Monday, August 29, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 29, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Tony Blair knew Iraq was not a threat to England before he started the illegal war, Blair and Bush agreed six months before the start of the war not to try for a second UN resolution, Nouri tries to distort the UN, the UN corrects the record, and more.
The lies of war, the war of lies.  Bit by bit, the lies of the Iraq War are slowly exposed. As we noted in our conclusions on the Iraq Inquiry, it was obvious that Bully Boy Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair had agreed not to seek a second United Nations resolution (the first covered weapons inspectors, it did not allow for war, which is why then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it an "illegal" war).  Today Chris Ames and Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) report that in October 2002, Bush and Blair decided they need not seek a second resolution to declare war on Iraq.  This comes via an October 17, 2002 letter Tony Blair's secretary Matthew Rycroft wrote to then-Foreign Minister Jack Straw's secretary Mark Sedwill.  Ryscroft cautions, "This letter is sensitive." And he underlines that.  He goes on, "It must be seen only by those with a real need to know its contents, and must not be copied further." Ames and Norton-Taylor note:
The Downing Street letter is particularly significant against the background of the government's repeated emphasis in public at the time on the need to get UN approval before any invasion of Iraq.  The "first resolution" referred to in Rycroft's letter was number 1441, passed unanimously in November 2002. Goldsmith and most of the government's legal advisers insisted a second UN resolution was needed before military action could lawfully take place.
While not quoting from the letter, they summarize: "That was the only way they could persuade the Bush administration to . . ."  Provide the letter.  Provide the quote.  It's not a minor issue.  Everyone should be reflecting on February 2nd of this year when Jack Straw appeared before the Inquiry (again) and Committee member Roderic Lyne asked very specific questions and made very specific points.  Including that it would appear Straw (and the Cabinet) already favored regime change. For those who've forgotten, not only did Lyne pursue what Straw spoke of with then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell, what papers were forwarded on (and if regime change was not favored, why a paper on it was forwarded), Lyne told Straw, "I am very curious you didn't react to the second paper by saying regime change cannot be an objective of the UK foreign policy.  Warn the Prime Minister."  Lyne summarized (in the form of a question) Blair's approach, "Get on side of President Bush but presumably not get ahead of President Bush on this issue or encourage President Bush to push it ahead at high speed?" 
Possibly Chris Ames will post the letter at his Iraq Inquiry Digest. But ignoring their single sentence summary of the letter regarding Bush, what the letter does is back up to point Lyne was making: The Cabinet wanted regime change and had signed on for it.  Blair was not pulled into this by Bush, he was an active participant.
Related, Sunday the former head of England's spy agency (MI5) Eliza Manningham-Buller is in the news cycle. BBC News reports she told BBC Radio Times that it was known in 2003 that Iraq was not threat, that a war with Iraq would likely increase domestic threats and that an Iraq war would be "a distraction" from the then-pursuit of al Qaeda. The Daily Mirror observes, "Britain's former spy boss has given her strongest condemnation yet of Tony Blair's ­decision to go to war in Iraq, saying he was told it posed no threat to the UK." Paddy McGuffin (Morning Star) adds:

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: "It may well be that, in advance of Chilcot, which is due to publish its findings in the autumn, various people are distancing themselves from the decision to go to war.
"I'm glad she has said what she has as it is a vindication of the anti-war campaign but the decision to go to war was a failure not just of Blair but the whole Establishment including the security services and Parliament itself.
"There was no serious attempt by any of them to stop Blair. The only attempt came from the streets."

Tim Ross (Telegraph of London) observes, "Her comments, in an interview to mark the start of her three Reith Lectures, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this week, represent the most outspoken criticisms to date of the 2003 conflict by such a senior figure in the intelligence services."  You can read about her remarks in the British press (not the Guardian) and in La Nueva Espana, in Santiago's El Mercurio and in El Norte De Castilla.  Lots of luck finding it in US outlets.  They sold us the lies of war, the war of lies, they had plenty of time to front page all of that.  And now they can't make time for what the head of British intelligence was actually telling Tony Blair in the lead up to the Iraq War?  Amy Goodman didn't have time for it either.  Telling.
Jason Ditz:  It's a good story for the media to cover about, you know, instead of covering all the failures in Afghanistan and the fact that the Iraq War isn't going to end as scheduled again, they can focus on the great success of Libya.
Scott Horton: (laughing) Yeah. I'm so sorry. I'm just stuck on Iraq 2003, where Baghdad had fallen, it had been a week since Saddam Hussein had been in power and all the War Mongers are going, "See, everything went great. All your antiwar excuses and reasons didn't come true and whatever." When they hadn't even given it a chance at all.  And as you just said, we're still in Iraq right now. Ain't going no where either. Giant war, a million people died somewhere between here and there. And this is how all these Democrats sound now, talking about what a great victory they have.  Let's see what a victory it is when there's an insurgency against the new democracy and whatever else we're headed towards in a year, two years, three years from now

Over the weekend, Al Rafidayn reported that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has refused to meet with Nouri al-Maliki and other politicians. For the last 8 weeks, al-Sistani has refused them. Why? His clerics say that he feels the people's needs are not being addressed and that the government has failed to deliver basic services and to reduce corruption. In related news, Alsumaria TV notes, "Head of Al Sadr Front Sayyed Moqtada Al Sadr called for mass demonstrations in all Iraqi provinces and cities after Eid Al Fitr marking the end of the six month deadline granted to the Iraqi government in order to improve services, a source told Alsumaria. Speaking on behalf of Al Sadr, Sadr Front Sheikh Abdul Hadi Al Mahmadawi reminded the Iraqi government of Arab leaders' fate who were toppled due to people's demonstrations in Tunis, Egypt and Libya." Annie Gowan (Washington Post) adds that Moqtada delivered his call in a letter (the article doesn't note it but the letter repeats the same charges Sistani made) and reminds, "Elsewhere, activists in Baghdad are using Facebook and other social media to plan a Sept. 9 rally in the capital, also to protest the lack of services and poor security. Dozens of people were killed in February during protests [. . .] and Maliki's government has been criticized for rough treatment of many who took to the streets during those days."
Staying with politics, more than anything the Bush administration wanted an Iraqi oil law.  Lucky for the greedy, Barack Obama wants that too.  Aswat al-Iraq reports that Nouri's Cabinet has forwarded an oil and gas draft law onto Parliament.  This has happened before.  It has yet to move beyond the referral to Parliament.  Platts notes that Ali al-Dabbagh, Nouri's spokesperson, states this draft supersedes all others.  Like it matters, the country's in a stalemate.
Political Stalemate I is the period of paralysis that followed the March 10, 2010 elections when a stalemate prevented the naming of a prime minister, the holding of Parliamentary sessions and more. For a little over nine months the first stalemate went on. What ended it was the Erbil Agreement in early November 2010, when the political blocs met and hammered out an understanding, a series of concessions, including that Nouri would remain prime minister while a national security council would be created and headed by Ayad Allawi. Nouri, once named primed minister, quickly went back on the agreement. December 25th, he was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister. That should not have happened. He had failed to name a full Cabinet. Per the Constitution, someone else should have been named prime minister-designate. December 25th begins Political Stalemate II. This is the period where Iraq has no heads to the security ministries -- Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of National Security. More recently, Nouri has 'named' 'acting' ministers to two of the ministries. Minsiters are only minister if they are confirmed by Parliament. If they are confirmed, only Parliament can fire them. "Acting" ministers serve at Nouri's discretion and have no real power.

Al Mada reports that the National Alliance is supposedly going to get the post of Minister of Interior (a real position, not 'acting') while it appears Iraqiya's Raad al-Tikriti will become the Minister of Defense. This could change, rumors have abounded throughout the eight month and counting period that is Political Stalemate II.
As Iraq's security ministeries have been leaderless, violence has increased in Iraq.  Reuters notes a Baghdad shooting today which left 3 police officers dead, a Falluja car bombing which injured sixteen people (seven were Iraqi soldiers), a Mosul car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left nine people injured, 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul, a Baghdad roadside bombing left five people injured and, dropping back to last night, a Baghdad car bombing targeted a mosque and claimed 1 life while leaving eight people injured.

In addition, Sunday's major violence was a second Baghdad mosque bombing.  Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) reported a suicide bomber took his own life while targeting "Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque" and killing 28 people. Sheik Abdul Ghafour Samaraie is quoted stating, "What hurts me is that the criminal came in as a beggar, he was putting the explosives under bandages. We were thinking that this poor man deserves our help, as he is sick." Michael S. Schmidt and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) added, "Security guards quickly became suspicious of the man, though, and threw him out, but he managed to re-enter and detonate his belt among a group of people, the imam said." Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported, "Police said the suicide bomber [. . .] tried to be as close as possible to the head of the Sunni endowment, Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, who was injured in the attack." Hammoudi also notes that lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi was killed in the attack. Lara Jakes (AP) addressed the death toll, "Two security officials and medics at two Baghdad hospitals put the casualty toll at 29 dead and 38 wounded. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information." Annie Gowen and Assad Majeed (Washington Post) quoted teacher Omar Saad stating, "Everybody was in shock, pushing and trying to leave. I saw a child with a [wounded] arm crying over the body of his dead father."  Ahmed Rushdi (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video) observes that Nouri al-Maliki Cabinet continues to lack ministers to head the security ministries ('acting' ministers, not confirmed by Parliament, are not ministry heads), "So everything concerning security it's now under under the hand of al-Maliki. So al-Maliki is now responsible for what's happening according to Iraqiya." Iraqiya is the political slate, headed by Ayad Allawi, which came in first in the March 10, 2010 Parliamentary elections. Xinhua (link is text and audio) notes that the victims included children. Zaid Sabah and Danielle Ivory (Bloomberg News) add, "The building is the largest Sunni mosque in Baghdad." Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that funerals have already begun including one for a five-year-old and his father.
Turning to the topic of Camp Ashraf, the United Nations issued the following today:
29 August 2011 -- The United Nations today stressed that residents of a camp in Iraq housing Iranian exiles must be protected from deportation or expulsion, and pledged to continue helping the country's Government to find a peaceful solution that conforms with international law.
Situated in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, Camp Ashraf houses members of a group known as the People's Mojahedeen of Iran.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have sought the protection of the camp's residents, while exploring ways of assisting the Iraqi Government to find a resolution that is consistent with the country's sovereignty rights and international humanitarian and human rights law.
An Iraqi military operation in the camp in April left more than 30 people dead and dozens of others injured.
"The UN continues to advocate that Camp Ashraf residents be protected from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation, expulsion or repatriation contrary to the non-refoulement principle," UNAMI said in statement.
"UNAMI's mandate includes the promotion of human rights in Iraq and the mission's human rights office regularly assesses the situation in and around Camp Ashraf from a purely human rights and humanitarian perspective," it added.
That position has been consistently reiterated by UNAMI's leadership, including during yesterday's meeting between Ad Melkert, the outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki as part of the UN envoy's farewell calls on Government officials at the end of his assignment, the mission's statement said.
Why did the UN issue the statment?  Because Nouri al-Maliki struggles with the truth and was insisting he had just received UN approval to deport the residents of Camp Ashraf.  Lara Jakes (AP) reports Melkert "bluntly disputed" the version of events Nouri was insisting took place in their final meeting (the UN Secretary-General has a new special envoy to Iraq) .  Jakes notes, "The public disavowal was rare for the U.N. office in Baghdad, which goes to great lengths to avoid engaging in political disputed.
 Alice Fordham (Washington Post) reports, "Politicians, former national security officials and thousands of others gathered outside the State Department on Friday to call for the removal of the Mujahedin-e Khalk, an Iranian opposition group, from the list of foreign terrorist organizations." Michele Kelemen (NPR's All Things Considered -- link has audio and text) reports on the rally and notes that the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq belong to the group and their safety is at risk:

Michele Keleman: Some members of congress and former officials echo that argument. Among them, former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, who says the U.S. promised to protect the people of Camp Ashraf. In a recent interview on NPR, he shrugged off news that he and others have taken speaker fees from groups tied to the MEK.

Howard Dean: This is not a scary group of people and, in the past, who knows what they did? But the fact of the matter is they're not a terrorist group. That's been ascertained by the FBI. We disarmed them. We promised to defend them. They are unarmed and 47 of them over a two year period were mowed down by Maliki's people and I don't think the United States should be permitting those kinds of human rights abuses.

Michele Keleman: There is a moral obligation to help those in Camp Ashraf, says Robert Hunter of the National Defense University, but he says that's a separate issue from the terrorism designation.

Along with Howard Dean (former Vermont Governor and former head of the DNC), others, including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendall, spoke at the rally. Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) quotes former US House Rep Patrick Kennedy:

One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President [John F.] Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' Today, I'm honored to repeat my uncle's words, by saying [translated from Farsi] 'I am an Iranian,' 'I am an Ashrafi. [. . .] To my friends in the State Department behind us, who continue to hold fast to an old policy that is supported by Tehran, you are on the wrong side of history. To [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, your brutal and deadly assault on Camp Ashraf will land you in the International Criminal Court, where you will be held accountable.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the residents of Camp Ashraf agreed to disarm and the US government offered them protected status. That protection continued throughout the Bush administration. As part of the planned drawdown (drawdown, not withdrawal), the Bush administration extracted a promise from Nouri al-Maliki that the residents of Camp Ashraf would be protected. In January 2009, the new administration (Barack) was sworn in and by July 28th of that year an assault on Camp Ashraf by Nouri's 'troops' began. During Saddam's time, Iranian exiles were allowed safe harbor in Iraq. The exiles were leftists who were opposed to the religious fundamentalist leaders following the toppling of the Shah (the exiles did not favor the Shah). They utilized violence and are known as the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran or the MEK. They remained in Iraq in the 80s, the 90s and this decade. The European Union and England are among the organizations and countries that listed the MEK as a terrorist group -- past tense. The MEK has renounced violence and was removed from the terrorist listing. The US still has the MEK listed as a terrorist organization.

April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an attack on Camp Ashraf. Mark Tran, James Ball and Melanie Newman (Guardian) reported:

The raid was the latest in a series of interventions at the camp since jurisdiction was passed from the US to the Iraqi government in 2009. A WikiLeaks cable identified by the
Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University in London shows the US was aware the Iraqi government planned to crack down on the MEK, with potentially grave humanitarian consequences.
"If the government of Iraq acts harshly against the MEK and provokes a reaction," warned the US deputy chief of mission in Iraq, Patricia Butenis, in a cable in March 2009, "the USG faces a challenging dilemma: we either protect members of a foreign terrorist organisation against actions of the Iraqi security forces and risk violating the US-Iraq security agreement, or we decline to protect the MEK in the face of a humanitarian crisis, thus leading to international condemnation of both the US government and the government of Iraq."
Phil Shiner of the UK law firm Public Interest Lawyers, which represents some Ashraf residents, said: "I have not seen these cables. However, from what I can gather their content is quite astonishing and shows that the US -- and by implication the UK -- knew Iraqis were treating residents inhumanely, foresaw the possibility of serious injuries in clashes at the camp, and knew what was happening at the time of the deaths but did absolutely nothing."
International law requires other states to take positive action to protect innocent civilians in these circumstances, he added.

During what Senator John Kerry would late pronounce "a massacre," Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) reported that Iraqi forces are saying one thing and Camp Ashraf spokespeople another while "Journalists were prevented from entering the sprawling settlement, known as Camp Ashraf, which is home to about 3,000 people and has polished representatives in Paris and lawyers and congressional allies in Washington." And Tim Arango (New York Times) reported that Nouri's forces refused to allow "the delivery of American humanitarian aid" to Camp Ashraf according to the US military and that "some reporters" were permitted to visit the camp today; however, they were prevented from speaking to the residents. CNN added, "Camp dwellers staged angry protests, hoisting banners and inviting journalists to talk to them. 'Please journalists -- come visit us and check on our people,' one sign read."
Yesterday co-chairs of the Committee on Wartime Contracting Chris Shays and Michael Thibault published a column in yesterday's Washington Post noting:

At least one in every six dollars of U.S. spending for contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, or more than $30 billion, has been wasted. And at least that much could again turn into waste if the host governments are unable or unwilling to sustain U.S.-funded projects after our involvement ends.
Those sobering but conservative numbers are a key finding of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will submit its report to Congress on Wednesday. All eight commissioners agree that major changes in law and policy are needed to avoid confusion and waste in the next contingency, whether it involves armed struggle overseas or response to disasters at home.

The co-chairs make recommendations as well. Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) notes, "One recommendation calls for setting up a permanent inspector general's office for wartime contracting staffed by a team of investigative personnel ready to deploy 'to monitor preparedness' to enter into contracts."
$30 billion wasted, at a time when the country is supposedly concerned with the deficit. $30 billion wasted, at a time when people aren't sure where to make cuts? On more war spending waste, Tom Vanden Brook (USA Today) reports, "The Pentagon has spent more than $720million since 2001 on fees for shipping containers that it fails to return on time, according to data and contracts obtained by USA TODAY. The containers -- large metal boxes stowed on ships and moved from port on trucks -- are familiar sights on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where troops use them for storage, shelter and building material. Yet each 20-foot container returned late can rack up more than $2,200 in late fees. Shipping companies charge the government daily 'container detention fees' after the grace period ends for the box to be returned."   David Alexander (Reuters) reports the Pentagon is on the defensive over the findings by the Commission on Wartime Contracting and over another report: "The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news group, said in a separate report on Monday that noncompetitive contracting at the Defense Department had nearly tripled since 2001, to more than $140 billion from $50 billion."  Felicia Sonmez (Washington Post) adds that the Post column has prompted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to declared "that the country needs to strengthen its oversight of defense spending to preven federal dollars from going to waste." Mike Lillis (The Hill) notes Hoyer said the findings "should be a wake-up call for lawmakers pushing back against any Defense Department cuts."