Thursday, December 27, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 27, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, more weapons for Nouri, more deaths for Iraqis, protests continue, a major one is planned for tomorrow, we look at the issues facing the selection of a US Secretary of Defense, and more.
"I should have seen the s**t coming down the hall," sings Greg Dulli on the Afghan Whig's "When We Two Parted" (New Year's Eve, the Whigs will be rocking it at Bogart's in Cincinnati). When it comes to Thomas E. Ricks, most of us did.  It was only a matter of time before he turned on Emma Sky and, today, at Foreign Policy he does.  We're aganostic on Emma but we can enjoy the implosion as Ricks argues Sky is wrong (and the subtext is Tommy Loves David Petraeus best so he turns on Emma and her US military patron Gen Ray Odierno).  While chuckling over the dynamics and drama Thomas E. Ricks churns out, we're also left with this 'stellar' advice:
If anything could be recommended at this point, it would be for the Obama Administration to abandon the unwanted meddling in Iraqi police affairs and ineffective training, and to openly and effectively engage that broad Iraqi public through positive political focus on the "plain vanilla" operations of civil government systems and technical advice, which the United States has an abundance of and the Iraqi public seriously needs.
Iraq is a failed-state.  You realize too late that Thomas E. Ricks is not only a War Hawk but also completely ignorant.  You realize what you always feared: Thomas dabbles.  The police program has been greatly scaled back and that happened long ago -- and rather publicly even in the US press.  Iraq does not move forward under Nouri.
At some point, the US government is going to have to grasp what various NGOs already have.  But there's Thomas Ricks, who should know better, talking about actions that transfer technology to a despot.  In doing so, they alarm the Kurds and the Sunnis and make Iraq even less stable.
Poor Thomas E. Ricks.  When he died as a reporter, he was reborn as the chief sales person for the munitions industry.
As he calls for 'technology' to be shared, it's worth noting Monday's Defense Security Cooperation Agency's press release:
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2012 -- The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress Dec. 21 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Iraq for Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $125 million.
The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) operations and maintenance services, equipment installation services, upgrade VSAT managed and leased bandwith, video teleconferencing equipment, 75 VSAT Equipment Suites (consisting of 1.8m VSAT terminals, block up covnerters (BUCs), low-noise down converters (LNBs), required cables and components, iDirect e8350 modem, network operation and dynamic bandwidth equipment, and iMonitor softward), spares and repair parts, tools, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, U.S. Government and contractor representative technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $125 million.
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.  This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
This proposed sale will continue U.S. support to the development of Iraqi Defense Network (IDN) VSAT terminals.  Iraq intends to use these defense articles and services to provide command and control for its armed forces.  The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense. 
The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The principal contractors will be 3Di Technologies and L-3 Communications Company in Hanover, Maryland. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require U.S. Government or contractor representatives to travel to Iraq for delivery of operations and maintenance services, installation of new sites for each year of required operations and maintenance services, and field services to install and move VSAT sites and training for a period of one year.
There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.
This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.
Let's look at the two claims in the press release:
1) The purchase of this equipment will enhance the Iraqi military's foundational capabilities, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world and supporting its legitimate needs for its own self-defense.  The proposed sale of this support and services will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
2) This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States.
With regards to one, how is Iraq's military foundational capabilities increased without    "alter[ing] the basic military balance in the region"?  And since Nouri al-Maliki's own State of Law can't go a month without proclaiming that some segment of Iraqi military is plotting to overthrow al-Maliki, how is it in the interests of the region to arm Iraq?
Even more importantly, who are these weapons to be used on?  Not only is there a valid concern that Nouri will use weapons on the Iraqi people, there is Nouri's notorious paranoia.  Do you put a loaded gun into the hand of the crazy person ranting on the street about how people are out to get him? 
With regards to the second assertion -- there's no way this helps the US and it's even more difficult to see how this $125 million purchase  helps the Iraqi people.
David Romano (Rudaw) observes that $6 billion was the annual budget for Iraq from 1997 to 2003 and the people were provided with food, with electricity, with basic public services.  Now?
Today's Iraq enjoy an unimaginably higher budget.  Oil revenues bring in some one hundred billion dollars a year.  One would think that with such vast sums of wealth, the country would enjoy spectacular increases in standards of living. Instead, garbage lies uncollected on street corner after street corner, with little children playing in disease-ridden alleyways.  Security remains elsuive as kidnappings, mafia shakedowns and political assassinations cast a shadow across entire communities.  Baghdad and other cities still lack electricity, with noisy portable generators rumbling through the night and spewing their pollution across entire neighborhoods.  Some twenty-five billion dollars "spent" on restoring the country's electrical grid seems to have produced little tangible results, possibly because the business interests who rent generators don't want the electric grid restored. 
Explain to me again how the Iraqi people are helped by this $125 million weapons contract?  Today, Alsumaria reports 4 deaths -- including two sisters, one 12 and one 18.  From Wednesday's snapshot:

Alsumaria notes yesterday's rains have caused 3 deaths and two people to be injured in Baghdad -- two deaths from a house collapsing due to the rain and one from electrical death (with two more injured in that as well) and that main streets in the capital are sinking.  All Iraq News notes Baghdad has been placed on high alert because of the torrential rains. 
You could mistake Baghdad for Venice in
this All Iraq News photo essay which notes that students are forced to walk through the high standing water to get to schools.   They also note of Tuesday's rainfall:  Baghdad had the most yesterday (67 mm) followed by Hilla, Azizia and Karbala (rainfall was also recorded in Samawa, Rifai and Basra -- of those three, Basra was the highest and Baghdad's rainfall was three times Basra's).   It's not just Baghdad.  Alsumaria notes that after ten house[s] collapse[d] in Wasit Province village, the Iraqi Red Crescent began evacuating the entire village.
Al Mada notes today that Iraqis who might plan to travel Italy no longer need visit Venice to see streets of water, they just need to step outside their homes and they can take in the beauty of water surrounding houses, riding  a car through the Sadr section of Baghdad can be like a gondala ride in Venice. 
As Iraq crumbles, Nouri's spending $125 million on a weapons program (which will allow him to track Iraqis via satellite)?  This helps the Iraqi people how?
There is no ethical justification for the US government to allow this sale.  Greed isn't ethical but they could be honest and admit that greed is why they'll gladly grab $125 million that should instead be spent improving the lives of the Iraqi people.  "Greed" would be a honest reason for the deal.  Again, not an ethical reason, but an honest one.
Reuters reports that protests continued today in Iraq with the highway to Jordan and Syria being blocked "for a fifth day" and that along with the protest in Ramadi, there was also a protest in Mosul.  Earlier today, Alsumaria reported that a protest has been called for Friday (Moqtada al-Sadr has added his endorsement) and the focus of the protest will be women prisoners.  This has been building for some time with the treatment of women in Iraqi prisons and detention centers been a focal point for weeks now with allegations of rape and torture.  Kitabat notes that calls for the women prisoners to be released were frequent at most of this week's rallies.  Alsumaria notes that Moqtada al-Sadr told the network through his spokesperson (Salah al-Obeidi) that he regrets statements at demonstrations that go to sectarianism and against the Iraqi national identity and he stated he stands with the calls the protesters are making.
And the reports of allegations and torture and what Committees in Parliament have discovered, led to Nouri's freak out where he threatened to arrest members of Parliament who talked about the torture and rape.  Yesterday, he was insisting he had the power to do so.  Al Mada notes today that Nouri's remarks are in conflict with the Iraqi Constitution. 
Article 63:
First: A law shall regulate the rights and privileges of the speaker of the Council of Representatives, his two deputies, and the members of the Council of Representatives.
Second: A.  A member of the Council of Representatives shall enjoy immunity for statements made while the Council is in session, and the member may not be prosecuted before the courts for such.
              B.  A Council of Representatives member may not be placed under arrest during the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and the Council of Representatives members consent by an absoulte majority to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
             C. A Council of Representatives member may not be arrested after the legislative term of the Council of Representatives, unless the member is accused of a felony and with the consent of the speaker of the Council of Representatives to lift his immunity or if he is caught in flagrante delicto in the commission of a felony.
No, that is not in keeping with the claims Nouri's made this week that he will just strip MPs of their immunity and have them arrested.  The above section of the Constitution is very clear.  But Nouri's never really abided by or honored the Iraq Constitution.  And when he went after Vice Presdient Tareq al-Hashemi, he didn't follow the rules.  To do so would have required Parliament to vote against al-Hashemi and Nouri was (repeatedly) rebuffed in his efforts against al-Hashemi as well as against Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.  December 2011, Nouri targeted Tareq and Saleh who were both Sunnis and also both members of Iraqiya, the political slate that beat Nouri al -Maliki's State of Law.  This month, he targeted Rafia al-Issawi who is the Minister of Finance and also happens to be Sunni and a member of Iraqiya. 
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi warned against a "civil war that would divide Iraq." He described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a "liar, despotic and bloody," and predicted "a spontaneous popular uprising" that would topple Maliki. According to him, Iran "is leading the war machine against the Syrian people." He called on President Barack Obama to "correct the mistakes of his predecessor."

Turning to today's violence,   All Iraq News notes 1 Iraqi soldier was killed in an armed attack in Mousl and a Mosul home invasion left 1 person dead,  and 1 police officer, who was on a vacation in Mousl, was shot dead in an attack. and a Mosul roadside bombing left two police officers injured.    Alsumaria adds a roadside bombing outside of Tikrit left two Iraqi military personnel injured. and a Baquba bombing left one person injured.  Reminder, through yesterday, Iraq Body Count tabulated 223 deaths from violence in the month of December so far.
Jay Newton-Small (Time magazine) reports on the flow of refugees from Syria into Iraq:
Almost all of the Syrian refugees Iraq has accepted are Kurds into Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous state in the north that exercises many of its own policies. Authorities elsewhere in Iraq have refused all but 9,000 Arab refugees for fear that the highly sectarian violence across the border in Syria may whip up similar flames in Iraq. The Kurds, though, are eager to help out their brethren, even if their resources are already stressed. So far, the Kurdish government has spent $11 million for the camp, but much more is needed. "We plan an international appeal," Bakir says.
Aside from the tent shortage, there is also a shortage of food, especially for single men who have their own area on the far side of the camp. Families also have a shortage of water. The newer arrivals have to share one water drum per three or four families, which doesn't translate to enough drinking or cooking water, let alone water to bathe with. The lucky ones get one shower a week. Electricity hasn't been a problem – there's enough for everyone to run lights and cookers. But there's not enough for heaters and the chills of winter are setting in.
The main reason for the shortages is because UNHCR didn't expect the sudden surge of refugees, says Jerome Seregni, a UNHCR spokesman. "Since December 2011, Iraq has continued to receive Syrians with an average rate of 1,000 persons monthly from April through June to suddenly 1,000 persons weekly during  August to October," Seregni says. "And although in November/December the number of arrivals was slightly decreasing, nevertheless 200 to 500 daily Syrians were registering in the camp."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does work around the world assisting those in need.  If you are interested in donating to the UNHCR, you can visit this web page (where you can donate securely online or obtain information on sending a donation in via regular postal mail).

Turning to the US, once upon a time we noted Joe Conason.  We've ignored him for several years now to be kind because I know for a fact 2008 was not a pretty year for Joe as he tried to be ethical and a journalist.  The two were not rewarded on the left.  So when someone tells me about Joe's latest column -- for the last years -- I just roll my eyes and know he suffered (and suffered unfairly) in 2008.  But there is no lifetime hall pass. 
Joe has an intensely idiotic column that would be embarrassing from a 'journalist' like Air Berman but is shameful from Joe.  Joe's all Chuck E. In Love on Hagel.  And rewriting history in the process.  Because US President Barack Obama might nominate Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, a lot of whoring's taking place and Joe is just an embarrassment.  Here is Chuck Hagel as seen by the Democratic left in 2004:
5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines. 6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee. 7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.
That's BuzzFlash in December of 2004.  Long-connected to the Bush family?  And Democrats now want let that tired old man be Secretary of Defense?
Let's deal with Joe's nonsense.  Vote Vets is a joke and will always be a joke.  It's 'membership' is a joke because people join after having been misled and then find out that it's nothing but a Democratic Party organ.  And after they leave, it turns out that they're still counted as a member.  Vote Vets does nothing to help veterans, it does a lot to provide cover for Democrats.   If Ari Berman was citing them as reputable, you wouldn't be surprised but Joe? 
On top of that, Joe wants you to know that Hagel is qualified because Hagel was in the military.  If that's qualified, then Joe is not qualified to speak because he wasn't in the military and he's of the age that he could have volunteered to go to Vietnam.  So by his logic, maybe he should just be quiet.
Joe lists a lot of 'reasons' like that.  None of it has to do with today.  Nor does Michael Hirsh's nonsense at National Journal.
Today?  Gregg Zoroya (USA Today via WTLV) reports approximately 50% of US service woman deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan self-disclose that they were sexually harassed while deployed and approximatly a quarter of the women also self-disclose having been sexually assaulted while deployed.  Melissa Jeltsen (Huffington Post) explains, "Researchers contacted 1,100 women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and asked them questions about sexual assaults and harassment while deployed."  You'll note that Joe Conason and Michael Hirsh avoid this issue -- even though the assault has been an issue for some time, even though addressing it and changing the tone is one of the major roles of the Secretary of Defense.  Joe and Michael are too busy scratching their crotches to actually think what the Secretary of Defense does.
We do get that right?  We also get that the Secretary of Defense is not deciding wars.  That's the President's job.  Hirsh and Conason want you to believe that Republican Chuck Hagel is an oracle and seer.  How about we deal with reality?
Chuck Hagel is too old for the job and he brings nothing to the job that's different than what Robert Gates did.  I know Leon Panetta and I fear, honestly, for Leon's health.  He's had to knock himself out in this position.  I blame Gates for that because Gates didn't do half of what was needed.  Didn't even try.  That doesn't mean Panetta should be graded on a curve.  But it is why I say that the position, right now, needs to be going to someone younger than might be expected.  It needs youth and energy and it needs someone not afraid to shake things up to force change.  How does Hagel provide any of that?  (He doesn't.)
Hirsh and Conason seem unaware of the actual duties of the Secretary of Defense.  Maybe that's why they fail to note DoD's release, last week, of [PDF format warning] the "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies."  The report notes that there was a 23% increase in rapes reported when compared to the last annual report (and the report notes that many rapes go unreported).  51% of women and 10% of men surveyed reported being the victim of sexual harassment.   There are a number of disturbing details in the report -- hopefully the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing next month on the report because there are a number of issues that US House Reps Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, Chellie Pingree and Niki Tsongas have asked about before (and usually been denied answers on -- such as how many restricted rape reports become unrestricted). But I'm especially bothered by what DoD says happened with 27 people who were found by the Command to be guilty of rape or assault.  I'm bothered by the 'punishment' they received which doesn't seem sufficent to me and I believe that this needs to be explained in a full hearing. For example, I'm sure a lot of rapists would love it if being found guilty of rape just meant that they were kicked out of their profession. 
So what's in Hagel's background that tells us he's going to address this issue?  That he has the desire to?  That he has the energy to?
Hagel is from the same square box thinking as Robert Gates.  Barack Obama needs to go bold with this decision because 'safe' choices -- standardized DC 'leadership' think -- has not resulted in changes for those issues, nor for the suicide crisis, nor for homeless veterans of today's wars.  The overall rate for homeless veterans has fallen.  But the rate for veterans of today's wars has increased.  UPI reports today that the number of Afghanistan War veterans alone -- just that one war -- who are homeless had doubled in since 2010.  You can say, "Veterans, that's a VA issue!" No, it also has to do with what information and resources service members are made aware of before they become veterans.  These are all serious issues and they're not addressed or even noted in passing in the superficial writing of Conason and Hirsh.
If you're not weighing those issues, you're not talking about the post at hand.  You may be drooling over Chuck Hagel.  Certainly Joe Conason appears to when he writes, "Already he has felt obliged to apologize for a nasty remark he once made in reaction to President Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador."  As Greg Sargent (Washington Post -- I'm surprised too but glad to be surprised by Sargent), Hagel's remarks were:  "Ambassadorial posts are sensitive. They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyles, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be --  openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel -- to do a better job.""
That's not a nasty remark, it's a bigoted remark.  As Sargent also noted, Hormel has never received an apology from Hagel.  Hagel only made his public 'apology' when this became an issue in the news cycle.  In addition, he was against ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  It would appear for Chuck Hagel to be comfortable as Secretary of Defense, we would need to build a time machine for him, first, so it could be 1952 all over again.   And Joe's working overtime to paint Hagel as the victim of a neocon plot but, reality, Steve Clemons (The Atlantic) reports that neocon Zalmay Khalilzad is endorsing Hagel.
He is not qualified.  Two Democrats who are would be: Susan Rice and Patrick Murphy.  For all the reasons Rice was wrong for the State Dept, she's right for the Defense Dept.  Someone young and not afraid to shake things up or ruffle feathers is needed at this point because there needs to be a change in the culture of the Pentagon itself.  Rice's record indicates she would be effective, she would go after logical goals in a variety of ways -- including inspired and inventive means.  Patrick Murphy is a former member of the US House of Representatives and also an Iraq War veteran.  He too would shake things up.  We've seen that in his ability to bond with other veterans to fight real issues -- health care, benefits, discrimination.  His has not been the typical path of a veteran who goes to Congress.  After Rice and Murphy, the most obvious choice would be a medical doctor with training and experience in sucicdes and/or assaults.  These issues have got to be taken care of because the US military is not healthy until they are.  Allowing the military to remain unhealthy is not only abuse, it puts them and the general society at risk.
When Hirsh and Conason want to leave the kiddie pool and talk about real issues in the grown up world, we'll gladly welcome them over.  In the meantime, they're lovely cheerleadrs for Hagel but they're not offering anything of depth or value.  And speaking of superficial, Joe Conason should dwell in writer's hell for including Vote Vets' ridiculous statement that Hagel would "put troops first."  I'm not able to think of any Secretary of Defense who doesn't make that claim -- even Donald Rumsfeld makes that claim.  What a stupid remark, what an insult to the veterans that this passes for 'leadership' from Vote Vets.  That's the job of the Secretary of Defense.  Again, Joe should dwell in writer's hell for that one.
Moving over to England,  Gordon Rayner and John-Paul Ford Rojas (Telegraph of London) report yet another delay for the Iraq Inquiry, this one, as usual, is related to Tony Blair and secrecy.  The Iraq Inquiry long ago finished taking public testimony.  They explain themselves:

The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown announced on 15 June 2009 that an Inquiry would be conducted to identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict. The Iraq Inquiry was officially launched on 30 July 2009. At the launch the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, set out the Inquiry's Terms of Reference:
"Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country." 
The Inquiry committee members are Sir John Chilcot (Chairman), Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.
The Inquiry took evidence over a number of months, with as many hearings as possible held in public. The first round of hearings began in autumn 2009 and continued into early 2010. After a break for the general election, the Inquiry resumed its public hearings in June for a period of five weeks. The Inquiry held its final round of public hearings between 18th January - 2nd February 2011. The Inquiry intends to deliver its report as soon as possible (see the homepage). The Inquiry committee intends to include in the report all but the most sensitive information essential to our national security. The report will then be debated in Parliament.
For more information, see the following sections:

Rayner and Ford Rojas report that David Cameron's government is refusing to release certain documents that are likely to detail how then-Prime Minister Tony Blair made a deal with Bully Boy Bush to go to war on Iraq before he ever consulted Parliament.  Military Families Against the War's Reg Keys is quoted stating, "The report was supposed to be published in 2011, when it was still a very hot potato, but by the time we eventually see it people might think it was all a long time ago and it doesn't really matter any more."  Surprisingly, the normal chatty, can't stop talking about himself Tony Blair has no statement posted at his online office.