Wednesday, November 23, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a wife please for information on her husband who has been missing in Iraq for nearly nine years, Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez wins Dancing with the Stars, the UN talks Camp Ashraf, and more.
Starting in the US, Rene Lynch (Los Angeles Times) notes that 28-year-old Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez and his dancing partner Karina Smirnoff won the Dancing With the Stars competition last night and that he declared of his trophy for the celebrated win, "Right now I'm going to put mine in bed. I'm going to tuck it in, and it's going to roll around with me. And then after that, once we've kind of grown apart, I'm going to glue it to the hood of my car and drive around Los Angeles and honk my horn and it will be my own parade." Jessica Derschowitz (CBS News) explains, "Martinez was 19 years old when his humvee hit an anti-tank mine in April 2003. He suffered smoke inhalation and burns to more than 40 percent of his body." Dreschowitz also provides video of David Martin's 2003 interview with Martinez. In 1991, Della Wright's children Nicholas and Mary died in an apartment fire that left her and her six-year-old daughter badly burned. Wright went on to start The People's Burn Foundation in 1997. The Indy Channel speaks with Wright who says of Martinez, "He got out there and he gave it his all, and he did not let what people could see change the way he was." The Washington Post's Reliable Source states that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has "penned a letter of congratulations to Martinez" and quotes from the letter that "your victory sends a strong message about the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors."
Turning to Iraq where W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports that the Office of Security Cooperation -- Iraq (the ten enduring US bases we've been noting for a week now) will be "under US embassy authority." If true, that is news. If true? General Martin Dempsey is the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff. He was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify on this issue (and did). If this were a program the Pentagon wasn't running, normal procedure would be for him to refer the questions to the State Dept and for Congress to call someone in who would represent a supervisory department. (I'm not doubting Dunlop was told that. I am expressing uncertainty as to whether or not what he was told was correct. It does not make sene for the Senate to ask the Pentagon to testify on programs that the State Dept will be running.) What's of greater interest is Dunlop's numbers make no sense. Again, people need to pay attention to Senate hearings. (To House hearings as well.) AFP should have paired Dunlop with someone covering last week's Senate hearing. (I don't expect Dunlop or the New York Times' Tim Arango to know, from Iraq, what took place in a DC hearing. That's a ridiculous expectation.)
Dunlop speaks to US Lt Col Tom Hanson who informs him that there will be 157 Pentagon forces and "up to 763" contractors; however, that 763 won't be all at once (Dunlop summarizes him, we don't have the direct statement) and these contrators will be "involved in some aspect of bringing the equipment to the Iraqis and helping them learn how to operate it, and bringing (them) to a minimum level of proficieny on it, whether it's a tank or an airplane or an air traffic control systerm or radar."
It's not all. There is a set number of contractors not noted in Dunlop's report. That set number is required for US military personnel working on the 10 Office of Security Cooperation -- Iraq "enduring" bases to be protected. Gen Dempsey was very clear on this count and we quoted him in full on it. Let's do so again:
Senator Kay Hagan: We'll, as we continue this drawdown of our military personnel from Iraq, I really remain concerned about their force protection -- the individuals that will be remaining in Iraq. So what are the remaining challenges for our military personnel in Iraq in terms of managing their vulnerabilities, managing their exposures during the drawdown?
General Martin Dempsey: Senator, are you talking about getting from 24,000, the existing force now and having it retrograde through Kuwait?
Senator Kay Hagan: The ones that will remain over there.
General Martin Dempsey: The ones that will remain --
Senator Kay Hagan: Their protection.
General Martin Dempsey: Yes, Senator. Well, they will have -- First and foremost, we've got ten Offices of Security Cooperation in Iraq bases. And their activities will largely be conducted on these bases because their activities are fundamentally oriented on delivering the foreign military sales. So F-16s get delivered, there's a team there to help new equipment training and-and helping Iraq understand how to use them to establish air sovereignty. Or there's a 141 M1 Tanks right now, generally located at a tank gunnery range in Besmaya, east of Baghdad and the team supporting that training stays on Besmaya so this isn't about us moving around the country very much at all. This is about our exposure being limited to 10 enduring, if you will, Offices of Security Cooperation base camps. And doing the job of educating and training and equipping on those ten bases. Host nation is always responsible for the outer parameter. We'll have contracted security on the inner parameter. And these young men and women will always have responsibility for their own self-defense.
Senator Kay Hagan: So we'll have contracted security on the inner-paramenter?
General Martin Dempsey: That's right.
FYI, Dunlop's article contains a clue that Dunlop's unaware of. Let's stay with the US presence in Iraq. Al Mannarah reports that among the options political blocs are weighing are these three options: the US trains Iraqi forces in a third country (that both the US and Iraq agree to), allow NATO to do the training, or Iraq can -- as Moqtada al-Sadr wants -- allow other countries (other than the US) to do the training. Moqtada has named France and Russia and inferred that there are other (unnamed) European countries his political bloc has been in contact with. Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has an interesting quote at the end of the article.
In reported violence, Reuters notes that a Hawija attack utilizing multiple bombs and mortars resulted in nine people being injured and 2 suicide bombers taking their own lives (the police state that they killed 2 suspects) and that last night, in Samarra, a pharmacy was attacked and the owner shot dead while today in Dhuluiya "Iraqi security forces arrested a former military officer and his 19-year-old son." It was US and Iraqi forces. Aswat al-Iraq explains, "A Joint Iraqi-U.S. force has arrested an former high-ranking Iraqi Army officer in Dhiloyiya township of Salah al-Din Province, in an air-landing operation on Wednesday, a police source reported." They quote Abdul-Latif Kamel, the officer's brother, stating, "At 2 am this morning 4 US planes, carrying Iraqi soldiers have landed the soldiers on my brother's house, began to beat him and force him and his son to put-off their clothes, chained them and drove them to an unknown destination." In addition, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "At least 9 Iraqi civilians have been injured in a booby-trapped car explosion and mortar shell attacks on Hawija township of northern Iraq's Kirkuk Province on Wednesday, a Hawija hospital source reported."
Also the Turkish military continues bombing northern Iraq. AFP reports, "Turkey has bombed the Sulaimaniyah and Arbil provinces of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, wounding one civilian, Kurdish officials said on Wednesday." Press TV notes that in addition to injuring 20-year-old Iraqi Hassan Abdullah, Qalat Dizah's Mayor Ismail Baz Hamed states, "The bombing caused heavy damage to farms and livestock in Qalat Dizah." Reuters notes that 1 shepherd was injured in the bombings. AP speaks to "local official" Azad Waso who states the bombings also killed 200 cattle.
The government of Turkey, of course, insists that they are targeting the PKK.
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'."
It must be great to have an 'enemy' you can attack when those attacks destroy the very region you wish didn't exist, the region you fear encourages other Kurds to dream of a homeland. Must be nice to insist you're targeting 'terrorists' while you rip apart the country side of the Kurdistan Regional Government, kill livestock and Iraqis. All while pretending you're the injured party. And that your non-stop months of bombing were, of course, caused by others.
Armed militias in Iraq are thought to have really made their mark with kidnappings starting in 2004. A 2003 kidnapping has resulted in a plea from a spouse. Al Mannarah reports that Fabien Nerac is asking that anyone who knows anything about her husband -- the father of their two children -- please contact Reporters Without Borders. French journalist Frederic Nerac is Fabien's husband. Frederic was working for ITN and in southern Iraq on March 22, 2003 when he and his interpreter Hussein Osman both disappeared -- the same day that ITN's Terry Lloyd was shot in Iraq. All three were enroute to Basra when they ended up stuck on the road, caught in the crossfire of US Marines and Iraqi soldiers, Terry Lloyd was shot and killed, his colleague Daniel Demoustier was able to make it to Kuwait (and safety) and DNA later revealed that Hussein Osman was among those who had been shot dead. But what happened to Frederic Nerac remains a question mark. A year after he went missing, Tom Newton Dunn (Daily Mirror) reported that "ITN cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Osman are believed to have been blasted by [US] tanks or helicopter gunships as Iraqis tried to take them to safety in a pick-up. The attack was so intense it is likely Belgian Nerac, 43, and Lebanese-born Osman, 31, were blown to bits." In October 2005, the Fench Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring Frederic dead. Fabian continues searching for information and for her husband's body. Reporters Without Borders notes that 225 "journalists and media assistant [have been] killed since the start of fighting in Iraq in March 2003" and they list Frederic Nerac as "missing" along with one other journalist, Isam Hadi Muhsin al-Shumary. Today is the International Day to End Impunity "a call to action to demand justice for those who have been killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and shed light on the issue of impunity."
David Brunnstrom (Reuters) notes that as the central government out of Baghdad insists it will be removing people from Camp Ashraf, the European Union is calling for any plans to be put on hold to allow time for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to complete interviews with the residents to allow the UN to make a determination regarding their status.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
At one point, Nouri and his flunkies were floating that the residents might remain in Iraq but dispersed to other areas within the country. That was apparently empty talk in an attempt to distract. Aswat al-Iraq reports:
State of Law MP Ali al-Shalah said that there are moves to close anti-Iranian Ashraf Camp through the Iraqi foreign ministry, which is trying to find a haven for them in European countries. Shalah told Aswat al-Iraq that his bloc "is trying to reach a peaceful and humanitarian solution to Ashraf Camp question", calling "western European countries to extend their assistance to finalize this question".
Yesterday at the United Nations, Martin Nesirky, the spokesperson for the Secretary-General, was asked about Camp Ashraf:
Question: What is the official position of the Secretary-General and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on the Camp Ashraf situation? I understand that there may be some doings here about this and by December, I understand that the camp is to be evacuated. What will happen to the residents?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, or perhaps you are aware, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler, has spoken about this topic; he did so at the beginning of this month -- on 3 November. I am not going to read out everything he said, but the point is that the United Nations is ready to assist in this matter. It is, of course, a matter of national sovereignty -- this Camp is in Iraq -- so it is a matter of national sovereignty for the Iraqi authorities. But, on the other hand, it is also clear that there needs to be a durable and peaceful solution to this problem. And that's why the United Nations is ready to assist. And when I say the United Nations, that means in the form of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, together with UNHCR, as you just mentioned; with the refugee agency.
Question: The question is, since the camp is going to be evacuated at the same time that the [United States] troops are going to leave, and since there are a lot of concerns that that might lead to, well, they call it massacres, is there anything the UN can do beyond just assist? I mean, are there any plans to resettle, to…?
Spokesperson: There are a number of problems that still need to be solved. And the Secretary-General himself has been involved in contacts with the Iraqi leaders and other international leaders on this topic. It is obvious that there needs to be a peaceful solution, it is obvious that we are some way from that; that there are still some problems that need to be solved. As I have mentioned, the key factors are that it is a matter of national sovereignty for the Iraqis, but equally, this is something that must be resolved in a peaceful way. And that's why the UN is saying it is ready to assist, and indeed is. And the Special Representative has had already, together with colleagues from the refugee agency, UNHCR, meetings with Iraqi officials and others to try to see what headway can be made. I think it is obvious that -- you've mentioned some of the different factors -- some people want to go abroad, to other countries in small groups, in large groups, in different combinations. These are all the kinds of questions that need to be resolved, and we are not there yet.
Question: There are no plans to send them back to Iran?
Spokesperson: The point here is that it needs to be a peaceful solution to this problem. And that's why the refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Special Representative are offering their services to help to try to bring that about. Okay, all right. Yes?
It has been seven years since the 2nd siege of Fallujah -- the American assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds-of-thousands more -- the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects. It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did. The American veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for. I know, because I am one of those American veterans. In the eyes of many of the people I "served" with, the people of Fallujah remain dehumanized and their resistance fighters are still believed to be terrorists. But unlike most of my counterparts, I understand that I was the aggressor, and that the resistance fighters in Fallujah were defending their city.