Friday, May 20, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Friday, May 20, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Countdown Friday sees protests in Baghdad and Mosul, Barack's speech does not go over well in Iraq, the country sees another prison break, Joan Wile talks peace and more.
Today was Countdown Friday in Iraq.  The Great Iraqi Revolution offers photos of the handbills for the demonstrations here and here. And people turned out in Baghdad.  Revolution of Iraq offers photos of the protest (check out the one of 'shy Nouri' especially) here. They gathered in Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square because it has been a focal point of people action in the last months. Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "A number of protestors were beaten and cursed by the security services in Tahrir Square." Revolution of Iraq also notes the violence against the protesters. And Great Iraqi Revolution offers video of the protests here.  The Great Iraqi Revolution has an important, must-read essay on the Baghdad protest.  Excerpt:
But, first, let me tell you about COUNTDOWN FRIDAY – today – Tahrir, Baghdad welcomes hundreds of its old residents who visit it every Friday and they held a public auction for Haliki and his goons – the highest bid was a quarter of an Iraqi Dinar! People were obstructed by goons dressed in black carrying clubs and donkey sticks who tried to keep people away from the square, in particular on the western side of the square. A number of protestors were badly beaten up and verbally abused. Normal! We were told by protestors, live on air, that security forces were out in strength and some areas in Baghdad a curfew had been imposed. But the usual colourful crowd was in Tahrir, singing and reading poetry with the sad view of women with disappeared relatives holding their relatives' photographs. They had displayed beautifully amusing caricatures of Maliki! They all stated that it is not Maliki's or the parliament's decision to extend or not, the stay of the American Occupation – that it is the decision of the people and that they wanted the immediate departure of the American and the Iranian Occupations. Of course, they all sang our favourite song of Maliki being a liar and a thief. This song is a must as well as many others which have been composed since the Revolution began. A lady in Tahrir said that she had 5 brothers who had disappeared one of which was 13 years old since 2005, another, a son who was 15 years old and others and others…. I wonder what country Mr. Obama was talking about in his speech – and had he not intended to have his troops stay and had he not been sure that they were staying I wonder why he stated that Iraq was still under emergency rule for another year and why he stated that our funds are under protection for another year!!!!! At any rate, we know that the Americans and Maliki have already signed up. 5 bases at a cost of USD 400 billion – bases that are cities, totally self-sustaining and the largest embassy in the world – could it be called an embassy I wonder – with 20,000 employees as well as 18,000 mercenaries to protect it, or are they? Could they not be troops dressed in different uniforms???? With 2 official consulates and 2 regional offices as well as agents in every single Iraqi institution no matter how distant and unimportant as well as advisors. By the way, the British who announced a couple of days ago that that was their last day in Iraq are lying of course because there are and will be 5,000 British "advisors" remaining in Iraq! Just as there will be around 20,000 American advisors!
Don't imagine that I am one of the few people who know these facts – Most of the Iraqi people know – go out amongst the simplest in out-lying areas in the country and you will be told this by the simplest farmer!
Not that I have anytime for Mr. Obama and his lies, really – we really don't care about him or about what he has to say - we neither care nor are we impressed…. Lies, Lies, and more Lies!!
I will only say one thing to Mr. Obama and the powers that be in America, watch out for the Iraqis. You really don't know what we can do when we get angry and just wait for July and August!
I wonder what sort of democratic process he is speaking about and just as Haliki speaks about another planet so does Mr. Obama!
Dar Addustour notes approximately 2,000 protested in Mosul, carrying banners and chanting with demands including the departure of Nouri al-Maliki.  Aswat al-Iraq notes that there were "hundreds" participating and that the demands also including that "the Iraqi government stop paying compensations to the Kuwaiti government.  The compensations were imposed on Iraq after Gulf War I in 1991 by the UN Security Council."
That was a new development in the protests.  Long standing demands have been for an end to corruption, the creation of jobs, the release of detainees and an end to the occupation.  Let's stay with that last aspect, the occupation.  Yesterday at Fort Leonard Wood, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke on the topic of a possible US withdrawal from Iraq and stated, "I think that most of us in our government believe that there is value in a residual U.S. force remaining in Iraq. [. . .] They still have a lot of work to do with logistics and things like intelligence. They basically have no air defense capability." It really is amazing how little US media attention the possibility of the US military remaining in Iraq past 2011 has received. The US print outlets (and AP) with reporters in Iraq have covered it. But so few others have. And, outside of CNN, there's been very little serious broadcast coverage of this issue (no, I'm not forgetting NPR -- NPR can't even keep a reporter in Iraq these days). In the Iraqi press, there's actually interest in the issue and some might argue "of course" noting it's the country in question; however, that same self-interest motive should prompt coverage in the US but hasn't.
Today Al Mada notes MP Sabah al-Saadi stating that it is highly likely that the agreement between the US and Iraq will be extended to keep approximately 20,000 US forces on the ground in Iraq past 2011. al-Saadi notes that 20,000 is the number being tossed around by the US in discussions with Iraqi officials. Another Al Mada article (also published today) on the issue notes that Robert Gates is pitching US troops as a way to "protect" the Iraqi government from popular protests. Gates appears to be on a mission to demonstrate just how hollow Barack's words were in yesterday's speech. In another article published today, Al Mada notes that Hezbollah Brigades have issued a statement that if the US stays in Iraq, armed violence will take place and the foreign occupiers will be expelled. Dar Addustour reported yesterday that Moqtada al-Sadr is now insisting that troops from "Arab and other foreign countries" be used to help stabilize Iraq in 2012. The other, right? Just sticks out there, doesn't it? Sounds like he means Iran, doesn't it? Wonder why that is? But he does realize the security situation talking point needs to be combatted so he runs with "our neighbors will help our defense."  Fadel-Al Nashmi (Niqash) observes:
On one hand, locals have heard many Iraqi politicians say they don't want to see giant Hummers (American military vehicles) racing around their countryside anymore. On the other, they hear rumours, some of which come from inside the country's political elite, that there is a genuine need to keep US troops in Iraq for the sake of security, in a fledgling democracy not yet familiar with stability.
Yet failure to declare an opinion on this issue remains the most common attitude in Iraq's political circles presently. During his most recent press conference, a journalist asked al-Maliki where he stood on the matter. Without any trace of irony, the prime minster replied: "There are governments and many other protagonists who want to know where I stand on this. Why would I tell you?"
Nonetheless Azza Shabandar, an MP for the State of Law coalition, the second largest coalition in the Iraqi parliament which is headed by al-Maliki, told NIQASH that, "I can say with certainty that 80 to 90 percent of the political parties have a genuine desire to extend the presence of US troops in Iraq."
Al Rafidayn reports that a spokesperson for the Iraqiya (Ayad Allawi heads this political slate) stated yesterday that an agreement had been reached with State Of Law (Nouri heads this political slate) to move forward -- by submitting to Parliament -- drafts on the National Council for Strategic Policies and possibly move towards nominating a President of the National Council.  What is that?  March 7, 2010, Iraq held national elections.  Allawi's slate came in first place.  Slightly behind -- but behind nonetheless -- was Nouri's slate. Nouri refused to step aside or follow the Constitution.  (The Constitution dictated that Allawi would have first short at forming a government -- that would have made him prime minister-designate -- and if he failed to do so after 30 days, the Parliament would pick a new prime minister-designate.)  Nouri stubborness and crooked ways helped create the political stalemate that extended over nine months.  Leaders from the National Alliance, State Of Law, Iraqiya, the two main KRG political parties and others gathered in Erbil in an attempt to end the stalemate.  The deal they formed is known as the Erbil Agreement.  It was formalized, it was signed, it should have been a done deal. 
Immediately, it was announced the stalemate was over and, November 10th, efforts were made to move forward in Parliament.  Nouri was named prime minister-designate (he would be named much later by Jalal Talabani in an abuse of power intended to give Nouri more than 30 days to form a Cabinet), there were efforts to clear up the names of several Iraqiya politicians who'd been falsely accused (by Nouri's henchman) of being Ba'athists. But Ayad Allawi and some others in Iraqiya walked out of that November 10th Parliament session.  Why?  He wanted the National Council to be voted on so it could become official.  The Erbil Agreement made the National Council a board of review that had independence and true powers.  And the deal was that Allawi would head it.  Allawi sensed in the November 10th meeting that he was being played. 
He was being played.  And the National Council never did get created.  All this time later.  The rumors Al Rafidayn reported on could, if true, actually indicate some progress or progression in Iraq.  However, yesterday evening, Aswat al-Iraq reported that Maysoun al-Damalouji, Iraqiya's spokesperson, was stating that no agreement had been reached.  Aswat al-Iraq identifies Iraqiya's Shakir Kattab as the original source for the rumor and notes that the National Coalition denied any agreement had been reached. As Al Mada notes, this conflict has now raged for over a year and a half and, as it continues, there is a fear that this impass will become a norm in Iraqi politics.
That is one obstacle.  February 3rd, the US Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing and the Chair, Carl Levin, noted obstacles in his opening remarks.
Chair Carl Levin: Last December, after eight months of discussions, Iraq's political leaders agreed to form a national unity government. But the agreement was only partial.  Iraq still awaits the nominations by Prime Minister al-Maliki to the key cabinet positions of Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and Minister of National Security as well as the resolution of issues relating to the powers of the National Council on Higher Priorities, to be headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.  The pressure on the Iraqi government to fill in these large gaps must continue.
The National Council we've noted above.  Iraq still has no Minister of Defense, no Minister of Interior and no Minister of National Security.  It's three months since Senator Levin made those remarks.  It's over five months since Nouri became prime minister and over six since he became prime minister-designate.  (Per the Constitution, he should not have moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister unless he filled all the posts in his Cabinet.  Per the Constitution, if he couldn't do that in 30 days -- and he couldn't -- then Parliament was supposed to select a new prime minister-designate and give them a chance to put together a Cabinet.
As violence continues to rise, Nouri al-Maliki still can't get his act together.  Parliament will be taking a vacation shortly.  Still no rush to fill the posts.  These are the three security ministries.  They are vacant. (Nouri insists that he is filling all three posts -- and being Prime Minister -- while they are empty.  If so, it's past time that he was called out for the lousy job he's doing on security.)  Not only is violence on the rise but Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) points out that government officials are now being targeted and  "the latest wave of violence in the country, especially in past few weeks, has raised questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect the country as the United States plans to have all its troops out of Iraq by the end of this year."
Turning to some of today's reported violence .  . .
Reuters notes a police officer left injured in a Kirkuk attack, a Hawija roadside bombing which injured two people, a Baquba roadside bombing injured an imam and claimed the lives of 2 other people (one of which was the imam's son), 2 workers for "the Iraqi intelligence facility" were shot dead in Baghdad,  and Col Nameer Khazaal was shot dead in Baghdad. Aswat al-Iraq notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers leaving eight others injured, a Tikrit sticky bombing injured a police director (and his driver and the police director's legs were amputated." 
We're not done.  May 8th there was an attempted prison break.  From the May 9th snapshot:
Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on a prison break aatempt of a suspect, Huthaifa Batawi, in the October 31st assault on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church. The death toll is 11 prisoners and six police officers: "The prisoners Sunday overpowered guards and killed a senior counter-terrorism general and five others before they were detained or shot dead. It was unclear how many detainees participated in the mayhem that lasted several hours." Jack Healy (New York Times) explains, "The melee inside the Baghdad prison began around 10 p.m. on Saturday when the man believed to have masterminded the church attack, Huthaifa al-Batawi, seized a police lieutenant's pistol, shot him in the head and led other inmates on a rampage, the officials said. It was unclear exactly where Mr. Batawi was when he grabbed the gun, but the authorities said that he and the other inmates had not been handcuffed, making it easier for them to overpower their captors, break out of a holding area and overrun the jail." Philip Caufield (New York Daily News) adds, "After killing his captors, al-Batawi freed nearly a dozen members of his crew, who snatched a cache of weapons -- including guns and grenades -- and attempted to overrun the prison, officials said." al-Batawi is among the dead.
Today a prison break.  Alsumaria TV reports, "An Iraqi informed security source revealed on Friday that five chiefs of the Mehdi Army managed to escape from Taji prison, north of Baghdad.  Three detainees were reported missing while transferring them to Karkh central prison, the Justice Ministry said. A special force from Prime Minister's office headed on Thursday night to Taji Prison, nothern Baghdad, to transfer detainees to one of the capital's prisons, the source told Alsumarianews.  Five chiefs of the Mehdi Army including senior leader Saad Sowar managed to escape during the transfer, the source said."  New Sabah states that 182 detainees were being transferred when the escape took place.
Yesterday US President Barack Obama gave another pretty speech. Iraqis were not impressed.   Salar Jaff and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on the reaction at a Baghdad cafe and quote college student Ahmed Qoraishi stating, "Don't tell me the 'Arab Spring' is due to his efforts. On the contrary, I can tell that, deep inside, the Americans prefer a dictator here or there if they take care of the American national interests."  Al Sabaah notes that some observers in Iraq feel Barack has contradicted himself and remember the campaign promises of 2008 and his Cario speech in 2009 -- how both years found him insisting that the internal affairs of Arab countries were their affairs and the US didn't need to interfere.  Al Sabbah also points out that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq has still not taken place.  The Great Iraqi Revolution observes, "In his speech to the Arab World, asks Arab Leaders to respect their people and carry out reforms; he also mentioned all the Arab Revolts but did not mention the Iraqi Revolution whatsoever" and "Of course he would not mention us -- we are under their occupation and we are being ruled by his quizzlings but he is going to be surprised pretty soon!!!!!!"  In the US, Trina observed, "Barack's decided he is the world's savior and set forward a list of conditions and pre-conditions that all nations will follow or else. [. . .] This was an awful speech and it was also a major one. It's the Barack Doctrine. The speech today is the equivalent of the 1999 Chicago speech Tony Blair made that became known as the Blair Doctrine. "
From the US War Maker to a US peace maker, activsts and artist and inspiration Joan Wile is the founder of Grandmothers Against the War and has written the book
The day was downcast, but the wonderful high school seniors from Brooklyn Collaborative School standing in the rain on Fifth Avenue were not. You could say they were upcast. They were living proof that daring and principled teachers could raise their students' consciousness about the material and political costs of our current wars and integrate them into the anti-war movement.
It was the morning of May 18. About 8 or 9 kids, all Latino and African American, had joined the Grandmothers Against the War weekly vigil at Rockefeller Plaza. Their Social Economics teacher, Stephen Simons, thought it would make a good field trip to supplement their class discussions regarding the question: was the Iraq war a just one?
Seniors from the Brooklyn Collaborative Studies school at (photo by Rex Bounds)
the Grandmothers Against the War vigil May 18, 2011
It would have done your hearts good to join with them, just as it did our hearts. Every single one of the youngsters is going on to college -- one with a full scholarship to Bard College and one with a full scholarship to Franklin and Marshall College. I suspect this impressive feat is due in part to the influence of their teacher.
Carol Husten, a former teacher and member of the Granny Peace Brigade, began the event by drawing the kids out about their thoughts relative to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became quickly apparent that the students were very well versed in the causes and effects of the war. When Ms. Husten asked them, for instance, why they thought we invaded Iraq when there were actually no weapons of mass destruction, one young man promptly replied, "Oil." They were also very aware of the fallacies spouted by military recruiters to lure kids into their ranks.
Barbara Harris, Chair of the Granny Peace Brigade Counter Recruitment Committee, explained Opt-Out options so that recruiters wouldn't be able to harass them in their homes. She told them that though they would be assured of being trained for all sorts of non-fighting jobs, in actuality they would be trained for only one thing -- combat!
Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans for Peace, Bill Steyert, described the horrors and the immorality of the Vietnam war and urged the young people to stay out of the military.
At that point, the kids read to us a statement they prepared for our event, as follows:
"In May of 2003, former President Bush stated the Iraq War was part of 'Mission Accomplished.' Last year, 2010, President Obama shared that troops would come home by August 2011. Please, Mr. President, keep your word. No May 18th, 2012 with our troops in Iraq, no American troops engaged in warfare in our name. For the future of this country, re-do the American military budget. Switch for education and peace."
One of the students, Miguel Gomez, the person going to Franklin and Marshall, had this to say when asked what his conclusion was as to whether the Iraq war was a just one:
Iraq war is one of the most controversial wars that impacted society.
Thousands of innocent civilians died in Iraq, thousands of our own men died
and to this day they are still recovering dead bodies. I believe the

Iraq war is an unjust war because of the amounts of
lives that were taken in vain due to an unclear cause, and because we
destroyed a country that never hurt us. The
living conditions in Iraq are worse in comparison to
Saddam Hussein's control in the past. We are enemies to ourselves because we
are hurting another country, killing our own men, and hurting our economy.
Bring our Troops Home !!"
Senior Andrea Navarro, who will
be attending the College of Staten Island in the fall, answered the same
question this way:
"I believe the war in Iraq was an unjust one. We
went in for mysterious reasons and it has taken away funds needed at home for
education and health care."

We were extremely inspired by these marvelous youngsters.  We have long bemoaned the fact that there are no youths in today's anti-war movement --  we believe that without them policy cannot be changed, as it was in the Vietnam era.  But the Brooklyn kids gave us hope that they can reverse the inertia of their generation about the wars and lead the way for them to become committed peace activists.
We grannies will not be here forever, and we urgently need to believe others will follow us and continue our struggle for peace.  The Brooklyn high school students helped assure us we needn't worry.
Postscript:  We were delighted to learn after the vigil that one of the students told
his classmates as they left that he had thought about joining the military, but after hearing Barbara Harris describe the truth about the recruiters' phony promises he had changed his mind.
 ABC News Radio reports on the annual mental health survey for the Army which finds "actue stress and combined psychological problmes in 2010 is more than double what it was in 2005." That's surprising how? This issue's been raised before Congress in one hearing after another during the last five years. Lot of talk, lot of promises from the Defense Dept Secretary Robert Gates. No changes. Anna Mulrine (Christian Science Monitor) reports of the study:

Senior US military officials say they are hopeful that the research will provide insights into better caring for American soldiers currently facing "incredibly high" levels of combat.
The increased exposure to heavy fighting appears to be the No. 1 reason for the decrease in morale among soldiers, according to US military officials. "As a group, we were struck by the fact that levels of combat are extremely high," says Col. Paul Bliese, director of the division of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents in the survey, for example, reported having roadside bombs explode "near" them, and more than three-quarters of troops surveyed say that they had seen a fellow soldier in their unit killed.
Some 80 percent reported "shooting at [the] enemy," and nearly half, 48 percent, said they were "responsible for the death of [a] combatant."

So "senior US military officials say they are hopeful that the research will provide insights," are they? Again, five years of this nonsense. The definition of insanity may need to be changed to "expecting Congress to solve the nation's problems."

Zooming in on women veterans, Shari Roan (Los Angeles Times) reports from the American Psychiatric Association, "In the study, presented this week, researchers studied 922 National Guard members -- including 91 women -- under mandatory deployment to Iraq in 2008. The guard members were screened using mental-health measures before deployment and three months after deployment. The study found that women were much more likely than men to meet the criteria for PTSD after returning home -- 18.7% of women had PTSD compared with 8.7% of men. There were no significant differences between men and women in their level of combat exposure. The women were much less likely to feel well-prepared for combat before deployment and were more likely to report a lack of unit cohesion during deployment."
Gee.  Why might there be a problem with unit cohesion?

WENDY BARRANCO: My first experience with sexual harassment was with my recruiter...

NATHAN PELD: There was a young girl who I went to nuke school with who was working in our divisional office...

BARRANCO: Through that whole deployment I was harassed like every single day, I dreaded every day I went to work...

PELD: And she had a direct superior come in, and they had talked for a while, just genuine conversation, and then he dropped his pants and exposed himself to her...

BARRANCO: And I never reported it because it was just - I knew command wasn't going to do anything about it so there was no point...

PELD: When this reached the senior enlisted commander in my department he took it and tried to initiate a cover up...

BARRANCO: The last thing I would've imagined would've been joining an organization where by my own peers, by my own comrades I would've been harassed in that way.

PELD: Those members who try to play games of male dominance, you know, they receive all but a free pass.

That's from a text and audio report by Holly Kernan, Martina Castro and Rahsida Harmon for KALW News and the San Francisco Chronicle. One sexual assault victim explains in the report, "I felt really powerless and really helpless. You know, I was in this foreign country on a U.S. military base, an institution that wasn't really backing me up but that was in complete control of my life."  Though they can be sexually assaulted and though many women have served in non-officially in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, women are prevented from certain positions.  Irin Carmon (Jezebel) addresses that topic today and she also notes Anna Holmes' column on the topic for the Washington Post.  From that column:
The policy against women assigned to ground combat units has been in effect since the beginning of the U.S. military.  (Regulations forbidding women to serve as crew members of planes and ships engaged in combat weren't even lifted until the mid-'90s.)  But as circumstances change -- asymmetric wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: higher numbers, expanding opportunities and growing visibility of women in uniform -- it's becoming increasingly clear that the next blow against the military's bulletproof glass ceiling will be directed against the ban on women in Special Forces.