Monday, April 07, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 7, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, the snow-job begins tomorrow as the administration prepares to cry 'progress!', Hillary Clinton speaks out on major funding for breast cancer research, and more. 
Starting with war resistance.  "I guess the hardest thing for people to understand is the reason you join the military is not the reason you leave it," writes war resister Kimberly Rivera (Rivera Family).  Rivera is a US war resister in Canada.  Like war resisters Josh Randall and Brandon Hughey, Rivera is from Texas. February 18, 2007, she, her husband Mario Rivera entered Canada. Rivera is the first known female US war resister to apply for refugee status in Canada.  (Skylar James arrived after Rivera.)  Rivera writes:
Your basic role as a soldier being invalidated, finding out your job has no meaning.  No reason.  Higher command just let bad people past you demanding they do not get the same treatment as others who come in the base every day.  This Is the same as jeopardizing every men and women on the front line.  That was the most angering moment for me.  From this point on I had no pride in my work, No reason for being in Iraq.  It was obvious to me that security was not the top priority for the troops and as one person not allowed to do my job efficiently and to the highest ability was the final straw.  Finding that out is the hardest.  It was my last reason for staying.  For giving my life.  You believe you are doing the right thing. 
At the end of last year, Courage to Resist spoke with Rivera about her deployment to Iraq:
While in Iraq losing soldiers and civilians was part of daily life.  I was a gate guard.  This was looked down on by infantry soldiers who go out in the streets, but gate guards are the highest security of the Foward Operation Base.  We searched vehicles, civilian personnel, and military convoys that left and came back every hour.  I had a huge awakening seeing the war as it truly is: people losing their lives for greed of a nation and the effects on the soldiers who come back with new problems such as nightmares, anxieties, depression, anger alcohol abuse, missing limbs and scars from burns.  Some don't come back at all.  On December 21, 2006 I was going to my room and something in my heart told me to go call my husband.  And when I did 24 rounds of mortars hit the FOB in a matter of minutes after I got on the phone . . . the mortars were 10-15 feet from where I was.  I found a hole from the shrapnel in my room in the plywood window.  That night I found the shrapnel on my bed in the same place where my head would have been if I hadn't changed my plans and gone to the phone.
War resisters in Canada are attempting to be granted safe harbor.  The Canadian Parliament will debate a measure this month on that issue.  You can make your voice heard. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper ( -- that's pm at who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion ( -- that's Dion.S at who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua ( -- that's Bevilacqua.M at who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Logan Laituri, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum. 

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).  
In January 2007, President Bush announced the surge of an additional 30,000 American forces into Iraq. Next week, the President is expected to tell the American people what comes next. It's an important moment for America's future.   
"The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically. Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together. The country remains terribly divided among Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds. There is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.      
"Our military has done a heroic job in bringing violence down since last summer. But even these gains are relative. Violence is just getting back to levels we saw in 2005 -- when 846 Americans lost their lives and 5,945 were wounded. Iraq is still an incredibly dangerous place -- and very far from normal.       
"Despite this reality, the President is expected to announce that when the surge ends, we will not be in a position of drawing down American forces. There could be no clearer acknowledgment from the President himself that the surge has not succeeded in achieving its stated purpose--namely, moving Iraq toward the day it can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself in peace.           
"So, where are we after the surge? Back to where we were before it started. With 140,000 troops in Iraq -- and no end in sight. The best that can be said is we've gone from drowning in Iraq to treading water. That's better, but we can't keep doing it without exhausting ourselves.         
"Every extra day we stay in Iraq with 140,000 troops, that's exactly what we're doing. And the price we're paying keeps getting steeper:         
The continued loss of the lives and limbs of our soldiers -- every day;        
The emotional and economic strain on our military families due to repeated, extended tours -- lasting up to 15 months;         
The drain on our Treasury -- $12 billion every month that we could be spending on housing, education or healthcare here at home;         
The impact on the readiness of our armed forces -- tying down so many troops that we don't have any leftover to deal with a new emergency;         
The inability to send enough troops to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the real central front in the war on terror;           
And finally: the damage done to America's standing in the world;"I believe the President has no strategy for success in Iraq. His plan is to muddle through -- and hand the problem off to his successor. Our troops and their families deserve better than that. We owe them a strategy worthy of their sacrifice.              
"We Democrats understand that this war must end so that America can regain the credibility to lead around the world and the flexibility to meet our challenges here at home. That's what the American people want -- and it's what America's security needs. Thank you for listening."          
Biden's radio address continued the Congressional plan to set out criteria ahead  of the Congressional testimonies of US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen David Petraeus (they begin testifying Tuesday).  Wednesday and Thursday, Congress utilized the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings and a press conference to lay down.  On Wednesday, Biden noted (at the opening of the afternoon hearings), "We are told that we must continue to support a strong central government, when that government does not enjoy the trust of many Iraqis, and has little capacity to deliver security and services."  Last fall, Congress was basically unprepared (or unwilling) for the wave of Operation Happy Talk the White House launched.  As Biden noted Wednesday morning, the escalation ('surge') was announced by the White House at the start of 2007, "The following September, when Ambassaodr Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus testified before Congress, they told us that the surge would start to wind down this spring, at which point they would give the President and Congress their recommendations for what should come next.  That's the context for the two weeks of hearings we start today in the Foreign Relations -- and for the basic questions we'll be asking: One, has the surge accomplished its stated goals?  We're interested not just in tactical military progress, but also the strategic objective of buying time for political reconciliation.  And two, where do we go from here, both in terms of U.S. force levels and U.S. policy for succeeding in Iraq?"
"General David Petraeus, our top man in Iraq, returns to Washington this week to talk about where we go from here," was how Bob Schieffer (CBS' Face The Nation, link has text and video) introduced the topic on yesterday's broadcast.  CBS News' Lara Logan appeared to give an overview of recent events and McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef and the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran were the panelists for the discussion after Logan finished her report. 
Bob Schieffer: Is Iraq any better?  Have things calmed down at all over this last year because suddenly many Americans were surprised over the last couple of weeks when you had this new round of violence.  What -- what's the situation there now? 
Lara Logan: Well the last few weeks have really been brutal for General Petraeus because he really was looking at a year where he managed to be quite successful in reducing violence particularly in Baghdad and some of the surrounding areas.  One of the main reasons for that is the agreement with the Sunni tribes and also with some Shi'ite tribes -- the militias that they were forming and working with the Americans but those gains have almost disappeared in the face of the recent violence which spread so quickly from Basra in the south of Iraq.  And what that fight -- it's really about two things.  It's a fight amongst the Shi'ites for power in Iraq -- what the future of this country is going to look like, how the Shi'ites will divide Iraq among themselves -- but perhaps even more importantly it's a fight between the US, who backs the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces, and Iran, who backs those militias. And this is really the proxy war that everybody talks about behind closed doors but nobody wants to admit to in public, Bob.  
Logan did something very helpful.  It wasn't journalism and shouldn't be mistaken for it.  There's very little reality in anything she declared.  But she has stuck to the talking points that Petraeus and Crocker will.  (A) Violence was reduced.  (B) That's wonderful! (C) The "Awakening" Councils are a plus.  (C) It's all Iran's fault.  (D) Let's go to war with Iran.  As a journalism, Logan's 'report' fails on every level.  As a sneak peak to the arguments Petreaus and Crocker will try to make, it's illuminating.  Taking the four points one by one.  (A) Reduced violence all these years later is a rather pathetic 'goal.'  January 10, 2007 Bully Boy announced the surge. One day after his announcement, the US death toll stood at 3018.  The current total is 4023.  1005 US service members have died since then.  Bully Boy's laughable speech (containing one kernal of truth: "Where mistakes have been, the responsibility rests with me.") promised to "put down sectarian violence" (didn't happen) "and bring security to the people of Baghdad" (ditto). He stressed that the escalation went "beyond military operations" and that "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced" (actually pushed by the White House).  No benchmarks were reached since September.  A de-de-Baathification law kind of got passed, it hasn't been implemented, it's largely inoperable even if the puppet government attempts to implement it.  There has been no political progress.  (B) Wonderful?  That's embarrassing.  (C) Actually, the assault on Basra by the puppet government (at the request of the White House) caused large scale violence and would still be ongoing were it not for Iraqi Parliamentarians and Iran working towards a cease-fire.  (D) Bully Boy already has ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the military stretched to the limits so unless he's enlisting the Bush family into a brigade, war with Iran is impossible.  (Bully Boy's a big believer in trying the impossible when it risks harming America.)
Bob Schieffer: Now Rajiv, how could the US basically have been blindsided when the prime minister decided to launch this attack on Sadr's militia?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: I'm not entirely sure that the American command there was entirely blindsided. 
Bob Schieffer: Really?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran:  The Iraqi military at the most senior levels does coordinate with the United States military.  I think it was pitched and described to General Petraeus and his senior commanders as a more narrowly targeted operation. [. . .] And I think the American command wanted to see Maliki step up and take some actions aimed at doing so.  But obviously what we saw was an operation that was ill conceived, ill planned and wound up really provoking a much harsher response from Moqtada al-Sadr's militia then I think had been envisaged both by Maliki's government and by the American officials. 
Bob Schieffer: Well do you think the United States wanted him to do this, Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: I think they were in a precarious position because on one hand there had been a lot of pressure on Nouri al-Maliki to step up and really take a leadership postion and Basra is a big problem.  It's a big security problem.  It's unstable.  It's not controlled by anyone.  And it's that last major stronghold that Moqatad al-Sadr, the rebel cleric, has in the south.  And the US military officials that I've talked to say that they were working with Nouri al-Maliki to craft a longterm, thoughtful plan.  It appears that what the US military didn't want was what happened -- which was a very sudden, ill-planned attack that potentially put the gains of the surge in jeopardy.  [. . .] It also showcased Iran's influence on the security and politics in Iraq in a very pronounced way.  It exposed not only how much they influence the Badr organization as I think a lot of people had assumed but also Moqtada al-Sadr who had promoted himself as an Iraqi nationalist.  And so it put the gains of the surge in question and  I think it also raised questions about what would the US role be vis a vis the Iraqi security forces if there was a drawdown.  In this case, the US says it wasn't informed about what the plan was and then had to rush and get air combat support in place when the Iraqi security forces couldn't handle the fighting.
Chandrasekarn would go on to note that the Iraqi military began defecting -- which is the term for it, not "desertion."  Desertion implies that they left the battle, defecting described what happened -- they switched to the other side.  He also noted that the "intra-Shi'ite fighting" proves just how difficult any national reconciliation is (all these years later).
Today at the White House, Tony Fratto, Deputy Press Secretary, attempted to give the appearance that the White House was not coordinating the testimonies of Petraeus and Croker.  Helen Thomas corrected that noting, "You acted like the President wouldn't know what Petraeus and Crocker are going to testify.  Do you mean he's going to be surprised tomorrow when they say the surge is working and all?"  Fratto backed off ("No, I hope I didn't leave that impression.") but Thomas pressed, "But he's the President, isn't he calling the policy?  I mean, we don't have President Petraeus, do we?" Fratto agreed that the US didn't and then tried to spin that security was the "mission" leading Thomas to (rightly) dub it the White House's request "to continue the occupation of Iraq".  He refused to answer her question of whether the "mission" including "paying off 90,000 Iraqis not to fight?"  The "Awakening" Council members are paid $300 in US dollars by the US government. 
The latest wave of Operation Happy Talk will include testimonies from US Sec of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Michael Mullen.  CNN reported yesterday that it would also include a Thursday morning address by the Bully Boy.  It will, no doubt, be as fact based as Douglas Feith's 'zany' appearance on 60 Minutes (link has text and video) yesterday where Steve Kroft had to repeatedly correct him.  Feith was the Under Secretary of Defense and told Kroft the illegal war was "anticpatory self-defense" and claimed that no one in the administration had floated the threat of WMDs to the public in the leadup to the Iraq War.  Kroft responded by quoting Donald Rumsfeld, Bully Boy and Dick Cheney doing just that.  Attempting to stay with reality, on Friday, 16 members of Congress -- led by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- sent a letter to the White House noting that "the strategic purpose of the surge strategy you announced more than a year ago -- creating the conditions for Iraqis to forge a political solution in order to hasten the day our troops can return home -- has not been achieved.  In fact, your Administration recently indicated that more U.S. troops will remain deployed in Iraq after the surge has ended than were there when the surge began.  This is not what the American people were led to expect when you announced the surge nearly fifteen months ago."  Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) quotes US Senator Carl Levin declaring al-Maliki "has shown himself to be a political leader who is excessively sectarian, who is incompetent and who runs a corrupt administration. . .  The purpose of the surge clearly has not been achieved."
Meanwhile at least 69 Iraqis and 5 US service members were reported dead over the weekend. Among the many deaths was this one that Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on Saturday: the assassination of priest Yousef Adel in Baghdad.  The priest deaths follows the February 29th kidnapping of Archbishop Palos Faraj Rahho whose corpse was discovered March 13th.  Of latest priest murdered,  Iraq's Alsumaria TV reports, "The assassination of Father Youssef Adel was a multilateral message delivered from terrorists to concerned parties. This incident targets at first Iraq's social diversity and strikes national unity and coexistence."  Zenit reports that Father Youssef Adel Abudi was assassinated "in his home in Baghdad," "at the entrance."  Asia News notes the funeral was at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Baghdad and that mourners included "[v]arious members of the faithful and religious representatives from all the Christian denominations . . . including Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Assyrian Catholic bishop of the capital, the patriarch of the Chaldeans, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the apostolic nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, Archbishope Francis Assisi Chullikatt."  Catholic World News notes the funeral was presided over by Syrian Orthodoz Bishop Matti Shaba. Catholic News Agency reports the mourners numbered 300.  Leila Fadel and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Sunday that armed clashes were yet again taking place in Baghdad as al-Maliki was sending militias into the Sadr City section of the capital to attack the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr.  That would be Shi'ite vs. Shi'ite conflict.  Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports that "intra-sect struggles, after five years of war, are increasingly defining the nature of conflict in Iraq, as violence lessens between Sunnis and Shiites" and notes the funeral for Mustafa, the sixteen-year-old son of Abu Abdullah, who was shot and killed by an Iraqi soldier and whose father says, "I want to do to them exactly what they did to my son, and even more."  As the attacks on Sadr City continue, CNN reports on their interview with Nouri al-Maliki (link has text and video) where he "demanded al-Sadr disband his Mehdi Army and threatened to bar al-Sadr's followers from the political process if the cleric refused." Khaled Farhan (Reuters) notes that Moqtada al-Sadr's response, he "will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday. The surprise announcement was the first time Sadr has proposed dissolving the Mehdi Army, one of the principle actors in Iraq's five-year-old conflict and the main opponent of U.S. and Iraqi forces during a recent upsurge in fighting." But a later report by Farhan quotes a spokesperson for Moqtada al-Sadr declaring that "this is an old idea and didn't come in response to Maliki's orders."
In some of today's reported violence . . .


Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports two Baghdad roadside bombings that left ten people wounded (five were police officers), another Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded another five police officers, a Baghdad mortar attack on the Green Zone that wounded two people outside the Green zone, a Baghdad mortar attack that claimed 9 lives (thirty-one more wounded), a Basra explosion that claimed 7 lives, a roadside bombing outside Basra that targeted Ministry of Interior spokesperson Abdul Kareem Khalf and resulted in four bodyguards being wounded and a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left another wounded.  Reuters notes a Baghdad missile attack that claimed 9 lives and a US helicopter strike on Sadr City that claimed 4 lives (five more people wounded).
Reuters notes an armed clash in Baghdad that resulted in 5 deaths. 
Meanwhile the US military announced today: "Two Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldiers were killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack at approximately 6 p.m. April 7."  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier was killed as the result of small-arms fire after the vehicle he was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in eastern Baghdad April 7." 5 announced dead yesterday, three today for a total of 4023 since the start of the illegal war.
Turning to US presidential race news.  Cynthia McKinney is running for the Green Party nomination and, on Saturday, Rhode Island Greens "picked a slate of delegates that favors" her.  Mark Reynolds (The Providence Journal) reports McKinney was appointed six delegates to the Green Party's July national convention (in Chicago) and Jesse Johnson was appointed two. As various candidates run for their parties' nomination, one ticket is already know: Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez.  The Nader-Gonzalez website continues their media critique -- one all third party and independent candidates should be taking part in as they are not just shut out of the MSM coverage but scorned by so-called 'independent' media.  Last week, The Progressive's Matthew Rothschild was rightly critiqued (click here for Third's piece on that) and today Team Nader wonders about "prominent American liberals" (Rothschild, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Medea Benjami, John Nichols, etc.)  who "continue to support the corrupt Democratic Party" despite agreeing with the Nader-Gonzalez ticket on issues such as "single-payer, Canadian-style, private delivery, public health insurance system," "cutting the bloated, wasteful military budget, cutting off the corporate welfare kings," "cracking down on corporate crime," "reversing U.S. policy in the Middle East and ending the military and corporate occupation in Iraq." Team Nader announces that last week more than enough signatures have been collected for the Nader-Gonzalez ticket to be on the New Mexico ballot and more than enough to be on Hawaii's ballot while the current focus is on Arizona and Kansas is the next planned state to target.
Turning to the Democratic Party where Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remain in a dead heat for their party's presidential nomination.  Christopher Willis (AP) explains that Barack spent the weekend repeating over and over how he loves the United States which is necessary, as Willis outlines, as a result of an impression left unanswered: no flag lapel pin, not placing his hand over his heart during the "Star Spangeled Banner," Michelle Obama declaration earlier this year that she was "proud of America for the first time" and his pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, standing in front of the congregation and calling on God to damn the United States.  That issue is not going away and it's amazing that some really think these warning signals can be ignored.  Barack's given his big speech that was supposed to silence any questions about Wright but he continues to spend time trying to address the problem.  Repeating, it is not going away.  Meanwhile, Helen Thomas (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) explores the two campaigns and observes, "Obama stresses he was against the invasion of Iraq, but he doesn't say he was not in the Senate when it was initiated.  Since becoming a senator, he has twice voted to fund the war.  I am still trying to find the key that has made Obama a prime candidate for the presidency, and to understand what he has done for the country beyond his middle-of-the-road political moves to make his name known and to steer clear of hot-button issues." On the issue of the dead-heat the two candidates are in, Sean Wilentz (Salon) notes, "Crucially, Team Obama doesn't want to count the votes of Michigan and Florida. (And let's note that in a winner-take-all system, Clinton would still be leading in delegates, 1,430 to 1,257, even without Michigan and Florida.) Under the existing system, Obama's current lead in the popular vote would nearly vanish if the results from Michigan and Florida were included in the total, and his lead in pledged delegates would melt almost to nothing. The difference in the popular vote would fall to 94,005 out of nearly 27 million cast thus far -- a difference of a mere four-tenths of 1 percentage point -- and the difference in delegates would plummet to about 30, out of the 2,024 needed to win. Add those states' votes to the totals, and take a sober look at Clinton's popular-vote victories in virtually all other large states, and the electoral dynamic changes. She begins to look like the almost certain nominee."  Meanwhile Hillary Clinton continues demonstrating leadership.   On Friday she proposed a cabinet level position to address and end poverty.  Today, she appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show.  Ellen and Hillary bowled and, on charges that Hillary should drop out of the race, Ellen explained, "Just keep going and I think the people should decide.  It's wrong for anyone to tell somebody -- whoever you're for, everyone has a right to vote for whoever they want  --  but to tell someone to get out  -- It's our vote.  It's we the people that should choose."  On the program, Hillary announced that, as president, there would be a "$300 million a year in increased funding for breast cancer research at the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institure and the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program."  Clinton explained, "I know your mom is a survivor, and we've lost my incredible mother-in-law to breast cancer during Bill's first term and first year in office, and I've just been really committed.  I've had so many friends, and we all know people who survived and people who haven't.  And I just think we should set a goal of curing breast cancer within the next decade."  Marcia will cover more of the Ellen appearance this evening.

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