Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 20, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Political Stalemate II continues, the return of the Accountability and Justice Committee, suicide bombers target Ramadi, a historic day in the US and more.
Wang Guanqun (Xinhua) reports, "Three suicide bombers almost simultaneously blew up their explosive vests outside the provincial council compound and nearby police headquarters in centeral Ramadi" according to police source. KUNA notes, "The complex has been a target for assailants for quite some time now, with attacks on it leading to dozens of deaths and injuries."   Fadhel al-Badrani, Waleed Ibrahim, Aseel Kami, Jim Loney and Myra MacDonald (Reuters) add there were two in vests and 1 in a car and that in addition to the bombers taking their own lives, they also killed 2 people and left fifteen injured. Petra also reports 2 suicide bombers on foot and one in a car.  AFP quotes an unnamed Iraqi military officer who declares, "Three bombs targeted the building of the Anbar provincial government in the centre of Ramadi. The car bomb exploded near the eastern entrance leading to the government offices. Seven minutes later, two suicide bombers wearing explosive belts blew themselves up at the western entrances to the offices."  CNN counts 4 dead and eighteen injured and states all were police officers; however, Press TV says Anbar Province official Khalid Shandoukh al-Alwani is among the dead. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explains al-Alwani was a Sahwa leader Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) adds the detail that the two bombers on foot were wearing security forces uniforms. Uthman al-Mokhtar and Dan Zak (Washington Post) reports that one of the two suicide bombers on foot was shot dead by the police and that fifteen police offcers that were left wounded received their wounds while engaged in a gun battle with five assailants working in coordination with the three bombers.  CNN adds a Baghdad attack claimed the lives of 3 police officers. Aswat al-Iraq reports a police colonel was shot dead by an unknown group of assailants in Mosul and a bombing aimed at the police commander of Baquba which which left him "gravely wounded" and wounded his three body guards as well.
And we'll drop back to  yesterday's snapshot to again note the latest US fatality in Iraq:

Sunday, a US soldier died in Iraq. The Dept of Defense hasn't identified the fallen as I dictate this but KRGV and Valley Central's Action 4 News both report it is Estevan Altamirano (citing his family) of Edcough, Texas who was a 1999 graduate of Edcouch-Elsa High School, the father of five and his survivors include his wife. According to the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen data base, 414 other service members from Texas have died in the Iraq War (there are eight pages with 51 on each page, when you click on page eight, there is no ninth page but there is "next" which contains 6 additional service members -- 8 x 51= 408 + 6= 414 and the search criteria was "Iraq" for theater and "Texas" for state/territory.) Many of the fallen of the current wars come from rural areas and small towns. The 2010 census found the population for Edcouch to be 3,161 and 97.8 Hispanic It's in the southern county of Hildalgo .

Today Gail Burkhardt (Monitor via Brownsville Herald) reports Sgt Estevan Altamirano had spent 11 years in the military and was on his third deployment to Iraq. His survivors include his parents, a sister (Loreda Altamirano), "his wife, Pamela Altamirano, in addition to two stepdaughters. He also has two sons, who live in Kansas".
On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings on WBAI and around the country throughout the week and is hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), topics explored include the medical profession's role in assisting the US military and CIA in torture (guest is Dr. Stephen Soldz) and Guantanamo and its various satellites (guest is CCR's Vince Warren). Soldz is an expert on many things and does a great job addressing the torture.  But Soldz can address othere topics as well.  And it's a real shame that the left isn't calling out counter-insurgency.
During Vietnam, the left knew it was wrong.  (As did the social science fields of study.)  Counter-insurgency is a war against the native people. Counter-insurgency is used today.  In violation of oaths of any serious social science field of study.  Psychologists and anthropologists abuse their field, disgrace it, by assisting the military in 'pressure points' for locals.  That is a misuse of the science and it's a War Crime.  And during Vietnam, the left grasped that and that it was wrong if was used to kill or bring about a killing of an individual but it was wrong if it just tricked and deceived a native population.
Many years have passed.  And the left has failed to call out counter-insurgency with regards to Iraq (Stephen Soldz has called it out.  We've called it out.  Tom Hayden has called it out once very powerfully).  And the attitude is, "Oh, well, if its not death squads, it's okay."  No, it's not.  And we're failing to stress and pass on ethics as a result.  We need to have this conversation.  We are not having it on the left.  I know Michael Ratner especially has worked on the torture issues and Guantanamo and the discussion on those topics with Soldz was important and powerful.  But we've had those conversations, we have them regularly, we have them every year in fact.  Good, they're needed.  But we do not get the exploration of counter-insurgency.  We need it too. Maybe more than the torture discussion because there's a think tank and there's the Carr Center advocating for counter-insurgency and, within the administration, there's Samantha Power, Sarah Sewall, John Nagl, Michele Flournoy and others advocating for it.  It is now US policy.  And this has happened while we on the left have refused to address the issue.
Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio) spoke with Antiwar.com's Kelly B. Vlahos about the surge, the counter-insurgency movement and myths and much more. Excerpt.
Scott Horton:  They all knew that they were lying basically because the entire set-up for 'the surge worked' theory is that he took command, David Petraeus took command, of the Iraq War just as the civil war was ending after they helped for years on end, they had helped Shi'ites wage this civil war against the Sunni Arabs of Baghdad and so-called cleanse them to where an 85% Shi'ite city right around the time he got there and then all he did was accept the same surrender that the Sunni-based insurgency had been offering since 2003 which is if you'll just let us patrol our own neighborhoods, give us a little bit of money and some guns, we'll stop fighting you.  So that was his 'brilliant' victory in war, is that he bribed the enemy to stop shooting him.  And even then waited until they were in the very weakest position of all not because of his efforts but because of all the generals that came before him helping Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim put drills in the Sunni Arabs' skulls, to death, and eventualyl force them all of Baghdad. I mean, everyone in the military knew that as well as everybody at Antiwar.com knew that, right?
Kelley B. Vlahos: Right.
Scott Horton: That the surge didn't do anything. It was just a coincidence and timing.
Kelley B. Vlahos: Well you know the surge, the idea of the surge with a capital "S" is developed into a template for a counter-insurgency strategy when in reality now people like Douglas Ollivant -- who I point out in my piece -- you know, he's a National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation but he was once an advisor to Petreaus, he points out that this isn't a strategy, these were tactical decisions made by the generals mostly to get our fannies out of Iraq and with some semblance of, you know, pride and integrity left. This was not a strategy that could be later on overlayed onto the Afghanistan War.  And so he's pointing out that if we're looking at this as a strategy, we have lost. And he points out that it has not worked, you know, COIN or counter-insurgency, as molded by this surge in Iraq has not worked in Afghanistan nor will it because, like as you pointed out, the dynamics are completely different and they were mostly out of our control whereas the mythology has Petraeus riding in on a white horse with his, you know, 30,000 additional troops.  He comes in.  He starts laying down all these counter-insurgency tenents and the place just magically, you know, becomes safer for Iraqis, safer for political resolution.  And, you know, the next thing you know is that you have Thomas Ricks and you know all of the other punditry class talking about how we won the war thanks to David Petreaus. And what Ollivant points out, rightly, is that's just not what happened. A lot of the dynamic are out of our control and the United States, including Petraeus, and, you know, Crocker and others were sort of help mates to bringing the violence down but the political solution is not there and it's still a mess and we're seeing all of that today.
And if you thought things couldn't get worse in Iraq's ongoing Political Stalemate II, you were mistaken. Hossam Accomok (Al Mada) reports a group is preparing to enter the mix: the Justice and Accountability Commission. For those who've forgotten, this committee had remained in the shadows for most of 2009 and many members of Parliament assumed that since legislation had not been passed keeping the committee active, the committee was no more. But then it popped up and began doing Nouri al-Maliki's bidding by smearing various politicians (primarily Sunnis and primarily Iraqiya members, but not just them) as "Ba'athists" and declaring them unfit to run for office. A month prior to the elections, the Los Angeles Times editorial board offered from the Los Angeles Times' editorial "Baath-bashing in Iraq:"
Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections should be about jobs, public services and government competence. Candidates should be focused on the country's security and on reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Instead, the national vote once again is turning into a sectarian brawl in which Shiite parties jockeying with one another for dominance are stirring populist fears of a return of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party. Never mind that Hussein was executed in 2006 or that the discredited Baath Party already is outlawed. The Accountability and Justice Committee, led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite politician and onetime darling of the George W. Bush administration, has been purging candidates who were members of the Baath Party and, in the process, fueling minority Sunnis' suspicions that the real motive is to further reduce their power.
Ahmed Chalabi and his boy pal Ali al-Lami ran the thing (Ali al-Lami was gunned down in Baghdad May 26th) and it was thankfully dead. But now it's back and Nouri's Dawa wants control of it. How frightening is it? Even the Sadr bloc is voicing cirticism (they state it demonstrates the primacy of political parties as opposed to national unity).

De-Ba'athification was a policy the exiles wanted and the US implemented. British intelligence agencies and military strongly called out the de-Ba'athification process during testimony before the Iraq Inquiry. One of the White House proposed benchmarks of 2007 (signed off on by Nouri) was a reconciliation (de-de-Ba'athification). It was supposed to be implemented. Instead a weak law was passed and there was no follow up (as most observers guessed would happen). In 2010, critics of the Justice and Accountability Commission were repeatedly told this was its last breath. As if this excused the targeting and smearing by the Commission or as if this would bring back Iraqiya's Suha Abdul Jarallah or any others killed in this witch hunt climate Chalabi and al-Lami created. But the commission cleary hasn't take its last breath and it is now set to continue to be a body that will launch smear campaigns against political enemies.

The Kurds and Nouri al-Maliki remain at logger heads over the Erbil Agreement (the political deal that ended Political Stalemate I and the deal Nouri reneged on as soon as he got what he wanted out of the deal), Article 140 of the Constitution (guarantees that a census and referendum will be held to resolve the issue of disputed Kirkuk -- the Constitution mandated that be held by 2007 but Nouri's long refused to follow the Constitution) and Nouri's proposed oil & gas bill. The Kurds have publicly floated the possibility of a vote of no-confidence. If a vote of no-confidence succeeded, it would trigger a new vote in the Parliament for prime minister. Speark of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi visited the KRG yesterday to discuss the situation with the Kurds.

What was discussed? Dar Addustour reports that this morning al-Nujaifi wasn't saying but that the meeting with the KRG president reportedly lasted at least two hours and that al-Nujaifi is now supposed to meet with Nouri to convey the Kurds' viewpoint. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Nujaifi said that his initiative to solve political bloc's differences, starting with solving inter-conflicts among the parties, including the differences between Baghdad and Arbil, according to a statement issued by his office. The statement, as received by Aswat al-Iraq, added that the initiative has new trends that will eliminate all obstacles that hinder the bases for new Iraq."  Al Sabaah reports that a lower level meeting took place in Baghdad yesterday to discuss implementing the Erbil Agreement (participants included Saleh al-Mutlaq and Deputy Prime Minister Ruz Nuri).

Meanwhile there is the Integrity Commission. Nouri recently forced its chair to resign (he did that during his first term as prime minister as well). Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is supporting the reinstatement of the chair over Nouri's objection. This comes as Dar Addustour reports the Integrity Commission is teaming up with Parliament's Integrity Committee and the Supreme Judicial Council to address open files on corruption (files that have not been followed up on). There is talk of as many of 11 arrest warrants possibly coming about from the open files. Meanwhile Dar Addustour reports MP Sabah al-Saadi is stating there is no arrest warrant out against him and that the claims of one stem from Nouri al-Maliki attempting to cover up his own corruption and he states Nouri has deliberately kept the three security ministries vacant and he charges Nouri is willing "to sell Iraq to maintain his hold on power."  Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "The increasing violence is likely to be taken as a further sign of political gridlock in the Iraqi government, in particular the inability of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to name permanent ministers for the key security posts 18 months after the March 2010 elections."

Meanwhile Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi (Daily Star) reports on findings from documents leaked by WikiLeaks:

One notable case that has come to light from these cables involves the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. On April 3, 2003, as Saddam Hussein's regime was on the point of falling, the moderate and non-sectarian Shiite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who had been in exile in the United Kingdom, returned to his home city of Najaf. Just one week later, Khoei was beaten and hacked to death by a mob. According to witnesses, he was first dragged to Sadr's office and then to a nearby roundabout where he was killed.
Although Sadr denies accusations of involvement in the atrocity, a senior Iraqi judge, Raed al-Juhi, issued an arrest warrant against him in April 2004, on suspicion of ordering Khoei's murder. One can of course ask why Sadr does not simply go to court if he is so confident of his innocence. In fact, there is a plausible motive for his role in the murder. As Hayder al-Khoei, Abdul Majid's son and a researcher at the Centre for Academic Shi'a Studies in the United Kingdom, has pointed out, Sadr and his followers, whom Hayder's father opposed, wanted to assert themselves as a political force in post-Saddam Iraq.
Today, it can be more easily understood why Sadr is not held to account over the arrest warrant. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki depends on the Sadrists as allies, along with the Kurdish factions, to maintain his coalition government in place. However, until the release of the diplomatic cables it remained unclear why the arrest warrant was not enforced during the tenure of the non-sectarian Iyad Allawi. He was interim prime minister before Iraq's elections of 2005.

And we'll close noting Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin's commentary on Barack's plan or 'plan' to reduce the deficit:
In the US,  Kevin Douglas Grant (Global Post) reports on Iraq War veteran Lt Dan Choi:

But his time in Iraq began to turn Choi's mind against the American war effort there. Corruption and mismanagement of the rebuilding process was rampant, and as a member of the Commanders Emergency Response Team (CERP), Choi himself had the authority to vet and authorize contracts with almost no oversight. He often paid cash.
"Every week I would fly from Green Zone to the 'Triangle of Death' area and then pass out money," Choi explained, his ready smile on display. "I'd have a million dollars in hundred-dollar bills in my backpack. I was like, 'Wow, I have more than my life is worth.'"
By May, two major forces in Choi's life were waging war on his psyche. On one hand, he had a military career he was fully dedicated to. On the other hand, he had met the love of his life but most of his inner circle still didn't know he was gay. So he started telling them.
"That was probably the hardest time," Choi said. "Being in the military with a boyfriend that I wanted to marry. I thought, 'How am I going to be able to keep being in the military this way?"

Dan Choi joined the fight for equality and became a public face for the movement and what may have still been, for some people, an abstract notion. The courage he demonstrated and the courage of others in the movement is why Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been overturned.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a response to the Reagan administration. With the military having failed in the courts to kick out a man for being gay (Sgt Leonard Matlovich whom US District Court Judge Gerhard Gessell ordered the Air Force to reinstate in the fall of 1980), the Reagan administration showed their usual vindictive nature and responded with a 1982 Defense Dept directive forbidding gays and lesbians from serving and this combined  with the increased homophobia resulting from fears over the emerging AIDS crisis and a packing of the courts with conservatives resulted in a harsher climate where discharges based on sexuality became policy and legal recourse appeared to have vanished.  From Rachel Martin's report today for Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio):
STACY VASQUEZ: I like to say that I'm a government-certified homosexual.
MARTIN: Vasquez was a 30-year-old Army sergeant first class when she was discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." Someone claimed to have seen her kissing a woman at a gay bar, and that was the end of her career.
VASQUEZ: Yeah, it ended right in front of my eyes that day. That was a hard day.
MARTIN: But it was the beginning of her very public role in the movement to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." She became an activist, appearing with Lady Gaga at the Video Music Awards.
LADY GAGA: My friend Stacy here was discharged after 12 years in the Army, and it's...
MARTIN: And giving countless speeches calling for an end of "don't ask, don't tell."
VASQUEZ: How many veterans do I have in the audience? Raise your hand. Yeah, raise them proud.
Gays and lesbians (and bi-sexuals) were demonized throughout the 20th century.  They were seen as mentally ill, as sick, as stunted, etc.  This was taught to generations not as hate or ignorance but state of the art science.  In addition, beginning with silent films, Hollywood studios worked overtime to churn our stereotypes of what a gay man or a lesbian woman was in order to allow their gay actors and actresses to remain above public suspicion.  All of this came together to make gays and lesbians both targets and pariah.  The story of the 20th century is the story of many movements towards equality.  And one thing to remember about the prejudice of past generations -- whether it was against sexuality, race or gender -- it was not taught as hate or fear (though that's what it actually was by the insitutions teaching it), it was taught as state of the art science.  People who thought a race was inferior or a gender or person based on their sexuality were often up on the 'science' of their day.
For gays and lesbians, many credit WWII service with helping strides to be made as men and women who might have stayed in the areas they were born in instead relocated and were able to form diverse communities that helped refute the 'scientific' claims of the day. New York City was one city a diverse community formed and went up against the earlier movements which saw itself as a little more refined although it was a lot more closeted and a lot more self-loathing.  The WWII group was boisterous and not caught up in the trappings of the upper class which allowed for a vibrant movement to develop. The 60s saw Stonewall most famously but many other efforts as well and one of the areas targeted was psychiatriaty to get homosexuality out of the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] as a mental disorder. This was successfully lobbied and a huge step for future legal issues. Throughout the battle for equality, there would be foes (Anita Bryant, anyone?) who would emerge and attack. Which is why a Dan Choi is so important (and why coming out is).  Decades of demonizing gays and lesbians left a false image.  Studies on acceptance and tolerance in the 90s repeatedly found that those most likely to know someone who was gay or lesbian were more likely to be accepting or tolerant. 
So Dan Choi is part of a movement that's gone on in this country for over a century and, on the military aspect, he follows other leaders who put a public face on the issue like Margarethe Cammermeyer who was forced out in 1992 for revealing in 1989 (during a security clearance interview) that she was a lesbian. Her story and others were bubbling up in the media and then came the October 27, 1992 murder of Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler Jr. by his military colleagues and it became a big campaign issue in 1992.  Bill Clinton campaigned for the presidency that year with the pledge to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military.  Then Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell was having none of it and made highly homophobic statements repeatedly and with Senator Sam Nunn and others in Congress -- and in the Democratic Party -- went along with these attacks and began making efforts to turn Reagan's 1982 DoD directive into a law, Clinton came up with the compromise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  (During this period, the press fanned the flames of homophobia --  it was far from an 'enlightened' press and still suffering their self-inflicted third degree sex burns resulting from their prurient and pseudo-moralistic coverage of Madonna's Sex book, Body of Evidence film, "Justify My Love" video and Erotica album),
This was supposed to stop the witch hunts and allow gay people to serve.  The deal was you didn't talk about your personal life at work and the military could no longer ask you if you were gay.  That deal was never really followed as it was supposed to have been and, in addition, being in the military for most is not a job you leave.  You live in a military facility or on a ship or whatever.  When do you get your personal life away from that?  In addition, we've come far enough as a society to see that as crumbs and grasp that it's asking someone to deny who they are and force them in the closet and imply there's something wrong about who they are by asking them not to talk about it.
At American Progress, Crosby Burns offers his take on the historic nature of today.  Iraq War veteran Nicolaas Koppert shares his story at NPR (text only):
I thought a life in the closet was something I could do, something I had to do in order to be happy. I was dating girls and laughing along with jokes that should have upset me, just to be one of the guys. I didn't want to be gay, in fact, I hated it.  It felt like it made my whole life more difficult than my fellow soldiers.
I thought it wasn't fair that I had to be this way. I wondered why I was the only one in my company that was this way, or even if I was the only one. I've seen the worst of war but I know I would never have the courage to come out to my battle buddies. We were within eyesight of each other 24/7 but they thought they were seeing a straight guy.
Tim Mak (POLITICO) reports Dan Choi plans to re-enlist and states that military benefits will not be extended to the spouses of same-sex couples, "There is time for some well-intended criticism here -- the parties that have been going on.  I think they misrepresent the meaning of this event. People who believe that discrimination is somehow all erased will have a rude awakening." And sadly, no law insisting on equality has replaced Don't Ask, Don't Tell. (Which is why the Ninth Circuit decision was needed despite the administration's successful efforts to overturn it.) A law could have been put in place declaring equality.  Barring that, allowing the Ninth Circuit decision to stand would have allowed a precedent to be set and stare decisis to provide protection. Tony Lombardo (Marine Corps News) reports:

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from serving openly will be stripped from the military's rulebook on Tuesday. The occasion could pass quietly. President Obama and the Defense Department have no plans for press conferences or major addresses, and DoD stopped enforcing it in July.
But for gay Marines, official repeal will be a historic day, comparable to the moment 63 years ago when President Truman ordered the services to end racial segregation.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports on the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Morning Edition today. This is a day of pride for the LGBT community who still have battles to fight for full equality.  One non-gay man who deserves applause today is former US House Rep Patrick Murphy.  He has a column at Huffington Post where he writes of the struggle.  He doesn't take his proper credit in that post and is far too modest.  He notes he came into Congress in 2007 with the plan to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  He does not go into how he was humored and misled.  At one point, he was told that Senator Ted Kennedy would be leading the effort in the Senate and when he repeated that publicly, we noted here that it was a lie and that Ted was far sicker than the public knew and that it was terminal. Murphy was jerked around repeatedly.  And then came the 2010 elections and he lost his seat.  He could have washed his hands of the matter.  But he didn't.  He kicked it into overdrive, called in favors and, with the help of others who supported repeal, was able to get repeal voted on in both houses of Congress. Murphy is running for Attorney General in Pennsylvania.


The more than $1 trillion in defense "savings" that the White House claims is based on a projection the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put out last March, which found that war costs would top $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. However, that projection was never meant to accurately forecast the costs of the wars over the next decade. The report just took this year's costs for Iraq and Afghanistan ($159 billion) and added inflation for every year in the future.

In other words, the CBO number was the projection if the United States kept the current number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020. However, nobody ever thought that was the plan. The CBO was required to do the math that way, as they do with all such projections.

At today's White House briefing, reporters were quick to point out that Obama never planned to keep that many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next ten years. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew's response was to point out that the House GOP had used the same faulty logic in Paul Ryan's budget plan.