Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, April 7, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada al-Sadr supporters know who they want for prime minister, Baghdad Airport is shut down, a US service member's body returns to the US (where service members and veterans face the recession), calls mount for a new investigation into the July 12, 2007 assault on Iraqis, and more.
Amnesty International has condemned the killings of over 100 Iraqi civilians in suicide bomb and other attacks mounted by armed groups in and around Baghdad in the last week.              
Hundreds were injured in the attacks, some of which appear to have targeted civilians and to have been intended to cause maximum loss of life.            
"Most of these attacks targeted civilians directly and therefore constitute war crimes," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.                  
"If the attacks are part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population in Iraq in furtherance of a particular organization or armed group's policy, they also constitute crimes against humanity."               
"War crimes and crimes against humanity are among the most serious crimes under international law. These attacks must be stopped immediately and those responsible must be brought to justice."           
Coordinated bomb attacks in several Baghdad districts on Tuesday destroyed seven apartment buildings and left at least 35 people, possibly all civilians, dead and more than 140 other people injured.       
On Monday, a Shi'a couple and four of their children were assassinated in their house outside Baghdad.              
Three suicide car bomb attacks on Sunday targeted the Iranian, German and Egyptian embassies in Baghdad and resulted in the killing of at least 41 people. More than 200 others were injured.            
On Friday, armed men attacked a pre-dominantly Sunni village, south of Baghdad killing 24 people.             
No armed group has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but Iraqi politicians have attributed at least some of them to al-Qa'ida in Iraq and its allies.      
This latest upsurge in violence appears to be exploiting the political vacuum that now exists in Iraq as leaders of the major political groups have so far failed to garner enough support to form a government following the 7 March elections which did not produce a clear winner.                 
"Deliberate attacks on civilians can never be justified," said Malcolm Smart."Those perpetrating such attacks must desist from such crimes. They must be brought to justice but without resort to the death penalty; use of the death penalty serves only to further brutalize Iraqi society."
So much violence and yet so little TV coverage.  Yesterday, three commercial, broadcast networks served up their evening news casts.  Two reduced the violence to a brief headline, the third offered even less. ABC World News with Diane Sawyer went with headline.

Diane Sawyer: And in Iraq, a day of devastating violence across Baghdad. A series of seven bombs tore through apartment buildings in the city, another blew up a market, killing at least 50 people, injuring more than 180. US and Iraqi officials blamed today's bombing spree on al Qaeda insurgents, saying the attacks were carefully coordinated and took time to plan with terrorists renting apartments to plant the bombs. 

As did NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams :

Brian Williams: We turn to other news overseas tonight, this has been an another violent day in Iraq and this time there was a new tactic: Bombs planted in apartments. At least seven bombs exploded at apartment buildings across Baghdad, another one exploded at a market. In all, at least 50 people were killed, nearly 200 wounded. This was the latest in what many worry was a new wave of violence in the capital city.

On the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez filled in for Katie and Iraq didn't interest them so they skipped the story but did make time for a wordy, touchy-feely, free-association 'essay' from Smith which began, "Spring is a time of renewal."  It never got any better or deeper than that. On The News Hour (PBS -- link has video, audio and transcript), Gwen Ifill spoke with the New York Times' Rod Nordland about yesterday's violence for nearly six minutes, including raising the issue of the March 7th elections:
GWEN IFILL: Is there any way to know whether there's any connection between these attacks, this latest spurt of attacks, and the -- the political upheaval we have seen with the outcome of the most recent elections?              
ROD NORDLAND: Well, we can only assume that -- that, with the government and the politicians in -- in the middle of intense negotiations now at putting together a coalition that can rule the country after the elections, that these attacks are timed to coincide with that, and to have some sort of effect on that process, or at least to attempt to do so.  What's -- what's very striking, though, is that, despite the attacks and despite the way they have practically paralyzed the city, because they have been -- they were so widespread, despite that, high-level meetings have continued to go on at a very rapid pace.
On Morning Edition (NPR) today, host Steve Inskeep spoke with correspondent Quil Lawrence who expressed the believe that the violence might be an attempt of "pushing Iraqis back toward the sectarian violence that we saw that nearly took the country apart in 2006, 07 and 08." 
Steve Inskeep: [. . .] But we mentioned that there is no -- They have no political bosses. There is no formal government that has been formed. Is the violence affecting the effort to actually form a coalition that can rule Baghdad and rule Iraq?
Quil Lawrence: I have to say, talking to political leaders, they don't seem concerned by it. Many of these people were resistance fighters for so many years. They seeem to take this violence in stridge. I think the violence seems to be more of a filling in this gap, this lame duck caretaker government for the next bunch of weeks and months. The place it might come to a crunch is if this level of violence we saw this week continues and the government has to take some sort of decisive action, something verging on martial law. Well -- the question would be, "What legitimacy does this government have?" Several hundred of the Parliamentarians were voted out in this last election. Only 62 remain of the incumbents. It's possible that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won't return to office. And if he starts having to take very strong and decisive measures again, there might be serious questions about legitmacy and that could really stoke some of these underlying tensions.
Today on All Things Considered (NPR), Quil Lawrence spoke with, among others, Cameron Munter who serves in the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Quil Lawrence: And while the negotiations are fierce over building a governing coaltion, Munter says the violence is not intimidating Iraq's politicians either.
Cameron Munter: We don't see that they're having an impact on the leadership of the country to move ahead on government formation and indeed we don't think it's had an impact on the people of the country moving ahead towards their commitment towards a better future.
Lawrence reported that while no coalition-sharing arrangement had been reached yet, "The two leading candidates [for prime minister] -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minsiter Ayad Allawi -- condemned the bombings and in some ways they both remain in campaign mode. Maliki announced what he said would be a doubling of security in Baghdad and Allawi announced a blood drive and gave a press statement while donating." Nouri's 'increased' security may include closures.  AFP reports that no one is talking as to why Baghdad International Airport was shut down today.  Tom King (text) and Christiane Amanpour (video -- CNN) report on Allawi's statements that Iran is interfering with the process with Allawi stating that the Iranian government has now extended an invitation to his political slate to visit. And while all eyes are on the Sadr bloc, Scott Peterson and Alice Fordham (Chrisian Science Monitor) remind there's another group which has been dubbed "kingmakers:"
Kurdish parties, which won more than 50 seats, likewise have issues with Maliki's forays against Kurdish peshmerga, or militia, and are worried about both men's strong Iraqi nationalism. 
Maliki's "overt threat of violence if he doesn't get his own way has alienated even more the people who would need to back him" in a coalition government, says Mr. Dodge. But Dodge is also unsure that Allawi has matured as a leader since getting bumped out in 2005. "I'm yet to be convinced that he has the modesty and diplomatic skills to form a working coalition."
Staying with ambassadors, Laura Rozen (Politico) highlights an interview her outlet's Zeeshan Aleem did with the Iraqi Ambassador to the US, Sami Sumaida'ie:
POLITICO: Muqtada al-Sadr -- the vehemently anti-occupation Shiite cleric -- held an informal intraparty referendum during the weekend. Having won 39 seats in parliament, his party represents a valuable voting bloc. Both outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi are competing to head the next government that an alliance with Sadr is so critical that the cleric is now seen as a kingmaker.
Sumaida'ie: Al-Sadr's party is now completely within the political process -- that represents a huge step forward. We don't mind them holding any views, provided they fight for them inside parliament and not in the streets using guns.
POLITICO: Given al-Sadr's aggressive stance against the occupation, might he impact the future of Iraqi relations with the U.S.?
Sumaida'ie: The Sadrists are resigned to the fact that the Americans are there according to an agreement signed with the Iraqi government. . . . The Sadrists know the realities of the situation; their stance is more populist than real.
That interview took place Monday and while there is no coalition-sharing government/arrangement as yet from the March 7th elections, Friday and Saturday, another round of elections were held -- this to determine whom the Sadr bloc should back. Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10$ of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left). Following the invasion, Ayad Allawi became Iraq's first prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari became the second and Nouri al-Maliki became the third. It's a little more complicated.

Nouri wasn't wanted, Nouri wasn't chosen. Following the December 2005 elections, coalition building took place and the choice for prime minister was al-Jaafari. But the US government refused to allow him to continue as prime minister. The Bush administration was adamant that he would not continue and faulted him for, among other things, delays in the privatization of Iraq's oil. Though the US had no Parliamentary vote, they got their way and Nouri became the prime minister. al-Jaafari had won the vote with the backing of al-Sadr's bloc, just as he won the vote that took place this weekend. The vote can be seen as (a) a show of support for al-Jaafari whom Sadarists have long supported and (b) a message to the US government.

Unemployment is one of the sources of terror in Iraq. Militias and insurgents' groups depend basically on unemployed people using them to achieve their aims. May be the young man I saw was lucky to survive from both insurgents groups and death but other are not. in spite of the promises made by all the government to improve Iraqis lives and provide work opportunities, nothing really big had been achieved on ground until now. That means more easy tools for insurgents groups and militias will be provided which means more violence and more bloody days.
This as Jim Loney and Paul Taylor (Reuters) report Iraqi "forces arrested 13 suspects" in the Friday night/Saturday morning assualt on Sahwa and as Reuters reports a teenage boy with a vest full of explosives was arrested in Amiriya Monday. Turning to some of today's violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad bombing "inside a funeral tent" which wounded four people and, dropping back to yesterday, 1 taxi driver was shot dead in Mosul and 1 corpse (also shot dead) was discovered in Mosul.
On violence, Monday WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault on Iraqis by the US military.  On The World (PRI) today, Marco Werman explored the subject:
Marco Werman: Even when the rules of engagement are crystal clear, things can go terribly wrong. That's what happened three years ago in Iraq.  A video of the event, a 2007 US assault in Baghdad is circulating on the internet. It's graphic and violent. Soldiers in a US Army helicopter shot and killed 12 people including two employees of the Reuters news agency. Because of the video, the incident has received renewed attention in the past few days and has renewed questions both outside and within the Pentagon. And of course it's being seen by many outside of the US. Matthew Baum is [Marvin] Kalb Professor of Global Communications at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Baum says the video will be useful propaganda for terrorists but he doesn't believe it will cause a political firestorm.
Matthew Baum: It's not as clear to me that this is going to have the sort of impact say that the Abu Ghraib images had which came out in much closer to real time while the Iraq conflict was still quite hot and while global attention was focused much more heavily on Iraq than is the case today and certainly within the United States where attention was much more focused on Iraq than it is today.
Marco Werman: Well maybe you can elaborate on that because this video was shot in 2007, Abu Ghraib the shots came out almost in real time -- what's the difference in the time delay? Why wouldn't this have the same effect that Abu Ghraib had?
Matthew Baum: It's not the time delay per se, it's that this is coming out at a period where basically American opinion, American attention, world attention has pretty much moved on from Iraq. Iraq is no longer the story that it once was in terms of salience. It may still be very much in flux in terms of how the situation in Iraq is ultimately going to play out but it is clearly not the center of international attention that it was, say, at the time that the Abu Ghraib images came out. So you just have a less receptive audience than you would have had at that time by virtue of the fact that people aren't paying that much attention to Iraq anymore.
David Rising (AP) reports that the Iraqi Journalists Union is calling for Iraq to open an investigation into the assault. Reuters notes that the US military is looking at the video and determining whether or not to launch a new investigation.  Timothy Hsia (New York Times) offers some reactions he's found online at US military blogs. Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait) states, "We need to know what is being done in our name, as hard as this is to watch. This leaked combat documentation does not show an aberration, but routine disregard for the rules of engagement."  Today the International Federation of Journalists issued the following statement:
The International Federation of Journalists today called on President Barack Obama to open a fresh investigation into the actions of the United States army which has been implicated in killings of journalists in Iraq following the release of a shocking video film of a helicopter gunship attack on civilians including two media staff in 2007.
"This is evidence of calculated, cold-blooded and horrifying violence," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. "The United States cannot ignore this atrocity and the killings of unarmed civilians.  We insist on a completely new review of these and all the killings of journalists and media staff in the Iraq conflict." 
The incident was filmed from an Apache helicopter by soldiers and shows an attack carried out in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad in July 2007.  The news agency Reuters has been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act because two of its employees -- Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Cmagh -- were among the victims. The video shows horrifying clear footage of the initial attack and then further shooting at people trying to rescue the wounded.
The controversial film was released by WikiLeaks and reignites the controversy over US army attacks on journalists during the conflict whichw ere highlighted on April 8, 2003 when three journalists were killed when US forces fired on Baghdad's Palestin Hotel, killing two journalists, Jose Couso of the Telecinco network in Spain, and Taras Protsiuk, a Ukranian cameraman working for Reuters.  Earlier that day US forces attacked the offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub.
Altogether there have been 19 unexplained killings of media staff at the hands of US soldiers," said Boumelha. "The administration of Barack Obama cannot duck its responsibility to set aside the white-wash of self-exonerating reporting by the US army. Justice requires that there is no impunity and that the US military is hled to account for its actions in Iraq."
Monday the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A U.S. Soldier died of non-combat related injuries in Baghdad Sunday.  The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.  The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin.  The incident is under investigation." Today Kelly Boldan (West Central Tribune) reports the fallen is Sgt Kurt E. Kruize, "1993 graduate of Hancock High School," that he was on his second tour of Iraq and that his survivors include his wife Billie Kruize, four children and his parents Bev and Lyle Kruize. When ICCC updates, the number of US service members should stand at 4388.
Among the many issues facing veterans today is unemployment. Gary Davis (Seattle's KPLU) spoke with Senator Patty Murray at the end of last month. Murray, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently did a roundtable with veterans. She told Davis, "They have ten years of job experience and they come home and apply for a job and are told 'You don't have experience.' Well what was the last ten years?" Lorraine Mirabella (Baltimore Sun) reports:

Young, unemployed veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan face even lower odds of finding jobs in this economy than their civilian counterparts, according to recent government statistics. The jobless rate hit 21 percent last year for the youngest veterans, who are 18 to 24 years old, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report released last month. That's compared to 16.6 percent of nonveterans in the same age range.

Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) explains that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan War "has tripled since the recession began". Iraq War veteran Phil Aliff (US Socialist Worker) writes:

This week, as Obama was visiting Afghanistan to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, derisively known by most Afghans as the "mayor of Kabul," shocking statistics were released regarding unemployment for veterans. According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 rose to 21.4 percent, up from 14 percent in 2008 and significantly higher than the 16.6 percent unemployment rate for civilians in the same age range.                        
Employers are legally obligated to provide job security for members of the National Guard and Reserves, holding their jobs until they return from overseas. But with these soldiers increasingly facing repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, employers are simply deciding not to hire them at all--turning them down even if they have the appropriate skills out of fear that they won't unable to replace a deployed employee.               
Veterans' groups say the high unemployment figures are also due to the fact that the young people who join the military lack job training, job experience and education.                         
Of course, these are precisely the reasons that recruiters tell young people that joining the military will benefit them--that it will give them a leg up when it comes to finding a job when they return to civilian life.                     
The military has never provided the kind of job training that employers are really looking for. That's all the more so today as more and more people flock to recruiting stations in the hopes of a source of income that will meet basic living standards, or perhaps help them pay for an increasingly expensive education now that state budget cuts have slashed education funding and raised tuition.

Melica Johnson and Valeria Hurst (KATU -- link has text and video) report that things can be especially difficult for the National Guard members who may or may not have jobs to return to (it is illegal to fire someone because they have been ordered to deploy) and they zoom in on Victoria and Troy Sartain.  While Troy has been deployed, Victoria explains she's been "a single parent of four kids" and now he's just returned and one of them will need to find a job quickly -- especially since Senator Ron Wyden has so far been unsuccessful in his attempts to create a small safety net for Guard members by getting them 90 days pay after they return from a deployment so that they have some money coming in while they seek employment.  In a more basic and immediate sign of the bad economy, Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) reports that the Oregon National Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade just returned Saturday and have already learned the recession has resulted in the state cutting out the free hunting and fishing licenses they were giving out to returning service members.
Speaking events.  At the University of California, Merced, Iraq War veteran Lt Dan Choi is set to appear Friday to speak

Special Events - Community Service | April 9 | 4-7 p.m. | Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center           

Location: 5200 North Lake Rd, Merced, CA 95343              

Sponsor: Student Life              

Lt. Dan Choi is an infantry officer in the United States Army who has served in Iraq. He has become an LGBT rights activist following his coming out on the The Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009 and is in the process of being dishonorably discharged because of his orientation.   

He is now publicly decrying America's Don't Ask, Don't (DADT) Tell policy, which forbids lesbian, bisexual and gay service members from serving openly. He's been a part of many state and national panels addressing issues affecting the LGBT community and has quickly become a nationally recognized speaker.    

He will be on campus to address his time under the DADT policy and the inequities that LGBT citizens currently face in our country.                      

Pre-Reception at 4 p.m. Sign ups start on Monday in the Office of Student Life. Space is limited     !/event.php?eid=109296795757332&ref=mf

A Post-reception will follow

Event Contact: 209.228.2582

Lt Dan Choi is fighting for equality and has made it clear that he will not be silent in the face of discrimination. It should be a very inspiring and worthwhile event for all who attend.  As should Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan at her upcoming events in New York beginning tomorrow:


10:30 a.m. - Press conference will be

held at the St. Francis of Assisi church

1031 Chenango St., Binghamton, NY. (Room 104 - School Building)

12:00 Noon - Pot Luck luncheon for press conference attendees, committee members and local peace group leaders - Location: St. Francis church hall

3 - 5 pm - Book signing at River Read Books, Court St. Binghamton

7 - 9 pm - Presentation at Binghamton University - Lecture Hall 8 - Open to Community

For more information on Binghamton events contact: George McAnaman - 


Scranton, PA 

12 NOON to 2PM

Email Jack Gilroy for details: 

Friday Evening

7 p.m. – Words & Music for Peace – First United Methodist Church, 53 McKinley Avenue, Endicott, NY. This event will include a talk by Cindy with Q & A, folk music by Janet Burgan and a performance by Expressive Drumming. The community is invited. Refreshments and Book signing 


Ithaca Events:

7 - 9 Evening Event - Women's Community Building - 100 W. Seneca St. Open to the Public

 For more information on Ithaca events Contact: 

Bob Nape - 607-592-7692 or 

Andrea Levine - 908-461-8491


Listen to the Soapbox 

Sunday's guest, available 2pm Pacific Time is 

hero: Daniel Ellsberg 

****************************** *

Read Cindy's New Blog:
Take This Empire and Shove It! 

"Yes, folks, it's true," writes NOW on PBS executive producer John Siceloff, "NOW on PBS has come to the end of its broadcast run. The last episode will air on April 30, 2010. PBS announced last fall it was canceling NOW and providing funding for a new public affairs show called Need to Know." Click here for the rest of his essay. The program begins airing each week on Fridays on most PBS stations (check local listings) and this week they look at the economy:

The national economic disaster hit the city of Braddock Pennsylvania
like a wrecking ball. But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman -- dubbed
"America's Coolest Mayor" by The New York Times -- is taking very
unconventional approaches to reinventing the town and re-inspiring its
residents. Home to the nation's first A&P supermarket and Andrew
Carnegie's first steel mill, Braddock is being revitalized with new
youth and art programs, renovations of abandoned real estate, and bold
plans to attract artists and green industries.

On Friday, April 9 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW sits down with
Mayor Fetterman to learn how the 6'8" 370-pound political novice is
trying to turn his town around, and if other devastated communities can
and should follow his large footsteps.