Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, November 6, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Taji is slammed with a bombing, Nouri (at present) can't get the support he needs to form a majority-government, Moqtada al-Sadr continues to present as a leader, Nouri and his Cabinet attempt to gut the food ration card system, the European press appears to miss that the cards have more than one use, Ayad Allawi says Nouri will appear before Parliament, Massoud Barzani finishes up a tour of the region, and more.
In the United States today, a presidential election is being held.  Alastair Reith (CounterPunch) explores Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of the lies being told:
However, both candidates are neglecting to mention a few things about America's 'total withdrawal'.
Privatisation of occupation
A small number of troops will remain in the country, with the Office of Security Cooperation directing the activities of more than 100 military personnel tasked with training Iraq's army and helping to oversee continuing multi-billion dollar arms sales to the Iraqi military.
The US embassy in Baghdad is the largest and most expensive in the world, with 17,000 staff all operating under legal immunity.
There are also consulates in Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk, each with upwards of 1000 employees.
These figures include more than just the bureaucrats and diplomats that immediately spring to mind – the embassy also houses CIA officers, intelligence analysts, defence attaches and upwards of 5,000 security contractors.
In place of uniformed soldiers, America's activities in Iraq are increasingly carried out by thousands of defence contractors – essentially mercenaries operating under the aegis of the US government.
They do everything from peeling potatoes to providing diplomats and businessmen with armed security details.
Exact figures and details of precise activities are hard to come by, but the latest report from US Central Command details 7,336 contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq.
It's not just the Pentagon outsourcing its boots on the ground – when other government agencies (such as the US State Department) are factored in the numbers become closer to 13,500.
While Obama and Romney cross verbal swords over the withdrawal of troops and how it took place, the privatisation of America's significant and ongoing presence in Iraq does not rate a mention.
Also noting the US election is Wael Grace (Al Mada) who points out that Barack's 'withdrawal' has left behind US military as "trainers" and Marines guarding the US diplomatic staff as well as contractors.
Taji has been slammed by a bombing which has left many dead and many injured. Reuters quotes police officer Ahmed Khalef stating, "There were army trainees leaving the base and small buses were waiting for them when the explosion took place.  We immediately started to rescue the wounded.  You could smell charred bodies."   Earlier today, Adam Schreck (AP) reported 27 dead (and possibly a suicide bomber) and over forty injured.  Hours later, Schreck updated to 33 dead and fifty-six injured.  The Frontier Post notes the suicide car bombing was "at the entrance to an Iraqi army base" where recruits were lining up.  AFP adds, "The explosion appears to have occurred as they left the base at lunchtime. But sources told the AFP news agency there had also been a recruitment event on Tuesday to welcome potential new soldiers. Such events have been targeted by militants in the past."  Yesterday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported a Taji car bombing as well -- one that claimed 1 life and left seven injured.
Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) quotes Mohamed Talal who was hoping to enlist, "I was heading to the place near the parking lot to check my name when all of sudden a strong explosion happened where people were gathering.  I turned and started to run, and I began to feel shrapnel in my back and I fell to the ground."
Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) states, "Our police source said that the attack was a parked car bomb, and not a suicide blast."  Reuters notes that the death toll has risen,  "A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-filled car into soldiers outside an army base near Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 31 people and injuring tens more in one of the worst attacks this year on the country's military."
Also on violence, All Iraq News notes that today Iraqiya MP Hamid al-Mutlaq called for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani to hold responsible whomever killed Diyala Province's Mohammed Jassim al-Mikdadi and strung the man's body up on an electric pole afterwards.
In other disturbing news, All Iraq News reports Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson declared today the intent to do away with the ration cards.  Earlier this year, Stan Cox (Al Jazeera) explained the food ration card system:
For more than two decades, Iraq has been running what the World Food Program (WFP) has called "the largest public food program operating in the world today". The system dates back to August 1990, when President Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait. In response, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 661, imposing sanctions and blocking virtually all trade with the country. The government of Iraq quickly established a PDS to provide food and other basic necessities to all Iraqis. Little did they know the system would remain in place for more than 20 years.
Because sanctions hampered Iraq's ability to sell oil or buy food, hardship intensified in the years following the 1991 Gulf War that ousted Iraqi troops from Kuwait. In 1995, Security Council Resolution 986 created the UN Oil-for-Food Program, and the PDS was expanded. But, through the sanctions period and during the almost nine years of occupation that followed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, a significant portion of the population remained vulnerable to hunger.
Nouri's spokesperson is asserting that they will replace it with the equivalent of US $12 in cash per month and that this will cut down on corruption.  No, it wouldn't.  Corruption isn't even an issue.  Though some -- even some at the UN -- have called for reform, this program has been effective, especially before Nouri came into power (spring 2006) and began gutting it.  All Iraq News reports that Zia al-Asadi, the secretary-general of the Sadr bloc, has declared that they reject the decision and do not see the proposed alternative being an adequate substitute.  Independent MP Jawad Albzona dismisses the move and says the amount being offered is "trivial" and will not help anyoneIraqiya also calls out the decision stating that the answer was to improve the ration card system, not do away with it.  They feel this will lead to an increase in food pricesIraqiya MP Adnan al-Janabi tells All Iraq News that ending the ration card system would be a disaster.    AFP may be the only one filing an English language report.  I'm not sure why they bothered.
Are we not supposed to think? I'm sorry, I thought humans were the thinking animal.  I thought we processed.  I thought we did more than just offered he-said, she-said.  Seems to me if Nouri's killing off the ration card system, you ask a few questions, you make a few observations.
And I'm real sorry but it's not just about the food or has the press been sleeping for the last years? 
Pretend I am an Iraqi.  I want to vote in the provincial elections scheduled for early next year.  And I want to vote in the parliamentary elections which are supposed to take place in 2014.  How do I do that?
Currently -- pay attention AFP -- I would do as I have done since the US invasion.  I would display a food ration card.  This is the identification system that's used.
And a move away from the card system?  With an election coming up and one supposed to follow within 12 months after the provincial elections?  I think it's safe to argue it's a pretty damn stupid time to drop the food ration cards.  Nouri can't even pull off a census.  We're supposed to believe he can handle voter registration?
Immediately someone wearing a dunce cap insists, "Well they can end the program and just use the cards."  Yes, they can.  If no new voters are coming into the process.  Good thing Iraq's got a population that rends old, right?  Good thing -- Oh, wait.  Iraq's median age is 20-years.  Iraq has an incredibly young population and the percentage that will be coming of age for the parliamentary election is a significant proportion of Iraq's estimated 30 million people. 
So what are you telling us?  The ration card system is ending but you're still going to issue cards for the next two years to take care of the voting issue?
We've talked about what is.  Let's note what this may be based on past history: Yet another attempt by Nouri to skew the elections in his own favor. 
For those who've forgotten, Iraq is in the midst of a political crisis -- one caused by Nouri al-Maliki.  Unhappy that his State of Law did not come in first in the 2010 parliamentary elections, Nouri dugs his heels in for 8 months while the US government backed him and figured out a way to disregard the Iraq Constitution, the will of the people and the vote.  The White House decided a contract could sidestep all the issues.  So the 8 month political stalemate ended in November 2010 with Nouri and the leaders of the other political blocs signing the Erbil Agreement.  The contract had concessions from Nouri (such as the formation of an independent national security commission, Article 140 of the Constitution finally be implemented, and more) and, in return, the blocs agreed to let Nouri have a second term as prime minister.  Nouri used it to get that second term and then trashed the contract, refused to honor it.  By the summer of 2011, it was obvious that Nouri didn't -- as the US State Department repeatedly lied -- just need more time.  No, Nouri wasn't going to follow the contract.  That's when Moqtada al-Sadr, the Kurds and Iraqiya began demanding that the Erbil Agreement be honored.  Nouri's failure to honor the contract started political stalemate II.  His desire to target Sunnis and Iraqiya led to the political crisis. 
Mohammed Sabah (Al Mada) reports today that Nouri's wish to further disregard the votes, the voters and the other parties (including Iraqiya which won the parliamentary election) has been stymied for while he still wants to form a "majority-government" (he would block out political rivals), he's worried that both Iraqiya and the Kurds would prevent him from forming that if he dissolved the current government.  It's a sign of just howed cowed and cowardly the White House is that Nouri's trying to form a majority-State of Law-government and they're not saying a word.  The runner up in the 2010 election is trying to seize total control of the government and the White House is too chicken to speak up publicly.  Al Rafidayn reports that not only is the National Alliance (Shi'ite party led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari) split on Nouri's plan for a majority government but the Sadr bloc has also made clear that they oppose it.  Let's again note, as we have since 2010, Moqtada al-Sadr wants to be the next prime minister of Iraq.  In the last years, he's gone out of his way to make moves and take positions that are seen as inclusive of all Iraqis.  And reportedly (this is what the US government was told), one of the reasons Moqtada finally agreed to back Nouri on the second term in 2010 was because the Iranian government told Moqtada, come 2014, they would back him.  A little while ago, when oil rich Iraq, according to Nouri, had no oil surplus funds to share with the people, Moqtada cried foul.  He's refused to leave that issue alone and Nouri's been forced to admit that there are funds.  Moqtada's still not leaving it alone.  All Iraq News reports that a delegation from the Sadr bloc met today with Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi to discuss this issue and find out what the progess was on it.  The bloc issued a statement noting they will continue to stay focused on this and ensure that the country and its children benefit from the oil.
Moqtada is positioning himself to be Iraq's future prime minister.  There's no reason he shouldn't but he is, to the White House, "Iraq's radical cleric."  If they wanted to stop Moqtada (and they do), the easiest way would have been to back Iraqiya in 2010 when it won the parliamentary elections.  Then Ayad Allawi would be prime minister (most likely it would have been him, he is the head of Iraqiya) and if Iraqis were even just a little bit better off, he'd be sailing into another term in 2014.  Instead, the White-House-dreaded Moqtada may be the one.  Al Mada reports that Allawi declared yesterday that the political crisis has led to serious differences and that Nouri must appear before Parliament as has been requested.  If the work is too much for Nouri, Allawi says, then Nouri can leave the work to others because many would be happy to take on Nouri's job.
Another person unafraid to tell Nouri "enough" is KRG President Massoud Barzani.  (When Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was in the KRG and Nouri was demanding that the KRG hand al-Hashemi over to Baghdad, President Jalal Talabani buckled and al-Hashemi had to get the support of Barzani who, unlike Talabani, doesn't stick a finger in the air to determine what way the wind is blowing before making a decision.)  Barzani has just wrapped up a regional tour.   Yesterday, Barzani met with  Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiyah, the Deputy Prime Minister in Qatar, and, while in Qatar for several days, he met with other government officials to discuss relations between the two countries and common sides.  Today, he met with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to discuss economic opportunties and investments between Qatar and the KRG.  And Barzani returned to the KRG late this evening.
Al Mada reports that Baghdad made third dirtiest capital on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's ranking as a result of environmental pollution. Meanwhile  All Iraq News reports Iraq's Ministry of the Environment is noting the waste in the Khasa River water in Kirkuk -- oil and construction materials.
Turning to England, as noted at War Criminal Tony Blair's online office, he decided to kick off the work week with another speech, this one to the Iraq Britain Business Council's 4th London Conference.  To them, he declared  "So these are all compelling reasons for Britain and British investment to be part of Iraq's future. But, naturally, in addition, to the economic and industrial reasons, British forces helped liberate Iraq from Saddam and for years with much heroism and sacrifice helped Basrah survive the sectarian aftermath. They should be proud of what they achieved. "

Many hearing his remarks probably thought of the news in June about efforts in the UK to ensure that those who tortured Iraqis not be legally punished.  From Russia Today:

In 2003, dozens of men were allegedly hooded, stripped and beaten in secret camps across Iraq. One innocent civilian has reportedly died aboard a Royal Air Force helicopter, and a group of 63 others are still considered missing after being taken to another secret prison located in an oil pump station.
The shocking revelation is worsened by the fact that these events – which, if proven true, are clear violations of international law – were apparently sanctioned by top lawyers in the British Ministry of Defense, and kept secret from the Army's lawyer on the ground in Iraq.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the chief British Army lawyer in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, told the Mail on Sunday that what went on in this secret prison network amounted to "war crimes."

As news was breaking of the War Criminal and former British Prime Minister's speech was breaking,  Kitbat already had filed a story about that attempted cover up in June.  Meanwhile Iraq's a real mess.  If you haven't figured that out, a British official rushes to make it clear today that the fault lies with the United States, not with England.  Charles Maggs (Politics UK) reports:
Peter Mandelson has admitted Tony Blair made a mistake invading Iraq, as he did not foresee the prolonged violence that was to engulf the country.
In an interview with Esquire magazine, the former king of spin said Blair had been expecting a "short, sharp success" rather than eight years of sectarian killing.
"He expected it, obviously, not to be a walk in the park but to be a short, sweet success with the downfall of Saddam," he said.
"But it didn't turn out like that, which was more the Americans' fault than his, but I think he should have gone into it with his eyes wider open."
Sorry, Mandelson, Tony didn't go to war with Iraq inspite of the US, in went to war in partnership with the US.  That means if the US is 'at fault,' so is War Criminal Tony.  We are judged by who we hop in bed with.  As Stop The War Coalition notes, that wasn't War Criminal Tony's only public event this month:

Protest Tuesday 13 November 11am
War criminals & arms dealers out of our universities
Main Entrance, University College London WC1E 6BT

Tony Blair, John Reid and Michael Gove are among the speakers at the inaugural conference of the UCL Institute for Security & Resilience Studies.
Join Stop the War to protest against war criminals like Tony Blair and his friends speaking at a conference to promote the interests of arms dealers in our universities.
What's Tony doing?  What a good whore does, put out when paid.  Stop The War Coalition explains:
ON TUESDAY 13 NOVEMBER, Tony Blair will be the headline speaker for the inaugural conference of University College London's Institute for Security & Resilience Studies (ISRS).
If you would like to attend Building an ethos of Resilience – A new Manifesto for Business, it costs just £714 a ticket -- or £354 at the "not for profit"rate.
This is a departure from Mr Blair's recent public engagements, which have focused more on the religious community. It is, however, perhaps more in tune with his employment by the government of Kazakhstan, who currently pay him £8 million a year to whitewash their human rights record.
The ISRS was founded in 2008 by former MP John Reid. Reid was a key Blair ally in the run-up to the Iraq war and an 'enforcer' within the Labour Party. He was appointed Home Secretary following Robin Cook's resignation to ensure few others would follow suit.
Reid was known in Whitehall as 'Minister for Newsnight' for his skill in pushing the Bush/Blair line in media appearances. The invasion of Iraq may well be remembered as 'Blair's war', and not without some justification. But there are many people who bear a great deal of responsibility for that criminal act. John Reid is one of them.
Maybe the November 13th appearance will see someone attempt to Arrest Blair.  The website notes it's already paid out money to several who made attempts to Arrest Blair:

Amount in the pot at 28.08.12: £7,262.67

First payment to Grace McCann: £2,619.67
Second payment to David Cronin: £2,801.98
Third payment to Kate O'Sullivan: £3,129.02
Forth payment to Tom Grundy: £2,420.89
Back to the US where already some states are being called (yes, voting continues on the West Coast -- never stops the 'news' industry from predicting an outcome), if tonight's results leave you unhappy, let's join Elaine in noting Brian Montopoli's "Will The Election Really Change Anything?"  (CBS News):

Yet no matter who wins on Tuesday, much of what goes on in Washington won't be all that different.
That's because there are significant limits on what a president can do without a compliant Congress. And forecasters expect the House to remain in Republican hands and the Senate to remain in Democratic hands. That sets the stage for the same Congressional gridlock we've seen over the past four years, when Congress' approval rating has hovered around 10 percent.
And let's say that Mr. Obama wins the election and the House also, improbably, ends up in Democratic hands. Even if Democrats hold the Senate, they still almost certainly won't have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, which will make it easy for Republicans to block many of their policy goals.
On the flip side, let's say Romney wins and Republicans take control of the Senate and hang onto the House. Republicans also wouldn't have 60 Senate votes, and while either party could use a maneuver called "reconciliation" to circumvent the filibuster on certain budget matters - this is what Republicans want to use to block the health care law from going into effect - the minority would still have significant power to stymie the majority.