Thursday, July 28, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, July 28, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, talk of withdrawal or not withdrawal continues, Nouri's political bloc storms out of Parliament, Tirkit is slammed with bombings, a 9 to 5 moment in Iraq?, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War, 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: We turn our attention back to what is happening on the ground in Tripoli, Libya with our special correspondent Mahdi Nazemroaya.  Mahdi is also a research assistant with the Centre for Research on Globalization based in Montreal, Canada. Mahdi, welcome back to Flashpoints.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Thank you, Kevin.
Kevin Pina: So obviously there are a lot of developments.  We hear that the United Kingdom, no big surprise there, has finally recognized the rebels in Libya.  We also hear that they have expelled all of the Libyan diplomats that were representing the Libyan government from their country. Has the news hit the ground there yet?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: Yes, it's has caused a state of shock here.  I-I personally, I'm not shocked but there are a lot of people here who were shocked by it and bothered by the events in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.  Also at the same time as the recognition of the Transitional Council by the British government as the legitimate government of Libya and the expelling of the Libyan envoys there, the IMF has also expelled the Libyan envoy in Washington which is an illegal move. So these two things have happened. A lot of of emphasis here and a lot of focus has been on the British expelling the Libyan envoy there and the diplomatic staff there but not that much has been put on what happened with the International Money Fund in DC.  I think that is also very crucial and very important for listeners to understand.  This is tied to currency. It's tied to the economic agenda involving the NATO war against Libya.
Kevin Pina: Well I'm also wondering is is it possible that NATO will not back down over  Ramadan?  That maybe the rebels might get a couple of fatwas from a couple of mullahs to say that it's okay for them to fight a continuing jihad against the illegal government, as they'll probably term it, in Tripoli?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: That actually could be a possibility. That very well could happen.  Yes, I wouldn't rule that out. In fact, I talked to some people who are worried that something is going to happen, that there's going to be a big push possibly.  They are worried that there might be unexpected move involving the so-called Transitional Council and its armed forces as well as NATO against the government here and against the Libyan people so that is a strong possibility.  And Abdul Fatah Younis -- who is the former Interior Minister of the regime in Tripoli, who is now the Defense Minister of the -- and one of the military officials of the Benghazi government, the Transitional Council -- is also very close to Tripoli.  He's gone to the west, to the western mountains and he's been reported to be near the frontlines, so they think something might be in the works. And you are right about clerics, muftis, mullahs, sheiks, whatever you want to call them making fatwahs and saying go ahead and attack, this will not break any religious observances for the holy month of Ramadan.  This has happened in the past and, in fact, in Egypt it happened, there was Fatawahs, there's been Fatawahs in the last year that are politically motivated.  There are a lot of politically motivated clerics who are and subordinate to political authorities and this would not surprise me.
Kevin Pina: And you're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio and you're listening to Mahdi Nazemroaya, direct from Tripoli, Libya. Mahdi is Flashpoints' special correspondent there as well as a research assistant at the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, Canada.
As the day was starting in the US, Tikrit had already been slammed by bombings. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports there were two bombings -- a car bombing and then a suicide bomber and that 10 people died (besides bomber) and thirty were injured. Al Jazeera counts 12 dead as does Lara Jakes (AP). Jakes also counts this as "the fourth major attack" in Tikrit since the start of 2011.  Al Bawaba counts 15 dead and thirty-eight injured. By the evening Muhanad Mohammed, Ghazwan Hassan, Patrick Markey and Karolina Tagaris (Reuters) were also counting 15 and quote police officer Assam Dhiyab stating, "Just a few minutes after I entered I heard a huge explosion, we ran outside to see what was happening, I saw bodies and the wounded all over the place."  Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) reports, "Moments after the car bomb exploded, as a crowd gathered and ambulances and other emergency vehicles arrived, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform detonated another bomb, police said." AKI notes the bombings took place "outside a  bank where soldiers and police had gathered to collect their pay."  Hassan Obeidi (AFP) reports, "A witness said the state-owned bank is close to the city's wholsesale food market, which was crowded with people shopping for Ramadan that begins early next week."   AGI identifies it as the Rafidain Bank.  Tim Arango (New York Times) quotes farmer Majeed Mohammed who was injured in the explosions stating, "We didn't expect this to happen here, because most of the people were just ordinary citizens.  Even we didn't know that this is where the Army receives their salaries." Lara Jakes (AP) explains, "Television footage of the blast showed a huge white cloud over the two-story bank, followed by thick black smoke."   Yang Lina (Xinhua) adds, "The provincial authorities imposed curfew on the city until further notice, and police vehicles were seen moving across the city calling for people to stay at their homes for fear of further attacks, the source said."
The Tikrit suicide bomber isn't the only person in an Iraqi security forces uniform doing harm in Iraq.  Tim Arango (New York Times) reports Kirkuk police arrested a suspected kidnapping ring and that "some of those in the ring were soldiers in the Iraqi Army and had committed crimes while in uniform" but though they ring may (or may not) have been busted, an elderly man was kidnapped in Kirkuk today "by men wearing military uniforms." In addition, Aswat al-Iraq quotes the Kirkuk Joint Coordination Center stating that "armed men, dressed in military uniform have abducted a citizen, called Adnan Khalaf Bayat, born in 1976, from al-Hajjaj district in Kirkuk.  After a police force headed to the house of the abducted man, it found out that the abductors had fastened the hands of the man's family with steel bars, but the family members gave the descriptions of the abductors, that were sent for all inspection points to chase them."  Hasan Obeidi (AFP) also notes that "in Baghdad's orthern Waziriyah neighbourhood, seven people were injured by a car bomb that destroyed 11 liquor store."  Aswat al-Iraq reports last night an armed clash in Mosul resulted in the deaths of 2 Iraqi soldiers.
The Council on Foreign Relations' Fellow for Conflict Prevention Micah Zenko weighs in with a piece today entitled "It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Iraq: Why the United States Should Withdraw this December" (Foreign Affairs):
Yet Baghdad seems unable to make up its mind. Some political leaders privately lobby for U.S. troops to stay, but only in training and advising roles. Still, most Iraqis and many members the Iraqi parliament are weary of a continued American military presence, which is problematic since U.S. officials insist that an updated SOFA be approved by the parliament. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had requested that Baghdad's fractious political blocs decide by last Saturday whether to ask for an extension of U.S. troop presence into next year. They were unable to reach a consensus and have postponed additional negotiations on the topic "until further notice."
Still, according to anonymous U.S. officials, the White House is prepared to keep 10,000 ground troops in Iraq after the end of this year. It apparently has two reasons. The first is to prevent Iran from supplying improvised explosive devices and rockets to Shia militants in Iraq who have used such weapons to kill U.S. troops. According to U.S. officials, nine of the 15 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Iraq in June died from such attacks. The second is that somehow the mere presence of 10,000 U.S. troops will mitigate Iran's long-term influence in Iraq, which has been a proxy battlefield between Washington and Tehran for decades.
There are a few problems with this logic. For starters, it does not make sense for the United States to keep soldiers in Iraq to prevent Iranians from providing Iraqi Shias with weapons to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. As the Pentagon noted in its "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq" report last summer, "Iran will likely continue providing Shi'a proxy groups in Iraq with funding and lethal aid, calibrating support based on several factors, including Iran's assessment of U.S. Force posture during redeployment." In other words, Iran will continue its behavior as long as there are U.S. soldiers in Iraq to target, which suggests that the surest and fastest way to prevent further bloodshed is to withdraw the remaining U.S. soldiers on schedule.
Okay, for a new development (press wise), let's drop back to yesterday's snapshot for withdrawal talk:

Iraq's Foreign Minister is Hoshyar Zebari and he is in the news today with regards to withdrawal. Few appear able to figure out what he said today on the topic. Press TV puffs out its chest to insist that no US forces will be on the ground in Iraq after 2011 and that Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) emphasizes other details of today in Iraq and mentions Zebari only in passing. So what happened?
Press TV is wrong. AFP and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) get it right. AFP reports Zebari raised the issue of withdrawal and the yquote him stating, "Is there a need for trainers and experts? The answer is 'yes.' I think it is possible to reach a consensus on this. The Iraqi government alone cannot reach a decision on this issue. It needs political and national consensus; it's an issue all political leaders should back." Sinan Salaheddin explains, "Zebari and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appear to be preparing the public for some type of American military presence in Iraq past 2011, but have been trying to paint it as a training force as opposed to combat units."

A few e-mailed that the video at Press TV wasn't working. (The story had a video if you clinked on the link. I didn't say "link has text and video" because the video wasn't working.) New development: It is working now and the video report contradicts the written report. It also contradicts itself. In the video, we're told that extending the presence of the US military it's not just getting the approval of Parliament and three presidencies (they mean the president and two vice presidents) "and if it happens the extension would not be longer than two or three years." So it's not just that. Hmm. Well what does it involve? The reporter informs later in the segment, "The government cannot take such decision by its own the extension needs the approval of the Parliament, the prime minister and the president and this is not easy." Oh. Okay. So the only thing they added to the equation was . . . the Prime Minister.

Yes, that is rather ridiculous. They also fall for the claim that extending the SOFA or creating a new agreement is like setting a date for the elections and needs the same body to approve it. Nouri became prime minister in 2006. At the close of that year and at the close of 2007, he demonstrated he could extend the US military presence without the approval of anyone. (Parliament objected both times but did not punish him and by refusing to do so they've allowed this to be a power of the prime minister.) Today Lara Jakes (AP) reports Nouri posted a message to his website stating that it was up to Parliament and that he had spoken of the issue with US Vice President Joe Biden yesterday. AFP quoted a statement from Nouri's office yesterday on the phone call, "The prime minister assured Mr. Biden that in the end it is up to the parliament to decide whether the country needs American forces to stay or not after the end of this year." Alsumaria TV notes the statement from Nouri also said "he expects the leaders of Iraqi political blocs to reach an agreement in this regard during their upcoming meeting. On the other hand US vice President stressed that the USA support Iraq government in facing different challenges in the inside and the outside and stressed on the necessity of ongoing strategic relations between the two countries."

Ali Abdel Azim (Al Mada) reports on a meeting yesterday between State of Law (Nouri's political slate) and Iraqiya (Ayad Allawi's) in which both sides are stating efforts were made in anticipation of Saturday's big meet-up at Jalal Talabni's. Iraqiya's excited that the defense ministries were discussed. Dar Addustour notes that the rumor is Abdul Karim al-Samarrai, currently Minister of Science and Technology, will be nominated to be Minister of Defense.  However, meet-ups don't always take place.  Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweets:

 jane arraf 
Whether the meeting takes place this weekend or not, one thing is being extended.  The United Nations Security Council notes:
The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year as it welcomed recent security improvements in the country but stressed the need for further progress on the humanitarian, human rights and political fronts.
In a resolution adopted unanimously, Council members agreed to continue the work of UNAMI for a period of 12 months, in line with the latest report of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the work of the mission.
The resolution noted that Iraq's security situation had improved "through concerted political and security efforts" and added that further advances will be made through meaningful political dialogue.
All communities in the country should be involved in the political process, refrain from statements or actions that aggravate tensions and reach "a comprehensive solution on the distribution of resources," according to the resolution.
Council members urged the Government to continue to promote human rights, including by supporting the country's Independent High Commission for Human Rights and by developing strategies to ensure that women can play a much greater decision-making role in society.
As noted earlier, State of Law is said to have played nice with Iraqiya in a meeting yesterday. They had every reason to.  They needed support on a measure.  Today they were set to take to Parliament in an attempt to do away with the Electoral Commission. However, Dar Addustour reported that Iraqiya decided yesterday not to vote to sack the chair of the EC or its members. What does the Electoral Commission matter? It's regularly cited as a body that can be trusted. It's independent. Nouri attempted to seize control of it a few months back but there was push back (including from the committee). In March 2010, Nouri declared himself the winner of the March 7th elections via his own polling (which he released to reporters -- some like NPR presented it as fact and did not credit where they were getting their numbers) before the votes were even counted. When the votes were counted, his State of Law came in second to Iraqiya. Even with relatives on the Commission and even with his veiled threats and explicit whining, the Electoral Commission refused to change the results enough to call State of Law a winner. Had they not been present and independent, there would have been no block on Nouri at all or even the pretense of fair elections. Before what happened today, a refresher -- Iraqiya got the most votes in the March 7th elections.  Shortly after Political Stalemate I ended, a small group of Iraqiya members broke with the larger group.  This smaller group is known as White Iraqiya.  With that in mind, Aswat al-Iraq reports State of Law made their move in Parliament today as planned and they did not have much support.  As their proposal went down in defeat what did Nouri's group do?  Did you guess tantrum time?  You are correct.  They stomped their feet and stormed out.  An unnamed MP tells Aswat al-Iraq, "The State of Law Coalition and the White al-Iraqiya Alliance have withdrawn trust from the Elections Commission" and when others did not support them, the two groups withdrew from the session.
As Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) tells Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) in 9 to 5, "Well, I'll be damned.  Just look who got paid off for services rendered." Yesterday Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported 50 members of tubby tyrant Moqtada al-Sadr's encounter group won prison release despite being convicted and behind bars "for crimes including murder, kidnapping and attacks on U.S. troops."  The convicted were pardoned "by President Jalal Talabani at the request of the Prime Minister Nouri Maliki" -- no doubt to allow the convicted to self-empower themselves in the cut-throat 'new' Iraq. Mini-blowhard Moqtada insisted and spat that US forces would not remain in Iraq beyond 2011 or he was going to get his Mehdi militia back together.  Then he infamously did a complete turn around on the issue stating he would not reform his militia.  Why?  Again, "Just look who got paid off for services rendered."  
The Vice President today called Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to offer condolences on the loss of President Barzani's mother, Hamayil Khan, who passed away Wednesday. The Vice President told President Barzani that he wished he could have paid his respects in person and that his thoughts and prayers are with the Barzani family at this time.
Aswat al-Iraq reports that Jalal Talabani attended the funeral today and spoke warmly of Hamayil Khan and her "important role in the Kurdish people's struggle."

Yesterday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee examined the costs of war.  Kat covered it at her site last night with "Soldiers aren't gods,"  Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "Senator Johnny Isakson (Wally)" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "Scott Brown in the Committee spotlight ."  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Senator Patty Murray whose office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Senator Murray Chairs Hearing to Examine the Human and Financial Costs of War

Hearing shines a light on the often overlooked long-term costs that must be paid to support veterans and their families and how we must protect and plan for this lifetime of care in the current budget climate



· WATCH the hearing

· The full text of witness testimonies can be viewed here.

· Senator Murray's opening statement MP3 audio file can be found here.

· Crystal Nicely's opening testimony MP3 audio file can be found here.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing to examine the real human and financial costs of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how as a nation we need to plan to keep our promise to these veterans for the rest of their lives.


"As we all know, when our nation goes to war, it's not just the costs of fighting that war that must be accounted for.  We must also

includ the cost of caring for our veterans and families long

after the fighting is over," said Senator Murray.  "No matter what 

 fiscal crisis we face, no matter how dividied

we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, and

no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets

-- we must remember that we can't balance our budget at the

expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have

earned. Their sacrifices have been too great. They have done every-

thing that has been asked of them.  They have been separated

from their families through repeat deployments. They have

sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this

selflessly and with honor to our country. And the commitment

we have to them is non-negotiable."


At the hearing, Senator Murray heard from Crystal Nicely, the wife of Marine Corporal Todd Nicely, a quadruple amputee veteran of the War in Afghanistan. Nicely described the lifetime of support her and her husband will require and about the red tape she has already faced in her daily struggle to provide Todd with the care he needs. She also discussed their continued frustration over the lack of consistent care and attention her husband has received.

The Senator also heard testimony from Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Rieckhoff outlined the high unemployment rate for new veterans and highlighted the wide range of specific skill sets they hold that translate to civilian trades. Reickhoff also called on the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work together in order to ensure returning servicemembers are able to easily transition into the American workforce.

Finally, the hearing featured the views of budget experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the RAND Corporation on the long-term costs associated with providing mental and physical health care, supporting caregivers, maintaining prosthetics, and providing benefits.

The full text of Senator Murray's opening statement follows:

"Welcome to today's hearing, where we will examine the lifetime costs of supporting our newest generation of veterans. As we all know, when our nation goes to war, it's not just the costs of

fighting that war that must be accounted for.  We must also

includ the cost of caring for our veterans and families long

after the fighting is over.

"And that is particularly true today, at a time when we have more

than half-a-million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the VA health

care system -- an over 100% increase since 2008.


"This presents a big challenge - and one that we have no choice

but to step up to meet if we are going to avoid many of the same

mistakes we saw with the Vietnam generation. But it's more

than just the sheer number of new veterans that will be coming

home that poses a challenge to the VA.

"It's also the extent of their wounds -- both visible and invisible 

-- and the resources it will take to provide our veterans with

quality care.

"Through the wonders of modern medicine, service members

who would have been lost in previous conflicts are coming

home to live productive and fulfilling lives. But they will need

a lifetime of care from the VA.

"Today, we will hear from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, the RAND Corporation and

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in an effort to help

us quantify and understand those costs, and to ensure that we

can meet the future needs of our veterans.

"But today's hearing is also important to better understanding

the social and economic costs borne by veterans and their

families. And today we are so fortunate to be joined by one

of those brave family members -- Crystal Nicely -- who is not

only a wife but also a caregiver to her husband, Marine Corporal

Todd Nicely.

"Todd was seriously injured by an I.E.D. in the southern

Helmand Province of Afghanistan and since that time has

come home to fight every day, focus on his recovery, and I

even heard yesterday that he has already started to drive


"I want to take a moment to say thank you so much for your

service to our country. You have shown bravery not only as

a Marine in Afghanistan, but also through the courage you have displayed during your road to recovery. I invited Crystal here

today because I think it is incredibly important that we hear

her perspective.

"The costs we have incurred for the wars in Iraq and

Afghanistan -- and will continue to incur for a very long time --

extend far beyond dollars and cents. And when I first met

Crystal last month while touring Bethesda Naval Base her story

illustrated that. Crystal is here today to talk about the human


"And that cost is not limited exclusively to the servicemembers

and veterans who have fought and fighting these wars, but it

also is felt by the families of these heroes who work tirelessly

to support their loved ones through deployments and re-

habilitation -- day in and day out.  Many, like Crystal, have given

up their own jobs to become full time caregivers and advocates

for their loved ones.

"Last month, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations

Subcommittee on Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of

Staff, Admiral Mullen told me that 'without the family members

we would be nowhere in these wars.'  I couldn't agree more --

and after we hear Crystal's story that will be even more clear.

"As the members of this Committee know, over the course of the

last few hearings we've examined how the veterans of today's

conflicts are faced with unique challenges that VA and DoD are

often falling short of meeting.

"We have explored mental health care gaps that need to be filled,

cutting edge prosthetics that must be maintained, a wave of new

and more complex benefit claims that are taking too long to

complete, the need to fulfill the promise of the post 9/11 GI Bill,

and the need to support veterans who are winding up out-of-work

and on the streets.

"All of these unmet challenges come with costs. Some costs

we will be able to calculate.  Some will not be fully known for

decades. But today's hearings will be a reminder that in order

to meet these costs we must safeguard the direct investments

we make in veterans care and benefits, get the most value out

of every dollar we spend, and start planning today -- at a time

when critical long-term budget decisions are being made.

"As we all know, there is no question that we need to make smart decisions to tighten our belts and reduce our nation's debt and


"But no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how dividied

we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, and

no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets

-- we must remember that we can't balance our budget at the

expense of the health care and benefits our veterans have


"Their sacrifices have been too great. They have done every-

thing that has been asked of them.  They have been separated

from their families through repeat deployments. They have

sacrificed life and limb in combat. And they have done all of this

selflessly and with honor to our country. And the commitment

we have to them is non-negotiable.

"Not just today, but far into the future.

"Thank you all for being here today, I will now turn to Senator

Brown for his opening statement."