Wednesday, December 14, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a rally takes place in Falluja, new information on contractor violence in Iraq emerges, Moqtada's not pleased with Nouri's trip to the US, Joe Biden makes a statement he shouldn't have, and more.
The reposturing of the US military (DoD's term) means that many US troops have left Iraq though some will remain in Iraq after January 1st and some will remain in the surrounding areas. That tens of thousands have left resulted in celebration today . . . in Iraq. Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports, "Thousands of Iraqis rallied Wednesday in the central city of Fallujah, once the epicenter of anti-U.S. insurgency, celebrating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The demonstrators set U.S. and Israeli flags on fire and raised Iraqi flags along with banners saying 'the people want occupation be removed,' and Fallujah is the flame of resistance and symbol of liberation'." No, that's not how it was in Germany at the end of WWII. But then, at the end of WWII, the US government didn't have to pay local leaders to guarantee that US troops could depart safely as they've had to do with tribal sheikhs in Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq also covers the protests, "The demonstration had witnessed reading of poems and verses, commemorating the victims who fell due to American attacks, whilst some of the demonstrators raised the previous Iraqi flag, with 3 stars and burnt American and Israeli flags, along with raising placards expressing their rejoice for the American withdrawal from Iraq, including 'Falluja, the Spark of Resistance and Address of Liberation'." Press TV notes, "Burning US and Israeli flags and carrying photos of Fallujah residents killed by US forces after the 2003 US-led invasion, the demonstrators on Wednesday described resistance against American invaders key to their country's freedom. The demonstration was dubbed the first annual 'festival to celebrate the role of the resistance'." Al Jazeera adds, "Widespread fighting in Fallujah against the occupation begun in 2003, after a controversial event known as the 'pupil's' uprising. The US military had turned a primary school into their city headquarters in April 2003. When 200 demonstrators gathered outside asking for the school to be reopened, US forces opened fire, killing at least 13 civilians and injuring dozens."
Along with protesters in Iraq today, the country also a visit from a US official. Dar Addustour reports US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad today on "an unannounced visit" -- all this time later, US officials still have to sneak into Iraq. But 'with honor!' Barack would insist, 'with honor!' Al Rafidayn notes he is expected to attend a ceremony in Baghdad Thursday. Simon Tisdall (Guardian) observes, "The idea that the Iraq war is over is attractive but deeply misleading." Erik Slavin (Stars and Stripes) explains, that military hardware Iraq is ordering from the US will include trainers, "Following years of training and reorganizing the Iraqi army, a mix of 157 servicemembers and Defense Department civilians working for the State Department's Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq will oversee what they hope will be the next big step: the modernization of three Iraqi army divisions by Dec. 31, 2014. [. . .] The training the contractors will provide is included in the prices of acquiring the various weapons systems.
Joe Johns: Not to be too cynical, several thousand U.S. nonmilitary personnel and contractors will end up on the ground after the military leave. Are those people there for Iraq or are they there for the United States?
Fareed Zakaria: Well, it's a little bit of both. They are, in a sense, disguising the drawdown so it is not a drawdown quite to zero. We have some paramilitary forces, some who are protecting the embassy, embassy personnel, USAID people. There's going to be a fairly healthy contingent, I'm sure, of CIA people. There'll be people from the DEA. You add that together and the United States will have a certain kind of offensive presence in Iraq. It's entirely justified. The U.S. consulate in Basra is minutes from the Iranian border. What were to happen if some Iranian thugs were to cross the border and try to launch an attack on the U.S. consulate in Basra? Well, you've got to be able to protect yourself. The U.S. is appropriately taking precautions so they don't end up in some situation that looks like the Iran hostage crisis all over again.
Andrea Mitchell: There were reports, plenty of reports, that the military wanted at least 20,000 and that we did as well and tried to negotiate that and couldn't with the Maliki government in Iraq. What is your take on this?
Stephen Hadley: Well I think Vice President Biden's quote makes it quite clear that they were not -- the administration was not interested in having 10 - 20,000 troops there. That's a decision they made. I think others, including myself, I would have made a different decision. But I think we have to look going forward, I think it's great that Prime Minister Maliki was here. I think it's good that they're focusing on the Strategic Framework Agreement which is a framework [negotiated by the Bush Administration] for an ongoing relationship between Iraq and the United States with political, economic and security dimensions. And I hope they are exploiting that agreement in laying out a framework for a relationship going forward that includes a vehicle for helping to continue training Iraqi security forces and help them incorporate into their force structure the new hardware that they're doing and help them the counter -- counter-terrorism operations they need to do so Iran cannot destabilize the position in Iraq.
Andrea Mitchell: On that point, our new collegaue Ted Koppel, on
Rock Center [with Brian Williams, NBC Monday night], showed just how exposed our new consulate is in Basra and how much security is being built in and, as you know very well, we have 17,000 American civilians, contractors, diplomats, CIA and other personnel still at our Embassy and outposts in Iraq. How vulnerable are we and how much can we rely on the Maliki government to withstand Iranian influence?
Stephen Hadley: The Iraqis have made it clear that they are Iraqis first and Shia second. And we always felt in the end that Iraqi nationalism will trump Shi'a-ism. I think that is true. And I think Maliki showed that in 2008 when he went south [Basra] and took on an Iranian-backed militia [Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia] that he is an Iraqi first. That is very important. But look we never tried to do what we're doing in Iraq now through a stricly State Department mission. And that's another reason many people think if we left 10 to 20,000 American troops there, it would make it easier to ensure security so that our State Department people can do what they need to do in this situation going forward, to help strengthen ties between the United States and Iraq.
First, Andrea noted published reports on the numbers of US troops that were tossed around. She's correct but I'll note that we can establish 16,000 via Congressional testimony (because some will say, "Those are unsourced reports! Anonymous sources!" and they'll be right in some cases). So Congressional testimony, this exchange is between Senator John McCain and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.
Senator John McCain: Since you brought up regrettably, General Dempsey, 2003 and 2004. The fact is that you did not support the surge and said that it would fail. Secretary Panetta was part of the Iraq Study Group which recommended withdrawal from Iraq and opposed the surge. And so we're all responsible for the judgments that we make and obviously that effects the crediblity of the judgments that we make now on Iraq. I regret that you had to bring that up, General Dempsey. The fact is that there were some of us who were over there in those years you talked about, in fact, maybe even had other members of their family there and saw that it was failing and that we needed to have the surge and the surge succeeded. And the fact is that we could have given sovereign immunity as we have in other countries to keep our troops there and give them the immunity that they needed. We have other agreements with other countries that guarantee sovereign immunity. The fact is, that every military leader recommended that we have residual forces at minimum of 10,000 and usually around 20,000. That was the recommendations made before this committee by General [Ray] Odierno, recommendations made by General [David] Petraeus, recommendations made by even lower ranking military who had spent, as you mentioned a great amount of time there and did not want to see that service and sacrifice all wasted away because of our inability and lack of desire to reach an agreement with Iraqis. As I said in my opening statement, Iraqis are largely responsible as well. But the fact is that when Senator Lieberman, Senator Graham and I were there the Iraqis were ready to deal. And what was the administration's response? They didn't have a number last May as to our residual force in Iraq. So as things happen in that country, things fell apart. Now can you tell the Committee, General Dempsey, if there was any military commander who recommended that we completely withdraw from Iraq?
General Martin Dempsey: Uh, no, Senator. None of us recommended that we completely withdraw from Iraq.
Senator John McCain: When did we come up with the number of uh troops that we wanted to remain in Iraq? Do you know when that final decision was made as to exact numbers that we wanted?
General Martin Dempsey: Uh, it to my knowledge the process started in Augustof 10 and, as you know, there was a series of possibilities or options that started at about 16,000 and ended up with about 10 and then migrated to 3 and then we ended up with [cross talk] --
Now on Hadley's remarks, I'm not comfortable "And we always felt in the end that Iraqi nationalism will trump Shi'a-ism." I don't think (I could be wrong, I often am) a majority of Americans would find that reassuring considering the Bush administration's track record on predictions when it comes to Iraq. We should also note that his observations re: Iraq and Shi'ites (that a national identity will trump Shi'ite identity) aren't born out by other observers. Richard Engel (NBC News -- link is text and videos) shares many observations in his report today and they include:
When I looked closely, I noticed three words were engraved on the cups: Allah, Mohammed and Ali. Including the name Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law, has only one meaning. Ali is the patron of all Shiites. These were Shiite cups. Even the tea at the tourism authority was being served in Shiite cups.
The tourism official is like most government officials in Baghdad these days. He's a religious Shiite from one of the many Shiite political parties. He served our TV crew sweet tea in small hourglass shaped cups.
There are people who want a national identity. But, talk to political experts, they tended to support Iraqiya in the 2010 elections, the political slate which came in first, the one the US government helped prevent from becoming the rulers to keep Nouri al-Maliki on as prime minister. In addition to them, many of the youth protesters in Iraq strongly favor a national identity. A national identity could win out. But saying that it has is incorrect and saying that it will is a prediction and not a fact. It should also be noted that 2 of the 15 provinces Baghdad controls are attempting to become semi-autonomous and, no, that's not a good indicator that a national identity it 'trump'ing in Iraq.
Other than that, Hadley's underscoring (lightly*) that a stupid thing was done last night on MSNBC when Joe Biden declared that they would have turned down a request for 20,000. (A) It flies in the face of previously reported claims. (B) It fuels points made in that Senate Armed Services Committee by Senators McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. (C) If things go bad in Iraq -- especially if US hostages or US deaths take place after January 1st, Joe just gave video for his critics to play constantly.
Iraq has repeatedly refused to flow with the never-ending waves of Operation Happy Talk. That's from this administration and the previous one. No 'turned corner' ever stayed turned if, in fact, one was reached. And Joe knows that. It was a stupid remark for him to make. I know Joe, he's a great person but I cannot believe that he made that remark. It would have been bad enough in print but to give the GOP video for campaign ads?
Can you imagine the ads if Iraq doesn't live up to the Happy Talk (and it never has before)? Let's say there are two hostages or two brutal deaths -- and most likely it would be Moqtada's militias -- picture something like the killing of Blackwater contractors in Falluja in 2004. And they've got photos of something like that to run Joe's comments over? It won't be pretty.
[*Hadley also lightly but very clearly stated that Barack should have given the order for the US drone -- now in the possession of the Iranian government -- to have been detonated so that it would not have ended up in the possession of the Iranian government. His argument is that technology is now at risk. That's probably what most people will take away from Andrea Mitchell's discussion with him.]
This is misleading spin, carefully orchestrated to allow Mr Obama to move into the presidential election year boasting that he has ended an unpopular war without suffering a defeat. We already had a foretaste of this a couple of weeks ago, when Vice President Joe Biden visited Baghdad to laud US achievements. Over the years, Iraqis have become used to heavily guarded foreign dignitaries arriving secretly in Baghdad to claim great progress on all fronts before scurrying home again. But even by these lowly standards, Mr Biden's performance sounded comically inept. "It was the usual Biden menu of gaffe, humour and pomposity delivered with unmistakable self-confidence and no particular regard for the facts on the ground," writes the Iraq expert Reidar Visser. Mr Biden even tried to win the hearts of Iraqis by referring to the US achievement in building hospitals in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, a city he apparently believes is located somewhere in Iraq. Republican candidates in the presidential election have been denigrated and discredited by gaffes like this. It is a measure of Mr Biden's reputation for overlong, tedious speeches that the US media did not notice his ignorance of Middle East geography. Dr Visser points out that "when Biden says 'we were able to turn lemons into lemonade', refers to 'a political culture based on free elections and the rule of law', and even highlights 'Iraq's emerging, inclusive political culture ... as the ultimate guarantor of stability', he is simply making things up." Sadly, Iraq is a much divided wreck of a country.
Nouri al-Maliki continued his visit to the US. Al Sabaah reports that immunity for US troops was raised to Nouri by Barack and Nouri, according to an unnamed Iraqi who is part of the delegation visiting the US, refused to make any promises. Having just gotten 18 more F-16s approved this week, Nouri is now angling for drones as well. Dar Addustour notes that Nouri and Barack laid reefs at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and that Moqtada al-Sadr is criticizing the visit and the talks on immunity.
In a longer story focusing just on Moqtada's criticism, Dar Addustour notes that Moqtada and his bloc are stating that the US is attempting to weaken Iraq as well as the Arab and Islamic world and that economic agreements are being dangled in an attempt to trick the Iraqi politicians. Iraq continuing to be under Chapter VII at the UN is raised and the Sadr bloc states that this is proof that the US is not sincere. The continued occupation via the US Embassy is called out as well. But the trip to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier especially results in a tongue lashing at Nouri, "Maliki's visit to that tomb of the dead Americans in Washington is an insult to the blood the dead of Iraq. It would have shown more respect for Maliki to visit the cemetery in Najaf."
Still on Moqtada, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Shiite Sadrist Trend leader called not to interfere in Syrian events, pointing that it is a country with sovereignty and dignity. Muqtada al-Sadr expressed his concern of the foreign intervention and internationalization of this case. On the other hand, a Sadrist MP denied news of sending militias to Syria to suppress the protests there, describing these accusations as aimed against the political process in Iraq."
Tensions abound in Iraq. Al Sabaah reports on issue raised in Parliament this week including Turkey's building another damn on a river thta flows through Dohuk Province (part of the Kurdistan Regional Government) which has damaged the water resources and Turkey's non-response to complaints led for calls to take this issue to the international courts. Jim Michaels (USA Today) explores Iraqi concerns and observes, "An inability to finalize a government 22 months after elections has raised concerns about the sincerity of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to form a coalition representing all Iraqis." Still on tensions, Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition, link has audio and text) reports that when the US turned over a base in disputed and oil-rich Kirkuk, the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga both attempted to claim it leading to six-hour standoff which included drawing guns on one another.
Kelly McEvers: The standoff is an illustration of the larger problem in Kirkuk. Kurds want to regain control of a city they say was once theirs. Arabs don't want to let go of a city that they settled in at the encouragement of Saddam. Turkmen, Christians, and other ethnic groups are caught somewhere in the middle. In a market in the center of Kirkuk, most people are afraid to talk about the departure of the Americans, and who could help the Kurds and Arabs resolve their differences now that U.S. troops are leaving. One young Arab, named Mustafa, says his family was offered about $17,000 as part of a government program to move Arabs out of Kirkuk. But that wasn't enough.
Kirkuk was a site of violence today. Reuters notes 1 Kurdish security official was wounded in a Kirkuk shooting, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one person, 1 Iraqi soldier was injured in an attack on a Mosul military checkpoint, a Mosul roadside bombing injured a woman, a police colonel was injured in a Baghdad shooting, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people and 2 Tal Afar car bombings claimed "at least" 3 lives and left thirty-five people injured.
When I returned this summer, the violence had diminished but was once again climbing. On the morning of my arrival in Baghdad, a loud explosion shook me awake. At first I thought it was a nightmare, but a characteristic second explosion a few minutes later confirmed I wasn't dreaming. The target was a Turkish restaurant across the street from the compound where I was staying. No motive was known, and luckily no one was injured at that early hour. A week later, even the shattered glass of the nearby windows had been replaced and life returned to normal.
Nour Kasim, 30, Housewife 1. It is not the right time for America to leave Iraq with such internal conflicts and the security situation so unstable and unsafe. We need more time to stabilize security and to be ready for any external confrontation. I don't think Iraq is ready to do this alone. 2. I don't know exactly the American goals, but I believe that they achieved them, otherwise they wouldn't decide to leave. I don't have any problem with America, Saddam or any ruling party because I don't get myself involved in politics. I hope Iraq will be liberated, but we have to be able to protect our country first.