Monday, March 30, 2009

Iraq snapshot

 Monday, March 30, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the "Awakening" Councils appear targeted and they fire back, Barack says no faster draw down but Odierno said something different, Lesley Abdela is the Woman Political Journalist of the Year, and more.
Cindy Sheehan's radio show, Cindy's Soapboxcontinues on the internet and she interviewed Ray McGovern last week as Barack prepared to make his "Same Way To Quagmire" speech on Friday.  In the portion we're going to note here, Cindy's bringing up the 'surge' in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan: The surge that I believe began in the beginning of 2007.
Ray McGovern: Correct.
Cindy Sheehan: Because I think at the end of 2006, I was arrested in Crawford, Texas trying to -- they were having some kind of meeting between -- it was Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice and, you know, all the major War Criminals of the Bush administration were up at the ranch so I think there were about five of us who got arrested trying to cross the barriers and you've been to Crawford so you know what I'm talking about.
Ray McGovern: Mm-hm.
Cindy Sheehan: The barriers to go to the ranch.  So we were arrested protesting the 'surge' because we could see the surge was going to be a nightmare.  And no matter how much Obama says the surge was successful.  Or Cheney, or Rums -- or Gates, Rumsfeld's out of the picture.  I don't even know where he is anymore.  However much they say the 'surge' was successful, there was a high price and it's not so successful if you know what really happened, was it?
Ray McGovern: No, it's true, Cindy, most people don't realize that 1,000, at least 1,000, young men and women from our armed forces are dead now --
Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.
Ray McGovern: -- dead.  And you know what that means, better than anybody else.
Cindy Sheehan: Yeah.
Ray McGovern: And thousands wounded.  Not to mention Iraqis. I mean, Iraqis, last time I checked the Bible, I looked it up.  Iraqis are human beings too.  Would you believe it?
Cindy Sheehan: Really?
Ray McGovern: Yeah, they really are.
Cindy Sheehan: Oh.  Wow.
Ray McGovern: So we have to cout them too.

Cindy Sheehan: But we don't count them.  We can only estimate how many Iraqis have been killed.
Ray McGovern: That's right.  They don't count.  Well that was the attitude.  And what we saw with the 'surge' was really bizarre, Cindy.  If you think back to the end of 2006, what was clear is that the Iraqi political figures were not taking seriously their duty to get their act together.
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Ray McGovern: No matter what we said, they always knew -- well Bush promised them, 'We'll never leave you,' right?  That's because he never wanted to leave them, okay?  What was happening was the place was falling apart.  And General [John] Abizaid and General Casey -- Abizaid being the head of CENTCOM, Casey being the head of the troops there in Iraq -- came back and testified in September before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  And what they said was this, "Thank's very much but please -- please -- don't send any more troops. The last thing we need is more troops.  Why?  Because if we send more troops, those Iraqis will never, never think they have to get their act together. We don't need more troops.  What we need is for them to get some religion here.  Work out their differences so we can leave, okay?"
Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.
Ray McGoven: Now that's what everyone was saying.  That's what the Hamilton . . .
Cindy Sheehan: Baker-Hamiliton report.
Ray McGovern: . . Baker-Hamilton report said.  Everybody in their right mind, everybody sane here, which is usually not too many people but most people in Washington were saying we have to acknowledge that.  So what did Bush do?  Well he talked to Cheney and Dick said, "Well now, Mr. President, you want to lose a war on your watch?  You want to tuck tale and go home to Texas and have the whole thing fold in on you?  No, we have to -- we have to reinforce, can't listen to these other folks."  And so they ginned up some folks at the American Enterprise Institute and a general named Keane and they whipped up this little plan to put in 30,000 troops.  30,000 troops in and around Baghdad. With formal screens, so that the Shia could ethnically cleanse Baghdad.
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Ray McGovern: Now that's, that's big, you know?
Cindy Sheehan: Right.
Ray McGovern: Baghdad used to be equal Sunni - Shia.  What these guys did under the protection of US forces -- and often with the help of US forces -- drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad, we're talking millions of people, Cindy.
Cindy Sheehan: Oh, I know.  I've been to -- I haven't been to Iraq yet but I've been to Iman, Jordan speaking with the people who were forced out if they were lucky to escape with their lives and if they were lucky to escape the country but, as you know, there are millions of refugees in and outside of Iraq right now.
Ray McGovern: Yes, some four-and-half million folks out of 27 million when the war began
Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.
Ray McGovern: So what you have here is a really great success We calmed down Baghdad, partly by driving the Sunni out, and also by building the kind of wall you used to see in Berlin that now we see in the West Bank and also on our southern border, I have to say, having recently been in southern Texas.  You know that kind of wall's a really great thing to bring people together, right?  Well it seperated what was left of the Sunni and actually divided that whole city so that was really great, that's really great, if you like walls and if you like ethnic cleansing.  And then of course we gave Petreaus a whole bunch of money and he gave it out to the Sunnis. "Here, we'll give you $300 a month, just don't fire in our direction."
Cindy Sheehan: Ten dollars a day.  They were giving, I think it was estimated about 80,000 people, ten dollars a day to not attack the US.
Ray McGovern: So now of course that dole is run out and what happens to the Sunni now?  Well, we'll just have to see.
Yes, we will have to see and we may be seeing it.  Over the weekend, the "Awakening" Council members/Sahwa/Sons of Iraq were in the news.  It started with arrests and ended with gun battles.  Along the way the nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill had his testimony to Congress last week (see Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots) again punked. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explained Saturday, "16 people were injured (seven Sahwa members, four Iraqi soldiers and four civilians) after clashes broke out between the Iraqi army and Sahwa members in Fadhil neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 2 p.m. The clashes broke out during an operation of the Iraqi army to arrest the leader of Fadhil Sahwa and one of his deputies. Five Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped in the incident."  McClatchy's Leila Fadel added Adel Mashhadani was the arrest target and that the arrest of him (as well as an assistant) "heightened fears among Sunnis that the Iraqi government plans to divide and disband the movements now that its taken control of all but a few thousands of the 94,000 members across the country."  Now let's pause a moment.  The point of opening with Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern's discussion is they're talking about the way Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, eradicated the Sunni presence from Baghdad.  So when discussing why "Awakenings" might be leery, why they might not trust al-Maliki, that 'rezoning' plays a big part in it.  As does the fact that al-Maliki staffed his ministries with Shi'ite thugs and allowed them to attack Sunnis without any fears of reprimands, let alone reprisals.  Nouri's been very clear in his distaste for Sunni thugs -- Shi'ite ones he loves -- which is why US Senator Barbara Boxer was able to reference European press interviews al-Maliki gave stating that the bulk of the "Awakenings" would not be brought into his government.  With that and more in mind, Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland (New York Times) quote the spokesperson for Fadhil "Awakening" Council, Abu Mirna, stating Saturday as fighting was ongoing, "American forces have broken the alliance with us by arresting our leader.  Now there are clashes in the area between the Americans and Awakening fighters and you can hear shooting. It's chaos."  There were reports of 5 Iraqi soldiers being captured in the battle and held hostage. 
"The reason it's significant," McClatchy's Leila Fadel told Real News Network, "is that it's one of a series of detentions of top leaders of the Sons of Iraq -- in Iraq, across the country.  Specifically in Diyala [Province] and Baghdad.  And this program, the Sons of Iraq, which is really part of the reason the US military can claim what they call success now with the lower levels of violence because these guys either turned on al Qaeda [in Mesopotamia] or stopped shooting and are on US payroll and now they're being transferred to Iraqi government control.  And with that control, it seems that they are trying to weaken these groups and some of that can lead to violence as Fadhil clearly showed over the weekend."    
Real News Network's Paul Jay: So they're targeting some of the leaders of these groups at the same time that they are incorporating some of the ordinary members or are they actually targeting the whole organizations?
Leila Fadel: Well the --
Paul Jay: "They" being the Iraqi government.
Leila Fadel: Right.  The transfer of authority started in October of last year.  Where the US military said "Here are these 100,000 guys who we've been paying $300 a month and who have been in their streets, in their neighborhoods secure them.  Now you take them." The [Iraqi] government has always said, "We believe most of these guys are former insurgents.  We don't trust them. We don't want them. We won't give them amnesty.  And so finally the government said "Give them to us, we want to take them."  So now the authority technically is the Iraqi government -- in most of Iraq, not all of them have been transferred Salahuddin [Province] I think has still not transferred.  And during that time and right before that, when I say "target," they've gone after them with arrest warrants on accusations of crimes they've committed but the Sons of Iraq themselves are saying they feel targeted, they feel that the leaders who stood up and took a risk and went against the people that were destroying their neighborhoods and also maybe turned on, or changed their minds about things of the past, where they would attack US forces or government forces as their enemy are now being betrayed and being arrested for those crimes of the past.
And it continued on Sunday.   Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) explain Raad Ali arrest became public (arrested five days prior): "Ali, a former insurgent, had a close working relationship with the Americans, shared a military base with them, and said he had briefed visiting U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan about the Sons of Iraq movement. Ali spoke regularly about the need for Sunnis to enter the political mainstream and leave behind their insurgency."  Sudarsan Raghavan and Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) report, "On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. combat helicopters and American troops swept into a central Baghdad neighborhood, arresting U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in an effort to clamp down on a two-day uprising that challenged the Iraqi government's authority and its effort to pacify the capital."    Waleed Ibrahim, Wisam Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Abdulrahman Taher, Thaier al-Sudani, Tim Cocks, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) add, "A Reuters Television cameraman saw U.S. military vehicles alongside Iraqi army ones using loudspeakers to warn the fighters in Arabic to put down their weapons, while U.S. military helicopters hovered overhead." Leila Fadel reported Sunday that "Awakenings" had handed "over 10 Iraqi soldiers they'd been holding" after they surrendered "and gav eup their weapons" and that this came after Iraq's "Army sealed off the district, and [US] helicopters circled in the air".
Fadel explains to the Real News Network that "Awakenings" feel betrayed because the US military gave or "Awakenings" thought they were given amnesty but that the US military could only give amnesty for attacks on the US, not attacks on Iraqis. Note that the term "amnesty" was used (this is me, not Leila) by the US military in recruiting "Awakenings."  It caused some rumbles on the internet play left side of the world (Arianna Huffington was a huffing back then about it).  Clearly, had the "Awakenings" known that the "amnesty" was limited, they wouldn't have gone along.  What would be the point?  Help pacify/terrorize the country and then when Nouri no longer needs them, he can pick them off?  If they had known that the amnesty did not apply across the board, they would not have gone along because the reason they were armed and against the puppet government in the first place was they didn't trust the puppet government (or the puppet). 
The US started the "Awakening" Council "movement" by putting Sunni thugs on the payroll (having already installed Shi'ite thugs into the puppet government) because, as Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker repeatedly explained to Congress last April, paying them off meant they wouldn't attack US forces. When paid by US forces, they had many "duties" but primarily they were stationed at checkpoints where they controlled who passed and who didn't. In January and February, some still waiting to be absorbed felt the checkpoints were their responsiblity. What happens now that they feel under attack? What happens as the word gets out that al-Maliki hasn't paid a large number in months and that word is on top of the arrests and targeting of them in Baghdad? As Sinan Salaheddin (AP) explains, "How the Shiite-led government deals with the Sunni security volunteers is widely seen as a test of its ability to win the loyalty of disaffected Sunnis _ an essential step in forging a lasting peace in Iraq." The arrest on Saturday is said to be because of "Baathism" and that's the charge whenever al-Maliki wants to haul someone away: they're a Baathist, they're plotting to overthrow him, they're an enemy of the state, etc.
al-Maliki's last big claim of "Baathist conspiracy" exploded in his face. If this one does, he'll not only have the "Awakenings" to answer to, he'll also have an international community beginning to tire of his repeatedly playing "they're plotting against me!" Interestingly, the US military's statement doesn't mention any Baathist charge but does toss out their own constant cry of "al Qaeda in Iraq!": "Mashadani was arrested under a warrant issued by the Iraqi government. He is suspected of illegally searching, detaining and extorting bribes in excess of $160,000 a month from the citizens of Fahdil, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that killed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), leading an IED cell, leading an indirect fire cell, ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and collusion with the terrorist network Jaysh al Islami." Al Jazeera quotes al-Maliki's military spokesperson stating, "We also have information that Mashhadani heads the military branch in Fadel of the [banned] Baath party [of Saddam Hussein, the executed former Iraqi president]."  Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed also note the Baathist assertion: "The government accused Mashadani of running a secret wing of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, and his supporters of abusing their power."
For those who forgot, Barack's "best and brightest" (and hopefully not another tax cheat) nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week a lot of fairy tales including that they're all now under Nouri's control -- no, some have been turned over; that they've been abosrbed into the Iraqi forces by Nouri and this weekend proves that's not true plus only 5% have been employed by the government at present; and that Nouri's grabbed the responsibility of paying them from the Americans (US tax payers paid the March salaries for a huge chunk of "Awakenings") and is now on top of the payroll.  On top of the payroll?  AP reported Saturday that "leaders of several Awakening Council groups complained the government has not paid them in months, with some threatening to quit a movement." Complaints came from "Awakenings" in Baghdad, Diyala Province and Azamiyah -- Diyala "Awakenings" said they hadn't been paid in three months.
That wasn't the only news over the weekend.  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported that the Mujahedeen al-Kahlq, an Iranian group that has been in Iraq since 1979 and protected by the US military since the start of the Iraq War, is yet again the topic of al-Maliki's government as they repeat that the group must leave but, for now, the focus is on moving them "to new quarters in western or southern Iraq".   Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) quotes some offensive remarks made by Nouri al-Maliki's National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, MEK "should understand that their days in Iraq are numbered. We are literally counting them. . . . The party is over for them. The party is over for coalition protection for them." and, as Londono notes, "them" is al-Rubaie "referring to the U.S. military." The puppet's playtoy wants to say the "party is over for the" US forces? When did the party begin for them? When did the party begin? What an insulting remark from a sleazy, trashy assed piece of ___ who wouldn't even have a job if the US government had installed him and his man-crush al-Maliki.  Meanwhile Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) reports it's kick the can down the road yet again regarding the oil-rich Kirkuk which will now have any sort of decision or referendum on its status delayed until June at the earliest.  While Kirkuk may be postponable (it may not be), rumors float that Moqtada al-Sad's movement is in danger.  Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports on a supposed break in Moqtada al-Sadr's movement which takes place as "the government has begun granting secret amnesty deals to members of the breakaway group who also were members of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, in exchange for laying down their arms, according to government officials and three militia members who said they had won amnesty. The militias, dubbed special groups by the U.S. military, have continued to fight U.S. and Iraqi security forces." If either or both are true, al-Sadr's movement might be weakened.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baquba bike bombing which claimed 3 lives and left eight people wounded, a Baquba roadside bombing which wounded a police officer, and a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul, 3 "Awakening" Members were shot dead in Eskanderiyah, 2 people were shot dead in Babil Province and "the general director of the immigrants and displaced people department" was shot dead in Mosul and his assistant was injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baquba.
Turning to legal news out of Germany,  George Frey (AP) reports US Sgt 1st Class Joseph Mayo entered a guilty plea to "premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder" in the 2007 murders of 4 Iraqis US forces had taken into custody and that this follows Sgt Michael Leahy's conviction last month for his role in the murders.  Fran Yeoman (Times of London) reports "Mayo told a court martial in Vilseck, southern Germany, that he thought the shootings were in the best interests of his troops because he feared the prisoners would attack them if released."  In other legal news, Friday's snapshot noted: "Meanwhile, in the United States, Paul J. Weber (AP) reports that Sam Marcos commissioners are rethinking using KBR after two Iraq War veterans, Bryan Hannah and Gregory Foster, spoke out at a commissioner's court meeting against the war profiteer KBR which stands accused of intentionally exposing US troops in Iraq to carcinogenics and of doing such a poor job in their building of US facilities in Iraq that showering becomes a hazard for US service members."  Bryan Hannah tells his story at US Socialist Worker:
Greg and I brought to the attention of the county commissioners the company's history of scandals, including bribery, the negligent homicide of 11 soldiers and five Marines, rape and gang rape cover-ups, tax evasion and more.                      
Greg read the top results for a Google search that contained a multitude of shady business dealings and crimes to demonstrate that the commissioners had not done adequate research. He then read a letter from Spec. Jude Prather, a Hays County resident and infantryman in Iraq.                   
Jude's letter outlined his concerns about KBR being a daily fixture in his community, stating that his convoy escort team's opinions of KBR were "too colorful to be read in court." Greg recalled a saying of his father: "Son, your dollar votes. If you don't like how a company does business, don't do business with them."                    
I brought to the commissioners' attention the siphoning by KBR of tens of billions of dollars out of our treasury in exchange for the delivery of substandard service and even unacceptable "disservices" to U.S. troops in Iraq.           
Some soldiers suffered illnesses from contaminated drinking water, others were exposed to carcinogens such as sodium dichromate, and some died as a result of faulty electrical wiring and air-conditioning units placed so close to showers that water splashed on them.
"Hays County has a laudable record of supporting its service members and veterans," I said. "I do not think we could in good conscience accept that reputation and hire a company responsible for killing U.S. soldiers and Marines, then attempting to cover it up and deny compensation to the families."     
Again, Cindy Sheehan's radio show continues on the internet and she interviewed Ray McGovern for her most recent show.  Here McGovern's just finished explaining that the Bush adminstration refused to meet with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Ray McGovern: And we're still not getting any hearing which is really disappointing -- was really disappointing because the tea leaves say, Cindy, that President Obama is about to make his LBJ Vietnam or George Bush Iraq mistake.  We're about to get involved in a real quagmire there.  And you know, it's almost as though there's something here in the water in Washington, Cindy.
Cindy Sheehan: Right. 
Ray McGovern: Because it doesn't make any sense at all. And grown up people should know that.
US President Barack Obama appeared today on CBS' Face The Nation with moderator Bob Schieffer (here for text report by Michelle Levi with video option and link for transcript).
Daivd Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) observes that Barack sounded like LBJ on Vietnam when discussing Afhganistan:

But that is what Obama sounded like to me when he was talking about how some of the U.S. troops would only be training their Afghan counterparts for combat. It clearly sounded that way to Schieffer, too, because he came out hard-charging with questions for the president about his commitment of more troops to Afghanistan, and he took precious minutes at the end of his broadcast to do a stand-up outside the White House explaining the decision to focus on Afghanistan.
"When he decided to move more Americans into harm's way in Afghanistan, for better or worse, it became his war," Schieffer said of Obama. Schieffer closed by wondering whether Obama would look back one day on that decision from last week as a major turning point in his administration and legacy.           
The questioning on Afghanistan and the related matter of whether or not we will follow terrorists into Pakistan and strike there was so pointed, that at one point, Obama said, "I'm enough of a student of history to know about Vietnam."           
But he sure sounded like LBJ in 1965 when he talked Sunday about the Afghan Army as having "great credibility" and being "effective fighters" -- all they needed was a little "training" from the American troops. At least, Obama didn't use the 1960s's rhetoric of the U.S. soldiers and Marines only being advisers.       
That was on Afghanistan.  Iraq came up during the interview (because Schieffer raised the issue):
Bob Schieffer: You said the other day in the 60 Minutes interview that you would not have thought at this point in your presidency that Iraq would be the least of your worries, something to that effect.                 

Barack Obama: Right. Right.             

Bob Schieffer: Are things going well enough there now that you may consider speeding up the withdrawal of troops from Iraq?                   

Barack Obama: No, I think the plan that we put forward in Iraq is the right one, which is, let's have a very gradual withdrawal schedule through the national elections in Iraq. There's still work to be done on the political side to resolve differences between the various sectarian groups around issues like oil, around issues like provincial elections. And so we're gonna continue to make progress on that front. I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction. But Iraq is not yet completed. We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of training of Iraqi forces to improve their capacity. I'm confident, though, that we're moving in the right direction.                     
would the draw down be speeded up? No, says Barack. That's what he says? Friday's Iraq snapshot noted NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) interviewed Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq. Now Barack said yesterday nothing will speed up the rate of the draw down. What did Odierno tell Lourdes Garcia-Navarro?

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Despite those worries and others, Odierno is considering more troop reductions this year ahead of Parliamentary elections.        

Ray Odierno: In August, September time frame, I will look at how things are going and I will make another decision on whether I think we should either reduce our presence more. And that assessment will be based on "Do I think I have enough forces to ensure that we have a peaceful, successful, national election?" If I believe we can do that with less forces then we will off-ramp some forces.       

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Eventually there will be around only 50,000 Americans here down from just under 140,000 now.           

So are you confused? Or is it Barack that is?  Meanwhile despite the continued bombing in Basra, all but 400 of the approximately 4,000 British soldiers are gearing up to leave, Reuters reports. Remember that when violence is offered as the excuse for Barack slowing down his draw down.  And England and the US both got involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  So possibly something might be transferable?  Some form of knowledge?  If so, Barack better hope and pray it's not to be found from Richard Dannatt. Michael Evans (Times of London) reports that Dannet has told the paper the decision by then-prime minister Tony Blair to switch the emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2005 led to a huge increase in violence in Iraq.  The US military needs to withdraw (not draw down) from both countries.  That's not the point in raising the issue of Gen Richard Dannatt.  The point is an administration that wants both illegal wars will probably be trotting out the we-didn't-realize excuse at some point in the near future. 
Lastly, three years ago journalist Lesley Abdela made the "Top 50 Heroes Of Our Times" (New Stateman).  She has just been announced as the Winner of the 2009 UK Woman Political Journalist of the Year.  The honor comes from the Dods & Scottish Widows Women in Public Life Awards and are voted on by the Parliamentary Press Lobby, Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords.  You can find out more about Lesley Abdela at Third Sector Women and you can also read up on her at SourceWatch.