Thursday, October 6, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, 'withdrawal' continues to be addressed, the Turkish Parliament votes to continue bombing northern Iraq, Panetta says no immunity means no US troops, and more.
Scott Horton: . . . which makes me look at the Iraq War in context and think, did you guys ever think of yourselves as maybe just window dressing? That this never really was about winning hearts and minds of the people of Iraq but telling the American TV audience that "Don't worry, someon'es over there winning their hearts and minds"?
Peter Van Buren: This actually was something that we did talk about quite a bit. There were sort of two groups of folks with us. One -- I'd say three. There was a group of very gung ho folks that really thought we were out to do something great. And they were really just a tiny, tiny minority. Most of the people there just wanted to do their job the best they could, make a little money and go home. But a number of us, and I include myself in this, came to believe that, in fact, it was nothing but a scam, a Ptokeman village that was set up simply so that someone could say, "Look, we're trying to help. We're rebuilding schools. We're doing all of these wonderful things." And then, in fact, the reason why it failed is that nobody really cared if it succeeded or not. The most important thing we could do was simply to be there so that when it became politically expedient to point to us and say, "Look at the nice thing we're doing. We're building a road, we're giving some food out to kids, or something," we were there and handy for that. When the political expediency expired, they closed the program down. It's not like we finished the job. They just basically said earlier this year, "Well time to move on," and closed everything down and left things pretty much where we started.
Scott Horton: You know I'd hate to give too much credit to the Bob Woodward version of events but it seems like despite all the smoke screens and kind of you know the spin that all of his first person actors put on their own part in the Iraq War and whatever it does seem pretty clear, you know, the truth kind of leaking through and all that as soon as the war started no one was in charge of anything. Everything that Rumsfeld was supposed to be doing he pointed to Condoleezza Rice. Everything Condoleezza Rice was supposed to do, she pointed to Rumsfeld and Powell and whomever. And back and forth they went and no one was really doing anything except down at the local level Douglas Feith and Paul Bremer are deciding to disband the army and these kind of things. But -- well, man, and now the music's playing and we've got to go out to break. But that's kind of where I want to pick up when we get back was whether anybody was really in charge of this thing at all?
Peter Van Buren: Absolutely.
Scott Horton: Or whether this was just like a local job training program run amuk.
[. . .]
Peter Van Buren: You were talking earlier about -- we were talking earlier about the lack of leadership and actually one of the chapters that got cut from the book but that I'm going to put up on my blog was called "Lessons Learned from Iraq." And the idea was that we're going to repeat this nation building stuff over and over again, we're doing it right now in Afghansitan where we've spent over $70 billion and the rumors are that Libya, Yemen, maybe even Syria are on the future screen. So if we're going to spend all this money and take all this time, one of the lessons learned was the desperate need for adult supervision. What happened in Iraq was a series of failures. Coalition Provisional Authority was one of the first failures to do anything useful rebuilding Iraq. They got caught up in neocon fantasies of creating flat taxes and super powered stock markets and things like that and it crashed and burned. The Army Corps of Engineers was then handed the bag of money to try to rebuild Iraq and they got tangled up in their own security issues and their own bureaucracy and they crashed and burned. The next step under the Bush administration, of course, was to hand all the money over to KBR and some of those other nice mega contracting firms and let them rebuild Iraq. They -- they took the money alright, they were very efficient at that part but they didn't really accomplish anything. So by around 2007, pretty much the only people left in town that hadn't had a shot at it were the State Dept, where I worked, and we were sent in to do this. The problem was that State had no vision for it. They didn't really understand what we were supposed to do other than we were supposed to spend money and try to make some friends. The projects that we were asked to do were pretty much left to do were pretty much left to each person on the ground to conceive.
Telling the truth comes with no applause in the so-called Era of Transparency Barack Obama supposedly ushered in. No, the administration's response is to attack. Kelley B. Vlahos (Antiwar.com) charts the administration's response to Van Buren's book:
Van Buren says he is being accused of "disclosing classified material," though the
cables he linked to were "unclassified," "confidential," and "unclassified/for official use only," respectively*. The State Department told Antiwar.com that it would not comment on "whether or not there is an investigation underway."
Van Buren, who worked for a year on an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) in Iraq from 2009-2010, is nonetheless convinced that the book is what set off the alarms at Foggy Bottom. He may well be right. Van Buren's publisher, Macmillan Publishers, has confirmed that the department is now seeking redactions, even though We Meant Well just hit the shelves and was officially vetted for classified material a year ago.
According to Van Buren, the State Department never raised a flag about the book until now.
Scott Horton: Well now they're talking about keeping troops past the 2011 deadline. Do you think that Maliki and his armies still need Americans to keep them in power?
Peter Van Buren: What they need is American money and they'd like to have that and if they have to tolerate a few thousand American soldiers around to get the money bags, I suspect they will. Maliki right now has consolidated his power quite effectively. He retains control of both the Defense and the Interior Ministries, the two most powerful parts of the centeral Iraqi government. He retains control of personal militias -- many of which have been linked to alleged secret prisons and alleged torture. He doesn't need the Americans to keep him in power anymore. What he does like is the flow of cash and some of the weapons that we're planning to give/transfer/sell to him. So he's a smart guy, he's played a little poker in his life and if he needs to keep a few thousand American soldiers in the neighborhood to get all those benefits, sure, that's a small price to pay for all the benefits, money and goods he's going to rake in.
Let's stay with 'withdrawal' and then we'll come back to other topics mentioned. What's known so far? Tuesday, a meet-up of the political blocs at Jalal Talabani's home resulted in the declaration that "trainers" would be needed in Iraq beyond December 31st. ("Trainers" is a euphemism for "US soldiers.") At Jalal's house it was decided that the political blocs would not grant immunity. Their decision not to grant immunity did not mean immunity would not be granted but damned if so many idiots in the press (here for a critique of the New York Times' 'reporting') didn't insist that was the case. Are they really that stupid? And, if so, how long does stupid qualify as an excuse?
Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports, "Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday said they were discussing a deal to extend a NATO training mission that could allow U.S. troops to stay as trainers beyond the year-end deadline for withdrawal, with the type of legal protections demanded by Washington." Wait, it gets better, al-Salhy reports the bill was read out loud to the Parliament once already.
Do you get it? Most of the press didn't. All the political bloc leaders said on Tuesday was that they -- themselves -- would not be granting immunity at that meeting. If indeed, as so much of the press misreported, what they were saying was NO IMMUNITY, what al-Salhy reported couldn't and wouldn't and shouldn't have happened.
But it did.
What happens if there's no immunity granted or created? (And it can be granted or created in any number of means provided the administration's attorneys agree it grants immunity.) US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta answered that today. AFP reports he declared, on a visit to Brussels, that without immunity, US troops would not remain in Iraq. (US soldiers shoved under the US State Dept's umbrella will have immunity.) Slobodan Lekic (AP) quotes Panetta staing, "I can say very clearly that any kind of U.S. presence (in Iraq) demands that we protect and provide the appropriate immunity for our soldiers." BBC News notes that Panetta pointed out that negotiations continue.
In related news, Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) reports on a letter US House Rep Darrell Issa has sent the White House demanding to know the details of the White House's plan for contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, "The American people have a right to know the past, present, and future status of private security contractors in these regions." Issa also notes: "Americans would be shocked to learn that during your administration, in fact, the numbers [of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan] have drastically increased. Despite poor oversight and unacceptable levels of waste, fraud and abuse, the numbers of private security contractor boots on the ground and the price tag have only gone up during your administration." In related news, yesterday the US State Dept issued the following: Question: Approximately how many security contractors will be required in Iraq to protect the U.S. diplomatic mission next year?
Answer: In light of the high threat environment in Iraq over the past several years, we expect that in 2012 there will be approximately 5,000 such security personnel to help protect our diplomatic presence in various locations around the country and ensure our capability to interact successfully with the Iraqi Government and people to build an enduring partnership of benefit to both countries and the region. We expect this number of security personnel to noticeably decrease in the following years as security conditions continue to improve, as they have done steadily since 2007.
In addition, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq (OSC-I) will be part of our strategic engagement and partnership with Iraq. This office will require additional security personnel to protect facilities and staff. The exact number and final disposition of these security requirements are still under review.
The United States is committed to an enduring partnership with Iraq, which can be a strong ally in a strategic region of the world critical to our national security. This Administration has placed a priority in strengthening our partnership by maintaining a strong diplomatic presence on the ground in Iraq and is committed to ensuring the safety of the men and women who make up that presence. Utilizing security personnel to assist U.S. diplomatic security officials in protecting Americans serving abroad is not a new practice; it has been part of civilian operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the past and is an important component of security operations at many of our embassies and consulates around the world today.
As Iraq further develops its democratic institutions and improves its security capacity, our security presence will be reduced and operations will be comparable to other countries around the world where we have large missions and vital interests.
And back to Peter Van Buren. It's good to hear someone from State calling out Nouri al-Maliki. The US government has been thrilled to shower him with (undeserved) praise but not to hold him accountable. As he's 'consolidated' his power (power grab), he's rarely been called out by the US government. In Iraq, many have called him out. They've often been arrested, beaten and/or killed as a result. Arwa Damon (CNN -- link has text and video) reports on Hanaa Edwar, the activist and feminist famously stood up to Nouri last June. Today she continues to worry about the attacks on peaceful demonstrators:
Both Al-Amal and Human Rights Watch are concerned the government is trying to portray the protesters as terrorists, and allowing thugs to beat and sexually assault them. Despite her long career in human rights, Edwar is pessimistic about the current state of her country. "We are losing everything now in Iraq, even you know, our dream for democracy, our dream for elections," she said.
That's Iraq today. And the people did not choose their leader. An Iraqi exile who fled the country and lived in Iran, Syria and elsewhere for decades, returned only after the US invaded and cuts ahead of all the Iraqis who remained in the country and becomes prime minister?
That's the first strike against Nouri. His inability to provide basic services (he's now had five years as prime minister in which to do this) is another strike against him. The fact that he's disliked for who he is and what he represents (he represents sectariansim) go to the fact that he will have trouble holding on to power without the US military being present. Peter Van Buren is correct about Nouri's lust for money (he's stock piled a ton of it already). His conclusion that Nouri is safe from a takeover, however, is less sound.
Remember that Tuesday meeting? Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi and Tareq al-Hashemi walked out; before the meeting ended, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, also walked out. Many observers had assumed the event was called to address Political Stalemate II and the Erbil Agreement. Al Mada reports today that State of Law (Nouri's political slate) admits that's what the blocs thought as well. Instead, the meet-up was held so that the plan to keep US soldiers on Iraqi soil beyond 2011 and disguise them as "trainers" could be agreed to. State of Law is calling the meeting productive. Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc sees things less optimistically and states that they will not support US soldiers continuing to remain in Iraq beyond the end of the year. Kurdish MP Mohammed Taha feels that the meeting was necessary, regardless of topic, in a move to get the political blocs talking to one another and states his hope that the Erbil Agreement will be implemented.
Political Stalemate I followed the March 7, 2010 elections in which Nouri al-Maliki's political slate did not come in first. Despite this, despite Iraqiya winning the most votes, Nouri refused to give up his post as prime minister. With the US backing Nouri, al-Maliki dug his heels in and month after month there was a governmental stalemate. In November 2010, the Erbil Agreement allowed a government to finally be formed. All the political blocs, except State of Law, made major concessions. Iraqiya gave up their claim to the right to the prime minister post, for example. Nouri ran with the agreement long enough to be retained as prime minister and then proceeded to ignore the agreement creating Political Stalemate II as surely as his selfish actions created Political Stalemate I.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes 1 "member of the Yathrib town council" was shot dead in Yathrib and, dropping back to last night, a Samarra grenade attack wounded four police officers and one of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's representatives was hot in Hilla (and left injured). Aswat al-Iraq reports five men playing football were left injured by a Baghdad bombing.
Trend News Agency reports Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, is set to go to Turkey to "discuss the problem of Kurdish separatists and other regional issues." Dawn notes, "Turkish air and artillery opertaions against suspected Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in the Qandil Mountains have intensified since August, straining relations with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq." Throughout most of the Iraq War, the Turkish military has bombed northern Iraq. The latest wave of attacks began August 17th. For years now, the Turkish government has decided that's the way to handle a problem they created through their own actions of suppression, discrimination and violence. The PKK is one of many Kurdish groups which supports and fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described them in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has been a concern to Turkey because they fear that if it ever moves from semi-autonomous to fully independent -- such as if Iraq was to break up into three regions -- then that would encourage the Kurdish population in Turkey. For that reason, Turkey is overly interested in all things Iraq. So much so that they signed an agreement with the US government in 2007 to share intelligence which the Turkish military has been using when launching bomb raids. However, this has not prevented the loss of civilian life in northern Iraq. Aaron Hess noted, "The Turkish establishment sees growing Kurdish power in Iraq as one step down the road to a mass separatist movement of Kurds within Turkey itself, fighting to unify a greater Kurdistan. In late October 2007, Turkey's daily newspaper Hurriyet accused the prime minister of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, of turning the 'Kurdish dream' into a 'Turkish nightmare'."
So year after year, the Turkish military terrorizes northern Iraq residents -- farmers, shepherds, villagers -- so they can tear up the countryside with bombs, leaving craters everywhere. This wave is displacing the region more than previous waves and turning many residents into refugees. In addition, though the Turkish government attempts to deny it to this day, the bombings in this wave have also resulted in many deaths of non-PKK.
Some had hoped that a break -- not an end -- might be in sight because the measure approving the latest wave would expire at the start of this month. Yesterday the vote on whether to extend the motion or not took place. Goksel Bozkurt (Hurriyet Daily News) reports:
The BDP, Turkey's biggest Kurdish political force, voiced harsh objections to the move, sparking heated exchanges in Parliament. BDP deputy group chairman Hasip Kaplan called the vote "a declaration of war," while fellow lawmaker Sırrı Süreyya Önder said four major cross-border operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in the 1990s had proved the futility of military action. Rhetoric on the other side ran high as well. Mehmet Şandır of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, said the state was taking measures "against terrorists shedding blood." MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli called for an immediate ground incursion "to destroy the murderers in their dens," during remarks in the southern province of Osmaniye earlier Wednesday.
The Voice of Russia notes that the motion that passed extends "by another year the army operation". Euronews quotes Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stating, "The reason for the terror attacks by this terrorist group is because they can gather and move freely in northern Iraq without any obstacles. The aim of a probably cross-border operation is clear."
Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert (CNN) report something gas bags on the issue should pay attention to but won't. The PKK is one of many groups. Stop saying every act taking place was the PKK. One attack last month was even claimed by another group (as AP reported in real time -- as only AP reported in real time -- Selcan Hacaoglu: "Friday's thwarted attack stoked more fears a day after a Kurdish militan group, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack near a school in the Turkish capital of Ankara that killed three people and wounded 34 [. . .]") but gas bags in the US have continued to inist it was PKK. (Watson and Comert, "Last month, at least three people were killed by an explosion in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara. A Kurdish rebel splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack.") The motion was renewed by the Turkish Parliament so the bombings continue.
Of the newly passed motion, Alsumaria TV notes, "This permission allows Turkish Army to launch air raids and to launch an incursion into, 'in compliance with international law', over banned Kurdistan Workers party's (PKK) strongholds." Times AM adds, "This is the 33rd time when Turkish Parliament" voted to extend the attack order. Aurelie Gaudron (Policy Mic) calls on the US to stop supplying the government of Turkey with 'intel' and instead help work towards a peace agreement, "Washington should push Ankara to reach a peaceful settlement to put an end to a conflict which has already claimed the lives of around 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, and cost Turkey $300 billion, thus allowing Iraqi Kurdistan to enjoy its newly acquired freedom in peace." Fazel Hawramy (Guardian) observes:
In recent months, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been given a hero's welcome in the Middle East for standing up for the rights of downtrodden Arab people and promoting Turkish democracy as a model for Arab societies.
Back home, the civil rights of 20 million Kurds in Turkey have been gradually eroded. The EU acknowledges this is "a serious cause for concern" in a country where more than 3,000 Kurdish activists are in detention. The EU has called on Turkey this week to bring its justice system into line with international standards and amend its anti-terrorism legislation.
On Tuesday, under the same anti-terrorism legislation, more than 120 members of the BDP, including the party's deputy leader, were arrested.
So sensitive is Turkey to anyone acknowledging the plight of the Kurds that the novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was charged and tried for "public denigration of Turkish identity", after mentioning in a 2005 interview that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it".
UPI notes, "Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, during a visit to Germany last month, that the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was committing 'suicide' by advancing its militant campaign inside his country."
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