Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 29, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri and Allawi have a face-to-face or a face-off, the Iraq Inquiry resumes public hearings, the Defense Dept identifies one of the fallen, and more.
In London today, the Iraq Inquiry resumed public hearings. Or as Alice Tarleton (Channel 4) put it, "And they're back. The Iraq inquiry resumed public hearings today for the first time since the general election."   The Inquiry is headed by John Chilcot.   Ruth Barnett (Sky News) notes today, "Sir John opened the latest round of hearings by inviting international lawyers to give evidence of the legality of the war." Sam Marsden (PA) adds, "Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and ex-MI5 director general Baroness Manningham-Buller are among the witnesses who will appear before the inquiry over the next month." Iraq Inquiry Digest's Chris Ames shares his thoughts of today's hearing at the Guardian, including, "Watching the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war is like watching a car crash in slow motion.  Very, very slow motion."  Today they heard from the British Ambassador to France (2001 to 2007) John Holmes and the Chief Police Avister to the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad (2003 to 2004) Douglas Brand (link goes to video and transcript options -- as with previous coverage of the Chilcot Inquiry, I'm working from the transcripts and friends in England -- reporters and attorneys -- following the Inquiry).
Under questioning from Committee Member Lawrence Freedman, Holmes stated French popular opinion turned on the US government when Bush gave his Axis of Evil speech, "Certainly after the Axis of Evil speech, there began to be a real French concern expressed in different ways by different people and reflected in the way that the French press were writing about it, that the Americans had decided that another response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq and was to produce regime change by attacking Iraq."
In terms of where the difference was between the French government and the UK government, Holmes declared that ". . . I think the major difference between us was always whether they thought that what the Iraqis had, whatever it might have been -- and, of course, that was the subject of debate -- was either sufficient or sufficiently alarming or sufficiently of an immediate threat to mean that you needed to go to war to stop it. That's where the differences started to arrive rather than exactly what the intelligence assessment [on WMD] was."  Chair Chilcot summarized Holmes' response, "In other words, the threat assessment might have differed from the assessment of the stocks and programmes, intention rather than possession." And Holmes agreed with that summary.  He further added that France, in 2002, had a different "policy conclusion" than the UK (or the US), "They wanted to do it through the inspectors, rather than through the invasion." Jaques Chirac was president of France when Holmes became Ambassador (Chirac was president from May 1995 through May 2007) and Holmes stated, "He essentially set policy. He saw foreign policy as his pre-eminent domain [. . .] he regarded himself as the elder statesman if you like, of the international community" and Holmes quickly returned to Bush's Axis of Evil speech.
Ambassador John Holmes: I think he [Chirac] was also very much influenced in all this, particularly, again, after the Axis of Evil speech, by the belief that the kind of foreign policy which was being represented and articulated by President Buh was a unilateralist vision of the world which he could not share, though was dangerous and based on a lack of knowledge of the world and that he [Chirac] was therefore returning to counter by setting out an alternative, multipolar vision of the world, which was very much the French vision at the time.

Committee Member Martin Gilbert asked him out UN Security Resolution 1441 which the UN adopted November 8, 2002 by a unanimous vote of the UN's Security Council. Although 15 nations make up the Security Council only five are permanent members and have the right of veto.  Those five are the UK, France, China, Russia and the United States.
Ambassador John Holmes: I think the French objectives were, all throughout this, to get the inspectors back in, to make sure that there was going to be no automaticity -- that was the great catchphrase, "no automaticiy" -- from 1441 or, indeed any subsequen resolution, which had to be a subsequent decision by the Security Council, and there should be no hidden triggers in 1441, which would allow the Americans and the British to claim that somehow they had legitimised military action when they hadn't.  So that was -- I think those are the essential points they were trying to defend in 1441, and that's why there was such a very long and complicated and tortuous negotiation about exactly what the language was.
With that background, we'll now jump ahead to Committee Member Roderic Lyne's questioning.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Now, in order to try to work out precisely what 1441 meant, the Attorney General, when he was in the process of finalising his advice to the Prime Minister, talked to Sir Jeremy Greenstock about the negotiating history, as he told us in his evidence, and then went to America and talked to lawyers and others in Washington, and in these conversations was exploring what the French, as the main negotiating counterparties on 1441, had really intended, what they had accepted, what they had signed up to in 1441.  We asked him whether, apart from relying on the reporting of the United Kingdom and the American representatives at the UN on the French position, it might have been logical for him to go to Paris and ask the French directly what they had meant by it and he said: "You couldn't have had the British Attorney General being seen to go to France to ask them 'What do you think?'"  Couldn't he have gone to Paris to actually talk to the French about this?
Ambassador John Holmes: I don't see why he couldn't have done or at least had somebody else ask the question on his behalf. But I think what is true is that the French were, again, very wary about ever saying what their own legal position was.  They took a very strong legal position about no automaticity -- I was just describing the need for UN legitimisation of any action -- but they were very careful -- I don't remember them ever actually saying what their own legal position was. I don't remember whether we ever went and talk to the Quai legal advisers.  It may be that Chirac took it seriously for a while at least or thought there was something to be gained from that, but it never really developed fully as time went on.
[. . . moving to March 2003 for the following questions]
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The Foreign Secretary of the time, Jack Straw, told us in evidence that he couldn't for the life of him understand why the French and the Germans were not agreeing to a second resolution, because this was the way to resolve this peacefully.  Was that interpretation of the second resolution, that it was still a possible way of getting a peaceful outcome, not one that President Chirac would have shared at this point at all?
Ambassador John Holmes: No, I think, as he was suggesting, the draft in the form it was at that stage, with the kind of timelines and tests which the French thought was impossible to pass, and deliberately impossible to pass for Saddam Hussein, was not a way of actually avoiding a war but was simply a way of legitimising it. That's really why they were so strongly opposed to it. Now the discussion about what the resolution could contain went on even after that statement by President Chirac, with the French continuing to suggest longer timelines, but by that stage, we were so much up against the military deadline, that it became increasingly desperate and irrelevant. 
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: If the second resolution had contained a longer deadline for Iraqi compliance, do you think that France would have considered supporting it?
Ambassador John Holmes: I think it is possible because that's what essentially they were suggesting. They were suggesting -- they didn't like the six tests or whatever they were called, but they said "If you give -- if you put in a period" -- I think 120 days was the period they wanted -- "for the inspectors to operate, so they can do their job properly without being put against impossible deadlines, then that's something we could contemplate", but of course, they were still wanting to say that-that a second resolution of that kind would also not have any automatic trigger in it.  You would still need to come back at the end of that, the Security Council would need to come back at the end of that, and take a view on what the inspectors were saying to them. So you know, at that stage, you were into third resolution territory. So that is a reason why we weren't particularly attracted, perhaps, to that route, but in any case in those timescales it was simply not available.
To recap the main points in the testimony highlighted above, Jeremy Greenstock went to the US to talk about a second resolution, the French's attitude towards it and related topics but Greenstock told the Inquiry that he couldn't ask the French government whether they would get behind a second resolution or not and Jack Straw claimed to the Inquiry  that the French position was puzzling.  The British Ambassador to France told the Inquiry today that the French position was consistent and not surprising and that he was surprised by the attitude that the French government could not be asked by the British government whether they would veto a second resolution if offered.
Greenstock previously testified to the Inquiry on November 27th and December 15th of last year. Straw testified January 21st and February 8th of this year. Holmes rejected their claims that (a) the French position was puzzling and (b) that no one could have asked the French government their position on a second resolution. Those are the big items coming out of the hearing today.  Related, on January 27th, the Inquiry heard from Peter Goldsmith who'd served as the UK Attorney General.
Peter Goldsmith: The United States, as everyone has said -- Sir Michael said it, I have said throughout, it is apparent on 7 March -- didn't believe they needed an United Nations Resolution at all.  They believed they were able themselves to make the determination that Iraq was in material breach, and, therefore, they didn't need -- they didn't need 1441. Mr. Blair had -- and I said, I think to his credit -- had got President Bush to the UN table.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: I think, with respect, that's a separate point. We have gone past that point already.
Peter Goldsmith: With respect, may I make the point? Because it is important, and it is one of the things that came across very clearly in the meetings I had in February with the UN. Because the United States didn't need 1441 -- we did because we took the view that there had to be a determination of material breach.  The United States didn't need it. They could have walked away from 1441 and said, "Well, we have been to the United Nations, they haven't given us the resolution we want, we can now take force."  The only red line I was told by the State Department, legal adviser, the only red line that the negotiators had was that they must not concede a further decision of the Security Council because they took the view they could move in any event.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes.
Peter Goldsmith: Therefore, if they had agreed to a decision which said the Security Council must decide, they would have then lost that freedom.
Self-quoting from January 28th, "Popular narrative: US didn't want a second resolution, wasn't going to fight for one. But what Goldsmith said takes it in another direction.
The popular narrative allows the British government to do as they indicated they were doing: Pursue a second resolution. But Goldsmith testified Wednesday that it wasn't just that the US didn't want it. The US government based their legal approach (set aside whether it was legal or not) on the 'legal' opinion that UN Resolution 1441 (granting the power for inspectors to go back into Iraq) was all that was necessary for the start of war on Iraq. In addition, Goldsmith testified that the US didn't want a second resolution, couldn't accept one, because of their legal opinion. Going back to the UN for a second resolution risked hemming in the US legal opinion. If they went and got a resolution with conditions, that could hem the US in. If they went and were shot down (as most believed they would be), then the US government's assertion that a second resolution wasn't needed to start a war would have been exposed as the lie it was. The US didn't just not want a second resolution, they couldn't afford one. If there was one -- one passed or one rejected -- it revealed the legal opinion wasn't sound and opened up a whole set of issues that the Bush administration didn't want to deal with."
Today's testimony by Holmes backed up Goldsmith on that aspect. Holmes on what the French government ssaw, "I think their assumption was that -- and increasingly so as the autumn went on and so on -- and this is the view they had come to -- that the Americans were going to mount a military operation virtually come what may and, therefore, there could be a second mabye, but that could not be something which was going to actually stand in the way of that action." A second resolution could have tied the US government's hands.  That's how the French saw it, it's how Goldsmith said the Americans saw it. Did Bush lie when claiming the US would seek resolutions?  According to witnesses at the Inquiry, Bush mispoke due to a teleprompter malfunction.
Jeremy Greenstock: There are two different sorts of second resolution and this my explain why President Bush used the plural when he was ad libbing, when his teleprompter gave him the penultimate American text and not the text he had agreed to, by a mistake of his staff.  He ad libbed the words, "And we shall come to the UN for the necessary resolutions" from his memory. It wasn't that the telepromprter broke down, he saw that it was the wrong text on the teleprompter, as I understood the story.  There was, as part of the lead-up to the negotiation of 1441, the idea that there should be a pair of resolutions, not a single one in 1441 that should have the inspectors' conditions in one part and in the second resolution the consequences for Iraq on what would happen if they didn't comply with the the first one.  There was the possibility of passing those resolutions either together and simultaneously or sequentially in time. As it happened, in 1441 we built those two elements into a single text and it was successfully negotiated and passed unanimously on 8 November as a single text. 
Opening the hearing today, Chair Chilcot issued the following statement this morning:

Good morning and welcome to the QEII Conference Centre for the first day of this phase of the Iraq Inquiry's public hearings. At the Inquiry's launch on 30 July last year, we took on the task of establishing a reliable account of the UK's involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009, and to identify lessons for British governments facing similar circumstances. In the last 11 months, we have covered a great deal of ground. One of our first priorities was to meet, and listen to, the families of British citizens and members of the armed forces who died in Iraq. 48 families came to talk to us. We learned much from them. Their sacrifice and concerns remain in our thoughts, and inform our approach. Between 24 November last year and 8 March, we heard from more than 80 witnesses in public sessions. We heard first hand from senior military personnel and officials involved in providing advice on the policy in Iraq or responsible for its implementation; and from senior Ministers, including the then Prime Minister, Mr Brown, and the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair. Our purpose was to establish a broad chronology of what had happened from 2001 to the withdrawal of combat forces in 2009. Those hearings gave us a complementary perspective to the papers which the Government has provided. We have received many thousands of documents and that process is continuing. A number of documents were declassified and published on our website to provide relevant context in the earlier hearings. We will continue to take that approach. Accordingly, further documents are being released to support this morning's hearing. As we made clear at the launch, the Inquiry is independent. We have made a deliberate choice to conduct our work in a way which seeks to remain outside Party politics. That is why we ended the first round of public hearings before the launch of the general election campaign. In May, the Inquiry held private discussions in France and the USA. Details of those visits can be found on our website. We have also held hearings in private with British officials, diplomats and military officers to take evidence on those issues, such as intelligence, which cannot be heard in public. Details about whom we have seen in those hearings will be published in the next week or so. We have also held meetings with less senior service personnel, civil servants and diplomats who have served in Iraq. They too have given us very helpful insights into both their achievements, and the challenges they faced, whilst serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. The Inquiry has issued an open invitation to international lawyers to comment on the grounds relied on by the British Government in undertaking military action in Iraq.  The Inquiry also continues to receive, and welcomes, submissions from the public on all matters relevant to its terms of reference. These hearings which begin today will cover a range of issues. In some cases, they will be complementing evidence we have already heard. In others, we will be pursuing issues which have only been touched on in earlier evidence. This morning we will be hearing our first witness from the police. Other areas we will be covering in detail for the first time include military equipment and personnel issues. The Inquiry may hold a further round of public hearings in the Autumn. We will take a final decision on that later. As we have said before, we intend to complete our report around the turn of the year. We remain committed to a transparent, open, thorough and fair process and conducting the Inquiry in a cost effective way. We intend to deliver a reliable and authoritative report about the UK's decision to take military action in Iraq and the events that followed; and to identify lessons for the future.
And we move to Iraq.  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy reminds that tomorrow was "Sovereignty Day" in Iraq . . . last year.  But this year, no one seems to know about it.  The reporter calls numerous goverment offices to find out about Sovereignty Day plans for tomorrow.  But there are none:

I put down the phone.

Indeed -- What sovereignty? And what government?

This occupation opened the door for powerful winds -- and they entered and are blowing, still.

Iraq has become a plain on which international and regional forces are struggling for supremacy. A tug of war between the Shiites in Iran and the Wahabis in Saudi -- between the Kurds, whether in Iraq, Turkey or Iran, and the Arabs -- between forces that want to keep the country together and forces that want to rip it apart.

And in the midst of all this -- I think the government has actually forgotten Sovereignty Day.

It is as if Sovereignty Day does not exist.

Iraq may not have sovereignty but it continues to have violence.  Timothy Williams (New York Times) looks at today's statistics and sees "a burst of violence across Iraq". 
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed Iraqi Brig Gen Ward Mohan's life and wounded Col Talbi Abdullah, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left three more injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded three people, a Mosul mortar attack that damaged Bab Sinjar stadium and a Baiji car bombing which claimed 5 lives and left eighteen people injured. Alsumaria TV reports the 5 killed in the Baiji bombing were police officers.  Press TV reports, "Militants also blew up the key oil pipeline in Rashidiyeh district northeast of the capital which links Baghdad and its Dora oil refinery and power station with Baiji." DPA notes an Abu Ghraib home bombing in which the police officer, his wife and their three children were injured.
Shootings and knives/beheadings?
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad home invasion in which a 28-year-old woman was beheaded, a Mosul drive-by which claimed the life of 1 man and left his brother wounded, a Mosul home invasion in which 1 woman was killed and two more were injured and al Hasnat attack in which 3 adult men "and their 9 year-old sister" were shot dead. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports 1 oil truck driver shot dead in Beiji.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse (20-year-old male) was discovered in Mosul yesterday ("gun-shot wounds in the head"). Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports the corpse of 1 municipal official ("missing for two days") was discovered.

Today the US Defense Dept announced: "Pfc. Bryant J. Hayned, 21 of Epps, La., died June 26 in Al Diwaniyah, Iraq, of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assigned to the 199th Support Batttalion, Louisiana Army National Guard, Alexandria, La." This brings the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to  4409 since the start of the illegal war.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. Alsumaria TV reports today, "All attention is shifted on the meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki and Al Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi."  Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports, "Al-Maliki visited Allawi at his Baghdad office, and the two men shook hands warmly before sitting down to a closed-door meeting. Neither side commented immediately after the session."  Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) also notes that no statements were issued following the meet-up.
While the political stalemate continues, so does the lack of electricity.  Lourdes-Garcia-Navarro (NPR's Morning Edition) reported yesterday:
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Um Imam(ph) has five children and lives in a mud brick house with a corrugated metal roof. She keeps goats for the local butchers. The animals wander in and out of her home. Her complaints are familiar.  We only have electricity from the national grid for a few hours in the morning, when it's still somewhat cool, she says. And the rest of the day it disappears and we have to keep the windows open all day. She's so poor that, this month, she had to borrow $14 to pay for access to the neighborhood generator. That generator gives a few hours of extra power but it's hardly enough.
Iraq's hardly the only country to treat its citizens poorly.  As Rebecca noted yesterday, the US government has decided to risk human lives.  Drones used to kill people in Iraq and Afghanistan are being flown by the Texas Air National Guard out of Ellington Airport -- a joint civil-military airport.  Rebecca:
if drones are used the airport becomes a fair target in war. it is military.         

they've just made - GRASP THIS - civilians a target in their never ending war.              

this is, remember, what bush and others accused saddam hussein of doing. using civilians to hide legitimate targets. that was the accusation.                

under barack, civilians can now be targeted because he's turned the drone program over to a military AND civilian airport.            
Meanwhile, if it has to do with the news, Danny Schechter's done it.  Broadcast, print, radio, TV, net.  He is also a maker of many documentary films.   The News Dissector has put his blog on hold (temporarily, hopefully) to spend more time drawing attention to what he sees as one of the most important issues of our time.  At Third "DVD: Plunder (Ava and C.I.)"  was a review of Danny Schechter's latest documentary Plunder. Along with the DVD release of the film, he's also got The Crimes Of Our Times, Danny's companion book to the documentary.  He has a new website for the film -- this is about the economic collapse -- and you can click here. And here's Danny explaining the importance of the issue:
After years of a media narrative about Wall Street mistakes, miscalculations, and poor risk models, there is now a push to investigate and prosecute wrong doers largely because of deep public anger. Yet, the financial crisis is still being treated mostly as a business problem when it should also be investigated as a crime story.

In 2006, as a well-known independent filmmaker and Emmy Award winning producer, I made the film In Debt We Trust warning of the crisis and exposing subprime lending. I was called an alarmist and doom and gloomer. Unfortunately, I was mostly right.

Now I have written a book, The Crime of our Time and made another film, out on DVD, Plunder: The Crime of our Time (
Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com). Because of what I've found, and because of what this means to the public at large, I often feel like that hero of a children's story whose warning that the Emperor had no clothes was ignored.

Don't you think that with unemployment as high as it is, foreclosures wrecking the lives of l4 million families, and Wall Street bonuses unchecked, this story --- this "crime narrative" --- should at least be explored?