Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, September 7, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, more talk of the US extending the military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, Iraq gets good news with regards to phosphates, the KRG prime minister states Nouri's acting like a dicator, as does a member of the Iraqi Parliament, and more.
Thomas E. Ricks used to be a journalist.  Then he became a COINista and went to work for a think tank and tried to continue passing himself off as journalist.  Overseas, they were the first to catch on to the charade.  Campuses in this country have caught in even if some outlets haven't.  Today Tommy turns in a piece so shoddy it's difficult to believe he was ever a journalist.  His blog is "Best Defense" and we're not linking because he's engaged with his usual circle jerk (including CIA contractor Juan Cole) and we don't need any diseases from Tommy's whoring.  With the help of a guardrail, he mounts his high horse to declare (his now standard) "Suppose we gave a war in Iraq and nobody here cared?"  You mean yourself, Thomas?   This is only the second time he's written about Iraq since July 27th.   We'll come back to Tommy.
Today Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) cover the news Fox broke yesterday but forget to give credit to those who broke that news.  They do point out that keeping 3,000 troops in Iraq after December 31st could cause problems:

It also reflected the tension between Mr. Obama's promise to bring all American forces home and the widely held view among commanders that Iraq is not yet able to provide for its own security. And it reflected the mounting pressures to reduce the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, both wars that have become increasingly unpopular as the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches.

Felecia Sonmez (Washington Post) notes Fox News broke the story and that the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, states she will do her part to block any effort to drop the number of US troops to 3,000. She expresses her belief that the US needs to remain in Iraq to ensure what she sees as gains. Mackenzie Weinger (POLITICO) notes that Fox News broke the story and notes, "The other proposal, presented at the Pentagon recently by the senior U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Lloyd Austin, would keep 14,000 to 18,000 troops there." David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) observes, "As the deadline nears, some senior U.S. and Iraqi officials warn that Iraq's army and police, despite billions of dollars in aid from Washington and its allies, will be unable to contain sectarian violence or prevent neighboring Iran from expanding its operations if U.S. forces are drawn down too far."
Back to Thomas E. Ricks, when not pushing his sins off on others, he reveals just what a dullard he is.  Does no one read?  We gave Fox News credit for breaking the story about one option the White House has.  One.  But we also noted in yesterday's snapshot:
On the issue Fox News reported on and that Norah O'Donnel asked about, Lolita C. Baldor, Rebecca Santana, Lara Jakes and Robert Burns (AP) report that the White House "is reviewing a number of options" but that a request needs to be made before Barack can decide which option to go with.
I'm all for giving credit where it's due but Fox News was not the only one reporting and certainly Baldor, Santana, Jakes and Burns are a formidable team with a strong track record to point to.  So why is everyone ignoring their report?
Today Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) zooms in on the Fox News report and asks, "One thing much of the media commentary has neglected so far?" The AP story.  (No, he doesn't say that, but that is the answer.)  David Jackson (USA Today) also manages to ignore the AP story.
Today Jakes, Burns and Baldor team up Donna Cassata and Julie Pace (AP) report that the White House is insisting they've made no decision yet with James Jeffrey  insisting that 3,000 is not a number tossed around in the "ongoing discussions in Baghdad, where both governments have been weighing whether as many as 10,000 U.S. forces should stay." The AP team also reports that "Iraqi officials" were taken aback by the 3,000 number (apparently they missed AP's report yesterday as well).  Sunlen Miller (ABC News) reports Senators Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, John McCain decried the 3,000 to 4,000 number from the Senate floor saying it was too low. In addition, John T. Bennett (The Hill) reports Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin states he's "not concerned" by leaving 3,000 US troops in Iraq while the House Armed Services Chair Buck McKeon states "more American troops must remain in Iraq to preserve what he sees as U.S. victory there."  Reuters offers Senator Carl Levin's statements at greater length, "I don't think it's appropriate for us to be pressing the Iraqis to be asking us for troops. We ought to consider a request . . . But for us to be sending a message that 'you need us,' is the wrong message, I believe." Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes) notes that conservative and centrist think tanks are also in a tizzy feeling the number would be too small.  Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "US military commanders, led by Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the senior commander in Iraq, are proposing that up to 18,000 US troops remain in Iraq after the year-end pull-out date."  MJ Lee (POLITICO) quotes US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stating, "No decision has been made. [. . .] They have indicated a desire, obviously, for our trainers to be there, and obviously, that would probably be at the core of whatever negotiations take place."  Greg Jaffe and Annie Gowen (Washington Post) remind that numbers isn't the only issue, there is also what remaining troops will be doing in Iraq.  Their lede is worth noting:
This much is clear: There will likely be some kind of U.S. military presence in Iraq after 2012.
James Kitfield (National Journal) adds, "The Iraqis had indicated that they might have been willing to accept 10,000 residual U.S. forces, a senior U.S. military official with extensive experience in Iraq told National Journal."  Whatever the number, they're supposed to be 'trainers.'  Jason Ditz ( observes, "Spinning the continued US presence as a (mostly) training mission should please Prime Minister Maliki, who has repeatedly insisted he doesn't need parliamentary approval to keep US trainers in the nation.  Parliament was deeply divided over the prospect of a continued occupation, and such a vote was expected to be difficult."  In addition, yesterday Julian E. Barnes, Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman (Wall St. Journal) reported the US military "commanders and intelligence officers" are advocating "for greater authority to conduct covert operations" within Iraq allegedly "to thrwart Iranian influence" and that if the White House signs off on the request, "the authorization for the covert activity in Iraq likely would take the form of a classified presidential 'finding'." How many troops would be left behind for cover operations?  That information would, of course, be "classified" and not released to the public.
Staying on the topic but moving over to what's said from Iraq, Al Mada reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani is stating that civil war is likely if US troops withdraw from Iraq at the end of this year. Barzani was speaking yesterday at a conference in Erbil and stressing the KRG position that US forces remain needed in Iraq. He further stated that this was the opinion of all political blocs in Iraq and discussed away from the microphones; however, for public consumption, few are willing to speak honestly. Bazani noted the issue of the Constitution's Article 140 which calls for the resolving on the Kirkuk issue. By end of 2007, a census and referendum were supposed to have taken place to determine the fate of the oil-rich and disputed Kirkuk. However, Nouri al-Maliki refused to follow the Constitution and, all these years later, no referendum has been held, no census taken. He also called out Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to follow the Erbil Agreement.

Background, following the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections, Iraq entered Political Stalemate I -- a nine month period where nothing was accomplished. The blocs met in Erbil at the start of November 2010 to hammer out an agreement, the Erbil Agreement, which provided the various political blocs with at least one win each. For example, State of Law came in second but their leader Nouri al-Maliki was allowed to retain the position of prime minister. Once the Erbil Agreement was agreed to, Parliament held a session and began moving forward. Iraqiya came in first in the March 2010 elections and at the session of Parliament, a number of their members walked out when it became obvious to them that the Erbil Agreement was tossed into the trash by Nouri once he was named prime minister-designate. Those Iraqiya members were not mistaken about what was happening. By the end of December 2010, Iraq had entered Political Stalemate II as a result of Nouri's inability to follow the Erbil Agreement. September 25th, it will be nine months since the start of Political Stalemate II. Again, the first political stalemate lasted nine months.

In the speech, Barzani raised the issue of the recent draft oil law that Nouri's Cabinet is proposing. Barzani called it out stating that it disregards the Constitution and said that Nouri is behaving like a dictator.  It's an observation others are making as well.  Aswat al-Iraq quotes Iraqiya MP Khalid Abdullah al-Alwani stating that "the present government, headed by Premier Nouri al-Maliki, is similar to a dictatorship, with one ruler and one party, without real partnership, just in name. There are no consulations in government affairs and non-implementation of Arbil agreement."
And speaking of violence and destruction, Tony Hayward's back in the news. Graeme Wearden (Guardian) reports:

Tony Hayward has sealed a deal to exploit the oil fields of Iraq's Kurdistan region, landing the former BP boss an expected windfall of around £14m.

Hayward's return to the oil industry was finalised on Wednesday as his new investment vehicle, called Vallares, agreed a merger with Genel Energy International of Turkey. The deal will deliver an estimated £176m windfall for Hayward and his fellow backers of Vallares, including Nat Rothschild.

Iraqis need to be asking how these deals were made and who made the decision that Iraqi lives and Iraqi water ways were so unimportant that the man who oversaw the BP Gulf Disaster was just waived on in.  Agustino Fontevecchia (Forbes) observes, "Hayward will be once again at the helm of an oil and gas company after the disastrous accident in the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and producing one of the worst natural disasters ever in the region. Hayward, who was replaced by BP's current CEO Bob Dudley, was blamed by many for not doing enough on time to ameliorate the problems."

In other news, citing Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the Associated Press reports that Iraq and Kuwait are no longer in conflict over Kuwait's proposed port. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports, "Iraq may close its main border point with Kuwait to put pressure on its neighboring country to change the location of its controversial huge port on the joint navigation channel to the Gulf, an official newspaper reported Wednesday." Yang cites Iraq's Minister of Transportation Hadi al-Amri as the official. Al Sabaah is the newspaper in question and it runs a very brief item which notes that if the port goes through, Kuwait will no longer need to send items through Iraq and that this would harm Iraq's economy.  Zebari apparently didn't read Parliament in on the 'resolved' issue. They're planning to address what Dar Addustour calls "the crisis" and that includes rumors that Iraqi MPs have been paid off by Kuwaiti officials.

In other news, David Blair (Financial Times of London) reports that it's been discovered Iraq has "the second biggest phosphate reserves in the world, after Morocco."  In 2010, the Guardian explained, "Phosphorous is an essential nutrient for plant growth, along with nitrogen and potassium. It is a key component in DNA and plays an essential role in plant energy metabolism. Without it, crops would fail, causing the human food chain to collapse.
Phosphate production is predicted to peak around 2030 as the global population expands to a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050. And unlike oil, where there are renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, there is no substitute for phosphorus, according to the US Geological Survey."
Yesterday there were many Iraq issues to address and the biggest one was the issue of the various scenarios for keeping US troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline.  So we really weren't too interested in this column by Bill Keller.  It could wait and waiting would allow us to see if Greg Mitchell had anything to offer.
He had nothing and that's far more depressing than anything in Bill Keller's column.  Bill Keller was a columnist for the New York Times in the lead up to the illegal war.  He made the decision to disgrace his reputation, such as it was, by becoming a War Hawk. Though Chris Hedges would be savaged by the paper for a speech he gave against the war, being for it cost you nothing.  This was demonstrated when the pro-war Bill Keller was promoted from opinion columnist to executive-editor four months after the start of the Iraq War.
Jill Abramson is now executive editor of the paper, the first woman to hold that post.  Bill Keller has returned to being a columnist.  It's a weird step-down and I can't think of, for example, any former editors of the Washington Post doing anything similar, but to each their own.  This year, Keller was seen, rightly or wrongly, as using his position as executive-editor (that he still held at that time) to grab onto a column at the front of The New York Times Sunday Magazine (he was seen as doing that within the paper -- the minor criticism of those columns from outside the paper were nothing compared to the internal criticism). He's now a columnist for the paper and not the magazine as a result.
As a columnist these days, his genius is for tossing out ideas.  He fails to develop these -- whether it be his column on Twitter or the one yesterday -- and they're poorly written.  But they do attract a flurry of media attention suggesting that he remains an ideas person if not a writer.  Joe Coscarelli (New York Magazine) wrote a strong critique of Keller's Monday column and noted the column weighed in at "nearly 3,500 words."  (It has not gone unnoted by Times reporters that Keller is allowed a word count that they could only dream of, even for breaking news. Nor that, as executive-editor, Keller failed to champion long pieces and instead insisted that "Middle America" dictated the paper print more short pieces.)  And along came The Nation's Greg Mitchell.
Keller wrote a column of nearly 3,500 words.  Monday, Greg wrote a 'critique' that ran over 1,600 with the promise that he'd return to the topic today.  Over 1600 words.  And he was going to return to the topic today.  (He failed to keep that promise. No surprise.)
And yet where's The Nation's coverage of the White House scenarios for keeping US troops in Iraq?  When I spoke to a friend with the magazine this morning -- close to this afternoon -- I was asked, "What scenarios?"  It was in the news yesterday (see yesterday's snapshot) and it's covered in today's papers.  Do they not read at The Nation these days?
Having (falsely) sold Barack as anti-war, you'd think The Nation would be on top of efforts to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011.  Apparently, it's more important that they pretend the world stopped (or at least world problems did) when Bush left office. And that's a bit of Greg Mitchell's problem.
If you're going to take on Bill Keller's column -- for nearly 1700 words -- you should have something worth saying.  Mitchell accuses Keller of, basically, serving up reheated mashed potatoes that were cooked several days ago which, for the record, is what Greg Mitchell himself does.
I don't know Bill Keller's motives for writing the column.  I will not forget his war cheerleading before the start of the war.  I won't excuse it.  Nothing in the column suggests he's taken accountablity for it.  The topic most likely was chosen because he knew it would garner attention (again, ideas he can come up with, execution is Bill's problem).
If I were going to hold Bill Keller accountable for his actions, I don't know that I'd rely on Judith Miller.  Her pre-war reporting is before Keller's executive-editor.  Where in Greg Mitchell's nearly 1700 words is that noted?  Greg can't shut up about Judith Miller.  That field's been plowed several times over.  Time to rotate the crops, Greg.
Greg Mitchell has never had objectivity and he's also lacked sense.  No where is that more clear than in his attack on Bill Keller for the paper's backing Judith Miller when erstwhile federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  The paper was correct to defend Miller.  It would be correct to defend any journalist who refused to name sources. And a case that can't be made without compelling reporters to testify about sources is a case that was weak to begin with.  (See the current witchhunt efforts to force James Risen to testify about his source or sources.)  Keller's decision to defend Miller was controversial because Judith Miller was controversial.  In terms of principals, it was the right thing to do and Keller deserves applause for his decision there.
But Greg Mitchell's beyond the thought required for that.  He's not much of a thinker -- he struggles with comprehension, as we've noted at Third.  And when he's caught in factual errors, he changes them without noting he's altered them.  So it's not surprising to read the 1700 words and hear Greg whine endlessly about the coverage of Colin Powell's speech to the UN and the WMD coverage ahead of the war and all the other things that the paper did . . . when Keller wasn't executive-editor.
It's a bit hard, I guess, to do the real criticism necessary.  The real criticism would be calling out the Iraq reporting under Keller.  That would be the Burnsie & Dexy Green Zone frolics.  By the time Keller becomes executive-editor, the Iraq War has started.  His era's problem is not pre-war coverage, it is the stenography that kept the Iraq War going. His problem is 'reporting' that appeared many, many days after it should have. Why does a report on a November 15, 2004 battle appear on the front page of the November 21, 2004 edition of the New York Times?  Why the delay?  Unless the paper's allowed the military to vet the copy before they published it.
Dexter Filkins is another Judith Miller because, if you buy into the argument that Miller got us into Iraq, or helped to get us into Iraq, it's Dexter Filkins and his lik that keep us there. He wants to reflect on his time in Iraq but not in any meaningful way.  For instance, he doesn't want to talk about the limited realities he does see (from the Green Zone) or, for that matter, that his movements are limited. The ultimate embed has promoted the myth that Iraq was a place where he could move freely in article after article. (And the Times has mainly relied on stringers, Iraqis, to explore the areas outside the Green Zone.)
Truth in advertising (because we won't call it "reporting") would have meant a lot more Americans would have grapsed earlier what the reality was.
Bill Keller should be pushed on the issue of the use of white phosphorus used on the residents of Falluja and how Dexter didn't report on it.  Bill Keller should especially have to explain how  Abeer Qasim Hamza was repeatedly nameless in the paper?  Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post) filed a major report when the news broke that the military's story -- ran with no questioning or skepticism by the New York Times -- from months prior was false, that 'insurgents' had not attacked a family home, that it was US soldiers and that they gang-raped  14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, murdered her, murdered her five-year-old sister Hadeel Qassim Hamza and both of her parents Wassim Hamza Raheem and Fakhriya Taha Muhasen.  And Ellen Knickmeyer named the victims.  The New York Times rendered them invisible over and over again. To read the New York Times coverage was to wonder if the "14-year-old girl" who was raped and killed by US soldiers had a name.  She didn't in one report after another.  She didn't during the court martials, she didn't have a name.
Ask Bill Keller how that happened?  Ask him how the paper 'reported' ahead of the Article 32 hearing?  Because what the paper did was present the defense case.  Before the defense did.  A defense that military law expert Eugene Fidell would state, after it was presented at the Article 32 hearing, "This is not a defense known to the law."  But days before, the paper had a 'report' that argued just what the defense did.  How did that happen?
Ask Bill Keller why Dexter Filkins did campus appearances in 2006 claiming that he wasn't allowed to print what was really happening in Iraq?
There are many things regarding the Iraq coverage during Bill Keller's reign as executive-editor to complain about (there are many things to praise as well: Sabrina Tavernise, Damien Cave, Alissa J. Rubin, Tim Arango, etc.).  I'm not really sure why he's expected to forever answer for the coverage by other people before he was executive-editor.  One reason may be that, as usual, Greg Mitchell's unable to do the work required to launch anything but a critique that's been gone over and over and over by every outlet except the New York Times.  By the way, while The Nation remains silent over the talk of extensions, long, long ago Elisabeth Bumiller was reporting on that for the New York Times.  Don't expect Greg Mitchell to ever note that either.