Friday, July 10, 2009

The violence and the disputed region in the north

"Negligence by these forces caused this catastrophe," said Jaafer Teafari, 34, an unemployed laborer. "The Qala area is well protected, so how were the terrorists able to enter and strike?"

That's from Nada Bakri's "Explosions Kill 50 in Iraq, Raise Fears of Sectarian Strife" (Washington Post) on yesterday's violence which includes the twin bombings in Tal Afar. Mike Tharp (McClatchy Newspapers) offers this context, "Mass bombings continued for a second day Thursday throughout Iraq, killing dozens of people and wounding more than 130 in at least three cities a week after the U.S. military withdrew combat forces from Iraq's major cities." Ned Parker and Usama Redha's "In self-policed Iraq, bombings kill 54" (Los Angeles Times) covers the back and forth blaming:

Provincial council member Yahya Abed Majoub, a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, blamed the attack in Tall Afar on political factions as well as neighboring countries.
"There are groups who want to ignite sectarian and ethnic tensions all over Iraq. Nineveh is just the starting point," Majoub said. "There is a political agenda from inside and outside related to the election."
Kurdish officials blamed the attack on the group Al Qaeda in Iraq. They lashed out at the U.S. military, however, saying it had allowed security to deteriorate by withdrawing. The Kurds have viewed the American forces as a partner and a check on Arab ambitions in the provinces adjoining Iraqi Kurdistan.

In today's New York Times, Steven Lee Myers and Campbell Robertson's "Insurgency Remains Tenacious In North Iraq" whose key characteristic appears to be the continued low-balling of fatalities. For example, going with 12 for Wednesday's bombings in Thursday morning's paper (as happened in NYT) was understandable in that the article could have been filed before the final toll was in. An article appearing in this morning's paper on yesterday's violence, an article written yesterday (Thursday) has no excuse for still not having the death toll from Wednesday correct. But that's the New York Times, always heading the undercount. We'll note this from the article:

The persistent violence in Mosul and Nineveh underscores the broader turmoil afflicting Iraq. But it also reflects the region's unique mixture of insurgency and ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs, as well as a proliferation of criminal gangs, that makes the north the most dangerous part of the country.
That was supposed to change last spring, when 4,000 American troops joined more than 25,000 Iraqi security personnel to clean out Mosul's neighborhoods one by one. Just as significantly, a Sunni Arab political bloc won in January’s provincial elections, giving the Arab citizens of the north proportional representation for the first time and, it was hoped, defusing antigovernment sentiment and support for insurgents. It has not turned out that way.

Along with undercounting, the article stands out for suddenly noticing things that others have long been noting. (Including Mosul being the target of violence and the targeting of the police.) And you really have to laugh at this coming from the New York Times: "Much of the death toll in Iraq these days results from large, high-profile attacks that can skew perceptions of day-to-day violence. The attacks in Mosul, though, are just as often small, directed and constant, with a toll that accumulates inexorably even as it draws less attention." If it's not a large high profile attack, the paper ignores it. That's why the violence in Mosul has largely gone uncovered by the paper. The targeting of the police, for example, became the story of the weekend and yet the paper never noted it until today. It was a slow and steady targeting. And then the paper wants to claim that perceptions are skewed about the violence because of high profile attacks?

No, the only the violence gets covered is if it's a high profile attack. When it's not, it goes uncovered and the paper pretends everything's 'safe' and 'peaceful' in Iraq. It's not the attacks that are skewing perceptions, it's bad reporting.

On the front page of this morning's New York Times, Sam Dagher's "Kurds Lay Claim To Land and Oil, Defying Baghdad" that some strong points and some strong problems. First, I grasp that anytime you write about the Kurdish region, it's up for misunderstanding. Making basic points of fairness here leads to e-mail drive-bys from people who assume I am pro-KRG or anti-KRG. I'm neither. The KRG exists and it exists without my say-so and neither requires nor needs it. So I grasp that simple statements can easily be misconstrued on this issue -- by readers in the US and outside. And I grasp that efforts at fairness can upset some groups. But the news needs to strive towards fairness and Dagher's article fails that test.

This is the statement that matters: "Iraq's federal Constitution allows the Kurds the right to their own constitution, referring any conflicts to Iraq's highest court."

The Kurds have the right to their own constitution. That's not debatable. Nor do we need fretting from Nouri al-Maliki or any Iraqi MP. Fairness is that any power the Constitution outlines can be exercised without need for a tizzy or uproar.

The Kurds creating their own Constitution is within their rights. Whether or not some in the KRG area feel they'll have time to know it before July 25th really isn't an issue. Not one for outsiders. July 25th is when the region holds their elections (they did not hold elections January 31st -- and it's interesting to note how much time the press spent/favored on those elections and how little attention the international press has given to these elections). A body has ruled that the Constitution cannot be voted on by the people in the region July 25th (they now hope to have it August 11th or before September). But bringing the aspect of oh-I-don't-have-time-to-read into it is just nonsense because the article already sets up that Nouri's opposed to the Constitution that Iraqi MPs are and by tossing in that useless information, the paper appears to be taking sides.

I doubt anyone is ever ready for any vote. Myself included. I know the referendums, I know the statewide (and national offices) but there's always at least one local office I have no idea on. Boo-hoo. That's the way it goes. Had the constitution been put before the people, as the KRG wanted, you can be sure it would have been printed in newspapers in the region. You can be sure it would have been available. And those who cared to inform themselves would do so and those who didn't care (as well as those who didn't have the time) wouldn't inform themselves. They might, as I do on a local office, ask friends for input before deciding their own vote. They might just skip that section of the ballot. Or they might just mark something on their ballot without caring.

That's the way it goes in every election around the world. When you've already weighted the argument to one side, and the paper had long before it began whining that voters wouldn't know what was in the constitution, including that nonsense is taking a side. And it's also flaunting ignorance because, again, the constitution, were it being included in the July 25th vote, would be publicized and widely printed.

Did they have the right to write their own constitution? Yes, they did. That should have led the article. Instead, it led with how Americans are fretting about tensions and how Nouri's opposed to it and how some Iraqi MPs are (a lot of Iraqi MPs were outraged by it). And then, it briefly notes what the actual law is before turning to various groups to trash the constitution for various reasons.

That's not reporting. And it's not fair and this is a volatile region so care needs to be taken.

Care was not taken.

That includes in the last two paragraphs which are devoted to Gareth Stansfield. I would be very curious to read his full quote because the two sentences fit the article's alarmist tone; however, they do not reflect Stansfield's manner of speaking -- which is usually more weighted and thoughtful than the paper's quote indicates.

Dagher writes:

Kurdish officials defended their efforts to adopt a new constitution that defines the Kurdistan region as comprising their three provinces and also tries to add all of hotly contested and oil-rich Kirkuk Province, as well as other disputed areas in Nineveh and Diyala Provinces. Iraq's federal Constitution allows the Kurds the right to their own constitution, referring any conflicts to Iraq's highest court.

No where in that paragraph -- or elsewhere in the article -- is it noted that any disputes are the fault of the centeral government in Baghdad. These issues were supposed to have been resolved long ago. They have not been. Nouri spent the weekend floating the idea that maybe Kirkuk could be resolved with a vote before killing that at the start of the week.

The issues need to be resolved. The issue of Kirkuk was Constitutionally mandated to be resolved by November 2007 (in the 2005 constitution). Not only that but Nouri agreed to the White House's 2007 benchmarks and those benchmarks included resolving the Kirkuk issue.

Nouri agreed to that, he signed off on it.

He hasn't done his job.

Where in the article is that noted or made clear?

It isn't.

It's those pesky Kurds, in such a rush, and, my, how greedy!

That's how the article reads (headline is from the print version, by the way). I don't live in Kirkuk. Who ends up with it isn't really a pressing concern of mine. But you can't pretend to explore the topic and ignore the fact that the issue was supposed to have been addressed four years ago and that Nouri has been the impediment there for three years. You should note that the United Nations attempted to graft an agreement and Nouri was again the problem. But you are required to note that the issue was supposed to have been resolved long ago and that Nouri agreed, in 2007, to resolve it when he signed off on the White House benchmarks.

You might need to note that the paper reported in June of 2007 (Damien Cave), "The future of oil-rich Kirkuk was left in limbo, with Kurds holding out for a referendum scheduled for the end of this year that they hope will grant them control."

Furthermore, the paper is accepting the boundaries set by the central government and those boundaries have always been in dispute, even in Saddam's time. The areas are disputed on both sides. It's not just the Kurds disputing the boundaries.

And it needs to be noted that the Kurdish elections take place July 25th . . . with none of the drum rolls or breathless panting the New York Times offered non-stop in the lead up to the January 31st elections -- elections that the repeatedly forgot to note were not taking place across Iraq.

Turning to TV, this week on NOW on PBS:

Once one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the West Bank, Jenin was the scene of frequent battles between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters, and the hometown of more than two dozen suicide bombers.

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Today, however, there's been a huge turnaround. Jenin is now the center of an international effort to build a safe and economically prosperous Palestinian state from the ground up. On Jenin's streets today, there's a brand new professional security force loyal to the Palestinian Authority and funded in part by the United States. But can the modest success in Jenin be replicated throughout the West Bank, or will the effort collapse under the intense political pressure from all sides?

This week, NOW talks directly with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the international community's envoy to the region and an architect of the plan. We also speak with a former commander of the infamous Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin about his decision to stop using violent tactics, and to residents of Jenin about their daily struggles and their hopes for the future.
To Blair, the Jenin experiment can be pivotal in finally bringing peace to the Middle East. He tells NOW, "This is the single most important issue for creating a more stable and secure world."
This show is part of Enterprising Ideas, NOW's continuing spotlight on social entrepreneurs working to improve the world through self-sustaining innovation.
Next week NOW on PBS reports from inside the Israeli Defense Force to get the Israeli perspective on peace in the Middle East.
Next week NOW on PBS reports from inside the Israeli Defense Force to get the Israeli perspective on peace in the Middle East.

That begins airing tonight on most PBS stations as does Washington Week which finds Gwen sitting around the table with James Barnes (National Journal), Ceci Connolly (Washington Post), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times) and Deborah Solomon (Wall St. Journal). Bonnie Erbe sits down with Melinda Henneberger, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Kay James and Genevieve Wood on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, all three PBS shows begin airing tonight on many PBS stations. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

Kill Bin Laden
The officer who led the army's Delta Force mission to kill Osama bin Laden after 9/11 reveals what really happened in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, when the al-Qaeda leader narrowly escaped. Scott Pelley reports. | Watch Video

Lesley Stahl reports on flaws in eyewitness testimony that are at the heart of the DNA exonerations of falsely convicted people like Ronald Cotton, who has forgiven his accuser, Jennifer Thompson. (This is a double-length segment.) | Watch Video

60 Minutes, Sunday, July 12, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

On NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Steve Roberts fills in for Diane Rehm. The first hour (domestic) includes E.J. Dionne (Washington Post), Dante Chinni (Christian Science Monitor) and Karen Tumulty (Time magazine). The second hour (international) features Andrei Sitov (Itar-Tass), Farah Stockman (Boston Globe) and Tom Gjelten (NPR). The Diane Rehm Show begins airing on most NPR stations (and streaming online) live at ten a.m. EST.

We'll note this from Michael Schwartz' "The US takes to the shadows in Iraq" (Asia Times):

Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it's what's happening in "the dark" - beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras - that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the US military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else - something more unsettling - appears to be going on.
And it wasn't just the president's hedging over withdrawing American "combat" troops from Iraq which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 US forces still in the country - now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as "advisors" so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren't about to give up.
After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration's policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the US military "footprint" in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama's key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, former president George W Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called "a much more aggressive program vis-a-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation".
An anonymous senior State Department official described this new "dark of night" policy to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf in this way: "One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the US can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so."
Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration's military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and - if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness - what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn't look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.

Plugging a friend's movie.

Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker opens today in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Oahu, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver, Toronto and DC. The amazing film directed by Kathryn Bigelow is winning raves all over. Ann Hornaday's "'Locker' Serves as Iraq Tour De Force" (Washington Post):

"War is a drug," writes Christopher Hedges in the epigraph that precedes "The Hurt Locker." Someone else described war as "interminable boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror." Director Kathryn Bigelow comprehends both those observations and conveys them in this captivating, completely immersive action thriller. "The Hurt Locker" just happens to be set in Iraq in 2004, but, like the best films, transcends time and place, and in the process attains something universal and enduring. "The Hurt Locker" is about Iraq in the same way that "Paths of Glory" was about World War I or "Full Metal Jacket" was about Vietnam -- which is to say, utterly and not at all. "The Hurt Locker" is a great movie, period.

From Mick LaSalle's "'The Hurt Locker' shows Bigelow's skill" (San Francisco Chronicle):

She uses handheld cameras in "The Hurt Locker" not to make viewers dizzy or to instill excitement that isn't there but to create a subtle sense of being alongside the characters. Her camera doesn't shake. It breathes. It pulses. The camera becomes the viewer's eyes, not those of a spastic cameraman. Through such intuitive means, Bigelow takes an audience from the opening credits into a state of fierce attention and total empathy within about 60 seconds.
Notice how quickly Bigelow conveys the charm and humanity of Guy Pearce, a soldier called upon to neutralize a bomb in the movie's first scene. Notice also how the direction and Mark Boal's screenplay inject a workaday quality into this tense moment. Throughout "The Hurt Locker," the human element is central, so that whenever something happens, it feels personal.

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