Thursday, August 04, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, August 4, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, War Truths get spoken (but why only by the right?), Barack's plan o extend the illegal war continues, and more.

Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), 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: So Mahdi, we know that the Chief of Staff of the so-called rebels was killed last week on Friday. We know that there was said to be a purge of pro-Gaddafi troops from within the rebel forces which doesn't sound plausible at all. And, of course, you had said to us earlier that this also involved the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group or the LIGF which had connections or contacts somehow with al Qaeda. What is going on and who killed Younis and what does it mean for the rebels at this point?

Mahdi Nazemroaya: Well Washington is directly tied to Younis' death. I can tell you that from the start, Kevin. the two members of the fighting group who were described here as al Qaeda essentially when we talk about al Qaeda in Lybia, we're generally speaking about the Libya Islamic Fighting Group but there are also other elements that are foreign or Libyan that we can also speak of being al Qaeda. So he was killed by two of these individuals who are well known by the United States. We know there was tension between him and Khalifa Haftar who came from Great Falls, Virginia -- from specifically Vienna in Great Falls, Virginia, he came here. And there was tension between them over who would run the military. And Washington wanted their man to run the military. So right now the United States wants Transitional Council negotiations to parallel or to be in coordination with Washington and NATO's negotiations with Tripoli. So they couldn't afford anybody who would get in the way of such negotiations at all.

Kevin Pina: And that is the voice of Mahdi Nazemroaya, our special correspondent, speaking to us directly from Tripoli in Libya. We're discussing the situation there. So Mahdi, I'm also wondering where is the bombing campaign? Has NATO continued bombing? Has the bombing stopped for the moment now that Ramadan has begun?

Mahdi Nazemroaya: No, no, it's the third day of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And the bombings in Tripoli and other parts of Libya have not stopped. In fact, I wanted to mention this the last time we spoke that there was one bomb that was very close to me in a vehicle during the afternoon. They bombed near Bab al Aziziyah, which they've bombed at least 30, 40 times. They continuously bomb the same sites over and over again. I've seen bombings with my own eyes to the east of the city, to the east and north of the city. They have not stopped the bombings. And you hear them almost consistently on some days. On the weekend, you hear them consistently. So Ramadan has had no impact on the bombings. But we know that negotiations are intensifying. The United States is trying to get its proxies in the Transitional Council to meet with it. It does not want independent negotiations between Tripoli and Benghazi. It wants them coordinated with the NATO and US negotiations with the government in Tripoli. So if there's anybody in Benghazi or the Transitional Council that stands in their way, you can see them ending up like Abdul Fatah Younis.

Kevin Pina: It's also been said that his family and his tribe to which he belonged to are none to happy, that they've been demanding an investigation by the Transitional Council that controls Benghazi and several other cities in the east. However, so far we understand that there has been no official explanation of who and how he was killed beyond what they've claimed which is pro-Gaddafi forces which, again, seems implausible.

Mahdi Nazemroaya: Well I have to tell you Kevin that Jalil so-called president of the Transitional Council in Benghazi, his statements were very contradictory. He said the body was not found and then he said the body was shot. Then they buried the body. There was a funeral. If the body was not found, how do you bury a body?

The Libyan War continues and largely continues in silence. In the Bush era, it would have been a defining issue at The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, ZNet, etc. Those days are long gone, aren't they? If you appreciate the coverage Kevin, Mahdi and Dennis Bernstein are providing, KPFA is in pledge mode. If you want to donate and can afford to, the number is 1-800-439-5732. You can also safely contribute online.
Onto Iraq. Yesterday on Free Speech Radio News, Andrew Stelzer discussed with Phyllis Bennis the announced negotiations on extending the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011 Excerpt.

Andrew Stelzer: First of all, I'm sure many of our listeners are skeptical on the whole premise of this debate. Is there really a possibility that we're going to see a full US withdrawal from Iraq before 2012 begins?

Phyllis Bennis: I don't think so. I think that there are a number of scenarios where include a complete withdrawal. The SOFA as orignally signed requires all US troops and all Pentagon paid contractors to be out of Iraq by the end of this year. But there's another part of the SOFA that's problematic as well and that is that by specifiying that Pentagon paid contractors must be removed it leaves the door open for State Dept paid contractors. And one of the things that I think we're already seeing on a small scale and it may end up being rather small scale but it may be quite big as well is that a number of Pentagon paid contractors will have their contracts be immediately signed on to State Dept contracts. They will do exactly the same work, the same level of non-accountability and probably even the same huge amounts of money but because they will be paid, their check will be cut by the State Dept rather than the Pentagon, they won't officially be required to leave by the end of the year so that's a serious problem as well.

Andrew Stelzer: And so what are the different political factions on the sides of this debate in Iraq?

Phyllis Bennis: It's hard to know. There's no one in Iraq that believes that there's a popular view. In fact, there's new reports today about a so far not released poll that the US took in Iraq, indicating that there's a widespread hope that the US is out entirely according to the conditions of the SOFA**. The real issue is where do people, individuals within the government, powerful people from a number of different parties, where do they stand? The only party that I think from the broad, mass base of it right up to the top leadership that is thoroughly opposed to it, to the US remaining, is probably the Sadrists, the supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militias have played a key role in the fighting but who also play a major role in the Iraqi Parliament. There are various individuals who believe that their particular brand of power certainly including President Maliki [C.I. note Nouri al-Maliki is prime minister], that their own position of power and influence is dependant on US protection, the US remaining in place. But they can't necessarily go and say that publicly because there is such widespread opposition. So how this plays out is going to be very interesting.

**No, Phyllis, that is not the conditions of the SOFA. That was the lie. There's a difference between truth and lie. Phyllis may choose to paper over reality so that some lying assholes can sneak off with their dignity intact, I won't. Iraqis have died because of these lies. Shame on the liars.

The SOFA replaced the UN mandate. The UN mandate legalized the occupation (there was no mandate for the invasion) and provided legal cover for US troops. Without it, as Joe Biden repeatedly noted in the Senate, and without any replacing agreement, US troops would be in danger of legal prosecution. That was the reason for the mandate, that was the US government's concern. Nouri al-Maliki becomes prime minister in the spring of 2006. The UN mandate expires at the end of that year. He renews it without consulting Parliament. Parliament is enraged. 'This can't happen,' they insist, stating that the Constitution gives them a say. Okay, if the Constitution gives you a say (I agree it did), then you don't go pass new legislation. But that's what they did. And Nouri swore it would never happen again.

Let's look at the wording, "Decides to extend until 31 December 2007 the arrangements established in paragraph 20 of resolution 1483 (2003) for the depositing into the Development Fund for Iraq of proceeds from export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas and the arrangements referred to in paragraph 12 of resolution 1483 (2003) and paragraph 24 of resolution 1546 (2004) for the monitoring of the Development Fund for Iraq by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board;[. . .]" That's the UN mandate. The fact that it only extended to December 31, 2007 meant that all foreign forces (including US) had to leave at the end of 2007 . . . unless the contract was replaced with another one (be it a mandate or a new contract).

Now following the extension at the end of 2006 (Nouri's letter requesting the extension was dated November 11, 2006), 2007 played out something like the "Slipped my mind" skits from Kids in the Hall, 2007 was drawing to a close and the UN mandate was expiring. What did Nouri do? Renewed it without consulting Parliament. And then pretended to be sorry about that. The US knew their puppet couldn't take the heat on this every year. So the SOFA would be a three year agreement, not a one year. Phyllis may want to stretch the truth to give assholes cover, I don't. The SOFA is no different than the UN mandate. In 2006, when the UN mandate was set to expire, no one was going around saying, "That means the US leaves!!!!" Everyone knew it was very likely the mandate would be renewed. People should have grasped that reality about the SOFA. But you had a lot of liars and a lot of people who don't know the first thing about contract law. That we have arrived at this point is not shocking or unexpected. And you can check the archives from November 2008 and see we've been sounding the alarm on this repeatedly while others whored and lied and while Iraqis died. Playing dumb or excusing the lies does not bring back one Iraqi life. And, in fact, it cheapens their deaths if you rush to distort reality (LIE) so that some US gas bags don't have to take accountability for the lies that they repeatedly told, lies that had consequences, lies that resulted in deaths.

Equally true, the myth of "trainers" needs to be called out. It's not hard. Watch Jason Ditz and Scott Horton talk about it truthfully on Antiwar Radio:

Scott Horton: There are so many wars. We don't have enough time to talk about all of them. But could we fit in Iraq and the future of the American occupation?

Jason Ditz: We can certainly try. The latest with Iraq, it seems to be that the Maliki government is looking to just ignore Parliament entirely, to take a page out of the US book and circumvent the Iraqi Congress and try to prove an extension of some sort without such a vote.

Scott Horton: And so what's the reaction in the Parliament to that?

Jason Ditz: Well there hasn't really been a public reaction yet but I would only assume it's going to be a negative one because, of course, the 2008 vote to extend US troops through this year was incredibly difficult in Iraq's Parliament and it only came with the promise of this grand national referendum on the US occupation which never came. And it seems like the vote's only going to have gotten more difficult since then.

Scott Horton: Well you know, I guess I don't really know and people say otherwise, but I kind of get the idea that Maliki doesn't want the occupation to continue. Now maybe his army guys like having American help and that kind of thing, some of his general and all of that. But I kind of getting the feeling that he's playing the same game that he did in 2008 which is, 'Gee, I'm trying to get them to go along with it but they just don't seem to want to' when his heart really isn't in it. Am I wrong? What do you think?

Jason Ditz: It's really hard to say but it seems like a few months ago he was saying "Absolutely not, there's no need for troop extensions." And now he's saying, 'Well it depend what Parliament's saying and, oh, by the way, military personnel that are classified as trainers don't count and we don't reall need to ask Parliament about that.' So it seems like he's buckling under the pressure and is giving a lot ground to the US demand to be asked to stay.

Scott Horton: Well is there a difference between numbers at all? Obviously, they're going to call combat troops whatever they want to. But trainer seems to imply a very limited number, much less than they wanted. They wanted to leave 10,000 [or] 20,000 troops, right?

Jason Ditz: Right and it's not really clear how many trainers we're talking here. But certainly they could use any excuse to claim that these guys are trainers

Scott Horton: Sure.

Why can Scott Horton and Jason Ditz do that but others can't? What could it be? Maybe the answer's in the next excerpt?

Martha Montelongo: I've heard you refer to Cindy Sheehan and how she was -- she was legitimately, authentically opposed to the war and the left loved rallying around her when she was opposing George Bush or President Bush but as soon as Obama comes into office, nobody pays any attention to her. They just completely ignore her. So it makes you wonder how much of a movement is there and where are all the leftists who were so engaged in the anti-war movement during President Bush's tenure?

Angela Keaton: To be fair and to be really precise, we're talking about moderate liberals, we're talking about the mainstream, not the hard left. The hard left, of course, is still against the war and, you know, they've-they've stayed the course. But moderate liberals, particularly those organizing around the Democratic Party abandoned Sheehan immediately of course because they can no longer turn it against -- They -- Partisanship, in this country the partisanship is so strong and people are so attached and they're very identified with their party as well as, in this case, people are terribly identified with Barack Obama. There's a Cult of Presonality. that I couldn't really imagine about a US president, I find them rather odd and creatures on their best days. But this weird cult that coalesced around him, clearly -- one -- there's a couple of things. Obama is a very, very shrewd politician. He knows very well. His PR people did a wonderful job convincing someone that he was anti-war. In fact, all four times [in the Senate] Barack Obama could've voted against the war, he voted for the war spending, all four times. And he only made one anti-war speech. And that was a speech on Iraq in 2007*. Barack Obama was never an anti-war president, never intended to be, and was very, very explicit when he said he would fight the good war in Afghanistan. His words. And go deeper into Pakistan. I guess talking about the secret -- or not so secret war -- in Pakistan. And he has of course now killed more people with drones in Pakistan than George Bush has -- which is something I'm sure he should be proud of. And these are the people that moderate liberals have chosen to identify with. I mean, you notice that MoveOn and Daily Kos and others are absent from the anti-war movement. There were some very good numbers that happened right around the time that Barack Obama looked like he was going to be the [Democratic Party presidential] nominee and you started seeing all the money, resources draining toward the Obama campaign and CODEPINK chapters went from 200 down to about 90. And CODEPINK itself has very much stayed the course as well but people -- it wasn't the priority anymore and the excitement was around Barack Obama and somehow the gay rights movement has convinced themselves of this too. That like Barack Obama was a gay rights president and that's never been the case. The same thing with the anti-war movement, they convince themselves. It's all wishful thinking, it's a bit of projection on this shiny new model-like-actor type who is now in office. I say that because he's like very good looking and people really respond to that. They responded to that more than they'd respond to the fact that for years they've known about things like depleted uranium, for example, and all the deaths of children in Iraq. This is the direction they chose, as my colleague Scott Horton says, "Tall and handsome over justice." So the more that I think about it, now that I've just said it, damn the moderate left for what they've done because really this time more than ever we needed an antiwar movement and one that was serious and consistent and one that couldn't be picked apart by nationalists and conservatives. The nationalists and the conservatives were right. It wasn't an anti-war movement, it was an anti-Bush movement.

That's's Angela Keaton speaking with Martha Montelongo on Gadfly Radio (here for Angela's segment, here for full episode). And those who don't feel the need to lie, disguise or pretty up the truth don't feel that a War Hawk gets a pass for waging wars. As Sherwood Ross (OpEdNews) observed recently about this war insanity, "That's because presidents and Pentagon chiefs start new wars even before they finish fighting the old ones! Who can recall a time in our history when the U.S. initiated aggressive wars against five nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen)?"

Angela was discussing Come Home America which attempts to be an organization that can represent people opposed to war from all ends of the political spectrum. We've noted it before when, for example, John Halle has promoted it. In 2006, we would have noted it much more than we have in the last two years. Why is that?

There are trust issues. Not with Angela Keaton, not with Adam Kokesh, not with Karen or any of the others on the right. They have been consistent. They bring the same vocal outrage today that they brought when Bush ran the wars. The same cannot be said of people on my side -- including people who signed Come Home America's letter.

Jeff Cohen recently wrote a critique of Barack that was as blistering as any of the valentines he once penned to Barack. So I'm not talking about Jeff. But people need to take some accountability and not just because it's good for the soul. The Cult of St. Barack passed an advertising machine off as a movement. One of the advertising tools they used was testimonials. "I thought I was happy with Pepsi until one day I tried new Barack Obama . . ." That same tool, testimonails, can be used to awaken others. If you were taken in, you can share that you were and how reality peeled the scales away from your eyes.

As Kat observed in an Iraq roundtable Feb. 13, 2009:

I dont think anyone's going to disagree with which side is more committed at this point. And it's pathetic because, as we've noted before, if Hillary had been elected, the same left that plays the quiet game currently would be demanding action. A lot of it is people being scared to criticize Barack, a lot of it is them believing the hype, a lot of it is the desire to worship a man. But it's pathetic and it's pathetic that they believed his lies about Iraq and it's pathetic that they played Sophie's Choice with Iraq and Afghanistan -- that knowing that while he was saying he'd pull 'combat' troops from Iraq, he was saying he'd send more to Afghanistan, these same so-called lefties endorsed him and lied for him and covered for him.

Yeah, a lot of people played Sophie's Choice and judged Afghans to be less important than Iraqis. That needs accountability. And if you can come forward and own what you did, you can encourage others with your actions to also consider how they went from "END THE WAR NOW!" to "Whatever Barack wants!" and how they get their souls back?

Ed O'Keefe and Alice Fordham (Washington Post) report, "Iraqi and U.S. officials cautioned Wednesday that Iraq's precarious political and security situation could yet derail efforts to resolve the issue before the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq leave as scheduled by Dec. 31." And as the Post has noted before, the administration doesn't think it's at all unlikely that this issue could still be unresolved on December 31st. That's not at all unlikely when you consider that the March 7, 2010 elections were supposed to result in office holders but instead were followed by Political Stalemate I for nine long months.

The end of Political Stalemate I in November of 2010 was supposed to result, by the end of 2010, in a full Cabinet; however, Iraq is now in Political Stalemate II and no one has been appointed Minister of Defense, no one has been appointed Minister of National Security, no one has been appointed Minister of Interior. Eight months after these posts were supposed to have been filled, they remain empty. So who knows how long the issue of an extension or not could drag out? Micah Zenko (Council on Foreign Relations) feels there are three things that need to be remembered as the clock ticks down:

First, an agreement by the Iraqi government to begin negotiating a role for U.S. military forces in the coming years is just that, the start of talks. Discussions could be further delayed or bogged down over highly-sensitive issues, such as an assurance of legal immunity from prosecution for U.S. soldiers and the eventual ratification of any future SOFA by the Iraqi Parliament. As Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari noted yesterday evening, "There aren't any foregone conclusions."

Second, while U.S. military officials have hinted that Iraq could serve as a launching pad for special operations raids against Iranian-backed Shia militias, Iraq's leaders envision that if U.S. troops remain they will be permitted to engage only in training and advising missions. An important question to be resolved is whether U.S. troops will partner with their Iraqi counterparts for joint missions, like the Iraqi-U.S. night raid in Al Rufait last weekend, which reportedly failed to capture the targeted Al Qaeda in Iraq suspect but accidentally killed three men and wounded five, among them two young girls.

Third, it is apparent that any U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 will not be tasked with trying to limit the flow of Iranian-supplied rockets or improvised explosive devices. This mission is best suited for the Ministry of Interior's police and border forces. Furthermore, trying to stop cross-border smuggling was never a mission that the U.S. military welcomed or accomplished. As Lt. Gen. Mike Oates (ret.), the former commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq stated last week: "There have been no reported incidents in which American forces have actually interdicted Iranian munitions while in transit. That should tell you something about just how hard this is to stop."

Leave something to the Ministry or Interior? Which still has no head? CFR sure is optimistic.

Dar Addustour notes names being considered for Ministry of the Defense. Might the post finall be filled? It's possible. However, it needs to be remembered that this 'move' comes following the agreement reached Tuesda at the meet-up at Jalal Talabani's home. The meet-up of political blocs is not all that different from the meet-up in November in Erbil. That resulted in the Erbil Agreement which outlines a variety of things including the creation of national security council which would be headed by Ayad Allawi. These and other agreements allowed Nouri to remain prime minister even though his political slate came in second in the elections. Once he was named prime-minister designate, the agreement fell apart. (And that's once he was 'unofifically' named it.) Nouri got what he wanted and then tossed aside the agreement.

How does that apply to the current situation?

Nouri al-Maliki well knows it is very likely that he cannot maintain his position without the US military presence. He wants the US military to remain in Iraq. Tuesday's meet-up outlined how that could happen (participants stress that immunity for US troops wasn't discussed, only how to keep them in Iraq) and Nouri offered to create that security council. In doing so and making other concessions, he got the support of Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya. Should he get what he wants (US troops remaining in Iraq) before the security council is created, would he still pursue the creation? Or is this a repeat of the Erbil Agreement where Nouri promises everthing, gets his side of the bargain and then walks out on the agreement?

Barack Obama's walking out on agreement with his supporters to end the Iraq War. Jessica Rettig (US News and World Report) observes, "The Obama administration seems to be singing two different tunes when it comes to Iraq. It applauds the end of combat efforts and the imminent full withdrawal, not to mention the baseline savings that will come from decreasing the number of troops there. But on the other hand, there seems to be some desire, and even some persuasive efforts on behalf of the Pentagon, for some U.S. soldiers to stay put." And this needs to be registering. It's not. People are avoiding writing about this issue, avoiding addressing this issue and avoiding addresing reality.

I really, really wish the Iraqi people had the option of refusing to address reality. When that reality comes in the form of a sticky bombing or a rocket attack, I wish the Iraqi people had the option of refusing to address reality. They don't have that option. They didn't have your luxury of feeling full of themselves because they voted for a War Hawk with darker skin than usual. They didn't have three more years to suffer.

But that is what's happened.

And the lucky ones just might be the Iraqis who passed away. Imagine it was your injured in a sticky bombing in Baghdad. Imagine you lose partial mobility as a result. And you're still in Iraq. And bombs still go off. And you have to drag yourself through the city with bombs going off regularly. Think it wouldn't be even more scary after you've lost the use of limbs? Who has it worse? The young Iraqi mother who dies in the violence or her child who's left behind? Maybe that child becomes one of the many orphans who have to beg on the streets of Baghdad?

From "End the War Now!" to "Hey Barack End It Whenever you Want, Baby!" is what so many of us on the left did. The people of Iraq did not have three years of their lives to give away while, from the safety of the US, you tried to sort out what your comfort level was in calling out a Democratic president who carried out illegal wars.

Reuters notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Baghdad, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left two people injured, and a Mosul car bombing claimed the life of 1 "6-year-old child" while leaving twelve people wounded.

If the peace movement, if those of us on the left had kept our word, the dead and wounded today might be living in a different Iraq right now. A six-year-old kid died today in the war Barack Obama promised to end when he wanted your votes. Now he's extending it. Iraqis cannot afford for Americans to look the other way.

There are many stories in Iraq especially with Nouri the new Little Saddam. We've noted his war on the independent Electoral Commission. Last Thursday, he took the battle to Parliament and lost. Nizar Latif (The National) offers an analysis:

A bitter row over Iraq's election watchdog has strained the ruling coalition government of the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, underlining an acrimonious struggle to control the country.
In the aftermath of a parliamentary vote last week over dissolving the Independent High Electoral Commission (Ihec), critics and supporters of Mr Al Maliki have rounded on each other with allegations of deceit, corruption and sectarianism.
The argument centres on a proposal by the State of Law alliance, the group headed by the prime minister, to pass a vote of no confidence in Ihec over fraud claims. If approved, the measure would have effectively sacked the United Nations supported watchdog - the body in charge of ensuring fair and transparent elections in the country.
In the run up to the vote, which took place last week, various blocs from across the political spectrum had indicated they would support the motion.