Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 20, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Ad Melkert 'brief's the UN Security Council on Iraq, Ad Melkert 'mistates' (lies) repeatedly, Jalal Talabani orders a vice president to sign off on the execution orders (his hands are clean!), Senator Patty Murray leads the fight for Vietnam veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, and more.
Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war.  Flashpoints Radio airs live on KPFA from 5:00 to 6:00 pm PST, Monday through Friday. Excerpt.
Kevin Pina: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, rachets up its bombing campaign in Tripoli, Libya even as negotiations with Gaddafi's government begin in Turkey.  On another military front, Libyan government forces repel a coordinated air and land attack by NATO and rebel forces on the oil rich port city of Brega. Our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya explains that this is part of a last ditch military campaign aimed at drawing new borders in what is expected to become a partioned Libya.  We now turn our attention back to the ground, direct from Tripoli, Libya, with our special correspondent
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Pina: So obviously there has been a lot going on.  There's been negotiations between the so-called rebels and Gaddafi's government.  There's talk of Gaddafi stepping down as a result.  There seems to be a lot of optimism on the ground there in Tripoli.  But there's also been a lot of bombings over the weekend.  So bring us up to date.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Alright.  Well there was really, really bad bombing over the weekend.  It was -- It was -- I'm estimating between 60 to 75 bombs.  I could see them from my hotel.  My hotel was shaking.  And what was very specific and different about the bombings that happened over the weekend was that they were different in the noise that they made and they were different in the color of the clouds and they were different overall.  The smoking coming was different.  The colors were different. And there was one specific bomb that rose above all the buildings in the skyline which was -- it looked like a mushroom cloud. And this is verified by myself, who saw it, and by a lot of other people. We don't know what this was.  People imagine it was probably a bunker buster. It was in two residential areas. It was spread out.  But it was concentrated in two  residential areas near the Mediterranean Coast in Tripoli.  Tajura and Seraj are their names.  It started around one -- one o'clock approximately.  And it lasted about two hours in Tajura, which is on the Mediterranean Coast from the northern beach.  And what was also different about this bombing is people say that there were naval vessels, it was an attack coming from the sea -- aside from planes attacking.  And I also saw artillery from the Libyan side.  They actually was anti-air craft fire. You could see it from my location.  And the bombings were very bad.  There was a lot of shaking.  All the dogs were barking.  Cats were making noises.  And the birds were flying.  Even, it looked like morning at that point.
Kevin Pina: What do we know about casualties?  Were there any civilian casulties or military casualties inflicted?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: There was an attack on a military base.  The Libyans themselves have said there was an attack on a military facility.  But it also effected civilian areas.  The deaths?  It's still not clear.  They do know that there's a lot of people injured.  And there's even claims that they were -- not phosphorus bombs, but something very similar, a substance similar.  And the United States and NATO are using a similar substance in a manner to get away with -- in a manner of saying that they are not using phosphorus bombs.  So these accusations are coming.  And that night, this stench, this burning stench, smoke was everywhere and it was burning people's eyes.  Skin would stink and people would have to take showers and they had headaches and back pain.  There was physical ailments coming just from the smoke that was blowing. In the morning there was this big white cloud that was very different from the other nights, that covered the city, the part of the city that was bombed.  A hospital was heavily effected -- a hospital that's called Al Qalb, which means Heart Hospital, the Heart Hospital, which was a children's hospital and a hospital for heart surgery.  This was effected and all the patients had to be evacuated because of the bombing.  I spoke to one man from one of the residential neighborhoods in the area of approixmately 250 families that live in flats and it's a very clustered area and they were effected.  And all the families had to run onto the south end of the beach.  They ran for their lives in panic, some drove.  It was a nightmare.  It was actually a nightmare.  And from my point, far away, my place was shaking.  They bombed very heavily and it was going on for two hours plus.
Kevin Pina:  Well it seems as if these bombings then, this acceleration of the bombing campaign by NATO seems to have preceeded what were deemed negotiations between the west and Gaddafi's government.  What do we know about those?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Okay.  I want to point out that when they bomb like this, it's tied to these negotiations because they believe it puts them in a positon of strength.  This is something standard the United States and its NATO partners have been doing.  Whenever it comes to the point of negotiations, they will bomb very heavily because their belief is that they are in a position of strength, after such a bombing they will push the other side into negotiating.  Actually it seems like they are negotiating from a position of weakness.
That's an excerpt.  Also on Libya, Kevin Pina spoke with Scott Taylor.  Elaine's going to write about that tonight so be sure to check her site. Turning to Iraq . . .
Now it all begins
Or continues to
Spiral down
Spiral down
Look upon the self
Look upon the other
We need a better understanding
Or we'll spiral down
Spiral down
Continue to spiral down
I'm no where near my peace
As you spiral down
-- "Spiral Down" written by Michael Timmins, recorded by the Cowboy Junkies on their album at the end of paths taken
Now it all begins, indeed.  John Martin (Courier Press) has one of the most important reports of the week but watch most ignore it.  He's writing of the 76th Brigade of the Indiana National Guard and "a Notification of Sourcing" -- what Lt Col Mark Weaver says is "the first step on the road" to official mobilization. And what were they notified of?  From the article:
National Guard members from Evansville and throughout Indiana are preparing for possible deployment next year, four years since returning from Iraq.
[. . .]
Indiana National Guard officials were told that the next deployment, if it occurs, also would be in Iraq and would be part of Operation New Dawn. 
They're awaiting 2012 orders that, if they come in, would mean deployment to Iraq in 2012.  Which would be after -- pay attention -- the media and Barack have said US troops would be out of Iraq -- have said that repeatedly for the last three years.
From one 'mispoken' moment to another, Ad Melkert offered happy spin to the UN Security Council.  Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf observes:
The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq knows very little -- or at least that's what he'll claim should Spain put him on the witness stand.  But instead of dummying up in front of the UN Security Council yesterday (click here for video), he was full of 'answers' and 'insight.'
Envoy Ad Melkert:  This comes at an important time when the Council will be considering UNAMI's mandate renewal next week. "Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic?"  has been the question I have been asked most by many.  As we know events tend to shape intents -- at least as much as the other way around. In most of what I've witnessed in Iraq, there is ground for cautious optimism provided that determined leadership in the country and a stronger sense of cooperation in the region with Iraq prevails. In some important aspects, Iraq is at the heart of fundamental changes in the region.  The Iraqi sense of government incorporates a power-sharing Constitution guaranteeing participation of women and minorities and nuturing a culture of ongoing Constitutional debate.  Regular elections have taken place conducted in line with international standards.  While drawn out, government formation has indeed progressed. Meanwhile Parliament is taking an increasingly important role in decision making. And in departure from decades of authoritarian regime negotations between all parties has become the predominant feature of political life.
He was just getting started.  But instead of just looking bored like Susan Rice did, let's examine those claims.
* "Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic?"  has been the question I have been asked most by many. 
In a non-dualistic world, people would admit there were additional choices -- including the most important one: Are you being realistic?
Sadly, Ad Melkert was not.  But we do understand, he lies to get a UNAMI mandate renewal.  He should be a lot of fun on the witness stand.
* In most of what I've witnessed in Iraq, there is ground for cautious optimism provided that determined leadership in the country and a stronger sense of cooperation in the region with Iraq prevails.
Let's leave so-called 'leadership' within Iraq to the side and focus on "a stronger sense of cooperation in the region".  To describe the region as in turmoil would strike many as a plain statement.  Syria's only the most recent brush fire.  If you're positive evaluation depends on a future reality that doesn't exist at present, guess what, you're positive evaluation is worthless.  In fact, what you've actually offered, beneath the lies, is a negative evaluation which could turn positive should events on the ground in the region suddenly do a 180.
* The Iraqi sense of government incorporates a power-sharing Constitution guaranteeing participation of women and minorities and nuturing a culture of ongoing Constitutional debate. 
Really?  While the Christians at least appear stable within the Cabinet -- which, Ad Melkert 'forgets' is going through changes to strip it down -- the big rumor is that women are going to be the big losers in the Cabinet changes.  They're already under-represented as ministers.  But now they're going to lose the ministry itself.  That's the rumor.  We'll see shortly. 
What good is "a power-sharing Constitution" if it's never followed?  Nouri doesn't follow it.  The Parliament didn't follow it in terms of prime minister-designate.  For five years now, Nouri has refused to implement Article 140 of the Constituion.  You have to be a damn liar to get up in front of the Security Council (where you'll fit right in) and declare that the "power-sharing Constitution" is something to note when it's regularly ignored.
* Regular elections have taken place conducted in line with international standards. 
Nouri threw a fit.  He didn't like the results.  He demanded recounts.  He bullied and he intimidated.  Ad Melkert 'forgets' what Iraq had in 2010 and what Nouri's proposing to do away with.  Next week, Nouri's political slate (State of Law) is set to propose in Parliament that the independent Electoral Commission be stripped.  That's the commission that managed to allow the elections to take place with some sense of international standards.  If you're going to brag about those standards, you damn well better get honest about the attack on the body that enforced those standards.
While drawn out, government formation has indeed progressed.
He said that with a straight face.  The period following the March 7, 2010 elections include 9 months of Political Stalemate I.  November 10th, it appeared the stalemate was broken.  Nouri was made prime minister-designate shortly after and the Erbil Agreement was going to be honored and he'd come up with a full Cabinet within 30 days of being named prime minister-designate and . . .
Political Stalemate II arrived.  To this day, there is not a full Cabinet.  To this day, the positions of Minister of the Interior, Minister of National Security and Minister of Defense are not filled.  Nouri -- in what most see as a power-grab -- gave himself those positions (this was not voted on by Parliament).  And all these months later, he hasn't filled the ministries. 
* Meanwhile Parliament is taking an increasingly important role in decision making.
Reality: Nouri has insisted that Parliament can't write bills.  He has insisted that only his Cabinet can write bills and that Parliament should take the bills that he writes and vote in favor of them or against them. 
* And in departure from decades of authoritarian regime negotations between all parties has become the predominant feature of political life.
Since June, all the political blocs have met at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's house three times.  You could say this is "negotiations between all parties" becoming "the predominant feature of political life."  But it's also true that they're meeting due to Nouri's inability to keep his word and implement the Erbil Agreement -- the thing that ended Political Stalemate I; therefore, it can also be said that Nouri's returned "authoritarian regime" to Iraq.
Last week, the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center's Maria Fantappie (Los Angeles Times) offered an evaluation that was far less rosy than Ad Melkert:
As a stalemate between the State of Law and Iraqiya coalitions continues to paralyze Iraq's central government, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is looking to the governorates to tilt the political balance in his favor.
In the country's south, Maliki is attempting to defend his base from the growing popularity of the Sadrist Trend. Meanwhile, in Iraqiya's northern strongholds of Anbar, Ninewa, Salaheddine, and Diyala, the prime minister is mounting an ambitious campaign to consolidate his hold over Iraq. By attempting to break the link between provincial leaders and the Iraqiya coalition -- his main parliamentary rival -- Maliki is seeking to bind the governorates to Baghdad.
Already, public demonstrations and a deteriorating security situation in these governorates have challenged the credibility of local political leaders, who came to power following the 2009 provincial election. Governors, deputy governors and heads of provincial councils in all four northern governorates have been repeatedly confronted by protesters calling for service improvements. Recent attacks targeting provincial offices in Salaheddine and Diyala have called into question the competence of police and local security officials.
In Iraq today, Reuters notes a Saadiya roadside bombing claimed 3 lives, a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured, 1 suspect was killed in Baaj by the Iraqi military and a Mosul roadside bombing injured a young boy. 
Sardonic Iraq War tweet of the week from the New York Times' Tim Arango.
Tim Arango
tarangoNYT Tim Arango
Al Mada reports that Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, authorized Tareq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, to sign off on death sentences from the Iraqi judiciary and begin the process of waiting for the Ministry of Justice to issue a decree on the execution of five members of the previous regime in Iraq. Dar Addustour also reports Talabani authorized al-Hashemi to sign the death sentences.

If you're not getting why that's news -- you may actually read as opposed to skimming Newser and other superficial sites which repeatedly 'discover' Talabani's 'opposition' to the death penalty and applaud his 'brave' stance. His opposition isn't to the death penalty, it's to his signing off on it. So he orders others to sign the orders. And repeatedly -- check last November -- gets praised for his 'brave' stand by people who don't understand what the hell they're writing about. He's the President of Iraq. If he wanted to end the death penalty, he could refuse to sign off on the orders and he could insist that the vice presidents do as well. Instead, people have been put to death repeatedly throughout the two terms Jalal has been president. People were still executed but Jalal didn't have to get his hands dirty or fight for a supposed belief and so many ill informed and uninformed enabled him in that.

In other news, Al Sabaah reports that Parliament has formed a committee to investigate what some Iraqis are calling a US helicopter attack in Hilla on a plot of land planted with grain. The US did whatever it was doing -- still to be determined, hence the formation of the committee -- on Sunday and Monday and Monday evening is accused of opening fire on the agricultural area.
Honest, we'll cover Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) important report tomorrow and Kirkuk's desire for US troops to stay (and we'll note that article in more detail tomorrow but there's just not room today) and Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition) report. But right now, we're way over in length and I'm having to edit this in my head.  If sections flow less well than usual, that's why.  About a third of the dictated snapshot above has been removed.
Ending on veterans issues in the US, HR 2055 is the Military Construction and Veteran Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012. Senator Tom Coburn added an admendment to it which was seen as a slap in the face to Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange.  Agent Orange has a long Congressional history and veterans have had to fight to have their illnesses and disabilities as a result of the US military use of Agent Orange in Vietnam recognized. Sadly, last year a number of Democrats joined in the fight against Vietnam veterans.  One, Senator Jim Webb, knew he couldn't run for re-election after stabbing veterans in the back. Today, a vote was taken on the amendment and the good news is it went down in flames.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, helped defeat an amendment that would have created a nearly impossible standard that must be met before VA can establish a presumption of service connection based on exposure to Agent Orange. In a speech before the vote, Senator Murray described the amendment as another hurdle Vietnam veterans would have to overcome in their 40 year struggle for compensation.  The amendment, which Murray led the fight against on the floor of the U.S. Senate, ultimately failed to be included in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill when Murray successfully asked that the amendment be tabled and prevailed by a vote of 69-30.
"These veterans have been waiting, and getting sicker, and dying for 40 years or more. How much longer do we think they should wait? The time for waiting is over," said Senator Murray on the Senate Floor before the vote. "Vietnam veterans have paid enough for that war.  They should not end up paying for our debt. It is us who owe them a debt."
Read the full text of the speech below:
"Mr. President, I rise to oppose the amendment that has been offered by the Senator from Oklahoma that would undo decades of policy on how we treat veterans suffering from diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.

"And that violates the promise we have made to a generation of veterans.

"Mr. President, the legacy of Agent Orange exposure among Vietnam veterans is one of tragedy, roadblocks, neglect, pain, and then more roadblocks.

"It's the legacy of our military spraying millions of gallons of poisonous herbicide indiscriminately, without thought of consequences, and without any repercussions.

"At the time of the Vietnam War -- and for far too long after it -- the U.S. government neglected to track Agent Orange exposures.

"Then in the decades following the war -- our government stonewalled veterans who developed horrible ailments of all kinds from those exposures.

"And to further compound the problem, for decades our government also failed to fund any research on Agent Orange and other toxins that Vietnam veterans were exposed to.

"These mistakes, these decades of neglect, have a cost.

 "It's a cost to veterans and their loved ones, a cost to the government that sent them to war, and a cost to all of us as Americans.

"And it's a cost that, even in difficult budget times, even with our back against the wall, we can't walk away from.

"Now Mr. President, I'm not here to question any Senator's commitment to our veterans.

"But what I am here to question is the standard by which this amendment says they should be treated.

"This amendment says we should change the standard by which we have judged Agent Orange cases for two decades.

"Currently -- Vietnam veterans are presumed to be service-connected when the VA Secretary determines that a positive association exists between exposure to Agent Orange and a certain disease.

"One of the reasons that Congress chose this mechanism is because it was impossible for these veterans to prove that their exposure to Agent Orange caused their cancers or other diseases.  

"These veterans were exposed decades ago. 

"They do not know where they were exposed, or how much they inhaled. 

"However, under the Senator from Oklahoma's amendment, Vietnam veterans would be asked to prove the impossible.

"They'd be asked to prove that they would never have gotten cancer, or heart disease, or any other disease or condition, if not for Agent Orange.  

"Vietnam veterans who have diabetes, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and blood borne diseases would be denied care and benefits under this amendment.

"And not only would this be a new hurdle Vietnam veterans could never overcome -- It would change the rules midstream.

"It would treat Vietnam veterans whose diseases have already been presumptively service-connected different than those whose diseases have not yet been positively associated with Agent Orange exposure. 

"Now Mr. President, I won't deny that compensation for exposures is a difficult issue and one that we continually have to look at.

"We've grappled with this issue in relation to Vietnam veterans and exposure to Agent Orange. 

"And today we continue to deal with this issue as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans come home with illnesses potentially associated with their exposure to toxins released from burn pits and other environmental exposures. 

"But ultimately, you have to look at the facts with reason and compassion, and weigh the years of our military's failure to track exposures, the inevitable existence of uncertainty, and the word of our veterans.

"And that is exactly what we have to do here.

"On the one hand, we have thousands of veterans who have come forward and believe their cancers and ailments were caused by an exposure to a known killer.

"You have studies that show veterans exposed to Agent Orange are more likely to have heart disease, cancer, and other conditions

"You have the Institute of Medicine that has recommended giving veterans the benefit of the doubt. 

"And you have the Secretary of Veterans Affairs who has decided that we must move forward to provide compensation to presumptively service-connected veterans exposed to Agent Orange for cancer and heart disease.  

"On the other hand -- you may have a compelling fiscal case. . . .

"But the Senator from Oklahoma hasn't presented one shred of evidence that Agent Orange does not cause heart disease, cancer, or any condition. 

"What has been presented is an amendment that asks veterans to wait until there is more scientific evidence. 

"Well, Mr. President, these veterans have been waiting for 40 years or more. 

"How much longer should they wait?

"The Secretary of Veterans Affairs decided that the time for waiting was over.

"I ask that we respect and support this decision.

"And that we also remember that -- even in the midst of this whirlwind debt and deficit debate -- we have made a promise to our veterans.

"One that doesn't go away.

"Mr. President, Vietnam veterans have paid enough for that war. 

"They should not end up paying for our debt.

"It is us who owe them a debt.

"Thank you."