Friday, January 17, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Friday, January 17, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue,  Barack wants to arm and train Nouri's killers, BRussells Tribunal talks reality on Iraq, Robert Gates calls for conditions on any arms to Iraq, NPR and Tom Bowman edit out Gen Martin Dempsey's most important remark in an interview, and more.

The topic of Iraq was raised in today's State Dept briefing delivered by spokesperson Jen Psaki.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout about the Deputy Burns meeting with the Iraqi deputy prime minister?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, with the Iraq – mm-hmm.
Deputy Secretary Burns, as part of his regular diplomatic engagement with senior Iraqi officials, met today with Iraqi deputy prime minister – with the Iraqi deputy prime minister to discuss bilateral issues, including the ongoing situation in Anbar Province, the upcoming elections, and our shared commitment towards a long-term partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.

QUESTION: Was any part of that discussion regarding the Iraqi Government seeking arms or increased arms supplies from the United States?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve, of course, seen those reports in the public comments, I guess it would be a more accurate way of referring to them. Certainly, we’re not going to get into a laundry list of FMS support. You’re familiar with what we have provided, the fact that we’re working with Congress on pieces like Apaches. In terms of whether they discussed that or not, I’m happy to see if there’s more detail to provide.

QUESTION: Jen, on the same issue --

MS. PSAKI: Let’s just finish Iraq. Go ahead --

QUESTION: Yeah, on Iraq.

QUESTION: Also, was there any discussion about the willingness by – excuse me – the U.S. military to train Iraqi troops in a third country?

MS. PSAKI: I know there have been reports of that which are, I believe, referring to Jordan which are inaccurate, but --

QUESTION: Jordan, that’s inaccurate --

MS. PSAKI: I can check and see if there’s more about the meeting to read out to address your question as well as Arshad’s.

QUESTION: So is the report inaccurate that the U.S. military is ready to train troops in a third country, or just the part that it might be in Jordan? Which one is accurate?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any more specific details for you beyond the fact that the report that has been specifically referring to Jordan and training and U.S. involvement at that is inaccurate.[i]

QUESTION: In the meeting with – between the Deputy Secretary Burns and Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, has the issue of the sectarian divide come up? The reason I ask this, because Mr. Mutlaq is saying all over the place that basically the sectarian differences are irreconcilable. He’s basically accusing his boss, al-Maliki, of being irreformably sectarian.

MS. PSAKI: Let me check, as I mentioned to Jo and Arshad, if there’s more that we can share about Deputy Secretary Burns’ meeting on all of your specific questions.

QUESTION: The reason I ask this is because the reconciliation has been really at the crux of the issue, but the United States has not taken any steps to sort of take initiative or perhaps lead the initiative on reconciliation.

MS. PSAKI: I think we – the United States has done a great deal to engage the Iraqi Government – not just providing military equipment to Iraq, but also working with all parties to better address the needs of the Iraqi people. We’ve had a range of officials on the ground, including Brett McGurk, as recently as, I believe, a week ago.


MS. PSAKI: We’ve engaged the government closely. We’ve encouraged unity repeatedly and consistently over the course of months. So I would just refute the notion of your question.

And they added this footnote to the transcript:

[i] Spokesperson Psaki understood the question to be about *current* training operations.
As we have said, we do consider the Government of Iraq an essential partner in a common fight against terrorism and our two countries continue to build a mutually beneficial partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement. We remain deeply committed to supporting Iraq in its battle against terrorist threats and in its efforts to advance political and economic development. As part of our support, we seek to offer a broad range of security, counter-terrorism, and combat support capabilities for Iraq to draw on to help meet its significant security challenges in the near term and invest in its future over the longer term.

Let's talk about arming and training.  AFP speaks to an unnamed Defense Dept official, "Pending an agreement with Jordan or another nation to host the effort, the training was "likely" to go ahead as both Baghdad and Washington supported the idea, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity."  Luis Martinez (ABC News) adds:

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Friday there were discussions underway with Iraq about future training possibilities for Iraq’s security forces.  “We are continuing to discuss with the Iraqis how we can train them and how we can keep their security forces at the highest possible levels,” Warren told reporters.
“The department recognizes that it is important for the Iraqis to have a capable force,” said Warren.  He would not detail whether those discussions would have U.S. troops doing the training or where such training might occur if it is agreed to.

Loveday Morris and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) report, "Maliki said during the interview that he would support a new U.S. military training mission for Iraqi counterterrorism troops in Jordan, marking the first time he has expressed support for a plan that the Pentagon has been contemplating in recent months. U.S. military officials have not provided details on the scope or timing of such a training mission."

That's the training issue.  And it should be noted that training in Jordan isn't a new idea.  It dates back to the Bully Boy Bush administration when Jordan was going to be used as a location to train Iraqi police.  Let's move over to the arming.  Oren Dorell (USA Today) reports, "The Obama administration said Friday it is sending more weapons to Iraq to help Baghdad put down a resurgent al-Qaeda that is battling government troops in cities that U.S. troops helped liberate during the Iraq war."  David Lerman (Bloomberg News) adds, "The aid will be delivered “as rapidly as possible” to meet a request made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman."

In light of the above, it's interesting that the Chair of Joint-Chiefs of Staff, Gen Martin Dempsey declared, "No one has asked, nor have we offered direct military involvement because of the underlying religious issues and extremist issues."

That statement may surprise some.

It will certainly surprise the listeners of NPR who caught Tom Bowman's lousy report for Morning Edition today.

It really is amazing how NPR works to pull news from their broadcasts.

Dempsey made the quoted remark to Bowman.  It didn't make the edit.

Jim Garamone (DoD's American Forces Press Service) found the remark newsworthy:

 The United States is looking at how to help solve the problems of the region. Dempsey said the U.S. military can help in planning and logistics. “No one has asked, nor have we offered direct military involvement because of the underlying religious issues and extremist issues,” he said.

Claudette Roulo (DoD's American Forces Press Service) also found the remark newsworthy:

“No one has asked, nor have we offered direct military involvement because of the underlying religious issues and extremist issues,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told NPR this week.

On the heels of embarrassing adoption 'report,' NPR really didn't need to get caught with bad editing choices again.  But they have been caught.

Tom Bowman didn't report Dempsey saying,  "No one has asked, nor have we offered direct military involvement because of the underlying religious issues and extremist issues."

It's a real shame Tom Bowman fell in love with his own voice (he offers several cut-aways as though he's Peter Griffith on Family Guy) and lost interest in the subject of his supposed report.  What "underlying religious issues and extremists issues" was Dempsey referring to?

It's a shame Bowman and NPR didn't feel the need to allow the American people to hear the discussion.

Robert Gates is a former US Secretary of Defense (December 2006 to July 2011).  He has a new book he's promoting entitled Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.  The Christian Science Monitor hosted a press breakfast for him this morning.  Anna Mulrine (Christian Science Monitor) reports he declared that the US military had accomplished the goals they were tasked with and handed control of the country over to the Iraqi government:

The mistakes that have since been made by Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki have included isolating Sunnis in a country dominated by a Shiite-led government and "treating the Sunnis in such a hostile manner over the last couple of years or so."

The Christian Science Monitor has posted a brief clip of Gates speaking about Iraq.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:  Well I think if I were sitting in the [White House] Situation Room today, I would recommend that we offer the Maliki government a wide range of military assistance -- both equipment and training.  But I would be very explicit about conditioning it on his outreach to the Sunnis and pulling back on all these acts such as trying to arrest Vice President [Tareq al-] Hashemi and other Sunni officials from his government, make some investments in Anbar and other Sunni areas that give the Sunnis some reason to believe this government in Baghdad does represent them and is better -- is better than any other.  I think -- I think there are two causes of the situation that we face, that is going on in Iraq.  One is Maliki treating the Sunnis in such a hostile manner over the last couple of years or so.  And -- and the other then is the spillover from Syria.

For more on the breakfast, refer to FORA TV which has more clips (and the recording of the entire breakfast is available for $9.95). Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq makes similar points to Joshua Keating (Slate):

The U.S. government has reportedly now agreed to supply the Iraqi government with more weapons in order to defeat the “al-Qaida linked” Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants now in control of the city of Fallujah in Anbar province, after conversations between Maliki and Vice President Biden earlier this week. But Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent secular Sunni leader whose party opposes Maliki’s, told Slate that today that “stability will not happen through supplying arms only” because Sunnis in the region “feel they are being marginalized, and they are uprising now.”

“There is a wrong feeling that what’s happening in Anbar is merely al-Qaida and da’ash (a nickname for ISIS). This is a mistake,” he said. “People in Anbar are uprising now because when the army was sent to defeat al-Qaida in Anbar [last year], they changed their direction and went after demonstrators. The attacked the demonstrators, removed their tents, and arrested one of the parliamentary people in Ramadi. This gave people the impression that the aim is not al-Qaida, that the aim is the demonstrators.”

And things are probably about to get even worse if previous patterns are any indication.  Currently, parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 30th.  What happened last time in the lead up to parliamentary elections?  Saleh al-Mutlaq should remember, it was done to him.

Candidates were disqualified.  They were labeled 'terrorists' and 'Ba'athists.'  This happened if they were political rivals of Nouri al-Maliki and it was done via the Justice and Accountability Commission.  Dar Addustour reports the Justice and Accountability Commission will be vetting candidates shortly.

They weren't supposed to vet anything in 2010.  They were a one-time committee that was supposedly phased out as part of Nouri's efforts to meet the White House benchmarks -- which included to move towards national reconciliation and to end Paul Bremer's de-Ba'athifaction process.

Sunnis are targeted by Nouri.  That's among the reasons they protest.

Above is Samarra from earlier today -- Iraqi Spring MC posted the video here.  December 21, 2012, a wave of protests kicked off in Iraq and they continued today. Protests also took place in Amiriya, Rawa, Falluja,  Tikrit, Baiji, and Baquba.

NINA reports:

Vice Chairman of the Council Faleh al-Issawi told / NINA / that the local government , represented by the provincial council and governor of Anbar province , is holding talks and continuous meetings with tribal sheikhs and elders , in order to end the crisis and the tense situation in the province.
Issawi added that the purpose of these meetings and discussions, is to know the demands of the clans, and to work on bringing together their points of views with the central government in order to end the current crisis and end armed manifestations in Anbar. 

This week, BRussells Tribunal's Eman Ahmed Khamas spoke with RT about the assault on Anbar.

Eman Ahmed Khamas:  I was saying that the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq is to be blamed for this violence.  And of course there are many other reasons behind this violence: the non-functioning state, for example, the corrupt and fascist government, the absence of any kind of services, the failing state, all of these -- and above all the persecution of people --  especially those who protest against the fascist policies of the government.  All these togethar are behind the escalation of violence.  [. . .]  Actually for the last year -- more than a year Iraqis are protesting peacefully I mean protesting against the government's policies and, above all, the executions and the detentions.  You know Iraq now has the first rate of executions in the world.  And, again, the non-functioning state, the failings, etc.   What the government did is that they attacked the peaceful protesters and they killed many of them.  For example, a few months ago, they slaughtered 45 people in Hawija, people who were protesting peacefully.  And in other places -- in Diyala, in Mousl, and Anbar -- all these killings.  Yes, Iraqis are trying to cope with this violence but simply the government has to stop persecuting the people.

Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports:

Iraq’s senior politicians are tripping over themselves to come up with proposals to solve the current crisis in Anbar. Despite the fact that some of the ideas are plausible and positive, it seems unlikely that any will get off the ground because of entrenched political antipathies in Baghdad. What is needed is a neutral mediator to bring all the enemies to the bargaining table.

National tension is running high due to the events in Anbar province over the past fortnight. Now that an all out military confrontation – between the Iraqi army and non-army forces in the southern province - appears to have been avoided several senior politicians in Baghdad have come up with plans to try and resolve the situation politically.

Some of the plans seem to have come about as a result of diplomatic pressure from Iraq’s allies, from countries like the US, and others may well be popularity ploys aimed at Iraq’s upcoming federal elections, due to be held in April. However whether any of them gets off the ground is a whole other issue.

The first of these initiatives came from former Iraqi Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, Ayed Allawi. Allawi is a Shiite Muslim politician who leads an opposition bloc made up mainly of Sunni Muslim politicians and who always emphasises the non-sectarian nature of his political positions. His suggested plan involves withdrawing the Iraqi army from Anbar province and looking seriously at the legitimate demands of Sunni Muslim protestors who have been conducting anti-government demonstrations for almost a year now.

Allawi also wants a committee formed to look into the issues – the committee should be made up of representatives of the government and other main parties in Baghdad as well as representatives from Anbar’s tribes and the Sunni Muslim demonstrators – and which would uphold the Iraqi Constitution and ensure that the first two parts of his plan are carried out.  

A second plan was announced by Ammar al-Hakim who leads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. His party is part of the ruling, mostly Shiite Muslim coalition headed by Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. But in recent times, the Shiite Muslim organization has been forging its own path and maintaining a healthy distance from the increasingly unpopular al-Maliki.
Al-Hakim suggests the formation of a council of elders made up of representatives from Anbar’s tribes as well as constructing self defence militias made up of members of Anbar’s tribes. Additionally al-Hakim thought that accelerating reconstruction projects in Anbar would also help increase satisfaction in the area and give demonstrators less to complain about.

“Al-Hakim's initiative is aimed at preventing military intervention in Anbar,” Habib al-Tarfi, an MP for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, explained to NIQASH. “It reassures Iraq’s Sunnis while stressing the importance of peaceful dialogue as the only way out of this crisis.”

The latest – but probably not the last – plan came several days ago from the President of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani. In a press release, Fadhil Mirani, a senior member of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, said that the President was working on a comprehensive initiative to contain the Anbar crisis.
Mirani suggested that, “currently Iraq’s Kurds might be more acceptable mediators to work with each opposing party in this conflict because they’re not a part of the problem.”

al-Hakim's proposal is the on that the US government has been backing for two weeks now -- as al-Hakim has repeatedly noted in public.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 640 violent deaths for the month.  Today?  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Tikrit armed attack left 1 Sahwa leader dead and his son injured,  1 corpse (gun shot wounds) was discovered dumped in the street northeast of Baquba, a Shura armed attack left 1 Iraqi soldier dead, a Mosul roadside bombing left one military Lt Col injured, an Almishahdah armed attack left 2 rebels dead, a Ramadi suicide bomber took his own life and that of 9 "Anabar's tribes sons," a Jorfi-ssakhar elementary school was bombed, and a bridge linking Anbar Province to Karbala was blown up.

Turning to the topic of war resistance, J.B. Gerald (Global Research) notes:

Canada continues to deport contemporary deserters to U.S. military prisons. One or two resisters have found safe haven through legal cases and appeals against the orders to remove them. Polls have shown a majority of Canadians supports war resisters, but in 2010 Parliament failed to pass bill C-440 amending the Immigration act in their favour. The Harper government continues to deny refuge and asylum. Aside from known cases there are unknown numbers of resisters.
Among the deported were Robin Long, Clifford Cornell, and Kimberley Rivera. In the U.S., sentenced to 14 months, Kimberley Rivera gave birth in prison Nov. 26th, and was released Dec. 12th, after serving 10 months. In reporting her release, the U.S. military paper, Stars and Stripes, noted her dishonourable discharge doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t be able to find work. Jeremy Hinzman, an upfront conscientious objector, after numerous complex legal battles received a permission to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The UN Human Rights Commission has shown ongoing support for the rights of conscientious objectors. Yet on long term AWOL from the U.S. Army, Rodney Watson, under government warrant, enters his fifth year of sanctuary asylum in the First United Church of Vancouver. Many legal cases have been won by resisters, then appealed by the government and legal cases of war resisters such as Joshua Key remain under consideration as though waiting for politicians to wake up. Some cases are rarely mentioned, as though notice might upset an applecart.

Julie Berry writes the editors of the St. Thomas Times-Journal to note, "Conscientious objector, Kimberly Rivera, has just finished serving a 10 month jail term in U.S. Military prison because of her refusal to take part in the Iraq war. She has spent months separated from her husband and children and now faces rebuilding her life with a felony conviction on her record. This injustice only happened because our government chose to force her to leave Canada and return to the US, arguing that it was 'merely speculative' that she would be punished."  Last month, Courage to Resist noted Kim Rivera had completed her sentence.  While behind bars, Kim gave birth.  The San Diego Free Press reported November 30th,

Kimberly Rivera gave birth to her son Matthew Kaden Rivera in the Naval Hospital on November 25th.   Her husband Mario was initially denied access to the birthing room but was ultimately granted permission to attend the delivery.  Although the delivery itself went smoothly, this was no ordinary birth– Rivera has been serving a ten month sentence for deserting the US army while deployed in Iraq.  She deserted in 2007 because she felt morally unable to take part in the conflict.

Kim is part of a movement of war resistance which also includes Lt. Ehren Watada, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Justin Colby, Camilo Mejia, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson,  Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Joshua Key, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia,  Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Brad McCall, Rodney Watson, Chuck Wiley and Kevin Benderman.

In January 2004, Jeremy Hinzman became the first US service member to go to Canada and seek asylum instead of deploying to Iraq to serve in the illegal war.  War Resisters Support Campaign explains:

Jeremy Hinzman was a U.S. soldier in the elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne. He served in Afghanistan in a non-combat position after having applied for conscientious objector status.   After being refused CO status and returning to America, he learned that they would be deployed to Iraq.
  Hinzman did not believe the stated reasons for the Iraq war. In January 2004 he drove to Canada to seek asylum. He is currently living in Toronto with his wife Nga Nguyen and son Liam. His refugee claim was turned down in March 2005 by the Immigration and Refugee Board. This decision was upheld by the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal, and on November 15, 2007 the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
  On July 21 2008 their daughter Meghan was born in Toronto.
  Jeremy and his family was ordered to leave Canada by September 23, 2008, or face deportation to the United States where Jeremy would be turned over to the US military to face punishment for desertion. A judicial review of this decision was denied by the Federal Court in June 2009, but on July 6, 2010, the Federal Court of Appeal, citing serious flaws with the immigration officer's decision, ruled in favour of Jeremy and ordered a review of his application to stay on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds.

Hinzman remains at risk of being forced to return to the United States.  Tom Riley writes the editors of the Toronto Star, "During the Vietnam era, Canada welcomed 50,000 draft resisters and deserters. I was one of them. It’s shameful that 40 years later, rather than continuing this proud tradition and affirming Canadian values, our government is using its resources to try to actively intervene in the cases of Iraq resisters to try to ensure they are forced out of Canada."   On Global Research's latest radio show, they speak with war resister Joshua Key who notes that those who speak out are especially punished when they return or are forced to return.  He shares that due to his writing a book about war resistance (The Deserter's Tale, written with Lawrence Hill), his granting many interviews on the topic, his appearing in documentaries and his acting as an advisor on Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss mean he would, according to one expert, get 20 years in prison if he was forced to return to the US.

Finally, David Bacon's last book, Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press), won the CLR James Award. He has a new book, The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.  Teofilo Reyes reviews it for Labornotes:

While immigrants were fasting on the Mall near the U.S. Capitol last month to pressure for immigration reform, the Mexican Congress was allowing privatization of the country's public oil corporation, PEMEX.
Separated by 2,500 miles, these events might seem a world apart.
But David Bacon's The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration shows how the two are intertwined. Bacon weaves narratives across borders, following communities as they struggle at home, migrate, and then struggle again in their new homes.
Over half the Mexican population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. And Mexico is the only country in Latin America that saw poverty increase last year.
 In 1994 Mexico formally scrapped its decades-old program of economic development based on industrial and agricultural self-sufficiency. The government turned instead to a policy based on open markets and foreign investment: NAFTA.
Shortly after the NAFTA ink dried, the U.S. fell into a recession and the poverty rate in Mexico quickly grew to over 60 percent of the population. Ross Perot's sucking sound of jobs rushing south across the border was drowned out by the noise of U.S. capital vacuuming up cheap labor.