Thursday, April 26, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada meets up with Massoud Barzani in the KRG, State of Law whispers to the press, the White House points a finger but fails to realize four point back to them, and more.
Starting with violence, Al Rafidayn notes 3 car bombs were discovered in Anbar Province (before they went off) and the Ramadi home of a police officer was blown up and 1 corpse (Iraq soldier -- shot dead and tossed in the river) was discovered in Diyala Province. On Diyala, RIA Novosti notes a suicice car bombing there today. BBC News adds that it was a suicide car bombing followed by a cafe bombing. Reuters counts 10 dead and eighteen injured. Mohammed Lazim (CNN) reports Baghdad also saw twin bombings -- a car bombing in the al-Hurriya district and another bombing in Sadr City. Raheem Salman (Reuters) counts 5 dead and twenty-seven injured in the Baghdad bombings. Violence in Iraq has risen sharply since the 2003 invasion. (Yeah, that's the way AFP and the others should report it instead of their embarrassing clowning where they use 2006 as a 'base year' for everything in Iraq.) And Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 10 dead yesterday and seventeen injured.
We noted an important column by Joel Wing about nine days ago and were going to note it as the month drew to a close with the hopes that some outlets would actually pay attention to the topic. I hadn't planned for us to do that today but we'll jump the gun on it due to another article. First, the coverage -- the lack of coverage -- of violence in Iraq is ridiculous. Reuters, of course, dropped their "Factbox" which was one of the few things that covered daily violence -- McClatchy long ago dropped their daily roundup of violence. With most western outlets no longer covering violence unless at least 20 die in one day, the false impression that violence disappeared in Iraq takes hold. Reality is further threatened by a lazy press which has never kept their own numbers for Iraqi dead but now just pander to Nouri al-Maliki and cite his and only his figures. It's in Nouri's interest to lie and pretend violence is dropping, dropping, almost gone. As we've noted repeatedly in the last months, the 'official figures' don't even meet the totals of Iraq Body Count. And for the bulk of the Iraq War, the press went with Iraq Body Count's numbers. Now they won't even acknowledge those numbers because it might make Nouri look bad. You've got a press corps that has bowed and scraped to Nouri in a way that makes CNN's overtures to Saddam Hussein under Eason Jordan look like nothing more than professional courtesy. Credit to Joel Wing for his column on the issue of the dead and the way their being counted. Excerpt.
In February 2012, the Iraqi government released its official figures for casualties from April 2004 to the end of 2011. It had over 69,000 deaths for that time period. That count was 30,000 less than other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq. During the height of the civil war, the country's ministries' numbers were comparable to other groups, but since 2011 they have consistently been the lowest. While some Iraqi politicians have claimed that the official counts miss many deaths, it could also be argued that the statistics are being politicized by the prime minister who controls all of the security ministries. On February 29, 2012, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh announced the government's numbers for deaths in the country. He said that from April 5, 2004 to December 31, 2011 69,263 Iraqis were killed. 239,133 were also wounded. The deadliest year was 2006 when there were 21,539 dead, and 39,329 wounded. 2011 was the least violent with only 2,777 casualties. Of the nation's eighteen provinces, Baghdad was the deadliest with 23,898 dead for the reported time period, followed by Diyala, Anbar, and Ninewa. Muthanna in the south was the safest with only 94 killed over the seven years covered. A member of parliament's human rights committee immediately criticized the report. The deputy claimed that there were thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war that were never counted. He also said that out in the countryside, reporting to the ministries was poor. No numbers on violence in Iraq can be anywhere near complete. During the civil war from 2005-2008 there were sections of the country that were too dangerous to enter and do any serious reporting. Some insurgent groups also buried their victims. The problem with the ministries numbers however are that they are so far below other organizations that keep track of violence in Iraq, which was not always true.
In March 2006 for example, an estimated 1500 people died a violent death in Baghdad according to Iraq Body Count, and that was not the capital's worst month. In sharp contrast, official figures show a civilian death toll of 112 across all of Iraq for March 2012.
Did you catch the problem? In 2006, X is the figure and Iraq Body Count is the source. Last March, Z is the number of deaths but they're using "official figures," not IBC. That's what they call comparing apples and oranges. 112 people died in Iraq last month?
No. That's not what Iraq Body Count found. They found 295 deaths in the month of March. We used a screen snap of their monthly total in this earlier editorial for Third Estate Sunday Review. Right now -- with no addition of today's deaths, they're counting 250 dead so far this month in Iraq. Will the press note this when they cover deaths in their monthly look back? If the new pattern holds, they'll ignore Iraq Body Count. And continue to pretend that reporting the tallies released by an interested party as if (a) they're objective and (b) the only tallies that exist.
On the topic of violence, Robert Tollast did explore the targeting of Iraqi youth -- Emos and LGBTs and those suspected of being either with Michael Knights:
RT: This month we have seen a disturbing spike in violence against young Iraqis who are guilty of nothing more than sporting western style fashions, which the Iraqis have dubbed "emo" (after the American music genre.) They are only the latest group to be targeted by religious extremists, alongside barbers deemed un-Islamic and homosexuals. Iraqi religious leaders have been united in condemning attacks against "emos" notably al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani.
The violence is also specific to Iraq, since these fashions are banned in Iran, but were briefly popular and not punishable by death. There is clearly a new generation in Iraq who are desperate to move on from war and oppression, and they are being targeted by men who are simply after the next person to kill, now that their local Sunnis have fled and the US has departed. Perhaps this is what the reconciliation of groups like Asaib ahl-Haq will look like: they will always find something to violently resist. Can the Iraqi government reasonably expect to rehabilitate groups like AAH, who could well be behind a lot of these killings?
MK: Anyone familiar with the "loss" of Basrah to the militias in 2006-2007 will shudder to see the same trends writ large across Baghdad and southern Iraq. In Basrah, the first targets for the Shiite vigilantes were the alcohol vendors, the music shops and eventually the university campuses. Some horrific things happened back then and this most recent set of attacks on youth is a reminder that religious vigilantes remain a major threat to personal security and liberty in Iraq. Back in 2006-2007 in Basrah, the British effectively surrendered the city to the vigilantes; now groups like AAH have greater license to operate because they are starting to side with the government in national politics.
The lesson from Basrah is that the militias do not stop after they target the minorities and niche groups: they keep pushing until they begin to rival the government and threaten the public perception of the government's "monopoly of force." When that day comes, the government is forced to smash the militants back down to their roots again, as occurred in Basrah and Baghdad in 2008. Getting back to your question, it is clear that reconciliation efforts should, as a prerequisite, only involve movements that have frozen their involvement in violence. AAH has never fully recanted violence: even when the United States was seeking to de-militarize AAH, the movement would not agree to any of the preconditions that other insurgent groups accepted (providing an oath to renounce violence, surrendering biometric data, etc.). Building up AAH -- which is the real Iraqi counterpart to Lebanese Hezbollah, unlike Moqtada's scattered followers -- is a dangerous game for any government to play.
By the way, if you're in Boston tomorrow (we will be but not in the afternoon), Boston University is hosting a panel on Iraq and Afganistan moderated by BU professor John Carroll with the following panelists: professor Andrew J. Bacevich, the Boston Globe's David Greenway, former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith and retired General David McKiernan. Details are here and the 1:00 pm event is free and open to the public. Early on the Boston Globe covered Iraq itself (instead of reprinting articles by their corporate owners the New York Times). Back when they were covering Iraq, Elizabeth Neuffer was their correspondent. She died May 9, 2003 in a car accident outside Samarra. Since her death, the International Women's Media Foundations has annually awarded the Elizabeth Neuffer fellowship. The most recent journalist honored with the fellowship is Ugrandan reporter Jackee Budesta Batanda who has covered acid attacks on women in Uganda among other topics. IWMF notes of the fellowship:
One woman journalist will be selected to spend seven months in a tailored program with access to MIT's Center for International Studies as well as media outlets including The Boston Globe and The New York Times. The flexible structure of the program will provide the fellow with opportunities to pursue academic research and hone her reporting skills covering topics related to human rights.
The Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship is open to women journalists whose focus is human rights and social justice. Applicants must be dedicated to a career in journalism in print, broadcast or online media and show a strong commitment to sharing knowledge and skills with colleagues upon completion of the fellowship. Excellent written and spoken English skills are required. A stipend will be provided, and expenses, including airfare and housing, will be covered.
For the next honoree, applications are currently being accepted and will be through April 30th -- May 1st will be too late. If you're interested in applying, you can click here for more information. In addition, next week, May 3rd, IWMF will announce their winners of the 2012 Courage in Journalism Award and Lifetime Achievement Award. We will be including that whether it involves Iraq journalism or Iraqi journalism or not. A friend with IWMF feels that last year's winners did not get coverage from the bulk of the press. (We didn't cover it here at all, I'll freely admit. But she's talking about the press, not about this site.) I told her last night I'd do what I could offline as well as mention it here.
Back to Iraq, the political crisis continues. Al Rafidayn reported this morning that Moqtada al-Sadr would be visiting KRG President Massoud Barzani today to discuss the crisis Earlier, Aswat al-Iraq reported Barzani had invited Moqtada to a May 7th meet-up in Erbil to address the political crisis. Today AFP quotes the Sadr bloc's Salah al-Obeidi stating, "The crisis needs such a move to resolve the situation. The Sayyed is trying to put Al-Ahrar [his parlimenatry bloc] and himself personally in the middle." Lara Jakes (AP) reports on a "45 minute interview" with Barzani in which he calls out the ongoing crisis and states, "What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule. If Iraq heads toward a democratic state, then there will be no trouble. But if Iraq heads toward a dictatorial state, then we will not be able to live with dictatorship." A longer version of Lara Jakes' report can be found at Lebanon's Daily Star. In the interview, Barzanai says that September needs to be agreed to as the time by which the political crisis must be solved and, if not, breaking with Baghdad may be put on the KRG ballot.
The KRG is supposed to hold provincial elections September 12th. They do their provincial elections differently than the rest of Iraq. Not just because they're semi-autonomous but also because when the KRG says they're holding elections, they do so. The 2010 parliamentary elections across Iraq were supposed to have been held in 2009. But Nouri and company couldn't get it together to pass an election law. The 2010 elections led to eight months of political stalemate as Nouri refused to relinquish the post of prime minister even those his State of Law came in second. In November 2010, Political Stalemate I was ended when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all the parties. This was a series of concessions. Nouri, for example, conceeded to allow Ayad Allawi (of Iraqiya which came in first in the elections) to head an independent security council and to hold the census and referndum in Kirkuk that the Iraqi Constitution demands he hold. He had to make other concessions (on paper) but those were among the biggies. In exchange, the other parties agreed to allow Nouri a second term as prime minister. Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get that second term and then (Decemeber 2010, one month later) trashed the agreement, refusing to honor his promises to the other political blocs. That's what started Political Stalemate II, the ongoing crisis. Since last summer, Iraqiya, the Kurds, ISCI and the Sadr bloc have called for a return to the Erbil Agreement and for it to be fully implemented. Yesterday, Margret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reported, "Separately, the Iraqi Accord Front, which is a member of the Iraqiya bloc, complained that Maliki has ignored the Arbil Agreement that he accepted in order to retain the premiership for a second term. Barzani was instrumental in the creation of the agreement after 2010 elections failed to produce an uncontested winner. A spokesman for the front said if they agreement is not fulfilled, they would withdraw confidence from Maliki." Alsumaria reports that Barzani has called a meeting "next Saturday" and invited members of the Kurdistan Alliance serving in Parliament as well as all members of the KRG's Parliament -- all regardless of political party. Barzani has not announced what the topic of the meeting will be leading to speculation that this meet-up may explore Iraq politics (such as replacing Nouri) or KRG politics (such as breaking further with Baghdad).
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, warned on Wednesday that Kurdish voters may consider secession if Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite bloc do not agree to share power by September. He said that Iraq's unity is threatened by Maliki's "dictatorship and authoritarian rule." Barzani's comments followed earlier remarks on Sunday in which he expressed his concerns that Maliki might use F-16 warplanes against Iraqi Kurdistan, saying "We must either prevent him from having these weapons, or if he has them, he should not stay in his position." Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Kurdistan on Thursday in an attempt to help resolve the situation.
C Luan (Xinhua) notes that al-Sadr and Barzani were scheduled to meet today. AFP has a photo of Barzani greeting Moqtada al-Sadr as he leaves arrives in Erbil. And they quote him declaring at the Erbil Airport, "I met Nouri al-Maliki in Tehran, and I came to listen to the opinions of the Kurdish leaders and their views. Everyone should look out for the public interest and the unity of the Iraqi people, and I hope that everyone will be responsible."
Al Rafidayn meanwhile notes that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness." Of Barzani, AFP notes, "He is the highest-ranking Iraqi official to disavow Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government for sidelining its political opponents and, in some cases, persecuting them in what critics call an unabashed power grab. Critics are seeing Barazani's statements as an attempt by the Kurds to place pressure on Baghdad and force the central government to follow the Kurdish way instead of a real pursuance of secession. "
It's being called a "historic moment" by some news outlets. Aswat al-Iraq noted yesterday, "Sadrist Trend MP Hakim al-Zamili disclosed that some of the political blocs desire to have a candidate from the Sadrist Trend to assume the premiership, which matter shall be decided by Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr." As we've noted since the summer of 2010, French and British diplomats believe that when Tehran pressured Moqtada to back Nouri al-Maliki (whom Moqtada loathes), they finally got his agreement by promising they would back him to be the next prime minister. Earlier this week, we noted the publicly expressed strategy of Sadr which is that if there is agreement on who would be the next prime minister -- agreement among the political blocs in Iraq -- he would take part in a no-confidence vote. Interestingly, while AFP quotes Moqtada stating that the issue of the security ministries needs to be addressed (Nouri was supposed to have nominated people to head the ministries back in December 2010 but he never did that for the security ministries which has allowed him to control those ministries), Kitabat reports that one of "the most important discussion topics" between Barzani and Moqtada is that Nouri must not have a third term as prime minister. Kitabat notes that Moqtada was expected to go to Najaf after leaving Erbil.
Al Rafidayn meanwhile reports that Nouri's State of Law is insisting Barzani is leading Iraq down "a path of darkness." When you put all the current pieces together, it appears Moqtada may be even closer to becoming Iraq's prime minister. Dar Addustour is among those reporting today that Nouri met with Moqtada while Nouri was in Tehran over the weekend and that Moqtada promised his support. Also citing an unnamed source, Alsumaria reports on the alleged meeting. Is it in Moqtada's interest to leak the story? No. But it is in Nouri's interest. Nouri and his State of Law is the most likely source of the rumor. It may or may not be true. And Nouri has a habit of hearing what he wants to hear. Also true, Moqtada has become quite the political figure and may be playing every angle. (That's not a slam against him but it is noting that Moqtada al-Sadr of 2012 is not the struggling and tone-deaf politician of the early stages of the Iraq War.) Finally, Alsumaria reports the League of Righteous -- armed militants/terrorists, etc. -- held a press conference in Baghdad today to announce that they plan to participate in the elections for provincial councils and that they represents the resistance which was able to defeat the most powerful country in the world (the United States). The League split with Moqtada al-Sadr over a number of issues. Nouri had hoped to use them as a way to block Moqtada but that hasn't happened thus far.
In the US, Iraq's becoming a campaign issue. Ben Smith and Zeke Miller (Buzz Feed) report Mitt Romney's being slammed for choosing the husband of journalist Campbell Brown (formerly of NBC and CNN) for a foreign policy advisor because the man, Dan Senor, was a White House advisor in Iraq from April 2003 through July 2005 where he helped with press briefings and was an adivsor to Paul Bremer and many more tasks. The re-election campaign for President Barack Obama sent out a release that Smith and Miller quote from which includes: "DAN SENOR WAS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S SPIN MASTER FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ AND WORKED TO ADVOCATE LONGER U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ." Ali Gharib (Think Progress) has a rap sheet of Senor's supposed crimes. Smith and Miller note that "Democrats see in Senor's emergence an extension of the unpopular Bush Administration and its unpopular war." And so everyone's mouthing off when, quite frankly, they all need to pipe down.
I'd love it if we were holding people accountable. But that's not the case. As so many work overtime to let you know that Dan Senor is close to Robert Kagan (I know Kagan), we're all supposed to look the other way on the fact that Barack's administration has chosen to make Victoria Nuland a State Dept spokesperson. For those who don't know, Victoria Nuland is married to Robert Kagan. NPR wants you to believe that when they let Kagan critique then-presidential candidate John Kerry on air that they had no idea Kagan was the husband of Victoria Nuland who was, at that time, Dick Cheney's national security advisor. (If you need a refresher or this is new to you, drop back to November 2004 and read "When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman.") Dick Cheney's national security advisor? Who's married to Robert Kagan? I'd say Joe Biden (who's the designated attack dog on this point) needs to find a new topic damn quick. Victoria Nuland is not the only neocon that Barack Obama has brought into his administration, nor is she the only supporter of the Iraq War that he has brought into his administration. I'd love it if they had maintained some sort of a standard, if the current White House had, but they maintained no such standard. Most people aren't even aware of this but the only US Ambassador to Iraq that we have so far had who was against the war? That was Ryan Crocker, the Bush appointee. Chris Hill, Barack's first appointee, was for it. Frothing at the mouth for it. The current Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey was for it. Barack's new nominee? Brett McGurk? Not only was he for the Iraq War, he was tasked with that war in the lead up to it and after it. That's what his focus was when he was on Bush's National Security Council. Let's go to McGurk's Harvard bio:
During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq and then as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In this position, McGurk oversaw all aspects of U.S. policy relating to wars in both theaters. In 2005 and 2006, he was an early proponent of the strategy now known as the "surge" and was a lead participant in the 2006 strategic review of Iraq policy, which led to the surge of U.S. forces into Iraq and significant changes to U.S. strategy there. In 2007 and 2008, McGurk served as lead negotiator and envoy for negotiations with the Government of Iraq on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement (also known as a "SOFA") to govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and the normalization of bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States. The Iraqi parliament ratified both agreements on November 26, 2008, and they went into effect on January 1, 2009. In recognition for this achievement, McGurk received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow on a civilian not serving in the Department. Prior to serving on President Bush's National Security Council staff, McGurk served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and then the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Ambassador John Negroponte. In this capacity, he helped structure the legal framework for Iraq's first nationwide election and was a key participant in the negotiation of Iraq's interim constitution. He was identified in 2004 as "one of the heroes" of the CPA period by Atlantic Monthly magazine, and has since been recognized by leading commentators as one of the few policymakers who advocated the critical changes to U.S. policy that led to the surge and an improving situation in Iraq.
Again, drawing attention to Dan Senor's Iraq connections? They blew that chance years ago when they brought so many War Hakws into the administration. In addition, nominating McGurk pretty much ensured that all the Iraq War Hawks were immunized. Ben Smith will always carry Barack's water -- probably his urine as well -- but not everyone in the press will choose to be so compliant. The White House will fnd out quickly that if they try to make Senor an issue, the press will be happy to note his counterpart's in Barack's administration. It's not a winning strategy.
The world is in chaos, war is breaking out all over, there's blood flowing in the streets of cities from the Middle East to Africa, but not to worry – we've got an "Atrocity Prevention Board"! Now doesn't that make you feel much better?
The atrocities this board is supposed to prevent are those that are not committed by the US: our atrocities, you understand, are really "humanitarian" acts, as opposed to their atrocities, which are … well, just plain old atrocities. One can safely assume the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, killed by US sanctions prior to the invasion, is not one of those atrocities to be considered by the Board. Nor will those many thousands of Iraqi civilians who lost their lives in the war be so recognized.
The piddling atrocities carried out by such tinhorn despots as Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian mullahs are nothing compared to the large-scale war crimes routinely committed by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our drones roam the world, wreaking random havoc on innocents and "terrorists" alike – oh, but that isn't an "atrocity." It's "fighting terrorism." That is how the world's biggest perpetrator of atrocities gets to set up an "Atrocity Prevention Board" and not be laughed off the world stage.