Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, September 14, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri lashes out at Allawi, rumors fly that the US and Iraq have already signed an agreement, Kurdish lawmakers continue to demand the Erbil Agreement be honored, John Walsh reports on major and under-reported news, and more.
In her latest column,  Phyllis Bennis (Register Citizen) observes:

No U.S. troops were killed in Iraq last month. So why aren't we celebrating? Because the war isn't over yet and it costs way too much -- in Iraqi lives and our money.
With so much attention and so many billions of our tax dollars shifting from Iraq to the devastating and ever more expensive war in Afghanistan, it's too easy to forget that there are still almost 50,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq. We're still paying almost $50 billion just this year for the Iraq War. And while we don't hear about it very often, too many Iraqis are still being killed.
No, we don't hear about it very often.
And now that's supposed to be our fault and not the media's.
Today on All Things Considered (NPR), Jackie Northam reports on a supposed lack of interest on the part of Americans in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars using Pew's Andew Kohut and insisting that only 25% forllowing the Afghanistan War and approximately the same number following the Iraq War is due to lack of interest. 
I have absolutely no interest in any number of items -- for example, who Sarah Palin slept with or didn't sleep with in the 80s is of no conern to me -- but I can't escape this crap that passes for "news" at news sites and on news channels.
But I can very easily escape coverage of Iraq because it so seldom exists.  Look at NPR and tell me where's the Iraq coverage?
And don't point to running Associated Press stories at the NPR website.  That's embarrassing and shameful.  NPR shouldn't have to resort to AP to cover Iraq.  According to the 2011 fiscal year budget, Iraq should have been covered a lot more.  Want to explain where the budgeted money went cause it sure as hell didn't go to covering Iraq.  And the decision to repeatedly send Kelly McEvers to Syria for that non-story was a waste of money which damn well better be not be coming out of the Iraq budget.  Does it take a Congressional hearing (maybe it does) to find out how National "Public" Radio spends the funds from listeners and the funds from tax payers? 
If only 25% of the people in this country are following the wars that goes to the media, not to the people.  They do not control what, for example, NPR chooses to air and what it chooses to ignore.  The report is an embarrassment made all the more embarrassing by NPR's own refusal to cover Iraq. The NPR report attempts to ape a much better report that Michael Calderone filed for The Huffington Post on Friday.  His actual report noted the lack of coverage of the wars and how they'd fallen off the radar. It featured quotes from news people like Dan Rather stating, "It's really unconscionable to have the nation fighting two major wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, and have the dearth of coverage we now have."  Martha Raddatz (ABC News) explaining that she's been to Iraq 20 times during the war to report on it but not one of those visits took place in 2011.  She states, "That tells you something."  It certainly says a great deal about what the networks (broadcast, cable, radio) elect to cover.  From Calderone's article:
Jane Arraf, who covers Iraq for Al Jazeera English and the Christian Science Monitor and previously did so for CNN and NBC News, says the number of jouranlsits stationed in Baghdad is clearly dwindling.  Araf should know, considering that several journalists who've had their passports stamped in Iraq many times describe her as the longest-serving foreign correspondent in the country.  "It's a bit depressing," she said. "A lot of major networks don't keep correspondents there."
Please understand that it takes a lot of nerve for NPR to ignore Iraq to begin with but to then turn around and broadcast a report blaming Americnas for not following coverage -- coverage that's not provided -- takes even more nerve.
Iraq is yet again slammed with violence, not that NPR filed a report on it today.  They didn't have time and apparently the Iraq money in the FY 2011 was spent on something else. Annie Gowen (Washington Post) notes the biggest cause of deaths today has been a car bombing in Babel Province outside a restaurant. Among the dead are 3 children. Reuters notes the death toll is currently 15 with thirty-six injured. Habib al-Zubaidi (Reuters) quotes restraunt worker Tahsin Mahmoud stating, "I was in the kitchen when suddenly I heard a blast. I heard loud screams, and the sound of people running. I left the kitchen and went outside to see people covered in blood, lying on the ground. It took a long time for Iraqi security forces to reach the scene." Lara Jakes (AP) adds, "Associated Press video of the scene showed charred, crumpled cars outside the eatery that was pained orange and purple. Small groups of men stood ankle-deep in the wreckage."   Haroon Siddique (Guardian) notes another bombing, at a Habaniya army base, has resulted in the deaths of 15 Iraqi soldiers with twenty more left injured. Reuters reports 2 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the Habaniya bombing (ten injured), 4 people were shot dead outside Iskandariya, a Baghdad car bombing left three people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left one person injured and a man was injured in Kirkuk escaping from people who were trying to kidnap him.  Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) adds that 3 corpses were discovered in Babil Province today, Shi'ites whose "hands were tired and they had multiple gunshot wounds". In an update, Ghazi notes that  a Baghdad police checkpoint was attacked and 2 police officers were left dead while a third was injured.  Ghazi notes Monday's assault on Shi'ite pilgrims. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports of that Monday assault in which 22 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed:

The gunmen ordered the 15 women and children aboard the bus to get off, then drove away with the men, reports indicate.
The men's bodies, including that of the Syrian driver, were found 140 miles away, about 40 miles from the town of Nukhaib.
Each had been shot in the back of the head, said an Iraqi security officials who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the incident.

Dar Addustour notes the large reward being offered to find the culprits. And Nouri has sent the military in to find the killers. 22 deaths is very sad. But other non-Shia groups in Iraq can be forgiven for noting that attacks on their own communities never resulted in huge awards or Nouri's swift response. (And that topic popped up on Arab social media yesterday and continues to percolate.)
Dropping back to the September 8th snapshot:
Al Rafidayn reports on a doctor's funeral Monday in Kirkuk -- Dr. Yildirim Abbas Dmarja and his brother -- in a killing that is part of a wave of targeting doctors and other professionals in Iraq. This targeting also includes kidnappings. The Director General of Health in Kirkuk is leading a call for the government to provide protection for doctors. It is estimated that over a million and a half dollars (US equivalent) have been paid by families to kidnappers of doctors. Al Sabaah notes that Wednesday also saw a sit-in at a Kirkuk hospital as doctors and medical staff demanded protection from the ongoing violence. They also demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. 
Today Al Mada reports on an Iraqi surgeon who, with his family, has fled to Malaysia who will not be returning to Iraq due to the continued violence and won't allow his named used in the article out of fear for his family's safety.  Six years ago, he was dragged from his car in Baghdad, kidnapped and held for three weeks until a ransom fee was paid after which he was tossed on the side of a street.  The article notes the "brain drain" that took place in waves in Iraq and how doctors are among the refugees who are the least likely to return to Iraq once they flee the country due to safety concerns.
Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) reports that negotiations continue between the Iraq and US governments over US troops remaining in Iraq beyond 2011 and Fifield does what few does, notes Nouri was given the authority by the political blocs to conduct negotiations.  She also speaks with Iraq's Ambassador to the US, Samir Sumaida'ie who states that "there is a political process in Iraq and things take time. Our political circumstances are constraining and can only move at a certain pace."
Last month Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) interviewed the ambassador who declared, "The principle that there will be some military presence [in Iraq beyond 2011] to help train Iraqi military and police has been largely agreed upon. [. . .] You'll see it when you see it.  Americans want everything now or yesterday.  We don't do it like this.  We do it in our own sweet time." 
The big story in Iraqi newspapers today is on the US withdrawal or 'withdrawal.' Supposedly all US forces would leave Iraq at the end of December 2011. Al Rafidayn is one of the papers reporting that a meeting at the United Nations Mission in Baghdad a few days prior found the UN being informed by Iraqis and the US (James Jeffrey, US Ambassador to Iraq, is said to have represented the American side) that the US would pull soldiers due to leave Iraq because their tour of duty was up but that was it and it was a "formality" because, in fact, the US and Iraq had entered an agreement allowing US forces to remain in Iraq. This alleged agreement is a temporary one that would allow the US and Iraq more time to negotiate the details of a US presence beyond 2011. It would last six months. Dar Addustour also reports on this alleged temporary agreement that's been made.

Staying on the topic of what may happen,  Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton spoke with the Independent's Patrick Cockburn.  We're going to ingnore the bulk of the interview here to instead zoom in on why Scott Horton hopes that Nouri al-Maliki is jerking the US around.  al-Maliki may very well be.  But on at least two other broadcasts dealing with Iraq, he's voiced that hope and in his discussion with Cockburn, he finally explained what he was referring to (bases in 2008).  I disagree with his take and will note that after.  But it's a big point to him so we'll jump in there.
Scott Horton: Okay, so in early 2008, you were the one who broke the story that the negotiations on -- for the Status Of Forces Agreement after the expiration of the UN mandate at the end of 2008, the American side began, their negotiating position was, 'We want 56 permanent bases and then throughout the rest of the year -- that I guess was in the spring, early spring of 2008 -- throughout the rest of the year, Maliki, the way I understand it, the way I remember it, Patrick, was Maliki said was, 'Okay, okay, I'm going to try to get you as many bases as I can,' and he basically pretended to try the whole time but always reluctantly reporting back that, 'I'm sorry, I just can't get the rest of the government to go along with it so you're going to end up having no permanent bases at all.' And I was wondering if you think it's possible that that's what's going on here now with the invitation for a few thousand or ten thousand troops to stay -- 
Patrick Cockburn: Sure.
Scott Horton: -- in Iraq. He's pretending, but he doesn't really need us anymore, does he?
So that's why Scott Horton hopes (hopes, not believes, he's made that very clear in repeated broadcasts) Nouri is currently jerking the US around.
Now we're going to look at what he said and I'm pulling out "after the expiration of the UN madate at the end of 2008" because I don't know what that's supposed to mean.  Iraq had already notified the UN that they did not wish to renew the mandate.  That is why England quickly negotiated their own treaty with Iraq and why the US began work on a treaty (the SOFA).  As the SOFA presented a problem, Democrats in Congress did float, as late as August 2008, that Iraq might need to pursue another (one year) UN mandate.  I don't know what he's getting at, so I'm stripping that out of Scott Horton's statement.
So we're left with:
Okay, so in early 2008, you were the one who broke the story that the negotiations on -- for the Status Of Forces Agreement [. . .], the American side began, their negotiating position was, 'We want 56 permanent bases and then throughout the rest of the year -- that I guess was in the spring, early spring of 2008 -- throughout the rest of the year, Maliki, the way I understand it, the way I remember it, Patrick, was Maliki said was, 'Okay, okay, I'm going to try to get you as many bases as I can,' and he basically pretended to try the whole time but always reluctantly reporting back that, 'I'm sorry, I just can't get the rest of the government to go along with it so you're going to end up having no permanent bases at all.'
Patrick was reporting in June of 2008 -- June 5th and 6th.  Click here for the 6th article.  So Scott Horton is crediting Nouri with the smarts to be deceptive but he thinks the Bush administration was too pure for duplicity?  The US government does not go into negotiations with, "This is what we want.  We hope you agree."  They go in with a number of distractions.  The Bush administration kept Nouri focused on the bases (and Nouri may have realized this) to distract from what they wanted with regards to the US Embassy in Baghdad.  Long before Patrick Cockburn was reporting this, Democratic Congressional leaders had learned of a request on bases.  Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made clear that the opposition building against the SOFA (over the Bush administration's stated intent not to bring it before the Senate for approval) would explode if permanent bases were part of the deal.  (Pelosi was already feeling the sting of criticism for her comments in the 8th District that "nothing lasts forever" and was very sensitive to this issue in terms of it being a personal liability to her.) They were told that the US was not seriously pursuing bases. 
That was a bargaining tool that would be tossed by the wayside, its main purpose was to distract from the embassy -- whose size was becoming a very big issue in Iraq and in the US.  I've never understood why Scott Horton had so much faith in Nouri's ability to one up the US government.  He explained it and I do understand what he's basing it on -- and he may be right -- but that's not how I interpret the same events because I was repeatedly told in 2008, by various Congress members, about the objection leadership had lodged to permanent bases and what the reply was.  And because the reply was in keeping with the empire nature of the US.  Who has ever come out on top in a deal with the US?  (China may yet.) Not the Native Americans.  For a little while, it appeared Panama might have.  When we (briefly) returned their canal.
In my interpretation of events, I'm willing to allow that Nouri may have known the bases request was a MacGuffin but pretended to have bargaining power with other Iraqis -- as in, "They want these bases and we'll stand up to them on that.  So let's give them . . ."  But, no, Nouri did not deprive the US government of permanent military bases in Iraq.  That was not the goal from the US side. 
Scott Horton may be right that Nouri is jerking the US around but I will strongly disagree with the notion that the bases request in 2008 was anything but a pawn quickly sacrificed by US negotiators to get their long term  goals for the US embassy (the true military base in Iraq).  And I'll even note that in 2008, a State Dept friend insisted the sprawling embassy had to be that way because the US government did not want another hostage situation (similar to the Iranian crisis).  I didn't buy that as the excuse for the size of the embassy but I will note that justification was noted.
Scott Horton also has this hope for Moqtada al-Sadr sending the US packing.  At one point in the interview, Patrick Cockburn (sounding very weary -- I don't know if that's from being under the weather or what) says, "Yeah" when Scott states that Moqtada's had the same position since 2003.
And I think at least some listening will say, "Yes, and he's never done anything."  Dilip Hiro's done a strong job documenting Moqtada al-Sadr.  Pages 279 and 280 of Hiro's Secrets and Lies are must reading to understanding Moqtada.  Some of it is covered in the "What Makes Moqtada tick?" section of this Tom Paine article by Hiro in 2007.  Again, Scott Horton could be 100% correct on both issues or partially correct on both or off the mark on one or both.  I could certainly be wrong as well (and have been many times before) but that's where he stands and why.
While the issue of withdrawal remains up in the air, Tony Cappaccio (Bloomberg News) reports, "Iraq is 'very close' to signing a letter of intent to buy up to 36 Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-16 jets, said the senior U.S. Air Force general in that country." The Telegraph of London notes, "Any deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the aircraft and the training of pilots."
Finally baby
The truth has come down now
Take a listen to your spirit
It's crying out loud.
-- "I Don't Want to Know," written by Stevie Nicks, first appears on Fleetwood Mac's Rumors
Monday Aswat al-Iraq reported, "An official in the former U.S. President's Administration, George Bush, has said [. . .] that one of the important strategic necessities for the presence of the U.S. forces in Iraq is 'the west's need for oil with suitable prices,' considering the number agreed upon for those forces is not enough and does not satisfy its motive'." The former official is Meghan O'Sullivan and her Washington Post column's entitled "Why U.S. troops should stay in Iraq." Her remarks on oil include:

Finally, and most compelling, there is the role that Iraq may play in averting a major global energy crisis in the coming years. The world economic recession eased pressure on global oil supplies and provided relief from the climbing energy prices of 2007 and 2008. But a quiet trend of 2010 was that growth in global oil consumption grew at the second-fastest rate ever, 2.8 percent, while growth in global crude oil production lagged behind at 2.5 percent. If demand continues to outgrow supply, it will be only a few short years before global spare capacity of oil -- one of the indicators most closely tied to prices -- gets dangerously low, and jittery markets push prices up and up. Assuming the world escapes another dip in economic growth, this outcome would probably materialize even without any additional geopolitical hiccups, such as political unrest in Saudi Arabia or a military confrontation with Iran.
Al Kamen (Washington Post) notes today:

Industry and international experts expect Iraqi oil production to nearly double in the next decade from 2.5 million barrels a day to almost 5 million barrels, she notes.  So "if lessons from Iraq's experience help stabilize the region" and Iraq remains "willing to cooperate with the United States publicly and privately" and its oil "help[s] the world avoid another energy crisis," then "some may recalculate the strategic ledger on the U.S. intervention in Iraq."
So Operation Iraqi Freedom was really about the oil after all?  Who knew?
Meanwhile Al Mada reports that a meeting of Kurdistan officials and law makers yesterday resulted in what's being called "one last chance" for Nouri's government. The "last chance" is a delegation that's being sent to meet in Baghdad and raise the issues of the proposed oil and gas law, Article 140 of the Constitution (which guaranteed a census and referendum on Kirkuk by the end of 2007, Nouri is now four years in violation of the Constitution)and other issues. If they do not feel Baghdad is taking these issues seriously and taking steps to address them, the partnership is supposed to be dissolved (Kurds withdraw confidence in the government). Further embarrassing Nouri are the public threats Turkey began making yesterday of launching a ground invasion in northern Iraq. Al Mada notes that Nouri has been forced to issue a statement proclaiming Iraq's sovereignty and claiming Iraq can (and will?) defend its borders. Lale Kemal (Todays Zaman) notes, "It is a pity that a process the Turkish government initiated in 2009 that includes talks with the PKK to find a political solution to the Kurdish question has been deadlocked and replaced by military methods." In addition, Al Mada reports that Iraq has just entered it's second consecutive month of inflation.

With all those problems going on it might seem as if Nouri would lay low and not invite further problems. But maybe he has huge faith in the I Love Nouri demonstration First Lady of Iraq Moqtada al-Sadr has planned for Friday? Al Rafidayn reports Nouri has staged a major tantrum and declared that Ayad Allawi is not fit to take part in the government.


March 7, 2010, Iraq held elections. Nouri's political slate (State of Law) came in second. Iraqyia -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- came in first. Nouri refused to give up the post of prime minister. The White House backed him because he promised to keep US troops. Samantha Power was the fierce advocate to continue backing Nouri.

The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I and was hammered out by the US and various political blocs in Iraq. Nouri was allowed to stay on as prime minister, Ayad Allawi was promised he'd head a new, independent security council. Nouri took the prime minister post but trashed the rest of the agreement. (Kurds are demanding that the Erbil Agreement be followed and threatening to make it public in full.) He and Allawi are opponents, to put it mildly. He is most likely enraged (this time) by a just published interview. From yesterday's snapshot:

Asharq al-Awsat interviews Ayad Allawi (Iraiqya leader who's been meeting with the Kurdish leaders -- Iraqiya won the March 7, 2010 elections) and their first question for him is about his recent comments that there was a need for early elections and a need for a vote of no confidence on Nouri al-Maliki, has his opinion changed? He replies that nothing has changed and unless the Erbil Agreement is followed, as KRG President Barzani is insisting, then early elections need to be held. He states that they should be transparent and follow the election laws. (They put it is either/or. Allawi rejects that in his first answer and again near the end of the interview when he explains that first you do the vote of no-confidence in the current government and then you move to early elections.) Asked if he doesn't find it strange that 8 years after the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi decisions are still spoken of in light of what the US wants or what Iran wants, Allawi replies that it is clear the government (Nouri) was negotiating with Iran on how to form a government -- down to the smallest details. He states that when he met with Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria [presumably in 2010], al-Assad stated he would be speaking with Iranian officials and what was the response to Adel Abdul al-Mahdi being prime minister. The point is to indicate that Iran was being catered to. (I'm sure the US was as well, however, Allawi focuses on Iran.) Adel Abdul al-Mahdi was, until recently, one of Iraq's two vice presidents. He's a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. Big Oil supported him in 2006 for prime minister and they also wanted him in 2010. His announcement that he was resigning as vice president earlier this year may have been setting up another run for prime minister.
Allawi states that the Erbil Agreement needs to be implemented, that the meet-up in Erbil and the agreement itself took place in a spirit to work together for Iraq and build something sincere but now "the other party" [the unnamed is Nouri] repeatedly finds excuses not to implement. Asked if the problem is the agreement, Allawi clearly states that the problem is "the other party" and that the agreement is clear. He rejects the notion of one-party rule and specifically names Nouri when rejecting it, stating that this is a private scheme of "Maliki" and not something with wide support even within Dawa (Dawa is Nouri's political party, State of Law is the slate Nouri ran with).
In the US, John Walsh has an important story at's Blog on Veterans for Peace voting to impeach Barack "for war crimes" at last month's convention in Portland, Oregon.  From the article:
The VFP resolution is stark testimony that [David] Swanson is dead wrong and that the tide is turning against the war criminal Obama even among his most faithful followers. A call for impeachment, whatever the prospects for success, makes crystal clear that the antiwar community regards the President as a criminal -- whether that President is Bush or Obama. And it puts a stop to the nasty tactic of shutting up impeachment advocates by calling them racists.
The impeachment resolution is modeled on another that VFP passed some years ago calling for impeachment of Bush. The anti-Obama resolution merits reading in full here. It has telling additions to the one targeting Bush. It opens thus: "Whereas, President Obama, on 19 March 2011, committed a criminal act by ordering the U.S. military to war in Libya without first obtaining the consent of the U.S. Congress in a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution." Bush told lies to get us into war. Such is his arrogance that Obama, acting in the Democratic tradition of Harry S. Truman in the Korean war, did not even bother to lie. He simply went ahead and trampled on the Constitution without pretense.