Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, November 10, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi Christians are targeted in another wave of attacks, Robert Gates' statements about US forces remaining in Iraq past 2011 garner some media attention, rumors swirl  that tomorrow is the day Iraq breaks their stalemate, and more.
Yesterday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a statement. As Mike noted last night, The NewsHour (PBS) led yesterday's headlines with it:

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. may be open to keeping American troops in Iraq past the end of 2011, the current deadline for withdrawal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested today the timetable could slide, but he went on to say, "The initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis." Gates also urged Iraq's political factions to end eight months of deadlock and form a new government.

Today on The Takeaway (PRI), retired Col Jack Jacobs joined John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee to discuss Gates' remarks. Excerpt:
Celeste Headlee: So what do you make of this comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates?  What do you think is motivating him to make this? Is he -- is he saying -- is this a message for the Iraqi government saying, "Put in the request"?
Col Jack Jacobs:  He probably already had a conversation with people over there and they have indicated that they might ask and what would be the American response if they did ask?  But we had for a long time expected to leave troops either in Iraq or in and around Iraq for a long, long time past the deadline because we have so many obligations and opportunities in places like Kuwait and so on.  We weren't going to completely pull out of this in any case.
Matthew Rothschild: I'm Matt Rothschild the editor of The Progressive magazine with my "Progressive Point of View" which you can also grab off our website at  Don't hold your breath next December for all US troops to get out of Iraq that's the exit date required by the US-Iraqi accord but the Pentagon's been asking for an extension for a long time now.  This week Defense Secretary Robert Gates practically begged the Iraqis to ammend the accord to allow US troops to stay there well into the future.  He told the AP, "We're ready to have that discussion when and if they want to speak with us."
Bill Van Auken (WSWS) contributes a major essay on the latest:

The reality is that the Obama administration is presently exerting intense political pressure aimed at breaking an eight-month-old deadlock in the formation of a new Iraqi government so that it can have a US client regime capable of taking the "initiative" of asking American troops to stay.
US efforts have intensified in the aftermath of the midterm elections as part of a broad further turn to the right in both US foreign and domestic policies.
Last August, the Obama administration had celebrated the withdrawal of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq, proclaiming that its members were the last combat troops deployed in the country and that the US combat mission had ended.
The reality is that nearly 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, the bulk of them with the same combat capabilities as the brigades that have been withdrawn. The US Air Force remains in control of Iraqi airspace and the US Navy controls its coastlines.
Obama sought to exploit the drawdown of US forces from their peak of 170,000—many of them redeployed to the "surge" in Afghanistan—for political purposes, claiming in the run-up to the elections that the Democratic president had fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
This was a patent fraud. The timetable for the troop drawdown and the December 2011 final withdrawal was set not by Obama, but rather by a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Bush administration and the US puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
The Obama administration is now moving to abrogate this Bush era treaty in order to secure an indefinite US military grip over Iraq.
The immediate impediment to this plan is the absence of a government in Baghdad to sign a new agreement. Eight months after the election last March, the country's rival political factions have been unable to cobble together a viable coalition.

Which brings us to the stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "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 eight months and two days and still counting.
Leila Fadel (Washington Post) notes the latest rumors that a deal has been reached and explains the expected process: "Legislators are expected to meet Thursday afternoon for only the second time since the inconclusive March 7 election. Under the deal reached Wednesday, the parliament is expected to appoint a speaker from Iraqiya, then name the current Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, as president. He, in turn, will name Maliki as prime minister. Maliki will then have to put together a cabinet that a simple majority in Iraq's parliament will have to approve."  Whomever is named PM-designate -- whenever they're named -- will have 30 days to pull together a cabinet.  Nouri's past history of ministers walking out -- as well as his own boasting in April 2006 that he'd put together a cabinet before 30 days -- are forgotten, apparently.  Also forgotten is what this says: Elections are meaningless. 
If the rumors are true about the make up of the next government and that does come to pass, the message is: "Elections are meaningless, voters stay home."  The president and the prime minister remain the same?  Only the speaker changes?
They didn't need a national election to change the speaker.  Mahmoud Mashadani had been the Speaker and was repeatedly the victim of a disinformation campaign by the US State Dept -- with many in the media enlisting (such as in 2006 when he was in Jordan on business and a certain reporter at a certain daily LIED and said he was in Iraq, hurt and sad and refusing to see anyone -- that lie would have taken hold were it not for the Arab press).  He stepped down.  When he did so, Iyad Samarrai became the next Speaker and that was done by Parliament, no national elections required.  So the message from the 2010 elections appears to be -- if rumors are correct -- that there is no point in voting.  Iyad Samarrai got vanished from the narrative.  Reporters and 'reporters' like Quil Lawrence (declaring victory for Nouri March 8th, one day after the elections) might have been a little more informed if they'd bothered to pay attention.  Mahmoud Mashadani stepped down as Speaker.  It took FOUR months for a new speaker to be appointed. And that was in the spring of 2009.  Why anyone thought some magical mood enchancer would change things in 2010 is beyond me.
In a bit of classic understatement, an unnamed Iraqi official tells Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor), "It looks a lot like the old government." And for that, people were imprisoned this year and died this year?  Again, these results send a very clear message and it not democracy 'friendly' nor does it help build democracy.  Arraf states the rumors are Iraqiya's Osama al-Nujaifi will be the new Speaker. Rumors.  Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) note that the the stalemate "appeared to have broken" AFP's a little more specific.  Throughout the day, they've filed reports including one where there was no indication of a deal (filed at approximately noon EST).  What changed?  They report Ayad Allawi showed for the meet up. But AFP also notes, as do al-Salhy and Ibrahim, that Iraqiya is saying they will iron out details tomorrow and make a decision of whether they accept any agreements -- in other words, the only thing clear is that Parliament is supposed to hold a session tomorrow afternoon.  And Reuters states the Speaker post is one of the details that will be considered -- the whom of it.  Hemin Babn (Rudaw) cites Iraqiya's Arshad Salihi as stating that final decisions will be made tomorrow by Iraqiya as to whether or not they will be "participating in the government".
The targeting of Iraqi Christians continues today. Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports on "a coordinated series of attacks on Christian neighbourhoods in Baghdad" involving over 14 bombings. Jim Muir (BBC News -- link has text and video)adds, "Well a whole rash of bombs, in fact six different parts of Baghdad hit by them. Areas which are absolutely known to be areas of Christian concentration. Obviously no area is completely homogeneous in terms of it's population so among the three killed and the twenty-four we believed to have been wounded, we're not clear at this moment, exactly how many of them may be Christians. But what is very clear is that this was a coordinated attack aimed at areas known to have a Christian label on them and coming about a week after that warning from the Islamic State in Iraq which is a kind of umbrella group for al Qaeda [in Mesopotamia] and related groups that 'all Christians are now fair game.' It also comes just a few hours after Mr. Maliki, the incumbent prime minister visited the cathedral where the bloodbath took place two Sundays ago." Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio), speaking to Steve Inskeep, observed, "The city at one time was a mix of Jews, Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. You know nowadays Jews are all but gone.  And Sunnis and Shiites live completely separately from each other.  But dozens of Christians who were wounded in the church siege have been flown to Europe for treatment. Some say they won't come back. But in a service this past Sunday, some Christians did vow to stay on.  They said they have a mission to, you know, keep the faith alive."  Gary Mitchell (Sky News -- link has text and video) quotes the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel II Delly, stating, "They are chasing Christians in every neighbourhood in Baghdad." Rawya Rageh (Al Jazeera) observes, "We have seen Christians fleeing Iraq between 2004 and 2006. Their numbers now are down to a third. This is a stepped-up attack to revive the chaos that has affected the Christian community in the past."  Sammy Ketz (AFP) quotes Baghdad's St. Joseph's priest, Father Saad Sirap Hanna, stating, "People are panicked. They come to see us in the churches to ask what they should do. We are shattered by what has happened." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains:
Christians, most of them eastern rite Catholics, trace their history in this country to the earliest days of Christianity. Before the 2003 war, there were up to a million Christians here -- about 3 percent of the population. Half that number is estimated to have left in the past seven years, continuing an exodus begun after the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein's secular regime turned increasingly Islamic.
Although thousands of Assyrian Christians and others were killed under Iraq's Ottoman rule a century ago, the attack on the church last week is the worst in the country's recent history. The attack, claimed by an Al Qaeda-linked group, was followed two days later by 16 bombings in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad that killed at least 70 people.
October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked. At least 58 people died during the assault. Following that, as Muir noted, the Islamic State of Iraq claimed credit for the siege and released a statement which included: "All Christin centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the muhadjideen wherever they can reach them. We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood." Today would appear to be a continuation of efforts to make good on that statement.  Jomana Karadsheh (CNN -- link has text and video) introduces a video segment featuring footage from the October 31st assault -- from inside the Church -- which Arwa Damon explains.  The Church is where some are sought refuge today.  Jane Arraf and Laith Hammoudi (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) report on that group including Umm Danny who took her five children with her (three of her own and a niece and nephew) and states, "We were so afraid -- we left without taking anything. We went barefoot onto the roof and climbed onto our Muslim neighbor's house. They helped us and told us to stay with them but we were afraid." Martin Chulov (Guardian) quotes Christian Endowment Fund's Abdullah al-Nourfali stating, "I can't call on the Christians to leave their country.  And I can't demand that they stay.  If I call for them to levae, I should be responsible for their futures and if I call for them stay, it's the same thing. It's a very difficult position." The UN Security Council today issued a statement declaring, "No terrorist act can reverse a path toward peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq."  Mark Lyall Grant, UN Security Council president, delivered the following:
The members of the Security Council were appalled by and condemned in the strongest terms the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Iraq, including today's attack, in which scores of civilians lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded. The attacks deliberately targeted locations where civilians congregate, including Christian and Muslim places of worship.  The members of the Security Council expressed their deep condolences to the families of the victims and reaffirmed their support for the people and the Government of Iraq, and their commitment to Iraq's security.
The members of the Security Council condemned all incitement to and acts of violence, particularly those motivated by religious hatred, and expressed confidence that the people of Iraq will remain steadfast in their continued rejection of efforts by extremists to spark sectarian tension.
The members of the Security Council additionally condemned the October 19 attack against the convoy of the Secretary-General's Special Representative and other UN staff.  While all UN staff escaped without injury, one member of the Iraqi Security Forces was sadly killed and several others injured.  The members of the Security Council also expressed their deep condolences to the families of the victims and their continued support to UNAMI.
The Security Council strongly expressed its support for the continued efforts of the Iraqi Government to help meet security needs of the entire population of Iraq.  In this regard, the Security Council acknowledges the efforts of the Iraq Security Forces whose members are also being targeted in ongoing attacks.
The members of the Security Council underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with Iraqi authorities in this regard.
The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.  The members of the Security Council reminded States that they must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.
The members of the Security Council reiterated that no terrorist act can reverse a path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, which is supported by the people and the Government of Iraq and the international community.

The international response has been near uniform with leaders from Palestine (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) to the Vatican (Pope Benedict XVI) denouncing the attacks on Christians. Notable exceptions have been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US President Barack Obama, neither of whom could be bothered to utter a sentence -- at least publicly -- on the October 31st assault. Monday, for the first time, the US State Dept spokesperson Philip J. Crowley made a comment:

So -- but we spoke out very significantly last week at -- when -- during -- in the aftermath of this tragedy and we continue to do whatever we can to help promote religious tolerance in Iraq and elsewhere.

Despite his assertion, they did not speak out last week -- significantly or otherwise. Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary, made a statement on November 1st and the National Security Council's spokesperson Mike Hammer made a statement the same day. That was it from anyone connected to the administration.
Martin Chulov (Guardian) maintains, "As Iraq slides back towards sectarianism, al-Qaida has become a looming beast no one wants to speak of, while blaming everyone else for the rising bloodshed.  A chilling picture of the group is taking shape -- crystallised by the attacks on Baghdad's Christians. Four weeks of interviews with the Guardian reveal an organisation that has emerged from a pounding from all sides -- and a severe shortage of funds -- to once again pose a lethal threat to almost anyone in Iraq."
In other news of violence, Reuters reports Sunni Imam Abbas Mahmoud was shot dead in Garma, 1 man was shot dead outside his Mosul home, a Falluja roadside bombing left five people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing wounded three people and mortar attacks on the Green Zone resulted in seven people being wounded.
Iraq Veterans Against the War have launched Operation Recovery and this week they're doing outreach:
The Campaign Team and Chapters from across the nation are starting an effort to do regular outreach on and around military bases and universities.
The Campaign is in the popular research and base building phase. To win this struggle, hundreds of IVAW Members, Veterans, Service Members, and Allies are needed to help organize. Service Members and Veterans are in our communities and looking to be part of a community of people that understands them. 
If you are a member of IVAW and want to learn more about how to get involved and do outreach click here.
The realities of PTSD were addressed on Monday's Fresh Air (NPR --link has audio and text) and we'll note this from Terry Gross' conversation with psychologist Craig Bryan:
Terry Gross: Dr. Craig Bryan welcome to FRESH AIR. In the documentary "Wartorn," which is about post-traumatic stress disorder, the mother of a vet who killed himself says, the Army taught him how to kill to protect others; they didn't teach him how to stop having that instinct. Has she managed to sum up a serious issue -what happens to you after you come home, when you've been taught to kill?
Dr. CRAIG BRYAN (Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center): Well, I think it is a pretty remarkable insight into sort of the paradox of working with service members. You know, part of being an effective warrior, an effective service member, and having an effective military is training our individuals to no longer fear death, to use violence and aggression in controlled manners, and then an individual's return from war zones, combat zones, using those skills. And they're not necessarily taught how those skills fit within, you know, the culture and the context of the United States, where violence and aggression have a very different role to play within daily basis in contrast to a combat zone.
GROSS: Now you've said that, you know, soldiers are trained to face death with fearlessness. But does that training also make it easier to take your life?
Dr. BRYAN: We think in some ways, that it is. Yes. We do know that one protective factor for suicide is fear of death. If someone is afraid to die, they tend not to kill themselves. And so when you have a group of individuals who have been conditioned to overcome that fear, in many ways they sort of have what it takes to kill themselves.
Now, of course, you know, fearlessness about death is not enough. A person also has to want to kill themselves. You know, just because you know how to, or youre capable of killing yourself ,doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to do it because if you dont ever desire suicide, you know, suicide never becomes an option. So it's a little bit more complex than just pure capability.
GROSS: So what are some of the things that you've come across from vets who you've worked with, that have made them think about or succeed in taking their lives?
Dr. BRYAN: Yeah. Well, I guess first I would say that there is no such thing as succeeding in taking one's life. And they kill themselves and they have a fatal outcome, but...
GROSS: Yeah. I was so sorry about that word when I used it. Yeah.
Dr. BRYAN: ...there's no such thing as a successful suicide. What we do know about some of the factors that contribute to those who die as a result of self-inflicted injury, there tends to be intense psychological and mental suffering. There is an extremely high level of agitation. Oftentimes, there's mood disturbance, a sense that things are never going to get any better. We see what we call cognitive constriction within the clinical field, which is - it's sort of like tunnel vision - an inability to solve problems and to kind of think of options, and select a solution that would be optimal. When I work with suicidal service members, I often, you know, tell them if you are able to solve this problem effectively, you know, suicide wouldn't even be an option. It would be obsolete, in many ways. And so what we often find with the service members is they just - they're suffering intensely. It's an agonizing suffering, and they haven't been able to figure out how to eliminate that suffering in a way that doesn't require them to die.
  And we'll close with this from Stop These Wars:

During the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King called our government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." True then—and even more so today.
A few years before that, in 1964 Mario Savio made his great speech at Berkeley; at the end he says, "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
There are children being orphaned, maimed or killed every day, in our name, with our tax dollars; there are soldiers and civilians dying or being maimed for life, in order to generate profits for the most odious imperialistic corporate war machine ever, again in our name. How long are we going to let this go on? Until it is too late, until this destructive machine destroys all of us and the planet to boot?
Wikileaks has revealed the documented horror of U.S. war-making, beyond what any of us imagined. It's time veterans and others express our resistance directly and powerfully by putting ourselves on the line, once again—honestly, courageously and without one drop of apology for doing so. It is not we who are the murderers, torturers or pillagers of the earth.
Profit and power-hungry warmongers are destroying everything we hold dear and sacred.
In the early thirties, WW1 vets descended on Washington, D.C., to demand their promised bonuses, it being the depths of the Depression. General Douglas MacArthur and his sidekick Dwight Eisenhower disregarded President Herbert Hoover's order and burned their encampment down and drove the vets out of town at bayonet point.
We are today's bonus marchers, and we've coming to claim our bonus–PEACE.
Join activist veterans marching in solidarity to the White House, refusing to move, demanding the end of U.S. wars, which includes U.S. support—financial and tactical—for the Israeli war machine as well.
If we can gather enough courageous souls, nonviolently refusing to leave the White House, willing to be dragged away and arrested if necessary, we will send a message that will be seen worldwide. "End these wars – now!" We will carry forward a flame of resistance to the war machine that will not diminish as we effectively begin to place ourselves, as Mario Savio said, "upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus." and we will make it stop.
We believe that the power of courageous, committed people is greater than that of corporate warmongers. But we will only see our power when we use it collectively, when we stand together.
With courage, persistence, boldness and numbers, we can eventually make this monstrous war machine grind to a halt, so that our children and all children everywhere can grow up in a peaceful world.
Join us at the White House on December 16th!
For a world in peace,
Nic Abramson – Veterans For Peace, Elliott Adams – Past President,Veterans For Peace, Laurie Arbeiter-Activist Response Team, Ken Ashe -Veterans For Peace, Ellen Barfield-Veterans For Peace, Brian Becker-ANSWER Coalition, National Coordinator, Frida Berrigan-War Resisters League, Bruce Berry-Veterans For Peace, Leah Bolger-Veterans For Peace, Elaine Brower-Anti-war Military Mom and World Can't Wait, Scott Camil-Veterans For Peace, Ross Caputi- Justice For Fallujah Project, Kim Carlyle-Veterans For Peace, Matthis Chiroux-Iraq War Resister Veteran, Gerry Condon-Veterans For Peace, Will Covert-Veterans For Peace, Dave Culver-Veterans For Peace, Matt Daloisio-War Resisters League, Ellen Davidson-War Resisters League, Mike Ferner-President, Veterans For Peace, Nate Goldshlag-Veterans For Peace, Clare Hanrahan-War Crimes Times, Mike Hearington-Veterans For Peace, Tarak Kauff-Veterans For Peace, Kathy Kelley-Voices For Creative Nonviolence, Sandy Kelson-Veterans For Peace, Joel Kovel-Veterans For Peace, Erik Lobo-Veterans For Peace, Joe Lombardo-United National Antiwar Committee, Ken Mayers -Veterans For Peace, Nancy Munger-co-President, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Fred Nagel-Veterans For Peace, Pat O'Brien-Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Bill Perry-Vietnam Veterans Against The War, Vito Piccininno -Veternas For Peace, Mike Prysner-co-founder, March Forward, Ward Reilly-Veterans For Peace, Laura Roskos-co-President, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Cindy Sheehan-Founder, Peace of the Action, David Swanson-author, Debra Sweet-National Director, World Can't Wait, Mike Tork-Veterans For Peace, Hart Viges – Iraq Veterans Against the War, Jay Wenk-Veterans For Peace, Linda Wiener- Veterans For Peace, Diane Wilson -Veterans For Peace, Col. Ann Wright-Veterans For Peace, Doug Zachary-Veterans For Peace

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