Thursday, January 07, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 7, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, another US service members is dead, bombings rock Iraq, Nouri goes after political rivals, Blackwater agrees to pay victims,  and the Iraq Inquiry in London hears from a military officer who states, "We were asked at time in those very chaotic early days to do some things by the Iraqis, which, if we had agreed to, I would be sitting in front of a very different tribunal now, and the American -- American rules of engagement were slightly easier, not hugely, slightly, which meant they were able to do some things that we weren't. "
Starting in London where the Iraq Inquiry continued public hearings.  Today the committee heard from Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner, Nigel Haywood and Keith Mackiggan (link goes to video and transcript options).  The news came during White-Spunner's testimony.  He focused on Nouri al-Maliki's assault on Basra (which began in March 2008) and, as has previously been noted (including by Gen David Petraeus to the US Congress), Nouri gave the US and the UK little-to-no heads up when he started the assault.  The British call the assault the Charge of the Knights. He testified that, as was reported in real time, many Iraqi security forces ended up fighting with militias (not against them).  White-Spunner stated that, prior to the assault, Moqtada al-Sadr's influence was declining (and that he believed al-Sadr was in Iran during this time). He estimated that "the population of Basra is but 2.5 probably 3 million" -- an important point to remember.  White-Spunner declared at one point, "Now, far be it for me to divine Prime Minister's Maliki's motives, but I have described the political situation in Basra at the beginning" -- and he did.  The governor of the province was of another party and was of the opinion (a popular opinion in the province) that the province should split away (in a way similar to the KRG and less under the control of Baghdad).  Nouri jumped the timeline for the assault and it was likely due to political reasonings on his part.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Let's just pause and be clear where we are.  What you have described is a situation in which there was evident tension between Baghdad and Basra politically --
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: -- and a degree of urgency, therefore, that attached to that situation with Prime Minister Maliki.
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: That the Americans were -- had different priorites elsewhere still, that they were looking at Mosul and Baghdad and that the general agreement, which included the Iraqi military contingent or military leadership was for June.
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: So that was the assumptions. So now, all of a sudden, Prime Minister Maliki decides that this timetable is presumably too relaxed, too gradual.
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.
The US-installed thug Nouri likely jumped an attack by months due to political reasoning, in an effort to quash a political rival.  That's especially pertinent today when Nouri's launched an assault on political rivals.  What else did Nouri do in that assault?
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: We were asked at time in those very chaotic early days to do some things by the Iraqis, which, if we had agreed to, I would be sitting in front of a very different tribunal now, and the American -- American rules of engagement were slightly easier, not hugely, slightly, which meant they were able to do some things that we weren't. I have to say which I think quite correctly we weren't.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: I think it would be helpful to have some examples of what you are talking about, I think we can guess.
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: We were invited to drop aerial ordnance on areas which we considered not to have been throroughly enough vetted and which could have caused considerable civilian casualties.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: This was both from the Iraqi commanders, but the Americans somewhere in between where we --
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: No, it is too far to say the Americans somewhere in between. This is the lack of planning, because you know, we had done the planning throroughly for this.  If we had had the time, we would have known what the targets were, we would have studied them and we had very clear rules as to the amount of acceptable damage. They are very, as you would expect, in an operation like that, extremely restrictive in a city like Basra. But it is inaccurate to say the Americans were somewhere in the middle.  The American rules were very similar to ours. There were occasions when they could use aerial weapon systems when we could not, but it would be going too far to say --
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: This was quite an important issue in terms of the potential tensions, going back to what I was asking before about civil/military relations.  In all Multi-National operations these issues arise, but we have encouraged the Iraqis to be in the lead and in control, but that you don't -- you don't want to be seen to be attacking civilians.  So how do you handle these releations with the Iraqis?
Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: It causes some misunderstanding and there are some -- there are some moments when the Iraqis are irritated with us because we haven't done exactly what they ask, but, as we got this [. . . C.I. note: He does not finish that thought and we're jumping ahead in the testimony, still on this topic] There was no western media in Basra at the time. Indeed, there wasn't for some months afterwards.  There was the odd -- one visit.  But there was very -- we were aware that the Iraqis were asking us to do some things, as I have described, we didn't want to do and wouldn't do, but generally, on the ground, the sort of -- the relationship between us and the corps and General Mohan's headquarters was incredibly close, as indeed it had to be, because we were prosecuting daily operations with all our soldiers in danger.
Nouri is being allowed to stockpile weapons -- spending billions on them while doing nothing to improve Iraqi lives -- and the Inquiry is informed he wanted areas of Basra targeted and was not concerned with civilian deaths?  That was probably the most important revelation because Nouri has no plans to step down as prime minister and today began outlawing various political parites prior to the expected elections.
Tomorrow's the last day of the 'narrative' session of the Inquiry, wherein the panel have tried to patch together what happened. From Monday we move onto why -- the then-PM, his inner ring and the upper echelons who actually formulated the policies these soldiers, diplomats and civil servants then had to enact. Chilcot's team took a knocking back at the start for being insufficiently inquisitorial (I mentioned in the Tweets but spotted a particularly good piece yesterday by top barrister Michael Mansfield QC on this). It'll be interesting to see if there's a change of style with with the new witnesses.
From Michael Mansfield's "Iraq inquiry: we have every right to know why we went to war" (Times of London) referred to above:
The Iraq inquiry has resumed this week, promising crucial witnesses -- Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Lord Goldsmith and possibly Gordon Brown.We have been told repeatedly what it is not: a trial, an inquest, an inquisition, a court, a statutory inquiry. Nevertheless, however its investigative format is described, none of this fancy terminological footwork can evade the central expectation for a thorough, transparent and impartial quest for the truth about the way decisions and actions were carried out.                              
What remains is not clear. Neither a judge nor a lawyer is on the panel, which is bizarre given that one of the main questions raised by most victims and their families relates to the illegality of the war.

In Iraq, Nada Barki (New York Times) reports an al-Anbar Province bombing which has claimed multiple lives and "struck the houses of an anti-terrorism official and his relatives" -- with three being planted in around the homes and a fourth hitting "a police convoy" attempting to take the wounded to a hospital. Hamid Ahmed (AP) identifies the official as Lt Col Walid Sulaiman al-Hiti (his father's home was also targeted). BBC News counts 8 dead and six wounded in four exposions. Fadhel al-Badrani, Ali al-Mashhdani, Jim Loney and Andrew Dobbie (Reuters) count seven dead including the father and mother of Waleed al-Hiti, his two sisters, 1 brother and sister-in-law and attorney Qais Hamoodi. Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 8 dead and identifies them as Lt Col Waleed "Hammoudi's wife, children, his brother (and his wife), sister and other members of the family". Anne Tang (Xinhua) informs, "Authorities in the town imposed traffic ban and blocked the entrances of the town, as dozens of Iraqi security forces were deployed on main streets and intersections while dozens others were carrying out search operations in the town, he added. " From yesterday's snapshot:

Meanwhile Uthman al-Mukhtar (Asia Times) reports that al Anbar Province residents are "alarmed" by the recent increase in violence in the province and quotes Noor Saadi stating, "The police can't even protect themselves." The violence is causing her to keep her son at home and not let him attend school while other people are refusing "to return to their businesses or open their shops."
Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) notes last week's bombing in Ramadi resulted in at least 23 deaths.  Leila Fadel and Uthman al-Mokhtar (Washington Post) explain, "After last week's bombings, police chief Tariq al-Aasal -- widely viewed as incompetent -- was forced out and replaced with a temporary commander from the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. The appointment of Bahaa al-Azzawi was made directly by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, angering tribal chiefs who saw the move as an affront to their power." Karadsheh, Fadel,  al-Mokhtar as well as BBC New's Jim Muir note that violence in Anbar really only decreased when the Sahwa movement took hold "Sahwa" also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" -- Sunnis put on the US payroll so they would stop attacking US military equipment and US service members. In 2008, Nouri was supposed to take over the monthly payments (US tax payers were paying approximately 92,000 Sahwas $300 a month) but he couldn't get it together. Still couldn't in Februrary. In the summer he reported finally managed to absorb all the payments (unless the rumors are true that CERP funds have been partially paying for Sahwa). In addition, Arab media last month was reporting Nouri planned to drop Sahwa from the payroll in the new year.  Michael Gisick (Stars and Stripes) reported attacks on Sahwa are on the rise with the US military estimating an average of ten attacks a week in the last two months which "has underscored the increasing weakness of groups widely credited with helping turn the tide of the Iraq war." Monday Karim Zair (Azzaman) reported mass arrests were taking place "in Sunni Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad and towns and cities to the north and west of the capital".
In other  reported violence . . .
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul home bombing which claimed the lives of 2 children and left a third injured, a Mosul roadside bombing which wounded two police officers, a Mosul car bombing which left four people wounded, a Mosul grenade attack which wounded five people and a Khaniqn roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left thirteen more wounded. On the last bombing, Anne Tang (Xinhua) reports that 3 people died in the bombing and fifteen were injured in the bombing apparently targeting a Shi'ite mosque.   Reuters drops back to yesterday to note a Balad suicide bomber who took his/her own life and left eight Sahwa wounded and a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 child and left four more injured.

AP reports the 1 American soldier "has died in northern Iraq" and since USF can't do their job (which is to announce deaths, DoD identifies the dead) there may be confusion but northern Iraq is not Baghdad so this is not the death in Baghdad reported yesterday. ICCC's count is 4374 for the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. CORRECTION TO SNAPSHOT E-MAILED A FEW MINUTES AGO.  USF announces: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- A Soldier assigned to United States Division-North died of non-combat related injuries, Jan. 6.  The incident is under investigation and release of the Soldier's identity is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin. The name of the deceased service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site at Task Force Marne is deeply saddened by this loss and will provide more information on this incident following next of kin notification." They posted that late today and missing that announcement is my fault for not returning a phone call until after I dictated the snapshot. My apologies.  They did announce today's death this evening. Again, my error, my apologies. And my apologies to a friend at USF who left a voice mail for me that I didn't return until after dictating the snapshot.
War is big business.  Turning to Blackwater (now known as "Xe") and KBR.  Last week Judge Ricardo Urbina handed down a decision (announced last Thursday) to toss out the case against Blackwater for the September 2007 massacre as a result of the Justice Department basing much of their case on statements the contractors gave to the US State Dept -- statements given after the men were told anything they said would not be used against them -- has the Baghdad based government or 'government' enraged. Al Jaezeera reports that Blackwater has agreed to settle with the victims and their families which has led Burke O'Neil LCC to drop their cases against Blackwater, "Susan Burke, the lawyer for the firm, filed for the cases to be dismissed in court late on Wednesday."  Chris McGreal (Guardian) adds, "Today's legal settlement amounts to an implicit admission by the highly secretive company that some of its guards were responsible for a series of unjustifiable killings. Blackwater appears to have reached the deal to avoid a court hearing that threatened to force the company to lay bare what critics contend was a policy of shooting first, as well as the involvement of its employees in an array of criminal activities." (Blackwater has new charges related to Afghanistan, read McGreal's article for more on that.)
Burke LLC is also representing US soldiers and contractors in 22 lawsuits filed against KBR.  And doing so a time when the American people feel the US government is not doing enough for US service members. Brian Montopoli (CBS News, Political Hotsheet) reports on a new CBS poll which finds, not surprisingly, that respondents say the US military is spread too thin and: "They also say the U.S. is not doing enough for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Seventy-one percent of those surveyed say the government has fallen short when it comes to addressing the needs and problems of troops returning from those conflicts. Just 22 percent say the government is doing enough."  Dionne Searcey (Wall St. Journal) reports on the National Guard members in Indiana who are suing for their exposure to a known cancer causing agent while serving in Iraq:

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Indiana, the Guardsmen allege that oil company KBR Inc. "disregarded and downplayed" the fact that the site at Qarmat Ali was coated with the hazardous chemical sodium dichromate. They were exposed, they say, to the chemical that is used as an industrial anti-corrosive agent to protect pipes.              
As a result, the soldiers suffered "unprotected, unknowing, direct exposure to one of the most potent carcinogens and mutagenic substances known to man," alleges the suit, which seeks monetary compensation for health problems the soldiers say they have suffered.

The lawsuit was filed last month and has to do with the Qarmat Ali water plant. December 3rd, Sgt Mark McManaway told Scott Bronstein and Abbie Boudreau (CNN), "The worst part is that the military has only just recently advised us that the stuff we were exposed to was much worse than they thought while we were out there. It's in our bodies, but we don't know how bad it is. Maybe within the next five years cancers could start showing up. You've got a ticking time bomb in you -- and when's it going to go off?"

Evan Bayh is one of Iraq's two US Senators. Bayh has introduced a bill that would create a federal registry similar to the one for Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam -- the bill, if passed, would allow those exposed to avoid the long struggle Agent Orange victims had to go through attempting to establish their exposure at a time when the US government was denying exposure and minimizing it. The bill was referred to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee months ago and is currently buried there. (Bayh does not serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee.)  Today the Wall St. Journal reports KBR is predicting its stocks will be at $1.60 to $1.80 a share in Fiscal Year 2010.  As Kat's noted last night and Tuesday ("Not a good day" and "Thoughts on Byron Dorgan and more") and Mike noted last night ("Dems retiring, NOW wants action, Ann Talbot gives a warning"), Senator Byron Dorgan has decided not to run for re-election in 2010.  Kelley Beaucar Vlahos ( observes:
What I do know is that Sen. Dorgan held over 21 hearings in the Senate on private contractor fraud and abuse, including war profiteering, the physical and mental harassment of whistle-blowers in-theater, and most recently on Nov. 6, the constantly burning open-air pits of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made countless veterans sick and looking to the Pentagon for answers. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, is being charged in 22 different class action lawsuits with purposefully burning toxic waste in the open-air pits to save a buck on not installing incinerators. There are now more incinerators at U.S bases today than there were a year ago, but the alleged victims contend that KBR, which has the contract for waste management services, plus practically everything else in its multi-billion LOGCAP contract, could have installed more incinerators years ago (a charge KBR officials vociferously deny).          
But even aside from burn pits, Dorgan was one of those rare members of Congress who actually gave a flying fig about exposing not only the abuse that private contractors were perpetuating in the war zone, but the over-use of private contractors in the war zone, period. Aside from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, on the House side, Dorgan, as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, was the only one to use his leadership post as a bully pulpit against abuses -- even when there weren't cameras on to report it -- from very early on in the post-invasion occupation(s).
Turning to Iraqi politics.  Elections were supposed to take place in December 2009 but Nouri kicked it back with the promise they'd take place in January 2010 which . . . didn't happen.  Now elections are supposed to take place in March.  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports: "The speaker of the Iraqi parliament urged the heads of the political blocks to push the members of their blocks to attend the parliament sessions in order to approve some important laws that deal with the daily life of Iraqis. The meetings came after the parliament failed in approving any law during many sessions because of the non sufficient quorum. That means more than 138 out of 275 lawmakers were absent and they did not do their national duties, which they were elected for." Today Inside Iraq reports:
Iraqi De-Baath commission banned Sunni politicians and their political blocs from participating in Iraq's national elections due in March. 
Ali Al Lami, head of the De-Baath commission, told Arab news televisions that Saleh Al Mutlak is banned from participating in the next elections and said this decision is "final".
The commission name was changed to justice and accountability commission and its main job is to ensure that high ranking or active Baath party members will not be part of Iraq's new political regime or military.
The ban included Nihro Mohamed, Saad Al Janabi and Saleh Al Mutlak, a lawmaker and a former Baathi and to include 14 political blocs and its 400 candidates. The commission said that banning the head of a political bloc will extend to his bloc and its members.
Are we still pretending on behalf of Crazy?  Are we still pretending he's a 'leader' or anything but the new Saddam -- who, like the previous one, was US installed?
In the US, it seems more and more the only coverage most newspapers carry on Iraq takes place in the how-to. Martha Stewart joins Hints for Heloise in awarness on the Iraq War -- an awareness lacking in the bulk of the national press corps. From her latest nationally syndicated column Ask Martha (link goes to Boston Globe):

Q. I'd like to send cookies to my nephew, who is serving in Iraq. What types will survive the journey, and how should I package them?                 

A. Home-baked cookies are a wonderful way to give your nephew (and undoubtedly his friends) a taste of home. Transit time may take more than two weeks, so look for cookies with a long shelf life. Shortbread is a good bet, and you can add variety with flavors such as chocolate or lemon. Oatmeal-raisin also has staying power, because dried fruit helps the cookies stay moist. Gingerbread men are a sturdy choice around the holidays. Steer clear of chocolate chips, which are likely to melt; candy-coated M&M's are a good substitute. Also, label any baked goods that contain nuts.                 

For maximum freshness, freeze the cookies until the day you're ready to send them. An efficient and economical way to mail them is in a Priority Mail Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office flat-rate box, which is 12 by 12 by 5 inches; it costs $11.95 to ship. Wrap the cookies individually if you like, for easier distribution. Place them in a cushioned airtight container, and fit that inside the flat-rate box. (You can pad the space between the two containers with extra socks for your nephew.) Then seal the edges with packing tape.                   

If you want to send a package but don't have someone in mind, skip the baked goods: Soldiers are required to throw away homemade foods unless they know the sender. But prepackaged treats, as well as magazines and toiletries (packed separately), are certainly welcome. For soldiers' requests and addresses, go to For more nonprofit organizations that help those in the armed services, visit           

Lastly Friday night on most PBS stations, NOW on PBS begins airing (check local listings) and this week's program explores the Afghanistan War:       

President Obama is sending as many as 30,000 more troops to combat Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan this year, but are we missing the true target? On Friday, January 8 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW reports directly from Pakistan's dangerous and pivotal border with Afghanistan, where Pentagon war planners acknowledge many of the enemy fighters and their leaders are based. The U.S. has been relying on Pakistan to act against Taliban militants there, but the Pakistani army's commitment is in question. NOW takes you to the true front lines for an eye-opening, inside lookyou haven't seen before, and won't soon forget.