Wednesday, February 25, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Barack Obama is expected to announce a 'plan' for Iraq by week's end, a manhunt is underweigh in Iraq, Jack Straw faces intense criticism, the non-withdrawal 'withdrawal,' and more.
Appearing on NBC's Today Show this morning, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Matt Lauer and the issue of Iraq was raised at the end of the exchange when Lauer brought up the reports that US President Barack Obama would be announcing a draw down plan for some troops which would be done over a nineteen-month period:
Matt Lauer: Now you guys ran on a pledge to withdraw all US combat troops within 16 months. I'm not going to split hairs on the three months, I don't think anybody will, but I want to get these troop numbers down. That would not be a withdrawal of all combat troops, would it?
Joe Biden: Look, the president's going to make an announcement on Friday -- I believe it's Friday -- or very soon on this very point, Matt. And I'd rather have him speak to that and he'll speak to it in detail. I think the American public will be -- understand exactly what we're doing and they will be pleased.
Matt Lauer: But are we going -- are you keeping a campaign promise or breaking a campaign promise?
Joe Biden: We're keeping a campaign committment.
The question was necessary because, as Ross Colvin (Reuters) notes, "When former President George W. Bush addressed the U.S. Congress in January 2008 he gave three pages of his speech to the Iraq war. On Tuesday night his successor Barack Obama spoke a single sentence." That was Barack's 52-minute speech last night, where he yet again made clear that the Iraq War isn't a topic he wants to be pinned down on despite the White House running to reporters all yesterday insisting Iraq would be part of the speech. And his inattention to the topic is being registering. Gordon Lubold and Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) report, "One Iraqi official says the US and Iraq have not yet begun negotiations on the size of the residual force, adding that the Obama administration, currently focused on the American economy and ramping up operations in Afghanistan, was far less engaged with Iraq policy than the previous administration." Yesterday on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, David Martin reported on the expected announcements regarding the draw down in Iraq, noting the speculation of insiders that Barack has elected to go with a 19-month timeline to withdraw "combat" troops from Iraq.
David Martin: But there would still be tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, perhaps as many as 50,000. They would be formed into so-called 'training and assistance' brigades to support the Iraqi army and police but they would still be capable of conducting combat operations and would be able to call in strikes from carrier or land-based aircraft.
And, yes, there would be. ABC News' Martha Raddatz was raising that issue back in January on PBS' Washington Week -- Ava and I noted it here:
Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws --
Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq.
Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.
This morning, Elisabeth Bumiller and Peter Baker (New York Times) reported that "defense officials said they did not know how many combat troops would stay behind in new missions as trainers, advisers or counterterrorism forces, at least some of whom would still be effectively in combat roles. Military planners have said that in order to meet withdrawal deadlines, they would reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with their Iraqi counterparts." Ann Scott Tyson and Anne E. Kornblut (Washington Post) note that the possible Friday announcement could take place in North Carolina (Barack will be visiting bases) and that the 19-months being tossed around is "three months later than promised during his campaign". Depending on the news outlet, the estimates for the number of US troops currently on the ground in Iraq goes from approximately 142,000 (Ann Scott Tyson and Anne E. Kornblut as well as David Martin go with that figure) to 147,000 (especially popular with AFP and Scottish outlets). (Yes, the Pentagon should have a running count to clear the issue up.) Matt Lauer can decide he's not going to make an issue out of it -- as he demonstrated -- but he's a morning talk show host. He's not been elected by anyone to speak on behalf of Americans. He may be fine and dandy with three extra months (that will not even lead to a withdrawal) but let's be clear that three months could mean 44 dead Americans. That is the number of US service members who have died in Iraq in the last three months (February isn't done yet so the number could rise). Matt's fond of taking Jack along on interviews with Barack. If Jack Lauer were over in Iraq, possibly the thought of 44 more deaths might be of interest to Matt. You don't play the lotto with human lives. So, yes, three months do matter.
Military Families Speak Out's Elaine Brower (writing at World Can't Wait) has a son who is on his third tour of Iraq. It matters.
This is wrong. The occupation is wrong, and those of us in the anti-war movement have been screaming this at the top of our lungs for the last 6 years, even before the first boots were on the ground in Iraq. Even before the campaign of "shock and awe" even lit up the skies above innocent people. What the hell are we thinking?
Because it isn't Bush and Cheney, those loathsome characters we so love to hate that isn't doing this, it's OK? That because it isn't Don Rumsfeld, that warmongering war criminal of a pig, it's OK? Because the face of the occupation is now Barack Obama it's OK?
Well I have a newsflash, it's NOT OK! We have in our infinite wisdom killed over 1 million Iraqis, displaced 2 million, destroyed hospitals, mosques, historical sites, homes, agricultural, stolen natural resources, orphaned children, made widows, killed entire families, sent over 4,200 soldiers to their deaths, severly wounded another 50,000, not including those who have PTSD and are committing suicide in record-breaking amounts, and we think we shouldn't be out in the streets demanding an end to this now? Why is that?
It also matter that Barack left an impression with the American people as to his 'plan' -- left that impression throughout his primary and general campaigns (which is what Matt was trying to get to on Today this morning). Thomas E. Ricks (author of The Gamble) appeared on CBS' Washington Unplugged (click here for just the Ricks' segment) two Fridays ago and explained how Barack's 'promise' came across to Americans:
Thomas E. Ricks: I think there well indeed might be a clash by the end of the year. Obama's campaign promise to get American troops out of Iraq in sixteen months was a fatuous promise. When Americans heard it, what they heard was 'I will have no American troops dying in 16 months.' But it was a false phraseology: "combat troops." Well, newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops. There's no pacifistic branch of the US Army. Anytime you have American troops out there, there are going to be some of them fighting and dying -- in counter-terror missions against al Qaeda, if you have American advisers with Iraqi troops, they're going to be getting into fights, some Americans will be dying. So I think we're there for a long time and as long as we're there -- unlike, say, the occupations of Korea, Japan and Germany, American troops will be engaged in combat. General Odierno says in the book he'd like to see 35,000 troops there as late as 2015. Well into . . . it will be Obama's second term. So I think that at the end of this year, you're going to see a conflict. Obama's going to want to see troop numbers coming down. Odierno, the other big O, as they call him in Iraq, is going to say, "Wait a minute, you're holding general elections here in December, in Iraq. That's exactly the wrong time to take troops out."
Barack deliberately misled the American people -- a large faction was willing to be misled and wanted to be. Equally true is that, when pressed (he was rarely pressed), he would admit that he would not just stop withdrawing troops but reverse the direction (send more troops back in) depending upon 'the situation on the ground.' That was his policy -- outlined best to the New York Times -- in the transcript of the interview, not the bad write up and it was covered at length in the November 2, 2007 snapshot -- and it can be boiled down as: "My concerns is if you draw down in response too rapidly, draw down in response to American political pressure, instead of as the Iraqis take over area, then there are other ares of Iraq that don't have a government presence that desperately need one, and rather than bring our forces home we should be moving into those areas. When we have all of Iraq with a security presence, that is significant enough to make a difference, then we can start drawing down . . . " And that quote? It's actually from Col Thomas Hammes (retired) and he explained the 'plan' on The NewsHour (PBS -- link has video and text) back in December 23, 2005. No, there's not a bit of difference between Barack and Bush.
And that was noticeable in November 2007. Tom Hayden showed up making like Helen Morgan and singing "The Man I Love" over the write-up Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny did. Then, when the transcript was pointed out to him, he was a bit more somber and had one of those You-listen-to-me-Barack moments. (They fade quickly. And Billie Holiday also recorded a strong version of "The Man I Love," I just find it more apt to compare Tom-Tom to Helen Morgan.) It was always there: The bases around -- but not in -- Iraq, the need for a 'residual presence' even after 'withdrawal,' admitting he'd send US troops back into Iraq in the midst of 'withdrawal' dickering over terms to maintain 'combat troops' had been removed -- in fact, let's provide an example of that:
Obama: But they aren't necessarily military missions.
NYT: But how do you go back into Iraq without military forces?
Obama: No, no, no, no, no. You conflated three things. The latter two that you are talked about are not military missions. Let's just be clear about that.
NYT: An armed escort is not a military mission?
Again, it was known. From that day's snapshot:
Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.
If any of the above surprises you, you can scream at the media (and should) but it's also time for you to take a little accountability for your own willful ignorance. Moving to some calling out the nonsense today and starting with Chris Floyd (via CounterPunch) who was one of the few calling it out when it mattered:
It would be surperflous in us to point out that a plan to "end" a war which includes the continued garrisoning of up to 50,000 troops in a hostile land is, in reality, a continuation of that war, not its cessation. To produce such a plan and claim that it "ends" a war is the precise equivalent of, say, relieving one's bladder on the back of one's neighbor and telling him that the liquid is actually life-giving rain.
But this is exactly what we are going to get from the Obama Administration in Iraq. Word has now come from on high -- that is, from "senior administration officials" using "respectable newspapers" as a wholly uncritical conduit for government spin -- that President Obama has reached a grand compromise with his generals (or rather, the generals and Pentagon poobahs he has inherited -- and eagerly retained -- from George W. Bush) on a plan to withdraw some American troops from the country that the United States destroyed in an unprovoked war of aggression.
Meanwhile John Walsh (Dissident Voice) notes how cozy and familiar with the right-wing Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor and publisher of The Nation magazine) and Leslie Cagan (pension drawer in retirement pretending to lead an 'anti-war' movement):
Vanden Heuvel's most recent piece in The Nation runs under a title in the form of a query, "Obama's War?" Whose war does she think it is anyway? Even the mainstream media calls it Obama's war -- sans question mark. Her piece ran shortly after Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan and almost a month after both Afghan and Pakistani civilians were first bombed at Obama's orders. She concludes her piece, after citing the deployment of additional troops, "Up to this point the Afghan war belonged to George W. Bush, but Obama's escalation threatens to make it his own. There's still time to change direction. President Obama don't make this your war"! (Emphasis mine. If escalation of the AfPak war (the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan) only "threatens" to make the war Obama's, what will it take to give him ownership?)
Having supported Obama during the election when he was very clear about his coming Crusade in Afghanistan and having made no demands in exchange for their support, the liberals are now reduced, their leverage gone, to begging for a change in course. Pity, pathos, disgust or a sense of betrayal -- it is hard to know what to feel when one encounters this stuff.
Similarly Cagan's United for Peace and Justice, dominated by the "Progressive" Democrats of America ("P"DA) and the "Communist" Party of the U.S.A ("C"PUSA) -- more or less the same thing, not because "P"DA is radical but because the "C"PUSA is not -- has been all too silent on Obama's AfPak War. As a result there have been discordant rumblings among the rank and file about UFPJ's failure to call a national demonstration against the wars flaring from Iraq to Pakistan and refusal to join the only one called, that by ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War and End Racism) for March 21.
The March 21st action around the corner and organizations participating include The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Here's IVAW's announcement of the March action:
IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21stAs an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: www.pentagonmarch.org or www.answercoalition.org.
Meanwhile Michael Collins (Dissident Voice) asks why aren't the Iraqi people consulted on this issue: "Who asked the Iraqi people about the withdrawal schedule? As the self-proclaimed proponents for democracy and human rights, shouldn't the United States inquire as to the will of the people before initiating any policy changes? . . . Relying on the ever-shifting positions of a very unpopular Iraqi government is useless in assessing the will of the Iraqi people. The only way to determine their will is through a national election."
No democracy, no real justice system. The latter is being found out by Mohammad al-Daini, a Sunni member of the Iraqi Parliament. As Marc Santora (New York Times) reported this morning, al-Daini was publicly accused Sunday of various crimes including bombing Parliament in 2007 and MP Saleh al-Mulaq is calling for "a full investigation fo the Shiite leaders of government for their links to violence" and states, "Let's begin a real effort to disclose information about those involved in killings and sectarian displacement. Then we will discover that there are leaders inside the political process who took part in these events." Ahmed Rasheed and Wisam Mohammed (Reuters) report that al-Daini was due to land in Jordan this morning; however, al-Maliki's government ordered that the plane return to Iraq which it did. The reporters also note that Parliament voted to lift his legal immunity (as an MP, he did have legal immunity). Tina Susman and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report that "Daini's whereabouts remain a mystery as the political clamor over his alleged crimes, everything from murder to gold heists, escalates and threatens to rev up sectarian polarization in parliament. The plainclothes security guard who escorted Daini, a Sunni Arab politician, off the plane was part of his personal security contingent, as were the security officers who drove away with him shortly before a nationwide manhunt began."
In other news . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left six people injured, a Mosul car bombing that resulted in the death of the driver and a Mosul grenade attack that injured two people.
Reuters notes that Tuesday night in Kirkuk "a prominent business man" was shot dead.
Reuters notes that "three employees of Iraq's state-run Northern Oil Company' and one other person were kidnapped in Rashad today.
Yesterday's snapshot noted the death of a US soldier. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) was the first reporter with a US paper to file on it (as Ruth pointed out last night): "A U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed today and three American troops were injured when gunmen, who officials said wore Iraqi police uniforms, fired on them in the northern city of Mosul. It was the third time since November that men in Iraqi security forces uniforms have attacked American forces in Nineveh province." Those waking up with today's New York Times could read Marc Santora's print article on the incident where he sketched out what was known and what was supsected. The Kansas City Star has to run an article by Brian Murphy (AP) because, despite being a McClatchy outlet, there was no McClatchy story to carry. Meanwhile Matthew D. LePlante (Salt Lake Tribune) reports the passing of a local resident:
The students in Micheal Alleman's class didn't take kindly to the news.
It was the middle of the school year, and the popular fifth-grade teacher was leaving his career as an educator to join the Army. He told the class he wanted to be like the nation's first president, who left his career as a Virginia planter to take up arms against the British monarchy.
"He said that George Washington was his hero," said Samantha Larkin, 11, a student in Alleman's class at Nibley Elementary School in Cache County, last year. "But it was a little bit confusing to us."
On Tuesday, Alleman's former students were among those in several Utah communities coming to terms with a revelation that was even more difficult to accept: The teacher-turned-soldier had been killed in Iraq.
Along with Michael Alleman, Michael L. Mayne and Zachary Norman were killed in Iraq on Monday. WTHR-TV notes Indianapolis reaction to Zachary Norman's death:
"It was sad for his instructors and I know sad for his family. At three o'clock today there is a gonna be a moment of silence for him as students dismiss. We will ask students to do the moment of silence and to think about the sacrifices that Zach and other veterans have made for our freedom," said Cheri O'Day, Ben Davis High School.
Ben Davis will also add Zachary Nordmeyer's name to a wall of honor for its graduates that have died in the line of duty. Nordmeyer becomes the 18th former student who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Saturday, May 12, 2007 an al-Taqa attack on US soldiers took place resulting in 4 US soldiers and 1 Iraqi translator being killed immediately and three US soldiers missing. The three missing were Jospeh Anzack, Byron Fouty and Alex Jimenez. In May of 2007 (23rd), the family of Joseph Anzack was informed his body had been identifed. Still missing were Byron Fouty and Alex Jimenez. July 11, 2008 the press reported (citing Byron Fouty's step-father for confirmation) that the remains of both soldiers had been identified. That afternoon the US Dept of Defense released a statement: "The Department of Defense today announced the deaths of two soldiers previously listed as "Missing-Captured" while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. On July 10, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner positively identified human remains recovered in Iraq July 9 to be those of two soldiers who had been previously listed as 'Missing-Captured.' . . . Jimenez and Fouty were part of a patrol that was ambushed by enemy forces south of Baghdad on May 12, 2007. They were assigned to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y. The Department of Defense previously announced the names of soldiers killed in the attack. They were Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack, Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell, Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn.; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.; Cpl. Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.; and Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev." Last night, Mike highlighted Brian MacQuarrie (Boston Globe, Feb. 18, 2009) article on Byron Fouty and Alex Jimenez' families holding a service at Arlington National Cemetary:
One stone will mark the resting place for Jimenez, 25, and Fouty, 19.
Rest, also, could come for two families who endured nearly 14 months of agony until, after a massive manhunt involving 4,000 troops, the bodies of the soldiers were discovered at last on July 8, 2008. A native of Pembroke, Mass., Private Matthew Bean, died after being shot by a sniper during the search.
The remains that could be identified had already been buried: Jimenez's in Farmingdale, N.Y., near his mother's home; Fouty's in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
A second funeral, however, proved no easier for parents and loved ones living with recurring, excruciating thoughts of the suffering that their soldiers probably endured.
"It's very difficult, because we know that part of him is in there," said Jimenez's mother, Maria Duran of Queens, N.Y., as she nodded toward the casket during a wake the previous night.
In England yesterday there was huge news and one of the few US outlets to cover the story today is the Dallas Morning News which notes, "Britain's justice secretary overturned an order Tuesday that would have forced the government to make public the formal minutes of two contentious Cabinet discussions held before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The minutes detail advice the Cabinet was receiving on the legality of the Iraq war." That secretary is Jack Straw and Gary Slapper (Times of London) declares he "has violated a key principle of the British constitution. The principle is nemo judex in sua causa: no-one should be aj udge in his own case. Mr Straw stands personally to gain by continuing secrecy of the cabinet papers. The war in Iraq has been described by Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former senior law lord, as "a serious violation of international law". The British public has a legitimate interest in knowing how its government came to have entered it. Jack Straw was Foreign Secretary at the key time." At the UK's Military Families Against the War, Rose Gentle (whose son Gordon Gentle died in Iraq) asks:
What is the point of a freedom of information act if there is a escape clause in it just for government? Do they have something to hide?
They did say when the troops where out that they would have an Inquiry into the war. Will people ever trust a government again?
All we want to know is why our troops where sent in to Iraq -- this country has the right to know what is in those minutes. I have the right to know why my son was sent there to die. We all know it definitely wasn't for WMD -- lets hope one day their kids or grand kids don't go to a war looking for WMD
Sam Coates (Times of London) reveals Straw, by his own words, is "considering a clampdown on freedom of information laws".
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