Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 23, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, Gordo Brown gets chatty, a woman from Duluth attempts to steer attention to the plight of Iraqi refugees,  Stars and Stripes fights attempts by the US army to censor it, Germany's investigation into its involvement in the Iraq War is a whitewash, and more.
Starting in England where Prime Minister Gordon Brown remains desperate and eager to spin.  Today he gave a highly confusing interview to BBC Radio 4's World at One in which he meant to say that there would be a scope for people to provide testimony but he actually stated there was no scope for it and in which he appeared to hint that Mid-East countries surrounding Iraq would be harmed from a public inquiry because they had been working with England on the Iraq War.
Gordon Brown: The Iraq inquiry was always going to be difficult because we're looking at, uhm, eight years of -- of events.  We're looking at the causes of the conflict, what happened during the conflict, we're looking at the reconstruction that's taking place after the conflict.  And there are many, many views on this and it has been a very controversial issue for Britain over a period of --  a period of time.  I want that review to able to take all the evidence that is -- that is necessary, including having before it the security information, the confidential information.   We've got to be careful, of course, about our relationships with other countries and what is made public about our relationships for examples  with countries in the region which have got to be strong after the inquiry as well.  But I think we've got to position with Sir John Chilcot where he has written to me yesterday saying he sees some hearings that we could do in public consistent with national security.  He has responded to my invitation that he take into account the needs of the family.  He has also responded to my invitation that as chairman of the inquiry he looks at whether there's an oath or some kind of undertaking  on giving evidence.  And I think -- I think  we're making progress on an inquiry that I hope for the public is not just to get to the truth of what's happened -- that's important.  It's also to learn lessons and lessons I think the whole public wants to learn what happened during that period.
Shaun Ley: But it looks as though you have been forced into a change of position by the reaction.  A week ago you told the House of Commons you wanted the evidence to be heard in private for the reasons you've just outlined.  Then you get people like Lord Butler saying this will add to mistrust, John Major says people will perceive it as a whitewash, John Chilcot writes to you and you respond and say 'actually I accept your advice as much as possible should be held in public.'
Gordon Brown: Hold on.  Hold on.
Shaun Ley: And they get --
Gordon Brown: Hold on.  Hold on.
Shaun Ley: -- a sense then that --
Gordon Brown: Hold on.  Hold on.
Shaun Ley: -- perhaps the public's mood on this kind of issue.
Gordon Brown: Hold on.  You --you've got to put what happened in its proper, uh, context.
Shaun Ley: I'm trying to do that.
Gordon Brown: I, uh, I actually wrote to Sir John Chilcot my-myself.  I asked him, as chairman of the inquiry, to consider a number of issues related to the conduct of the inquiry -- some of the issues that you've just raised.
Shaun Ley: But after you made your statement to the MPs. 
Gordon Brown: Yes, but I said at the time that I was inviting Sir John Chilcot to talk to all the leaders of the parties and all the chairman of the select committees, and that we were going to have a process of consultation with them about the conduct of the inquiry.  So Sir John Til--Chilcot looks at the thoughts I put to him -- including thoughts about how we deal with  the vex question of how the families are properly consulted and do they want to -- to give evidence in private or public. and rightly Sir John Chilcot then replies to me. I'm trying to find a way to get an inquiry that can satisfy people that we're doing everything in our power to get to the truth while at the same time I think everybody understands because people were asking for a Franks-style inquiry and Franks meant
Shaun Ley: On the Falklands War.
Gordon Brown: Yes you've got to take into account national security considerations and that you've got serving military --
Shaun Ley: Indeed.
Gordon Brown: -- who want to give evidence want to give evidence sometimes in private.
Shaun Ley: At what point did you refer to this question of the giving evidence on oath?  Will that in your view now happen?  Does that have to happen?  Does that need to happen?
Gordon Brown: Well Sir John Chilcot has written back to me -- I requested this -- he's written back to me.  He is suggesting that he does think there's a way that people can give at least an undertaking that what they're saying is truthful and complete and full and I think that's --
Shaun Ley: So not a kind of hand on the Bible or hand on the Crown kind of thing?
Gordon Brown: You see, the -- the point of this inquiry --
Shaun Ley: An honorable statement saying I am giving truthful evidence.
Gordon Brown: Of course, yes.  The point of this inquiry, this was an eight-year-long uh episode in -- in British history, our troops are just leaving Iraq, it is ripe to learn the lessons.  Now I think the way we're doing it allows those people that have got something to say sometimes that is confidential or effects our relationships with other countries to be able to say it directly to Chilcot he then has the chance to look at all the papers the security papers as well as confidential and private papers but at the same time there is no scope for people to give evidence in public if that is -- if that is what he chooses.
Note that the program is only available for the next seven days.  Tom Whitehead (Telegraph of London) notes that Brown's backtracking (prior to the interview -- the interview was only more backtracking) was "further humilitation" and that Conservative Party members are saying the New Labour prime minister is doing a "U-turn in slow motion".  At the US Socialist Worker, Mark Steel offers his thoughts on the inquiry:

It's unlikely anything so interesting will come out of the inquiry into the Iraq war announced by Gordon Brown. Because it will be held entirely in secret, and is not allowed to "apportion blame," as this will prevent the inquiry being "clogged up by expensive lawyers."   
Apparently, this will encourage those called to be "more candid" about their behavior. So why not change the whole legal system for similar reasons? Murderers would be so much more candid in a trial if they weren't weighed down by the thought of their comments being made public. "Between you and me I strangled the lot of them," they'd laugh, whereas once they're in that big room with lawyers and blame getting in the way they're bound to clam up.          
How much quicker the law could be resolved without all that paraphernalia of cross-examining and working out who was telling the truth and other money-wasting nonsense. Just ask someone whether they did it, and if they say "Not really," or "I had to kill them because I'd heard they had some destructive weapons," the judge could say, "Well, that's pretty much cleared it up--who's next?"
This Wednesday, the Stop the War Coalition is rallying Wednesday.   "Protest at parliament against holding Iraq enquiry in private" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reports the demonstration will be "outside parliament at 2pm this Wednesday, demanding 'No Whitewash, No Cover Up', in the Iraq enquiry."   Independent Catholic News notes that Justice and Peace  groups have created a petition "to urge MPs to vote in favour of a public enquiry."  Click here for the petition.
Meanwhile in Germany, a whitewash has concluded.  Deutsche Welle reports the nation's investigation into "whether former chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder helped oust Saddam Hussein" -- an investigation that's taken three years, heard from 140 witnesses, produced a final report that numbers 2,500 pages -- was unable to "clear up key questions" and had only "meagre results."  If that judgment seems harsh, it's not my judgment.  It's Seigfried Kauder's judgment and Kauder was the committee chair of the investigation.  Friday The Local reported that "the parliamentary investigation split along party lines over whether [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier had been truthful when he said that Germany's help to US forces consisted only of intelligence on how to avoid bombing civilian targets."  The amount of pressure put on the British inquiry ahead of it commencing will determine how much of a whitewash it is or isn't.
Gordon Brown has additional troubles and they could end up being big problems for the US government.  As Rebecca explained last night, May 2007 saw five British citizens kidnapped and held hostage.  Over two years ago.  Two turned up over the weekend and they were dead.  The families are outraged.  As Rebecca points out:
had the british government tried anything (diplomacy or force) and it gone bad, you could say, 'well they tried.' you could be miserable over the results but you knew they were acting.

instead, gordon brown took the attitude that he could just ignore the hostages. that's what he did and that's why he wanted the families to be silent. not to protect the hostages but to keep them nameless so england wouldn't be able to put a name to each 1 and demand their safe return.
He did nothing.  Two are dead.  The other three?  No one knows at this point.  What is known is that the US negotiated with terrorists.  That does happen and it's not uncommon.  But they did so for the five British citizens.  In fact, they released two men, two brothers, thought to be the ringleaders in an assault on a US base in Iraq in which five US service members were killed.  They released these two suspected ringleaders and the deal was supposed to be that the organization the brothers belonged to released the five British hostages.  Thus far only two have been released and they were dead.  Should all five prove to be dead, look for extreme outrage over an action the US government has been able to semi-quiet up to this point.
Staying with the topic of US clampdowns, Heath Druzin is an American journalist employed by Stars & Stripes.  You might think he'd easily be able to embed with US troops in Iraq but that was not the case.  David Axe (Wired) reports the US army said no and did so "in part, because he 'refused to highlight' good news on previous stints with the military." Terry Leonard, the editorial director of Stars & Stripes, declares this is "censorship." (I agree with him.)  Stars & Stripes is reporting on the refusal to allow Druzin to report:
Officials said Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, who covered operations of the division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in February and March, would not be permitted to rejoin the unit for another reporting tour because, among other things, he wrote in a March 8 story that many Iraqi residents of Mosul would like the American soldiers to leave and hand over security tasks to Iraqi forces.         
"Despite the opportunity to visit areas of the city where Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police displayed commitment to partnership, Mr. Druzin refused to highlight any of this news," Major Ramona Bellard, a public affairs officer, wrote in denying Druzin's embed request.                
Bellard also alleged that Druzin used quotes out of context, "behaved unprofessionally" and persisted in asking Army officials for permission to use a computer to file a story during a communications-blackout period.                                       
Additionally, Col. Gary Volesky, the 3rd Brigade's commander, asserted that Druzin "would not answer questions about stories he was writing."                     
Terry Leonard, editorial director of Stars and Stripes, said Druzin's reporting in Mosul had been consistently accurate and fair and he denied all of the Army's allegations. Leonard noted, for example, that reporters are not required to answer a commander's questions about their plans for future stories.          
He said the newspaper had spent more than three weeks appealing Druzin's banishment to senior commanders in Iraq as well as public affairs officials at the Pentagon, but had been repeatedly rebuffed.                              
In other news, Thameen Kheetan (Jordan Times via California Chronicle) reports on Iraqi refugees noting that Amman was where the the World Refugee Day 2009 Film Festival kicked off at the start of this week and two films on Iraqi refugees are part of the festival.  Nada Doumani interviews four Iraqi refugees for Errant Home. Iraq has external (outside of the country) refugees and internal (displaced within Iraq) ones.  Michelle Naar-Obed is an American citizen attempting to raise awareness for Iraq's internal renfugees.  David Cowardin (Duluth News Tribune) reports Naar-Obed is in Iraq, in a refugee camp during the day and wants to be "granted permission from local authorities and the Foreign Affairs office". Naar-Obed is part of Christian Peacemaking Teams.  Moving to Iraq's external refugees, Richard Hall (The Daily Star) reports that, in Lebanon, they are forced to either return to Iraq or be at risk of deportation for working without the necessary paperwork. UNHCR's Laure Chedrawi states, "The majority of refugees here cannot work legally, and there are many channels in Lebanon to work illegally.  This causes many problems.  SOme are not paid their salaries, some employers and landlords threaten to report them to the police and others are forced to work long hours without payment."  Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have the bulk of Iraq's external refugees.  Taylor Luck (Jordan Times) reports Jordan hots "half a million Iraqis" and that the "number of Iraqis returning home is not as high as analysts had predicted, something the representative attributed to a flux of refugees going back and forth between the Kingdom and its neighbor to the east." Sunday IRIN quoted Commission of Society Enterprises' Basil Abdul-Wahab al-Azawi stating, "On behalf of all Iraqi NGOs, we call upon the UN and all international organizations to offer protection and facilitate resettlement of all Iraqi refugees who are affected by violence and to help increase the number of those who are accepted in secure [third] countries. [. . .] As their country is still occupied and witnesses different disputes, protection should be offered to them [Iraqi refugees] . . . Any return against their will is not acceptable."  The tiny number of Iraqi refugees who have been received in the United States struggle with a failing economy and stingy benefits that run out far too soon.  Alex Dalenberg (Arizona Republic) examines life for Iraqi refugees in Arizona and finds stories like that of Nuha Hussian who "says that despite speaking English and having had successful careers in Iraq, she and her husband have struggled to pay rent and buy groceries for their two children since arriving in Glendale four months ago."  Meanwhile Ria Misra (Politics Daily) reports Nouri al-Maliki has issued a plea to "the 350,000 Iraqis with university degrees currently living abrod: Please come back."  They left because they were targeted or (those who left early on) feared they would be.  The US backed Shi'ite zealots who were thugs and determined to turn Iraq from a secular nation-state into a fundamentalist one.  Doctors, scientists and all educated women of any field were targeted because you can't return to the dark ages and still embrace modernity.  And, no, it is not safe to return to Iraq.
Yesterday saw extreme violence.  Alice Fordham (Times of London) notes the "worrying escalation of violence" and it was worse than she or Marc Santora (New York Times) knew when filing their reports because Monday night would see further violence (we'll get to it in a moment).  Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) counts 33 dead from violence yesterday. Santora does note a sucide bombing in Abu Ghraib and how 4 died and ten were wounded "including the three American soldiers, who had just arrrived to participate in the meeting."   Richard Boudreaux (Chicago Tribune) observes that the death toll of the last three days finds "over 100" Iraqis killed.  Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) quotes Mustafa Abdul Jaleel Reyadh who states, "We can't feel safe at all. I feel afraid when I walk in the streets because I expect an explosion any moment.  The situation will not change even after the departure of the American forces, because one hand cannot clap.  We must unite to defeat terror."  Ernesto Londono and Nada Bakri (Washington Post) report, "Wael Abdel Latif, an independent Shiite Muslim lawmaker, said three factors are driving the recent violence: the imminent withdrawal of American soldiers from urban areas; growing tension between the parliament and Maliki's cabinet as the legislative body demands more oversight; and the regrouping of Sunni Muslim extremist groups who want to undermine the government."  Meanwhile British General Dannatt has made remarks some Americans may seize on and echo (applied to the US) in a few years.  Phillippe Naughton (Times of London) reports "General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, said the failure of coalition forces" to secure Iraq and rushing quickly off to Afghanistan led them to blow the "window of consent" which supposedly existed following the initial invasion of Iraq.  Already the Brookings Boys are sounding alarms and those alarms do not say that Iraq was dropped for Afghanistan -- at present they don't say that -- but that's where they will head (and falsely claim they issued warnings in real time) if conditions in Iraq continue down the current path or worsen.
Turning to today's reports of violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a a Muqdadiyah roadside bombing which claimed the life of Iraqi Lt Col Mohammed al Timimi and left four more Iraqi soldiers injured and a Tikrit cluster bombing which left "four young boys between eight and ten . . . seriously injured" and, dropping back to Monday night, a Baghdad roadside bombing (eight p.m.) which claimed 4 lives and left twenty people wounded, another Baghdad roadside bombing (ten p.m.) which left two people injured and a Falluja bicycle bombing (nine p.m.) which left six people (including Dr. Ammar Mohammed Chyad) wounded.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul yesterday.
Sunday we noted Father Tim Vakoc who passed away Saturday night from wounds received in a May 29, 2004 Iraq bombing. AP notes that Father Tim is "believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq". Zenit (via Indian Catholic) explains, "The priest traveled a long journey over the five years from explosion to his death.  He was initially categorized by doctors as being in a 'vegetative state,' but was later upgraded to a 'minimally responsive state'."  He is quoted telling his sister, "The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will, and if that is in the line of fire, that's where I'll be."  Earlier  Chao Xiong (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) reported, "The blast cost him an eye and severely damaged his brain." The Columbian notes the "funeral is scheduled for Friday at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul."
From a US death to a British one, Lee Ellis died February 28, 2006, at the age of 23, from an Al Amarah bombing while serving in Iraq. Amanda Cook (Manchester Evening News) reports that the family is seeking governmental compansation for Courtney Ellis, his eight-year-old daughter and quotes Anthony Ellis, Lee's father, stating, "Lee was a great dad.  He was devoted to Courtney and she doesn't really remember him -- it is so sad.  She has missed out the most losing her dad so young, so if she can get some compensation that would be great." The family is also lobbying the Ministry of Defence "to use more heavily-armoured vehicles" which might prevent deaths like Lee Ellis'.
And back to the US.  Sunday the Department of Defense issued the following: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Spc. Chancellor A. Keesling, 25, of Indianapolis, Ind., died June 19 in Baghdad, Iraq of a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 961st Engineer Company, Sharonville, Ohio. The circumstances surrounding this incident are under investigation. For more information media may contact the U.S. Army Reserve Command public affairs office at 404-464-8500 / 9471 / 9251." Richard Essex (Eyewitness News) reports on 25-year-old Chancy Keesling and interviews his parents Janett and Gregg Keesling who explain that their son enlisted at 19 and had already been stationed in Iraq once before.  Gregg Keesling states, "There were e-mails and we knew he was troubled."  Renee Jameson (The Indy Channel's 6News -- link is text and video) reports that the Keeslings expect the cause of death to be suicide.  Janett Keesling states, "If parents here hear stress, move mountains, whatever you have to do" and Gregg Keesling notes he thinks about and wishes there had been "some way we could have reached out to the chaplain there and said 'go see my son'."
Plugging a friend, Kathryn Bigelow's amazing film The Hurt Locker  opens in Los Angeles and New York Friday and opens July 10th in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Oahu, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver, Toronto and DC. Christy Lemire (AP) reviews the film today and observes, "'The Hurt Locker' is by far the most effective film yet on this subject - and what's ironic about that is, it doesn't even feel all that specific to the Iraq war. Its insights and reach extend far beyond what's happened there over the past several years."  Mali Elfman (Screen Crave) interviews Bigelow about directing the movie:
[Elfman:] When I watched the film I definitely got pangs of the adrenaline junkie Point Breakish- kind of thing. How important was it to have that side of the character while at the same time focusing on the reality behind someone like him?
Bigelow: Well in a way it's kind of a coincidence, I do look at film, as being very the opportunity to be very experiential. If you really want to stretch the medium you can give a viewer an experience that they can't otherwise easily get -- let's say you want to sign up for a tour of duty. And so when he came back and he was talking about some of these individuals in kind of an idea for a character that he had that combined a few of them, where they had a tremendous amount of swagger and bravado, and almost verging on being reckless, but at the same time combining that with a really profound skill set. I thought, really, that was an interesting course of direction.
Then we looked at Chris Hedges' book "War is a Force that Gives us Meaning" and one of the elements that he drools down on is "wars dirty little secret, some men love it." So he really looks at it because he is a war voluntary that there is -- not to everybody and it is not a generalization, but there is a sort of allure and attractiveness that combat possesses. So like the war reporter, like the war photographer, you know some, who knows, bull rider, whatever, there are certain vocations that speak to that kind of psychological component -- is hungry for those peak experiences.
[Elfman:] We were talking to Jeremy [Renner] and he said that his first question to you was "how do you want the audience to feel at the end of the movie?" How did you want the audience to feel at the end of the movie?
Bigelow: Well I think it's a little bit of both, you know, to a certain extent his life -- the sergeant James character is truly a hero, I believe, but at the same time that heroism comes with a price, and I think that is what I said to Jeremy way back way, is that their is a price to his heroism and can he reintegrate -- is his home life really ruined is too strong of a word, but it definitely doesn't provide the purpose and meaning that being out in the field disarming a bomb does. And unfortunately nothing can replicate that for particular character and so it is a bit of both.
In the desert all that reserve fell away. "I'm young and in shape, and I was exhausted," says Renner of the Hurt Locker shoot. "She's out there feeding camels apples and skipping like a schoolgirl." A schoolgirl who can beat a bunch of macho guys up a hill, that is. Not that she'd want to draw attention to that fact. At this point in her career, Bigelow is weary of the notion that being a woman affects how she works. Critics can't seem to get over the idea that a female director could devote herself to making adrenaline-charged films that owe more to Ridley Scott than Nora Ephron. They rhapsodize, in high academic prose, about the role of guns as phallic symbols in Blue Steel, a thriller about a female cop; or the homoeroticism of Point Break; or the androgynous female figures in Near Dark, a hybrid Western/vampire movie. At the same time, it's hard to believe that Bigelow would dedicate her oeuvre to genres that are typically made by, for and about men, and not have a few thoughts on the subject.          
Listen to Bigelow for a while, though, and you suspect that the critics and film scholars are missing the point. She is far more interested in talking about the look of her movies: how many cameras she used on The Hurt Locker (four); the way she storyboarded each scene, translating the space from three dimensions to two in her mind; the effort she took to make sure the bomb explosions appeared authentic, and not like what she calls HMEs (industry-speak, she explains, for Hollywood movie explosions). "I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it's to explore and push the medium," Bigelow says. "It's not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions." In The Hurt Locker, Renner's character, Sergeant James, evokes iconic images of American masculinity: in his heavily padded, helmeted bomb suit, he looks like an astronaut striding onto the moon. There's also more than a little of the cowboy about him. He's not just a soldier; he's a renegade, ignoring protocol to do things his way. Not only does he defuse bombs like he's unwrapping lollipops, he outdrinks, outfights and outshoots his squadmates. But Bigelow sees the character less as a commentary on popular images of masculinity and more as an exploration of the modern hero. While exemplary at his job, James can barely function in noncombat zones. "He's evocative of a kind of John Wayne type, but updated to accommodate the complexities of this character, who is almost attracted to the world's most dangerous job," she says. The fact that the Iraq War is being fought by a volunteer Army is one of the keys of that attraction, she believes, and one of the elements that makes The Hurt Locker different from other war films. "War's dirty little secret is that some men love it," she says. "I'm trying to unpack why, to look at what it means to be a hero in the context of 21st-century combat."