Thursday, January 06, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 6, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, military suicides increased at Fort Hood in 2010, the Marines saw an increase in attempted suicides, Moqtada al-Sadr scolds his followers, is Turkey the victor in the Iraq War, and more.
The New KPFA Morning Show airs on KPFA from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. PST Mondays through Fridays.  The show has a rotating set of hosts and Thursdays it's Project CensoredToday's show saw Project Censored's Mickey Huff speak with a number of guests about under-the-radar stories.  We'll note this section between Huff and Dave Lindorff.
Mickey Huff: We have a few minutes left in this segment, Dave, and earlier you had mentioned the Church Committee and COINTELPRO and, of course, we could do whole shows on those.  The Church Committee, Senator Frank Church, came in after Watergate and did a lot of investigating about these types of counterintelligence programs and infilitratration of groups.  And this is exactly the kind of thing you're talking about, we've had this massive return.  And I don't know how familiar you are with this but one of Obama's appointees to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a Harvard law professor named Cass Sunstein, is calling for a return to infiltrating groups, disrupting groups -- 
Dave Lindorff: Yeah, he's horrible. He's horrible.
Mickey Huff: It's funny  that you don't hear much though.  During the Bush years, you heard a lot of the rattling on the left among progressives about this kind of  officious behavior and this -- Really it's been legal since the Patriot Act I suppose although it seems fiercely unconstitutional.  But do you have something to say about Sunstein or maybe the silence of progressives about people like Sustein?
Dave Lindorff: Well, yeah.  I mean actually, I'm working on getting a contract for a bookto do a  Case for Impeachment II and make the argument that this administration is committing the same crimes and some new ones that were impeachable under Bush and are now impeachable under Obama.  [Laughing] It's hard to get a publisher, frankly.
Mickey Huff: Yeah and that's my -- and that's sad given how much evidence there is to continue that saga from that book. I mean it's just Part II of all of that. And I know a lot of people -- a lot of progressives and people on the left -- don't want to deal with that and they want to say 'Well it's the lesser of two evils' or 'It's better than not' and so forth. And I suppose that's understandable given what Americans went through for eight years.  But we can't turn a blind eye to this and, I mean, the media is just disappeared.  There's almost no coverage of this whatsoever.  They have one faux controversy after another -- whether it's the birth certificate or whether Obama's a Socialist.  And here we have things going on right under our noses -- this cognitive infiltraton problem in particular that you mentioned that we have here with Sunstein.  And so there's definitely a lot of work to be done and a lot of things that we should be dealing with
Dave Lindorff: Yeah, I know.  I mean, people have to realize this isn't a Democrat or a Republican issue.  This is the corporate state that is militarized and it is looking at the American public as the enemy.  And I think that's the way that we have to view it.  And it's not a matter of you know "Do we not do something because this is a Republican or a Democratic administration so it will be better" -- and it's not better.  And every -- We're actually in a ratcheting up with every administration of more and more invasiveness into our lives and more monitoring of our activities.
In Tuesday's snapshot, I mentioned this post by Ruth but there was no link -- Ruth's been covering various KPFA issues this week -- also see here and here.
Turning to military suicides, Jim Turpin (The Rag Blog) reported last October:
Even with the spin from the current administration that the "war is over" in Iraq, it is well known that 50,000 combat-ready troops remain in the country. Add to that a recent deployment of 2,000 troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood in Texas. At present almost 100,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.      
With the total number of U.S. military personnel cycling through both Afghanistan and Iraq at almost 1.8 million, and with the RAND corporation estimating that 18% have PTSD (which is deemed low by some experts), this would put the returning numbers with PTSD at 324,000.              

A recent article in The New York Times confirms what the organizers of the Killeen-based GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Café have been battling at Fort Hood for the last year and a half: suicides are at the highest point since 2008, with 14 confirmed suicides since the beginning of 2010. In one recent weekend, there were three suicides and one murder-suicide at Fort Hood.                  
With the population at Fort Hood ranging from 46,000 to 50,000 soldiers at any given time, the rate of suicide is four times the national average, based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates of 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people.

Today Bob Grotenhuis (KTSM) reports that there were 22 suicides or suspected suicides at Fort Hood in 2010, "double the number of suicides from 2009 and nearly two-and-a-half times the national average for the same age group."  Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) broke the news on the story this morning and noted the record number came "despite a mental health effort aimed at reversing the trend" and, of Fort Hood's population, "Many of the 46,500 soldiers at Fort Hood have returned from war zone or are on their way to them."  Fort Hood, in a review of the year 2010 published today, notes, "Deployments, the continual coming and going of military members to and from Fort Hood, remained the 'new normal' at the Great Place in 2010. Just two weeks after the 1st Cavalry Division uncased its colors on Cooper Field announcing the division's return from its third tour of duty in Iraq, III Corps cased its colors Feb. 2 as it became the nucleus of United States Forces - Iraq." On suicide, the year-in-review notes:
Suicide prevention, likewise, remained an important issue for the Army in 2010, as well as here in Central Texas. The key to suicide prevention is engaged leadership, according to senior leaders here.  
"We use this term of 'engaged leadership,' in some cases, it requires intrusive leadership to break through some of these little points of insularity that we're finding in our Soldiers and certainly in society," Grimsley told media members at the Resiliency Campus Sept. 29.  
"I tell you that every one of these is tragic," he said of the suicides committed in 2010. "The rate is higher than any of us, anybody in a leadership position in the Army wants," he stressed. Grimsley said Fort Hood remains dedicated to the well-being of its force and their families.    
"I think we have extraordinary resources at Fort Hood," he said, noting family life onsultants, chaplains, behavioral health specialists and Army Community Services counselors available to Soldiers, civilians and their families, dedicated to the well-being of body, mind and soul.           
"The point is," he said, "there are an awful lot of people who are committed to do the right thing."
The Marines also have suicide news this week. Gretel C. Kovach (San Diego Union Tribune) reports, "The number of suicides among active-duty Marines dropped last year for the first time since 2006, plunging 29 percent below 2009's record high, according to preliminary figures released by the Marine Corps. In 2010, 37 Marines committed suicide, compared to 52 in 2009. The latest numbers include nine suspected yet to be confirmed by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner."  While the number of suicides has gone down, the Marines saw an increase in 2010 in the number of attempted suicides. The Defense Dept notes, "The military suicide rate has increased steadily over the past five years, exceeding the national average of 11.1 suicides per 100,000 people.  The military last year averaged 12.5 suicides per 100,000 according [to] DOD reports." James Coogan (WSWS) offers:
American military personnel are continuing to take their own lives in unprecedented numbers, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on. By late November, at least 334 members of the armed forces had committed suicide in 2009, more than the 319 who were killed in Afghanistan or the 150 who died in Iraq. While a final figure is not available, the toll of military suicides last year was the worst since records began to be kept in 1980.
The Army, National Guard and Army Reserve lost at least 211 personnel to suicide. More than half of those who took their lives had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The Army suicide rate of 20.2 per 100,000 personnel is higher than that registered among males aged 19 to 29, the gender age bracket with the highest rate among the general population. Before 2001, the Army rarely suffered 10 suicides per 100,000 soldiers.
The Navy lost at least 47 active duty personnel in 2009, the Air Force 34 and the Marine Corp, which has been flung into some of the bloodiest fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, 42. The Marine suicide rate has soared since 2001 from 12 to at least 19.5 per 100,000.
For every death, at least five members of the armed forces were hospitalised for attempting to take their life. According to the Navy Times, 2 percent of Army; 2.3 percent of Marines and 3 percent of Navy respondents to the military's own survey of 28,536 members from all branches reported they had attempted suicide at some point. The "Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors" also found "dangerous levels" of alcohol abuse and the illicit use of drugs such as pain killers by 12 percent of personnel.
Many soldiers, servicemembers and veterans are not receiving the help they need.  Many are taking public stands to highlight the issue.  Clare Bayard (ZNET) notes:

They also included the public surrender of an injured AWOL soldier, Army Specialist Jeff Hanks, at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Hanks went AWOL to resist redeployment to Afghanistan last fall after the military refused to treat him for severe PTSD. Supported by military and civilian allies alike, Hanks and other veterans testified about the military's negligent and often abusive treatment of severely traumatized soldiers seeking care. Hanks decided he wanted to turn himself in publicly to draw attention to these widespread practices. If he is court-martialed, he could face up to two years in prison and a lifetime felony conviction on his record. The Army could also attempt to forcibly deploy him again. At the gates of Ft. Campbell, 25 supporters stood with Hanks as he told his story to reporters. Another AWOL soldier from his unit traveled to join the rally, disclosing similar experiences. One supporter explained that her husband, who is currently deployed, was sent against medical advice.

In the weeks following the November 11 actions, a number of other soldiers gone AWOL from the 101st due to mental health struggles have reached out to Operation Recovery for support.

Visibility and support are important factors influencing not only the morale of traumatized troops and their families, but also the military's treatment of people who go public. Aaron Hughes of IVAW shared with supporters that, "Jeff's command was extremely hostile when he turned himself in on Veterans Day, but after the CBS story aired on Friday, they changed their tune" (Hanks was interviewed by Katie Couric).

Click here for one CBS story (text and video) with links to other CBS coverage of Jeff Hanks.  And, like Elaine, let's pair that with an upcoming event by Iraq Veterans Against the War:

February 25, 2011 9:30 - 10:30 am Busboys & Poets, Langston room 14th & V st NW Washington DC This report back will be to answer questions from media and the peace movement about the recent trip back to Iraq by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The war is not over but it is not the same as it was in years past. What is the humanitarian situation in Iraq? How can we do reparations and reconciliation work? Speakers are all returning from this delegation and include: Geoff Millard (IVAW) Hart Viges (IVAW) Haider Al-Saedy (Iraqi Health Now)
Richard Rowely (
Big Noise Films)
That's next month and will hopefully help get across that the Iraq War continues.
Sunday, 2 US soldiers were killed in Iraq.  Today, DoD released the following: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation New Dawn.  They died Jan. 2 in Taji, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 1013th Engineer (Sapper) Company of the Pureto Rico Army National Guard, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  Killed were: Sgt. Jose M. Cintron Rosado, 38, of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico; and Spc. Jose A. Delgado Arroyo, 41, of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  For more information, media may contact the Puerto Rico National Guard at 787-289-1474."  The deaths bring the total number for US military deaths in the ongoing Iraq War to [PDF format warning] 4435.
Tuesday, Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes, was "day 2,817 of the war in Iraq."
AP notes the Illinois National Guard is preparing to send 75 service members to Iraq. Brian Stanley (Herald News) reports on some of the deployed:

Dennis McWherter has been married for 23 years, his youngest child is 17 and he's got enough experience in law enforcement to head the narcotics unit as a lieutenant with the Joliet Police Department.
Rigoberto Garcia is still in college, he and his girlfriend of two years have considered getting married in the next few years and he wants to work for a local fire department when he completes his paramedic training.

In Iraq, they will be assinged to preserve the rule of the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr who returned to Iraq yesterday. Alsumaria TV reports, "Head of Al Sadr Front cleric Moqtada Al Sadr returned to Iraq on Wednesday. Al Sadr returned to Najaf after spending three years outside the country in Qumm, Iran. Al Sadr's visit coincides two weeks after the formation of Iraq's new government." Iraq is nothing but a laughing matter to the US State Dept as evidenced by yesterday's briefing. When spokesperson Philip J. Crowley was asked about al-Sadr's return, he declared, "Well it's not for us to be for or against any particular leader or party in Iraq." A response that was met with disbelief and led to shocked remarks and bringing up Saddam Hussein (whom the US government started an illegal war to topple). Crowley thought he was being amusing by declaring, "In the new Iraq." It wasn't funny. It's an ongoing war and possibly the next time any State Dept spokesperson sees a war as a laughing matter, they can sign up for forty hours a week of community service at Walter Reed. Might seeing the wounded make them take war a little more seriously next time?
The Australian hails al-Sadr's return as "the latest example of waning US influence in Iraq" and they quote Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service stating, "I don't think the US embassy is at all happy about this. Sadr has made the calculation that US influence is low enough that the US is not going to pressure him, or chase him . . . or pressure Maliki to arrest him."  al-Hayat reminds that the Basra 2008 Iraqi-US attack on Basra ("Charge of the Knights") had al-Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki on opposite sides of the fence. Paul McGeough (Sydney Morning Herald) adds, "For months after the election Mr Sadr sat on his hands, leaving would-be prime ministers Mr Maliki and Iyad Allawi without the support they needed to form a coalition government. It was only after the intervention of Tehran that a deal was struck in the seventh month of the post-poll stand-off.  [. . .]  As recently as last year, Mr Sadr's mouthpieces in Iraq were dismissing Mr Maliki as a successor to Saddam and as an American lackey." Kim Sengupta (Belfast Telegraph) notes the 2008 "intense battle" in Basra as well. Strangely these reports from today are still focusing on Basra only.  It was also Sadr City or does no one have longterm memory.  Protests against the assault on Basra sprang up in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. From the March 25, 2008 snapshot:
Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Fighting broke out Tuesday on the streets of Sadr City . . . and the Mahdi Army militia announced it had taken over Iraqi army checkpoints in an escalation of tension with Iraqi government security forces.  The sound of gunfire could be heard in Sadr City throughout the morning and Mahdi Army members walked down the streets carrying rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other weapons in what appeared to be a show of force, accodring to two witnesses."  AFP reports that fighting was ongoing in Baghdad, Basra, Kut and Hilla with the clash between Sadr's forces and the US in Baghdad being "the first time since last October".  Atul Aneja (The Hindu) explains, "The Iraqi government's decision to establish its hold over the oil city of Basra dominated by Shia armed militias has sparked heavy fighting there" and that "field commanders of the Mahdi army in Najaf ordered to the militia 'to strike the occupiers' and their Iraqi allies." Robin Stringer (Bloomberg News) notes 18 dead and forty wounded from the Basra fighting alone and threats that the actions will go "nationwide." 
The following day (Wednesday, March 26, 2008), Leila Fadel (then with McClatchy) appeared on  The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) via phone to report on the Basra assault.  We'll note this section of the discussion:
Diane Rehm: And Leila, you're in Baghdad what's the situation there right now?
Leila Fadel: Well the Medhi army has done a forced sit-in in all Medhi army neighborhoods and so what has happened is that they sealed off neighborhoods where they have large control and, at gun point, told shopkeepers to close, the kids are not allowed to go to school, in one situtation they evacuated the school that was functioning.  In Sadr City there have been violent clashes between Iraqi security forces, US forces and the Medhi army in Sadr City.  Sadr officials are saying that at least 20 people have died and a hundred were wounded, among them women and children.  But it's unclear what's happening there because it's completely sealed off by the militia.
March 28, 2008, Sudarsan Raghavan and Sholnn Freeman (Washington Post) reported, "U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in the vast Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, and military officials said Friday that U.S. aircraft bombed militant positions in the southern city of Basra, as the American role in a campaign against party-backed militias appeared to expand."  Today Xinhua notes, "Many Sadrists viewed Maliki's crackdown as a means to weaken his Shiite rivals and to facilitate the political benchmarks set by the U.S. administrations before the country's provincial elections early in 2009."  David Kenner (Foreign Policy) observes, "Some analysts also suggested that his return could be motivated by a desire to retain his preeminence over the movement's leaders in Iraq, who have overseen the party's impressive gains in recent years.  'His party is becoming stronger and bigger, and the need for him to preside over it has grown, especially since there is fear that new leaders within the party could surpass him,' wrote Hazem al-Amin in the Arabic daily al-Hayat."  Mohamad Bazzi (Council on Foreign Relations) offers:
Now, Sadr has returned home to play a central part in Iraqi politics and to oversee his movement's transition from a militia force to a powerful political group with forty seats in parliament. But Sadr's ascendance threatens to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq: His followers were responsible for some of the worst atrocities against Sunnis during the country's recent civil war. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, unleashed death squads that assassinated Sunnis and drove them out of Shiite neighborhoods.
Rania El Gamal and Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) run down possibilities such as whether or not he'll remain in Iraq, if he remains will he attempt to be a political or religious figure, will tensions rise, will sectarian violence return, etc.  Anthony Shadid (New York Times) reports that al-Sadr sent a message to his followers today which read, "The lack of discipline of some of you as I performed my religious rituals bothered me and hurt me.  Please exercise discipline and refrain from excessive chants and pushing which harms me, others, you, your reputation and the reputation of the Sadr family."  This was how he thanked those who greeted him with chants and shout yesterday and today.  Leadership's always easier when you don't have to be around your followers.  Moqtada al-Sadr seems a little testy for someone who's had years to take a break from his follwers.  BBC News adds, "The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says that despite his four-year absence, the charismatic Moqtadr Sadr has lost none of his influence on the largely impoverished Shia population of Iraq. But the situation in Iraq has changed since the cleric fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest, our correspondent adds."  On All Things Considered today, Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad:
Kelly McEvers: Many analysts say Sadr is looking to style his group as the next Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that now weilds considerable power in Lebanon's government.  The reasoning that both groups give for maintaining an armed wing is resistance.  In Lebanon, it's resistance against Israel.  Here, says Sadr political adviser Balqis al-Khafaji, it's resistance against American troops.
Reuters reports that a Hawija sticky bombing injured a police officer and that an attack on a Mosul church was prevented by the Iraqi military.
In other Iraq news, the PKK is a rebel group which supports a Kurdish homeland. Turkey, the US and others label the PKK a terrorist organization. (Recent WikiLeaks revelations on the PKK suggest that the US government also backs them from time to time.) The Turkish military regularly bombs the mountains of northern Iraq where the PKK has set up bases. Stephen Farrell, Shiho Fukada and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times -- text, numerous photos and video) report from the mountains:

It is not easy to visit the mountainous borderlands of northern Iraq where the Kurdistan Workers' Party operates, but it is not impossible either.
Such is the peculiar position of a group of committed insurgents against Turkish rule in Kurdish lands -- even as Turkey and Iraq seek deeper and deeper ties, through diplomacy and trade, especially with Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region.

A few years back when Oliver August and Deborah Haynes (Times of London) -- among others -- were reporting from the PKK bases in Iraq, Nouri had a meltdown and started threatening to expel any foreign reporters who visited the PKK bases. It's interesting that the New York Times has decided to file this report. This comes as Anthony Shadid files a report on Turkey and its influence in Iraq:

Turkey's influence is greater in northern Iraq and broader, although not deeper, than that of Iran, with its ties to the Shiite leadership, in the rest of the country. While the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, losing more than 4,400 troops there, Turkey now exerts what may prove a more lasting legacy -- so-called soft power, the assertion of influence through culture, education and business.
"This is the trick -- we are very much welcome here," said Ali Riza Ozcoskun, who heads Turkey's consulate in Basra, one of four diplomatic posts it has in Iraq.
Turkey's newfound influence here has played out along an axis that runs roughly from Zakho in the north to Basra, by way of the capital, Baghdad. For a country that once saw the Kurdish region in northern Iraq as a threat, Turkey has embarked on the beginning of what might be called a beautiful friendship.

Shadid's article and other things lead Judah Grunstein to wonder "Did Turkey Win the Iraq War?" (World Politics Review):

The same can't be said for Turkey, which has also benefitted from the dramatic changes in the region's geostrategic landscape wrought by the Iraq War. This N.Y. Times article detailing Turkey's enormous and growing trade ties in the Kurdish north, as well as its political influence in Baghdad, is only part of the story. Ankara's opposition to the war, and the Bush administration's obstinacy in pursuing it, in some ways prepared the way for Turkey's rebalancing of its foreign policy approach from a Western-focused alignment to a Turkey-centric strategic hub. And the power vacuum created by the fall of Saddam Hussein, though initially as destabilizing as Ankara had feared and warned, subsequently helped create the space for Turkey to assume the regional role it aspired to.
Turning to the US where Ron Robins asks, "Can US Bankers and Politicians be Truthful?" And the answer may be found in this from David Swanson (at Euro Atlantic Quarterly):
The two parties scream at each other on television quite a lot and attract supporters who come from two very different cultures.  But over half of every dollar of income tax in the United States is spent on the military, and that number reliably increases every single year regardless of who is in power.
The Afghan and Iraq wars were launched with overwhelming support from both parties' officials, and the Iraq War with Democratic control of the Senate.  In 2006 U.S. voters told exit-pollsters that their primary motivation for electing Democrats to control both houses of Congress was Iraq war opposition, and Congress proceeded in 2007 to escalate the war on Iraq.  War opposition also drove the 2008 elections, after which two Democratic houses and a Democratic president in 2009 escalated the war on Afghanistan.
Americans tell pollsters that ending the wars is their second highest priority after repairing the U.S. economy.  (How many understand the close relationship between the two, the wars' negative impact on the domestic economy, is not clear.)  Majorities think the Afghan and Iraq wars should never have been launched, but majorities supported launching them at the time in 2001 and 2003.  Electing Democrats to act on the will of the new majority has been tried and failed, and now the House is going back to Republican control.
There will be no gridlock on matters of war and foreign relations (two areas that are identical in the understanding of the U.S. government, as made clear by the cables leaked to Wikileaks).  To the extent that a minority of Democrats in the House will object to anything on the military's agenda, it will not matter as the President and the Republicans are in complete agreement.  In fact, Congress may seek to pass a new "Authorization to Use Military Force" that would strengthen any president's unconstitutional power to wage wars, without any purported connection to the crimes of September 11, 2001, as required by the routinely violated AUMF of 2001.  The new bill may also license unconstitutional presidential violations of civil liberties during "war time," a state of affairs that is now understood to be without spatial or temporal limit.  Republicans are principled supporters of presidential war powers even when they despise the current president.