Monday, July 27, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 27, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue with at least 6 dead and at least nineteen wounded, the KRG held elections Saturday and no violence reported, Nouri hopes to cut them out of Kirkuk, KBR continues to deny responsibility in the electrocution deaths of US service members in Iraq but a new Pentagon report emerges, the US government officially denies any protocol signed with Iraqi exile leaders but the Los Angeles Times publishes the protocol, and more.
Saturday the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq held provincial and presidential elections.  Early voting started on Thursday.  Ballots will be counted in Baghdad and results are expected, at the earliest, on Tuesday but US embassy staff are predicting Wednesday at the earliest.  Alsumaria noted on election day, "Kurdistan elections are the most intense since 1992 as parliamentary and presidential elections will be carried out on the same day.  Five candidates are competing for the presidency while 24 political entities including 19 lists are standing the test of people's vote to occupy 111 seats in Parliament." Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) reported, "Kurdish voters on Saturday packed polling places in Iraq's second election this year, weighing the promises of a new party that pledged to shake up the status quo by exposing corruption in the incumbent regional government. . . . The mood at polling places remained calm through the morning with many men walking to the polls in traditional Kurdish attire and women filling in wearing colorful dresses.  Opposition party leaders complained about activity at the polls later in the day, when they said supporters of incumbents tried to sway votes."  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports, "Long lines snaked out of polling stations Saturday" which "attests to the enthusiasm generated by the appearance for the first time, of a viable challenge to the 18-year monopoly of the two ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party." Tim Cocks and Shamal Aqrawi (Reuters) explain voting was extended for one hour today and that the Electoral Commission estimates a turnout of 78.5%.  The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a statement today noting they applaud "the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for having turned out in large numbers, especially among women, on July 23rd and 25th to exercise their right to elect new regional, parliamentary, and presidential representatives, in an orderly environment, notably free of violence."  Saturday started with the region under curfew but the KRG lifted it after the first four hours when no incidents of violence were reported.  The January 31st provincial elections which took place in fourteen of Iraq's 18 provinces required curfews and crackdowns.  In Baghdad, for example, voters had to walk to polls as a result of the vehicle ban -- and frequently had to then walk to another polling station and sometimes a third. Don't remember it? 
Mohammed Hussein (New York Times) explained, "I walked more than three miles and four polling centers to vote today.  I have lived in the same neighborhood for more than 30 years, but my name was not on the list.  With the sound of hovering American helicopters filling the unusual silence on the streets I walked to the polling center nearest my house to vote.  First I had to be searched and take off my wristwatch, my box of cigarettes and my mobile telphone because an American patrol was watching the main checkpoint of the polling center.  I checked my name but I could not find it."  He recounts the trip to four polling stations only to note that at the fourth, where he was allowed to vote, he didn't recognize the names of any candidates. Nasreen Yousif couldn't put up with it and she told Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times), that after her third Baghdad polling station, "Now I am going home.  Maybe there is a forth school, but it is too far and I can't walk anymore."   Back then, Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported, "The thousands of schools being used as polling places were ringed with coils of razor wire days ago, and the police began 24-hour guard of them earlier in the week." Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin noted, "Driving was banned in most of the country to prevent suuicide bombers from attacking any of the more than 6,000 polling places and security checkpoints, often spaced just yards apart. The tight security, couples with confusion over where voters should cast their ballots, appeared to have reduced turnout in many districts across the country." And though the claim quickly became that there was no violence at all on this allgedly political holy day, in real time violence was being noted including McClatchy's Laith Hammoudi reporting a Saturday tribal fight in Baghdad that resulted in one death and one person injured and Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) reporting security forces shot two people in Baghdad who "tried to enter a polling place carrying cameras and recorders".  Reuters states, "The vote was not entirely without incident. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the president's nephew, said that one person was killed and 12 were wounded on Sunday evening when election revellers began firing shots into the air."  That's Sunday, the day after the vote and, as described, also unintentional violence.
So the KRG calling off the curfew in the midst of voting Saturday is actually news and it's a shame no one thought to report it as such or to offer the obvious comparison of the three provincial elections over the weekend with the fourteen provincial elections in January.  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reported Saturday, "Kurdish President Massoud Barzani touched on an issue dear to all Kurds when he cast his ballot on his mountain stronghold of Salahuddin. 'I will never compromise on Kirkuk,' he said."  That moment resulted in one of the few complaints actually filed (as opposed to complaints bandied to reporters by "Change" 'officials' and their US-government backers).  Tim Cocks, Shamal Aqrawi, Muhanad Mohammed and Mohammed Abbas (Reuters) explained that Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission "did say Barzani had broken a campaign deadline rule by speaking to reporters after voting" and quotes IHEC's Qasim al-Sachet, "This is not important, it was a very simple matter and has no effect on the elections."  Liz Sly explained Sunday that the parties were releasing their own tallies (these are not official tallies) and that, "Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, which is running the election, said it was investigating a number of complaints lodged by opposition candidates but had not yet found any serious enough to affect the outcome of the vote."  The KRG adds, "More than 320 international observers from more than 35 organizations were registered by IHEC to monitor the election.  This included observers from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and a variety of other nations and non-governmental organizations.  In addition, more than 30 international media outlets were accredited to observe and report on the election.  More than 90 organizations based in Iraq and/or the Kurdistan Region also participated in the observation, with more than 10,000 individuals receiving accreditation badges from IHEC.  Political parties were also granted the right to monitor the proceedings, with 47 groups and more than 27,000 individuals accredited for observation."  Adam Ashton (Modesto Bee's The Hive) blogs about visitng the "multimedia empire" which is the headquarters for the "Change" Party, "I don't want to be cynical because the voting I saw was free and full of healthy debate.  I just couldn't help but hear Roger Daltry singing 'Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss,' as we drove away from the Change compound in Sulaimaniya."  (He's referring to the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," written by Pete Townsend.)  "Change" is a US-creation. Founder (frontman) Nawshirwan Mustafa runs that US funded "multi-media empire."  Mustafa became a US favorite while allegedly representing Kurdish interests to the US created and controlled Coalition Provisional Authority (interim government run by Paul Bremer).  Though a strong voice in public, he was surprisingly weak in protecting Kurdish interests.  Despite his fiery words in public and his apparent incompentence as an advocate for Kurdish interests, the US quickly funded Dick Cheney's BFF providing Mustafa with the money needed to start his paper and 'independent' radio station which is a satellite of the US propaganda arm Voice of America (Mustafa's is tellingly known as "Voice of Change").
In addition to crying foul, "Change" has attempted to insist they are the reason for the huge turnout. That claim cannot be backed up. But the issue of Kirkuk's status became a very big part of the KRG elections. Not just on election day with Barzani's remarks. Not just two Sundays ago with a very public speech. For weeks, it has been the driving force behind the elections with candidates from all parties attempting to make the most convincing argument that they would bring Kirkuk under the Kurdistan umbrella. Do not mistakenly think that this campaign talk did not impact voter turnout. The Kurds have long seen Kirkuk as their property and have a historical grievance over the region since Saddam Hussein ran them out of the area.   Alsumaria reports the PUK kept a previously scheduled meeting yesterday: "Regardless of the elections results, people's will ought to be respected and whichever party wins, it will form the next government, said Mulla Bakhtyar, PUK political office spokesman. Bakhtyar stressed that the upcoming government will work on achieving major attainments in favor of Kurdistan's people mainly the application of Constitution Article 140."  That's the article pertaining to oil-rich Kirkuk which mandated a census and referendum be held to resolve the issue by . . the end of 2007.  Also in 2007, Nouri al-Maliki signed off on -- literally signed his name to -- the White House benchmarks for Iraq which included resolving the issue.  It has not been resolved.  Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) observes this morning, "Since 2003, when U.S. forces barreled into Baghdad, toppling Saddam Hussein, inspiring a Shiite revival and unleashing a Sunni insurgency that drew on a communal sense of siege, the war in Iraq has been in large part a sectarian conflict that pitted Sunni Arab against Shiite Arab. That war has subsided, even if bitterness remains." He argues the new conflict is between Arabs and Kurds.  Liz Sly interviewed Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih (and PUK member as well as a candidate for prime minister in Kurdistan) and asked him what the elections would mean in terms of the "strained relationship with Baghdad?"  Barham Salih responded, "In terms of relationships with Baghdad, the impact should not be overestimated. This election is a turning point in Kurdish political dynamics and Kurdish politics are becoming more competitive and more focused on domestic issues – services, quality of life, corruption, as opposed to the larger issues of Kurdish nationalism. These issues remain important, such as the fate of Kirkuk, the fate of the relationship with Baghdad. But I do not see that there is much dissent on what I see as the mainstream Kurdish position on these issues."  Prime minister of Iraq and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki has been visiting DC.  Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) analyzes the trip and observes that Nouri al "Maliki wants US and UN support to solve an upcoming problem with Iraqi Kurds.  During a honeymoon period with the Kurds in 2007, Maliki promised to uphold Article 140 of the constitution, which calls for a referendum in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk (which holds 13% of Iraq's reserves), to see if its residents want to remain part of Iraq or merge with Iraqi Kurdistan.  It seemed like the logical thing to do at the time, as Kurdish support was vital for him to maintain a shaky cabinet coalition rocked by major walkouts by Sunnis and fellow Shi'ites loyal to rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr. . . . That honemymoon is now a thing of the past, and Maliki wants to make sure that so is the promised referendum on Kirkuk.  The UN is supporting Maliki's argument, claiming that if such a referendum did take place, it could ignite a civil war between Arabs and Kurds.  Maliki could not afford this civil strife, nor could he afford having Iran, Turkey, and Syria -- all of which oppose giving Kirikuk to Kurdistan -- on the offensive."
Friday, the press [see Nada Bakri (Washington Post) and Sam Dagher (New York Times)] was covering the talks the US was having with Ba'athist exile leaders and others and the claim that the central government in Baghdad was left in the dark as they insisted they were "demanding explanations] reported on the angry response of the puppet government in Baghdad to the news (which emerged weeks ago in the Arab world) that the US was negotiating with leaders of Iraqi groups opposed to the puppet government the US installed. Elise Labott (CNN) reports US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated Friday that, supposedly like the Iraqi government,  she had been unaware of the negotiations until "recently." Labott explains: "Iraqi officials said Friday they were investigating reports of the meetings, calling them a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The reports, which detail a supposed signed agreement between the Americans and insurgents, have angered Iraqis as they seek to establish their authority in the wake of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities."  Officially the State Dept denies the signing of any protocol.  Unofficially, they admit to Labott one was signed.  The Los Angeles Times has posted the protocol both parties signed March 6th:
(Istanbul, 6 March 2009)

The following has been agreed upon between the two parties, Political Coundil for Iraq Resistance (PCIR) and the US Government Representatives in this meeting:
1. The PCIR will give the names of 15 representatives/political leaders in their negotiation team to the Turkish side, in the case of detention or problems in travel inside Iraq or leaving Iraq of this negotiating team, the Turkish Government will inform the US authorities, who will undertake to resolve the problem, in the case of detention by the Iraqi forces inside Iraq or leaving Iraq of this negotiating team, the US as well as the Turkish side will exert their best efforts with the Iraqi Government in order to get release of the respresentative(s) of the PCIR.
2. Both parties agreed upon to take a decision regarding the level of the participation in the negotiating teams (technical experts, politicians and leaders), before the next session of negotiations in coordination with the Turkish side.
3. Both negotiating teams should have the equal number of representatives, including the technicians and experts. 
4. The venue of the upcoming sessions will be determined at least 10 days prior to the date of the meeting, in coordination with the Turkish side. 
5. dates of the upcoming sessions will be determined by the consent of both parties.
6. This negotiation process is planned to be finalized before the end of June 2009.  However, upon agreement by both sides, the negotiation process may be extended.
7. Both parties agreed that the Turkish side to act as the facilitator and guarantor throughout this negotiation process and the PCIR retains the right to ask for other guarantors.
8. Both parties agreed to maintain the confidentiality of the negotiations and to leak information about the negotiations in full or in part to the media, unless otherwise agreed by both parties. 
9. Both parties agreed not to use cameras or any recording devices during the sessions.
10. The US will not undertake negotiations with other Sunni resistance groups during negotiation time, in order to allow PCIR to broaden the negotiation with them (This is to be confirmed by the US delegation after consulting with the US Government). 
Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) explains, "Iraqi officials have denied any knowledge of the meetings and have lashed out at the United States about conducting such talks. The reality is that U.S. officials most probably informed the Iraqi government about the talks beforehand, as they have done in the past when they explored discussions with groups that might be willing to negotiate with Iraqi officials."  Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) adds, "Maliki also is shocked -- shocked -- that the U.S. government talked secretly to insurgent leaders.  Everyone, don't tell the prime minister about the Sons of Iraq program, either!"  Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) offers on Nouri, "Once Maliki's image is transformed in Washington, he will be able to market himself in different manner to ordinary Iraqis, who need time to forget that he was originally brought to power in 2006 by the United States" ahead of elections currently scheduled for next January.  Nouri has Barack supporting him (verbally) on the plan to end UN sanctions on Iraq.  Louis Charbonneau (Reuters) reports that Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, is backing a different plan, "I strongly encourage Iraq and other stakeholders to actively discuss alternative solutions to the issue of outstanding compensation and debt payments, including through investments, in the mutual interest of Iraq's people and the region as a while." The amount Iraq owes currently is $25.5 billion of which $24 million is owed to Kuwait.
Meanwhile what Gordon Brown couldn't do (despite promising to) the Iraqi Parliament may have due to its inaction.  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reports British troops will likely have to leave Iraq as a result of the Parliament failing to ratify the bilateral agreement between England and Iraq "Bob Ainsworth, the British Defence Secretary, said that the naval training personnel would wait in Kuwait until they were given permission to return. It is an embarrassment to Britain, however, and an illustration of the low regard in which its role in Iraq -- it once had 45,000 troops based there -- is held."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .  
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left four people wounded, a Baghdad sticky bombing which left five people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured six Iraqi soldiers, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured one police officer and an Ameriyah sticky bombing which claimed the life of police Captain Ibraheem Khairallah.  Reuters notes a Mosul sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 "local tribal leader" (his driver was injured), a Kirkuk roadside bombing which left one police officer injured.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Christian shot dead in Telkev in Nineveh Province. Reuters notes 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul (a civilian injured).
Reuters notes the corpse of 1 police officer ("shot in the head and chest") was discovered in Kirkuk.
We'll again note Angelina Jolie's goodwill visit to Iraq last Thursday where she declared, "There are still three million people displaced, innocent families," she added. "We have still many young men and women from our country who are fighting every day, there are men and women from all countries who have lost their lives, and this is a time to try to make some positive change." Angelina is the UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador and made her third trip to Iraq Thursday. The above statement by her appears in CNN's coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes her stating, "There are some changes. There are returns of displaced people, not a big number, but there is progress. This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."  The UN notes (link has a great photo of a young Iraqi boy and Angelina in Baghdad) that she is calling "for greater support for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced."  [Ann wrote about Angelina's vist last week and Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" covered a Congressional hearing which Kat covered at her site Thursday night in "Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs."]
Turning to the US and Dave Phillips' "Lethal warriors day 2" (Colorado Springs Gazette):
 It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat.                   
At that moment, he said, it was clear that however messed up some of the soldiers in the unit had been after their first Iraq deployment, it was about to get much worse.                              
"I have no problem with killing," said Eastridge, a two-tour infantryman with almost 80 confirmed kills. "But I won't just murder someone for no reason. He had gone crazy."              
Hear the prison interviews with Kenneth Eastridge.          
All three soldiers belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, part of Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team. The 500-soldier infantry battalion nicknamed itself the "Lethal Warriors."              
They fought in the deadliest places in the war twice -- first in the Sunni Triangle, then in downtown Baghdad. Since their return late in 2007, eight infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. Another two soldiers from the brigade were arrested and accused of murder and attempted murder after the first tour. Others have committed other violent crimes. Others have committed suicide.                       
Many of the soldiers behind bars and their family members say the violence at home is a consequence of the violence in Iraq. They came home angry, confused, paranoid and depressed. They had trouble getting effective mental heath care. Most buried their symptoms in drugs and alcohol until they exploded.

The article is part of a package following an investigation by the Gazette, part one is Phillips' "The hell of war comes home" and there's also Tom Roeder's "Fort Carson report: Combat stress contributed to soldiers' crimes back home" and "EDITOR'S NOTE: A note of caution about the Lethal Warriors package." The series addresses what happened after they returned to the US and what happened while serving in Iraq where Iraqi drivers were randomly shot at, where those who didn't stop would be run "over with the Bradley," where Iraqis post-interrogation were dumped from bridges and more. Returning home? No concerns from the command except go-away, left to fend for themselves, some afraid to get help, some targeted for trying. Parents who attempted to get help for the children? Commanding officers mocked the soldiers whose parents called, ridiculed them. It's a complete breakdown in policies and procedures and the Gazette did a wonderful investigation but what's needed is a Congressional one.
Meanwhile at least 18 US service members have died in Iraq from shoddy electrocution.  KBR always denies that's the case.  Scott Bronstein (CNN) reports on the Defense Dept's inspector-general's finding released today which states nine deaths resulted from "improper grounding or faulty equipment" with five more still being investigated.  The nine deaths established to have been caused by faulting work on KRB's part includes Sgt Ryan Maseth.  KBR continues to shirk responsibility and spokesperson Heather Browne tells CNN, "While the death of Sgt. Maseth was tragic, KBR continues to maintain that it was not responsible for his death.  The building in which Staff Sgt Maseth lived was built by Iraqi and other contractors under previous Iraqi leadership."  US Senator Bob Casey Jr.'s office released the following today:
After the Department of Defense Inspector General released its report on the electrocution death of Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth and 17 other electrocution deaths in Iraq, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released the following statement:           
"I am heartened that, after an exhaustive investigation, the Department of Defense Inspector General has finally published its findings and recommendations.  The responsibility for the death of Ryan Maseth can be attributed to many quarters.  However, the Inspector General has concluded that the water pump which shorted and caused his electrocution was first installed by a KBR subcontractor less than two years prior to Ryan's death.  That water pump, located on the roof of Ryan's building, was not grounded during installation.  This deficiency was not discovered during a subsequent inspection administered by KBR.           
"We cannot stop with the publication of this report alone.  Those who failed to carry out their contractual obligations in a way that contributed to the death of a U.S. soldier should be held fully accountable for their negligence.  I also eagerly await the findings of the Army CID report."
Staying with the US Congress, the issue of CERP funds has been raised repeatedly by Congress.    The September 10, 2008 House Armed Services Committee hearing found Chair Ike Skelton pursuing the issue of the CERP funds with DoD's Under Secreatry of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman and explaining the process as Congress intended it.

Ike Skelton: The department's understanding of the allowed usage of CERP funds seems to have undergone a rather dramatic change since Congress first authorized it. The intent of the program was originally to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Iraq through small projects undertaken under the initative of brigade and battalion commanders. Am I correct?

Edelman: Yes, sir.

Ike Skelton: Thank you. The answer was "yes." Last year the Department of Defense has used millions of CERP dollars to build hotels for foreign visitors, spent $900,000 on a mural at the Baghdad International Airport and, as I understand this second piece of art, that CERP funds were used for. I'm not sure that the American tax payer would appreciate that knowing full well that Iraq has a lot of money in the bank from oil revenues and it is my understanding that Iraq has announced that they're going to build the world's largest ferris wheel. And if they have money to build the world's largest ferris wheel why are we funding murals and hotels with money that should be used by the local battallion commander. This falls in the purview of plans and policy ambassador.

Edelman: No, no, it's absolutely right and I'll shae the stage here -- I'll share the stage quite willing with uh, with Admiral Winnefeld with whom I've actually been involved in discussions with for some weeks about how we provide some additional guidance to the field and some additional requirements to make sure that CERP is appropriately spent.
Appearing before the The Commission on Wartime Contracting February 2nd, the Department of Defense's Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble explained CERP (Commander's Emergency Response Program) funds, "CERP funds are appropriated through the DoD and allocted through each major command's sector of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to $500,000 can be allocated to individual CERP projects, and CERP beneficiaries often receive payments in cash. We have also identified occasions where soldiers with limited contracting experience were responsible for administering CERP funds. In some instances, there appeared to be scant, if any, oversight of the manner in which funds were expended. Complicating matters further is the fact that payment of bribes and gratuities to government officials is a common business practice in some Southwest Asia nations. Taken in combination, these factors result in an environment conducive to bribery and corruption."  Despite repeated calls by Congress for an accounting, where the money goes remains murky.  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports how the millions in CERP funds have had little-to-no impact:

U.S. lawmakers and the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which has released a report about the Caravan Hotel, are increasingly scrutinizing the use of CERP and urging the Pentagon to be more vigilant in its selection and oversight of projects.     
The success stories and cautionary tales of CERP initiatives in Iraq are shaping the way commanders in Afghanistan use the program as they place greater emphasis on counterinsurgency and keeping the civilian population safe.               
Since 2003, the U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $10 billion in CERP funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.                   
"CERP was meant to be walking-around money for commanders to achieve a desired effect in their battle space," said the office's deputy inspector general, Ginger Cruz. "Slowly, it has become a de facto reconstruction pot of money."
Related, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports Congress is questioning defense spending on 'hearts & minds' campaigns (or spending hidden under that umbrella) and, "In Iraq, the [US] military has awarded $100 million contracts to support elections and the aims of the Baghdad government."
Finally, independent journalist David Bacon continues to report on labor issues and "Mixtec farm workers pick blueberries, melons and chiles" (Immigration Prof Blog) covers workers in San Pablo Tijaltepec. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST) and his latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press).