Friday, September 30, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Friday, September 30, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, disagreement in Iraq over whether or not Nouri can close the deal alone on extending the US military presence, protests take place across Iraq, US President Barack Obama orders the deaths of two Americans, and more.
"Suddenly the place turned into hell," explains survivor Haider Qahtan to Reuters. It was supposed to be a typical Shi'ite funeral as mourners gathered in Hilla this evening to bury Abdelamir Jaffar al-Khafaji but instead it turned into a bloodbath. Mazin Yahya and Rebecca Santana (AP) report a car bomb exploded outside Nabi Ayub Shi'ite mosque and quote Mohammed Ali who felt the blast inside the mosque, "I heard the blast, then was hit by glass from windows and my hand was bleeding severely.  I blame the security forces for such a horrible breach."  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) adds that there was "damage to some civilian vehicles and nearby buildings"; however, the people most harmed were the "mourners heading to a funeral tent near the mosque".  Tim Arango and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) report, "Several high-level officials were in attendance, including the leaders of the local court and provincial council. Both officials had just left before a vehicle, which had been parked outside the mosque, exploded. But the son of the local judge, who led the appeals court in the area, was killed."  Lara Jakes and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) count 17 dead and forty-eight injured.  Citing police officials, Kareem Raheem (Reuters) states 18 died and sixty-three were injured.
Before the Hilla attack, Dar Addustour noted that Parliament will be examining security issues shortly in light of the continued rise in violence. Kurdistan Alliance MP Mahmoud Othman is quoted stating that the security chiefs and Nouri al-Maliki must be called before Parliament to answer about the security breaches throughout the country resulting in the death of "many innocents."  After the attack, BBC News notes, "Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the attack but blamed failings in the 'security apparatus'."  AFP quotes Ali Khafaji who claims to be "astonished at how the explosion happened, because on the way to the funeral there were many police checkpoints."  Arango and Adnan quote an unnamed security official who feels there wasn't enough security considering all the "dignitaries in attendance."
Al Mada reports Nouri al-Maliki appeared on Al-Manar TV today and declared no US troops would remain in Iraq, that, as per the SOFA, they will all leave at the end of this year.
. . . except . . .
Nouri said Iraq would keep "trainers" and "experts" and that this is "normal" and "universally" accepted.
So, to translate that into reality, Nouri al-Maliki declared today that the US military will remain in Iraq beyond 2011 and they will be called "trainers" or "experts."
US outlets haven't reported on Nouri's remarks and Al Mada is an Arabic publication.  But those needing an English language source on the above can refer to this article by Aswat al-Iraq today which includes:
Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said on Thursday that the presence of foreign experts and trainers during the purchase of weapons is a natural thing, reiterating that the presence of the US troops in his country would end by end of the current year
"The presence of the American troops is settled and shall end by the end of the current year, according to an agreement between both sides, and there won't remain a single foreign soldier in the country," a statement by the Prime Minister's office reported.
But Prime Minister Maliki said that the "resence of foreign experts and trainers during the process of purchase of weapons is something natural and is followed in other parts of the world."
Al Mada now reports that a meeting next week is expected to resolve the issue of how many US soldiers will remain in Iraq after December 31st.  The rumored meeting would be attended, according to unnamed sources, by Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, as well as leaders of the various political blocs.  The issue for Parliament would be the immunity issue.  The US government wants immunity for US soldiers.  Nouri al-Maliki apparently can't grant it by himself (or prefers not to or hasn't yet figured out how to seize that power) so that would be taken to Parliament.  As for the troops being on the ground themselves, it is believed that the Strategic Framework Agreement (signed when the SOFA was) would cover their presence.  The article notes that Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Vice President, declared earlier this week that when Talabani returned to Iraq (he left to take part in the United Nations meetings -- mainly to argue that Iraq needs to be released from Chapter 7, a point the US press pointedly ignored -- Ammar al-Hakim talks about Chapter 7 to Al Mada today) there would be another meet-up at Talabani's residence.  Alsumaria TV has a different interpretation of the meet-up:
Iraqi Vice President, Tariq Al Hashemi, declared that President Jalal Talabani will call for a third meeting of political blocs at his return from New York. The meeting however was subject to doubts even before being held.
Hashemi's announcement about Talabani's call for a third meeting seemed to be according to Iraqiya list's desire. Iraqiya MPs stressed the necessity to know the reasons behind State of Law Coalition's failure to commit to last meeting's decisions. This meeting would be the last attempt during the present government's term, MPs
Al Mada speaks with a member of Iraqiya who states that Nouri was to enter into talks with the US government on extending the US military presence; however, he was supposed to brief the political blocs on all negotiations and that the final say was not supposed to be Nouri's.  The Iraiqya MP states that Nouri has not briefed the political blocs (that's been stated before by MPs with other political slates and parties as well).  State of Law and National Alliance MP Jawad Albzona disagrees over Nouri's power and states that any agreement would not need Parliamentary approval and would be valid just as a contract signed by Nouri and the US.  He states it would be valid because Nouri would have identified the need on behalf of security and that would be it (presumably he's saying that's due to Nouri being commander in chief of the military but he doesn't make that point).  An unidentified deputy with the Sadr bloc rejects that interpretation and insists that Parliament would have to vote on any agreement. A Sadr MP, Rafi Abd al-Jabbar, is quoted stating that the Sadr bloc rejects US military forces remaining under any name or title (such as the faux term of "trainers"). 
Who's right? 
If by "right" you mean legal, the Strategic Framework Agreement does allow for Iraq to keep US personnel to provide support and training.  The SFA covers not only diplomatic and economic realmsbut also security. Though Parliament wasn't interpreting that, in 2008, to mean that US forces could stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011 under the SFA, that is what it can allow.
Who's "right" in their debate over what Nouri has or doesn't have the power to do?
If the SFA is accepted -- and it may not be -- as the document that will allow the continued presence of US troops on the ground in Iraq, the only sticking point is the immunity clause.  Otherwise, Nouri's actions in the past demonstrate that while he does not have the power in writing to extend the US military presence without the consent of Parliament, he has repeatedly done that and since Parliament has refused to fight back, it is a power he has assumed and the Iraqi courts (already in Nouri's pokets) would be unlikely to rule against him. 
If you're late to the party, Nouri becomes prime minister the first time in the spring of 2006.  The UN madate covering the continued occupation is running out because it is yearly.  Nouri is supposed to get approval from Parliament to renew it.  He doesn't bother to.  He just renews it on his own.  The Parliament notes that the move was illegal and they pass another law to make it 'doubly' illegal.  Nouri swears it won't happen again.  As 2007 is winding down, Nouri again renews the UN mandate without Parliament's consent or input.  Either time, Parliament could have done a vote of no-confidence or taken some serious measure against Nouri. They did not.  Though it's not a power the Constitution has given the office of Prime Minister, Nouri has now done it twice and the courts (already friendly to Nouri, to put it mildly) would most likely see the assumed power as one that now belongs to him.
I'm against the illegal war and want all US troops out now.  Within these snapshots, my goal is to be honest.  If I'm dishonest, there's no reason for anyone to bother reading it.  So when we're talking the PKK (as we were recently) and I'm explaining how Turkey has over-reacted and hurt themselves and include that the PKK could damage their own reputation by attacking civilians, I'm aware that the Turkish government could begin rumors or stage such events to discredit the PKK.  And certainly they have in some instances in the last two weeks labeled attacks PKK when they weren't PKK attacks.  (There are many Kurdish rebel groups fighting for independence.  An attack on teachers this week may or may not be the PKK.  An event further into northern Turkey last week was not the PKK.  And, in fact, the group responsible claimed credit -- and AP was the only outlet to report on that, by the way.  A number of US commentators don't know the first thing about the Kurdish resistance and should probably find another topic to gas bag on.)  My condern can't be, "How will this be used!!!"  That's not my worry, that's not my concern within these snapshots.  Equally true, what I'm about to go into doesn't help get US troops out of Iraq.  And so maybe I should bite my tongue and hope no one thinks too hard on the issue of immunity?
We don't play it that way, we let the chips fall where they may.  As commander in chief of the military, Nouri al-Maliki is responsible for the military.  If, in that role, he is allowed to bring in "trainers," then he is allowed to give them immunity.
This should have been obvious to all sides long ago.  He either has no power to bring in "trainers" or he has that power and having that power includes providing them with "immunity."  What "trainers" would ever come in to work on security issues -- which could mean someone was accidentally killed -- without knowing that the government recognized the "trainers" were there to assist and would not prosecute the "trainers" for carrying out the duties the Iraqi government tasked them with?
If it appears Parliament will balk at the issue of immunity, don't look for that to be a sticking point.  Nouri will issue some sort of order (either solo as commander in chief or with the backing of his Cabinet). 
It's an important point to raise because if the talks are even semi-public, at some point a gas bag's going to go on Democracy Now! or elsewhere and smugly assert that it doesn't matter because, in the end, Parliament will never approve immunity for US troops.  And a lot of people will nod their heads excitedly because it's what we want to hear (the Iraq War finally ends!) and we'll focus on something else and drop our objections only to learn a week or two later that, oops, Parliament wasn't the only way to get immunity for US troops.
Early in the day, protests took place.  The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "A big demonstration came out after Friday prayer today in Wasit condemning the American occupation and refusing to grant occupation forces an extension of their stay under the pretext of 'training'." They note the same was true in Theeqar, in Karbala and in Qadisiya, in Amara.

And in Baghdad? Alsumaria News reports that activists gathered in Tahrir Square calling for an end to the occupation and an end to govermnet corruption. They protested the millions spent for Jalal Talabani's New York Visit to the United Nations and they called for unity and the registion of sectarianism. Banners included those that rejected sectarianism, called out the judiciary that protects the corrupt and declared Parliament to be a farce. They noted that the two million spent for Jalal's NYC visit could have been spent within Iraq on needed projects that would benefit the people. The report notes that as much as $7.5 billion may have been wasted in corruption by the government in the last two years -- that should be in US dollars because the oil monies in the article are in dollar figures and not dinars -- and that estimate appears after they note the Transparency International annual reports. I'm not sure where the figure comes from, but it maybe TI's estimate. The Great Iraqi Revolution's Baghdad correspondent reports, "A large number of protestors were unable to access Tahrir Square today as the government forces have cordoned the square and allowed only one entrance point which was in turn controlled by at least forty officers and troops of the government forces. A number of ambulances were also seen in the square which raised suspicions and fears that abductions are planned as has been the practice in previous Fridays.In addition, a number of intelligence officers were deployed atop surrounding buildings, In fact they were seen using binoculars and cameras to document and know the identity of the protestors,. Due to the severity of the measures ,the revolutionary youth were unable to document the protest by videos." 
Aswat al-Iraq reports that they also called for improved basic services and condemned attacks on Iraq by other countries, "The demonstrators have demanded to put an end for interferences and violations by Iraq's neighborly states, including Iran, Turkey and Kuwait, demanding the government to take opposite measures against such violations."

"I will sleep in peace. I want to rest so long, and dream of my name written on my grave, dream that my son will come and visit me, even once, my son who does not speak Arabic well. I hope that he will be able to read his father's name, the lover of freedom and its martyr."
He wasn't present at the protests but those are the words of assassinated Iraqi journalist Hadi al-Mahdi. Tim Arango (New York Times) quotes Hadi in a report on how Hadi's death has impacted Iraqis and the way they see the future of their country. Journalist and film director Ali Sumari speaks of having hopes for Iraq as recently as a year ago but now those hopes have vanished. Educator Karema Hashim assumes she will be "killed one day."  The International Crisis Group is an NGO and their recent report (covered in a snapshot this week) specifically addressed these issues and specifically addressed Hadi al-Mahdi's assassination.  The International Crisis Group  stated their Middle East report's section on Iraq, "examines the steady erosion of the credibility of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government resulting from the failure to safeaguard institutions against corruption and abuse."  The Iraq section can be found here (that's not PDF, for anyone worried), "Failing Oversight: Iraq's Unchecked Government."  Here's the section noting Hadi's assassination:
Even civil society organisations -- confronted by government intimidation in the form of anonymous threats, arrests of political activists and violence, including police brutality -- have proved incapable of placing a check on government. Although the perpetrators have yet to be found, the killing on 9 September 2011 of a prominent journalist and leading organiser of weekly protests against government corruption has contributed to rising fears of the Maliki government's authoritarian streak.
Also noting Hadi's assassination is Yochi J. Dreazen (National Journal) who examines the state of journalism in Iraq:

Instead, Iraq's outlook is more like China's than America's. The onslaught began on Feb. 17 with the unsolved murder of Hilal al-Ahmadi, who focused on government corruption. Seven days later, soldiers stormed the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the country's sole media-advocacy group. "They wanted to shut us up to clear the way for what they planned to do," says Ziad al-Ajili, the group's director. The troops confiscated hard drives, cameras, and other files.
The next week, tens of thousands of young Iraqis protested the government, modeling themselves on the Arab Spring movements. First, government agents began arresting Iraqi reporters in attendance, confiscating their cameras and notebooks. Having silenced the native chroniclers, security teams swept in, beating scores of demonstrators and using tear gas, water cannons, and bullets to disperse crowds. Nineteen people were killed and several thousand arrested. Ajili estimates that 160 journalists were arrested within five days of the protest. Hundreds of other reporters have been detained or beaten in the months since, he said.
Ali al-Sumery, an editor at the state-owned al-Sabaah newspaper, was arrested on Feb. 25 as he ate lunch with Mehdi and two other Iraqi journalists. Soldiers struck the four men with wooden sticks and the butts of their rifles. The journalists were driven to a bend of the Tigris River where bodies are commonly found. "I thought they were going to kill us," Sumery says. They were interrogated for hours and accused of being Baathists. Bruised and bleeding, they were abruptly released later that evening.

When not targeting journalists, Nouri likes to go after MPs.  From the September 22nd snapshot:
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's criticism of Nouri al-Maliki swearing out an arrest warrant for Sabah al-Saadi claiming that criticizing Nouri is a threat to national security (see yesterday's snapshot). al-Sadr has called out the move and compared it to a new dictatorship and issued a call for the government to work on inclusion and not exclusion. Another Al Mada report notes Sadr declaring that Nouri needs to drop this issue and focus on the needed political work. It's noted that the Sadr bloc waited until Moqtada issued a statement to weigh in and that the Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barazni declared that the Kurdish bloc would not support a vote to strip al-Saadi of his immunity. As a member of Parliament, Sabah al-Saadi should be immune to Nouri's arrest warrant for the 'crime' of speech. Currently, the warrant exists but cannot be executed due to the immunity members of Parliament have. So in addition to filing charges against al-Saadi, Nouri and State of Law (his political slate) are also attempting to strip a member of Parliament of his immunity.
But that's not all. Nouri has a back up plan. Should the Parliament not agree to strip al-Saadi of his immunity, the warrant will stand through 2014 when al-Saadi's term expires (al-Saadi's decided not to run again or Nouri's made that decision and intends to utilize the Justice and Accountability Commission to keep him from running?) at which point all-Saadi would be a citizen (without immunity) and then the warrant can and will be executed. In addition, Al Mada notes the claim that immunity can be stripped of a member of Parliament if half-plus-one of those in attendance vote in favor of the motion.
For those wondering how an insult, any insult, rises to the level of criminal, this AFP report (in French) explains that Nouri's complaint utilizes a law from the reign of General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Article 226 of the 1969 Criminal Code which made it a crime for anyone to insult a member of Parliament, the government, the courts, armed forces, etc.
We'll again note that over the weekend, Al-Badeal noted Nouri's efforts to have Sabah al-Saadi arrested led to a rebuke from the Popular de-Baathification Movement (established in August 2009) which stated it rejects Nouri's efforts and finds them unconstitutional.  The Movement also warns that dictatorship isn't born in a day and that they must remain faithful to all of those who died defeating Iraq's previous dictatorship.  This Movement is a group that would normally be alligned with Nouri.  For example, they keep a blacklist of people that they allege are Ba'athists and publish it online.  If he's alarmed this group, he's alarmed pretty much Iraq's entire political spectrum with his moves. Al Mada reports that al-Sudani declared today he does not fear the arrest warrant and it will not silence him from exposing government corruption.  Nouri is most upset by a private conversation al-Sudani had with another person which was taped and during which al-Sudani declared that "the end of al-Maliki will be like the end of Saddam Hussein."  Nouri's attorney, Tariq Harb, repeats to Al Mada that should Parliament not strip al-Sudani of immunity, they will leave the arrest warrant in place until May 13, 2014 (when the current session of Parliament is supposed to end) and then immediately arrest al-Sudani.
There are a number of problems with Nouri's attorney's view but the most obvious is probably: Don't pin your hopes on May 13, 2014.
What we've seen is that each election takes longer and longer in Iraq.  Following the March 7, 2010 elections, the government pretty much stayed in place -- despite their terms being up -- for over eight months as Political Stalemate I continued.
We need to cover two non-Iraq things.  First, in Yemen today, two American citizens were killed.  Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn were killed by Barack Obama who, in a deliberate distortion of the powers of a US president, ordered a drone attack on them.  Their crime?
There is no crime.  They're American -- they were American citizens.  In the United States, you're not guilty of a crime until you've been convicted of one in a court of law.  These are the basics and they're not difficult to grasp unless you're an idiot serving in the US Congress who disgraced yourself today whooping with joy over this attack on US citizenship, attack on the US legal system and attack on the US Constitution -- the last one should especially concern Congress since they take an oath to uphold the Constitution -- clearly not an oath they take very seriously.  Or maybe they're just too stupid and ignorant to grasp what they're swearing an oath to?  Maybe we need to get some Constitutional tutors to spend time with members of Congress?  And this was bi-paristan stupidity -- Democrats joined Republicans in treating this as a joyful moment. And not just Congress.  Members of the US military also take an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Though Wesley Clark has now retired from the military and from running for office -- he's retired everything but his large mouth -- he is applauding the destruction as well.  Let's be clear, Wes, what got bombed by the predator drone was the US Constitution and the US legal system.  There's nothing to cheer or applaud there and your gross ignorance on this subject is appalling because I can remember conversations with you about Bush doing similar things back when Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House and you were alarmed that America might slide into a dictatorship. 
As usual, one of the few people making the needed points and wading in before it's considered safe is CCR's Michael Ratner who writes about the topic at his blog Just Left.  Excerpt:

Is this the world we want? Where the president of the United States can place an American citizen, or anyone else for that matter, living outside a war zone on a targeted assassination list, and then have him murdered by drone strike.

This was the very result we at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU feared when we brought a case in US federal court on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki's father, hoping to prevent this targeted killing. We lost the case on procedural grounds, but the judge considered the implications of the practice as raising "serious questions", asking:

"Can the executive order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organisation?"

Michael Ratner is one of the hosts of the radio program Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings on WBAI and around the country throughout the week.  You can be sure that either this coming Monday or the one after, he and fellow attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) will be exploring the Yemen events because they have huge meaning and it's damn shame members of Congress choose instead to treat it as a football game -- a damn shame but highly illuminating.
September 30, 2011, New York -- Today, in response to the news that a missile attack by an American drone aircraft had killed U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which had previously brought a challenge in federal court to the legality of the authorization to target Al-Awlaki in Yemen, released the following statement:
"The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki by American drone attacks is the latest of many affronts to domestic and international law," said Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The targeted assassination program that started under President Bush and expanded under the Obama Administration essentially grants the executive the power to kill any U.S. citizen deemed a threat, without any judicial oversight, or any of the rights afforded by our Constitution.   If we allow such gross overreaches of power to continue, we are setting the stage for increasing erosions of civil liberties and the rule of law."
Pardiss Kebriaei, a CCR senior staff attorney, added: "In dismissing our complaint, the district court noted that there were nonetheless 'disturbing questions' raised by the authority being asserted by the United States. There certainly are disturbing questions that need to be asked again, and answered by the U.S. government about the circumstances of the killing and the legal standard that governed it."
Further information on CCR's challenge to targeted killings is online at
The Libyan War continues (and US military is now on the ground there).  We've been too busy with Iraq to note it.  But Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was an unembedded reporter covering the US military assualt (under the guise of NATO) on the country and we will make time to include an excerpt from his latest,  "The War in Libya is a Fraud: Using Human Rights Organizations to Launch Wars" (ICH):

The war against Libya is built on fraud. The United Nations Security Council passed two resolutions against Libya on the basis of unproven claims, specifically that Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was killing his own people in Benghazi. The claim in its exact form was that Qaddafi had ordered Libyan forces to kill 6,000 people in Benghazi. These claims were widely disseminated, but always vaguely explained. It was on the basis of this claim that Libya was referred to the U.N. Security Council at U.N Headquarters in New York City and kicked out of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

False claims about African mercenary armies in Libya and about jet attacks on civilians were also used in a broad media campaign against Libya. These two claims have been sidelined and have become more and more murky. The massacre claims, however, were used in a legal, diplomatic, and military framework to justify NATO's war on the Libyans.

Using Human Rights as a Pretext for War: The LLHR and its Unproven Claims

One of the main sources for the claim that Qaddafi was killing his own people is the Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR). The LLHR was actually pivotal to getting the U.N. involved through its specific claims in Geneva. On February 21, 2011 the LLHR got the 70 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to sent letters to the President Obama, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton., and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon demanding international action against Libya invoking the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine. Only 25 members of this coalition actually assert that they are human rights groups.