Monday, April 19, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 19, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces multiple deaths, two al Qaeda leaders are caught in Iraq (again, oops!), feline terrorists stalk the US, Nouri continues to act like a lead character in Valley Of The Dolls (or at least like Helen Lawson), the Commission on Wartime Contracting holds a hearing in which DoD pleads they have made "progress," Marc Hall gets discharged, and more.
We'll start with the deaths of US service members and grasp that the US military spokespeople appear to struggle with the truth.  You'll understand in a moment.  Sunday the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- One U.S. Soldier was killed and three injured when their helicopter crashed in northern Iraq late Saturday evening. The accident was not attributed to enemy fire and is currently under investigation. The names of deceased service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official Web site at The announcements are made on that Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin." Press TV adds, "An Iraqi military official said the crash had taken place near the US military base of Camp Speicher, located outside the town of Tikrit." Alright, to review, helicopter crashed Saturday evening.  One US service member dead, three more wounded, northern Iraq.  Today the US military announced: "BASRAH, Iraq -- A Soldier assigned to United States Division-South died of non-combat-related injuries 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." To review, that's a Sunday death, "non-combat-related injuireds" in Basra.  The announcements bring the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4392.  And it's seems so easy to follow.
Here's where they muck it up.  There was an operation on Sunday morning, in Tikrit.  The US military's press release is here and, while bragging that two suspects were killed, they slip this in at the end, "During the operation, a USF-I Soldier was killed during the assault when a U.S. helicopter crashed."   Now is that 3 deaths the military's announcing?  Or are they changing their earlier release which asserted the helicopter crashed Saturday evening to Sunday morning?  Both announcement originated in Iraq.  Presumably the US military knows the difference between evening and morning.
If you go through reports on the assault, you'll find reporters are confused as well with some asserting that the US solider killed in the operation was in the helicopter and others asserting differently (and all are basing it on what the military told them).   We're not going to call out the reporters on it because the confusion stemming from conflicting statements being made by the US military.
Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports that a huge number of people are stepping forward to sing praises of the operation including Gen Ray Odierno (his comments are actually in the previous military press release we linked to above) and Nouri al-Maliki (we'll come back to the singers, the Three Tenors, if you will, in a moment) and she notes that the US and Iraq spokespersons are claiming that Abu Hamza Muhajr and Abu Omar Baghdadi were the two killed on Sunday in the US forces-led operation.  US forces-led operation?  That's me, not Sly.  But let's be clear that if air power was supplied, it was a US-led operation.  Baghdad's air force is non-existant and expected to be that way until late 2013 by the most positive estimates.  So while the US makes those claims, Sly points out, "The Iraqi government has on numerous occasions claimed to have captured Baghdadi, and last year televised the confession of a man who claimed to be Baghdadi, to widespread skepticism. U.S. officials said privately they did not believe the man was Baghdadi, and some Iraqi officials said then the real Baghdadi was a man with the same name as that given by the U.S. military."  Sly leaves out the fact that the press ran with that claim -- that false claim -- with very few exceptions.  It was embarrassing (and we called it out in real time).  But let's underscore that today we have confirmation that it was false and we know that the confession was false.  Remember that the next time the Iraqi government parades a confession or makes an assertion.  But he's not the only one they've claimed to have caught in the past.  As Laura Rozen (Politico) reminds, "Al-Masri, an Egyptian also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, had previously erroneously been reported killed in late 2006 as well as in 2007."  In other words, this heavily panted over 'operation' which netted 'two' 'evil doers'?  Don't be surprised if six months to a year from now we're again being told that al-Baghdadi and al-Masri have either been killed or captured.
(and probably at the Christian Science Monitor as well but we'll throw them a link in a moment) and they emphasize the claims that the two deaths are a devasting blow against what recent research into the issue have found:
As noted above, a chorus of voices joined to sing praises for the operation.  Rounding out The Three Tenors was US Vice President Joe Biden who insisted that Iraq took the lead and this was a huge accomplishment and "demonstrates the improved security, strength and capacity of Iraqi security forces."  Really, Joe?  Really?  It was worth the life of at least 1 US service member?  Really?
Laura Rozen reminds of the operation, "It also came amid revelations of a secret Baghdad prison under the direction of Maliki's military office where hundreds of Sunni prisoners had been held and abused."  What's she referring to?  Ned Parker's explosive (Los Angeles Times) report on Nouri al-Maliki running an off the books prison where countless "Sunni men disappeared for months" and they were tortured and hidden away with at least one possible killed during a torture session.
Little Nouri talks a good game when he needs to. Iraq's current and possibly outgoing prime minister garnered headlines a few days ago for repeating what the Iranian government had said a week before, that any new coalition government must include Sunnis. [See  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) report that Nouri was insisting that Allawi's slate "should be a key player in the next government."] It was supposed to be a whole new Nouri. Then came Ned Parker's report.  There's more.  First the backstory, Iraq. March 7th, Iraq concluded elections. The results were released in March: Ayad Allawi's slate came out with the most seats in the Parliament (91), Nouri al-Maliki's slate with the second most (89). Since that time, efforts to build a power-sharing coaltion have gone on. 163 seats are needed for a government to be formed and a prime minister selected. How do you win in a tight race?  One way is to repeatedly spin that you're in the lead.  The hope is that (a) it will intimidate any opponents and (b) it will erode resistance to you.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise to learn today that the claims that Nouri and the other Shi'ite coalition (Iraqi National Alliance) set to announce a coalition being a done deal was apparently only a done deal in Nouri's mind. Alsumaria TV reports that the two groups met Sunday night and had "rows" over the issue of who would be prime minister. In a non-surprising move, a week ago State Of Law announced they were endorsing their own party's Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister. Which means the argument was about Nouri. Moqtada al-Sadr does not like Nouri for a variety of reasons and he put the issue of who his 40 seats (in the Parliament -- and they are part of the Iraqi National Alliance) should endorse to the people and Nouri was not the winner of that poll. Alsumaria notes, "Previous talks had reached an agreement to form a six member committee representing both coalitions charged of choosing the next Prime Minister. State of Law officials however opposed the joint committee arguing that choosing the next PM by consensus means ruling out incumbent Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki."

What to do when you're not getting your way? Stomp your feet! Remember when the world found out, after the fact and after the election, that Nouri had gone to his rubber stamp court to get them to change the way that the prime minister is chosen? Well today's the day the country's Federal Court certifies the election results . . . and if you weren't expecting a hiccup, you consume too much American media.

Al Jazeera reports
that Iraq's electoral commission has agreed to Nouri's demands, the whiny tyrant will get his way, there will be a recount of ballots cast in Baghdad and "Baghdad accounts for 68 seats in the 325-seat parliament, making it a key prize." Ahmed Rasheed, Suadad al-Salhy, Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Noah Barkin (Reuters) point out, "Any revision could inflame sectarian tensions at a time when Iraq is emerging from the worst of the fighting between Sunnis and majority Shi'ites that was unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion."   Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) adds, "The recount is expected to take at least a week to conduct. Officials said the three-member court that ruled on Monday was still considering other complaints of fraud and could order recounts in other regions as well."  Citing and sourcing to Iraq High Electoral Commissioner Ayad al-Kinani, Jane Arraf and Sahar Issa (Christian Science Monitor) note that "the process of unsealing the ballot boxes stored in secure warehouses, emptying them. and manually recounting them in front of election observers was expected to take eight to ten days."

For those who have forgotten, Nouri ordered members of his political party to the streets to protest after the results were known, he spoke threateningly of violence but even that did not result in a recount. He finally got his way. He finally stamped his feet enough to get what he wanted.  Over the weekend, Timothy Williams and Sa'ad Al-Izzi (New York Times) offered an analysis of Allawi's support.   Rebecca Santana (AP) explains, "The decision to recount the Baghdad ballots could significantly lengthen the time it takes to seat the next government, raising questions about the country's stability as political factions battle for supremacy."
Chris Wallace: If the Shi'ites succeed in disqualifying more membrs of the Allawi Sunni alliance and also if they are able to create a government without Sunnis, do you worry about a possible return to sectarian violence in Iraq?
Gen Ray Odierno: It's been clear from all of the political leaders that everybody understands they must include all major political blocs in the government. And we think that's a very important point as we move forward because it's important that we don't alienate any of the major blocs -- whether they be Sunni or Shia or the Kurds.  And we believe that the conversation going on today is focused on participation of all the different blocs so we're confident that all will be included in the government. And it'll be very important because what we don't want is to have people who don't feel like they're represented, people that -- they feel are alienated which then could chose, potentially, to go back to violence.
Those comments were made yesterday -- before it was known that Nouri was still calling for a recount (US Ambassador to Chris Hill has stated publicly and repeatedly for the last two weeks that Nouri's request for a recount was a thing of the past).  Read them again in light of today's developments.
Further in, you will note that Chris Wallace raises the (laughable) '9-11-like-attack-foiled' nonsense from last week and Odierno does not take the bait, gives a lengthy response and never legitimizes the (false) rumor nor comments on it in any way.  Speaking of rumors, the White House is attempting to force Odierno out.  On Fox News yesterday, Wallace asked him about the rumors he was giving up his command in Iraq and Odierno termed them rumors. We've ignored the rumors (reported widely by everyone from AP to the New York Times to because they are rumors (floated by the White House as a trial balloon) but since he's now commented on them, we'll note that he shot them down.
On the Status Of Forces Agreement, he does note that it could be extended: "If the government of Iraq thinks it would be to their advantage to ask us to stay longer than that, then we'll see.  And then we'll have to have a discussion in the United States whether we decide to stay longer or not. But that will be up to the new Iraqi government, whether they want us to stay or not. And then we'll make our own decision based on our own policies."
Diplomatic.  Reality, in the summer of last year, Nouri al-Maliki (who desperately wants to continue as prime minister, in case you didn't notice) was in the US and -- see  Margaret Talev's "Iraq's Maliki raises possibility of asking U.S. to stay on" (McClatchy Newspapers) and  Anne Gearan coverage of al-Maliki's remarks for AP  --  discussed how the SOFA might need to be extended and the US might need to remain in Iraq. Nouri has been propped by the US.  The US government has long known that (many senators have pointed it out openly in Congressional hearings including Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, and then-Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Norm Coleman).  You better believe Nouri knows it.  I have no idea why the press continued to promote the lie that Nouri was popular among Iraqis (maybe to continue reporting in Iraq) because he's not.  And the world saw that when, despite press claims that Nouri's State of Law would destroy the competition in the March 7 elections, his party came in second.  And now the press has been forced to note that Moqtada al-Sadr can't stand Nouri and, at some point, they'll have to get honest about how SICI can't stand him either.
Following the December 2005 elections, Ibrahim al-Jaafari was the choice of the elected -- a Sh'ite dominant body (unlike this year, many Sunnis elected not to participate in the elections).  A Shi'ite dominant body that still did not want Shi'ite Nouri.  The US said no to al-Jaafari (who was the first post-invasion prime minister of Iraq, followed by Ayad Allawi, followed by Nouri) and Nouri was the (unpopular) compormise candidate.  Nothing he has done in the four years he has held the post has built confidence.  For the average Iraqi, there is the fact that potable water and continuous electricity remain a dream.  For the political parties?  The disgust with Nouri is best underscored by the fact that he's been unable to keep a full cabinet.  He couldn't even appoint the original cabinet in a timely manner (and missed his own self-imposed deadline).  After appointed, the key characteristic of his cabinet has been how many ministers have walked out on it, repeatedly.
Nouri may well pull it out and continue as prime minister (never underestimate someone with no ethics).  He's aware now that the Iranian government entered into an arrangement with Ahmed Chalabi and not as willing to accept their promises at face value (and he's taken to complaining semi-publicly about Iran).  He's working every legal and illegal means to ensure he's prime minister.  He may pull it out.  If he does, remember that he's a puppet of the US.  He only made anti-US remarks as part of his campaign.

"Good morning," declared Michael Thibault in DC today, clearing his throat and explaining why everyone was gathered.  "My name's Michael,Thibault, co-chairman of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome to all.  This hearing will probe the government's management and oversight of contracting for services to support contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Commission estimates that these contracts have consumed some $80 billion of tax payer money over the past five years. Most of the services contracts for tasks like logistical support, security, transportation and maintenance are distinct from buying weapons or equipment and are made by the US Army. I will say at the outset that we have serious concerns about the Army's management and oversight of these vast and costly arrangements. We will explore those concerns today."
As with their most recent hearing (see March 29th snapshot), they put the witnesses  under oath.  The first panel (our focus for this snapshot) was composed of DoD's Shay Assad, the Army's Lt Gen William Phillips and the Army's Edward Harrington.
Despite noteworthy statements by Thibault and Co-Chair Chris Shays, the first panel was a lot of jibber-jabber.  "Oh, there's no doubt," declared Shay Assad, "about it that we need to do more.  The taxpayers get a better deal when we compete."  If there's no doubt about it why was this -- and every other thing -- something they're 'working on' as opposed to something they're doing?
Or take Lt Gen Phillips declaring that training ("years of training, education and hands-on experience") are needed to do the jobs . . . that are being done now?  The ones he would, in fact, oversee.  But don't worry, he insists they are "getting closer to the goal."
Nothing's being done but, don't worry, they are aware of the problem (the apparent "remarkable change" Assad testitified to) and, Assad, "we are moving forward with significant change [. . .] It's going to take some time, but we are making significant improvement."
It was left to one of the Commissioners, Grant Green, to point out the obvious: They have had seven years to work on this. Faced with Commissioner Katherine Schinasi's specific questions, Assad attempted to dance around them and when she persisted, he whined "I've been on the job about eighty days so I'm eighty days into the effort."  If you're not prepared to appear before the Commission maybe they should have sent someone else and eighty days should have allowed you more than enough time to familiarize yourself with your role.  Harrington tried a similar dance and was confronted with the fact that he was "14 months into your tenure" and that he was aware of the problems prior to that so "we have begun to look into" really doesn't cut it.
The witnesses were clear on the number of contractors in Afghanistan.  They think.  They admitted no one had oversight of the Afghanistan contractors at this point so the number offered (107,000) really can't be verified.
It was a disgraceful and sad hearing for the witnesses who repeatedly resorted to saying that long-established problems were now (NOW) being looked into and that plans to address them were now (NOW) being thought up.  If this is an indication of DoD working "seriously," Congress needs to hold a hearing on just that aspect and to do so immediately.
Friday's snapshot covered a US House Armed Services Comitttee's subcommittee hearing. Ava reported on it last night in "Walter Jones discusses strain on the Guard," Kat in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Wally in "Military Personnel Subcommittee."  And Kat's "Kat's Korner: The return of Natalie Merchant " went up yesterday as did her "Kat's Korner: Jakob Dylan announcing."

Over the weekend, news came out of Iraq that Marc Hall was discharged from the military.  Marc is the soldier who had completed his service when he learned he was being stop-lossed.  In response to that, he recorded the rap song "Stop Loss" -- an apparent crime which would lead the US military to attempt to court-martial him and to whisk him away to Iraq for said court-martial thereby denying him his needed witnesses.  (The song was recorded in the US.)   CNN reported that Marc Hall entered into a plea agreement to avoid court-martial and has now been discharged with an "other than honorable discharge" and that Hall "will lose military and veterans benefits and be reduced to the lowest enlisted grade (E1) in the Army."  Marc's plea agreement has him stating he threatened people and that the threats went beyond the song. Reality: If a member of the US military threatens to kill other soldiers and brass, the US military doesn't do a plea agreement. They toss your ass behind bars and they go overboard on it because they want to send a message. The fact that they allowed Marc to enter a plea agreement means they did not have proof of any threats.  There is an alternative to that: the military command needs a huge shake up because the brass is so inept that they just released a man who threatened multiple members of the military. Were that the case, a number of higher ups would need to be relieved of duty immediately. So take your pick.  The simplest explanation is that the military never had a case (which explains the decision to do the court-martial in Iraq and separate him from his witnesses) and offered a plea which they now try to spin as a 'major accomplishment' on their part.  Courage to Resist explains:
In a joyous victory for Specialist Marc A Hall and his supporters nationwide, this morning the US Army announced that the "Stop-loss" objector will not be court martialed next week at Camp Liberty, Iraq as scheduled. Instead, Spc Hall will be discharged immediately. In December, the Army jailed Spc Hall in retaliation for his formal complaint of inadequate mental health services available to him at Fort Stewart. The Army used an angry song that Spc Hall, a combat veteran of the Iraq War suffering from post traumatic stress, had produced criticizing the "Stoploss" policy as the pretext.              
Specialist Hall's civilian attorney, David Gespass, explained, "I believe we would have won the case, even in Iraq. While I'm gratified that the Army finally decided to discharge Marc, I'm appalled at the disregard it has shown for Marc's wellbeing and fundamental rights for nine months. Whatever lip service the Army gives to its concern for its soldiers, its only real concern is insuring they risk their lives without questioning why. Marc's greatest transgression was asking that question." Mr. Gespass is the president of the National Lawyers Guild.  
In a message to the supporters nationwide who organized a grassroots campaign on his behalf, Spc Hall provided the following message by phone from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait: "I'm out of the confinement facility! Thank you to everyone for all the efforts everyone made. Hopefully I'll be home very, very soon. I appreciate all of the love and support so many people gave me through my ordeal." Spc Hall, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, also enjoyed the support of the Veterans for Peace organization.          
Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to supporting military objectors, noted, "Spc Marc Hall pled guilty today to producing a hip-hop song the Army didn't like in exchange for his freedom. It's utterly outrageous that Army spokespersons continued to slander Marc today. Despite the Army having stacked everything against Marc -- including moving the scheduled trial from Ft. Stewart, Georgia to Iraq -- supporters overcame each obstacle in order to provide Marc with a fighting chance for justice. In the end, we won."