Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 10, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, rumors about affairs with a visiting pop star circle Baghdad, another US service member is dead from the Iraq War, Iraqis get ready for the Summer Olympics, and more.
Carl Hill III is the latest US service member to die from the Iraq War.  KFMB reports (video):

Marcella Lee: 26-year-old Army Specialist Carl Hall III was from Harbison Canyon near Alpine, where his parents still live.  Hall was injured back in November 2011 when his convoy was hit by an IED.  Hall sustained injuries to his head and more than 40 shrapnel wounds to his leg but doctors were able to save his leg with multiple surgeries.  Hall was brought back to recover in North Caroline.  His parents say he was doing well and was able to enjoy the birth of his son.  But ended up dying due from complications related to his injuries.

Elizabeth Hall:  It was the miracle of just him being able to come home.  I was there when his son was born so he seen his son born, so he was there for that.  His son was born February 23rd so he had the four months with spirit and that was pretty much what was keeping him going.

Services for Carl Hall IIII will be tomorrow, ten in the morning at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary.  Because his death is apparently from injuries received during Operation New Dawn, the Pentagon will include him in the count for that period of the Iraq War.  Those who die of injuries received will be included in either Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation New Dawn based upon when they were injured.
BRIAN CASTNER: You become numb to it eventually, but I would never call it business as usual. And in fact, the post-blast mission is one that only really developed as the war went on. When I initially went through EOD school, there was no section of the training that was called post-blast investigation.  And in fact on my first trip to Iraq in 2005, the first time I did one, and I got tasked, and they said go out and do an investigation, I had to ask, well, what does that even mean? What do you want me to look for?  So as the war developed, and as the IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, became less just an obstacle to clear and were more a focus of the war, our career field developed those skills as we went.
GROSS: So what kind of evidence would you look for at the site of an IED explosion?
CASTNER: Anything that would tell you how it was made, what the target was, if there was a key identifying feature that would link it to one bomber or another, or one group or another. So that's anything from the color of the wire used to connect the battery to the blasting cap, to getting an explosive sample of the type of explosives used, to collecting the VIN number on the car, to getting DNA samples of the people who were there so maybe you could identify which one the bomber was.
GROSS: But this isn't like going to, like, a crime scene after the fact, where you're slowly getting evidence and putting it in plastic bags. You are going to the site of explosions, and there are screaming people all around you, and you're going through body parts, basically, like looking for evidence of what happened in the explosion.  And take one of those experiences, for us, and just describe what the experience was for you.
CASTNER: Right, so you get the call, and you're at your home base, at the FOB, and sometimes we wouldn't even need a call, you would see the towers of black smoke rising from downtown Kirkuk. And you know the call is coming, so you go and get ready. And you get out there as fast as you can, which is usually about 20 to 30 minutes after it went off.  And we actually didn't want the Iraqi police or U.S. forces to clean up. We needed everything there to be able to sift through. And in fact that would be the most frustrating part, is you would show up, and the loved ones would already be picking up bodies or pieces of bodies, and they're already loading on the destroyed car onto a flatbed.
And it's bad enough that you're out there doing this but they're getting in the way of you doing your job. And so extremely quickly, we could be there for 10 minutes because the longer you're there, the more chance you have to get shot at or have a mortar dropped on your head or something. So you get out, and as quickly as you can, starting at the burned-out car and then working your way out.  You just look for everything you can, and sometimes, in fact, you're looking for pieces of ordinance that haven't exploded. An artillery round will kick out, and it'll be in somebody's house a block away, and you need to grab that and make sure you dispose of it so nobody gets hurt.
Violence continues in Iraq.  Alsumaria notes that 1 person was shot dead in Kirkuk Province today. KUNA notes that death and reports that another Kirkuk shooting left a police officer wounded.  All Iraqi News notes an Anbar Province home bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soliders and left three more injured.  In addition, IANS reports a Baquba roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left two people injured, a Muqdadiyah truck bombing injured four people, two sticky bombings "outside Baquba" left five people injured, a Baghdad attack on a mmilitary officer left his driver dead and a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left two people injured.
Meanwhile Kitabat notes that some form of poisonous gas at Lake Habbaniyah in Anbar Province is killing the fish and producing a foul smell.  A fisherman states that everything in the lake region dies: shrimp, fish and birds that eat the fish.  Currently, it's suspected that the gas is sulfur.  In August 2009, Duraid Adnan and Timothy Williams (New York Times) were claiming Lake Habbaniya was part of a "beach season"  though the lake's water was described as "muddy" and they noted people drive "their cars right onto the sand, pulling up next to the water."  The US base Al Taqqadum was located there.  And, at Militaryphotos.net, you can find video posted of Lake Habbaniya: "The vehicle graveyard at Lake Habbaniya is one of seven established during 2005 when it was decided the costs of shipping wrecks back to the US was prohibitive.  The vehicles shown have suffered hull breach, internal fire, structural failure, or are classified as 'beyond economical repair'."  Whether it's sulfur or something else, there's a good chance it didn't occur naturally but resulted from pollution.  All Iraqi News reports a fire broke out in central Baghdad today, a landfill which further threatened surrounding structures because of the failure to clean surrounding areas and everyone using it as a dumping ground. 
Dumping ground?  Like the political crisis?  Monday we noted:
Al Rafidyan reports that Moqtada al-Sadr has criticized the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate for their June 29th festivities which included bringing in performers who, his opinion, promote debauchery and immorality.  More than likely his remarks are directed at Madeline Matar who a Lebanese recording artist (click here for Alsumaria's article on her in Arabic and note the photo).  She is said to have arrived at the Baghdad concert in a presidential motorcade.  You can click here for her Facebook page. 
Could there be more to it?  Could the "presidential motorcade" have hinted at a sex scandal for Nouri? 
All Iraqi News reports Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh insisted today he was being verbally attacked with rumors and stated he had spoken to both Moqtada and Nouri to assure them that the concert was just a concert and that he had no inappropriate relationship with Madeline Matter.  He insisted he has told all of his friends that this was just a malicious smear against him.
Why is Ali al-Dabbagh having a meltdown in public?  He's been a spokesperson for some time and, if Nouri believes him, there shouldn't be any problem.  His intense denial might indicate that there is something more here including that he might be covering for Nouri.
Were that to be the case, Nouri might end up taken out the way most politicians are today -- not with bullets but with sex scandals.
Currently, Nouri al-Maliki is trying to hold onto his post of prime minister by offering up a Reform Committee.  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) addresses some of the issues this raises:
Firstly, there are problems that have to do with agreements between the feuding political blocs about which positions certain high ranking politicians would fill; this included discussion of the vacant seats in certain important ministries, that al-Maliki was occupying in the interim.
Another involved the powers of the federal court and yet another had to do with relations between the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi Cabinet, or executive branch; relations were strained with Parliament and ministers often coming to different conclusions. And finally there was the problem of how to balance the demands of the Iraqi Constitution with all of the above.
Despite what appear to be good intentions, there is no doubt that al-Maliki's opponents do not trust him any more than they did before. There has been plenty of press coverage and public relations work on al-Maliki's behalf but the parties who wanted to oust him don't think he is serious about the alleged reforms.
"This call for reform is nothing more than a political manoeuvre and an attempt to gain more time," Hani Ashour, an adviser to the opposition Iraqiya coalition, told NIQASH. The essence of the current political crisis is the fact that al-Maliki has not honoured the Erbil agreement, under which he formed this government."
The so-called Erbil agreement was formulated in Erbil to end a nine month dispute over who should run the government following disputed 2010 elections. It gave al-Maliki the right to form a government if he met certain conditions and gave his electoral opponents certain high powered jobs; basically it was a power sharing deal.
The fact that al-Maliki has done almost nothing to honour that deal doesn't give his opponents much faith that he will change now.
Nouri and Moqtada are two of the main political players in Iraq.  Other main players include KRG President Massoud Barzani, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi and President Jalal Talabani. 
Jalal, of course, fled the country due to the political crisis.  He stated he had to have an emergency procedure.  That ended up being knee surgery.  All Iraqi News reports that Luis Ayala, Secretary-General of the Socialist International, phoned Jalal to congratulate him on his successful knee surgery.  Ayala conveyed his hope that Jalal would be able to join the Socialist International in September.
Let's move over to President Massoud Barzani.  Al Rafidayn notes Barzani's plan to establish a National Security Council.  Aiyob Mawloodi (Kurdish Globe) reports:
In a ceremony held in Erbil last Sunday, July 8th, the Kurdistan Region's National Security Board was established.
In the ceremony, attended by the Region's President and a number of top ranking KRG officials, the long awaited Kurdistan Region's National Security Board was announced.
Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Region's Protection Agency was appointed as the Chancellor of the Board.
Dr. Khasraw Mohammed Gul was appointed his Deputy.
In his speech, President Barzani praised the National Security Board for what he described as "their genuine contribution to peace and prosperity" in Kurdistan Region, urging the security forces to do "their outmost to respect human rights" in dealing with security issues.
Goran (aka Change) is a third party in the KRG and CIA-backed. Alsumaria reports that Goran is insisting this National Security Council will lead to totalitarianism. Kitabat adds that Goran is stating these are the steps to a dictatorship.  AFP notes that some are taking exception to Masroor Barzani -- Massoud Barzani's son -- being named to head the council.
Power is confirmed in many ways.  For example, Tim Arrango (New York Times) writes a lengthy piece on Moqtada today that really says nothing -- power.  You give a speech on Friday and Nouri's grabbing from it and passing it off as his own at the start of the week -- power.   Dar Addustour notes that Nouri spoke today about the need to restore property to its owners and also about the need to distribute the wealth in a manner that would be fair to all Iraqis.
Nouri's State of Law starts an outrageous rumor about you -- power.  Alsumaria reports State of Law MP Samira al-Moussawi is insisting that the KRG supplying Turkey with crude oil is part of a scheme that ExxonMobil came up with.  State of Law's been whining about ExxonMobil since October and Nouri's been demanding the multi-national corporation cancel its deal with the KRG since November.  Hoshmando Othman (Rudaw) observes:

The deal further fueled the existing tension between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad over the legality of Kurds' inviting foreign companies to search for oil in their region. The 2005 Iraqi constitution recognizes Kurdistan as a federal region run by its regional parliament and government.

KRG takes into consideration two Articles of the Iraqi constitution that allow the 

Kurds to conclude exploration deals with foreign companies for natural resources in their own region, but Baghdad still does not recognize the contracts signed between KRG and foreign oil companies, so far numbering over fifty, and considers the deals illegal.

ExxonMobil's move despite the risk of being blacklisted by Baghdad can be seen as an indication of growing Western and other international oil companies' interest in the Kurdistan Region, which estimates its oil reserves at 45 billion barrels, equal to more than 40 percent of that of the rest of Iraq. KRG offers production share agreements to the oil companies while Baghdad limits its offer to service contracts.

Furthermore, the discovery of significant reserves of natural gas - estimated over 100 trillion cubic feet, surpassing Libya's gas reserve - attracted those European companies, which form the Nabucco gas pipeline project that is due to link Caucasus' gas fields to Europe through Turkey. Nabucco is meant to reduce Europe's dependency on Russian gas.

Alsumaria notes Iraqiya MPs held a press conference today in front of Parliament to insist that Nouri stop the mass arrests he's ordered on the outskirts of Baghdad -- Yusufiya and Abu Ghraib and Ghazaliyah mainly -- and that he release the 70 to 80 people that have been arrested. 
Nouri has a record of carrying out mass arrests.  Sadam Hussein did as well.  Dar Addustour reports that Peter Arnett, internationally known journalist, is stating that, following an 18 month investigation, he has learned that Saddam Hussein's son Uday was plotting to overthrow his father and, among the supporting evidence for this claim, Arnett says he has a letter from March 2003 written by a military commander who pledges his support to Uday Hussein.
Uday Hussein was infamous for many things.  These days, especially this time of year, he's most infamous for having athletes tortured when their performance did not meet his 'standards.'
On sports, every four years the Summer Olympics are held.  Iraq will be competiting this year.  They first participated in 1948 and this will be their 13th time participating. Noor Aamer Jassim tells Amelie Herenstein (AFP), "Weapons and ammunitions are all outdated -- all of our equipment is old compared to other countries, Arab and Eureopean. Sports is my life.  I hope to win a medal, to see my country's flag raised."  She and two other Iraqi women will join with five Iraqi men to compete in the Olympics in London -- "two runners [one is Dana Hussein], a swimmer [Muhannad Ahmad], an archer, a shooter [Noor Aamer Jassim], a boxer, a weightlifer [Safa Rashid] and a wrestler."
7msports has a video report on wrestler Safaa Rashid Mahmud al-Jamaili and sprinter Dana Hussein and notes "Hussein was the only Iraqi to compete at the 2008 Beijing Games and she will represent the war-torn country in the 100m this summer." Abigail Hauslohner (Time magazine) noted Dana Hussein in 2008 and quoted her stating, "Sports can unify the Iraqi people -- no Sunnis, no Shiites, just sports for the country."  That year she met with AFP on a track at Baghdad University and explained, "I was shot at here by a sniper in this stadium and I wasn't killed because, thank God, I happened to be running." Li Ziheng (Xinhua) noted:
Dana Hussein, wearing a pair of second-hand track shoes she bought in Jordan by herself, made her debut in the women's 100m heat at the National Stadium as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 16, 2008.  "I have realized my dream of competing at the Olympics, and I am extremely happy to come to Beijing," said the 21-year-old girl, "It does not matter what we will achieve at the Games, the important thing is we are here."
AP noted last March, "In addition to often not being able to even reach an outdoor university field, where Hussein trains during the winter months, she says she has no money to fund her ambition, gets no government support, no access to a gymn to do fitness training has no indoor track to use during Iraq's sizzling summers, and no sports psychologist to advise her how to keep it all together."
Muhannad Ahmad talent and looks should garner Iraq attention in the swimming competition (there's a photo with the AFP story). But it's not been easy for swimmers in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports today that police prevent Iraqis from swimming in the rivers and that the pools are a challenge in terms of cleanliness due to power shortages and the fact that the government does not provide fuel for generators used for pools. In Baghdad, Iraqis can pay $4.30 (in US dollars) to three hours of swimming. 
Let's note Iraqi women for a second.  On Sunday, we addressed the nonsense that the 'great' [illegal] Iraq War brought sports to Iraqi women.  Not the case at all.  Just because the lie came from a one-time US athlete who is now a brand a corporation flunky doesn't make the lie true.  We noted Christine Breenan's USA Today report from April 2004 on Iraq's sports legend Iman Sabeeh (she was a runner).  Iraqi community members were kind enough to pass on that the women's vollyball team won the Arab Tournament in 1983 and that Noor Basil and Maysa'a Hussein competed in the Summer Olympics of 2000 in Sydney.  They noted Iraqi women like Eman Nouri who holds the country's record in the long jump (5.67 meters, July 13, 1977)
Today in Iraq, women see:
* Decrease in women's presence and participation in media, journalism, and sports
* Decline in levels of health
* Decline in economic level of widows and orphans
* Decline in social rights
* Decline in scientific successes for women
* Decline in women's political participation
* Decline in leadership positions for women
* Increase in unemployment among young women
* Continued practice of customs and traditions harmful to women
* Lack of legislation advocating for women
* Low participation of women in executive and judicial branches
* Decline in women's freedom
* Decline in number of educated girls
* Decrease in the number of women Ministers from 27 to 1
That's the present for Iraqi women as noted in Women's Campaign International's new report [PDF format warning] "Iraqi Future Search." We'll note the report further in tomorrow's snapshot.