gulf between Nouri and Moqtada al-Sadr. She may be the only one featured in a US outlet to note it. It's getting wider and more public. Al Rafidayn reports Moqtada al-Sadr's latest "Dear Moqtada" missives included a question from a follower about the Minister of Electricity Ra'ad Shalal al-Ani who resigned yesterday. Moqtada shares that he feels Ra'ad Shalal al-Ani got off easy and that a simple resignation is not enough for the level of betrayal. He goes on to suggest that there is "a network" of corruption within Nouri's Cabinet. Strong words for supposed allies.
Staying with the Cabinet, there are vacancies.  The vacancies were noted in the Hillary & Leon: A Love For Tax Dollars yesterday.
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From yesterday's snapshot: "With violence on the rise and Iraq seeing its worst day of violence, Nouri al-Maliki is desperate to change the narrative.  AFP reports today that his 'media advisor' Ali Mussawi declared today tha Nouri had just 'appointed Saadun al-Dulaimi as interim minister of defence.'  Because during all this violence, Iraq has had no Minister of Defense.  Nouri was supposed to name one and Parliament approve one.  He never did.  He was also supposed to name a Minister of National Security and a Minister of Interior.  Those are the three security ministries.  But Nouri never has named them. He gave the posts to himself instead.  And he's done a bang-up job . . . if increased violence was the goal."  Reidar Visser (Gulf Analysis) walks through the meanings of the appointment:
The significance of the appointment relates to two levels. Firstly, in terms of the architecture of the second Maliki government, it means Maliki could be seen as moving towards consolidating a situation in which no regular parliament appointments may take place for some time with respect to the security ministries: In early June he appointed Falih al-Fayyad of the Jaafari wing of the Daawa movement as acting minister of state for national security, whereas Maliki himself continues as acting interior minister. This is a different scenario from what happened in 2006, at which time it was precisely the security ministries that held up the completion of the government after the first posts had been allocated in May, but a solution was subsequently found and the full cabinet was approved by parliament in June.
Secondly, at the political level, the latest move is a clear rebuke to the secular Iraqiyya, which has lately signalled unhappiness about the direction in which  the second Maliki government is evolving. Whereas Dulaymi may technically belong to the Unity of Iraq faction (which has technically been enrolled in Iraqiyya recently), it is very clear that Dulaymi is not the candidate of the leadership of Iraqiyya. In other words, he is what Maliki sometimes describes as a "Sunni candidate" rather than an Iraqiyya candidate. The more this kind of sectarian logic gets reified in the Iraqi government, the more we get back to the political atmosphere of 2006 when sectarian violence was at its height.
The problem with what Maliki is doing is that he continues to act as a strongman with a parliamentary majority in a context where it has been proved time and again that he doesn't.
Reidar Vissar notes Falih al-Fayyad is interim Minster of National Security.  That's the first time that's appeared here because I missed it.  And that's not "I missed it because I had other things to juggle and forgot to include it."  I missed it, I wasn't even aware of it.  Though neither al-Fayyad or al-Dulaymi hold real positions, I would've included the puppet's puppets had I know of it but I didn't.  My apologies.
Puppet's puppets is not just a phrase, it's what they are.  Neither was confirmed by Parliament.  They have no power.  They do what Nouri tells them are they're gone.  While the Parliament (rightly) noted in the Minister of Electricity scandal that they had the power to fire not Nouri, these two puppets weren't confirmed by Parliament.  Technically, they don't really exist. Nouri can dismiss them at any time.  The positions remain unfilled not just because they are "temporary" or "acting" but because they were never confirmed by Parliament.  With that confirmation, Ministers have a bit of power on the Council and can go against Nouri (and have).  Without it, they sit at the table only as long as Nouri allows them to.  They follow his orders, his commands and failure to do so means losing their position.  So Nouri has managed a power-grab yet again.
Parliament never should have allowed him to move from prime minister-designate (November) to prime minister (end of December) without having formed a Cabinet as the Constitution dictates.  There's no measure in the Constitution that allows them to return him to the post of prime minister-designate but they can call for a no-confidence vote.  If they really wanted US forces out of Iraq, they'd do so immediately and vote in someone new. 
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes "a flurry of attacks" took place in Iraq today.  Reuters notes a Baghdad attack in which a stationary shop owner was killed and three customers were injured, 2 Kirkuk roadside bombings claimed 1 life and left five people injured, a Kirkuk bombing apparently targeting the Kurdistan Democratic Party which injured two security guards, a Mosul grenade attack which left three people injured, a second Mosul grenade attack which left a child injured, 1 man shot dead in a Mosul market and a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured.  In addition, Mohammed Tawfeeq notes, "A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the house of Gen. Tawfeeq Ahmed, chief of police of Tarmiya, about 50 kilometers (more than 30 miles) north of Baghdad. Two people were killed, and seven others were wounded, but the officer was not in the house when it was attacked, and the structure was badly damaged."
That was far from the only violence.  Seyhmus Cakan (Retuers) reports 12 Turkish soldiers were killed (that number is disputed in some reports) and the Turkish government states it was by the PKK (Kuridstan Workers Party -- a group who advocates for and fights for an independent Kurdish nation) so they sent military planes over northern Iraq to bomb the mountains. Today's Zaman adds, "NTV news channel says some 15 warplanes took off from a Turkish base to strike at bases from where PKK launch attacks on Turkish targets. CNN-Turk television says Turkish F-16s were involved in the raids."  Joe Parkinson (Wall St. Journal) adds, "According to a spokesman for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, Turkish F16 jets bombed rebel encampments in Iraqi territory near the Iran border for around two hours Wednesday evening local time. He said he had received no reports of deaths or injuries but that the 'bombing was very heavy'."
Meanwhile US airstrikes in Iraq continue and Press TV discussed (link has text and video) that with Iraq War veteran and March Forward's Mike Prysner:
Pres TV: US is not simply suppose to carry out unilateral operations let alone air strikes in Iraq, so how could such attacks happen against the security pack between Baghdad and Washington?

Prysner: This is just another example of the myth about Iraqi sovereignty. Unites States' government seeks to exert as much dominance over the Iraqi government as is possible. Large blocks of the Iraqi government are only empowered because of the backing of Washington, as any government elected under an occupation, orchestrated by the occupation, would be. These attacks being carried out reveal the type of colonial relationship between the US government and the Iraqi government, where it doesn't really matter what is on the books and what is on paper. The US government will continue to essentially do what it wants in that region.

Pres TV: There are numerous indicators that the US has planned a long term stay in Iraq, why do you think the US wants to keep its troops there despite the strong opposition by the people of Iraq?

Prysner: If the US government was telling the truth, and the only reason they went into the war in Iraq was to find these weapons of mass destruction, to prevent an attack to the United States, and to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, if that was true, the US government not in any way would be trying to extend the occupation, but they are very much trying to extend the occupation and that is because they went to war in Iraq for profit, for the control of its resources, for the strategic advantage of having a US military base to continue their military presence in the region. That is why they want to stay. Because the gains they hoped to make by invading and occupying Iraq which are; controlling its economy, reaping massive profit off of its resources, and having a base of military presence to attack and exert dominance over the rest of the region, will not be accomplished if the US military simply withdraws right now it is too fragile and too much of a risk for the US government to take.