Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 25, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, a US journalist is reported to have been arrested in Iraq, James Denselow is among those leading the factual charge against spin, Turkey's assualt on Iraq continues, we explore the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction's grading of the US State Dept, Nouri targets 'Ba'athists' (political enemies) and more.
Dar Addustour has a breaking news report this evening that American journalist Daniel Smith has been arrested in Baghdad by Iraqi forces (the arrest was Friday). If the report is correct and the name is correct, this is most likely Daniel Wakefield Smith who in addition to text reporting is also a photojournalist (not to be confused with retired US Army Col Dan Smith who has offered commentary and analysis on the Iraq War). Dar Addustour is the only one reporting the story currently and they say that there is confusion regarding what he was arrested for with some saying it was for the Friday protests in Baghdad (covering it or participating in it? that's not explained) while others are saying he was arrested for spying on Iraqi officials.
Friday, October 21st, while Barack was spinning the country and the press was sleeping on the job, another US soldier died in Iraq.  The Defense Dept issued the following today:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.
Pfc. Steven F. Shapiro, 29, of Hidden Vally Lake, Calif., died Oct. 21 in Tallil, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Divison, Fort Hood, Texas.
For more information media may contact the Fort Hood public affairs office at 254-187-9993/2520  or []
Their address is wrong and you're taken to a site that can harm your computer.  You'd think DoD could get this right.  It's www.forthoodpresscenter.com/go/site/3439/  The Pentagon's count of US military personnel who've died in Iraq currently stands at [PDF format warning] 4484. That's 63 deaths since Barack Obama proclaimed combat operations ended August 31, 2010.  How many US military personnel will die after December 31, 2011 and will the press continue to avert their eyes?
Yochi J. Dreazen (National Journal) examines the issue of Special-Ops and notes they will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan and, "Many conventional troops have done four or five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, Special Operations troops have done 10, 12, and even 14 tours."  He quotes Adm Eric Olson who stated back in February that although 100,000 US troops left Iraq, only "about 500 special operations" troops departed implying the bulk of Special-Ops remained.  In addition, yesterday Walter Pincus (Washington Post) noted, "Denis McDonough, White House deputy national security adviser, told PBS's News Hour on Friday night that the United States and Iraq woul still conduct periodic naval and air exercises." Meanwhile James Denselow (Guardian) observes "there is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality surrounding the US departure from Iraq." And he goes on to back that up explaining, among other things, the ongoing neogtiations to put US 'trainers' under the NATO mission (a 2004 agreement), the large number of contractors and much more.  We'll note this paragraph:
In September, Iraq made the first payment in a 1.9 billion pound deal to buy 18 F-16s. The agreements mean that despite the claim that Iraq took full responsibility for its airspace in October, effective aerial sovereignty will be in the hands of the Americans for years to come as they help to patrol the country's skies and control its airspace, and train its air force. A senior Iraqi politician explained to me last week: "We are absolutely incapable of defending our borders. We don't even have one fighter jet to defend our airspace."
Al Mada reports that before US Vice President Joe Biden visits Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be visiting DC. Both visits will focus on the issue of US 'trainers' as negotiations continue. The paper notes that the Kurdish Alliance is expressing concern over the issue of neighboring countries (Turkey and to a less extent Iran) attacking Iraq. A non-Kurdish government source notes that there is only a short amount of time between now and the end of the year but that he believes they can work out an understanding with the US that will provide a mechanism to ensure the safety of Iraq. Rumors swirling in the Iraqi government include that the US, in this round of negotiations, is pressing for 1500 US troops based out of the Baghdad embassy. Dar Addustour notes both visits as well as Ayad Allawi's trip to London (he's on it now) where he's meeting with David Cameron (British Prime Minister) and others. As Trina pointed out last night, Patrick Martin (WSWS) is also noting Nouri's trip to DC: "Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is to visit Washington in December for further talks, and Obama held out the possibility of a future agreement to station US troops in Iraq in the guise of training Iraqi soldiers in the use of weapons systems the Iraqi government is buying from American military contractors."

The Pakistan Observer notes Moqtada al-Sadr's comments that the US "is seekign to maintain its occupation of Iraq through keeping trainers and private contractors" in Iraq. The CIA isn't leaving Iraq either. Eli Lake (The Daily Beast) reports:
The programs involve everything from the deployment of remote sensors that scan the wireless spectrum of terrorist safe havens to stealth U.S.-Iraqi counterterrorism commando teams, and their status is uncertain as a U.S. diplomatic team negotiates with Iraqi leaders, according to officials, who made clear the CIA intends to keep a footprint inside the country even as troops leave by Dec. 31.

"There are of course parts of the counterterrorism mission that the intelligence community, including CIA, will be able to take on from other organizations—and there are parts of that mission that it won't," said one U.S. counterterrorism official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of secret negotiations with the Iraqis.

Also addressing realities is Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque via World Can't Wait):

So we have a baseline of 5,000 militarized forces remaining indefinitely in Iraq, with no immediate limit on an expansion in their numbers. And of course, all the stories make it abundantly clear that the Americans will quickly negotiate a new "security agreement" with Iraq, which will include -- or even be in addition to -- thousands of military "advisers" to help "train" the Iraqi forces, especially with the multitude of new weapons that Washington's war profiteers are lining up to sell to the "sovereign" government in Baghdad. How many troops will be involved in these "agreements"? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Again, we don't know.
And as Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out, none of these numbers include the "Special Forces" and CIA paramilitaries that will inevitably be ranging across Iraq, no doubt in large numbers. Iraq is hardly going to receive less attention from the American black ops and death squads than Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and the dozens of other countries where Washington is waging secret war.
Thus it is almost a certainty that by the end of 2012, there will be, at the barest minimum, at least 8,000 to 10,000 heavily armed personnel under the direct control of the United States government stationed at strategic points throughout Iraq; the actual figure will doubtless be higher, perhaps much higher. But this is a bare minimum -- numbers which tally almost exactly with the final goals of the American war machine in the "failed" negotiations on extending the present form of the occupation.
David R. Francis (Christian Science Monitor) deludes his readers (and possibly himself) that the US is leaving Iraq and the delusions never stop, "Throw in the replacement of vehicles, weapons, equipment, etc., and the eventual tab for the United States could reach $4 trillion to $6 trillion, according to University of Columbia economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University budget expert Linda Bilmes. Those are big numbers."  They'd be even bigger if Francis factored in the continued spending on Iraq.  All US forces are not withdrawing -- as he wrongly writes -- and neither is the US tax payer money.
As Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) noted Sunday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has released a new report.  The report [PDF format warning] is entitled "Iraqi Police Development Program: Opportunities Program Accountability and Budget Transparency." The 18-page report (plus appendices) paints a disturbing picture.  As with Congressional hearings we've attended, the State Dept refused to provide SIGIR with needed information and documents.  Though the State Dept has planned since 2009 to take over the training of Iraqi police, they have no assessment of the force's current capabilities. To call what they have shared with ISGR "planning" is being extremely generous.  In its opening, the report notes: "We believe this audit raises serious concerns regarding the PDP [Police Development Programs]'s long-term viability.  The continual downsizing of the program, the planned use of unspent funds, and the lack of transparency regarding the use of program funds for 'Embassy platform' purposes (e.g., security, life support, and aviation) raise red flags about the program's fund requirements."
As the report makes clear early on, these are not concerns about something that will happen in the near future (for instance, January 1, 2012), these are concerns about a program the State Dept is over and executing as of October 1, 2011 and for Fiscal Year 2012, State wants $887 million for this program.  This after 8 billion US tax payer dollars being spent in the last eight years "to train, staff, and equip Iraqi police forces to maintain domestic order" and that money was spent on, among other things, increasing the size of the police force.  Prior to the start of the Iraq War, police forces numbered 58,000  and today it has increased to 412,000 police.  Population estimates for the country range from as low as 23 million to the CIA's 30,399,572 (July 2011 estimate) which would be an estimate of roughly 24 million when you subtract the Kurdish population.  (My opinion: The US should not be training the Kurdish police. They do have a training center in Erbil.  But they shouldn't be doing it.  The Kurds don't need it and it's a waste of money. That is not to say Kurdish forces are perfect -- they aren't -- or that there are not human rights abuses -- there are -- but it is to state that the KRG is not starting from ground zero the way the rest of Iraq supposedly is.)  412,000 police officers for a population of 24 million (CIA figure minus KRG numbers).  The US has a population of over 300,000,000.  How many police officers -- including federal law enforcement -- does the US have? At the end of 2007, Kevin Johnson (USA Today) reported that figure was 800,000.  The US has twice the number of police officers as Iraq (minus KRG) but over 12 times the population (ibid).  And US tax payers have spent $8 billion on achieving that.  (And at a time when the "Super" Congress must find $1.2 trillion in spending cuts for the US government.)
The report didn't address the above issue, it's "objective for this report is to address whether DoS/INL has a program plan with sound requirements and cost estimates, and whether DoS identified the funds and other resources that the GOI will contribute to the program."  In 2009, SIGIR pointed out the need for an assessment and in April of 2011 a grant was given -- "$1 million to conduct a base-line assessment of the Iraqi police."  The money was paid out.  No assessment was ever completed.  Is the State Dept unable to handle even the most basic of duties?  If you wasted $1 million of the tax payer dollars, you should have an explanation as to what you did to follow up on that but State doesn't feel they are answerable to anyone on these questions.  The report notes:
Without specific goals, objectives, and performance measures, the PDP could become a "bottomless pit" for U.S. dollars intended for mentoring, advising, and training the Iraqi police forces. Meetings held with Iraqi police officials and training courses provided could simply become "accomplishments," without any indicators of changes in the management and functioning of the Iraqi police forces that can be attributed to this costly program.
In addition, the report notes:
DoS has yet to obtain a signed agreement with the GOI [Government of Iraq] for the PDP, although hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars have already been spent on providing program support. It has also not prepared the documents required by the gudielines, which would describe the program cost and the GOI financial participation. SIGIR has reported that working closely with the GOI is essential to long-term program success and to avoid waste of U.S. funds. In prior work, SIGIR recommend that U.S. efforts be based on assurances that the GOI supports the U.S. approach, and that there are measurable indicators of progress. Absent such assurances, the programs are vulnerable to waste.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have repeatedly BMW-ed in public (bitched, moaned and whined) about how Congress needs to give poor little State more money.  Isaiah lampooned Hillary and Leon as pigs at the trough back in August.  With the rate of sexual assault in the military, Leon needs to mind his own damn business and focus on the Defense Dept.  Hillary needs to buy a damn clue and realize that though she has little control over the Iraq matters (Barack farmed them out), she's the one the public will hold responsible.  If she was thinking smart, she'd bail right now and announce she was retiring.  Instead, she's being stupid and staying in the position.  That means she's about to learn the lesson Colin Powell did as Secretary of State -- one minute your beloved, the next your image is in ruins and some obsessive flunkie spends years trying to repair it for you.
State has a lot of damn nerve asking for a cent from US tax payers when it's not even practicing the most basic fiscal checks.  The report makes many recommendations.  We'll note these made for Congress:
SIGIR believes that the Congress could consider requiring DoS to provide data on and analysis of PDP plans, requirements, and costs before additional U.S. funds are committed to a program that is currently without budget transparency and measurable goals, and has the potential for significant waste. The Congress could also consider requiring DoS to provide details on how previously provided funds can be used to meet PDP costs in FY 2012, and documentation required by DoS guidance that describes the GOI financial contribution to the program. Further, the Congress could consider whether the GOI's 50% contribution to PDP costs should be calculated by including or excluding security, life support, and other special costs of operating in Iraq.
The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction came about as a result of 2003 legislation introduced by then-Senator Russ Feingold.  In 2006, when Republicans controlled both house of Congress, they moved to shut down the office but Feingold, Senator Susan Collins and others were able to keep it alive.  Feingold's no longer in Congress and, as is obvious by State's refusal to cooperate with SIGIR, Democrats no longer appear to value the work done and especially appear determined to evade oversight.
If that seems harsh, SIGIR should not have to remind Hillary Clinton -- in writing (letter dated August 3, 2011, appears on page 30 of the report) -- that State is obstructing the SIGIR's oversight or to remind her that, when information is requested, her department needs to turn it over as Congress instructed in their legislation. And the only one who might need to be more embarrassed than Hillary by this report is Harold Koh, whose legalese doesn't meet anyone's definition of "transparent" -- let alone the definition Barack was applying to his administration before he was sworn in. (Two of Koh's letters are included in the report.)  Michael Lawson (Free Speech Radio News) reported on the SIGIR findings yesterday.
Michael Lawson:  A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction cited inefficiencies in the State Dept's ability to handle a program aimed at training Iraqi police forces.  The Department requested nearly $900 million for the project in 2012.  The Inspector General's report claims the State Dept has no detailed plan for how the program will operate or what goals are to be accomplished. Only 12% of the 900 million would go to actual advising of Iraqi forces.  The balance would pay for security and support for the trainers. An Iraqi government official suggested to the Inspector General's office that the money would be "better spent on the American people." [Just Foreign Policy's Robert] Naiman says Iraqis on the ground see the presence as a remnant of the US occupation.
Robert Naiman: It would probably be better for this not to exist at all.  There isn't any strong case that US training at this point is particularly better than any other training that the Iraqis could get.
Still on the topic of Iraqi police, Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports traffic police continue to be targeted in Baghdad with three roadside bombing today claiming the life of 1 and leaving eight more injured.  In addition, Aswat al-Iraq reports assailants attacked two homes in Babel "killing the wife and son of one of the owners of one of the two houses". Reuters notes 2 Baghdad roadside bombings and 1 sticky bombing which injured police officers leaving 1 dead and four injured plus eight civilians left injured (these are not three more bombings -- I'm noting the difference in the numbers and characterizations between AP and Reuters on the same bombings), an Abu Ghraib roadside bombing which left two Iraqi soldiers injured, a Baquba roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and left two more injured, a second Baquba roadside bombing which left four police officers injured and, dropping back to Monday night a Kirkuk assault on a real estate office claimed 1 life.
Sunday, Dar Addustour reported, Nouri al-Maliki orhcestrated a campaign of arrests in Kut, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala against those he insists are threats because they are "senior" Ba'ahtists and former officials in the Ba'athist Party. In Saddam Hussein's time, most Iraqis were Ba'athists. Many of the exiles, like Nouri, were as well before their exile period. Aswat al-Iraq counts 45 people arrested. If you've forgotten, and Nouri clearly has, the purge against Ba'athists -- implemented by Paul Bremer in 2003 -- is supposed to be over and, in 2007, Nouri signed off on benchmarks which included reconciliation. Reconciliation never happened. The arrests indicate it's not going to any time soon.  Today Ahmed Rasheed and Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) report, "Iraq has arrested at least 240 former members of Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party and ex-military officers over what some senior officials described as a plot to seize power"; however, Al Rafidayn reports that 350 is the number arrested in the last 72 hours (ending Monday). The arrest warrants were issued by Nouri.  Arrests continued today in Dhi Qar with three alleged Ba'ath Party leaders arrested, according to Al Rafidayn.  I can't remember where I read this now (I'm juggling phones to see if any US outlet knows about the journalist reported arrested in Iraq and am getting nothing so far) but an Arabic paper (Al Mada?) reported Tuesday that Nouri al-Maliki had announced the Justice and Accountability Commission's term had expired.  Though this might mean that the commission was finally being buried, in fact, it meant that Nouri was announcing the current members were part of a commission whose term had expired and that new members would be nominated.  Especially in the lead up to the March 7, 2010 elections, Nouri used the commission to shut out political opponents.
In other news, Turkey continues its assault on northern Iraq. Have Turkish ground forces entered Iraq? That's in dispute. AFP reports that the country's military guarding the borders -- citing Iraqi Maj Gen Ahmed Fadheleddin in particular -- as well as the PKK state Turkey has not entered Iraq. By contrast, Reuters reported yesterday that "Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into northern Iraq" while the National Turk reports that Turkish military entered Iraq on Saturday: "Around 20 tanks and 30 military trucks entered Iraqi territory from Siyahkaya village around 15 kilometers east of the Habur border gate in Turkey." Shamal Aqrawi, Daren Butler and Elizabeth Piper (Reuters) note the Turkish military is in Iraq and that is has surrounded the village of Ure (not a PKK base) where theTurkish military, rifles aloft, have marched through the town.  A resident of Ure tells Reuters, "They only spread out around the village. We are worried. We don't know what will happen. We are in our houses afraid to go out."

This wave of the Turkish assault has been going on since August 17th. The Turkish government just 'knows' the way to deal with an aggrieved population is to target them with killings and to kill innocent bystanders and that's how you put down a rebellion! Their actions are breeding more violence and the US has egged them on it -- possibly to ensure that Turkey does not come to the prominence so many have been predicting for the country for several years now. Certainly every principle of conflict resolution would tell you this is not how you defuse a tense situation.

The mountains of northern Iraq have many villages. The people in those villages have been terrorized with non-stop bombings for months now. While some were evacuated last week, not all were. It was cute to read the press on the evacuations, about how they were being re-settled in places where millions had been spent. But no press went to those areas to confirm that, did they? It's easy to make claims and especially when the press never bothers to check out your claims.

The PKK is one of many Kurdish rebel groups. The long standing mistreatment of the Kurds by the Turkish government created a large number of Kurdish rebel groups. Until the Kurds are brought into the political process in Turkey with full inclusion, the PKK will continue to be a problem for the government of Turkey.
Liam Stack and Sebnem Arsu (New York Times) report from Cizre, Turkey where yesterday "thousands" mourned "the death of a local heroine [Cicek Botan], a commander in a mountaintop training camp for Kurdish militants seeking autonomy for the country's largely Kurdish southeast." The International Crisis Group's Hugh Pope is quoted stating of the latest Turkish assault, "We have been down this road many times before. Politicians might say they can hit the P.K.K. out of the park this time, but it never has worked and it never can work."  From Istanbul, Ron Margulies (Great Britian's Socialist Worker) reportson life for Kurds in Turkey:
This week an earthquake has killed hundreds in south-eastern Turkey, in and around the Kurdish town of Van.
This is a very poor part of the country. The town's population has swollen in the past 20 years from a few hundred thousand to well over a million, as a result of the war between the Kurdish national movement and the Turkish army. Peasants from the surrounding countryside have flooded in to escape the war and to search for work.
The creaking infrastructure cannot cope, and there are no jobs.
When I visited two years ago there were ramshackle, poorly-built buildings everywhere -- even in the town centre. One newspaper has reported that none of the 10 sellers of ready-mix concrete in the town hold the necessary official quality certificates.
It is these buildings, inhabited by the poorest, which collapsed when the earthquake hit. They include a student hall of residence. So far, the official death toll is 366 and this is expected to rise.
The earthquake hit in the middle of extensive military operations by the Turkish army against the Kurdish PKK.
The fighting has been intense for the past two months, with dozens dead on both sides. It was revealed at the beginning of the summer that the Turkish state and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had been holding talks and negotiations for the previous five years. Clearly these have now broken down.
In recent weeks the PKK has been reminding the state that there is no military solution, that the PKK cannot be defeated by arms. Last week, 25 Turkish troops were killed in one day. The army's response, as always, has been to wage further war, blindly and needlessly causing further bloodshed.

© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Soner Cagaptay (at CNN) argues that the end result of the earthquake will be determining which Kurdish group will dominate, "As Turkey's Kurdish nationalist movement enters a new phase, buoyed by demands for political recognition for the Kurds, the group that performs best in delivering aid to the Kurdish quake survivors will likely emerge as the leader of Turkey's Kurdish nationalist movement. By the same token, groups that fall behind in delivering relief will lose their prestige, as well as the support of the Kurdish population."