Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, October 14, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq War continues, March Forward stages a successful action, we examine the claim that the political stalemate has impacted the rate of Iraqis returning to Iraq, the UNHCR addresses the refugee crisis, in Fort Hood an Article 32 hearing takes place, and more.

The Iraq War has not ended, not ended. Roger D. Hodge has a new book, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. As he explained to Harper's, the Iraq War has not ended:

He [Barack Obama] has declared an end to the war in Iraq by redefining the mission of 50,000 troops who remain there. Yet the war continues, our soldiers fight and die, and Iraq still lacks a functioning government.

We've seen much the same thing with ObamaCare. As with the Iraq War, Obama has merely redefined the mission. Far from being the universal health-care system that the country needs, Obama's health program is best understood as a bailout of the private health industry that seeks to guarantee some 30 million additional customers for insurance companies and continued obscene profits for large drug manufacturers. The paradox here is that in a system aiming at universal coverage, the actuarial role of insurance companies, which is to determine the precise odds of paying unprofitable claims on a given class of customers, has become obsolete.

The Iraq War has not ended. And activists continue to call for an end to it. Wednesday of last week, one group had some success. March Forward reports (at Party for Socialism and Liberation) on their actions shutting down a Hollywood, California military recruitment center:

Tamara Khoury, a member of the ANSWER Coalition at California State University, Fullerton said, "We're uniting with veterans and anti-war activists today to shut down this recruiting center because we keep being told that our classes are cut and tuition hiked because there's not enough money. But over $700 million a day is being used to criminally occupy the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, recruiters come into our schools and take advantage of how hard it is to get an education in order to convince young people to go die for the profits of banks and oil giants."

March Forward! supporter Ron Kovic, Vietnam veteran and author of "Born on the 4th of July," sent a solidarity statement to the event. "With this courageous act of defiance, veterans are sending a message to countless others across the country that the time has come to bring all the troops home from these senseless and unnecessary wars."

Iraq war veteran and March Forward! member Ryan Endicott said "We know just how much this government cares about us by looking at how GIs are killing themselves in record numbers after being denied adequate treatment; by how many of us end up homeless and unemployed; by the fact that one in three women in the military are sexually assaulted, but are denied PTSD benefits for their trauma."

After shutting down the recruiting station, Prysner said, "To our brothers and sisters in the military: it's time we stopped fighting for the profits of a tiny group of billionaires; instead, we should struggle together for what's in our interests. But we're not going to fight alone -- we're going to fight with students who are getting their tuition raised, with teachers who are getting pink slips, with families who are suffering layoffs and scraping to get by -- because when we unite together, that's when we win."

Sunday Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reported, "The delay has affected much of the American strategy in Iraq, including trade deals and talks over what, if any, military role the United States will have after a deadline to remove the remaining 50,000 American troops by the end of 2011." The Iraq War has not ended.

Meanwhile, for the last two weeks, people have been insisting that the political stalemate in Iraq was slowing the return of external refugees to Iraq.

Prashant Rao (AFP) reported on September 29th that US Brig Gen Ralph Baker stating just that. A lot of people have asserted that and asserted it as fact; however, can that claim be backed up in any way?


The latest statistical update from UNHCR on returnees shows 18,240 returnees this year thus far (January through August 2010). The month-by-month data does not support the claim. March 7th was when elections were completed (early voting started March 4th). For the claim to be correct we would have to see a steady decrease from February. But that's not what the data shows. It shows the second highest number of recorded returns (2,610) was in May. The third highest was in June (2,480). [The highest number of returnees thus far this year was in January: 2,820.] Were the stalemate the issue stopping the trickle of returns, you would see the pattern start in March when the stalemate begins. In other words, January and February -- before the statlemate starts -- would show a higher number of returns and, starting in March, each month would see a steady decrease. PDF format warning, click here for the statistics. The patterns of return -- a small amount, as has been the case for over two years and it wasn't that large to start with -- do not back up the conclusion that the stalemate has prevented returnees.

A careful chart of news stories might indicate an upswing -- MIGHT -- of returnees when the news cycle made it appear Ayad Allawi was going to be prime minister. That could explain the fluctuations. But even a careful chart of the news cycle -- and even if good news cycles for Allawi were followed by an uptick in returns -- it would still be an indication of a causal relationship and could not -- without surveys of the returnees -- be accepted as influencing returns.

Last week, the [PDF format warning] US State Dept noted:

There are almost 229,000 Iraqi refugees currently registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and an undtermined number of unregistered refugees. UNHCR reports that 1.5 million Iraqis remain internally displaced due to sectarian violence following the Samarra Mosque bombing of February 2006.

Since the beginning of 2008, some 464,000 Iraqis have returned to their neighborhoods in Iraq. The majority of the Iraqis returning were internally displaced persons.

In FY09, the U.S. Government contributed $387 million to international and non-governmental organizations to assist Iraqi refugees, internally displaced, and conflict victims.

[. . .]

As of September 2009, a total of 1,143 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) have been issued for Iraqi translators and interpreters (and their dependents) since FY07 (under the Section 1059 program).

As of September 2009, a total of 1,716 SIVs have been issued for Iraqis employed by the U.S. government (and their dependents) since FY08 (under the Section 1244 program).

Though the State Dept report goes on to mention many of the claims Brig Gen Ralph Baker made September 29th, they don't include his unproven claim that the violence is stopping/slowing returnees from coming back to Iraq.

Today UN High Commission for Refugees Antonio Guterres spoke at Oxford on the topic of refugees and various issues effecting them including, "Humanitarian organizations such as ours are denied access to affected populations." Simon Tisdall (Guardian reports):

Guterres said the number of refugees being resettled abroad was rising but the number of resettlement places on offer was inadequate -- roughly 10% of the 800,000 annual applicants. The total number of applicants has doubled since 2005. "Europe currently provides around 6,000 resettlement places a year or about 7.5% of the total worldwide."
Asylum seekers faced similar obstacles while forced repatriation policies, as applied to Iraqis for example, sent an "unhelpful" signal to Syria and Jordan where the vast majority of Iraqi refugees was located, he said. Advances had been made. And the UNHCR did not dispute the right of countries to control their borders. "Overall, however, there is still no true European asylum system but a patchwork of different national ones, making the situation totally dysfunctional."

Turning to the issue of Iraq's internally displaced, BBC News reports that UNHCR Iraq Support Unit's Andrew Harper has stated "up to 11 governors were restricting access" to the internally displaced "because they lacked resources to look after the refugees."

Andrew Harper: We're seeing an increasing number of governments or states inside of Iraq closing their borders or restricting entries to new arrivals. And so we're having a pressure cooker building up inside Iraq, that there's no immenent end to the displacement; however, the possibility for the Iraqis to find safety and find assistance is becoming increasingly restrictive. And so where they can move, it's becoming increasingly overpopulated and tense.

Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports, "Former Iraqi premier Ayad Allawi stepped up efforts to lure deputies from Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki’s alliance, in a bid to form the largest group of seats in parliament and secure the right to form the new government, as a political impasse nears its eighth month."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "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 seven months and seven days and counting.

Yesterday Nouri went to Syria and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Alsumaria TV quotes al-Assad stating, "Our attitude about the formation of the government is clear: the solution must be Iraqi. [. . .] Iraqis own that decision." At the State Dept yesterday about the meet-up, spokesperson Philip J. Crowley stated, "Well, on the formation of the Iraqi Government, these are fundamental decisions that Iraq itself must make. And they should make these decisions without outside interference. That said, there is an important role for other countries in the region, including the United States, to encourage Iraq and its political leaders to put aside political interests and work more intensively to form an inclusive government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and recognizing that all of the major blocs that achieved significant support during the election six months ago deserve to play a role in Iraq's future. But that said, we are certainly supportive of the dialogue that has occurred today between Syria and Iraq. They must have -- they should have constructive relations so that each can play an appropriate role to help reintegrate Iraq into the region." On another meeting,Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) reports:

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, who heads the country's mainly Sunni Iraqiya bloc, held talks on Sunday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received the head of the Shia Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Ammar Al-Hakim, in Ankara.
Both leaders were reportedly discussing with the two Sunni-dominated countries efforts to form a new government as Baghdad marked seven months of political stalemate after the 7 March disputed elections.
The Saudi official news agency said Abdullah and Allawi, accompanied by top leaders from the Iraqiya List, "reviewed the current situation in Iraq" at their Riyadh meeting.

Bill Van Auken (WSWS) observes, "It seems likely that the backroom negotiations on a new government will persist for some time, and it is hardly assured that Allawi can deliver the support of his Sunni backers in supporting a Shiite-dominated administration in which they would have even less power than in the last government. With the government having jailed many Sunni leaders over the past several years and having reneged on its promises to integrate members of the US-aligned 'Sons of Iraq' militias into the security forces, grant an amensty and seek reconciliation with former Ba'athists, there is little trust in Maliki among the Sunni population."

"Sons of Iraq," "Awakenings," also known as Sahwa and they were targeted today. Turning to today's reported violence . . .


Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports Baghdad was slammed with bombings and at least 6 people died as a result including four members of the Iraqiya political coalition including Abdul Karim Mahood. AFP adds that the dead included Mahood, three by-standers and Mahood's bodyguard. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the four killed by the bombing were "nearby civilians" and that Mahood was neither killed nor wounded, and a Baghad sticky bombing claimed the life of a Ministry of Interior worker, a second Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left another person wounded, a third Baghdad sticky bombing injured two people, and Baladruz mortar attack on "a Sahwa headquarters" left three members injured. Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing which claimed the life of 1 "university lecturer" and injured two by-standers, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people, a Baghdad roadside bombing targeting a Sahwa checkpoint which injured five people, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured eight police officers plus two civilians and a Mosul bombing in which two police officers were injured.


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that last night Sheikh Naseer Dally al Jorani was shot dead in Baghdad and one peshmerga and one civilian were injured in a Kirkuk drive-by. Reuters notes 1 man shot dead in Mosul.

Today Lara Jakes (AP) reports that the US military counts 77,000 Iraqi kiled from January 2004 to August 2009. While an undercount, Jakes notes that it "is the most extensive data on Iraqi war casualties ever released by the Americna military." (The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry offered an undercount of the same period plus two more months and came up with 85,694 as their total.)

In other news of violence,Today's Zamanreports, "Turkish Parliament on Tuesday approved a government motion seeking an extension of a mandate from Parliament to conduct military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq." Hurriyet
adds, "The secret session was closed to the press, and details will remain private for 10 years according to Parliament regulations. With 447 deputies in attendance, the decision was passed with 14 objections and one abstention."

The Iraq War has not ended nor has the violence. Iraq War veteran Nate Rawlins, back in Iraq for Time magazine, reports:

As far as combat tours go, Scott's unit's has been underwhelming. The troops have been here entirely too long, with far too little to do, but the notion that they're finished with combat is misguided. In fact, they laugh at the irony that the vast majority of the action they've seen has come after the Aug. 31, 2010, decree that brought U.S. combat operations to an official end.
First there was the Aug. 17 suicide bombing right outside of their base, an incident known to the troops as the "suicide pants" bombing. An insurgent walked into the middle of a recruiting drive for the Iraqi security forces and blew himself up. The explosive material was inside his pants, taped with ball bearings to maximize the carnage. More than 40 people were killed that day. Eighteen days later, a team of five fighters stormed the gates of Old MoD. Two were killed just outside the gate, and the driver set off a bomb in the car. The two insurgents who got inside took prisoners in a building, beginning a three-hour standoff before detonating themselves on the third floor. Seven Iraqi army soldiers died.

That's the face to face threats. On YouTube today, AhmadAhmad4 has posted a video entitled "Americans killed in iraq.flv" which utilizes Benny Hill like music scored to videos of explosions. AhmadAhmad4 writes: "WE ARE THE MUJAHIDEN WORLD HERO HAS KILLED MORE THAN 50.000 AMERICAIN SLODIERS AND OFFICER AND BLACKWATER GARD SECRUTY COMPANES PIG IN IRAQ , IRAQ IS BABYLON EREA WHO HAS BEEN KILLED JEWS AND AND PIG LIKE THEM LONG AGO SO WE ARE HAVE IDEA TO HOW TO KILLING AMERICANS AND CHRISTIAN PIG IN EUROP SOON .ALLAH WA AKBAR LONG LIFE AL QAIDAH" How much weight to give that is up to each individual. (SITE will no doubt produce a lengthy transcript with a million 'hidden messages' embedded in the video which only Rita Katz can discern.)

Turning to the US . . .

November 5, 2009 there was an attack on Fort Hood in Texas. US Army Major Nidal M. Hasan, a 39-year-old psychiatrist was the suspected gun man who opened fire killing 13 people. An Article 32 hearing is taking place in Fort Hood. NPR has Wade Goodwyin covering the hearing for them. Yesterday on All Things Considered (link has text and audio), he discussed day one of testimony with Mary Louise Kelly.

Wade Goodwyn: Well, the first witness was a six-foot, nine-inch non-comissioned officer, Sgt Alonzo Lunsford. That day, Major Nidal Hasan was being processed, getting ready to deploy overseas. The processing center was packed with hundreds of soldiers. Lunsford saw Hasan stand, walk to the front of the room, pull out a laser-sighted pistol, yell Allahu Akbar and opened fire. It was quick and steady bam, bam, bam. A doctor, 64-year-old Michael Cahill, came out from one of the examination rooms, picked up a chair by the legs and advanced on Hasan, but he was shot and killed by Hasan before he could get there. After that, Lunsford decided to make a break for the back door, but Hasan spotted him. And Lunsford testified that he saw the laser sight rake across his face and then Hasan shot him in the left eye. But the sergeant was able to get up and make a run for the back door again. But Hasan followed him out and began shooting his direction. And the bravery that was exhibited this day was amazing. Two soldiers saw what was happening. They ran toward the shooter to come to Lunsford's aid. They threw their bodies over the sergeant, and then they grabbed a tarp and dragged the 6'9" Lunsford behind a truck. He was shot five times, once in the head, four shots to the body, but he lived to give absolutely riveting testimony today.

In a report for Morning Edition (NPR, link has text and audio) today, Goodwyn featured the courtroom artist Pat Lopez explaining, "I watched Sergeant Lunsford as he walked into the courtroom. He's a massive man. He's six-foot-nine and very, very large. He sat down and scanned the courtroom. And I knew he was looking for Major Hasan. When they found each other's eyes, their eyes locked. And Sergeant Lunsford didn't back down. So I looked at Major Hasan, and he didn't back down either. He didn't blink. He didn't move. And it was intense. And every time Sergeant Lunsford had a moment, he would look back and glare at him. It was almost as if he was saying: 'I'm here. I'm still here'."

On War and Politics, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan offers "Memo to Nancy Pelosi from Cindy Sheehan" (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox):

So you can't say that I didn't warn you and your colleagues that the people shouldn’t be ignored. I now realize that the warning fell on deaf ears and was futile, but also that the political game your party and the other party play are far more important to you than the people of this world are, anyway.
With the elections rapidly approaching on November 2, you once again are up for re-election yourself and the people of San Francisco will dutifully obey their Democratic impulses and send you back to DC one more time, no matter how atrocious you have been, (The question of the day, though, Nan, is when you lose your Speakership will you resign your seat? Hey, I know! Maybe you and your good buddy, George Bush, can have play dates in your mutual retirements?) but you do have opponents. I know of two for sure, the firmly antiwar Republican, John Dennis and the firmly antiwar and anti-Capitalist Peace and Freedom Candidate Gloria La Riva.