Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, December 4, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri is hit with tidal waves of bad news, Nouri's State of Law suffers a high profile defection, his trip to Iran is called out, polls suggest State of Law is in third place, in the US continued revelations of illegal spying, and more.

Stephen McDonnell (Australia's ABC News) reports that US Vice President Joe Biden was in China today talking about trust, "Candour generates trust.  Trust is the basis on which real change, constructive change, is made."  It was really the wrong day for US officials to be preaching 'trust,' on the day when major revelations about NSA spying broke.   It could have been worse possibly.  For example, Biden could have been making those remarks in Cuba November 24th -- when Pravda reported:

The Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed the existence of a subversive program of six million dollars against Cuba. This information was known due to an error when using an unprotected line to send documents to U.S. diplomats in Havana. The plan was part of the semi-clandestine ploy to overthrow the communist government.
The material reveals that the entity launched last July the initiative SOL-OAA-13-00110 and at least 20 NGOs requested funding for the program which was to train dissidents in Cuba in the next three years, with a fund of $6 million. The goal was to provide opportunities for the opponents of the revolution traveling abroad , where they would acquire technical skills in a "number of areas considered important for the development of democracy and civil society" in Cuba,  in clear subversion of the political order.

At the US State Dept Press briefing today, spokesperson Marie Harf was jabbering away about the "critical leadership role" played by the US government.

QUESTION: Marie, do you have a response to the Pew Research poll that was released yesterday which found that for the first time since the polls started, a majority of Americans say that the U.S. plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than ever before?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen that poll. I’m happy to take a look at the numbers and see if I have anything additional to say on it. I think we’ve been very clear that -- in our policies all around the world that the U.S. plays a critical leadership role, and whether it’s economically, diplomatically, and a host of areas. And that’s why you see the Secretary traveling so much around the world to promote our interests and our values and talk about this all the time with different world leaders. So I would, I think, take issue with the notion, but I’m happy to look at the numbers and see if I have more analysis for you of it.

Poor Harf, she's always got at least one foot in her mouth.  The the illegal spying?  This evening Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani (Washington Post) filed a major report:

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The Washington Post has an illustrated walk through or flow chart on how this is taking place.  Dana Liebelson (Mother Jones) goes through the Post's report and identifies five revelations including, "This is the big one -- 'A central feature of each of these tools is that they do not rely on knowing a particulat target in advance, or even suspecting one.  They operate on the full universe of data in the NSA's [repository] which stores trillions of metadata records, of which a large but unknown fraction include locations,' wrote the Post.  An intelligence lawyer said the data collection is not covered by the Fourth Amendment, which outlaws unreasonable searches and seizures."

The ACLU issued the following statement today:

December 4, 2013
NEW YORK – The NSA is tracking the locations of a huge number of cell phones around the world, according to an article published today by The Washington Post. The report, based on documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, says the agency is analyzing the movements of many millions of cell phones worldwide, including those belonging to Americans travelling abroad. Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, had this reaction:
“It is staggering that a location-tracking program on this scale could be implemented without any public debate, particularly given the substantial number of Americans having their movements recorded by the government. The paths that we travel every day can reveal an extraordinary amount about our political, professional, and intimate relationships. The dragnet surveillance of hundreds of millions of cell phones flouts our international obligation to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans alike. The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that by their very nature record the movements of a huge number of innocent people.”
More information on NSA spying is at:

Michael Winter (USA Today) notes, "The NSA said it does not intentionally target Americans' whereabouts but gets location data 'incidentally,' which the agency has declared lawful and aimed at foreign intelligence targets."  Oh, well then, that takes care of it because the NSA would never lie.  Oops, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence lied to Congress.  Fred Kaplan (Slate) observed in June:

Back at an open congressional hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” As we all now know, he was lying.

We also now know that Clapper knew he was lying.

Not only did Clapper lie but the White House sent the message that it was okay for Clapper to lie.  President Barack Obama sent this message by refusing to call for Clapper's immediate resignation.  Under Barack Obama, it is acceptable to lie to the Congress and the American people.  When an administration has no ethics, it's one scandal after another (thereby summing up 2013).  The lying never ends.  And it's not limited to the White House.  As Ali Watkins (McClatchy Newspaper) reminds, Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke about this spying in October but the NSA said she was wrong and Feinstein then avoided the press and had a statement issued about her being mistaken in her statements.

Monday, Kevin Gosztola (FireDogLake) reported:

A sheet of talking points for employees of the National Security Agency and Central Security Services, was sent out ahead of Thanksgiving to help guide conversations with family and friends during the holiday season.
Firedoglake obtained a copy of a two-page document that was sent out on November 22. It was clearly put together for rebutting statements about the NSA from news stories on documents disclosed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, and it encouraged employees to “share the following points with family members and close friends.”

The “talking points” sheet suggests that employees make five key points: (1) NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation”; (2) NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy; (3) NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world; (4) The people who work for NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills who make sacrifices to help protect the freedoms we all cherish; (5) NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers. (No emphasis added. Underlines appear in the document.)

Creating an official series of talking points which are secretly distributed to government employees?  That's dangerously close to a form of propaganda that's illegal in the United States -- the sort of propaganda which legally prevents The Voice of America from broadcasting over US radio airwaves.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) observes, "The NSA defends this program, arguing (as it always does) that there's nothing wrong with doing what it's doing. Billions of people living around the globe might disagree."  Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) rebuts the talking points here.

The Guardian's a British newspaper and today's revelations are being covered by the world press.  Hayley Dixon (Telegraph of London) notes:

 The latest leaks come as Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, called for an inquiry into state surveillance.
Mr Baker defended the Guardian's publication of secret information.

When asked by the New Statesman whether he would like to see an inquiry into the allegations, he said: "Yes. In my view, it's perfectly reasonable for the Guardian to raise questions about the balance between the state and the individual to take account of the fact that technology has moved on a huge amount and the law was drafted when we didn't have the means of communication we do now – Skype and everything else – and the capacity of the security services, or the Americans, to engage in trawling for stuff." 

Australia's The Age carries the Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report.  The Philippine Star runs Kimberly Dozier's AP report.  The Press Trust of India covers the latest revelations here.  Germany's Deutsche Welle covers it here.  Iran's Press TV covers it here.

One country whose media isn't yet covering the story is Iraq.  They have plenty to cover already with campaign season taking place and a major defection from Nouri's political coalition.

State of Law is the coalition Nouri created.  Today it's the coalition with a high profile defection.  Iraq Times notes that State of Law's leader in Parliament, Izzat al-Shahbandar, is the topic of speculation with rumors flying that he had resigned from State of Law.  Alsumaria then reported that they could confirm the resignation via multiple sources.  Hours later, All Iraq News noted Izzat al-Shahbander had publicly announced his resignation and declared, "The SLC [State of Law Coalition] turned into a sectarian coalition."  All Iraq News also noted that al-Shahbander met with cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday.  Kitabat quotes him stating that Nouri's positions and actions do not reflect his own beliefs and he cites Nouri's refusal to work with political opponents or to respect the ongoing sit-ins.

This is a major blow to Nouri.  It's a loss at a time when Nouri's personal prestige was already on the decline.  It's a loss that al-Shahbander and Moqtada can spin as 'the building of a new Iraq.'  The two were at odds for some time.  In fact, in 2011, the Sadr bloc was accusing al-Shahbander (and other State of Law MPs -- but they specifically named al-Shahbander) of procuring women for Nouri in the Green Zone. Now that can be put behind them, is the message, and the unity and good of Iraq can instead be embraced.

This is a very damaging political move for Nouri.  He's an all around failure.  His big photo-op at the White House didn't lead to praise in Iraq -- a number of outlets ran photos of a visibly bored Barack turned away from Nouri who sat there looking pathetic.  The private rebuke from the European Union (over the attacks on human rights in Iraq) became public in the media.

There's also the perception that Nouri is bleeding supporters.  I do not interpret the 2013 provincial elections that way but the western press does.  To lose the head of your bloc in Parliament on top of that?  With elections just month away?

Alsumaria reports on polls that show State of Law to be in third place among the voters.   Iraq Times reports former Minister of Finance Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi states his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution is winning the polls, followed by the Sadr bloc and then third-placed Nouri.  He also rejects the notion that anyone should serve more than two terms as prime minister and the insisting (by Dawa) that if Nouri's not prime minister the prime minister must still be a member of the Dawa Party.

It's not a good week for Nouri.

Iraqiya won the 2010 elections which meant Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi should have been named prime minister.  That did not happen.  But today Allawi Tweets a message (with video) calling on Iraqis to participate in the elections and ensure that the elections are free and fair.

يجب على كلٍ منا أن يؤدي دوره ويعطي للآخر وهذا من خلال قرار الشعب العراقي الكريم في انتخابات حرة نزيهة. نرفق لكم...

Allawi did not become prime minister because the White House voided the election results.  They did this by brokering a contract (The Erbil Agreement) that gave Nouri a second term he did not win.  The political blocs signed off on the contract, under heavy US pressure, for two reasons: (a) it was now November, 8 months after the elections and Nouri's refusal to step down had brought the governmnet to a standstill for 8 months and (b) in exchange for a second term, Nouri agreed to do certain things (such as implement Article 140 of the Iraqi Constituion).  Nouri never lived up to his contractual promises.

Yesterday, Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Al-Monitor) reported that few Iraqis have bothered to update their records for voting:

The low number of voters who showed up to update their records in preparation for the legislative elections in April 2014 is worrisome and raises questions about the will for change. The figures leaked from the Electoral Commission indicate that fewer than 500,000 people updated their records days before the expiration of the statutory period.
Even though leaders such as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on voters to update their records, this failed to raise the participation rates to numbers significant enough to make an impact.
This raises concerns of political leaders such as Ethel Nujaifi, the governor of Mosul, who said that only 4% of Mosul’s Arabs showed up to update their records.

It's a bit difficult to get excited about voting when the US government keeps overturning your votes.  First, in 2006, Bully Boy Bush rejected the Iraqi Parliament's choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jafaari) and insisted on installing Nouri al-Maliki then, in 2010, Barack Obama insisted Nouri get a second term the Iraqi voters vetoed.  Why exactly are they supposed to be eager to vote?

They keep voting and the US government keeps overturning their votes.

Barack Obama seriously harmed Iraq's chances to become a democracy when he refused to honor the Iraqi's people voice and instead dismissed the votes to back Nouri.

Now Nouri wants a third term.

Today, he went to Iran.  MP Amir al-Kinani tells All Iraq News, "Maliki's visit to Iran is to ensure his nomination as the PM of Iraq for the third term and not, as stated, about congratulating the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, for his nomination as the President of Iran because he was not elected recently.  Maliki's political attempts are to get the third post as the PM post where he had gone to USA before for the same purpose."  Fars News Agency reports on Nouri's visit, "During the news conference in the Iranian capital today, Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki reiterated the necessity for increasing exchange of visits between the two countries’ businessmen and trade officials in a bid to further consolidate Iran-Iraq economic ties."  Iraq Times reports MP Zala Naftiji, who serves on Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, has denounced the visit noting that they were only informed of it this week and informed of it by the media, not Nouri's office.  All Iraq News quotes Moqtada al-Sadr describing the government as "weak and unable to protect itself."

In more bad news for Nouri, Jaclyn Jaeger (Compliance Week) reports, "Spain, Libya, and Iraq are just a few countries who fared worst than last year in Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Spain slipped from 30th place in 2012 to 40th this year out of 177 countries around the world where perceptions about corruption were measured. Libya fell 12 places from 160 in 2012 to 172 in 2013; Iraq also from 169th place in 2012 to 171 in 2013."

National Iraqi News Agency reports that former police chief Colonel Abdullah al-Jabouri was shot dead in Shirqat, a Mosul bombing left three police officers injured, a Hadeetha bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured, "the director of the psychiatric department of Yarmouk hospital" was shot while "near Omi-Ttobool mosque" today (the doctor was either injured or killed -- it's not clear which), a Mosul grenade attack left two people injured, an attack on a police chekpoint in al-Hamidhiyah left 3 police officers dead and four more injured, a Falluja attack left 1 police officer dead and another injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers with two more left injured, a Mosul shooting left 1 man dead and his brother injured, 2 people were shot dead in Ramadi, a Qaim roadside bombing left 1 Iraqi soldier dead and four more injured, a Muqdadiyah roadside bombing left four people injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing left four people injured, a Yathrib sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left two more people injured, the federal police shot dead 1 suspect "southwest of Bahgdad," and a Kirkuk bombing and shootings left 5 people dead and sixty more injured.

From Monday's snapshot:

Let's stay with political news out of Iraq.  All Iraq News reports today that arrest warrants have been issued against two members of Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc -- MP Jawad al-Shihaili and Baha al-Araji.  al-Araji is charged with "damaging general properties" and al-Shihaili is charged with "stealing state's revenues."  These warrants come only after Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports MPs are accusing Nouri al-Maliki of misuse of state resources on his recent trip to Basra -- including, Moqtada's bloc pointed out, Nouri offering up land plots.  MPs see the visit as typical Nouri trying to bribe for votes but the difference this time is that a law's been passed to make this illegal.

Tuesday, NINA reported:

A member of the Parliamentary Committee on Integrity, MP for the Ahrar bloc Jawad al-Shayli accused the Dawa Party behind the arrest warrant issued against him.
He said, at a news conference in the House of Representatives today that the judiciary issued an arrest warrant against him and MP Jawad Hasnawi and a memorandum of bringing against the head’sbloc Bahaa al-Araji , accusing the Dawa Party of being behind it , with the aim of political targeting, comparing the work of the Dawa Party, now with Baath Party.
He added : "The warrant relating to charges in accordance with Article 316 of embezzlement of state funds , which means the money of the medical treatment, which he took from the House of Representatives ."
He said : "The MP, of the State of law, Khalid al-Attiyah took four times this expense ," wondering : "Why did not issue an arrest warrant against Al-Attiyah, and many MPs of state of law ," adding : "The aim of these warrants is political targeting ."

Dar Addustour reports today that a judiciary source states the call for the arrests came personally from Nouri.

Meanwhile members of the European Parliament issued the following statement today:

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, senior members from various political groups within the European Parliament condemned the continuation of gross human rights violations in Iran under the Rouhani presidency. They also warned against offering any concessions to the mullahs in return for their hollow gestures on the nuclear dispute, and called for immediate action by the EU, US and the UN to release seven Iranian dissidents taken hostage by the Government of Iraq, and to guarantee the safety and security of the members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in Iraq.
These MEPs were taking part in a major conference at the European Parliament that was organized by Friends of a Free Iran (FoFI). Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of Iranian Resistance, took a leading role in the conference. Rita Süssmuth, former President of the German Bundestag, was another prominent guest. Rajavi pointed out that "if the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is a prelude to the complete implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, it can be considered the beginning of a trend that upsets the regime's internal and external balance.
There is widespread pressure from the Iranian people to end the mullahs' demented and insane nuclear program. Nothing short of the full and complete dismantling of the regime's nuclear program is acceptable."
According to the MEPs, Tehran had no choice but to accept a setback, due to international sanctions and its fear of another mass uprising similar to that of 2009.  But in return, unacceptable concessions were made, especially by the EU and US, including allowing enrichment, doing without the Additional Protocol, and allowing Iran to refuse snap inspections. All of this leaves the key to bomb-making in the mullahs' hands. The MEPs warned if the international community does not head for full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, including a total halt to uranium enrichment and acceptance of the Additional Protocol, the regime will once again covertly advance their bomb-making activities.

"In the nuclear talks in Geneva it was all about smiles, handshakes and diplomacy," said Jim Huggins, a member of the Parliament's Bureau from Ireland. "But at the end of the day we are dealing with a corrupt regime. It is all about cosmetic concessions for Iran only to have the sanctions lifted."
The participants called on the P5+1, especially the US and European countries and Baroness Ashton, to stop making concessions to Tehran on the nuclear issue and to demand complete implementation of Security Council resolutions, full cessation of uranium enrichment, halting of plutonium production projects, and acceptance of the Additional Protocol and snap inspections of suspicious sites.
According to the European Parliamentarians, almost six months after the election of Hassan Rouhani,  human rights condition have deteriorated, the number of recorded executions has already reached 400, the export of terrorism and fundamentalism has intensified and the Iranian regime's meddling in Syria has increased dramatically.
MEPs were vociferously critical of the policies of the West regarding the massacre of Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, in Iraq. On September 1, the forces of the Government of Iraq, at the behest of the Iranian regime, raided Ashraf and executed 52 defenceless residents, members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), as well as taking seven hostage, including six women.
The participants called for an impartial investigation into the massacre and underscored that the EU, especially Baroness Ashton's silence and inaction towards this great crime against humanity is totally unacceptable. They stressed that the EU, US, UN and especially the UN Security Council should force the Iraqi government to live up to its responsibilities and free the seven hostages, while also removing obstructions against providing urgent provisions for the security of Camp Liberty.

Straun Stevenson, President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq who had just come back from a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan warned, "It is time for Baroness Ashton, John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon to face up to the reality, end the appeasement and demand the release of the seven hostages Maliki is holding. They must call for an independent, internal investigation and hold Maliki accountable for the September 1 massacre and the other atrocities in camps Ashraf and Liberty."
Alejo Vidal Quadras, a Vice President of the Parliament added "Lady Ashton still remains silent in the face of the crime against humanity in Camp Ashraf, which is still ongoing... Lady Ashton must call for the release of the hostages and I tell you that EP relations with Iraq will be damaged severely should Iraq not comply."
According to the participants, the US government could and can impel Iraq to free the hostages and provide security for Liberty. If they did so, there would be no need for the ongoing hunger strike by hundreds of Iranians the world over. But, three months after the September 1 attack, even the slightest security measures in Liberty are being opposed by the Iraqi government.

The MEPs pointed out that Maliki is visiting Iran to gain support for his third term as prime minister, something that is opposed by all Iraqi political factions. He counts on Tehran, and in exchange Tehran asks for the complete massacre of the PMOI in Camp Liberty. The conference was also told that there are suspicions that Maliki will use his visit to Tehran to arrange for the seven Ashrafi hostages to be secretly deported to Iran, where they will face certain torture and execution.