Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 3, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Baquba is slammed by bombings, Iraqis talk about voting, candidates take broadsides at one another, KBR gets a huge contract from the US government, and more.
Today suicide bombers target Baquba in Diyala Province. Marc Santora (New York Times) reports, "The attacks began with two car bombings targeting government buildings, followed by an attack on a local hospital where victims from the earlier explosions were being treated." Press TV describes the city as "bathed in blood after a third explosion struck a hospital swarming with casualties from two car bombs". Ernesto Londono and Hassan Shimari (Washington Post) explain, "The initial explosion, a car bomb, targeted an Iraqi police station about 9:45 a.m. in a western district of Baqubah, the provincial capital, according to Maj. Ghalib Aativa, a police spokesman. The detonation ripped through a nearby building and reduced it to rubble."  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "Two minutes later, a second suicide car bomb went off near the party headquarters of former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in central part of the city."  NPR's Mark Memmott has posted an audio report by NPR's Quil Lawrence and we'll note Lawrence on the third bomber, "In what has become a familiar pattern a third attacker dressed as a police man entered the hospital where emergency workers had carried the wounded and detonated a suicide vest in the middle of the crowded ward." Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) offers of the third bombing, "It was the final bomber, however, who caused the most casualties, by donning a military uniform, pretending to be wounded and riding an ambulance back to the hospital where he blew himself up, said Capt. al-Karkhi, killing many of the wounded from the first two bombs."  Hilmi Kamal, Alistair Lyon and Michael Christie (Reuters) add, "The bomber had tried to target the provincial police chief, who had been visiting the hospital, but security guards stopped him. Many people were killed or wounded. More chaos erupted as the police chief's bodyguards shot randomly in the air."  Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports, ""  Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) offers, "Baquba, a mixed Sunni and Shiite Muslim city, is the provincial capital of Diyala and lies about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. The blasts were the deadliest to hit Iraq since Feb. 5 when at least 40 Shiite pilgrims were killed on the last day of a religious festival near Karbala, south of Baghdad." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) provides these numbers, "The explosions killed at least 33 people and injured 55 most of whom were policemen. Toll may rise because of the serious injuries sustained by many of the wounded, Iraqi police said."  Andrew England (Finanical Times of London) explains that "the violence may damage the credibility of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, who has sought to portray himself as the leader responsible for the security gains."  Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quotes Diyala police spokesperson Maj Ghalib Atiyah al Jubouri stating, "The timing is a message to prevent people from participating in elections because it happened just a few days before the general voting and less than 24 hours before the special vote for security forces. We feel people will challenge this message and reject it." Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) note that "a spokeswoman for the governor promised that polling centers would be secured on election day and that a curfew on vehicles would prevent bombings." Kim Landers and Ben Knight (Australia's ABC News) inform, "This is not the massive Al Qaeda [in Mesopotomai] had been threatening. [. . .] Curfews are about to go in place all over the country and police are voting early to be ready for the poll.  The capital Baghdad is on high alert and is expected to shut down almost coompletely in the days ahead of the vote."
Surveying the news of the bombings and the current climate, Michael Hastings (The Daily Beast) offers this take:
I've spent a number of months in Iraq covering the run up to the elections, and I'll be there on March 7th to see the results. I've spoken to dozens of Iraqi officials, U.S. diplomatic and military types, scores of Iraqi voters, and some of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's closest friends and advisors. All of which has made me very suspicious of the American claim -- made recently by Vice President Joe Biden when he said Iraq might be one of President Obama's "greatest achievements -- that Iraq's democratic future is sunny, peaceful, and bright.
In fact, I suspect we could be seeing Iraq's final gasp of democracy this weekend, a last purple-fingered salute before the country slips back into a more familiar authoritarianism. It's not this election we need to worry about, in other words -- it's the next one, four years from now.          
This uncomfortable truth was hard to ignore after the Iraqi government banned hundreds of candidates -- mostly secular and Sunni leaders -- from running in the election. The move was supported by Maliki, and it took the direct intervention of Vice President Biden to force the Iraqis to ban only 400 rather than the original 500. The Shiite Islamist-dominated government in Baghdad was sending a clear signal to its political opponents: they're not very interested in reconciliation. (The U.S. "surge" strategy was intended to give the Iraqi government what U.S. officials called "political breathing room." The Iraqi government has now made it clear they are going to use the breathing room to choke whatever air is left out of the opposition.) It seems rather unlikely that, in four years from now, when the Americans have even less influence in shaping events, that the Iraqi government will be more willing to share in the democratic way the Americans are hoping for.
This morning Nebraska's Journal Star editorialized, "For some Americans, concern over the future of Iraq has been reduced to one question: When will U.S. troops come home? The national election in Iraq in four days could affect the answer to that question. The issue hits close to home, with 1,300 Nebraska National Guard members slated for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan this year." Early voting begins March 5th, voting ends Sunday March 7th. Hannah Fairfield (New York Times) offers a look at some of the parties and candidates, Al Jazeera offers a series of basic points about the elections in Q&A form, while BBC News offers three videos of Iraqis speaking about changes in Iraq, we'll note the middle video.
Rob Walker: This is Zeinab Khadum Allwan, born and raised in Baghdad.  19-years-old and tennis mad. Her dream? To become number one -- and not just Iraq's number one.
Zeinab Khadum Allwan: I hope to be a world champion. I'm determined to achieve that.
Rob Walker: But like many Iraqis, Zeinab's life has been turned upside down by violence.
Zainab Khadum Allwan: I was at home and I heard some rockets fall on the neighborhood near us. So I went out to see what was happening. Suddenly, I felt something falling behind me and then it felt like my legs were on fire. And, when I looked, I couldn't see my legs.
Rob Walker: Zeinab's sister and her sister-in-law were killed in the rocket attack. At first, she says she felt depressed and isolated. 
Zeinab Khadum Allwan: Before the incident, I was the most active child in the street.  My dream was to become a tennis player. The first thing I felt, when I woke up in the hospital and they told me that I'd lost my legs, was that my dream was gone. But then when I told my family I still wanted to play tennis and be a champion, they were very happy because it was my old self coming back. And now, when I hold the racket, I remember the days when I was an active child. I have the same dream ahead of me. The only difference is that I want to achieve that dream in a wheel chair. I try hard not to spend time at my house because, when I'm there, I remember the things that happened there and the things I lost. I dropped out of school after the attack but I hope to go back.
Rob Walker: In a few months Zainab will compete at the Wheel Chair World Cup in Turkey. Her dream is now within reach.  
Zeinab Khadum Allwan:  I hope I will achieve something. I want to achieve a small victory for the Iraqi people.
Rob Walker: Zainab, like many other young Iraqis, will soon have her first chance to choose a Parliament and a government. She says she hopes the outcome will be what's best for Iraq. Zainab's dreams for the future of going back to school and continuing to play tennis depend in part on Iraq's future after these elections.
Dan Damon (BBC News -- audio link) reports that some Iraqis are syaing they won't vote but others are eager to vote.  Two young women share with Damon that they felt it is their duty ("We have to"). In the same report, Jim Muir checks in with the wholesale newspaper market in central Baghdad where paper vendors are present as early as five a.m. to pick up papers.  And the newspaper sales have picked up as people in Baghdad attempt to follow the back and forth of the campaigning. Dan Damon feels two people likely to be vying for the position of prime minister (which will be voted on by Parliament, not by the people of Iraq) are Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi.  Today's bombings put a dent (another one) in Nouri's "State of Law" image. In addition,  Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports that Ayad Allawi is launching a broadside at Nouri:

Mr Allawi, who was the American-backed interim prime minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein and is once again a leading candidate, said he would boycott parliament if he felt the election was fixed.                      
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he upped a war of words over the recent banning and arrests of opposition candidates and supporters, saying the present prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was beginning to assert his authority "just as Saddam Hussein did".
At the New York Times' At War blog, Michael Kamber offers a video interview with Iraqi police officer Thaer Ahmad Farhan whose statements include, "We hope that all Iraqis vote in order to lead the country to a better situation -- economically, socially and to be more prosperous."  Among the parties vying for votes is the Ahrar Party:
With only three days to go until voting begins in Iraq's elections, the leader of Ahrar 374 - Ayad Jamal Aldin - urged all Iraqis to get out and vote.
In advance of Sunday's vote, he argued that all Iraqis, regardless of religion, need a government that is focused on delivering better public services and uniting the country.
Ayad Jamal Aldin said: "This government has lost control.  We need radical change to throw out the foreigners and corruptors who are intent on dividing us Iraqis.
"These outside influences are responsible for the violence and intimidation that blight the lives of all Iraqis every day.  And the violence and bloodshed on our streets is getting worse, because the people around our government are scared of what the people's verdict will be.
"They are fearful of the people of Iraq because they know that on Sunday we, the people of Iraq, have all the power.
"Every Iraqi faces a choice this weekend.  You can vote for more violence, more division, and more corruption.  Or you can vote for real plans for providing security, unity, and jobs.
"But you must vote.  Your vote is your voice.  Any Iraqi who does not vote is supporting the decline, division, and destruction of Iraq. Together we can build a strong and united Iraq with security, jobs, and electricity."
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942
About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.


Middle East Online reports on Nejm Eddine Karim who is a Kurd running in Kirkuk and who states, "I propose that an Arab becomes vice president of Kurdistan and a Turkmen is made prime minister, if we succeed in making Kirkuk part of Kurdistan." Karim is closely connected to Kurdistan despite living in the US until very recently -- whenever Jalal Talabani's bad eating lands him in health trouble and sends him scurrying to the US, he usually sees Karim.  In Iraq, Seth Robbins (Stars and Stripes) reports, "As Sunday's national election approaches, the atmosphere has become more tense in Anbar, once a stronghold of the insurgency but more recently a relatively peaceful province. A string of deadly bombings, one of which severely injured the provincial governor, has been blamed on rival camps left out of the government and its lucrative American contracts or on al-Qaida in Iraq, which may be seeking to renew the insurgency as American troops prepare to withdraw."

Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) offers her take on the elections:

So let's see how this democratic process is unfolding shall we ?
Kurds are at Arabs throats in Nineveh province, where a joint US/Kurdish/Iraqi Forces is patrolling the area...
Clownish candidates are continuing their comic show with distributing i.e buying votes, either with cash, guns, sports shoes and carton of eggs...hahahahaha
A few revelations, not rumors I promise you.
One candidate from INA (the Iranian National Alliance) presented himself as a Doctor...
Upon investigation, this Doctor from Mayssan Province, turned out to have never finished university. He did a teacher's training course for elementary classes. And his exams results were shown on TV, he failed miserably in all subjects except PE. i.e Physical Education.
Another candidate spent 450'000 Dollars printing posters of his ugly face in Beirut, and shipping them to Baghdad in cartons.
The above two are just small examples of the kind of specimens that are ruling Iraq...

Middle East Online reports on Nejm Eddine Karim who is a Kurd running in Kirkuk and who states, "I propose that an Arab becomes vice president of Kurdistan and a Turkmen is made prime minister, if we succeed in making Kirkuk part of Kurdistan." Karim is closely connected to Kurdistan despite living in the US until very recently -- whenever Jalal Talabani's bad eating lands him in health trouble and sends him scurrying to the US, he usually sees Karim. Mohammed A. Salih (IPS) reports on the KRG and doesn't see indications that the Kurds will be united after the elections thereby guaranteeing a powerful Kurdish bloc in the Parliament. How true or false that is, no one knows. It's a guess, like any other these days. It's also a guess that depends heavily on what right-wingers see (check out Salih's quoted US sources).   Seth Robbins (Stars and Stripes) reports, "As Sunday's national election approaches, the atmosphere has become more tense in Anbar, once a stronghold of the insurgency but more recently a relatively peaceful province. A string of deadly bombings, one of which severely injured the provincial governor, has been blamed on rival camps left out of the government and its lucrative American contracts or on al-Qaida in Iraq, which may be seeking to renew the insurgency as American troops prepare to withdraw."  And we'll note this from the Ahrar Party:
In an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera this afternoon, Ahrar Party Leader Ayad Jamal Aldin reminded voters that the appalling security situation within Iraq was the result of weak political leadership. The first priority of the Ahrar Party once in power would be to pass a new law to end the de-Ba'athification process and to start a true reconciliation within Iraq. This would finally allow the country to put an end to the foreign influences that are controlling the country at present.           
Jamal Aldin went on to discuss the relationship with the United States and that he recognized the importance of a strategic relationship with the USA similar to that of other Gulf countries, such as Jordan or Qatar.            
When asked how he anticipated incorporating the Federation of Kurdistan into a national parliament, Jamal Aldin responded: "Ahrar is not against the Kurdistan Federation but the central government has to know where they spend the money which is allocated to the region - which amounts to 17% of the total Iraqi budget."

Turning to violence reported today besides the Baquba bombings . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad drug store bombing (damaged store, no people), a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more plus one civilian injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded two people, a third Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left two people injured, a Basra bombing at a cafe which left eight college students wounded and a Mosul sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer. Reuters notes a Mosul grenade attack which left six people wounded, a Mosul mortar attack which injured "a woman and two children" and a Tux Khurmato roadside bombing which injured two guards for a police lieutenant-colonel.
Reuters notes 1 Imam shot dead in Mosul.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.  
Staying with the topic of destruction, last week, Congress was denying KBR $25 million in fees and, as Press TV notes, this week they get "a massive contract for support work in Iraq [. . . .] worth $2.8 billion." Jason Ditz ( catches this important detail about the contract: "The KBR contract only covers a single base year, but includes options for up to four additional years, meaning it could keep them in Iraq through 2015. The fact that the military is keeping its options open for contractors in Iraq in 2015 is significant, as officials publicly insist all troops will be out by the end of 2011."   This follows Ditz' report earlier this week, Ditz' "Iraq DM: Army Won't Be Ready to Provide Security Until 2020" (, which noted:
With the prospect of the US delaying their withdrawal from Iraq already growing, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Jassim added fuel to the fire today, warning that Iraq's military won't be nearly completed with the training designed to enable it to provide security by the 2012 date the pullout was supposed to be completed on.                  
"We cannot say that we have finished building the Iraqi army as a modern army," Jassim admitted, adding that the training of the army likely wouldn't be completed until at least 2020. Jassim warned that he was expecting violence to increase in the leadup to next week's election, and officials have also warned that violence might actually get even worse after the vote, as post-election negotiations are expected to take quite some time.

March 1, 2010 Update - Army Spc Marc Hall, who had been jailed in Georgia county jails since December 12, 2009 for producing an angry hip-hop song about "stoploss" was placed on a military flight bound for Iraq Friday night. Marc flew out of Hunter Army Airfield, with a stop in Spain, before arriving in Balad, Iraq. He is expected to be transported to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for continued pre-trial confinement. The Army has made it clear that Marc will face a General Courts Martial that could result in years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. Eleven violations of Article 132 are now being cited going into the Article 32 (pre-trial) hearing. While we had all hoped to be able to stop this 'extradition', hopefully this underscores the seriousness of the situation and will serve to "jump start" our efforts. We have a lot of work to do if we are going to free Marc.            

Take action at:                  

Sign the letter to Marc's Commanding General                         
"Dear Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillip; I'm writing to request that the charges against SPC Marc A. Hall related to his recording of a hip-hop song critical of the Army's "stop-loss" policy be dropped, and that he be allowed to leave the Army at the end of his current enlistment..." We will print it with your name and address, and mail it to the commanding general on your behalf.               

Calling musicians and artists                    
We are asking musicians and artists to make public statements in support of Marc. We are also counting on folks to hold benefit gigs large and small in support Marc, free speech, and opposed to endless war and the military's stop-loss policy. More information coming.                                             

Write to Marc in jail                   
We are currently trying to identify the correct address for Marc in Kuwait.       

Donate online to Marc Hall's defense fund                   
We currently estimate that it will cost approximately $50,000 to cover Marc's defense, including legal fees due to travel and expenses related to traveling to Iraq. Progress updates will be posted here. Donations are tax-deductible. To make a donation by check or money order, make payable to "Courage to Resist" and mail to: Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Ave #41, Oakland CA 94610--please note "Marc Hall defense" on the check's memo line.         

At MakeThemAccountable, Caro offers that her theory on the disappointing Congress places the blame on the Senate where things are bottled up and not advancing and even when the House does pass measures that Democrats can applaud, the bill hits a wall in the Senate. Caro is a female blogger and MakeThemAccountable is one of the oldest left sites online.  She started it, she continues it.  Worth noting it at any time but especially during Women's History Month.  So take a moment to note and appreciate one of the online pioneers and grasp that, while the revisionary history took hold long ago and made it the Blogger Boyz, one of the real bloggers for the left, blogging for the left from the start (never a protege of Henry Hyde, for example, never a buddy of Newt Gingrich), was Caro and that women like Caro were there and doing it just as well as any bad book on blogging will pretend only the boys were. Half of the men weren't even online when Caro BUILT the club house.  They have to work so hard to write women out of history because, it usually turns out, if they didn't, they wouldn't have room for all the boys who came after.  Applause for Caro and for all women who blaze new trails.  Nancy McDonald of HerStory Scrapbook notes:

March 2010 is the 30th anniversary of National Women's History Month.  The HerStory Scrapbook is a "you-are-there" account of the women who were fighting for, and against, suffrage from 1917 - 1920, as reported by The New York Times.    


To celebrate Women's History Month, the HerStory 360° Challenge on the HerStory Scrapbook will answer the question: "What's her story?" by highlighting a different story each day of ninety women who fought for the right to vote. Each woman's story includes internet links to rare, original source material.   


Please let your network of friends, colleagues, and students of history know about the HerStory Scrapbook.



TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):


Americans have a longstanding love affair with food -- the modern 
supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what  
goes into making the products we so eagerly consume? On Friday, March 5 
at 8:30 PM (check local listings), David Brancaccio talks with Robert 
Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., which  
takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on       
the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why  contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their 
impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are
actually empowered to make a difference.


In 17 days, marches against the wars are supposed to take place in the US. March 20th, marches in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Students for a Democratic Society are an organization that will be participating and they note:

While the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is growing ever larger, the occupation of Iraq is still raging, nearing its seventh anniversary. With over 4,300 US soldiers and over 1.3 million Iraqi civilians estimated dead, something has to be done to stop this senseless slaughter.  
This year Students for a Democratic Society will hold a national week of action March 15th to 20th where students will organize protests and direct actions at campuses across the country in opposition to the ongoing, brutal occupations.
The need for a vibrant anti-war movement has rarely been felt more than this very moment, while the United States drops trillions of dollars into unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during the worst economic crisis in 80 years. Students are struggling to pay for school while tuition skyrockets, and states lose billions of dollars to two continuing occupations.     
On Saturday, March 20th, SDS will participate in a massive National March & Rally in D.C. hosted by A.N.S.W.E.R. to finish the week of action with tens of thousands of people in the street!                
We're calling on students and youth from across the country to join us the week of March 15-20th in demanding: Fund Education, Not Occupation!
For more information visit: