Monday, October 15, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's State of Law threatens to dissolve Parliament, still no amnesty law, the war caused birth defects in Iraqi children get some media attention, Barack continues to try to distract from what happened in Benghazi and the cover up that followed, and more.
Lagash. Enyclopedia Britannica explains, was "one of the most important capital cities in ancient Sumer, located midway between the Tirgris and Euphrates rivers in southeastern Iraq. [. . .] Lagash was endowed with many temples, including the Eninnu, 'House of the Fifty,' a seat of the high god Enil. Architecturally the most remarkable structure was a weir and regulator, once doubtless possessing sluice gates, which conserved the area's water supply in reservoirs." The University of Chicago has a slide show of Lagash here. The Louvre houses a statue of Lagash's Prince Gudea. The statue is thought to date back to 2120 BC. Another statue of Gudea can be found at the Detroit Institute of Arts and this one is thought to date back to 2141-2122 BC. It is near this area that the first recorded war was fought -- Sumer's war with Elam (modern day Iran) back in 2700 BC (the war would have been fought in what is now Basra). In antiquities news, Al-Shorfa notes that yesterday Iraq and Italy "signed a memorandum of cooperation" regarding the restoration of archaeological sites in Iraq.
If another part of Iraq, Falluja, was excavated centuries from now, what would they find? Most likely evidence of massive birth defects as a result of the Iraq War. Falluja was twice assaulted in 2004. First, briefly in April and then a much more prologned assault immediately after the US presidential election in November. It was duing the second assault that Dexter Filkins, then a New York Times 'reporter,' wrote his rah-rah bit of nonsense. We called it out when the paper ran it on the front page November 21, 2004. But a lot of people like their war porn. Which is why 'reporter' Dexter won a little award for that piece. Someone reading it today, after the admission by the US military that white phosphorus was used in that attack on Falluja, would probably first notice how Dexy missed that. But even back then there was something fishy about a report about actions on November 15th that carried a dateline of November 18th and ran November 21st. Apparently, the military that vetted 'embed' Dexy's copy wasn't too concerned about print deadlines.
The humanitarian disaster in Fallujah worsened as the U.S. military continued to refuse entry to the Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) convoys of relief supplies. I was told at the Red Crescent headquarters in Baghdad that they had appealed to the UN to intervene, but once again the UN proved its impotence in all matters. While there, I also heard that Iraqi Army members, under U.S. control, engaged in the supervised looting of Fallujah General Hospital during the first week of the siege.
Inside Fallujah, the U.S. military allowed some bodies to be buried by residents, but others were being eaten by dogs and cats in the streets, as reported both by refugees coming out of the city and residents still trapped there. The military claimed that there was no need for the IRC to deliver aid to people inside Fallujah, since there were no more civilians inside the city. (Later, officials acknowledged that thirty thousand to fifty thousand residents had remained in the city.)
While speaking to survivors of the assault, Dar encountered Abu Sabah who told him, "They used these weird bombs that first put up smoke in a cloud and then small pieces fell from the air with long tails of smoke behind them. These exploded on the ground with large fires that burned for half an hour. They used these near the train tracks. When anyone touched those fires, their body burned for hours."
Some artillery guns fired white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water. Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.
Kamal Hadeethi, a physician at a regional hospital, said, "The corpses of the mujaheddin which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted."
Dexy couldn't report any of that truth. And when even the US military stopped denying the truth, it was left to Scott Shane (in November 2005, a year later) to mop up after Dexy with "Defense of Phosphorus Use Turns Into Damage Control" (Shane was speaking of the US government's damage control but so intwined are the Times and the US government that it also spoke to the paper's previous 'reporting'):
After the Italian documentary was broadcast, the American ambassadors to Italy, Ronald P. Spogli, and to Britain, Robert H. Tuttle, echoed the stock defense, denying that white phosphorus munitions had been used against enemy fighters, let alone civilians. At home, on the public radio program "Democracy Now," Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, an American military spokesman, said, "I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus." But those statements were incorrect. Firsthand accounts by American officers in two military journals note that white phosphorus munitions had been aimed directly at insurgents in Falluja to flush them out. War critics and journalists soon discovered those articles. In the face of such evidence, the Bush administration made an embarrassing public reversal last week. Pentagon spokesmen admitted that white phosphorus had been used directly against Iraqi insurgents. "It's perfectly legitimate to use this stuff against enemy combatants," Colonel Venable said Friday. While he said he could not rule out that white phosphorus hit some civilians, "U.S. and coalition forces took extraordinary measures to prevent civilian casualties in Falluja."
And now a new study by the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology is getting attention from the press. The study is entitled "Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities." Early on, the study's authors point out, "It is old knowledge that exposure to chemicals can harm human reproduction. Ancient Romans were aware that lead (Pb) poisoning can cause miscarriage and infertility (Gilfillan 1965; Retief and Cilliers 2006). Today it is well established that human pregnancy and fetal development are susceptible to parents' environmental exposure to chemical, biological and physical agents (Mattison 2010)." The war -- specifically the weapons -- contaminated Iraq and led to a skyrocketing in the number of birth defects. Press TV explains:
Between 2007 and 2010 in F[a]llujah, over half of all the surveyed babies were born with birth defects. Before the US-led invasion of Iraq, the figure was one in 10. In Basrah's Maternity Hospital, over 20 babies out of 1000 were born with defects in 2003, which makes the figure 17 times higher than it was in the previous decade.
Al Arabiya adds that samples demonstrate residents of Falluja are exposed to extremely high levels of mercury, lead and other "poisonous metals." And when those are in the eco-system, exposure becomes highly common. RT offers, "According to the WHO, a pregnant woman can be exposed to lead or mercury through the air, water and soil. The woman can then pass the exposure to her unborn child through her bones, and high levels of toxins can damage kidneys and brains, and cause blindness, seizures, muteness, lack of coordination and even death." Sarah Morrison (Independent of London) notes:
The report's authors link the rising number of babies born with birth defects in the two cities to increased exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets used over the past two decades. Scientists who studied hair samples of the population in Fallujah found that levels of lead were five times higher in the hair of children with birth defects than in other children; mercury levels were six times higher. Children with defects in Basra had three times more lead in their teeth than children living in non-impacted areas. Dr Savabieasfahani said that for the first time, there is a "footprint of metal in the population" and that there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities". She called the "epidemic" a "public health crisis". "In utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy. The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicates that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children," she said. "The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here. I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas." She added that the data was likely to be an "underestimate", as many parents who give birth to children with defects hide them from public view. Professor Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said the figures presented in the study were "absolutely extraordinary". He added: "People here would be worried if there was a five or 10 per cent increase [in birth defects]. If there's a fivefold increase in Fallujah, no one could possibly ignore that; it's crying out for an explanation as to what's the cause. A rapid increase in exposure to lead and mercury seems reasonable if lots of ammunition is going off. I would have also thought a major factor would be the extreme stress people are under in that period; we know this can cause major physiological changes."
The study finds that, of central nervous system defects, the most common since the start of the Iraq War has been anencephaly. The Center for Disease Control explains, "Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. It is a type of neural tube defect (NTD). These are birth defects that happen during the first month of pregnancy, usually before a woman knows she is pregnant. As the neural tube forms and closes, it helps form the baby's brain and skull (upper part of the neural tube), spinal cord, and back bones (lower part of the neural tube). Anencephaly happens if the upper part of the neural tube does not close all the way. This often results in a baby being born without the front part of the brain (forebrain) and the thinking and coordinating part of the brain (cerebrum). The remaining parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or skin. Unfortunately, almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth." It is also known as an ONTD -- Open Neural Tube defect. St. Jude's Medical Center provides this means of reference, "Anencephaly and spina bifida are the most common types of ONTD, while encephalocele (in which there is a protrusion of the brain or its covering through the skull) is much rarer. Anencephaly occurs when the neural tube failes to close at the base of the skull, while spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close somewhere along the spine."
Moving over to today's continued violence. Wang Yuanyuan (Xinhua) reports an al-Riyadh car bombing injured five people and 2 car bombings and one roadside bombing in Kirkuk have left 1 person dead and eighteen injured. Alsumaria is calling the Kirkuk car bombings an attempted assassination attemp on the life of police Colonel Mekdad al-Mohammed. All Iraq News notes an Albuaath armed attack left three Iraqi soldiers injured, and a Tuz Khurmatu armed attack left 2 police officers dead, and a Tarmiyah home bombing left three members of a police officer's family injured. AFP reports a Tuz Khurmatu car bombing has left nine people injured, a Samarra home invasion killed 2 Sahwas who were brothers and the two men's father and an attack on a Baghdad checkpoint has left three Iraqi troops injured. On Sahwa, Alsumaria reports another died from a Kirkuk sticky bombing. All Iraq News notes that one Ministry of Justice employee was shot dead in Baghdad. Alsumaria notes the government employee shot dead and also notes 1 attorney was shot dead on Palestine Street in Baghdad, and 1 Ministry of Defense intelligence officer was shot dead in Baghdad. If that seems like a lot of violence it is. And it puts to rest a ridiculous claim that last week's violence was down due to Nouri's latest series of never-ending mass arrests.
Violence continued over the weekend and included a high profile assassination attempt. Saturday, Alsumaria reported that Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani was the target of assassination attempt that left him unharmed but injured two members of his security detail. It was a bombing between Baghdad and Falluja. Petra refers to him as "an outspoken critic of the government of Prime Minister Noui Maliki."
Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, came in first in the March 2010 Parliamentary elections. Nouri got a second term as prime minister despite his State of Law coming in second due to the fact that the White House backed him and then the White House apparently lied to the political blocs getting them to sign a contract, the Erbil Agreement, that they said they would back but the White House quickly forgot about the contract after Nouri used it to get a second term as prime minister but refused to honor the promises made to the political blocs in the contract.
The failure to implement the Erbil Agreement has been publicly called out by Iraqiya, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Kurdish bloc since the summer of 2011.
Saturday, Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reported that, for the tenth time, the Parliament failed to pass the amnesty bill today. Iraqiya accuses State of Law of behind the scene proceedings that helped torpedo the bill. An MP with Iraqiya told All Iraq Newsthat the roots of the failure to pass the amnesty bill can be found in the continuing political crisis in Iraq. The outlet notes that the version of the bill proposed today would have included granting amnesty to Awakenings and various former milita groups who had joined the political process.
The amnesty law could do many things. One thing it could do was end the need for the Justice and Accountability Commission and it's hard to believe that isn't part of the reason that State of Law continues to try to torpedo it. Another thing it would do, and numerous MPs have pointed this out, is calm the situation in Iraq -- for families whose loved ones have disappeared into the Iraqi justice labyrinth and for those who are imprisoned. It could also lead to some death row prisoners being taken off death row. Many Sunnis believe the huge number of executions taking place in Iraq are Nouri's efforts to kill as many Sunnis as possible before an amnesty law passes.
So far this year, Iraq is known to have executed 119 people. It has ignored calls from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others to impose a moratorium on the death penalty. Despite the fact that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani insists he is against the death penalty and regularly basks in applause for that stance, he has not blocked one execution. (His 'opposition' is refusing to sign the death warrants, leaving it for a vice president to sign it. As president, he could object to any or all executions and stop them immediately. He refuses to use that power.)
The amnesty bill wasn't the only thing the Parliament didn't pass today. Alsumaria notes the infrastructure bill did not become law and that the Kurdistan Alliance is stating that they need to know what projects they are voting for. State of Law MP Hadi al-Yasiri tells All Iraq News that if the infrastructure law is blocked, they will take retaliation. What does he mean? Al Mada explains it: State of Law is threatening it will dissolve the Parliament if the infrastructure law is not passed as is. Iraqiya MP Haidar al-Mullah explains that State of law wants billions authorized for Nouri to spend but will not detail on what and that their fears and concerns are brushed aside. He offers that the bill is intended to allow State of Law to remain in power -- while pretending to be about infrastructure -- when they've had six years to address the situation but haven't and that the bill, as written, is ripe for theft and corruption.
Today Al Mada reports Yassin Majeed, an MP with Nouri's State of Law, is declaring that KRG President Massoud Barzani is a threat to Iraq. Majeed held a press conference outside Parliament to denounce Barzani. Alsumaria notes that among Barzani's supposed outrageous offenses is objecting to the infrastructure bill and objecting to the recent weapons shopping spree Nouri's been on ($1 billion dollar deal with the Czech Republic, $4.2 billion dollar deal with Russia). All Iraq News notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a statement noting that, at a time when they are trying to resolve the current political crisis, the remarks are not helpful.
Nouri's shopping spree took him out of Iraq last week. Tuesday, he signed a deal in Moscow where Iraq would pay Russia $4.2 billion dollars for various weapons. Thursday found Nouri in Prague signing a weapons deal worth $1 billion. Today, Def Pro News adds, "Defence ministers also discussed possible delivery of new small arms from the Ceska Zbrojovka Uhersky Brod to Iraq and Czech offer to modernise T-72 tanks of Iraqi Armed Forces. " The Khaleej Times editorial board argues, "Political pundits either see this move as flexing of muscles or a cautiously calculated move by Baghdad to realign itself with Moscow as the war hysteria looms large over Syria. However, the deal indeed is a clear sign that Iraq is prepared to look beyond Washington for weapons." Former CIA analyst and visiting Georgetown University professor Paul R. Pillar offers:
We can draw several implications from this news. One is that it fills in further the picture of what legacy was left in Iraq by the US war that ousted Saddam. The regime that emerged from the rubble is not only increasingly authoritarian and narrowly sectarian and not only chummy with Iran; it also is becoming a client of Moscow. A trifecta of failure.
A second lesson concerns the notion that committing military support to a new regime in the making is essential for having a good relationship with it and to be considered a friend rather than an adversary once such a regime comes to power. This idea is being heard increasingly as an argument for doing more to assist rebels in Syria.
We need to get in on the ground floor with the new bunch and accept risks and commit major resources, it is said, in order to be held in favor by whatever regime emerges fromthatrubble. But the United States got in on the ground floor more than once in Iraq — with the Baathists in 1958 and with the successors to Saddam after he was overthrown. In the latter case it did so with the expenditure of enormous resources. And look how much friendship and influence it bought.
Finally, the fact that Iraq's latest turn is reminiscent of what happened in the late 1950s suggests that the arrow of time in the Middle East does not point as much in one direction as many like to think it does. The progression of events there, even with pushes or leadership by the United States, does not necessarily run in the direction of more political freedom, more free enterprise, or whatever.
Friday, Aswat al-Iraq reported that Iraqiya MP Itab al-Douri was calling for Nouri to appear before Parliament to clarify a few questions and that she also declared "the contracted weapons should be of the best and modern arms to enable Iraq facing the internal and external challenges, as well as repelling any foreign aggression."
Moving over to England, the Ministry of Defence created the Iraq Historic Allegations Team some time ago. November 1, 2010, the MoD was proclaiming, "The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which will investigate allegations of abuse of Iraqi citizens by British Service personnel, has now started work, Minister for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey announced today. The team is led by a retired senior civilian policeman and consists of military and ex-civilian police detectives." Harvey was quoted then stating, "These allegations [of abuse] are as yet unproven, but their existence is corrosive to both the morale and reputation of our armed forces." The MoD had no proud proclamations last week as the Iraq Historic Allegations Team has its most high profile media moment so far. Thursday, Ian Cobain (Guardian) reported MoD was reeling from charges that IHAT was conduction "a whitewash" and Louise Thomas had stepped down from the team: "Thomas, 45, a former Wren who also served as a police officer for five years, told the Guardian she had seen around 1,600 videos of interrogation sessions, a number of which showed prisoners being abused, humiliated and threatened. They suggested that some of the detainees were being subject to extreme sleep deprivation and beaten between interrogation sessions." The Telegraph of London notes the videos in question "were recorded at an interrogation centre in Basra operated by the Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT), in the South-East of Iraq, between March 2003 and December 2008. In November 2010 JFIT was described in the high court by lawyers for the prisoners as 'Britain's Abu Ghraib'." Ian Cobain reports also that despite the MoD declaring in November 2011 that the Royal Military Police would be removed from the committee, Thomas explains they have remained with the investigation. This despite the fact that "[m]embers of the same unit had been involved in the detention of prisoners during the six-year occupation."
Today in the United States the White House is pounding chests. Why? To cover their weakness and the truth. Last Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing into the September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. (Community coverage includes "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "2 disgrace in the Committee hearing," Wally's "The White House's Jimmy Carter moment" and Kat's "What we learned at today's hearing.") The media did a very poor job of covering the hearing, as Ava and I noted Sunday, choosing to either ignore it or cover trivia as opposed to the actual news emerging from the hearing. Before the bad coverage began, the White House had been worried that the various deceptions might be made public (and the American public might start asking why someone in the government -- not the FBI -- has video of the attack and will not release it to Congress) and so they staged a press conference in Libya -- that provided nothing -- to distract the media. (Again, the lazy media was already distracted.) During the Benghazi attack, as Ava and I pointed out, not only were four Americans working on diplomacy killed, but the CIA was also under attack. If you paid attention in the hearing -- especially to objections about classified material and about a photographic map of the area the State Dept was using as a visual -- you grasped that the CIA was present during the attacks. It appears the CIA was blindsided by the attack. The lie that the intelligence community got it wrong is a lie. CIA agents under attack do not make a point to mistake attackers with modern weapons for protesters.
As the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi unfolded, the intelligence community did not start trumpeting that this was inspired by an anti-Muslim video. Having worked "breaking news crises" like this as both an analyst at CIA and as a Counter Terrorism official at State, the so-called "intel" community is really not consulted or at the forefront of the information flow. That is handled, instead, through action officers and watch centers. In this case, for example, once the attack started on the Benghazi Consulate, someone at that site literally got on the phone and alerted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Command Post back in DC that an incident was underway. The DS Command Center in turn alerted the State Department OPs Center.
This led to a NOIWON alert. NOIWON is an acronym for the National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer's Network. The "news" of the attack on the consulate was immediately shared via a secure telephone conference call with reps from the White House Situation Room, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, DIA, NSA and NCTC. Within an hour of the NOIWON alert, the intel bureaucracy was alerted and preparing briefs for principals.
I know for a fact that the briefs prepared that night, as the attack unfolded, for senior US military commanders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, specifically identified the group believed to be responsible for the attack and identified prior intelligence pointing to planning by that group. None of those briefs claimed or insisted that this attack was the result of "spontaneous mob violence" in response to some stupid movie. The decision to seize on the riot in Cairo as a pretext to explain the attack in Benghazi was a political decision by the White House. It was not a consequence of "intelligence analysis."
In fact, when an event like Benghazi is unfolding, the intel community rarely would take a definitive position. It would identify a variety of possible causes or perpetrators. What is stunning about the briefings presented on 9-11 and 9-12 to senior U.S. military officials is that there was a high degree of confidence that the attack in Benghazi was carried out by a group with ties to Al Qaeda.
WHAT ABOUT THE BUDGET CUTS?
That's irrelevant to putting appropriate, requested security assets in place on the ground. A cut in State's budget does not mean that high threat posts are forced to go without adequate security. The audacity and shamelessness of Obama and his team appears to know no boundary. They try to pin their failure to respond to specific security requests from the Diplomatic Security officers on the ground in Libya by a reduction in State Department's "security" budget. What the average American does not know is that most of those cuts will fall on programs like the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Training Program. As the former Deputy in charge of the policy of that program I can assure you that it can be cut without jeopardizing US security. That program has nothing to do directly with protecting the Ambassador.
To distract from the unraveling lies, the White House leaks details of a planned strike team to the Associated Press. A few things on that -- none of which is a slap at the AP which needs to report anything the government's providing. First, notice that the desire to protect Barack the person outweighs national security yet again. As it did before, the White House is leaking details they shouldn't be in order to try to make Barack look better. They may in fact be jeopardizing any retaliation mission US forces might be planning. It's strange that alleged leaking gets Bradley Manning locked away without trial for over 500-plus days but White House leakers of classified information to the press never seem to be arrested. Second, Barack may be able to pull this lie off, to trick the American people through the election. But the truth will come out and if he thinks he's had to struggle for support this year, imagine how much worse it'll be -- from Congress and the public -- when we all grasp that the YouTube video was a lie the White House told the American people, that it was a lie and the White House knew it before they ever repeated it, that it was a lie crafted to benefit the Obama re-election campaign, that Barack went to Las Vegas for a fundraiser instead of addressing a terrorist attack?