Friday, September 04, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Friday, September 4, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, two fallen US soldiers are identified, the Bremer walls are put back up in Baghdad, Nouri courts an international crisis, Jordan and Iraq strengthen their ties, Steven D. Green gets sentenced for War Crimes and more.
Leaning up against the back of the building we discovered half of a rusted Russian heavy machine gun, and another piece of a Cold War era anti-aircraft gun. No big deal, except both weapons had been used against our company two years prior during the retaking of the city of Baqubah. Pretending this find meant the IPs were doing their job and taking dangerous weapons off the street and not that they were the average two-faced insurgents, we rounded the last corner of the compound and headed for the front gate.           

Thanks to the hand-tying status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States, American soldiers are not allowed to operate in urban areas without having the Iraqi Police or Iraqi Army present. Exceptions apply, but they're few and far between.                   

By the time our squad had regrouped around the front of the building, our IA escort forces from outside the city had exited their humvees and stood around smoking and joking with each other. They were dressed in USMC desert fatigues, military body armor, and commercial tactical vests. They were also carrying clean weapons outfitted with modern American optics and flashlights. Apparently, Iraqi Army Special Forces are fairly well funded.             

We passed them by and headed out the gate, since our absurdly strict platoon leader wasn't around to stop us. One lonely IP stood guard just outside the entrance to the station. He remained rooted to the ground while we moved past him and out into the neighborhood. We figured he'd count as our Iraqi escort if someone important came along. Crossing a small lot with a few scattered cars and trash piles, a pack of four or five dogs picked up our scent and barked to alert the area to our presence. We held up at the far side of the lot, less than a hundred meters from the IP station. A group of kids had been playing around in the street, but had scattered as soon as we left the station. In previous years, that was a bad sign. Kids scattered and plugged their ears before roadside bombs detonated.

This time around, it's a different war. "War" is hardly the word to describe the current situation. Anyway, the unit we're replacing didn't spend a single second of their tour mingling with the locals around this particular IP station. It had been months since the last American foot patrol through their village. They peeked around corners and out from behind courtyard gates. Families weaving around rubble and small rivers of sewage eyeballed us suspiciously, rarely returning a wave.                       

Two young boys crept closer, stopping about ten meters ahead of us. I motioned to them to come closer while Todd called to them in broken Arabic. Cautiously, the older of the two darted up to us. Todd pulled a pack of gum from his pants pocket and handed a piece to the boy, who looked confused but optimistic. Todd pulled out another piece for himself, and popped it in his mouth. The boy smiled and darted back to the safety of his house. When he stuck his head out a moment later, he was chewing happily and surrounded by a new group of local kids.

I motioned again to them, and a younger boy came running up over the broken bricks and dirt littering the street. I handed him a little pack of Sweet Tarts as my squad started moving back to the police station. He accepted happily and ran back to the house. I turned and followed the squad out of the neighborhood and back through the guarded station entrance, offering the lone IP a wave as he closed the gate behind me.                                

We walked up to the front of the building, wondering where our blundering platoon leader was. The Iraqi Army Special Forces soldiers were still lounging around, smoking cheap cigarettes in the scorching afternoon sun. Approaching them, they welcomed us with open arms and all sorts of broken English. Cigarettes were offered all around, we removed our helmets and gloves, and relaxed. The language barrier is always difficult to overcome, but through the few Arabic phrases I remember from my first deployment and creative sign language, we got to know each other. We examined each others rifles and pistols, resisted the pleas of the IA soldiers to trade watches and jokingly traded insults. An American private from Guam was played up as an Iraqi who forgot how to speak Arabic, and the sexual preference of all involved was questioned. Some things are funny to soldiers no matter their nationality.

That blog post was written by Jordan Shay who was killed while serving in Iraq. Yesterday the US military issued the following announcement: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -- Two Multi-National Division - North Soldiers were killed and five wounded in a vehicle rollover accident in the Diyala province of northern Iraq Sept. 2.  ICCC is currently down [they note a server crash and that they are working to get the site back up] but the announcement should bring the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4338. (It was 4336 on Sunday. ICCC was down yesterday and remains down today.) It appears the two killed were Todd Selge, 25-years-old, and Jordan Shay, 22-years-old.  Frederick Melo (Pioneer Press) reports Selge was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and his wife Dellona Selge states, "He was definitely gung-ho about the military.  He was going to get out.  He wanted to finish up school and move back home and have a regular life." With her and their sons "ages 6 and 2."  John R. Ellement (Boston Globe) reports Shay was also on his second tour of duty and had been engaged to marry.  Marie Szaniszlo (Boston Herald) adds that his MySpace page has "a clock counting down how many days he had left in the Army".
July 31st, Jordan Shay wrote (on his Twitter accont), "I've been saying I'm ready to go, and I am, but it's amazing how fast the last two weeks have flown by." August 23rd, he noted "back in iraq for round two, probably won't fire a shot in anger all tour. sucks."  In his last post at his blog, Shay observed, "We are respected in Baqubah. We are also feared. Our battalion has a fantastic opportunity to use these facts to our advantage and make a real difference before the withdrawal of all combat forces in the summer of next year. We made a difference in 2007, we could do it again in 2009. I fear we will not."
Any such efforts at "a real difference" seem blocked as Nouri al-Maliki continues his quest to create an international incident.  August 19th was Black Wednesday -- mulitple bombs going in off in Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry being targeted, at least 101 people were killed nearly 600 hundred injured.  Though no one knows who is responsible, Nouri has attempted to make political hay by blaming Ba'athists in Syria and demanding that the Syrian government turn over to Ba'athists.  The Syrian government has responded by following the laws on extradition and requesting evidence before making a move.  Boht countries have recalled their ambassadors.  Nouri bloviates about evidence but either has none or is unwilling to turn any over.  Nouri's demanding the United Nations set up some sort of tribunal to investigate the bombing -- which actually makes it clear how inept Nouri's 'leadership' is that he can't handle an incident of violence.  Alsumaria reports that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad denounced the proposal at a press conference today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Khalid al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Tim Cocks and Janet Lawrence  (Reuters) report that Nouri's sending "thousands of extra police" to the border with Syria and Iraqi police chief Tariq Yusuf describes those being sent as "emergency forces."  BBC quotes Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, stating, "We have given them [the Syrian government] the evidence that we have through the Turkish foreign minister and we are waiting for their response."  Efforts by Turkey to mediate between the governments of Syria and Iraq earlier this week appear to have fallen apart after Turkey refused to send more water to the two countries.  Alsumaria reports that Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Al Dahabi (visiting Baghdad and now in the Kurdistan region) "noted that his country is willing to calm tensions between Baghdad and Damascus". As Mike noted yesterday, the Jordan Times reported Iraq and Jordan reached an agreement to establish "a free trade zone".
Iraq as the Angry Child.  Stomping its feet and demanding everyone bow to its wishes.  If you learn one thing from following the current government, it's how ignorant and uninformed or uncaring the officials are.  Inside Iraq airs every Friday on Al Jazeera and usually includes one Iraqi government employee who struggles to redefine what government actually is and only succeeds in demonstrating how nothing resembling democracy is taking root in Iraq.  Forget respect, there is no understanding of the press and you get idiots like the Ministry of National Dialogue's Saad al-Muttalibi (see the August 21st broadcast) stating:
And I'm not here to defend anybody, I'm just saying that there were no evidence. For somebody to write a piece, an article in a state-owned newspaper and claim that he knew in advance that somebody, anybody has the intention of doing the robbery and buying blankets and distributing the blankets through -- during the elections, that sounds to me like going out of the norm, this is not media reporting, this is accusation and without any evidence.  I mean the journalists didn't have any evidence for his case. A journalist's job is uh to produce the news uh to convey the news and events that happen in the country and as truthfully and honest as possible and but not to make interpretation, their own interpretation of events.  Thank you.
A journalist doesn't gather 'evidence.'  Journalism is not a court of law.  Reporting isn't a court of law.  There are different standards in a court of law than are required for journalism and that's because public shaming (the worst that journalism can do) is not the same as imprisonment.  Equally true, journalism is reporting and it is more than that.  The article that had Saad al-Muttalibi so enraged wasn't "reporting."  He wants to impose reporting standards on what was an opinion piece, a column.  Forget that it was parody -- which the uneducated Saad al-Muttalibi and a whole host of others can't grasp -- it was an opinion column.  But Saad thinks he can dictate what journalism will be in a country and what it would be under him is nothing but "The government said today . . ."  That's not how journalism works and it's not even reporting is supposed to work.  The thugs in charge in Iraq like to toss around "evidence" but they never understand what it is nor do they ever grasp that just because they dub something "evidence" doesn't mean others would recognize it as such.  The government's a joke and it would deservedly fall apart if the US pulled out all troops tomorrow.  Which should probably happen because it would allow the Iraqis a fighting chance -- the people who the US military was supposedly 'freeing' but instead have been enslaved to the whims of a bunch of cowardly exiles who couldn't fight Saddamn but could run off and hide in other countries where they lobbyied for US involvement for decades.  These cowards are the ones the US government put in charge of Iraq and they have no legitimacy in the eyes of the average Iraqi which is not a surprise because no one would want their rulers to be composed of a slew of cowards and turncoasts who didn't have the guts to struggle in the country with everyone else but instead fled for posh and cushy lives in London, Iran, Jordan, Syria, etc.

When you grasp how many exiles make up the so-called 'government,' it's all the more shocking the central government's lack of concern for the ongoing external refugee crisis.  UNHCR announced today that 36 Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria have been "resettled to Belgium".  On the subject of refugees, Marcia noted the appeal sent out by the US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents -- Camp Ashraf is a camp of Iranian exiles who have been in Iraq for decades now.
On the 38th day of a hunger strike outside the White House in protest against the continuing siege of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, speakers at a news conference called on President Obama to intervene and end the humanitarian crisis in Ashraf, home to 3,400 members of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and their families.

Steven Schneebaum, U.S. Counsel for the families of Camp Ashraf residents,
said, "The position of the United States that it no longer has any obligation
towards the residents of Ashraf is plainly wrong. The US is still responsible
based on the agreement it signed with each and every member in 2004, according
to Article 45 of the 4th Geneva Convention and International Customary Law."

Colonel Gary Morsch, Reservist, Commander, Combat Support Hospital in the US
army, who severed in Ashraf in 2004, remarked that, "I am speaking as a
soldier and cannot comprehend why our military did nothing to stop the carnage
at Ashraf."

"There are hundreds of people across the world on hunger strike. If we can get
our government to act quickly, and get the 36 hostages released, we can bring
the hunger strike to an end," Colonel Morsch added.

Unlike their 'leaders,' for the Iraqi people, the stuggle never ends.  Campbell Robertson (online at the New York Times) reports from northern Iraq's "small Christian villages" where "residents seem tired; looking into their empty, often unhealthy faces, you wonder whether the massive exodus of Christians from Iraq -- half the population by many estimates -- has left only the weakest and least capable behind to look after their homeland." And in order "to look after their homeland," Nordland reports, a new development has emerged, the formation of Christian militias.  Militia member Thabid Daoo is quoted stating, "We are protecting the whole city, not the churches only.  We are the people of our city, so we know the strangers who are coming from outside."
Meanwhile Quil Lawrence (NPR -- text only) reports that Iraqi security forces are using an instrumbent to detect bombs that probably doesn't do that: "Many U.S. officials say the science is about as sound as searching for groundwater with a stick. [. . .] One American expert in Baghdad compared the machine with a Ouija board but wouldn't comment on the record.  A U.S. Navy investigation exposed a similar device made by a company called Sniffex as a sham."  Meanwhile one security measure is in the news.  Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports that not only have they stopped taking down the Bremer walls (blast walls) in Baghdad, "This week walls were again being erected across the capital in areas where they had only just been removed.  The symbolism was unmistakable: forebodying landmarks of Iraq's descent into chaos were once again necessary.  The security gains of the past year are starting to look like a false dawn."
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing and a Baghdad car bombing last night with seven injured from the latter.  Reuters notes a Basra rocket attack last night "on the South Cas company offices" and a Baghdad car bombing which injured three people last night (in addition to the one that injured seven).
Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk.
Turning to the United States and what may be the only accountability for the crimes in Iraq.  May 7th Steven D. Green (pictured above) was convicted for his crimes in March 12, 2006 gang-rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and the murder of her five-year-old sister while Green was serving in Iraq. Green was found to have killed all four, to have participated in the gang-rape of Abeer and to have been the ringleader of the conspiracy to commit the crimes and the conspiracy to cover them up. May 21st, the federal jury deadlocked on the death penalty and instead kicking in sentence to life in prison. Today, Green stood before US District Judge Thomas B. Russell for sentencing. Kim Landers (Australia's ABC) quotes Judge Russell telling Green his actions were "horrifying and inexcusable."  Not noted in any of the links in this snapshot (it comes from a friend present in the court), Steven Dale Green has dropped his efforts to appear waif-ish in a coltish Julia Roberts circa the 1990s manner.  Green showed up a good twenty pounds heavier than he appeared when on trial, back when the defense emphasized his 'lanky' image by dressing him in oversized clothes.  Having been found guilty last spring, there was apparently no concern that he appear frail anymore. 
Italy's AGI reports, "Green was recognised as the leader of a group of five soldiers who committed the massacre on September 12 2006 at the Mahmudiyah check point in the south of Baghdad. The story inspired the 2007 masterpiece by Brian De Palma 'Redacted'."  BBC adds, "Judge Thomas Russell confirmed Green would serve five consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole."  Deborah Yetter (Courier-Journal) explains, "Friday's federal court hearing was devoted mostly to discussion of technical issues related to Green's sentencing report, although it did not change Green's sentence. He was convicted in May of raping and murdering Abeer al-Janabi, 14, and murdering her parents, Kassem and Fakhriya, and her sister, Hadeel, 6, at their home outside Baghdad."
Green was tried in civilian court because he had already been discharged before the War Crimes were discovered.  Following the gang-rape and murders, US soldiers attempted to set fire to Abeer's body to destroy the evidence and attempted to blame the crimes on "insurgents."  In real time, when the bodies were discovered, the New York Times was among the outlets that ran with "insurgents."  Green didn't decide he wanted to be in the military on his own.  It was only after his most recent arrest -- after a long string of juvenile arrests -- while sitting in jail and fearing what sentence he would face, that Green decided the US Army was just the place he wanted to be.  Had he been imprisoned instead or had the US military followed rules and guidelines, Green wouldn't have gotten in on a waiver.  Somehow his history was supposed to translate into "He's the victim!!!!"  As if he (and the others) didn't know rape was a crime, as if he (and the others) didn't know that murder was considered wrong.  Green attempted to climb up on the cross again today.  AP's Brett Barrouguere quotes the 'victim' Green insisting at today's hearing, "You can act like I'm a sociopath.  You can act like I'm a sex offender or whatever.  If I had not joined the Army, if I had not gone to Iraq, I would not have got caught up in anything."  Climb down the cross, drama queen.  Your entire life was about leading up to a moment like that.  You are a sociopath.  You stalked a 14-year-old Iraqi girl while you were stationed at a checkpoint in her neighborhood.  You made her uncomfortable and nervous, you stroked her face.  She ran to her parents who made arrangements for her to go live with others just to get her away from you, the man the army put there to protect her and the rest of the neighborhood.  You are one sick f**k and you deserve what you got.  Green play drama queen and insist "you can act like I'm a sex offender" -- he took part in and organized a gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl.  That's a sex offender.  In fact, "sex offender" is a mild term for what Green is.
Steven D. Green made the decision to sign up for the US military.  He was facing criminal punishment for his latest crimes, but he made the decision.  Once in the military, despite his long history of arrests, he didn't see it as a chance to get a fresh start.  He saw it as a passport for even more crimes.  What he did was disgusting and vile and it is War Crimes and by doing that he disgraced himself and the US military.  His refusal to take accountability today just demonstrates the realities all along which was Green did what he wanted and Green has no remorse.  He sullied the name of the US military, he sullied the name of the US.  As a member of the army, it was his job to follow the rules and the laws and he didn't do so.  And, as a result, a retaliation kidnapping of US soldiers took place in the spring of 2006 and those soldiers were strung up and gutted.  That should weigh heavily on Steven D. Green but there's no appearence that he's ever thought of anyone but himself.  He wants to act as if the problem was the US military which requires that you then argue that anyone serving in Iraq could have and would have done what he did.  That is not reality.  He does not represent the average soldier and he needs to step down from the cross already.
 AFP notes, "During closing arguments at his sentencing, Green was described alternately as 'criminal and perverse' and deserving of the death penalty, and as a 'broken warrior" whose life should be spared'."  Brett Barrouquere (AP) has been covering the story for years now.  He notes that Patrick Bouldin (defense) attempted to paint Green as the victim as well by annoucing that Green wanted to take responsibility "twice" before but that Assistant US Attorney Marisa Ford explained that was right before jury selection began and in the midst of jury selection.  In other words, when confronted with the reality that he would be going to trial, Steven D. Green had a panic moment and attempted to make a deal with the prosecution.  (The offer was twice rejected because the 'life in prison' offer included the defense wanting Green to have possible parole.)  Steve Robrahn, Andrew Stern and Paul Simao (Reuters) quote US Brig Gen Rodney Johnson ("Commanding General of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command") stating, "We sincerely hope that today's sentencing helps to bring the loved ones of this Iraqi family some semblance of closure and comfort after this horrific and senseless act."
While Green plays victim, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan attempts to end the wars. Last week, she led demonstrations on Martha's Vineyard while US President Barack Obama vacationed there.  John V. Walsh (CounterPunch) reports:
I spent but a short time with Cindy Sheehan as she carried her antiwar protest from an earlier time at Crawford, TX, to Martha's Vineyard, vacation spot for Obama and many other Democrat Party elite.   As Cindy remarked, the real story was not that she was protesting Obama's wars but that the "leadership" of the peace movement did not support her protest.  When the target was Bush in Crawford, she was all the rage with antiwar celebrities, but not so now that the target is Barack Obama.   While there is considerable enthusiasm for her anti-Obama protest on the part of the rank and file in the anti-war movement, a refusal of its "leaders" to notify their members far and wide, high and low, crippled the action.
As a result of this betrayal, the numbers at Martha's Vineyard were not large.   But Cindy and her fellow anti-warriors were undeterred.  While I was there, she mounted a spirited march down the road to Obama's place, no more than a quarter mile away from where she stayed.  The purpose was to present the President with a poster of Cindy bearing a signed plea to end the wars.   The considerable armed force at the gate and the Secret Service officers would not even bring out the lowliest of staffers to receive the poster.  Clearly the message from Obama was "Get lost, Cindy."  And we were quickly told to move a considerable distance down the road.  At least in Crawford it had been possible to demonstrate at the checkpoint to the site -- not so at Obama's place.  Thus, did Obama greet a mother whose son was lost in the wars, which he continues and enlarges by the day.
Is there any sign of life in a movement that marshaled hundreds of thousands to march in protest against war in Iraq?  Ah, but those were the Bush years. Now we have a Democrat in the White House.
One person hasn't tossed aside her peace sign. Cindy Sheehan sees war as war, whether the battle standard is being waved by a white moron from Midland, Texas or an eloquent black man from Chicago. But when she called for protesters to join her on Martha's Vineyard to stand outside Obama's holiday roost for four days at the end of August there was a marked contrast to the response she got when she rallied thousands to stand outside Bush's Crawford lair.           
As John Walsh described it here last week, "the silence was,  as Cindy put it in an email to this writer, 'crashingly deafening.'  Where are the email appeals to join Cindy from The Nation or from AFSC or Peace Action or 'Progressive' Democrats of America (PDA) or even Code Pink?   Or United for Peace and Justice. And what about MoveOn although it was long ago thoroughly discredited as principled opponents of war or principled in any way shape or form except slavish loyalty to the 'other' War Party.  And of course sundry 'socialist' organizations are also missing in action since their particular dogma will not be front and center.  These worthies and many others have vanished into the fog of Obama's wars." 
Before he joined Sheehan on Martha's Vineyard, Walsh says he contacted several of the leaders of the "official" peace movement in the Boston area -- AFSC, Peace Action, Green Party of MA (aka Green Rainbow Party) and some others.  Not so much as the courtesy of a reply resulted from this effort -- although the GRP at least posted a notice of the action.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on many PBS stations:

This week NOW, as part of a collaboration with the nonprofit investigative unit ProPublica, explores the controversial tactic of "preventative detention," a government plan that may detain suspects indefinitely without trial or even formal charges. Implementing such a plan may have far-reaching consequences on not just our fight against terrorism, but the integrity of the U.S. Constitution and the cause of human rights.

Washington Week also begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and sitting around the table with Gwen this week are Dan Balz (Washington Post), Jackie Calmes (New York Times), John Dickerson (CBS News and Slate) and Martha Raddatz (ABC News). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe and her guests Sam Bennett, Amanda Carpenter, Karen Czarnecki and Eleanor Holmes Norton discuss the week's news on this week's edition of PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Age of Megafires Global warming is increasing the intensity and number of forest fires across the American West. Scott Pelley goes to the fire line to report. Watch Video
Combat in Afghanistan The enemy is on the rise in Afghanistan and Lara Logan's report from a forward operating base near Pakistan includes 60 Minutes footage of up-close combat. Watch Video
Mr. Ayers and Mr. Lopez Discovered living on the streets by Los Angeles Times newspaper columnist Steve Lopez, mentally ill musician Nathaniel Ayers has become the subject of a book by Lopez and now a Hollywood film. Morley Safer reports. Watch Video
60 Minutes Sunday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.