Monday, December 05, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, December 5, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Ahusra pilgrims are targeted with bombings, Nouri maintains Iraq is prepared to stand with Syria, an MP with his State of Law declares Iraq will lease the US Air Force, and more.
Violence broke out in Iraq today as the festival of Ashura was observed and Shi'ite pilgrims were attacked with a wave of bombings in Hilla, Urr and Mashtal. BBC News notes, "Ashura has witnessed serious sectarian violence since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003" while Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers' Miami Herald) explains, "Shiite pilgrims flock to Karbala during the holy month of Muharram to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite religious leader. They come on foot from all over the country, and although Iraqi security authorities typically plan and secure the most common routes, pilgrims remain easy prey for the insurgents' explosive devices." It wasn't supposed to be a day of violence. Al Sabaah reports that Nouri al-Maliki had it all planned: the Iraqi Air Force (such as it is) would protect the people from the sky, 25,000 extra police officers would be used in Wasit Province alone. Australia's ABC notes that the death toll climbed to "at least 30 people." Abbas al-Ani (AFP) adds, "It was the bloodiest day in Iraq since October 27, when at least 32 people were killed and 71 wounded in twin blasts in Baghdad." Reuters quotes an eye witness to the Hilla car bombing, Hadi al-Mamouri, stating, "A powerful and horrible explosion went off behind us, smoke filled the area. I could only hear the screams of women and I could only see the bodies of women and children on the street."
But Nouri had a plan. A bad plan. A plan that didn't protect people. He also has the top posts at all three security ministries currently vacant. He was supposed to have filled those posts by December 2010. A year later and he's still never managed to fill them.
In addition to the targeting of Shi'ite pilgrims, Reuters notes other violence today included 1 woman's corpse discovered in Mosul, an al-Zab sticky bombing injured a police officer, a Dujail sticky bombing injured one of the guards of Police Brigadier Ali Resool and, having not harmed him with that bombing, an hour later his home was bombed leaving his son injured, and a Mosul roadside bombing left three people injured.

Over the weekend, Suha Sheikhly (Al Mada) reported on the attacks on women and girls in Iraq. These include the so-called 'honor' killings for girls and women who have had sex outside of marriage. For girls and women. Not for boys and men. This includes teaching Iraq's school age females lies and teaching them lies on purpose, lies that put at risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. (AIDS is in Iraq. A few of Moqtada's little buddies tried blaming that on the US troops but it was such a bad lie that, these days, the popular scapegoat is foreign workers brought into the country from third world nations.) The culture that permits so-called 'honor' killings does so via intimidation and a refusal to punish those who commit murder (a few weeks in jail is the light slap on the wrist for the very few that ever actually get convicted of 'honor' killings). Hatem al-Saadi (Society for Human Rights) notes the government needs to pass laws to outlaw the practice and stop protecting the killer.

Of possible future violence, Rania El Gamal and Louise Ireland (Reuters) report that the insurgent group al-Nakshabandia posted a video on their website explaining that they will continue to target US citizens in Iraq beyond December 31st, "It was confirmed to us through the intelligence of our army that the enemy forces still exist in the bases they said they have withdrawn from and in their embassy . . . under the name of security companies or trainers or forces to protect Iraq's airspace and regional waters. This existence of the American enemy . . . is nothing but a new form of occupation."
Yes, the war and occupation continue even as the US military continues its reposturing plan in Iraq and surrounding areas. And as that takes place, Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) is reporting that convoys headed through the south towards Kuwait have paid protection. US Col Douglas Crissman explains the US is paying over 20 tribal sheikhs for protection. The war's not ending but it is a demonstration of another failed phase of the US-led, illegal war that the US government has to pay off tribal leaders so that departing US service members will not be attacked. In related news, Jack Healy (New York Times) reports the US Embassy has announced that travel is "severely restricted" for US workers even within "the walled-off International Zone." That's the Green Zone. The US government has attempted to sell it as the "International Zone" for years in a share-the-blame effort that would, they hoped, make the US-led assault on Iraq look more like a world-wide effort. Liz Sly (Washington Post) explains that there is supposed to be an increase in the potential of kidnappings of US citizens. Sly also provides this historical context, "The efficacy of kidnapping as a tool to undermine political influence was demonstrated by the abductions of Americans and other Westerners by Shiite militants backed by Iran in Lebanon in the 1980s. Western journalists, aid workers, teachers and business executives fled the country as the kidnappings surged, leaving in tatters to this day a U.S. effort to turn Lebanon into a U.S. ally." Raheem Salman and David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) note, "In a statement, the embassy said employees must be accompanied by guards when visiting government offices, shops or restaurants in the zone." Offering a basic look of what the new measures already mean, Stars and Stripes adds, "On Sunday, Stars and Stripes reporters and all other personnel within the International Zone, also known as the Green Zone, were required to take ground transport either in a specialized armored vehicle known as a 'Rhino,' or in vehicles with armed escorts, when crossing between compounds."

On the continued relationship between the US and Iraq, an MP from Nouri's State of Law made a surprising announcement over the weekend. Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reported that, "according to State of Law," the US and Iraq have reached an agreement for US forces to patrol Iraqi skies which is seen as good news by State of Law (Nouri's political slate) since Iraq cannot protect their own skies currently. In effect, the US will be turning the American Air Force into rent-a-cops. There will be no security agreement, per se, but instead these forces will be "leased" to Iraq. That State of Law source named for that information is MP Khalid al-Asadi who is not just a State of Law MP and leader, he's also very tight with Nouri. The commander of the Iraqi air force, Anwar Hama Amin, is quoted stating that he has not been informed of any such deal but stating that the Iraq air force needs "a lot" more equipment, more time and more money. Negotiations continued between the two countries last week as US Vice President Joe Biden visited Iraq. Patrick Martin (WSWS) offers this analysis:

The discussions conducted between Biden and Iraqi officials focused in large measure on ways and means of maintaining a prominent role for the US military in Iraq, under the guise of "training" Iraqi forces. Whether this takes the form of US military "trainers" rotating in and out of the country or Iraqi forces receiving training from US forces stationed in neighboring countries, where the American military presence is to be increased, appears not to have been resolved.
Biden himself personifies the right-wing, pro-war stance taken by the congressional Democrats. He voted for the war resolution in October 2002 and, in his capacity as the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the war and offered his own strategic advice -- including a notorious proposal for the de facto partition of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines, which foreshadowed the policy actually employed by the US military in fomenting civil war.
The congressional Democrats shifted to a supposed "anti-war" stance only in order to co-opt and derail the mass popular opposition to the war, which propelled them to a congressional majority in 2006 and gave Obama victory in the 2008 presidential campaign. Once in office, however, Obama continued the Bush policy in Iraq, kept Bush's defense secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon, and escalated Bush's other war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the US appearsinterested in even more wars in the region. In addition to the long-targeted Iran, there is Syria. Previously targeted during the Bush administration, the Syrian government is now targeted by the current US administration. The allegations against the Syrian government is that they are attempting to suppress protests and sometimes doing so violently. Like the suppression of Occupy Wall Street in the US? Or, more tellingly, like the suppression of protest in Iraq where activists were tortured, where the press was tortured, throughout the so-called Arab Spring and the US government forever looked the other way. Sunday night Adrian Bolomfield (Telegraph of London) reported that Nouri provided "unequivocal support" for Bashar al-Assad's government. al-Assad is the President of Syria. Nouri is quoted stating, "The killing or removal of Presidnet Bashar in any way will explode into an internal struggle between two groups and this will have an impact on the region. It will end with civil war and this civil war will lead to alliances in the region. Because we are a country that suffered from the civil war of a sectarian background, we fear for the future of Syria and the whole region."

Syria borders Iraq on the west (as do Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia). So civil war is a real concern for Iraq since it could spill over. Last week, Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) observed that, while Turkey lobbied for sanctions against its one-time ally Syria, Nouri was noting that President al-Assad was cooperating in clamping down on elements of al Qaeda in the region and, in addition, "Iraq is also in the middle of a high-stakes regional power play that pits neighboring Sunni-dominated states such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia against Shiite Iran, a Syrian ally that wields significant influence over the Shiite-led government in Iraq." Today AFP reports, "As Syria staggers under unprecedented Arab and global sanctions, Lebanon and Iraq are poised to provide economic corridors for their crisis-hit neighbour without explicitly breaching the restrictions, experts say."

While making warm overtures to the Syrian government, Nouri celebrates his inner petty in print.
Nouri al-Maliki writes a column for the Washington Post. It's more Nouri being Nouri -- petty and vindictive:

There are still some who seek the destruction of our country. The Baath Party, which is prohibited by the constitution, believes in coups and conspiracies; indeed, these have been its modus operandi since the party’s inception. The Baathists seek to destroy Iraq’s democratic process. Hundreds of suspected Baathists recently were arrested; some of those detained have been released while others are awaiting trial. Those still in custody will receive due process and equitable treatment under Iraqi law. These detainees come from all over Iraq, and I refute characterizations that the detentions were a sectarian action based on political motives. These steps were taken to protect Iraq's democracy.

No, those steps were not taken to promote or protect democracy. They were taken as part of Nouri's continued attacks on political opponents. Those arrested included elderly college professors. Nouri seems to have a bunker mentality. Not a surprise when you grasp that he was never chosen by Iraq but an exile that fled the country for decades and only returned after the Iraq War started and was then forced off on the puppet system of government by the US.

By contrast, Babak Dehghanpisheh (Daily Beast/Newsweek) notes that a showdown between Sunnis and Shi'ites seems likely:

Rather than decreasing sectarian tensions, Iraqi leaders appear to be pouring fuel on the fire. In recent weeks the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has arrested more than 600 alleged former Baathists who are suspected of plotting against the central government.
To many Iraqi Sunnis, who are already wary of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, the crackdown looks like an all-out witch hunt. “I’m afraid a clash will happen in a very violent way,” says Salih Mutlaq, a deputy prime minister who is Sunni.

Also addressing the concerns of Iraq is Patrick Cockburn (Independent) who reported over the weekend:

"We are afraid about the future," said a businessman in Baghdad. "We are importing goods for two months ahead maximum, and not six months, as we usually do."

The nervousness of Iraqis is inspired in part by memories of the traumatising years between 2003 and 2009, when tens of thousands were slaughtered. Many were victims of "identity card" killings, when a Sunni or Shia caught at the wrong checkpoint or in the wrong area was routinely killed.

Nouri also writes:

This year, the Arab Spring has brought a great deal of change to this region. Iraq rejects dictatorships and one-party governments. We hope that these movements succeed in bringing freedom and democracy to the millions who seek it and that the region achieves a newfound stability as a result. This is in the interests of not only our region but the entire world.

That's laughable coming from Nouri who, of course, refused to step down as prime minister. When his slate came in second in the March 2010 elections, he refused to step down, he refused to follow the Constitution. He refused to follow the will of the people. In February of this year, he did announce he wouldn't seek a third term -- as outrage at the government and Nouri began simmering but, of course, those were just words. Last week, his legal advisor made a point to tell the press that there was nothing in the Constitution barring Nouri from seeking a third term as prime minister. "Iraq rejects dictatorships," Nouri maintains. People do realize that Saddam Hussein held elections as well, right?

And how appalling of Nouri to mention the Arab Spring when, within Iraq, it signified for some a very troubling development: Increased attacks on Iraqi Christians. Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) observes, "With the Arab Spring now bringing political turbulence to many other countries in the region, Christians throughout the Middle East are worried that what happened in Iraq may be a harbinger of misfortune to come in their own communities. While many remain supporters of the uprisings, others fear that the toppling of their autocratic rulers could uncork sectarian violence against Christians and other minority groups in their own nations."

Following fiery sermons Friday morning verbally attacking Christians, some residents of Zakho, Dohuk and Sumel (cities in the Kurdistan Regional Government -- Dohuk is also a Province but we're referring to the city of Dohuk in Dohuk Province) began attacking Christians and Christian-owned businesses such as over ten liquor stores. They went on to set fire to the Kurdistan Islamic Union offices in Dohuk and Sumel. Al Mada reports that Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani called an emergency meeting of political parties yesterday to address the violence with the formation of a special investigative committee to examine the crimes and take any legal action that is warranted. The KRG website (in an Arabic posting not posted in English yet) quotes Barzani condemning the attacks ("We do not allow anyone to urge citizens to commit acts of violence.") and the Kurdish Parliament also condemned the attacks which, the website states, resulted in thirty people being injured. Barzani's full statement can be found here (in Arabic) and decries the attacks on the Christians and Yazidis.

Finally, Law and Disorder Radio is a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week and is hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights). We'll close with this from Michael Ratner's "Blame Obama First -- Then Congress for Not Ending Guantanamo and Its Underlying Practices" (Just Left):

Both Bush and Obama have claimed the right to kill and capture alleged terrorists anywhere in the world or hold them in military detention indefinitely -- ie Guantanamo.
In their view the world is a battlefield -- not just Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their claim is that alleged terrorists -- at least those related to al Qaeda, Taliban and associated forces (whatever that means) are at war with the United States and that the US can make war on them which includes capturing them and holding them forever without trial -- no matter where they are: Yemen, Somalia, United Kingdom, South America or anywhere.
The determination of whom to capture and/or kill is made by the President without any court.
Bush and Obama have always claimed that US citizens can be so treated as well -- so that is why under Obama we saw the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen -- al-alwaki.
Both Presidents have also acted as if they can kill and capture alleged terrorists that have no relationship to 9/11 -- the new law confirms this practice.