Friday, July 27, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Friday, July 27, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the US has wasted over 20 billion tax payer dollars on training Iraq security forces, as they refuse to address that the press and pundits push and push for more war, Hilton Worldwide's building a hotel in Iraq, and more. 
At the start of the week, an international hotel chain announced they were coming to Iraq. The press release opened:
Hilton Worldwide today announced expansion plans in Iraqi Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, with the signing of a management agreement with the Mihtab Group to develop the first Hilton Hotels & Resorts property in the rapidly growing city of Erbil, Iraq.
The 300-room Hilton Erbil Hotel & Spa, which is expected to open in 2016, will be the second Hilton Worldwide property in Erbil following the 2011 announcement to develop a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in the city.
Hilton Erbil Hotel & Spa will be set in extensive, landscaped grounds in an upscale residential and commercial district just North of Erbil, an area famous for its picturesque, mountainous landscape as well as its close proximity to the city's main access road. These key location benefits are attracting many new businesses to the area, including a number of foreign embassies planned within the next two years.
The KRG is not hurting for hotels. Already it has a ton including the Erbil Tower Hotel, Divan Erbil, Van Royal Hotel, Erbil Rotana (where this year's Miss Kurdistan competition was held), Yadi Hotel, Abu-Sana Hotel, etc. The KRG has 22 operating, internationally recognized hotels with more being built. Baghdad? Five operating and internationally recognized hotels -- including the Palestine International Hotel (where reporters stayed and where the US military infamously fired upon). No big construction going on. No big foreign investment rushing into the capitol. But the KRG? Hilton Worldwide becomes the latest to want to do business.
As we've noted repeatedly, Nouri's crazy scares them off. Nouri's tirades against Turkey, all the accusations and smears add in to the view of him as unhinged. His attacks on ExxonMobil and Chevron and so many others and his inability, as prime minister, to bring cohesion to Iraq, to provide real leadership to the region, hurts the country and harms the way others view the section of Iraq he has jurisdiction over. (The KRG -- Kurdistan Regional Government -- three northern provinces -- is semi-autonomous.)
After all this time, an argument could be made that Baghdad 'security' -- such as it is -- is as good as it's going to get and that the business community has taken note of that. Making that argument requires acknowleging how very little Nouri al-Maliki has accomplished in his six years as prime minister. Acknowledging that requires confronting how little Nouri has achieved as prime minister and how much the people continue to suffer.
Ahmed Hussein (Al Mada) reports that along with the continued lack of electritiy, you can add to that the scarcity of potable water in Baghdad -- specifically east Baghdad and South Baghdad. The situation has gotten so bad that Parliament will be questioning the governor of the province and the secretary of the city of Baghdad. The newspaper notes that, July 7th, officials pleaded "technical problems." That was 20 days ago.
The delivery of basic goods and services is a political issue and the potable water appears to have entered the same crisis level the political stalemate has. Al Mada reports on Ayad Allawi's statements yesterday. Allawi is the head of Iraqiya (the political slate that came in first in the elections, Nouri's State of Law came in second). Allawi notes that there is no need for a Reform Committee or for people to think up or adopt new reforms. The answer is to return to the Erbil Agreement which was already agreed upon.

Following the March 2010 elections, Political Stalemate I lasted for a little over eight months and this was the period where Nouri refused to allow things to move forward because he wanted a second term as prime minister; however, State of Law's showing didn't allow him -- per the law -- to be made prime minister-designate and given 30 days to assmble a Cabinet. So he pouted and threw his tantrum and the White House nursed him and refused to pull him off Barack's nipple. With the White House backing, Nouri was able to bring things in Iraq to a complete standstill. The White House then brokered the Erbil Agreement which was the way around the Constitution (it was extra-Constitutional, not unconstitutional) for Nouri to get his way.

That's not how the US government presented it. The political blocs were told to figure out what they wanted and this items were written into the agreement with the understanding that, in exchange for those, Nouri would get a second term. The agreement is a binding contract and was signed off on by all parties. Plus the US government assured the political blocs that the US was backing this agreement. That was November 2010. The next day, Parliament finally held a real session and Nouri was named prime minister-designate. When he became prime minister, he trashed the agreement and, since summer 2011, Moqtada al-Sadr, the Kurds and Iraqiya have been calling for him to return to the Erbil Agreement.

He has refused.

That's what the current political stalemate is about. He is not only doing a power-grab, he is refusing to honor the contract he signed onto and used to get a second term as prime minister. He has further alarmed rival politicians by going back on his 'pledge' not to seek a third term.

So Allawi is calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. He sees Nouri's silly Reform Commission as a waste of time -- which it is. Why do they need weeks of meetings to figure out what to do?

Have we forgotten the months of meetings for the national conference that then fell apart as Nouri wanted it to? Before that fell apart in April, there had been months of meetings about this issue. So the Reform Commission shouldn't need a ton of meetings to figure out what to do.

But the reality is it exists solely to buy more time for Nouri. This is what he always does, stall, stall and stall. And hope people either get tired of waiting or just forget.

Due to backing from the Bush White House and then the Barack White House, this strategy has been highly effective for Nouri personally.

It's helped tear the country of Iraq further apart but, for Nouri, it's all about what Nouri al-Maliki wants. Further proof is in reporting today by Rod Nordland (New York Times) about 15 Baquba officials quitting their jobs because they state the government has failed to protect them from al Qaeda. Threat have made them fear for the safety of their families. This lack of security despite all the US tax dollars wasted in training Iraq's security forces.

"Status of Fixcal Years 2011-2012 Iraq Security Forces Fund (SIGIR 12-018)" [PDF format warning, click here] was released today by the Office of the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction and is a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillar Clinton which notes the money given (wasted) by US taxpayers for Iraq's security forces to be trained: "To date, Congress has appropriated $20.54 billion in ISFF. This includes $1.50 billion Congress appropriated in April 2011 for use in fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012."
Over $20.54 billion US tax dollars sent out of the US to pay for the training of Iraq's security forces. You learn about how freely the government spent the taxpayer money. So freely, that they gave more than even they thought could be spent which is why: "Congress specified the period of time each ISFF appropriation could be used. In each case, Congress made the funds available for periods between 12 and 19 months, during which time funds would have to be obligated. Any funds not obligated with their designated period of availability would be considered expired and, therefore, not available for new obligations."

Nancy Pelosi kept using the "blank check" metaphor even after many of us thought the then-Speaker sounded ancient and ourselves were referring to it as the administration using Congress as its own personal ATM. But Pelosi ends up right and we (including me) end up wrong because it was indeed a blank check. And it was blank check under Bush and a blank check under Barack.

While Americans domestically struggled with historic levels of unemployment, with losing their houses and so much more, the Congress and the White House were so eager to give Iraq billions for 'security forces' that they realized they might be giving more than was needed so they tacked on that if the funds were not "obligated" within X number of months, the US would get them back.

And some may wrongly think that means, "Well, Iraq didn't spend X so we're getting that back. Yea!" Wrong. "Spent" is not "obligated."

"Obligated" means they say it will be spent on, for example, "forensic training."

Will be. Not has been spent.

This is made clear in the letter: "However, un-obligated funds can be used for up to five years after they expire to pay for authorized increases to existing obligations made from the same appropriation. Any un-obligated funds remaining after the five-year period must be returned to the U.S. Treasury."

So the White House and the Congress (then Democratically controlled, both houses) made the decision not only to give Iraq more money than was needed, they also said, "Hey, screw the American taxpayers and their needs, if you can't spend this money in the Fiscal Year, just say you will someday spend it on something and we'll let you have it for up to five years, interest free."

$20.54 billion US tax dollars wasted.


What do you see in Iraq in terms of security that justifies spending 20 billion dollars -- $20,000,000,000?

The CIA estimates the Iraqi population to be 31.1 million. (Iraq hasn't had a census since the 90s.) When the US government refers to Iraq's "security forces," they are only speaking of the number employed by the central government out of Baghdad. So all of this money has just spent on the national forces. In a country with an estimate population of 30 million, how many security forces are there?

By September 2007, according to Brookings, they had 359,700. In the same month, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post noted that then-top US commander in Iraq Gen David Petraeus was using a higher figure of 445,000 at that same time and that this "suggest[s] he was including every person employed by the ministries in an effort to promote the size and capability of security forces that many experts say are plagued by absenteeism, attrition and sectarianism." Last December 7th, Luis Martinez (ABC News) reported US Lt Gen Frank Helmick had stated in the US military's "last briefing from Iraq" that Iraq's security forces number 700,000.
30 million population, nearly a million police officers. Iraq is not Malaysia. It's an oil rich country generating billions each year. How very fortunate for the US-installed puppet Nouri that these forces he's put under his own command -- not really how the Iraqi Constitution set it out -- were trained on the US tax payer dollar.

Please grasp that this figure doesn't include the $850 million that the US State Dept requested (and received) for Fiscal Year 2012 to, yes, train Iraq's security forces. And the 'good' news on that money? The letter explains that, after allocation, "the funds will be deposited into an Iraq FMF account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York where the GOI [Government Of Iraq] will decide how to use the funds."

And when you look over how that money's being allocated, you'll see that the US tax payer foots the bill for everything from night vision goggles to "training ammunition." Again, Iraq is not a struggling economy. It's not Ethiopia. It's an oil rich country that make billions every month in oil revenue.

But Nouri can't provide security and can't even pick up the bill for the security forces he has placed under his control. Who's safe in Iraq besides Nouri? Who's benefitted from all those billions spent on security?

On efforts to end -- or pretend to end -- the crisis Nouri started, Al Mada reports that the National Alliance is warning that the Reform Committee lacks "a magic wand." No one expected them to have a magic wand. People are more upset that they (a) have no teeth, (b) have no power and (c) are a for-show group. This evening, Alsumaria reported that State of Law was stating Deputy Prime Minister and Iraqiya member Saleh al-Mutlaq was supporting the Reform Commission. If true, this could be the most serious fracture Iraqiya has faced. They've written off the loss of members since the elections. This would be a high ranking member betraying them. Saleh al-Mutlaq, it should be remembered was tarred and feathered by Nouri's Justic and Accountability Commission in 2010 as a "Ba'athist." As such, he wasn't allowed to run in the elections. Iraqiya stood by him throughout that. In the second-half of December of last year, Nouri was attempting to strip al-Mutlaq of his position as a result of an interview al-Mutlaq gave CNN where he comapred Nouri to a dictator. Iraqiya stood behind him collectively and that was among the reasons he retained his office. So a defection like this -- even if he remained in Iraqiya -- would be a major turn -- and a major betrayal.
International leaders and the press betrayed Iraq and the citizens of the world by building a false case for the illegal war. Some of those international leaders never really leave the daily buzz. Take George W. Bush. PTI reports that the Dalai Lama has declared he and George W. Bush ad BFFs and, "Personally I love Bush but I have reservation on his policy towards Iraq." Personally, I was neutral on the Dalai Lama until a few years ago when he decided to let his homophobia run wild. After that, very little about the 'peaceful' Dalai Lama can surprise me -- not even his desire to be best friends with a War Criminal.
From Bush, who occupied the White House from January 2001 through January 2009. In England, the chief War Criminal was then-prime minister Tony Blair. Former British diplomat Craig Murray observes at his site, "Blair's latest attempt at rehabilitation is a discussion tomorrow at Westminister Central Hall with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the place of religion in society. A vexed question, but give that Blair believes God OK'd the invasion of Iraq and the resulting millions deaths, not one that can usefully be discussed by this charlatan." Meanwhile in England, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports, efforts continue to hide evidence from the public about how Blair and Bush planned or 'planned' the illegal war:
The Foreign Office (FCO) is appealing against a judge's ruling that extracts of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed.
It argues that revealing Blair's comments to Bush on the telephone on 12 March 2003 would present a "significant danger" to UK-US relations. It would lead to the US withholding information from Britain in the future, damaging Britain's security and diplomatic interests, the FCO says.
Those two War Criminals may not be able to lead nations into illegal war today but there are so many other of the original helpers still hungry with War Lust. The Atlantic was a big War Cheerleader back then. Today you can find John Hudson pondering, "Did Syria Receive Its Chemical Weapons from Saddam?" What a stupid War Whore. As Kirs Alenxander (Wired) notes, "No, Syria Doesn't Have Saddam's Chemical Weapons." Excerpt:
I’ve already debunked one of the rumors about Iraq’s WMD. I’m not buying this one. Here’s why.
First: Think about it for a second. Strategically and militarily, it made no sense for Saddam to transfer his weapons of mass destruction to Syria. Saddam worked on acquiring WMD for a reason: to stave off an invasion and hold on to power.
Just listen to a defeated Saddam for a second. In a post-invasion interview, Saddam admitted that he had been bluffing about his WMD. This is actually case-closed for the conspiracy theories about his weapons transfers.
But for a moment, let’s suppose that Saddam circumvented the most intrusive sanction regime the world has ever known and rebuilt his WMD programs after inspectors (and Israeli jets) destroyed them. His reasoning would have been deterrence — as Thomas Schelling put it, Saddam would have given his enemies a “threat that leaves something to chance.” That’s why the Assad regime threatens on and off to use WMD: It keeps the foreign hordes at bay. So why, with U.S. massing forces on his border, would Saddam give up the one thing he had to raise the cost of invading to the Americans?
At, John Glaser takes on the idiot and evil Seth Jones (evil? he taught counter-insurgency at the university level) and Jones' ridiculous attempts to build support for a Syrian War. Excerpt.
Well then genius, it might have been good not to have initiated regime change, no? US support for the rebel militias has emboldened the opposition, deepened the conflict, and allowed extremist insurgents to destabilize the Assad regime. Jones admits that one thing explaining al-Qaeda’s rise in Syria is “the draw of a new jihad—smack in the middle of the Arab world.” Like in Iraq, the US has helped create an al-Qaeda presence in Syria, which is now justifying even more military intervention.
Jones’s position is pitifully confused. Which policy is the US supposed to pursue in Syria – supporting the rebels in a proxy war against Assad, or fighting the rebels and eliminating the main threat to Assad’s regime? This isn’t quantum mechanics; we can’t exist in two different realities at once. Or are we just supposed to take any excuse to intervene at face value?
Jones is also contradictory: He admits al-Qaeda fighters are swarming to Syria because of the draw of jihad. Yet, he wants to “launch a covert campaign to ramp up intelligence-collection efforts against al Qaeda, capture or kill its senior leaders, and undermine its legitimacy.” Right, because nothing snuffs out al-Qaeda like an unprovoked US war in the Middle East.
Counter-insurgency is war on a native population through intimidation and deceit -- the US generally mixes in violence as well. So the question to ask is someone trained in deception should really be allowed to write opinion columns? Do we really need domestic psyops on the op-ed pages of our daily newspapers in this country?

Syria’s citizens are now another nation reduced to tragic turmoil resultant from being targeted in the post 11 September 2001 Pentagon plan to “take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran”, as described by General Wesley Clark.
US planned carnage in sovereign Syria was a bit behind schedule, but now back on track -- if out of predicted sequence — with another wannabe Crusader in the White House, this one with a Nobel Peace Prize. Fact mirrors fiction’s wildest darknesses, and from the “Nile to the Euphrates” the regions’ residents increasingly have only the most uncertain and tenuous places to hide.
Syria, with population of under 23 million, is also host to nearly half a million Palestinian refugees and the largest influx of Iraqi refugees in the world, a minimum of 1.2 million, who fled the US-UK’s liberating bombs, bullets, kidnappings, rapes, murders, ethnic cleansing, looting and mayhem.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that “Syria has been a generous host to Iraqi refugees.”
The horrors they fled after the invasion are again stalking those who thought they were now safe.
As the War Hawks get their jollies, life is forever destroyed for the people on the ground -- the ones that an alleged humanitarian impulse is screaming must be saved. From IRIN:
Thousands of Iraqi refugees returning from Syria will face huge challenges reintegrating into a country with high rates of unemployment, dismal basic services and ongoing sectarian strife.
“I think we will face a humanitarian crisis regarding this issue,” said Yaseen Ahmed Abbas, the president of the Iraq Red Crescent (IRC). “You should expect pressure on everything in Iraq by having such a large number of people in a short time. It’s not easy.”
More than 15,000 Iraqis have returned to Iraq in the past nine days, after unprecedented fighting in the Syrian capital Damascus, according to Deputy Minister of Displacement and Migration Salam Dawod Al Khafagy. The government evacuated 4,000 by air, he said; the rest crossed by land. Tens of thousands of others have returned since the Syrian conflict started in March 2011.
Elham was one of them. After seven years in Syria, she and her son returned on 3 July to Iraq, where she says she has nothing: “I am like a stranger here.”
After a few nights in a hotel, her money has run out and she is now staying with friends, she told IRIN. Her family home, abandoned years ago, then occupied, and now empty, is “not fit for living”, she says, and she has no capital to rebuild it. Her parents have since died and transferring the home into her name is another hurdle, she said.

Rami Ruhayem (BBC News -- link is video) reports, "The Iraqi authorities crammed them together in local schools and government buildings and imposed strict restrictions on their movement. A Syrian refugee tells BBC, "Our main demand is to leave this prison and go to our relatives. If they don't let us out, we will return to our houses in Syria, whether they like it or not." Of the Syrian refugees, UNICEF notes:
Some people have taken displaced families into their own homes. One woman I know, Manal, who has two children of her own, has been hosting her extended family from Homs in her house for the past three months. Recently they all had to relocate, and took refuge in a school. Such generosity is becoming harder to sustain. Many shops are closed, so it is difficult for local residents to buy enough food and other basics to meet their own needs, let alone those of their guests.
Conditions in the schools are not easy, either. In one school in Masaken Barzeh, around 600 people are using just seven small toilets. The new residents do their best to keep the school clean. But they need cleaning supplies and awareness-raising about the importance of good hygiene. UNICEF is helping by supplying hygiene kits that contain detergents, shampoos, sanitary napkins, soap, towels and other personal hygiene items.
Sometimes the children themselves step up to help. I came across 14-year-old Maya who, along with seven other family members, had been relocated twice. She calls herself a “hygiene expert.” Volunteers were so impressed with her knowledge that it was agreed that Naya would be the school’s focal point for hygiene awareness. Naya promised to spend her free time going around telling other children about proper hygiene. “Younger kids listen to me, but I’m not sure about the grown-ups,” Naya laughed.
Another problem is keeping the children occupied. It is too hot to run around in the yard, and there is nothing to play with. UNICEF is providing the schools with recreational kits and sports kits through its local partners.
Violence continues in Iraq. With only a few days remaining in the month, Iraq Body Count notes that at least 376 people have been killed from violence in Iraq through yesterday. The United Nations counted 401 deaths last month. Iraq is on track to meet that figure or even surpass it. (The official Iraqi government numbers -- which the press ran with -- were much lower.) Today Alsumaria reports a Baghdad sticky bombing has claimed 1 life. It has been a very violent month in Iraq.  Margaret Griffis ( adds, "Twelve more militants were killed in clashes in Hadid. Yesterday, gunmen had managed to kill 12 security members, including one person on a helicopter that was forced to make a hard landing. "  Rudaw notes, "On Friday the ministry of Peshmerga said that the Iraqi government had sent troops to the border strip between Syria and the Kurdistan Region and that 3,000 Peshmerga fighters stationed in the area had stopped their advance.
There was serious concern about armed clashes between both sides."
On the violence, Deutsche Welle observes:

Intelligence sources say the Islamic State of Iraq terror network is in dire financial straits and that attacks are increasingly become contract killings. "Terror in Iraq is politically motivated," says Yonadam Kanna, one of the few Christian members of the Iraqi parliament. The government has been in a perpetual state of crisis since the US withdrew its troops at the end of 2011. In vain, the opposition has for months tried to enforce a vote of no-confidence against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They accuse him of assuming too much power while trying to keep Sunni Muslims at bay. Maliki's State of Law party is the second-strongest party in parliament; the bloc headed by his opponent Iyad Allawi has one seat more but failed to form a governing majority.
Two years ago, Maliki signed a coalition treaty for a "government of national unity" with various Shiite parties and Kurds. The agreement promised key ministries to Allawi, who was also to head a new security and surveillance agency. But none of the above ever materialized. Maliki is acting head of the interior and defense ministries and talk of a new security agency has ceased. Like Maliki, Allawi is a Shiite, but he enjoys the support of most Sunni parties. Tensions between the two politicians have for months paralyzed development in Iraq - everything but the oil sector has ground to a halt. The country has reached an economic and political standstill spelling disaster for the population.
Notice how the topic circles back to the stalemate. It has to because Nouri's inability to honor his agreements has left many in Iraq feeling disenfranchised and not willing to trust him anymore. That goes a long way towards explaining the present violence.