Monday, November 14, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, November 14, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, an Iraq War veteran serving in Iraq as a contractor dies, the US gives Turkey drones, mercenaries needed for Iraqi skies. the State Dept continues to believe it doesn't have to explain to the American people how it spends their money, and more.
Is this the moment America begins to start tracking the death of US contractors in Iraq? Lewis Griswold (Fresno Bee) reports, "Sean Ferguson of Visalia, who earned two Purple Hearts for his military service in Iraq, died there Saturday of natural causes, a friend of his family said today. Ferguson, 29, is the son of Tulare County Superior Court Judge Darryl Ferguson."  KMPH notes, "He joined the U.S. Army in August 2001 and retired eight years later as a Staff Sergeant after he was hurt in combat.  He returned to Baghdad to work for Triple Canopy, a private contractor that provides security and mission support services to government agencies and other organizations. [. . .] A memorial service will be held at the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints chapel located at the corner of Caldwell Ave. and Chinowth St. in Visalia on Saturday, November 19, at 10 a.m." Lemor Abrams (KMPH) offers a video report here.
1st Lt Dustin Vincent was the most recent US military fatality in the Iraq War. Amber Fischer (The 33 News, CW33) reported Saturday evening that the 25-year-old had been laid to rest earlier that day at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery and she quoted his friend Jared Griggs stating, "He and I talked a lot. He's part of the reason I joined the army myself. You couldn't be mad, you couldn't be sad around Dustin. You couldn't even really be serious around Dustin. There was only two things that he was really serious about, and that was the Lord and serving his country." Vallari Gupte (University of Texas at Arlington's Shorthorn) noted:

Vincent, who graduated from UTA in 2009, was from Mesquite. Vincent, a 1st Lieutenant, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery of the 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kan. Vincent leaves behind a wife and daughter.
Kinesiology senior Christopher Harris was a freshman when he met Vincent in UTA's ROTC program. Harris was a cadet and Vincent was an officer of that year's battalion.
"He was my leader," Harris said. "He would teach me some stuff and I would learn."
When Harris learned about Vincent's death, he grieved.
"It is hard to feel anything else right now. Just grief," he said.

Cynthia Vega and Steve Stoler (WFAA -- link has text and video) report that Dustin Vincent was on his first deployment to Iraq and "just six months into his deployment when the enemy threw a deadly grenade at his convoy." Yesterday, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN) reported that 3 soldiers serving with Dustin Vincent testified in an Iraqi court Sunday:

The November 3 shooting of 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent -- one of the last U.S. casualties in the more-than-eight-year Iraq war -- was chronicled by insurgents who captured the sniper shooting on video and posted it online.

Inside a crowded courthouse, one of the soldiers who were with the 25-year-old Vincent the day he was killed told the investigative judge that a "few days later a video was posted that claimed the killing of the 1st lieutenant, and it shows the same location we were that day."

In other news, Al Mada reports that US President Barack Obama is saying the Iraq War is "about over" and that the US government is down playing the concerns of the Sadr bloc over the decision to use Kuwait as a staging platform for US forces. This will be in addition to the forces under the US State Dept's control. Spencer Ackerman (Wired) reports:

The State Department has already requisitioned an army, part of the roughly 5,000 private security contractors State is hiring to protect diplomats stationed in Iraq. Now, State is hiring someone to provide a little help from the air: an "Aviation Advisor" responsible for "Search and Rescue (SAR), medical evacuations (ME), transporting Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) to respond to incidents, and provid[ing] air transportation for Chief of Mission personnel." It's not a familiar job for the diplomatic corps, which is why State is seeking to bring in someone from the outside.

The State Department put out this notice on Nov. 4. That's 58 days before the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Fifty-eight days before State has the skies over Iraq to itself.

In related news, Dylan Welch (Sydney Morning Herald) reports the Australian government is surprised that security costs for their embassies and staff in Iraq and Afghanistan "has quadrupled in less than 12 months to almost $40 million a year" and they are now "paying two private security companies a total of $82 million for the two years to 2012."  How is it related?  Cost overruns happen very frequently.  Presumably the Australian government properly budgeted for their mission and unexpected details led to such a huge increase.  In the US, please remember, that the State Dept refuses to share concrete information with the Congress or with the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction or with the Government Accountability Office.  In fact, the GAO's last report on the State Dept's contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan was entitled what? [PDF format warning] "Iraq and Afghanistan: DOD, State, and USAID Cannot Fully Account for Contracts, Assistance, Instruments, and Associated Personnel."  So if the US cost overruns mirror those of Australia, who's going to be held responsible?
The White House? Don't make me laugh.   And their fall guy will be gone because Hillary Clinton has stated she is a one-term Secretary of State.  So the US tax payers will be screwed and who's going to be held accountable?
And it's time to get very real about something.  The Senator Al Frankens with their "thank you for your service"?  It's past time they greeted every tax payer with, "Thank you for your dollars."  This country has gone into debt for an illegal war and not only do we see the debt today but future generations will as well.  And clearly Congress doesn't give a damn since they refuse to scream bloody murder over the State Dept requesting money for Iraq (and Afghanistan) and being unable and unwilling to provide an accounting of how that money will be spent. Last June, Peter Van Buren wrote a piece for Le Monde in which he noted:
In its post-"withdrawal" plans, the State Department expects to have 17,000 personnel in Iraq at some 15 sites. If those plans go as expected, 5,500 of them will be mercenaries, hired to shoot-to-kill Iraqis as needed, to maintain security. Of the remaining 11,500, most will be in support roles of one sort or another, with only a couple of hundred in traditional diplomatic jobs. This is not unusual in wartime situations. The military, for example, typically fields about seen support soldiers for every "shooter." In other words, the occupation run by a heavily militarized State Department will simply continue in a new, truncated form -- unless Congress refuses to pay for it.
Unless Congress refuses to pay for it?  At present, that seems highly unlikely.  PeterR.S. Kalha explores the realities of the relationship between the governments of Iraq and the US in "Is America Finally Withdrawing From Iraq? -- Analysis" (Eurasia Review):

Having spent at least about US$ 3 trillion, taken thousands as casualties both dead and wounded, the Americans are not going to give up that easily. The Shiite Iraqi PM Nourie al-Maliki is slated to visit the White House on December 12, 2011, just a few days before the deadline runs out. If he changes his mind and signs the status of forces agreement with the US, it will certainly not be out of character and in tune with the Iraqi political temperament. Nevertheless, the Americans are not taking any chances and have already made alternative plans.
The US Embassy in Baghdad is going to be strengthened and will have about 17,000 personnel on its rolls. Situated in the 'Green Zone' on a 104 acre plot with its own electricity, water and sewage, it is one of the most expensive and largest US Embassies in the world and its entire requirements are supplied from Kuwait under armed guard. US Consulates exist in Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk, each about 1,000 strong with its own security personnel. The US Embassy also has an 'Office for Security Co-operation' under which will come all US army trainers, private contractors and assorted military personnel -- all under the cover of diplomatic immunity. Presently about $ 10 billion worth of arms deals are under negotiations. Once the negotiations are completed, additional US military personnel will arrive to train and 'co-ordinate' with their Iraqi counterparts. These large numbers of 'trainers' will also be under US Embassy cover.
Presently the Iraqi air force is non-existent. This means that the air space over Iraq will be controlled by the US for the foreseeable future. The US will continue to fly drones over Iraq targeting any potential enemy. It also means that the US can reinforce its residual troops under the 'cover' of the US Embassy as and when it is required without any serious hindrance. It also means that the Shiite-led Iraqi government cannot move its troops without US concurrence since they would have no air cover. And to make it absolutely certain that matters do not go out of hand, the present day Iraqi forces are commanded by a Kurdish officer General Zebari. The Americans have made an assessment and quite rightly so that of the three communities in Iraq, the Kurds will remain the most loyal. In any case the Kurdish dominated areas of Iraq are outside the political control of the Iraqi government and even the Kirkuk question remains unresolved.
Thus President Obama has very skilfully reaped the political benefits of ordering a 'technical' withdrawal and ending the US mission there, whilst not only retaining the substance of the US posture and presence but immeasurably strengthening it.

Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq notes, "The Legislature of the so-called White al-Iraqiya Bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, Aliya Nuseif, has demanded the Iraqi government to carry out a complete account for security contractors, in charge of protecting the American Embassy in Baghdad."  And we're back to Peter Van Buren who, at his blog, notes the move and asks, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "So really, what are 16,000 people going to do everyday in Iraq on behalf of the US government?"  Peter Van Buren is the author of the new book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project)Bob Kustra (Idaho Statesman) reviews the book and notes, "Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for more than 23 years. Before arriving in Baghdad, his response was not new to him, but war was. [. . .] There are few bright spots in this painful and gripping story of mismanagement. The first account of our blunders from a State Department inisder, 'We Meant Well' is thought-provoking and hard to put down." Also reviewing the book is Dan Simpson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) who concludes, "The book is short, very readable and has humor as well as profound points in it."

In other news, Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports General Babker Zebari, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces, headed an Iraqi delegation to Tehran where they met " with the commander of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour." The Tehran Times adds, "In a meeting in Tehran on Sunday, Iraqi Chief of Staff General Babakr Zibari and IRGC Ground Forces Commander Mohammad Pakpour stressed the need for closer ties between Tehran and Baghdad. Commander Pakpour, who hosted General Zibari and his accompanying delegation, hoped the trip will help strengthen bilateral ties. Pakpur said the Iraqi people have endured many problems and difficulties over the past ten years, however, a gradual withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq has created an opportunity in which Iraqi people and officials can directly govern their country." Fars News Agency continues:

The general expressed the hope that Iraq and its armed forces could gain increasing success after the end of the 8-year-long occupation which he described as a hard and cumbersome era for the Iraqis.
The IRGC Ground Force commander further noted the profound political and cultural commonalities of Iran and Iraq as two Muslim and friendly neighboring nations, and stressed, "We hope that the existing commonalities pave the ground for cooperation, coordination and expansion of all-out relations."

There is (and has been) alarm and concern by some US officials (military and civilian) over what happens between Iran and Iraq? David S. Cloud's piece for the Los Angeles Times is part of that:
 In Iraq and other trouble spots, Iran is handing out money and weapons, often in secret, in an effort to expand its clout and stay ahead of the political changes sweeping the region since the start of the "Arab Spring," U.S. officials say.
The Islamic Republic still faces severe challenges, however. If opposition forces in Syria manage to topple President Bashar Assad, Iran could lose its closest ally in the region.

It's cute the way Cloud rushes to draw a line between the Pentagon and the White House. Cloud's missed all of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton's recent remarks about Iran?

No one knows what will happen. If there's concern on the part of the White House (and their comments last week indicate there is), then they shouldn't have backed Nouri al-Maliki for a second term (which meant they overruled Iraqi voters when they did). Setting Nouri aside, the others involved wouldn't necessarily rush to embrace a partnership with Iran that was more of a partnership than what they have with their other neighbors. There's some concern in the administration over clerics. That's a possibility. But so are turf wars. An Iraqi cleric embracing Tehran is one reducing their own sphere of influence.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer is among those convinced Iran's getting a boost in Iraq.  He notes that 18 countries recently voted to put Syria on suspension from the Arab League but that Iraq didn't vote:
Despite the enormous sacrifie of U.S. blood and treasure, in liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, the Shiite-led government in Baghdad din't have the guts to stand with the overwhelming majority in the Arab world and side against the Damascucs regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The Iraqi government is still apparently most concerned about overly upsetting its friends in Iraq, which has strongly sided with the Syrian government.
He may be right.  I may be wrong.  Some fear a war with Iran is in the making.  It's a good time to look at the weak ass.  George McGovern's a sad man who will never live down 2008 which only brought forth the scars of sexism regarding his campaign in Miami back in 1972.  Now our 'antiwar voice' can be found saying what?  Kristi Eaton (AP) reports he declared today that the US should think twice about going-it-alone on Iran and needs to instead build international support.  For those who don't remeber, that's the actual garbage George McGovern offered ahead of the Iraq. War.  He's always loved to strut and pose and pretend. But you don't have to take my word for it or check the archives.  Eaton quotes McGovern explaining, "We invaded Iraq with very little support in the rest of the world." Yes, that was his 'anti-war' stand.  As it is today.
For those who can't get it, NO WAR ON IRAN! is an anti-war statement.  "Hey everybody, let's build a coalition for war!" is not an anti-war statement. On the move towards war on Iran, here's Justin Raimondo (
The War Party is bound and determined to drag us, kicking and screaming, into a military conflict with Iran -- and they have constructed a vast network of agents inside both parties, and inside the government, to accomplish exactly that.
The nexus of this network is the government of Israel and its intelligence services, which is coordinating an increasingly frantic campaign to bring the Iran issue to a head. From all indications, it appears as if the goal is to ignite the conflict before the 2012 presidential elections.
Back to Iraq,  AFP reports John Kirby declared at the Pentagon today that the US was deploying some of the predator drones in Iraq to Turkey to give "support to the Turkish military to deal with the specific threat posed by the PKK on their southern border." Reuters adds that the program "involves four US predator unmanned aircraft". Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) observes, "Moving them to Turkey could strengthen the diplomatic alliance with the United States, but it also risks putting the United States in the middle of a regional conflict between Turkey and Iraq, two putative allies. Pentagon officials declined to say whether the four Predator drones being flown out of Incirlik Air Base, a joint U.S. - Turkish military installation, would be allowed to cross into Iraqi air space." And how is Iraq going to feel knowing Turkey has a spy view on them?  Not the US which is bad enough.  But Turkey's a neighbor.  There's really no chance Turkey won't use the drones to their own advantage?  John Reed ( News) adds, "In what could be an effort to head off the popular discontent seen in other countries that have hosted U.S. drones, Davotugu claimed that the American UAV missions would be overseen by the Turkish military."
In Iraq yesterday, northern Iraq was again attacked by the Turkish military. Reuters reports that the PKK's spokesperson Dozdar Hamo stated the bombing lasted for about an hour. Since August 17th, the latest waves of attacks have been taking place. The back and forth between the PKK and the Turkish government has been going on forever and, in fact, the Turkish government's oppression of the Kurdish minority in Turkey bred and spawned the PKK. The issue of Turkey's military attacks was raised last when Amar C. Bakshi (CNN -- link has text and video) interviewed KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih:

Amar C. Bakshi: Let's switch gears to Turkey -- an important regional neighbor that over the past few months has intervened in northern Iraq to go after Kurdish nationalist forces who have used terror to kill Turkish soldiers, numerous civilians. Now is the Kurdistan Regional Government cooperating with Turkey in its interventions into northern Iraq?

Prime Minister Barham Salih: These issues cannot be solved by military means, these issues cannot be solved by violence. There has to be a political track. This initiative that the Turkish government has started, the democratization process, needs to be enhanced, deepened, in order to ensure that this long-standing conflict is resolved in a different way.

Today AFP reports, "Iraq's top Kurdish leaders are mediating between Turkey and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) separatists with bases in northern Iraq to bring their conflict to an end, an official said. Iraq's president Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Kurdistan regional president Massoud Barzani 'Are leading mediation efforts between the Turkish government and the PKK, to end the battles in the border area between Iran, Turkey and Kurdistan,' said a spokesperson for Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan." Lale Kemal (Today's Zaman) stateswonders  , "Turkey is understood to have warned Barzani that 'if the PKK continues its violent attacks, your region [northern Iraq] will also be affected,' and asked him to tell the number two of the separatist organization that it should declare a ceasefire and ask its terrorists to lay down their arms."
Meanwhile Al Rafidayn notes the continued disputes over Exxon's contract with the KRG and how the government out of Baghdad remains upset over it. Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The regional administration in northern Iraq is urging the country's central government for a quick resolution to the dispute over rights to natural resources, the nation's biggest wealth source, as it insists on implementing deals undersigned earlier. The regional administration confirmed yesterday it had already signed a long-debated deal with U.S.-based oil major Exxon Mobil on Oct. 18 for six exploration blocks within its area of control." Reuters adds, "Iraq's central government, which has long-running disputes with the Kurdish region over oil and land, has said Baghdad would consider a deal between Exxon and the KRG illegal and a violation of the company's contract to develop Iraq's 8.7-billion-barrel West Qurna Phase One oilfield in the south."
Stuart Kemp (Hollywood Reporter) reports, "The Kurdistan region in Iraq is to launch its first British film festival in partnership with representative from the U.K. movie industry. Organizers said a program of films would unspool in the region's capital city of Erbil later this month. [. . .] During this festival, the U.K.'s National Film and Television School (NFTS) is planning to run a series of workshops for young Kurdish filmmakers wanting to tell their stories." Andreas Wiseman (Screen Daily) adds that the festival is to run from November 26th through November 28th, "The event is expected to host around 15 films, screening in an Erbil conference centre.  Admission will be free for the general public. The final programme has yet to be announced." British counsul-general in Erbil Chris Bowers states, "It's fascinating to note that many of the films we are programming have strong female role models (The Queen, Pride and Prejudice, Made in Dagenham), or that tackle social stereotypes (Billy Elliot) or discuss the Holocaust (The Boy in Striped Pyjamas).  The Kurdistan Region is on a dash for modernity and that comes through in the type of films that people want to see here in Erbil." Wiseman notes that films were popular in the KRG before the wars and that "at least two large cinema complexes are due to oepn in Erbil". London's Bankside Films is co-sponsoring the festival.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing injured a government worker, a Baghdad roadside bombing left one person injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing leaving two police officers injured, 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul (killed by a bullet to the head), a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three more men injured, an Iskandariya rocket attack on the US Kalsu base left two people injured (Iraqi civilians), a third Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured, 1 'suspect' was shot dead by the Iraqi military in Baghdad, two police officers were injured in a Baghdad shooting, a fourth Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured and "Omar al-Dulaimi, the head of a journalists' association in Diyala province" was shot in Baquba and seriously injured.
John Drake
johnfdrake Last week was one of the quietest I've recorded in #Iraq.
And he Tweeted:
johnfdrake While last week was very quiet in #Iraq, militants appear to have been making up for things over the past two days.
Of course, part of the quiet -- not noted in a Tweet -- was there really no press in Iraq.  Who notes violence?  What outlet that issues reports in English notes violence?  That would be Reuters.  And they really didn't do FactBoxes last week.  If you checked Aswat al-Iraq, you saw that violence continued.  Aswat al-Iraq was doing three and four news items (violence and other) a day.  That was it.   That was more than Al Mada, Al Rafidayn, Dar Addustour, Al Sabbah, etc. were doing.  They all shut down for the holiday.  Aswat al-Iraq reduced its coverage for the holiday.  With actual press coverage, would have been so 'quiet'?  That's an important question to ask.