Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, April 9, 2008.  Chaos and violence continues, the US military announces more deaths, The Petraeus & Crocker Variety Hour continues, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  The Guardian of London notes Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale.  Key is an Iraq War veteran who returned to the US on leave, spoke with his wife Brandi and they decided to go underground rather than for Joshua to continue fighting an illegal war.  Eventually, they and their children moved to Canada. Key suffers PTSD and is haunted by his time in Iraq.  From his book (written with Lawrence Hill), pp. 98-99:
Not long into our second tour of duty in Ramadi, I was working at a traffic control point, pulling over vehicles.  The standard practice was to order everybody out of the car and to have the driver open the hood and the trunk.  A black, four-door Mercedes-Benz pulled up carrying a driver and three male adult passengers.  Glancing inside the car, I spotted four grenades tucked between the two front seats.          
The driver was a young man, and he didn't say or do anything to provoke me.  However, the mere presence of those grenades set me off.  I hauled him from the car and began kicking and punching him.  An older man in the car began screaming at me in Arabic.  I could not understand a word he said, and he would not shut up, so I beat him badly too.  By the time I finished with them, both men were bleeding profusely.  With the help of my squad mates, I zipcuffed the men, threw one of them in the trunk, and stuffed the other three in the backseat.    
Sergeant Fadinetz got into the passenger seat, I jumped into the front, and we drove ten minutes through Ramadi to the police station, where we turned over the men for arrest.  I have no idea what became of them, but I do know what happened to their car: I stole it for the use of my squad.  We had no keys, so I hot-wired it and attached a switch to make it easy for my squad mates to start.  We kept the Mercedes and used it on our house raids, preferring to arrive in an unmarked vehicle to disguise our approach.   
When I beat up the two me, I justified it to myself on the grounds that they had grenades in the car.  But the truth was that, strange as it may seem to someone just outside the war, grenades were everyday items in Iraq, just like the rifles we routinely left behind on our house raids.  Although we always confiscated grenades, I had no good reason to attack the men.  My own moral judgement was disintegrating under the pressure of being a soldier, feeling vulnerable, and having no clear enemy to kill in Iraq.  We were encouraged to beat up on the enemy; given the absence of any clearly understood enemy, we picked our fights with civilians who were powerless to resist.  We knew that we would not have to account for our actions.  Because we were fearful, sleep-deprived, and jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline, and testosterone, and because our officers constantly reminded us that all Iraqis were our enemies, civilians included, it was tempting to steal, no big deal to punch, and easy to kill.  We were Americans in Iraq and we could do anything we wanted to do.
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).  
Today The Petraeus & Crocker Variety Hour continued its Congressional tour.  Performances were held for the US House Armed Services Committee in the morning and the US House Committee On Foreign Affairs.  Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker stuck to the same scripts; however, Crocker tried to spice up today's matinee performances by introducing a character tic (no doubt borrowed from US Senator Barack Obama's performance yesterday) by repeated usage of the words of "Uh" and "Uhm."  In additition to allowing him to add a layer of stumbling buffoon to his performance, it also proved a time eater (think of it as Word Helper from Betty Crocker).  Since the five minute rule was enforced in both hearings, it allowed Crocker to avoid answering many things.
Ike Skelton chairs the House Armed Services Committee and he opened the hearings this morning noting, among other things, "We should not begin this hearing without recalling how we got here.  Iraq was invaded on incorrect information.  The turbulent aftermath following the initial military victory was not considered, despite warnings of the aftermath, including two such warnings from me.  Now we are in our sixth year of attempting to quell this horrendous aftermath.  Preparing for this hearing, I went back and read my opening statement from our last hearing with you in September.  I think I could have delivered the same statement today as I did then, which means either I repeat myself, or things haven't changed that much in Iraq."
After Petraeus and Crocker made the same prepared opening statements.  To comments that the US could 'stand down' when Iraq 'stood up,' Skelton would point out "we've been at this for years" (Iraq War) so "how do you do that?  How do you take the training wheels off?"  Gen David Petraeus didn't get a laugh from this yesterday but seems sure there's a laugh in somewhere, so he repeated that al-Maliki's puppet government 'stood up' in Basra ("That's exactly what Prime Minister Maliki" did "as commander in chief in Iraq!").  He stuck to the script of the puppet of the occupation deciding to assault Basra all by himself, "That was not something that we pushed him to do, candidly. ... That's something they wanted to do" and insisting that this was not a case of "us twisting their hand."  Basra, for al-Maliki, was a failure.  Petraeus might try mugging in a Norman Fell manner the next time he delivers this line.
US House Rep Solomon Ortiz noted the human costs and that the alleged "security gains are arguable" as well as the crisis in readiness for the military.  House Rep Silvestre Reyes would probe the issue of withdrawal and the buzz words of this tour "conditions-based" (which really needs a big production number).  By the testimony being offered by Petraeus, Reyes felt that if violence flared up in one area, Petraeus would be arguing to "reinstate the sruge" and Petraeus felt that wasn't likely and stated anything like that was something that the puppet government could take care of.
US House Rep Ellen Tauscher noted the opposition to the Iraq War, that more people are saying (in polls) that the Iraq war was "not worth it) and how "my constituents repeatedly tell me that we can't sustain" the costs (human and monetary).  Tauscher noted that a new president would be elected in November and sworn in at the start of 2009.  "If you report to a commander-in-chief . . . that wants a plan" for withdrawal "what would you advise?"  Petraeus stated, "My response would be dialogue again on what the risk would be."  He then tried to take the curtness off his response by noting the US military is under civilian control: "we are not self-employed, we take orders and we obey."  Tauscher moved on, "Mr. Crocker, considering that we will have a new president on January 20 . . . what would you advise the president on what would be available and how we could" withdraw?  Crocker's response was hilarious.
"That's looking fairly far into the future uh and I've uh learned to keep my timelines short when it uh comes to do with things in Iraq."
He can't see that 'far' into the future?  Eight months from now?  It's like bad Woody Allen parody.  Manhattan, Diane Keaton plays Mary, Allen's Isaac.  Mary's decided to leave Isaac for Yale who is married.
Isaac: I give the whole thing . . . four weeks.  
Mary: I can't plan that far in advance.  
Isaac: You can't plan four weeks in advance?
Mary: No.
Isaac: What kind of foresight is that?
The US Ambassador to Iraq can not ponder how he would advise the next president (elections are less than seven months away) on how to go about withdrawal if that was his or her determination.  He can't think that far ahead.
US House Rep Robert Andrews attempted to pin Petraeus and Crocker on the lack of political/diplomatic process in Iraq.  Crocker used a lot of words (and "uh"s and "uhm"s) to  say nothing.  At one point, he declared, "The most important power they [Iraqis] have is access to resources" which led Andrews to point out, "At this point and time the most important resource in Iraq is oil" and there's been no sharing agreement passed.  ("No, it hasn't," Crocker admitted.)  Crocker had tried to pitch the de-de-Baathification law but Andrews pointed out that this non-implemented legislation bans "former members of the Baath Party" from the military and defense occupations.  He noted that it's now five years with no progress and "why should the American people wait five more minutes for that to happen?"
US House Rep J. Randy Forbes expressed his worries about "housewives" and "premature withdrawal."  He appeared to be confused at what hearing he was attending and what topics were being discussed.
US House Rep Susan Davis noted Senator Hillary Clinton's questions to Petraeus and Crocker yesterday in the Senate Armed Services Committee about the treaty the White House wants which they call a Status of Force Agreement.  Yesterday Clinton had noted that "it seems odd to Americans" that "the Iraqi Parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement" while "the United States Congress does not."  Davis referenced that and noted, "That strikes people in our districts as strange.  I wonder if you could talk on that" and how such an agreement might or might not "be used as leverage?"
Crocker attempted to eat up time via "Some uh uh 80 other agreements with different countries uh uh each other country has different aspects us uh . . . uh uh this one will have uh uh . . . "  Davis wanted to know if the Status of Force Agreement was "a vehicle for leverage that would actually bring about a result that would not occur without the agreement?"  Crocker responded with, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"  Again, he was eating up time.  Davis restated again (this was really the third time she'd done so), "I'm interested in knowing how we use the State of Force Agreements for leverage?"
Crocker went back to his same nonsense, "I think that like other agreements, this is a geustion of mutal agreements uh uh we both have interests in uh uh . . . it's not a question of uh uh having something to give to them uh uh . . ."  Davis noted, "The public believes that there is some role that we [Congress] should be playing to be a larger part of that aggreement" but "going back to the Awakening Councils . . . I think others are concerned that the 80,000 or so of indivduals that are not going to be included in the army or police that that, perhaps, marriage of convenience is going to shift back" to violence and "is that a concern to you?"  Crocker replied, "Actually Congresswoman, we've had that discussion with the Prime Minister" who "is commited to ensuring that the remainder receive employment in the civilian sector," that they receive "job training and employment opportunites."  These are the 91,000 thugs that are costing the US $16 million a month (as Wolf Blitzer noted on CNN -- and he was referenced in the hearing for noting that the bought loyalties could easily turn).  Petreaus and Crocker repeated their points from yesterday about how, by paying them, US vehicles aren't damaged.  Again, it's the strategy of fork over your lunch money to avoid getting beat on the playground -- a strategy that must make everyone proud.
Howard Berman chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and he noted at the start of the afternoon hearing, "Our witnesses are in the home stretch of a congressional testimony marathon; to some, this hearing may even seem like the fourth time around an endless loop.  That's why we are asking both Ambarassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus more or less to summarize the main points of their testimony, at their discretion, a report to Congress that has been heard once in the House and twice in the Senate already.  This way, we'll move along more quickly to the questions posed by members of the committee."  He also noted that "the surge was intended to quell the violence primarily in order to create political space for Iraqis to move on toward national reconcilliation" but that hasn't happened. 
US House Rep Gary Ackerman observed that "we seem to have gotten ourselves into a fix and we don't really know how to get ourselves out of it or unfix it."  He noted the many "reasons we've gotten into this mess" including non-existant WMDs, 'democracy,' "getting rid of Saddam."  After all of those various reasons, "it seems that we've achieved all of our golas and every time we do, a new goal comes up."  Ethnic violence appears to be the new excuse.  While Crocker and Petraeus have their jobs, Congress does as well and "our job is just the opposite, our job is to question.  Our job is to raise those points".  He compared the circular nonsense going on today with a WWII military song: "We're heare because we're here."  "Why are the troops there? Because we went there.  So we're there because we're there and we're there because we're there."  Which raises the question of "How do you fix it?"  Ackerman compared it to Sisyphus struggle in Greek mythology (every day he attempts to roll a rock up a mountain and has to start from the beginning each day).  So "when you can stop pushing it? . . . When does this end?  When do you stop pushing that big stone up the hill?  And the answer is you really can't see beyond that big stone . . . You can't see around it."  He noted that while the escalation/surge provides a "re-do," those who have died do not get a re-do.  What is winning?  Ackerman pointed out, "How do you know we've won because at the end of this thing, unless we decide it's an end, nobody's going to hand you a revolver, nobody's going to hand you a sword.  Nobody seems to know the answer to that question."
Certainly Crocker and Petraeus didn't know the answer to that question.
US House Rep Brad Sherman provided a summary of points raised such as, "As the chair pointed out, in our war with Saddam, it's possible the winner has been Iran."  He declared ("as Mr. Ackerman pointed out") that, "We're there because we're there." And moved to the Status of Force of Agreement wanting to know, "Will there be anything in this agreement that ties the new president's hand?"
Ryan Crocker: Congressman, uh uh, in a word, uh, no.
He asked Petraeus, "Will you begin on November 5th . . . to prepare plans to execute the policies of the incoming president or alternatively, will the incoming president . . . find a dilemma where if they order immediate withdrawal it will be an unplanned withdrawal" which would lead to more of the same currently going on (stuck in a quagmire).
Petraeus: Congressman, I can only serve one boss at a time.
"As a transition approaches," he continued, "obviously there is going to be back and forth to facilitate and not me, this will be the Secretary of Defense, the chair of the Joint Chiefs and, at some point, there will be contingency plans directed." 
Brad Sherman asked, "So you would expect to get contingency plans?"  And David Petraeus replied, "I'm very uncomfortable candidly describing" this.  He spooks so easy. 
He wanted Crocker to explain, considering the price of oil per barrel, "Why are we paying everything that we're paying" in Iraq?  But he was out of time.  US House Rep Dana Orbacher followed up on Sherman's questions and cautioned that "any Status of Force Agreement with Iraq" should "include a provision that the Iraqi government pay for any security that we're providing them with."  Crocker replied, "Uh, Congressman, in the last few days, uh, uhm, had that message emphasized loud and clear. . . . That's uh something" to be discussed.  Orbarcher responded that the correct answer was "yes" and "If not there's going to be trouble on the Republican side as well as the Democratic side" when the next war funding bill comes through.
"General, we often hear President Bush and [Senator John] McCain say we must win in Iraq," US House Rep Robert Wexler noted. "What is the definition of 'winning'?" 
Wexler explained that he had sought out input from his constituents as to what question they would be asking if they were on the committee.  Stuart Wolfer, 36-years-old, died in Iraq on Sunday.  He was a major on his second tour of Iraq and "his family was relieved that he was in the Green Zone because they hoped he would be safe there."  He was killed in an attack on the Green Zone.  He leaves behind a wife Lee Anne Wolfer and three daughters.  His parents, Esther and Len Wolfer, live in Boca Raton.  Len Wolfer wanted Wexler to ask, "For what?"  Wexler explained, "For what had he lost his son?  What has all this been for and please, respectfully, don't tell us as you told Senator [John] Warner [yesterday] to remove a brutal dictator.  What did Stuart Wolfer and the . . . others die for?"
David Petreaus: National interests.
Petreaus defined 'winning' as Iraq being "a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbors."  Gee, when does the US make that a goal for itself?
US House Rep Eliot Engel noted the Status of Force Agreement proposal and how when Seantor Clinton noted it yesterday, she was told that "it was unclear whether they [al-Maliki] would bring it to a vote or simply read it to the Iraqi Parliament"; however, the Iraqi Constitution require it to be brought to the Parliament.  So, Engel wanted to know, "If the Maliki governemtn bypasses the Iraqi Parliament and approves this agreement unilaterally, will the Bush administration . . . reject any agreement?"  Time ran out and no answer was provided.
US House Rep Sheila Jackson opened with, "May I ask a simple question?  How do we get out of this mess?"  She showed photos of a recent trip to Iraq (noting that the photos weren't classified) and how she saw quality of life needs throughout her visit (trash, lack of potable water, etc.).  She noted the Iraqis she spoke with and how Nouri al-Maliki is seen not as a leader of Iraq but as a sectarian leader.  The 2002 Iraq resolution required UN approval, she pointed out, which never took place.  "Now Saddam is gone, there's been a democratic election," she noted, so why is the US still in Iraq? Petraeus tried to avoid her questions including the most basic ones about whether al Qaeda exists outside of Iraq.  "Certainly," he replied after dodging.  "Let me say that I frankly believe we are operating without authority, the 2002 authorization has been completed . . . We should now bring our troops home."
Underscoring Sheila Jackson Lee's point, the US military announced today: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier died from non-combat related injuries at approximately 6:30 a.m. April 9."  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier died from non-combat related injuries at approximately 5:30 a.m. April 9."  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- North Soldier was killed in an improvised explosive device attack in Salah ad Din Province, April 9."  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device attack at approximately 2 p.m. in northeastern Baghdad." And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Center Soldier was killed in an improvised explosive device attack while conducting operations east of Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom April 8."   Sunday saw at least  5 deaths announced, Monday saw 4, yesterday saw 2 and today sees 5.  ICCC lists 19 for the month thus far and only one of those was before Sunday.  So that's 18 announced dead so far this week. ICCC's current total for the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war is 4031.
Today, the fifth anniversary of the staged photo-op of the US military taking down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad to the cheering of . . . a few Iraqi exiles shipped in that weekend, was supposed to see a massive demonstration by Moqtada al-Sadr; however, he called off the action. Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that while Petraeus and Crocker were hitting the war drums for war on Iran yesterday:

As they spoke, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr threatened to unleash his Mahdi Army militia against U.S. and Iraqi forces. Once again, it was Iran that stepped into the political vacuum and urged a halt to militia attacks into the heavily fortified Green Zone, where U.S. and Iraqi officials, including Petraeus and Crocker, have their offices.     
The Iranian foreign ministry called for "restraint and prudence of various Iraqi groups," an implicit rebuke of Sadr, who is living and studying in Iran.
In some of today's other reported violence . . .
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 mortar attacks on the Green Zone today. Reuters notes 2 Mosul car bombings that claimed the lives of 3 police officers and 1 civilian and left twenty people wounded.  CBS and AP report 7 dead in a Sadr City mortar attack (three were children) on a home.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed clash in the Sadr City section of Baghdad that left three people wounded. Reuters notes a Sadr City armed clash that resulted in 23 deaths and eighty-three people being injured, 1 police officer shot dead and 1 civilian in Tuz Khurmato, and 1 person shot dead in Tal al-Hadeed.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 2 discovered in Kirkuk.
Turning to US presidential primary news, "I don't actually think it's a bad idea to have an open convention, where we actually got to hash out what the differences [between the candidates] were and how important they are."  That's Elizabeth Edwards speaking on ABC's Good Morning America today (link has text and video).  Edwards endorsed no one and her husband (John Edwards) hasn't either.  She did endorse Senator Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan, declaring, "You need that universality in order to get the cost savings. . . . I just have more confidence in Senator Clinton's policy than Senator Obama's on this particular issue."  On her own health, she stated, "I'm doing great.  I still have cancer in my bone.  I get tested periodically.  But it's under control.  It doesn't seem to be growing, knock on wood.  And i'm continuing taking some sort of treatment for the rest of my life, and hope that medicine catches up with my disease."  Edwards was interviewed by GMA's Robin Roberts who had surgery last year for cancer. It is not a minor issue, and we'll again note "Clinton Unveils Plan To Find Cure For Breast Cancer On The Ellen DeGeneres Show: Plan Includes $300 Million in Increased Funding For Research Annually And Increased Access To Treatment And Screening Services."  Somehow, the news outlets couldn't give attention to that, couldn't acknowledge it.  Though it effects many women, it just wasn't important apparently.  Or it wasn't important to them.  How nice it must be to be them.
At 11:30 a.m. EST tomorrow, the Bully Boy will prance in front of America to claim the illegal war is 'winnable' and more fairy tales.  Hillary has released a statement on the Iraq War today:
"Yesterday in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked General Petraeus for the conditions under which he would actually support a change of course in Iraq, and to begin a drawdown of our troops, given that the surge has failed to achieve its stated goal of political reconciliation among the Iraqis. Well, he didn't really answer me.    
"I also asked Ambassador Crocker if the United States Congress would have the same opportunity as the Iraqi Parliament will have to review any agreement or long-term security pact that President Bush is negotiating with the Iraqis. Ambassador Crocker said that the Congress, your representatives, would not have that chance.       
"I have two requests of President Bush for his speech on Thursday. First, I call on the President to answer the question that General Petraeus did not. What is our end game in Iraq given the failure of surge to achieve the objective that the president outlined for it? Second, I call on President Bush to pledge to the American people, who have sacrificed greatly for this effort that the United States Congress will have the chance to review and vote on any long-term security agreement he has negotiated with the Iraqis.        
"President Bush must not saddle the next president with an agreement that extends our involvement in Iraq beyond his presidency. We have lost more than 4,000 of our best sons and daughters. They have given their lives in service to our country in honor and for the objective of giving the Iraqi people the greatest gift another human being can bestow - the gift of freedom. Tens of thousands of our young men and women have suffered - wounds both visible and invisible - to their bodies, their minds and their hearts.       
"This war has cost more than $1 trillion if you factor in the lifetime of care and support that is due to our returning veterans, and of course, we must. Our ongoing military involvement in Iraq has also undermined our efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week that our continued involvement in Iraq has meant we cannot deploy the forces we need to that country.       
"There has been a harsh and daily toll on our men and women in uniform, many of whom are on their second, third, and even fourth tours of duty. Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of our soldiers' mental health. And we cannot forget the toll on military families. When fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives sign up to serve our country, their families sign up, too.
"So it is vital for our national security -- and for the health and safety of our men and women in uniform -- that we begin to end the war in Iraq and rebuild our military. A great Pennsylvanian, Benjamin Franklin once said, 'Well done is better than well-said.'"

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