Thursday, September 25, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, September 25, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the issue of illegal and toxic weapons in Iraq is raised, a prime minister yells 'fire!' in New York and Paris subways, an activist is killed by the Islamic State, World Can't Wait stays strong, CodePink finally starts to find its voice, IVAW cowers in silence and much more.

Iraq is in the midst of being bombed yet again.  Who knows with what?  As we (re)learned during the early days of the current Iraq War, the US government was more than happy to use illegal weapons in Iraq.  Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following:

Depleted Uranium Coordinates Needed for Clean-Up of Dangerous Sites in Iraq

September 25, 2014, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Defense (DOD) and the State Department on behalf of itself and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) seeking the firing coordinates of weapons used in Iraq that contained depleted uranium (DU). As the US launches new military actions in the Middle East, the groups say getting information about the military’s use of DU in weaponry and its long-term effects is as urgent as ever. According to “In a State of Uncertainty,” a report by the Netherlands-based organization PAX, Iraq has been subject to the largest use of DU munitions of all areas of conflict and test sites, conservatively estimated to be at least 440 metric tons, though the United Nations Environment Programme has estimated an amount up to five times that based on satellite imagery. Iraqi civilians thought to have been exposed to DU and remaining debris have suffered high rates of cancer and birth defects and U.S. veterans report unexplained illnesses.  
“DU is but one example of the toxic legacy left by our wars in Iraq,” said CCR Attorney Jeena Shah. “Veterans who served in Iraq are suffering side effects, while many Iraqis still live surrounded by piles of metal debris left over from the war and with soil and ground water potentially contaminated by DU. The only way to deal with its effects and to ensure it is cleaned up is to have a full accounting of where weapons containing DU were deployed.”
DU is a byproduct of enriched uranium and is used in armor-piercing weapons due to its high density. When DU hits a target, its fragments burn and vaporize into a fine dust. If a person inhales, ingests, or is exposed by radiation to DU, radioactive material can be absorbed into the lungs, bone, kidney, skeletal tissue, reproductive system, brain, and other organs. A report recently published by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons concluded after reviewing approximately fifty peer-reviewed studies on DU that it is clearly a genotoxic agent, known to be involved in the development of cancer and potentially responsible for genetic damage. Some of the wreckage left behind from the war has entered the unregulated trade in scrap metal, sometimes even made into cooking pots. No safe levels of exposure to DU have been established, and researchers advise that all exposure should be avoided. Iraq and other UN member states have called for the banning of DU and the issue will be before the United Nations in October.
Said Maggie Martin, Organizing Director of IVAW, “Veterans have been fighting for decades to have our injuries recognized by the U.S. government— from Agent Orange to Military Sexual Trauma. We were promised healthcare in return for our service, and we deserve to know if we've been exposed to depleted uranium. This is an important matter of health for over two million veterans and for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who are experiencing the worst of the toxic legacy of war.” 
Laid to Waste,” a report by Wim Zwijnenburg of PAX, details the difficulty of limiting civilian exposure to DU in the absence of reliable information about locations where it was used and the limited efforts to address the issue.
“In addition to regular bombardment, our country and our communities have been left with a toxic legacy from decades of U.S. war in Iraq,” said Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. “If the U.S. is truly concerned about civilian well-being, it should assist in a full accounting of DU contamination and rigorous study of its health effects by making public the locations where weapons containing DU were deployed.”
CCR and IVAW are seeking this information as part of the Right to Heal Initiative, which they launched together with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. Visit the website to learn more about the Right to Heal Initiative.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Is there a worse news outlet covering Iraq right now than AFP?

For years, AFP was the most sexist outlet.  Prashant Rao -- apparently aping the John F. Burns Iraq era of the New York Times -- demonstrated little to no interest in covering Iraqi women.

Prashant is gone (for now) but AFP is actually worse.

"US pressures IS with strikes and diplomatic drive."

That's the headline AFP offers.

This morning,  Aziz Alwan, Zaid Sabah and Khalid Al-Ansary (Bloomberg News) reported on the failure of the new Iraqi government thus far to produce a Sunni buy-in:

Iraq Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi assumed power earlier this month promising to build an inclusive government, and has promoted the idea of a national guard that could incorporate Sunni militias. So far, Shiite lawmakers have rebuffed Abadi’s proposed Sunni candidate for defense minister. The national guard plan has also yet to materialize.
“Significant doubts linger over whether Abadi has the political wherewithal to achieve genuine unity,” Jordan Perry, an analyst at U.K.-based risk forecasting company Maplecroft, said by e-mail. 

We discussed how the US government -- including the State Dept -- was too busy focused on bombing and bringing in more countries to bomb Iraq and Syria in yesterday's snapshot and how the clock was ticking down, that the time to show Iraqi people that the change in prime ministers meant a change.

AFP should be embarrassed to claim that a diplomatic drive is going on -- lining up partners to bomb is not diplomacy nor is it the 'diplomatic drive' that will provide a political solution for Iraq.

There is no political solution from bombing.

Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait) notes today:

Once again, from the most powerful military in world history, protecting the largest-ever economy, bombs.  As in 24 years of bombing Iraq, 13 of  Afghanistan, like Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Has this done anything to liberate anyone or save lives? These illegitimate, unjust immoral wars of aggression have not.
If by “we,” you mean the U.S. government and its military, NO.  The U.S. military cannot do anything to stop the violence of ISIS.  It can only continue creating the conditions on which it grows: 9/11's all over the region.
Obama owns this ultimate war crime — invasion of a sovereign nation that poses no imminent threat to the aggressor. “We” did not ask for or approve this war.  U.S. attacks always lead to civilian casualties and are fueling — not “degrading” — the spread of groups like ISIS.
NOTHING good can come from U.S. bombing, and we need to say so immediately and widely.  We began Tuesday in NYC, and Wednesday in Chicago and San Francisco.

Are you in?  Write me!

Good for Debra.

Sad for the United States that so few others can speak out.

Is there anything more pathetic than Iraq Veterans Against the War?

Does anyone remember those blustering boys and girls trying to push their way through the front of the peace movement?

Insisting they knew, they were there.

Reality, Jeremy Hinzman didn't need to go to Iraq to know the war was wrong.  Nor did Ehren Watada.

I'm not spitting on the notion of learning from your experiences.

I'm just noting that was IVAW's claim once upon a time.

And today those brave boys and girls say what?

You guessed it!

Not one damn thing.

Having shoved aside many (and a number of IVAW made rude remarks about Cindy Sheehan), they now have nothing to say.

The President of the United States has spoken about Iraq how many times in the last two months?

Yeah, constantly.

They last weighed in on Iraq June 19th?

Remember that when they beg for money.

Remember that when they boast about how important their work is.

What work?


That now qualifies as work?

"Against the War."  It's in their organization's name.

But the little kittens and puppies of IVAW can't stand up against Barack.

It's too hard for them, you understand.

So they cower in their own piss, scared of their own shadows, too cowed to speak up.

Meanwhile it's certainly taken CodePink long enough to get started but they're finally offering something of value.

Let's hope that's not a one time thing or empty talk.

Empty talk is all the White House offers, all the administration offers.

There is no military solution in Iraq, Barack insists publicly, only a political one.

Yet he and others in the administration refuse to pour even half the energy they've used building a 'coalition' of bombers into building up government institutions in Iraq.

If you want to know how poorly the US efforts at diplomacy are, you need look no further than press briefings.

The State Dept's "daily press briefing"?  They haven't done one since September 19th.

Q: Since the -- since the strikes began a few days ago in Syria, have you seen any evidence of Assad forces taking any ground that was previously held by ISIS? And the corollary to that, in Iraq, have -- to what extent has the Peshmerga or the Iraqi forces been able to retake territory because of American airstrikes? If you could just update us on that situation, as well.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen any movement by Assad regime forces to move into facilities or infrastructure that we've hit. We've also seen -- not seen a lot of -- to be quite honest, haven't seen much in terms of reaction by ISIL inside Syria as a result of these attacks. In other words, were not seeing a lot of movement or major muscle movement changes by them in just the last couple of days.

In Iraq, the -- I could point to the preservation of Haditha Dam. I could point to their ability to work with Kurds, to retake the Mosul Dam facility. I can point to the town of Amerli, which we prevented with them a humanitarian disaster. We could go on and on and on.

I would also note -- and this gets forgotten a little bit -- that Baghdad is still relatively secure. I mean, there's been a couple of minor IED attacks inside Baghdad, but the ISF, the Iraqi Security Forces, in and around the capital are still defending the capital. And it's not like ISIL hasn't posed a threat there. You may have noticed that some of the strikes that we've taken lately in the last week or so have been south and southwest of Baghdad, because we know they continue to threaten the capital.

That is from a press briefing today.  But it's the Pentagon's press briefing.  Even though the State Dept can't or won't do press briefings so far this week, the Pentagon can.

I guess when you do nothing, you have nothing to talk about?

Does it bother anyone?

And does anyone have a memory or have we all erased our brains?

The US government was supposed to go heavy on diplomacy before.

It was 2007.

Bully Boy Bush called for a 'surge' in the number of US troops.

Anyone remember why?

This was, the White House insisted, to give the Iraqi officials time to work on political solutions.  And the US was going to help.

But all the US government has ever done is supply weapons and utilize the weapons and stir up the violence.

And, just as back then, no one wanted to point out that while the military was doing their part of the surge, the US' diplomatic effort was half-hearted and a non-starter.

As it was then, so it is now.

It's not as if Iraq is dealing with only one political crisis, it's multiple crises.  On today's Fresh Air (NPR -- link is audio and text), Dexter Filkins discussed Iraq with Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR and if you're just joining us, my guest is Dexter Filkins. He's a writer for The New Yorker. He covered the Iraq war for The New York Times, won several awards for doing that. He's covered the whole region for many years. He just went to Kurdistan in the north of Iraq from a period of June through August. He made two trips during that period for a total of about a month's time. And now he has a piece in The New Yorker called "The Fight Of Their Lives: The White House Wants The Kurds To Help Save Iraq From ISIS, The Kurds May Be More Interested In Breaking Away." That's the title and subtitle of the piece.
So why did you want to go to Kurdistan for this piece that you just wrote?

FILKINS: Well the - you know, the Kurds are - I mean, when everybody looks at Iraq including me and you just say Iraq, what do you think of? I mean, you think of chaos, and car bombs, and bloodshed, and political strife and stalemate and everything else. And when you go to Kurdistan, this small corner of Iraq, there's nothing - it's nothing like that. And it really struck me when I was there writing the piece earlier this year when I was there doing a piece on Maliki in Baghdad and I was in Baghdad and I wanted to go to Kurdistan. And I had been in Baghdad for about three weeks - and Baghdad in 2014 looks pretty much the way it did in 2004. It's - despite the fact that the Iraqi government is pumping enormous amounts of oil and making tons of money, they're the second-largest producer in OPEC. We're talking tens of billions of dollars, $85 billion a year. There's just not much evidence of that oil money being spent and I think frankly, it's because a lot of it's being stolen. But, it's not a happy story - but, Baghdad's a wreck. I mean, it looks pretty much the way it did during the war.
And then I got on a plane and I flew to Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan. And it's like - you know, you feel like Dorothy (laughter) and it's amazing. You know, there's a Jaguar dealership in Erbil and there's sushi restaurant and there's dance clubs. And I remember one night I'd been out of town and I drove back in at 3 a.m. and I found a liquor store open and bought a six-pack of beer at 3 o'clock in the morning in the Middle East. I mean, that's impossible anywhere for a thousand miles. So it's such a shock when you see it. You think, oh, my God, I can't believe I'm still in Iraq. And in a way - and really that's what the story's about - in a way, it's not part of Iraq, not anymore.

GROSS: And they don't want to be part of Iraq anymore.

FILKINS: No, I mean, sort of technically - technically they're part of Iraq, but, you know, they don't want to be and, you know, a de facto way, in a very real way, they're not, they're not part of Iraq. I mean, they're pulling away. And I think they want to make it official and I think probably - I mean, you can never foretell the future in that part of the world - but probably it will be independent, I think, sooner rather than later, although it's hard to tell exactly when.

There are so many problems in Iraq, so many crises, destroying unity and what's the new prime minister doing?

While he's unable to build political unity at this time,   Haider al-Abadi, is willing to make waves internationally.  Kristina Fernandez (China Topix) reports he declared today that Iraq had "credible intelligence" that the Islamic State was plotting an attack on the subway systems in Paris and NYC.

He insisted the information was reliable because it had come from suspects in Iraqi custody.


The Iraq interrogations are known as torture sessions -- they even killed a bodyguard of then-Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi during one of them.

So, at best, whatever al-Abadi thinks or thought he has was most likely the product of torture.

Terry Atlas and Angela Greiling Keane (Bloomberg News) quote White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden declaring, "We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations.  We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners. We're obviously very focused on the issue of foreign fighters."  The State Dept's Marie Harf went on CNN and suggested maybe it was true.

But as night was coming, even the White House realized how damaging al-Abadi's claims were.  Ann Mercogliano (Pix 11) reported: 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, FBI and NYPD officials were at the Union Square Subway Station Thursday to show the subways are safe after Iraq’s Prime Minister reportedly said a plot had been uncovered to attack subways in New York City and in France.

As Haider attracted all the wrong attention, it was left to Anderson Cooper (CNN) to say what so many were thinking:

  • Why is Iraq's new Prime Minister in NY? Shouldn't he be in Baghdad with his sleeves rolled up trying to rebuild his army and country?

  • It's a great question.  And why was the President of Iraq also out of the country to attend the meeting at the UN?

    Do either of them do any work in Iraq?

    All Iraq News notes al-Abadi did repeat his claim -- from two Saturdays ago -- that he had ordered an end to bombings of civilian areas in Falluja.  Of course, the bombings have continued.

    So apparently the new prime minister is powerless over the Iraqi military despite the fact that he's commander in chief of the military.

    Lastly, UNAMI issued the following this morning:

    Thursday, 25 September 2014 07:09

    UN Envoy Condemns Public Execution of Human Rights Lawyer, Ms. Sameera Al-Nuaimy

    Baghdad, 25 September 2014 – “The public execution of well-known human rights lawyer and activist, Ms. Sameera Salih Ali Al-Nuaimy, in Mosul, is yet another of the innumerable sickening crimes committed against the people of Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)”, said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, on learning of the unspeakable way Ms. Al-Nuaimy was seized from her home, tortured and murdered. “My heartfelt condolences are extended to Ms. Al-Nuaimy’s family and to the thousands other victims of ISIL’s brutality,” he added. 

    UNAMI has learned that Ms. Al-Nuaimy was seized from her home by the ISIL group on 17 September 2014, reportedly following posts on her Facebook page that were critical of their destruction of places of religious and cultural significance. She was convicted by a so-called “Shari’a court” for apostasy. She was then held for a further five days during which she was subjected to torture in an attempt to force her to ‘repent’, before she was executed in public. 
    “By torturing and executing a female human rights’ lawyer and activist, defending in particular the civil and human rights of her fellow citizens in Mosul,  ISIL continues to attest to its infamous nature, combining hatred, nihilism and savagery, as well as its total disregard of human decency”, Mr. Mladenov underlined. “ISIL has repeatedly targeted the weak and defenseless in acts of brutality and cowardice that are beyond description, bringing about unfathomable suffering to all Iraqis regardless of their gender, age, religion, faith or ethnicity”, the SRSG continued. 
    “I call on the Government of Iraq and the international community to resolutely face the life-threatening danger to peace, safety and security of Iraq and the Iraqis from the ISIL and to do all they can to ensure the perpetrators of such crimes are held to account”, Mr. Mladenov concluded. 

    debra sweet
    the world cant wait