Monday, April 9, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Ayad Allawi calls out the direction Iraq's headed in, Iraqis begin to voice displeasure over the White House's indifference to their plight, it's 9 years since the US military pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein, and more.
Nine years ago today, Gulf News' Mayada al-Askari observes, was "the toppling of Saddam Hussain's statue by the Americans at Al Firdaus Square in Iraq." In 2004, David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) reported that the April 9, 2003 toppling of the statue was a psyops operation. Before we go further, we should note that the US government is not allowed to use psyop operations on the American people. In fact, that sort of propaganda is why Voice of America is legally prevented from broadcasting in the United States. It's very telling that the Congress refused to investigate what the Los Angeles Times exposed.
Iraqi civilians didn't topple the statue, the US military did: "And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking."
Sadly enough, in the almost two years since I left Iraq, little has happened that challenges my belief that we failed in the reconstruction and, through that failure, lost the war.
The Iraq of today is an extension of the Iraq I saw and described. The recent Arab League summit in Baghdad, hailed by some as a watershed event, was little more than a stage-managed wrinkle in that timeline, a lot like all those purple-fingered elections the U.S. sponsored in Iraq throughout the Occupation. If you deploy enough police and soldiers -- for the summit, Baghdad was shut down for a week, the cell phone network turned off, and a "public holiday" proclaimed to keep the streets free of humanity -- you can temporarily tame any place, at least within camera view. More than $500 million was spent, in part planting flowers along the route dignitaries took in and out of the heavily fortified International Zone at the heart of the capital (known in my days as the Green Zone). Somebody in Iraq must have googled "Potemkin Village."
Beyond the temporary showmanship, the Iraq we created via our war is a mean place, unsafe and unstable. Of course, life goes on there (with the usual lack of electricity and potable water), but as the news shows, to an angry symphony of suicide bombers and targeted killings. While the American public may have changed the channel to more exciting shows in Libya, now Syria, or maybe just to "American Idol," the Iraqi people are trapped in amber, replaying the scenes I saw in 2009-2010, living reminders of all the good we failed to do.
This weekend, Heath Druzin (Stars and Stripes) offered, "Iraq experts say that recent developments in Iraq and a growing Iranian influence are signs that America's hopes are dimming for Iraq to become the 'beacon of hope' that President George W. Bush had envisioned in a 2005 speech." Felicity Arbutnot (Global Research) evaluates the 'progress' in Iraq the illegal war has brought: "Also since the invasion, the terrorization, whether for relgious reasons or ransom money, score settling or the unfathomable, in a country were people have co-existed for countless generations, has been bewildering. Overnight (literally) Iraq changed from a land where, broadly, the streets of towns and cities could be walked alone, safely, late at night, to a country which awoke to find while families in morgues bearing wounds indicating unimaginable torture. It woke to beheaded bodies chucked on rubbish dumps -- and beheaded fathers and sons dumped on door steps or in front gardens. Iraq also woke to ransom kidnappings, extortion, destruction of homes, premises, businesses -- or their takeover by force."
In Iraq, the political crisis continues. Liz Sly (Washington Post) observes that "the appearance of calm that has endured for four months has come at a price, many Iraqis say, in the form of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's increasingly authoritarian behavior." And she notes, "Sunnis and Kurds, angered by what they see as Maliki's efforts to exclude them from power, accuse the United States of doing little or nothing to restrain his excesses or to press him to implement agreements under which he planned to share power." That latter specifically refers to the Erbil Agreement. So let's provide the recap.
Nouri's State of Law came in second in the March 7, 2010 elections and Iraqiya came in first -- despite the efforts by Nouri to demonize Iraqiya and use the Justice and Accountability Committee to outlaw various Iraqiya candidates weeks prior to the election. Nouri refused to let go of the post of prime minister and, since he had the backing of Barack's White House, he was able to dig in his heels for over months (Political Stalemate I). The gridlock was only ended when all parties signed off on the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. Nouri used the agreement to get a second term as prime minister and trashed the rest of it. That is the beginning of Political Stalemate II (December 2010) which is the country's current crisis. Since last summer, the Kurds have been calling for the Erbil Agreement to be honored. Iraqiya has joined that call as has Moqtada al-Sadr.
Last week, on Thursday, there was supposed to be a meeting, a National Conference. Since December 21st, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for the conference to address the political crisis. Less than 24 hours before the scheduled National Conference was to take place, al-Nujaifi announced that it was not taking place.
Liz Sly notes that some Iraqis are seeing US indiference to whatever Nouri might do. She also notes:
Sunni concerns have crystallized in recent weeks around Obama's nomination of Brett McGurk, 38, a lawyer who has frequently advised the U.S. Embassy but is not a diplomat to be the new ambassador to Iraq. As the chief adviser to Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and former ambassador Christopher R. Hill, McGurk is closely associated with the United States' controversial 2010 decision to support Maliki's candidacy as the better hope for future stability over that of Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the most seats in parliament.
We'll get to Allawi in just a moment. But let's deal with Brett McGurk first.
* McGurk is Barack's third nominee for Ambassador to Iraq. Why have all three been men? Iraq -- not just Iraqi women and girls, all of Iraq -- would strongly benefit from the US putting a woman in that post. When Ava and I argued that to members of then President-Elect Barack's transition team we were shot down with the issue of qualfications. No one on the transition team could think of a single woman in the State Dept or out of the State Dept who was qualified -- in their opinion -- to be Ambassador to Iraq. (So don't give me any of that s**t about Barack being a friend to women. He's not. Press whores and idiots repeat that crap. Those of who have dealt with the administration damn well know better.)
* Three nominees and all of the men. McGurk has no qualifications. He's been a coffee fetcher and little else for men who've been in the post. He only graduated colled (as an undergraduate) in 1999. Not only is the lie that they can't find a qualified woman offensive, so is their desire to put a COMPLETELY UNQUALIFIED PERSON in charge of the mission that they plan to spend at least $6 billion dollars on each year through 2016. It is the most expensive State Dept assignment. How in the world do you justify wet-behind-his-ears McGurk as qualified for that position. He's been in no leadership position, he's got little-to-no-experience in oversight or economics and he hasn't even been a mid-level manager. He is completely and totally unqualified.
* Unqualified was Chris Hill. We established that when we reported on his confirmation hearing. He backed it up with his bizarre behavior in Baghdad. (Naps under his desk? Pray those were only rumors, pray.) Because of the Idiot Hill, Barack had to nominate a grown up -- James Jeffrey. Jeffrey's friends are talking all over DC about how Jeffrey does not feel he's gotten the support he needed from the White House that he spends hours trying to explain to the administration that the sky is blue and they keep asking, "Are you sure it's not a little bit green, are you sure?" McGurk may be pliable but he's not qualified. If Jeffrey is not replaced with an adult, Iraq will likely slide towards authoritarianism even faster.
* Barack Obama was not against the Iraq War. That was a stupid little press lie to sell you a War Hawk. To appease voters in Chicago (when he was in the state legislature) he gave a 2002 speech -- a dumb speech. By the time he ran for the US Senate, he wasn't against the Iraq War. (He told Elaine and I that the US was over in Iraq now so it didn't matter. That's not "anti-war.") But the anti-war vote and sentiment took him to the White House. Why the hell has the Cult of St. Barack allowed him to appoint one pro-Iraq War person after another? McGurk is only the latest example of 'anti-war' Barack giving a plum assignment to someone who was pushing the Iraq War in 2002.
Brett McGurk lacks experience, was wrong about the war, is too immature to be put over a $6 billion a year project and Iraqiya -- the political slate that got the most votes -- doesn't want him. If there was a functioning left -- as opposed to the Cult of St. Barack -- McGurk would be announcing right now that he's withdrawing his nomination to spend more time with his family of hamsters.
It has been nine years since U.S. forces removed a brutal tyrant in Iraq at a huge cost in lives and treasure, but already the country is slipping back into the clutches of a dangerous new one-man rule, which inevitably will lead to full dictatorship, and already it is dashing hopes for a prosperous, stable, federal and democratic Iraq. Exploiting the unconditional support of Tehran and the indifference of Washington, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has violated the constitution to consoldiate his own power by using security and military forces to intimidate and oppress political rivals and, indeed, the general population, as manifested in his suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Iraq.
And that's just the opening paragraph. Al Hayat reports that Iraqiya has revealed it is in talks with other blocs about withdrawing confidence in Nouri al-Maliki. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq denies that they have engaged in discussions on replacing Nouri. Speaking for the Moqtada al-Sadr bloc, MP Jawad Hasnawi allows that they have serious problems with Nouri but thinks that talk of replacing him is premature. That said, if requested to, Hasnawi says Moqtada would be willing to step in as a prime minister. At the end of this Al Hayat article, KRG President Massoud Barzani offers his concerns that there are serious attempts by the current government in Baghdad to restore Iraq to a dictatorship.
Alsumaria reports that State of Law MP Mohammed Chihod declared today that those seeking a no-confidence vote on Prime Minister and Thug of the Occupation Nouri al-Maliki are "conspirators." He makes other charges; however, that one alone should be seen as disturbing in a country where the likes of Chihod (Nouri's goons) regularly demonize political rivals as "Ba'athists" and "terrorists." It's in that landscape that "conspirators" emerges. A vote of no confidence is not a conspiracy, it's an approved measure with a process outlined in the Constitution.
Chihod shows more ignorance of the Constitution he allegedly took an oath to when he declares the KRG is in violation of the Constitution for refusing to hand Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi over to Baghdad. There is nothing in the Constitution about that. The Constitution does cover immunity for office holders, however. Demonstrating that his ignorance is not limited to the Constitution, Chihod then accuses KRG President Massoud Barzani of visiting the US last week in order to lead on a no-confidence vote in Nouri. A no-confidence vote would take place in the Iraqi Parliament. While it's true that many MPs live outside of Iraq, they're not living in the US.
Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports on State of Law's whisper campaign against Barzani in which they hurl everything at the wall hoping something will stick. This includes the claim that Barzani's a failure because he wanted the Arab League Summit in Erbil and it was held in Baghdad. Apparently State of Law's inability to govern resulted in a heightened sense of awareness as compensation thereby allowing them to read minds. Barzani's made no comment regarding the Arab League Summit being held in Erbil. It was scheduled for Baghdad and scheduled to be held there in 2011. It was finally held there in 2012. He has called for the national conference (to resolve the political crisis) to be held in Erbil. State of Law brings up the allegations of smuggling oil to Iran and insist these are true and that Barzani is behind the smuggling (the way they go on, we're apparently supposed to picture Massoud Barzani with a hose and gasoline can, stopping beside an oil tanker, ready to siphon the tank). Barzani's trip to the US is called a failure (no reason for that judgment call is given). The whispers also include that Barzani's made a deal with Ahmad Chalabi wherein Ahmad will replace Nouri.
Al Mada reports on an interview Barzani gave in DC after meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden. In it, Barzani noted that Nouri refused a meeting to put all the issues on the table. He cites Nouri as the reason the National Conference failed (it was set for last Thursday but one day prior it was announced the conference was off). He says Iraq is suffering from a real -- not manufactured -- crisis.
After increased tensions between the Iraqi and the Kurdish governments, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani told Alhurra TV last Thursday that Baghdad is considering the use of F-16 fighter planes against the Kurds. In the interview, Barzani says the issue with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not personal, but it is about his dictatorial policies. "I still consider him a brother and a friend," he said. According to Barzani, division commanders in the Iraqi army are supposed to be approved by parliament, but this hasn't happened. Barzani told Alhurra that he has confronted the Iraqi PM many times and been told by Maliki that he will act, but he hasn't, and suggested there is talk of a "military solution" to confront the Kurds in Baghdad. Barzani said that in an official meeting with Iraqi military commanders, it was stated that they should wait for F-16s to arrive to help push back the Kurds. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Shiite Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr said that 'some want to build a dictatorship under the so-called new false reconciliation,' according to the Media Center of his Trend. He did not mention names."
Yesterday, Erbil saw a bombing --Dar Addustour says it was the first sticky bombing in Erbil -- a sticky bombing is when an explosive device is attached to something, generally with adhesive -- one person was injured in the bombing. In other violence Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports an armed Tuz_Khurmato attack which left Sahwa leader Sheikh Hussein Awad Khalifa and his bodyguard dead and a Baghdad suicide car bombing claimed the life of 1 bystander and left four more injured.
Yesterday was also Easter. Garibov Konstantin (Voice of Russia) points out, "The US-British invasion destroyed the Christian community in Iraq". The Associated Press notes Pope Benedict XVI's remarks Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica were a call "for peace in Iraq, Syria and elswhere in the Middle East [. . .] Sectarian violence in Iraq, often aimed at Christians, has prompted an exodus over the last years of many from the sizeable Christian community there." Dar Addustour notes Iraqi Christians in Baghdad celebrated Easter under tight security. EuroNews says that "members of the congregation underwent security checks." Rami Ruhayem (BBC News) adds that St. Joseph's Chaldean Church in Baghdad was "surrounded by army checkpoints, and concrete barriers block cars from approaching the entrance." Sanaa Nimr is a pharmacist and she tells Ruhayem, "It's like entering a military camp, not a church." Ruhayem reports, "Alcohol-shop owners and women who did not confirm to Islamic dress codes had suffered intimidation, [MP Yonadem Kanna] added. Mrs Nimr said some Christian schoolchildren had been instructed by teachers to recite verses from the Koran." Nimr explains, "They don't like anyone who is different from them. They cannot tolerate the other -- Muslim or Christian or atheist or whatever." BBC News offers a photo essay of Easter celebrated around the world and the second photo is of a mass at the Armenian Church in Baghdad. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reported from Karamiles where, at the St. Addaie the Messenger Church, Christians celebrated Easter:
Like other Christian communities in the disputed areas, a steady stream of families have departed either legally or illegally to Europe and the United States. Despite its own violent upheaval, Syria still serves as a way station for Iraqi refugees hoping for a better life in the West. The community has been neglected by both the Kurdish and Iraqi governments, says Monsignor Yousif. Water is sometimes cut off for days. There are almost no jobs. Over the years, some townspeople have made their homes within the crumbling stone walls of the remains of centuries-old homes.
Dar Addustour also notes Kirkuk Governor Najim al-Din Omar Karem maintains Christians in Kirkuk were able to celebrate Easter more publicly and he offered his congratulations to the Cathedral of Kirkuk. Luiza Oleszczuk (Christian Post) reminds, "In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Christians (even as many as one million, according to some estimates) left the country due to an eruption of sectarian violence that had seen religious minorities targeted, following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country." Ed West (Telegraph of London) calls for England to take in Iraqi Christians and offers this overview:
Christianity in Iraq has a rich past and confusing present. Tradition has it that the faith was brought to Mesopotamia by the Apostles Thomas and Thaddeus, and by the second century the Syriac-speaking people of the region had a thriving church, whose members went on to convert much of Asia. After the Arab conquests, Syriac Christians played a pivotal role in Islamic civilisation's high point; of 60 scholars who preserved the works of the ancients by translating them into Arabic, 58 were Christian (of the other two, one was Jewish and the other a Sabaean).
Today there are six Christian denominations (not including tiny numbers of Protestants), the largest of which is the Chaldean Catholic Church, which came into communion with Rome in the 16th century, followed in size by two Assyrian Orthodox churches. Assyrians speak neo-Aramaic (a modern form of Syriac) and identify as a distinct Semitic ethnic group; and although the term Chaldo-Assyrian is often used to emphasise the unity of Iraqi Christians, some Chaldeans identify simply as Christian Arabs. Others, especially those who hail from southern Turkey, call themselves Syriacs or Arameans and doubt the validity of the term "Assyrian", which only dates as a modern ethnic term to the 19th century, but nonetheless consider themselves to be one people.
Last month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released [PDF format warning] their 2012 Annual Report of the "worst religious freedom violators" which includes Iraq on the list. The Commission found:
The Iraqi government continues to tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. In the past year, religious sites and worshippers were targeted in violent attacks, often with impunity, and businesses viewed as "un-Islamic" were vandalized. The most deadly such attacks during this period were against Shi'a pilgrims. While the Iraqi government has made welcome efforts to increase security, it continues to fall short in investigating attacks and bringing perpetrators to justice. It also took actions against political rivals in late 2011 that escalated Sunni-Shi'a sectarian tensions. Large percentages of the country's smallest religious minorities -- which include Chaldo-Assyrian and other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, and Yazidis -- have fled the country in recent years, threatening these ancient communities' very existence in Iraq; the diminished numbers that remain face official discrimination, marginalization, and neglect, particularly in areas of northern Iraq over which the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) dispute control. Religious freedom abuses of women and individuals who do not conform to strict interpretations of religious norms also remain a concern.
Based on these concerns, USCIRF again recommends in 2012 that Iraq be designated as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. USCIRF has recommended CPC status for Iraq since 2008, and placed Iraq on its Watch List in 2007.
Although the Iraqi government has increased security and reportedly prevented several bombings, Muslim and Christian religious sites and worshippers still experienced violent attacks in 2011 - 2012. Four individuals were convicted and sentenced for the high-profile October 2010 attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad, but there appeared to be little progress in investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of other attacks. Sunni -Shi'a sectarian tensions increased significantly in late 2011 after the Shi'a-led government sought to arrest or fire senior Sunni officials. Christian and Yazidi businesses deemed "un-Islamic," such as liquor stores, were vandalized in Baghdad and the KRG region during 2011. Non-Muslims and ethnic minorities in disputed areas continued to report abuses against women, girls, and secular Iraqis. Violence against Iraqi civilians continued in 2011 at approximately the same level as in 2010. Large numbers of Iraqis, many of whom fled religious persecution, remain displaced internally or outside the country, including in Syria where the security situation is increasingly dire.
Since the start of the illegal war, Iraq has had an ongoing exodus. The professional class was the first to leave ("the brain drain"). As each year of the war and occupation started up, more and more Iraqis were leaving. By 2008, Iraq was the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. Most do not get passage to Europe or the US and instead head for a neighboring country such as Jordan and Lebanon (and Syria until recently).From there some have received aslyum in other countries and others have entered Europe through a non-official process.
During my recent stay in Iraq I visited a refugee camp for Iranian Kurds about an hour by car from Hawler (Erbil) while the Kurdish New Years festivity Newroz was being celebrated. Established 18 years ago roughly 400 people live in this camp of small concrete buildings, dust and surrounding fences. The people had to flee Iran due to alleged ties to groups opposing the central government in Tehran.
The camp was constructed with some help by the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) and external donors, but the main work was done by the refugees themselves. Currently the children living in the camp, most of whom were born there, can attend a nearby school. But the situation is still dire -- as the adults are only allowed to work one week a year. A small store the refugees had set up on a street just outside of the camp to sell merchandise to passersby was closed down by the KRG as they had no official license. Their only regular income is a support payment by the Iranian-Kurdish Party: 20,000 Iraq Dinar a month -- around 17 Dollars.
Over the weekend, Iraq's oil was in the news -- specifically in terms of the disputes between the Baghdad-based central-government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. All last week, Baghdad insisted that ExxonMobil had cancelled its contract with the Kurds. As Reuters noted, the Kurds have stated the deal made in October is still on. Aabha Rathee (Wall St. Cheat Sheet) reported, "A statement on the Kurdish president Masoud Barzani's website said Exxon chief executive officer Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed the company's commitment. "Rex Tillerson renewed the commitment of his company's signed contracts with Kurdistan and Iraq and expressed the readiness of Exxon Mobil to continue its work in Kurdistan," the statement said." The Kurdish Globe also noted the story. The Trefis Team (Forbes) offers this background:
Exploration companies have been lured to sign contracts with the KRG as it has offered attractive production sharing contracts while the central government has given out service contracts that compensate players based on a production linked fee.  The better security environment in Kurdistan also makes the region more lucrative to companies intending to set up local operations. However, despite these advantages, most oil majors have stayed clear of pursuing deals with the KRG to avoid antagonizing the central government, which does not recognize the validity of such regional contracts.
ExxonMobil is not the only issue of difference between the Nouri's government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Pierre Betran (International Business Times) noted KRG President Massoud Barzani's visit to DC this week and points out, "At the heart of the Kurdish-Arab dispute is a constitutional provision that Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said last week hasn't been implemented by Baghdad. Speaking in Washington, he said the provision is designed to set governing and power-sharing agreements between the two governments. The law would also repatriate strategic oil-rich parts of Iraq to Kurdistan."
On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder video, depicting the killing of civilians and Reuters journalists, and the severe wounding of two children by a U.S. apache helicopter in Iraq. The Reuters news organization had unsuccessfully filed a Freedom of Information Request after the incident to obtain the video. However, it was the WikiLeaks whistle-blower, allegedly PFC Bradley Manning, who took action to expose the horror that took place that day.
Since then, WikiLeaks has become well known worldwide, and Bradley Manning has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.
To honor the second anniversary of the video's release, we ask that you gather your friends and neighbors sometime during the week of April 15-21 to show them the video and start a discussion about why Bradley Manning deserves to be freed.
Below are links to a downloadable version of Collateral Murder and an interview with soldier Ethan McCord, seen rescuing children out of the van in the video. You can share the videos with your guests to start the discussion about advocating for Bradley.
Have you seen the video in the news or have you heard friends talk about it? How do you think the release of the video has impacted your community?
In his supposed Instant Messaging conversation with Adrian Lamo, the hacker who reported Bradley to the authorities, Bradley states the information should be in the public domain because "without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." Do you agree?
Bradley Manning was arrested one month after this video was made public.