Monday, August 30, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 30, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack gets ready to spin illegal war and guess who he plans to telephone, Joe Biden does a layover in Iraq, the political stalemate continues, and more.
On the most recent broadcast of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing Friday), guest host Teymoor Nabili spoke with Phyllis Bennis, Hoshyar Zebari and Bradley Blakeman about the Status Of Forces Agreement, the drawdown and other issues.  Excerpt:
Teymoor Nabili: Well the Washington p.r. machine has been at pains to portray the remaining US troops as advisers to the soveign Iraqi government and security services.  But is that an accurate representation of the situation?  I'm joined on today's program by Hoshyar Zebari who is Iraq's Foreign Minister -- he's in Baghdad -- in Washington D.C. Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and, also in Washington, Bradley Blakeman a former senior advisor to the former US president George Bush and now a professor of politics and public affairs at Georgetown University.  Welcome to the program all of you.  Thank you for being with us. Phyllis Bennis, I'll begin with you if I might.  The phrasing of this drawdown has been very cautious. The last combat brigade has left Iraq, we're told.  What exactly does that mean?
Phyllis Bennis: Well it means that we're going to call them something different. These are conventional combat brigades.  These are brigades that are being, what the Pentagon used to call, "remissioned" -- what the Washington Post is now calling "rebranded" as something other than what they are which is combat brigades. A new 3,000 brigade from Fort Hood left on Sunday night.  This is the 3rd Armored Calvary Division.  That is a combat brigade. That's what's left -- 50,000 combat troops with a mission that does not officially include combat but as Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates was careful to say, they are prepared for combat, they are capable of combat, they will be embedded with Iraqi military units that will be engaging in combat and within them are 4,500 Special Ops forces who will continue to be engaged in so-called "counter-terrorism" attacks -- meaning, go after those who we decide are the 'bad guys.'  So this is combat --
Teymoor Nabili: Bradley Blakeman, is that how you see it?
Phyllis Bennis: -- on a smaller scale.
Bradley Blakeman: Yeah, I have to agree with Phyllis, this is semantics.  Call it what you want, but it's 50,000 combat troops that remain there.  Our president is very desperate for any kind of achievement.  Foreign policy seems to be the area he's concentrating on now.  He needs to focus away from his domestic woes and this is a good way for him to do that.
Teymoor Nabili: Foreign Minister Zebari, the Washington policy it seems is to whitewash the reality.  How do you see it?
Hoshyar Zebari: Well I think this is President Obama's campaign pledge fulfillment actually -- pledge.  He did pledge to the American public during the election campaign that he will withdraw all combat troops by August 31, 2010.  [C.I. note: Zebari is wrong.  The 'pledge' or 'promise' was first all combat troops out within 16 months of his being sworn in and then became all out within 10 months.  With the exception of a lengthy New York Times article, he did not usually go into "combat troops" semantics and most voters heard his cry of "We want to end the war now!" and took "combat troops" to mean all troops out other than Marines guarding the US Embassy in Baghdad.] And according to the SOFA agreement or the Agreement of Withdrawal of American troops [the latter term is what Nouri sold the SOFA to Iraqis as being] all troops should leave the country by the end of 2011. So I think the process has gone smoothly.  There would be forces still -- a sizeable force remaining in the country.  50,000 is not a small number.  And in fact there mission and their mandate is to advise-and-assist Iraqi security forces --
Teymoor Nabili: But the point that the other two guests were making, Foreign Minister, pardon me for interrupting, is that however you want to describe this and however you want to interpret the words of the Status Of Forces Agreement, nothing much has changed in Iraq.  These are still US combat troops and the situation and their activites will really not be much different, will they?
Hoshyar Zebari: No, it will be different, definitely.  This number 50,000, has come down from 170,000 -- 140,000.  So it's a a huge difference.  Second, the mission has changed.  All US troops have left the main cities.  They are in their barracks outside the cities and they are embedded with the Iraqi security forces.  So there is a major change in the mission, in the operation, in the mood of carrying out  the operation and so on --
Teymoor Nabili: Alright.
Hoshyar Zebari: -- in the relations and their presence and Iraqi military authority.
Teymoor Nabili: And, Phyllis Bennis, surely that is the point.  That, at the end of the day, you may be right. It may all be a slight semantic distinction but, at the end of the day, there are less troops and they are on the way out.
Phyllis Bennis: And having fewer troops and if they are on the way out, that's a good thing.  I think there is a big question here, however.  The agreement -- the SOFA agreement that the Foreign Minister speaks of -- was of course negotiated not by President Obama but by George Bush in the last months of his administration in 2008.  In that agreement, it does say that all troops will be gone.  But there is a huge loophole which is that if the Iraqi government which, in my view, is still dependent on the United States for its survival decides that it needs US troops, wants US troops to stay or if the US decides that it wants to keep troops in Iraq for all the same reasons they were sent there in the first place --  which has to do with oil, which has to do with bases, which has to do with the expansion of US power in the region --  none of those reasons have changed. If the US decides that they want to stay, they certainly are in the position to put pressure on the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government decides that they want to ask the US to stay, they could certainly take that initiative.  So either side is really in a position to say, "We'd like to renegotiate this and talk about keeping troops further in."  Even if that doesn't happen, what's already under way is a shift -- not, as we are being told, a transition from US troops to Iraqi troops but from Pentagon troops to State Dept security officials. Thousands of State Dept security people are being sent. There is the anticipation that there will be about 7,000 contractors being sent who will be doing all the things that the military does but they will not be controlled in the same way by the SOFA agreement which only speaks of contractors under the pay of the Defense Dept, of the Pentagon. Those who are under the administration of the State Dept -- which will include planes, drones, armored personnel carriers, all of these things which are all military but they will be officially part of the State Dept rather than the Pentagon, they will be continuing so there is a very severe danger, I think, that this will continue.
From reality to spin, Joe Biden, US Vice President, is doing another layover in Baghdad.  Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) quotes Biden riffing on Michael Douglas' speech in Romancing the Stone: "We are going to be just fine. They are going to be just fine."  Everything but, "Joan Wilder, inside you always were."  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains he's schedule includes a photo-op on Wednesday when the illegal war is rechristened Operation New Dawn. Sly and Gordon both note that Biden's traveling with his "national security adviser" (pay attention to those national security types popping up in Iraq) who stated Biden would press on the issue of forming a government.  March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 23 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.  Yesterday, Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reported that the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, is stating that the political stalemate could cause harm and "I worry about that a little bit."  AFP quotes the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim stating, "We have started to reach the end of the tunnel. In the next few days, we are heading toward resolving the issue and accelerating the formation of a new government."
Biden's visit is part of the p.r. rollout -- a p.r. rollout which includes photo ops for Barack Obama as well.  The New York Post reports Barack visited Watler Reed Army Medical Center today . . .and that it was only his second visit since being sworn in as President of the United States.  20 months two visits.  If he didn't need to use the wounded as props today, it would probably still just be one visit because it's so hard to travel all the way from the White House in DC to Walter Reed . . . also in DC.  However, White House plus-size spokesmodel Robert Gibbs informed the country today at the White House press briefing that Barack would be phoning (and texting?) Bully Boy Bush tomorrow before Barack gave his speech.  War Hawks bonding.  How totally non-surprising unless you're a member of the Cult of St. Barack.  The only one more delusional today than Barack or Bush may be William McKenzie who self-decieves so much it's jaw dropping.  But remember that the Dallas Morning News issued orders, prior to the invasion, that all opposed to the incoming war must be demonized.  Which is how Sheryl Crow -- who can sing, play instruments and write songs -- got demonized as the 'music critics' pushed a pop tart and claimed Sherly stole the pop tart's Grammy nomination (reality, the pop-tart couldn't qualify for that year's nomination due to the release date of her output).  From the sports pages to the art pages, from the editorial pages to the so-called 'news' pages, no paper disgraced itself more than the Dallas Morning News and it wasn't an accident which is why so few in the publishing industry bother to take the paper seriously today (and no one mourns their now faded DC desk). Whether attacking Steve Nash on the sports pages or allowing the loser ___ ____ columnist to rip apart peace activists as "treasonous" (and this was before the illegal war broke out), the Dallas Morning News proved that there was a reason the day JFK visited Dallas (and was assassinated) they printed their attack and call to violence on JFK.  As an 'advertisement' you understand. (I didn't see it but I understand the loser is now doing 'rape jokes' at the paper's blog. That's the level of 'quality' that Belo and the Dallas Morning News provide.  How proud they must all be. How fortunate the lucky ones -- including a personal friend of mine -- got away from those crazies long, long ago.)  It certainly got results, didn't it?  Ewen MacAskill and Martin Chulov (Guardian) report that while Barack prepares to spin in his big speech tomorrow, Hoshyer Zebari has termed the drawdown and "embarrssment" due to the fact that it happens as Iraq has still not formed a government and the reporters note that violence has again reached a new high in Iraq.
In an attempt to combat the p.r. spin and the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan issued a statement at Peace of the Action:
First of all-this was never a war, this always has been an illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign country and it was obviously for the monetary benefit of a few and millions of people, including my family, have suffered because of it.
The first MAJOR HOAX was that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had WMD and a connection to al Qaeda and if the US didn't invade immediately Iraq would send "mushroom clouds" or "drones with bio-weapons to the US East Coast -- the second MAJOR HOAX was that we ended the war on May 1, 2003 when then US president, George Bush, declared an "end" to "combat operations;' the third MAJOR HOAX is that the US ended a horrible dictatorship only to be replaced with a puppet US regime that almost makes execution a national sport. 
Now, with a country in ruins and the US leaving many major construction projects unfinished -- we are again perpetrating a MAJOR HOAX, not just on the people of Iraq, but the people of the US. 
With 50,000 troops (the 3rd Armored Calvary is deploying from Ft. Hood, Tx to Iraq as we speak), 18,000 mercenary killers and 82,000 support contractors (staffing an Imperial Embassy the size of 80 football fields), the illegal and immoral US occupation of Iraq is far from over. 
As Ret. Lt. General James Dubik said recently: "It is in our (US) interest to have an Iraq that is friendly to the US." What he means is an Iraq that is friendly to US war profiteers.
I want to say this in the most simple and direct way that I can: "If you believe that the war in Iraq is over, and not merely carnage rebranded, then you are deluding yourself and I hope you wake up to the fact that for generations human beings have been used as pawns for the political elite and, don't forget, that this is an election year."
I urge all of you to put on your critical-thinking caps and reject this propaganda and reaffirm your commitment to peace above political party.
Anne Pekneth (The Hill) adds, "Let's face it, the Democrats are in an election cycle and the president will repeat that he has kept his election promise to end the combat mission in Iraq by the end of August 2010 and to pull out U.S. soldiers by the end of next year.

But as the respected Iraq analyst Anthony Cordesman has pointed out in a recent post for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 'The Iraq War is not over and it is not 'won'."


Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports that after US taxpayer monies of $53 billion were poured into Iraq (supposedly for reconstruction) "it has come to this -- an ice machine in a city on fire."  In the 100 degree plus weather, there is no reliable electricity (outside the Green Zone) and, of course, a potable water crisis -- which, this time of year, usually means the annual (since the US invasion) outbreak of cholera. Nir Rosen (National Newspaper) quotes Sheikh Ahmad al Kinani stating, "Electricity is worse than ever. Children and elderly are dying from the heat. Human rights is a concept that doesn't exist in Iraq."  Meanwhile Robert Siegel (NPR's All Things Considered) speaks with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen today and Bowen states, "I think the single largest failed program has been the health sector.  The plan was to build a state of the art children's oncology hospital in Basra, to construct 151 public health care clinics taking a new level of aid out to the hinderlands in Iraq and to refurbish the many of the broken down hospitals in the country. None of those programs really succeeded."  Reality is that Alsumaria TV reported over the weekend that Nouri declared Iraq was on high alert because of "information that Al Qaeda and Baathists were planning a series of attacks across the country."  In addition, Arwa Damon (CNN) reports, "Although the security situation in Ramadi has improved dramatically, appearances can be deceiving. Our escort from the governor's compound to the market was nervous about spending more than a few minutes on the streets, and we weren't able to talk to any of the shoppers and business owners."  The Governor of the province, Qasim Abid, states "he pleaded with the United States to wait before drawing down troop levels to 50,000. But it was an appeal that feel on deaf ears in Washington". And Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports:
A secure, stable and free Iraq, it's what the United States promised after its tanks and armored vehicles rumbled into the center of Baghdad and toppled former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.         
Yet, as the U.S. troops are leaving "as promised and on schedule," for Maher Abbas, a Baghdad lawyer, the world is as broken and dangerous as these promises could be.                  
Abbas, 34, is a Sunni resident living in the capital's western neighborhood of Khadraa with his family. He said that the U.S. invasion and the following seven years were devastating to Iraqi society.          
"It created deep cracks between the Iraqi factions who used to live together for hundreds and thousands of years," he said with an apparent anguish.   
That's reality.  Barack prepares to spin in the face of that reality and much more and he'd do well to remember what happened earlier this month when another tried to spin and how the spin's been rejected in today's news cycle.  Earlier this month, then-US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill wanted to insist that he had done good, he had. Speaking to Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition) August 11th, he wanted to cite Iraqi oil deals as "progress." It was a claim he'd return to in his August 13th press briefing:

There have been numerous security challenges that continue to exist, and I'm sure you all saw the horrific news this morning, this suicide bombing in front of a military installation in which scores of people were killed. So Iraq, I think, as I've often said, offers no refuge for those in need of instant gratification. It requires you to stay at it. But I do believe that there's some real progress there. As we speak, major oil companies are beginning to actually put drill bits in the ground. Iraq will, I think, emerge as one of the major oil producers of the world. It will have significance for really the rest of the world. I think that part of the picture is really coming into focus and I think the Iraqis are really making some progress.
He went on to add later in the briefing:
Yeah, the oil law – I've got to tell you, I mean, I got there in April of '09 and everyone talked about the hydrocarbons law, the oil law. And I saw kind of a virtual stalemate in the Council of Representatives, and I supported the approach of just going ahead and doing contracts – that is, doing – not – these are not ownership contracts; these are oil service contracts. And the Iraqi Government, I think, has made a very credible effort on that. They've also reached over to the Kurds and they've addressed some of the issues there, where the Kurds had wanted to export some of the oil directly.
Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that the Ministry of Oil is declaring the contract between the KRG and RWE AG for natural gas to be "nil and void." They state the contract isn't legal and that the KRG didn't have the authority to make the deal. Michael Christie and Jane Baird (Reuters) report the KRG insists the deal is constitutional and quote the KRG's head of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir stating, "We will continue to successfully develop our oil and gas in line with the constitution which was accepted by a majority of the Iraqi people. We will not wait for the instructions of an unsuccessful ministry like the Iraqi ministry of oil. We express our commitment that all income will go to the federal purse and will be distributed to all Iraqi areas without favour." Chris Hill tried to ride a wave of Operation Happy Talk.  The result was wipeout.  The White House would do well to remember that.
Reality about the Iraq War has never been pretty.  And things are getting worse, UPI notes that Asharq al-Awsat is reporting the return to Iraq of Abu Deraa who holds the 'title' of "Butcher of Baghdad" and who "could signal an escalation in an already ferocious sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis as U.S. forces withdraw."  Reuters notes the DoD lists 4419 US military deaths in the Iraq War (as of August 18th).  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 engineer and left three people injured, a Baghdad, a Falluja bombing targeting a police squad car which left five police officers wounded,  and a Mosul attack in which 2 brothers were shot dead.
Turning to DPA's "Iraq demands the return of a rare Jewish scroll from Israel," if the basic facts are correct (they may be, they may not be -- DPA is wrong as to the number of Jews in Iraq in 2003 -- they woefully undercount the Jewish population which I don't believe hit a dozen utnil some time in 2006), Israel is in possession of a Torah which the Tourism Ministry of Iraq is stating ought to be returned. It ought to be?

No. This has none of the complexities of the earlier call by the Iraqi government for Jewish documents. In the earlier case, the US, after the 2003 invasion, had discovered a large number of records that were kept by the Iraqi government on Jews in Iraq -- it was spying on them. They brought the records back to the US to preserve them -- they had been submerged in water when the US found them. Iraq demanded them back. The dispute was between Iraq and the US, between the occupied and the occupier. As I noted at Third, I was surprised the Israeli government did not step in on that. If they had and had made a claim on the documents, there would have been reasons to dispute claims. However, the US was the occupier and the documents were taken out of the country.

Iraq felt no need to protect the Jewish citizens from targeting by various thugs since the invasion began. The Jewish population was targeted and was wiped out either by violence or by fleeing. To now assert that they have some right to Hebrew artifacts? They have no right. Nor do they or did they ever belong to Iraq.  Whose culture was it?  And since when can a nation-state, developed centuries later, attempt to lay claim to the people's property? 

These are not documents that the Iraqi government kept. Even now the Tourism Ministry can't state whether it was ever in the government's possession, whether it was privately owned by someone in Iraq or whether it belonged to a Jewish facility in Iraq (as many as 100,000 Jewish people were living in Iraq as late as the 1940s).  These are religious artifacts and they belong to the people of that religion. The scroll is in Israel and in Israel is where it should remain. Iraq did not protect the Jewish population, it allowed it to be decimated. It has no claim or right to the scroll.

Iraq is created in 1932. The scroll predates the creation of the country by centuries. Having no Jewish population today, the fact that they would even assert a right to the scroll is rather offensive. And that's before you even wiegh into consideration the fact that Iraq's unable to keep their treasures, artifacts and museums open to the public.

Again, when the issue of the US having Iraqi government records on Jewish people arose, I did not weigh in with an opinion. That was an occupier/occupied issue and, with Israel making no claim to the records, it was a rather straight forward issue. This one's rather straight forward as well but not to Iraq's benefit.