Friday, February 3, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the attorneys representing the American soldier in the Haditha massacre find their computer systems hacked by Anonymous, the political crisis continues in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani delves into the issue, State of Law reportedly has entered into a secret deal with some aspects of the National Alliance, Turkish war planes again bomb northern Iraq and more.
The online group/collective Anonymous is in the news cycle today as various sites -- including law enforcement -- are thought to have been hacked. Elizabeth Flock (Washington Post) reports on one non-confirmed hack: Anonymous states it has hacked the computer systems of the law firm Puckett Faraj who represented Staff Sgt Frank Wuterich in the Haditha case recently (In 2005, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by a number of US service members. Wuterich entered a guilty plea last month.) The group claims they will be releasing confidential communications regarding the case ("a massive archive of e-mails" as well as transcripts and faxes). Elinor Mills (CNet) notes they left a message on the law firm's website which included:
As part of our ongoing efforts to expose the corruption of the court systems and the brutality of US imperialism, we want to bring attenttion to USMC S Sgt Frank Wuterich who along with his squad murdered dozens of unarmed civilians during the Iraqi Occupation. Can you believe this scumbag had his charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter and got away with only a pay cut? Meanwhile, Bradley Manning who was brave enough to risk his life and freedom to expose the truth about government corruption is threatened with imprisonment. When justice cannot be found within the confines of their crooked court systems, we must seek revenge on the streets and on the internet -- and dealing out swift retaliation is something we are particularly good at. Worry not comrades, it's time to deliver some epic ownage.
Jaikumar Vijayan (Computerworld) adds, "According to Anonymous, the emails contain 'detailed records, transcripts, testimony, trial evidence, and legal defense donation records pertaining to not only Frank Wuterich, but also many other marines they have represented'." Adam Martin (The Atlantic) offers this evaluation, "Most of the emails from the Puckett and Faraj firm have nothing to do with Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, whose conviction without prison time sparked Anonymous's interest in his lawyers. We found some messages discussing unrelated evidence, some about the planning of office presentations, and some involving a car purchase. But nothing on Wuterich so far."
The political crisis continues in Iraq. The National Newspaper observes, "The political stand-off that began in Iraq last month is likely to escalate into a sectarian conflict that threatens the future of the entire political process and could throw the country once again into the furnace of sectarian violence that has reaped tens of thousands of innocent lives on all sides so far." How bad is it getting? Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that in a Karbala sermon today, Ahmed al-Safi, believed to be speaking on behalf of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, declared, "Politicians must work fast and make concessions to solve the crisis." Ahlul Bayt News Agency notes, "Ayatollah Sistani normally exerts his considerable influence through sermons and statements made by his aides." Hayder al-Khoei (Foreign Affairs) offers his take on the crisis which includes:
As for Maliki and Allawi themselves, they have as much as to worry about within their own coalitions as they do outside them. Both their respective blocs -- the National Alliance and Iraqiya -- were formed on shaky grounds and contentious issues such as the Hashemi warrant have exposed these cracks. In this fractious game of politics, Maliki is doing extremely well: not only has he managed to chip away at Allawi's support but he is also keeping his own allies at bay. In the government formation process that took up much of last year, Maliki managed to drive a wedge between two powerful movements in southern Iraq: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Ammar al-Hakim, and its former military wing, the Badr Organization, led by Hadi al-Amiri. Both ISCI and Badr are part of the Shiite-dominated National Alliance. By enticing Amiri with a position as minister of transport last November, he frustrated Hakim and created confusion within ISCI and Badr -- a move that strengthened Maliki because he brought Badr to the table while ISCI remained reluctant in backing Maliki.
Now, Maliki is using a similar intra-sectarian ploy against another rival power base: the Sadrists. Under the pretext of national reconciliation, he is bringing the League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahlil Haq) into the political process. The League leader, Kais al-Khazali, was a former spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr but the two split in 2006, when Khazali decided to work independently of the Sadrists and instead coordinate directly with Iran. Perhaps one of the most well known of the Iranian-backed Special Groups, the League has reemerged in Najaf, under the auspices of Maliki, and is now engaged in war of words with the Sadrists. The two groups have skirmished in the past, and it possible that violence could break out again.
In both these cases, the factions that Maliki is bringing toward him are thought to have close ties to Iran, leading many analysts to conclude that with the United States out of Iraq, Tehran is increasing its influence over Baghdad. This may be true, but it is by design: Maliki recognizes these fissures and is playing on them as a means to survive. The Sadrists initially reacted against the arrest warrant on Hashemi, and their parliamentary bloc leader even talked about dissolving the parliament. Now, however, Maliki's moves have paid off, as the Sadrist rhetoric is more in line with the prime minister's own tone. The Sadrists now say that Hashemi should be put on trial in Baghdad and that his case should not be politicized.
Nouri al-Maliki has been on a power-grab since his first term. It continues. Over a year after he assumed his second term as prime minister, he's still refused to name heads to the security ministries (Defense, Interior and National Security). By refusing to name heads (nominate them, have Parliament vote on them), he controls the portfolios. He continues to target his political rivals (Iraqiya -- which beat him in the March 2010 elections). His political slate was State of Law. His political party is Dawa. Al Mada reports that Dawa is (loudly) insisting that they don't know why Ayad Allawi met with Iran's Ambassador to Iraq for three hours this week. Dawa's Walid al-Hilli went on TV to declare that Dawa has no idea why the meeting took place. In upcoming news, Dawa announces on TV that they have no idea whether Oswald acted alone. The Tehran Times notes, "The Iraqi news agency Al Nakheel has recently reported that Ayad Allawi, the leader of the al-Iraqiya List, will take a trip to Iran in the near future."
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is among the Iraqiya members Nouri is targeting. Aswat al-Iraq reports that alleged legal 'expert' Hatif al-Mussawi is stating the charges of terrorism Nouri has brought against al-Hashemi cannot be transferred to an international body. That's incorrect. There is nothing barring that in the Iraqi Constitution. That's the supreme law of the land (or is supposed to be) and trumps some provincial law (if al-Mussawi even has that on his side -- like most faux 'experts,' he's unable to cite a passage that backs him up). It's becoming an international incident. They could easily transfer it to an international body. That could be the UN. Equally true, the 'expert' might want to check out the written arrangement the government of Iraq signed with NATO. (For the Nouri apologists, Tareq al-Hashemi is actually very lucky. Nouri is charging terrorism from several years back. When Iraq was legally recognized as occupied. That occupied status has bearing on who can and cannot hear charges. It's a bit more complicated than supposed 'experts' would have you believe.) You might also want to check the numerous international pacts Iraq has signed off on, look at the huge rate of people being executed by the state of Iraq and grasp that what al-Hashemi is charged with can result in the death penalty if convicted. It's not as simple as the 'expert' would like it to be. al-Hashemi told AFP this week that it was "my right to go to the international judiciary." Roshan Kasem (The Majalla) has an extensive interview with al-Hashemi. Excerpt.
Q: It is said that you are to be referred, as an absentee, to the Criminal Court, according to the amended Article 121 of the Code of Criminal Procedure law of 1971. What is the worst you expect to happen during the investigation procedures and how intense would the measures to be taken against you be?
I am optimistic and have full trust is that a fair court will vindicate me. Thus, I have appealed for the proceedings to be transferred from Baghdad to Kirkuk.
Q: Do you have any suspicions that certain trade-offs would be made in regards to your case towards achieving political interests -- given the complicity of the political situation in Iraq?
I ought to be expectant of such incidents, especially when my case is solely, and extremely, political and not criminal in nature.
Q: To what extent does the Iraqi leadership in other respective parties support your appeal for a trial subject to Arab and international supervision?
The issue concerns me personally. The fact that the Judiciary is being politicized and its independence jeopardized leads me to seek necessary Arab and international involvement. I was obliged to make this decision. If an impartial investigation and a fair trial were an option, I would have preferred to have my case contained internally.
Another prominent Iraqiya member being targeted is Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq whom Nouri is demanding be stripped of his post.
Dar Addustour reports that Nouri's State of Law has made a deal with some elements in the National Alliance (a Shi'ite alliance that State of Law became part of after the elections but that Nouri refused to run with ahead of and during the elections) which agrees that they will not allow Saleh al-Mutlaq to return to his post (which he retains -- Parliament has not voted to strip him of it -- unless and until they do, al-Mutlaq remains Deputy Prime Minister). Not only will they not allow him to return, the deal supposedly is that they will not replace him with anyone and that they will also not replace Tareq al-Hashemi with anyone. That would leave only one vice president -- a Shi'ite. Iraq is supposed to have two vice presidents per the Constitution. Following the end of Political Stalemate I, Iraq ended up with three vice presidents. One resigned leaving two. (Adel Abdul Mehdi and Tareq al-Hashemi were Iraq's vice president during Nouri's first term. Both were renamed to the posts in the second term -- by President Jalal Talabani. Adel Abudl Mehdi quit the government over the corruption and dysfunction. He was a political rival of Nouri's and hoped/hopes to be prime minister himself. Khudayer al-Khuzaie is the third vice president and he's from Dawa). If State of Law has its way, there will only be one vice president.
Jim Loney (Reuters) observes/warns, "The political crisis and a Kurdish oil exploration deal with oil giant Exxon Mobil could push disputes between Baghdad and the Kurds to new heights, increasing anxiety in Iraq's disputed territories, already a potential faultline for conflict without U.S. troops to act as a buffer." On this issue of oil & gas, Jeffrey Blackwell (Democrat and Chroncile) reports that gas prices are increasing in Rochester, New York which means an increase in "everything from groceries to airline tickes." Robert Gibbons (Reuters) reports that "crude prices rose to a near three-month peak on Friday" and that "exports from Iraq's southern hub Basra were halved by bad weather." Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Rzzouk (Blomberg News) round out the topic noting, "Iraq's proposed energy law, intended to spur foreign investment in the world's fifth-largest holder of oil depostis, will be delayed for the rest of this year due to political division, the prime minister's top adviser said."
There is no oil & gas law passed but the Parliament did decide to pass a no smoking law regarding government buildings and purlbic plasces, Al Mada reports. Considering all the chemicals the US and British military used in Iraq -- chemicals now in the soil and water -- which have resulted in the high rate of birth defects post-invasion, you might think there were a few more important things the government could take up besides the dangers of second hand smoke in a toxic ward. Maybe it's just another sign that the political crisis continues? Alsumaria TV (which has a new visual look) reports additional details including that the law forbids the promotion of smoking (directly or indirectly) by the media and cultural institutions and bans the importing of tobacco products. Of course, even movement on this minor issue (Iraq is a toxic dump thanks to other countries, the cigarette smoke is a minor issue) isn't resolved. Dar Addustour reports State of Law is insisting the law has elements that are unconstitutional and that they're taking the issue to the courts.
On the issue of oil and gas
Al Mada notes State of Law not only continues to attack the Turkish government (and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by name) but attempts to tie Turkey around Ayad Allawi's neck stating that Turkey is interfering in Iraq's affairs and that Allawi is perfect okay with that. That's a highly charged statement, especially on a day when Alsumaria TV is reporting that Turkish war planes have again bombed northern Iraq. Today's Zaman adds, "Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said in a statement on Friday that Turkish fighter jets bombed three PKK targets in Zap." AFP notes the claims that the planes were targeting the PKK and quotes PKK spokesperson Bakhtiar Dogan stating, "Turkish aircraft have since yesterday (Thursday) bombed the Zap and Abshin areas from time to time." The PKK is one of many Kurdish groups which supports and fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described them in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." Those bombings, don't forget, are okayed by Nouri and State of Law might want to remember that before painting others are too close to Turkey.
Al Mada notes the Parliament Commission on Human Rights has echoed the recent Human Rights Report and states that human rights and freedoms are declining in Iraq.
Last month, the corpse of a 26-year-old woman was discovered hanging in a Hilla school. That was in the middle of the month. No one has been charged with the crime and there's been no real investigation indicating yet again the lack of respect the Iraqi government has for women. In Nouri's first term, women continued to lose out. In his second term, there wasn't even a pretense made that Iraqi women would be treated with the equality promised in the Constitution. From the December 22, 2010 snapshot:
Turning to Iraq, Liz Sly and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) note, "A special gathering of the nation's parliament endorsed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a second term in office, with lawmakers then voting one by one for 31 of the eventual 42 ministers who will be in his cabinet." AFP notes that all but one is a man, Bushra Hussein Saleh being the sole woman in the Cabinet. And they quote Kurdish MP Ala Talabani stating, "We congratulate the government, whose birth required eight months, but at the same time we are very depressed when we see the number of women chosen to head the ministries. Today, democracy was decapitated by sexism. The absence of women is a mark of disdain and is contrary to several articles of the constitution. I suggest to Mr Maliki to even choose a man for the ministry of women's rights, as you do not have confidence in women." Ala Talabani is the niece of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Imran Ali (Womens Views On News) reminds, "The new constitution stipulates that a quarter of the members of parliament be women and prohibits gender discrimination." Apparently concern about representation doesn't apply to the Cabinet (and, no, Nouri's attempts at offering excuses for the huge gender imbalance do not fly).
Dropping back to last Friday's snapshot:
Now let's turn to the issue of women and former Minister of Women's Affairs Nawal al-Samarraie who publicly stood out and decired the discrimination within the government during Nouri al-Maliki's first term as prime minister. February 6, 2009, she was in the news when she resigned because her ministry was not properly funded (a meager monthly budget of $7,500 a month was slashed to $1,400) and she states, "I reached to the point that I will never be able to help the women." That was very embarrassing for Nouri. So naturally the New York Times worked overtime to ignore it. (See Third Estate Sunday Review's "NYT goes tabloid.") NPR's Corey Flintoff covered it for Morning Edition (link has text and audio). Excerpt:
COREY FLINTOFF: Nawal al-Samarraie had served as Iraq's minister for women's affairs for less than six months when she created a stir by turning in her resignation. She complained she had never received support from the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and that her budget for projects had been slashed from about $7,500 a month to around 1,500.
Ms. NAWAL AL-SAMARRAIE (Former Minister for Women's Affairs, Iraq): I think it is wrong to stay as a minister without doing anything for my people, especially in this time and in this situation of Iraqi women, that an army of widows, violated women, detainees, illiteracy. Many, many problems we have. I had to resign.
FLINTOFF: Iraqi women's advocates have coined the phrase an army of widows to refer to the women who lost their breadwinners in the conflicts reaching back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Samarraie says there are more than three million such women, most of them with children, who have no social safety net.
There are between one and two million Iraqi war widows. Reuters notes Halima Dakhil who pays $210 for rent for her and her children. And that Iraqi widows receive $85 a month from the government and $13 a month for each child. This is ridiculous and shameful as Nouri spends billons on toys for warfare. Gender-traitor Ibtihal al-Zaidi shows up in the story to insist, "I agree it is little. But there is a real plan to increase these benefits." Let's hope all the widows and children living in poverty can afford to wait for al-Zaidi to get around to addressing the "real plan."
Who is this woman who goes along making excuses? Now in his second term as prime minister, Nouri appointed his stooge, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, to be Minister of the State for Women's Affairs. . She's gotten herself in trouble in the last weeks in Iraq. She's declared that she doesn't believe in equality, that Iraqi women need their husband's permission before doing anything (presumably their son's or father's permission if they're widowed, divorced or unmarried) and has come up with a little dress code for Iraqi women employed by the government. Al Mada reports today that MP Safia al-Suhail is calling the gender traitor out and asking that al-Zaidi appear before Parliament to explain this dress code (which bans certain skirts, t-shirts and sneakers among other items -- but only for women) and al-Suhail points out that al-Zaidi's remarks are troubling and run contrary to the oath the Minister of Women's Affairs took when assuming her office.
Meanwhile Online International News notes that there is a worldwide rise in cases of measles after years of decline and that Iraq had 30,328 cases in 2011. That's over one person in every thousand of Iraq's population. In other health news, as last month came to a close, the World Health Organization held a handover ceremony in Sulimaniya Province where they and the United Nations Development Program "handed over the first specialised Tuberculosis (TB) hospital to the Government of Iraq at a cermoney.''
In violence, Reuters reports a Baghdad sticky bombing injured one person and, dropping back to Thursday night for the rest, a Muqdadiya shooting that killed 1 man and a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left seven people injured.
At the US State Dept, yesterday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the US drones in Iraq (link is text and video):.
MS. NULAND: Please. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes. The drone controversy, the drone controversy in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Said?
QUESTION: Yes. I -- about the drone controversy, that's my question. The fiery cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is saying that this is a breach of Iraqi sovereignty, that the U.S. Embassy is, by doing this spy drone thing, is breaching Iraqi sovereignty, and he's calling on Iraqis to resist and he's calling on the Iraqi Government to stop the U.S. Embassy from doing that, and in fact given you -- gave you a timetable, a deadline timetable. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: I don't have any comment on that, no.
QUESTION: Do you know -- actually, do you know -- has the Iraqi Government actually complained about this to you?
MS. NULAND: I -- given the fact that we are continuing discussion about a whole host of issues having to do with how we manage our very large Embassy presence in Iraq, including aspects of security, I don't think it's so much a matter of complaint, as you would say, as an ongoing dialogue about what's appropriate going forward.
QUESTION: No, but the -- when this was first reported on Monday or Tuesday, or sometime earlier this week --
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- or maybe it was last week, I don't even remember now, but it had been presented that the Iraqis were furious -- the Iraqi Government, not a cleric here or there, but that the actual Iraqi Government was upset, was angry and demanding that this not happen. You're not aware that that's actually the case though, correct?
MS. NULAND: I am not. But let me take the question. Okay?
Earlier this week, Al Mada reported Iraqi government sources stated US drones are not the only US aircraft occupying the Iraqi skies currently. In addition there are the US helicopters (such as the one that went down in Baghdad recently) and F-16 aircraft. Al Mannarah adds that while the US claims to respect the sovereignity of all countries even as it sends drones across borders. Felicity Arbuthnot weighs in with "War Or No War In Iraq? Drones Over Iraq: When is a Pullout not a Pullout?" (Centre for Research on Globalalization):
First the world was sold imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, General Colin Powell, at the United Nations in February 2003, asserting: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
Now it seems the world is sold a withdrawal from Iraq which was not quite what it seemed, as presented by the Panetta-Obama-fest in the Baghdad, Fort Bragg speeches of just six weeks ago. At Fort Bragg: "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history …" said the President.
Well, not quite.
In an interesting sleight of hand, the State Department, rather than the Pentagon, is operating a fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq.
In: " … the latest example of the State Department's efforts to take over the functions in Iraq that the military used to perform."(i)
Further, the near Vatican City sized US Embassy in Baghdad is protected by five thousand mercenaries and has a further staff of eleven thousand, a large number, seemingly in a "military advice" capacity, training Iraqi forces -- a nation that, ironically, nine years ago the US and UK cited as having a military capability not alone a threat "to the entire region", but to the West.
The issue really received attention when US President Barack Obama spoke about it in an online townhall. Nicole Goebel (Deutsche Welle) quotes Barack insisting Monday, "It is important for everybody to understand that this is kept on a very tight leash." But as Patt Morrison noted on her self-titled program (KPCC) yesterday, more than 200 strikes in Pakistan alone since 2009, "it's the CIA that runs the drone program not the air force [. . .] and the drone question has never really come up before Congress in all the years of its use." The broadcast was a debate on the issues between the Heritage Foundation's James Jay Carafano and the University of Notre Dame's law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell. Excerpt.
Mary Ellen O'Connell: Patt, I've got very serious concerns. It is true that if a drone is used on the battlefield -- and today the United States is involved in armed conflict hostilities in one place only, that is Afghanistan, that is the only place where we can use the current generation of drones lawfully because those drones fire missiles and drop bombs. If we want to do covert operations today, the United States moved to the point before 9/11 where we were not having the CIA involved in lethal operations. After the 1980s, the dirty wars in Central America, we got the CIA out of killing. That also followed, of course, the tragic years of Vietnam in which the CIA was doing a large amount of killing and we didn't think the way that Vietnam turned out was right for our country or right for the world. And then after the compounded problems of the CIA involved in lethal, covert operations, the Congress stopped it. Now what we're seeing today is not only a replay of that failure -- moral and legal -- to have the CIA involved in those kinds of operations but it is exacerbated by the this type of weaponry kills so many people in addition to the target.
O'Connell stated that a conservative estimate for the number of people killed in US drone attacks so far would be 2200 people. Robert Wright (The Atlantic) notes the skill with which Barack navigated, controlled and circumvented the topic:
At one point in his Google Plus conversation, Obama did a masterful job of describing the function of the drone strikes in a way that did allude to their battlefield function, but still appealed to "war on terror" psychology. The people targeted by the drones, he said, "are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on." When you're at war, is it really "terrorism" for the enemy to kill your soldiers? If so, why isn't it terrorism for your soldiers to kill the enemy (especially when you sometimes, as with drone strikes, kill civilians)? But of course, the virtue of the word "terrorism" is that it makes us think of al Qaeda, whether or not al Qaeda is in fact involved.
If drone strikes are indeed increasing America's vulnerability to terrorism in the long run--and if in the short term they're a price paid for Obama's 2008 political calculation--then it's no wonder the president is using these sorts of verbal smokescreens.
Again, thus far, no armed drones are being used by the US State Dept in Iraq -- as far as we know. However, the US is in talks with Turkey to provide them with armed drones to patrol northern Iraq. (That should be a done deal since Turkey's already given over land for a CIA base on the border.) But the CIA is operating within Iraq. Whether or not they're using armed drones? I would imagine they were. Considering that they an US Special Ops continue to operate in Iraq, it's very likely that the CIA is operating armed drones in Iraq. (And possibly using the State Dept's unarmed drones as a cover.) RT notes, "Aside from the fleet of drones flying overhead, the tally of American-aligned personnel in Iraq totals close to 15,000. The US Embassy in Baghdad is the largest of its kind, and holds around 11,000 staffers. Military contractors on assignment to protect the embassy account for around another 4,000. If that presence on the ground wasn't enough, now the US is putting its planes overhead." M. Dennis Paul (Salem-News.com) observes, "Obama went on to lie directly to the Nation in stating no Americans remained in combat in Iraq and that a favor had been done to that nation and the world. This writer happens to know several Americans who are still in Iraq and are still fighting there. It is doubtful they represent a small number as there are literally hundreds of thousands of hired guns who have replaced the uniformed GI in Iraq. They protect embassies, government officials, corporate big wigs, and every manner of $$ making operation in that nation that so benefited from our incursions it looks like a scene from one of so many futuristic films about global war and destruction. Ask any Iraqi on the street if he appreciates the American invasion. A constant and sad refrain is that Iraq was better off before... not after. Death, displacement, destruction of over 80% of infrastructure, toxic air, land and water, deformed children, hundreds of thousands of innocents struggling to obtain care for themselves and their families.. many struggling just to find their families, constant sniper fire, bombings, threats, crime of all sorts... Yes, Obama can sell it like his predecessors."