Wednesday, August 24, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq prepares to kick out foreign workers, Jalal Talabani tries to end Political Stalemate II, the Turkish military continues its assault on northern Iraq, Barack owns the war, and more.
Judson Berger (Fox News) reports today that if the US military stays in Iraq beyond December 2011, it "could costs billions annually and complicate efforts to reduce the nation's untamed deficit" in the US. Berger notes that "an arrangement with Iraq could cost between $5 billion and $10 billion a year, according to one budget analyst. Todd Harrison, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said his 'rough estimate' is based on the assumption that as many as 10,000 trainers remain in the country. If the assumption holds true, U.S. budget writers could be looking at another $100 billion in Iraq war costs over the next decade." Robert Naiman (Huffington Post) also notes that ending the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is a way to lower the spending, "A plausible and reasonable option would be to curtail future spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, consistent with keeping existing agreements and commitments to withdraw our troops, rather than replacing these agreements and commitments with agreements to establish permanent military garrisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under plausible and moderate assumptions, this would save at least $200 billion over ten years, 1/6 of the Super Committee's debt reduction goal." In addition, Naiman explains:
In Iraq, although the president has promised and under the U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement all U.S. troops are supposed to come home by December 31, the Pentagon is currently negotiating to establish a permanent military garrison of 10,000 troops. According to the Congressional Research Service, the current cost of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq is $802,000 per soldier per year. So, using the CRS number, the cost of keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq from 2012 until 2021 would be about $80 billion.
In March 2010, when parliamentary gridlock effectively froze Iraqi politics, Washington barely lifted a finger to ensure progress and guide the country toward a favorable outcome. All those Democrats on Capitol Hill who were once triumphantly obsessed with Iraq's inability to meet political "benchmarks" had nothing to say as the Iraqi stalemate sent the country into a debilitating political reversal. What emerged from nearly a year of cynical horse-trading were an authoritarian Maliki and a markedly increased leadership role for extremist Shiites. Moreover, the ill-conceived governing coalitions could barely agree enough to enforce parking laws. All the while, Washington refused to exercise any leverage through conditionality of aid and support. Such absenteeism is the defining characteristic of Obama's "responsible exit." Among Iraqis, distrust, stagnation, and tribalism began to reappear. The result has been increasingly, and predictably, deadly.
As things stand, the U.S. is supposed to remove all American forces from Iraq at the end of this year. This will not only open the door to increased chaos, but deprive us of critical leverage in a still-salvageable Muslim democracy next door to Iran. There are negotiations afoot to keep a reduced number of American troops in Iraq after the hard drawdown date. But as with virtually every Obama maneuver pertaining to foreign policy, holding out hope of a meaningful step in the direction of American strength seems foolish. If an ineffectual compromise leaves behind a small number of hamstrung American advisors, things will likely continue to deteriorate. Headlines about a failing Iraq will be inescapable.
It's not just that the above criticism could have been predicted, it's that we did predict here. We went over this over and over in the snapshots -- especially when the idiot Chris Hill had his US Ambassador to Iraq confirmation hearing and a Republican Senator on the Committee who's a friend told me why they were lodging the objectings they (Republicans) did to Chris Hill. They were laying the groundwork for this type of criticism. That's a non neocon Republican and the main thrust of their criticism is that the war was "won" (I don't believe that) and that Barack screwed it up. And that's why they lodged the objections to Chris Hill but were happy to see him confirmed. Chris Hill was a fool. He couldn't even grasp -- after days of tuturing prior to appearing before the Committee -- the issues involved in Kirkuk. He declared it just an old fashioned land dispute. It's a great deal more complicated than that and, in fact, the RAND corporation's study, "Managing Arab-Kurd Tensions in Northern Iraq After the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops," argues 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" and that the disagreement could be over the unresolved status of Kirkuk.
Iraq was not a success when Hill (finally) got to Baghdad. But he's leaving it worse than it was when he got there and the decay happened on his watch because he didn't know what he was doing. When the fool occasionally asked basic questions about protocol, he'd blow off the advice he was given. There's no way to spin it for Barack. Chris Hill is a disaster. And go into the archives and you'll see that we warned in real time that the Republicans were going on the record in their objection to Hill but they wanted the Dems to push it (which the Dems did) because Hill was going to be the fall guy for the administration. The Republicans never intended to blame General Ray Odierno for a worsening Iraq. It wouldn't go over with their base. But a diplomat? Someone they could dub an "egg head"? Especially someone who looked the part? I hear alternate theories from friends in the administration but one that seems very popular is that Barack had to continue the Iraq War ('somewhat') because if he just pulled the troops out (as many Americans believed he promised when running for president) and it went to hell, he would be blamed.
But, as we always argued, if he started an immediate withdrawal upon being sworn in (which is what he promised), then it wouldn't be his war. It would be Bully Boy Bush's illegal war that was unfinished business left over for Barack to just wrap up.
When you've continued it as long as he has (in five months, it'll be three years), you own it. And now he does. If he'd done the smart thing, he would have gotten US troops out and, if criticized about the state of Iraq in 2012, he could have said, "That war was wrong. US forces did all they could do and they should have been brought home by the previous" occupant of the White House (I don't apply the p-word to Bully Boy Bush due to his being 'elected' by five Supreme Court Justices) "but he wouldn't do it so, as president, I had to." And with over 60% of Americans against the war at that point, that would have been fine for the 2012 elections. The illegal war would have been all on Bush.
But Barack and his inner War Circle, though fawned over by an inbred press, aren't all that smart. And despite this option being presented to them by other members in the administration, they wouldn't go for it.
So now Barack owns the war. And it's failure is on him as well. (It will not turn around, it will not be a success. The WikiLeaks State Dept cables that we noted Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio) and Jason Ditz discussing earlier this month, go to why that is. As we've long pointed out here, Nouri al-Maliki's a thug. It's an opinion shared with several members of the current administration. But when they weren't in an administration (because Bush occupied the White House), the could and often did speak of that publicly. Now they fall silent because the administration doesn't want any truths spoken, not after Samantha Power saw and decreed Nouri as Iraq's best shot (for continued US domination of Iraq although she dressed it up with a 'democracy' bow).
Nouri's a thug. The US installed a Little Saddam. And the thing about Little Saddam's is that they're a lot like Chia Pets, just add water and they grow and grow. If you can impose democracy on another country (I don't believe you can), you can't do it under a thug. Thirty or so years from now, the US government will probably be sending young men and women to die in Iraq in order to 'liberate' the country from the "dictator" Nouri.
A former US senator took the time to explain it to Barack even after everyone grasped that Samantha Power would be calling all the war shots and likened the Iraq War to both hot potato and musical chairs, trying to convey to Barack that you do not want to get stuck holding the hot potato, you don't want the music to stop and there be no chair for you. But instead of getting rid of the Iraq War by doing an immediate withdrawal and refusing to take part in Bush's illegal war, Barack made it his own. And now it's failure will be as much on him as it is on Bush. The same with it's illegal nature and everything else.
Today NTD Television reports (link has text and video) that the Iraqi government has decided to begin "deporting foreign workers. With the official unemployment rate at 15 percent and another 28 percent in part-time jobs, their aim is to create more job opportunities for Iraqis as their country rebuilds after years of war." The Ministry of Labor and Social Affair's legal counsultant Hossni Ahmed is quoted stating, "Unemployment rate is very high. Priority should be given to the national laborer. Therefore, we agreed to act on laws and the most important one is the residential law No. 118 of 1968." Though the government made the decision, some Iraqis object. Salam Ahmed is a restaurateur and he states, "I do not support the deportation decision because they work from early morning until 10:00 p.m. They do not complain and they do not say we are hungry and they have no more demands. The salary of a foreign worker is less than the salary of an Iraqi worker." The report notes, "Officials say the government is only issuing work permits to workers at foreign firms that hire at least 50 percent Iraqis for their work force."
Last Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration held a press briefing to announce (link is in Spanish*, FYI) that they were not only providing humanitarian assistance to 35 Ukranian and Bulgarian workers in Iraq but were calling for private companies to follow the rules with regards to national immigration, labor laws and human rights. Why? Because they did several inspections of construction sites and found migrants living there, overcrowded, no light and no ventilation. The 35 workers are part of 271 foreign workers brought into the country at the end of 2010 to work on construction within the Green Zone and hired with the promise of excellent pay but, after working hours and hours for many months, they've only been paid a few hundred dollars a piece. They can't appeal to the subcontractor who hired them. He's skipped out. (After getting his fee from the person subcontracting to him.) He never provided the employees with the work permits he promised and so these people are now undocumented workers, more or less trapped within Iraq, attempting to secure alternate employment. Some are agreeing to take $1,000 and leave the country. (The 35 are continuing to work and do construction.) Remember, this is after months of work with no pay, months of back breaking hours doing construction work. And the $1,000 wouldn't all go to them. Not only would they need to pay for their trip home, they are also being informed that they have to pay various fines due to the fact that they do not have the proper visas (the ones the employer who skipped out was supposed to provide). Meaning that even after the $1,000 is paid, they could immediately be broke due to fines the Iraqi government is attempting to levy against them. IOM's Livia Styp-Rekowska stated that the workers should immediately receive wages for the work they have done, that employers should not threaten to leave the country without paying the workers and that the workers should be assisted with returning home in a safe and dignified manner. That's the press conference. I'm adding that since this is an ongoing problem, one way to deal with it would be for subcontractors bringing foreign workers into the country to have to put up a bond which they would lose if they (a) skipped the country or (b) refused to pay the workers they brought into the country.
[*If you can't read Spanish and you don't trust my translation, take it to someone who can read Spanish or do something else but don't e-mail the public account saying, "I can't read Spanish/Arabic/French/whatever, how do I know you're telling the truth?" If you think I'm lying -- as opposed to mistranslating -- what makes you think I'd be telling the truth in reply? And I don't have time for a reply and I've told everyone working the public account, "Trash those e-mails, do not reply to them."]
Of course the US is responsible for bringing in many foreign workers and some of those foreign workers are US citizens. Bob Sullivan (MSNBC) notes the official US numbers of 14 million unemployed, 8.4 million forced into part-time work when they need full-time and at least 2.8 million who are unemployed and have given up finding a job due to their being no jobs. Sullivan writes of a Miami man, Jadiam Lopez, who lost his job and was facing bills and obligations so "he took a dangerous job as a firefighter" . . . "in Iraq." From Sullivan's report on Jadiam Lopez:
"I was in so much debt that I was working two jobs and still couldn't afford to live on my own and spend quality time with my son. And I said, 'All right, it's time to take a look at Iraq,' " Lopez said. Once a crazy idea, going to Iraq now seemed an obvious choice. Salaries for firefighters there start at $90,000, with food and housing provided. And in many cases, the salary is tax free.
Still, he said nothing prepared him for landing in a war zone.
"It's more of wait and see if you can stomach it when you land at Baghdad International Airport," he said. "My first nights at the Victory Base for In-processing you would hear the Blackhawks shooting their 50 (caliber guns) near the base. Then I and the rest of my guys that got hired together were like, 'Oh boy, here we are.' "
Geneva/Baghdad (ICRC) – Women in Iraq who must shoulder the burden of caring for their families alone because their husbands have been killed, arrested or disabled by war injuries, or have gone missing, are among those worst affected by the consequences of years of armed conflict. While recognizing the efforts that have already been undertaken to improve their situation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls for further action to be taken on the part of all concerned. "Women heading households and their dependents have to struggle with extremely harsh living conditions," said Magne Barth, the head of the ICRC delegation in Baghdad, at a press conference today in the Iraqi capital. He presented the results of a survey carried out by the ICRC to acquire a better understanding of the state of Iraqi women supporting their families alone. The survey involved interviews with 119 women and depicted the hard choices they have to make in order to feed their families in the absence of a husband, father or brother. The ICRC also released a film today that highlights the difficulties the women have to face.
"Around 70 per cent of them spend more than they earn. They have to borrow money, sell what little they own and avoid expenses by going without health care or by taking their children out of school," said Mr Barth. "Moreover, 40 per cent of the families we surveyed have to send children, usually sons as young as 12 or 13 years old, out to work."
An estimated one million women struggle to feed their families and continue to depend, to some extent, on outside help. The ICRC strives to help them overcome the loss of a former breadwinner. In particular, it aids them in their efforts to register with Iraq's welfare allowance system. "Since 2009, the ICRC has reimbursed the travel expenses incurred by nearly a thousand women, mainly in Baghdad and Anbar, but also in Basra and Missan, when they had to gather the various documents required to apply for the allowance," said Mr Barth. "Around 6,000 more women will be given financial support this year and next to tide them over until they start to receive benefits from the social welfare system."
"We also offer micro grants to those willing to start an income-generating activity," he said. "However, the grants cannot meet all needs, and not all women are able to launch a small business."
The ICRC supports all efforts aiming to improve the situation of women heading households. It will continue to assist the women and others involved in helping them.
Aswat al-Iraq quotes ICRC spokesperson Magny Barh declaring today, "Iraqi women are the most affected by the armed conflicts because they have to subsidize their families after their husbands were killed. These women need governmental suppor through the social security programs, who cannot get due to complicated registration procedures." W.G. Dunlop (AFP) quotes the spokesperson describing them as "widows, wives of missing and detainees, or divorcees, who are alone in charge of their family" and that the women "rely on their relatives, neighbors, communities and charities to cope with their needs. Seventy percent of them spend more than they earn and have to borrow money, sell their assets and cut on crucial spending like education and health."
Violence continues to plague Iraq and one of the more curious events in the last 24 hours was a home robbery in Kut where money was stolen. Aswat al-Iraq reports "a traffic police officer" was targeted at home by three armed men who stole 40 million Iraqi dinars. How the robbers knew which home to target isn't known or mentioned. Also avoided is the equally important question of why that money was in the home of the traffic police officer? (In US dollars, that's approximately $34,200.) Aswat al-Iraq also reports that a Diyala home bombing resulted in the deaths of four family members with three more being injured, an attempt to assassinate a police colonel in Diyala Province by bombing resulted in the officer and his bodyguard being wounded and 1 Sahwa ("Awakening," "Sons Of Iraq") has been shot dead in Baquba. In addition, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people (one an Iraqi soldiers -- Iraqi police maintain six people were injured in the bombing), a Baquba roadside bombing resulted in 1 man being killed and seven more injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing injured a police officer, a Mosul roadside bombing left "a mother and her daughter" injured and 1 man was shot dead in Mosul. Reuters updates to note a Ramadi suicide bomber took his own life and the lives of 3 police officers (five more police officers were injured) and a Baghdad bombing targeting State of Law's Abdul Rahman Abu Raghif resulting in six people being injured. Dar Addustour reports that Sahwa leader Sheikh Ahmed al-Bazi Abu Risha has stated there was a bombing attempt on his life Monday as his convoy traveled between Abu Ghraib and Falluja.
Meanwhile Nayla Raazouk (Bloomberg News) reports on this Iraiqya TV story noting Iraq's Foreign Ministery stated, "The Iraqi government protested the violation of the bombardments of border areas and the targeting of innocent civilians in Kurdistan. The Iraqi government asks for an immediate halt to these operations." What operations? The Turkish military's bombing of northern Iraq. Iraqiya TV notes that the Turkish Ambassador Murat Ozcelik was seen by Jawad Alldorki, Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister, who told him that the bombings violated Iraq's sovereignty, targeted innocent civilians and called for an immediate halt to the bombings. Press TV reports, "Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds have gathered outside the Turkish consulate in Irbil to protest against Ankara's cross-border airstrikes against suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq. The protesters carried banners reading, 'Stop the aggressive attacks on us,' and 'We will not let Turkey's internal problems destroy our lands'."
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "More than 180 families have deserted their villages in northern Iraq's Kurdistan villages of Halso township, east of Sulaimaniya city, due to their bombardment by Iranian and Turkish forces, according to the Mayor of Halso's township of Qala-Diza area east of Sulaimaniya on Wednesday." The attacks on northern Iraq by the Turkish military continue. Yesterday found the Turkish military boasting that they had killed as many as 100 people while leaving at least 80 injured -- this self-proclaimed bloodbath allegedy in response to the killing of 9 Turkish security forces.
"Allegedly" because, as the world watches the blood lust and bragging from the Turkish military, it gets a bit difficult to believe this is really about the PKK, especially when the Turkish government's well known animosity to and fear of the Kurdistan Regional Government is factored in. For years the government of Turkey has brutalized and attaked their own Kurdish population (that was what birthed the PKK) and kept the minority population down. But birth rates -- ask Israel -- can turn a minority into an equal or even the majority. And the government of Turkey fears the semi-autonomous KRG region and fears it becoming more independent because it might force the Kurds within Turkey to truly rise up against a government that has racistly attacked them over the years and who, now, after years of abuse can only point to the just started TV broadcast in Kurdish as proof of 'advancement' and 'progress.'
When you fear and possibly loathe a region that's close to your border, maybe you indiscriminately bomb the hell out of it to get it further away from your border?
As 9 deaths continue to result in carpet bombing, people begin to wonder if the point really isn't to push the residents of the mountains of northern Iraq further and further in to the country, further away from Turkey in the hope that, 'out of sight, out of mind,' they won't inspire the Kurds within Turkey to demand equality.
The assault comes amid rising tensions [within Turkey] between the Turkish government and the country's Kurdish minority since June elections. Candidates backed by the Kurds, who make up almost a fifth of Turkey's population, performed well in the poll, garnering 36 seats. But after some members of parliament were barred because of PKK-related convictions, the Kurdish bloc boycotted parliament – a boycott that is still in effect. In recent years Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has repeatedly said it plans to redress the long-running grievances of the country's 15 million Kurds, who are seeking greater cultural and political autonomy. Among other initiatives, the government has loosened restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, launching a Kurdish state TV channel.
Along with the Turkish military, northern Iraq is also being assaulted by the Iranian military. Patrick Markey (Reuters) informs, "Along the Iraqi northern Kurdish region's borders with Iran and Turkey, hundreds of refugees have fled since mid-July to small camps to escape attacks by Iraq's neighbours on rebels hiding along the frontier in their long war for Kurdish self-rule. Iraqi Kurds say they are caught in the middle as Turkey and Iran attack their villages across the border while Ankara and Tehran court their local government with foreign investment that has helped make the Kurdish region the most stable part of Iraq." I don't think it's quibbling to dispute Markey's word choice of "hundreds of refugees have fled" because one of the largest objections to the bombings is that it is creating refugees. Refugees did not flee, refugees were created. The hundreds fleeing were fleeing their homes, were hoping to escape to safety. They became refugees as a result of the actions of the military of Turkey and the military of Iran.
And someone needs to point out that the last thing Iraq needs at this late date is even more internal and external refugees. They are the site of the refugee crisis in the Middle East already.
How bad are the attacks? Alsumaria TV reports, "Sadr Front leader Moqtada Al Sadr called on Tuesday to put in place an immediate political solution to overcome the violations of neighbouring countries in northern Iraq and dispatch a delegation to Iran to end this issue. Al Sadr renounces any attack by any country on Iraqi territories and refuses to use Iraqi territories to launch attacks against other countries." Today's Zaman notes that "Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Tuesday that his government condemns both the Turkish and Iranian attacks along the border." David R. Arnott (MSNBC) notes that media attention has focused elsewhere while northern Iraq has been bombed and Arnott provides various photos from Reuters and AFP including the first photo which of Kurdish women in Rainia mourning the deaths of the civilians on Sunday.
The Turkish government decided they wanted to offer a show of force on an oppressed people (PKK) and used civilian targets to send a message. That never plays well and usually results in a response. Press TV reports that the PKK is stating that it may "wage an intense military operation against the Turkish military inside Turkey. PKK Presidency Council has decided to change the group's defensive policy into aggressive approach and target Turkish military headquarters inside Turkey's soil, IRNA quoted PKK spokesman Ahmed Denis as telling Al-Sumariya news on Wednesday."
Quickly the Libyan War. I have no idea what's going on and I don't think anyone does. Sunday, it was supposedly over and one of Muammar Gaddafi's son was captured. Nothing's over. Still. What happened over the weekend leading up to Monday was NATO demonstrating it's terror inducing power in yet more illegal actions. With Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio), John Glaser discusses NATO's 'victory' and the fact that the so-called rebels can't even be trusted not to turn on their own. Regardless of the outcome of this illegal war, as Simon Jenkins (Guardian) observed yesterday:
So do this week's events justify Britain's Libya intervention? No, however churlish it may be to say so at this point. Nor would success in Libya justify attacking Syria, Yemen, Bahrain or Egypt, should the last turn sour. The Libyan adventure, its apologists point out, was tactically easy, and even that took five months and cost Britain hundreds of millions of pounds. Libya has a small population and is rich. If it now becomes a puppet oil state in the manner of the Gulf, it may be governable as an outpost of western interests, but it will become the same magnet for anti-western forces as were Iraq and Lebanon before it.
The UN basis for the intervention, supposedly to prevent "massacre in Benghazi", showed how tenuous was the case for British aggression to achieve regime change. Britons might fervently will freedom on Libyans, as on Egyptians and Syrians, but how these people achieve it is their business, not Britain's. The more we make it our business, the less robust their liberation will be.
Monday on KPFA's Flashpoints, Kevin Pina spoke with journalist Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya and he was then trapped in his hotel with shooting going on all around. Kevin Pina noted, "We're asking all of our listeners to please call the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry at 1-800-267-8376 and demand that Canada contact the Transitional National Council of Libya and tell them to respect the right of international journalists especially Canadian journalist Mahdi Darius Naemroaya. Again that number to contact the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry at 1-800-267-8376." There are, at best, jokes being made about the safety of unembedded journalists and, at worst, threats being made. On Tuesday's show, Dennis Bernstein featured an interview Mahdi gave RT.
Smashing or looting whatever they could find, the taking of Gadhafi's compound threw up some surreal scenes - Libyans snatching Gadhafi's golf cart, his hat, a cocktail trolley. Others burned or defaced the symbols of his regime. A golden fist modeled after Gadhafi's hand was a popular spot to take a picture. The spread winged iron eagle sitting atop a futuristic dome was hit with an RPG - after the battle. But apart from some Gadhafi swag, most people left the compound caring guns - all kinds of guns, many still in their packaging. [. . .] And they are now. The rebels are a motley crew of engineers, taxis drivers, students and oil workers who have learned how to fight and kill. It didn't look yesterday like those taking the guns were doing it to add to any future Libyan army arsenal.