Monday, February 11, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Monday, February 11, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, another suicide car bomber, over the weekend Camp Liberty is attacked, former US House Rep Patrick Kennedy calls for UNAMI head Martin Kobler to step down, Nouri blocks access into Baghdad, and more.

Last week was the tenth anniversary of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lying to the United Nations because lying was the only way to sell the illegal war.  His guy pal Lawrence Wilkerson worked hard to spin for Powell last week.  But, as Third noted,  Norman Solomon repeatedly countered the revisionary spin: "turned out a column of truth, went on Democracy Now! and debated Larry (Amy was so supportive of Larry, wasn't she?) and then discussed Powell's presentation on CounterSpin."  Today, he has a new column about the refusal, all this time later, for officials to be honest or accountable.  Excerpt. 

The illustrious and sturdy bow on the entire political package is immunity — a reassuring comfort to retired and present war leaders alike. Former Bush officials and current Obama officials have scant reason to worry that their conduct of war might one day put them in a courtroom dock. They’ve turned their noses up at international law, lowered curtains on transparency and put some precious civil liberties in a garbage compactor with the president’s hand on the switch.
Normalizing silence and complicity is essential fuel for endless war. With top officials relying on their own exculpatory status, a grim feedback loop keeps spinning as the increasingly powerful warfare state runs roughshod over the principle of consent of the governed. Top officials dodge responsibility — and pay no penalty — for lying the country into, and into continuing, horrendous wars and other interventions.
Without an honest reckoning of what did and didn’t happen in the lead-up to the Iraq war, a pernicious message comes across from Wilkerson, Powell and many others: of course we stuck it out and followed orders, we had private doubts but fulfilled our responsibilities to maintain public support for the war.
It’s a kind of role modeling that further corrodes the political zeitgeist. The upshot is that people at the top of the U.S. government — whether in 2003 or 2013 — have nothing to lose by going along with the program for war. In a word: impunity.

In addition, Norman Solomon also appeared last week on Danny Schechter's News Dissector Radio which airs Thursdays on the Progressive Radio Network at 5:00 pm EST. You can stream it here (Media Channel).  I haven't had time to listen yet -- and only know about it because of Media Channel's mailing.  We'll note it today and we'll excerpt it tomorrow.  Media Channel is back up and running, FYI.

On Iraq, Ramzy Baroud ( observes:

When the last US combat brigade had reportedly left Iraq in Dec. 2011, this was meant to be an end of an era. Historians know well that conflicts do not end with a presidential decree or troop deployments. Iraq merely entered a new phase of conflict and the US, Britain, and others, remain integral parties of that conflict. 
One post-invasion and war reality is that Iraq was divided into areas of influence based on purely sectarian and ethnic lines. In western media’s classification of winners and losers, Sunnis, blamed for being favored by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, emerged as the biggest loser. While Iraq’s new political elites were divided between Shiite and Kurdish politicians (each party with its own private army, some gathered in Baghdad and others in the autonomous Kurdistan region), the Shiite population was held by various militant groups responsible for Sunni unfortunates. On Feb. 8, 2013, five car bombs blew up in what was quickly recognized as “Shiite areas,” killing 34 people. A few days earlier, on Feb. 4, 22 people were also killed in a similar fashion.
The sectarian strife in Iraq, which is responsible for the death of tens of thousands, is making a comeback. Iraqi Sunnis, including major tribes and political parties are demanding equality and the end of their disfranchisement in the relatively new, skewed Iraqi political system under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Massive protests and ongoing strikes have been organized with a unified and clear political message.
However, numerous other parties are exploiting the polarization in every way imaginable: to settle old scores, to push the country back to the brink of civil war, to amplify the mayhem underway in various Arab countries, most notably Syria, and in some instances to adjust sectarian boundaries in ways that could create good business opportunities.

Iraq is a failed state.  Owen Jones' "What a tragedy that we couldn't stop the war in Iraq despite marching in our thousands" (Independent) lays out that case:

All this blood, and for what? In 2005, Ayad Allawi – a former CIA agent originally installed as Iraqi Prime Minister – argued that “people are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse”. Human Rights Watch warns that “the Iraq people today have a government that is slipping further into authoritarianism”, listing “draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators, and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq”. Iraq is now 150th out of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, worse than Russia or Zimbabwe; and the US government-funded Freedom House rates Iraq 6 for civil liberties and 6 for political rights, with 7 being the worst. No wonder Tony Dodge, an Iraq expert at the LSE, warns that “Maliki is heading towards an incredibly destructive dictatorship”.
Easy for me to berate, you might think: I didn’t live through the horror of Saddam. Listen to the Iraqi people, then. A detailed poll by Zogby at the end of 2011 revealed that just 30 per cent of Iraqis felt the invasion left them better off; 23 per cent felt things were just the same, and 42 per cent said they were worse. Among the Shia, 70 per cent felt things were worse or just as bad as under Saddam; it was 79 per cent among Sunnis. Winning hearts and minds indeed.

And in the failed state today?   UPI reports that Nouri al-Maliki's government refused to let a Turkish plane land -- the plane was supposed "to land in Kirkuk and pick up some of the 75 Kurdish victims of a Jan. 23 assault by Arabs in the Iraqi city of Tuz Khurmatu."  The plane's landing isn't the only thing Nouri's blocking.  Kitabat reports today that Nouri's forces are preventing the residents of Salahuddin Province and Nineveh Province from entering Baghdad and that traffic is stopped as i.d.s are checked and security forces turn people away.  Alsumaria also notes that people are being prevented from entering Baghdad and adds that there are rumors that Nouri plans to impose a curfew starting Thursday.  What's got Nouri in a panic?

From Saturday:

Kitabat reports that yesterday some protesters in Anbar Province announced their intent to march to Baghdad next Friday.  All Iraq News notes National Alliance MP Qasim al-Araji is calling out the plan to stage a sit-in in Baghdad.  The Ministry of Interior (run by Nouri al-Maliki since he never nominated anyone to head it) had its own announcement.  Alsumaria reports that today it was declared their intent to crack down on any protest -- anywhere in the country -- that they felt was a threat or lacked a permit.  Al Mada notes that the spokesperson for the Anbar protests, Sayad Lafi, states that the protesters have written Baghdad seeking permission to pray in the city on Friday and return the same day. 

Al Mada reports that the Anbar protesters state they have still not received a reply to their request.  The reply is most likely "no" judging by events taking place currently.  Al Jazeera, the Chrisian Science Monitor and PRI's Jane Arraf Tweets on the vehicles being prevented from entering Baghdad.

army security checks from /Fallujah to blocking traffic for miles days ahead of Friday protest in Baghdad.

  1. army closing roads from for the night. 'Don't you know what the situation is like?' soldier says.

In other protest news,  Alsumaria notes that Diyala Province officials have formed a committee to convey the demands of the protesters to the federal government.  In addition, Vice President Khudair Khuzaie told US Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Beecroft that the federal government will be "flexible" when it comes to the protesters demandsAlsumaria notes Iraqiya issued a statement noting their continued solidarity with protesters and their legimate demands.  Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq met with Anbar Province Governor Qassim Fahdawi to discuss ways to implement the demands of the protesters.  al-Mutlaq is a member of Iraqiya.     All Iraq News speaks with Iraiqya MP Raad Danielle who states there has been too much procrastination and foot dragging.  He cites an example of the protesters calls for detainees to be released and how these are words in the media but they are not acted upon by the government. 

Martin Kobler is the Special Enovy in Iraq for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Karin Laub (AP) interviews Kobler today

Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, said that while he believes the head of the committee, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, is taking the Sunni concerns seriously, "there is more the government could do" to deal with the protesters' demands.
"We have the impression that a lot of the problems (raised by the demonstrators) are rule of law, human rights problems, the situation in detention centres. And these are all problems the government can solve tomorrow," Kobler told The Associated Press.

Violence continues in Iraq.  Iraq Body Count notes that through Sunday 139 people have died from violence in Iraq so far this month.  That's 139 violent deaths in 10 days.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets his organization's catch.

After a couple late-confirmed deaths last night, we are now up to 110 dead, 273 wounded this month in Iraq - :

Today?  Sufyan Mashhadani, Isabel Coles and Kevin Liffey (Reuters) report a Mosul suicide car bombing has claimed 12 lives (in addition to the driver of the car) and left at least eighteen injure.   Alsumaria notes that an attack on a Thar Thar checkpoint (outside of Ramadi) resulted in the deaths of 2 Iraqi soldiers and two more injures.  All Iraq News adds that a Baghdad sticky bombing has left the Dean of the Ministry of the Interior injured.  UPI reports that Sahwa commander in Diyala Province Khaled al-Lahibi has been assassinated in Baquba.  The assassination of al-Lahibi was the third assassination attempt of a high profile figure in as many days.  Alsumaria notes that a Sunday Mosul bombing targeted Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's convoy (no one is reported harmed and al-Nujaifi wasn't in the convoy despite his being expected to have been).    Focus Information Agency noted Saturday that the Polish Ambassador to Iraq, Lech Stefaniak, was targeted by a roadside bombing in Baghdad but no one was hurt. 

Dropping back to last night, Dale McEwan (Press TV) reports, "The Kurdistan Region’s Nalia Radio and Television - NRT - is reeling following a bomb attack on Saturday night. The small device on NRT’s roof did not claim any casualties but was enough to send a warning. The previous day a member of the public phoned in to a live show and blasted Kurdistan’s ruling Barzani family. NRT, based in Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah city, has called on Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous government for protection."

Saturday there was an attack on Camp Liberty.  Prensa Latina reports, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."  CNN explained, "The rocket and mortar attack occurred at Camp Hurriya, a onetime U.S. base formerly known as Camp Liberty, which is now the home of the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq. Accounts of the number of people killed and wounded in the attack vary."

Approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."

Under court order, the US State Dept evaluated their decision to place the MEK on the terrorist list and, September 28th, took the MEK off the terrorist list.   A statement Saturday from the office of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted, "The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Iraq, which is responsible for the safety and security of residents of both Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf, to promptly and fully investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice."  A statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees quoted High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres stating, "I strongly condemn this attack.  This is a despicable act of violence. I call on the Iraqi Government to do everything it can to guarantee security to the residents.  The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice without delay."  KUNA notes today that France's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack and that "We bring our support to the United Nations plan to transfer people in the camp to third countries.  This plan is in the process of being implemented and we are ready to participate in it, through coordination with the UN High Commission for Refugees."   Saturday night, the US State Dept issued the following:

Press Statement
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
February 9, 2013

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the vicious and senseless terrorist attack that took place this morning at Camp Hurriya killing 6 people and injuring dozens more. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and hope for the swift recovery of those who were injured.
We understand the Government of Iraq has undertaken to promptly investigate the attack. We call on it to earnestly and fully carry out that investigation and to take all appropriate measures to enhance the security of the camp consistent with its commitment and obligation to the safety and security of the camp's residents. The terrorists responsible for this attack must be brought to justice.
We are consulting with the Government of Iraq and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, and we remain committed to assisting the Government of Iraq and UNAMI in their efforts to implement the December 25, 2011 agreement.

Of course, Nuland had nothing to say today at the US State Dept press briefing. 

Someone who's not silent?  Former US House Rep Patrick Kennedy (disclosure, I know Patrick).  He was in DC over the weekend for a conference of Iranian-Americans.  Click here for the video of his speech.  Excerpt.

Patrick Kennedy:  We need the United States to come out today and say they are for protecting -- as they promised -- the people of Camp Liberty and that we're not going to let them have any more people die at the hands of the Iranian secret police and their collaborators in the Iraqi government.  Let's not make any mistake about it, this cannot be laid off on the United Nations.  We're in Washington, DC.  The United States has a responsibility to those six people who were killed.  We have our word that we're going to protect them.  And here we have two documents.  We know about these documents, all of us now.   Now that Mr. [Tahar] Boumedra [former adviser to UNAMI's Martin Kobler] left the United Nations and exposed -- exposed the fact that in the draft survey of whether Liberty was suitable for humanitarian purposes, this draft said categorically was not suitable, was not safe.  And in this document signed on by people like Martin Kobler, the UN Representative in charge of the protection of Camp Liberty, he verifies, the UN verifies, that Liberty is safe.  We know -- we know now that the blood of those innocent martyrs that were killed last night are on Martin Kobler's hands today.  Today -- Today -- Today Martin Kobler ought to resign his position at the United Nations in disgrace and the United States ought to take every step necessary today to ensure the protection of the people they promised to protect -- whether that means returning them to a safe location in Camp Ashraf which has an 80 mile protective barrier because no longer can it be said that Liberty is safe after what happened last night.

Yesterday, Chana Ya'ar (Israel National News) reported, "Iraq allegedly has agreed to allow 50,000 Iranian Basij militia troops into the country to help suppress riots against the government and seize Arab and other foreign embassies, including that of the United States."

A statement Saturday from the office of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted, "The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Iraq, which is responsible for the safety and security of residents of both Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf, to promptly and fully investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice."  A statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees quoted High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres stating, "I strongly condemn this attack.  This is a despicable act of violence. I call on the Iraqi Government to do everything it can to guarantee security to the residents.  The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice without delay."  KUNA notes today that France's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack and that "We bring our support to the United Nations plan to transfer people in the camp to third countries.  This plan is in the process of being implemented and we are ready to participate in it, through coordination with the UN High Commission for Refugees."  Saturday, Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) spoke with the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, who stated, "We want to avoid bloodshed and that's why we entered into the agreement with the government of Iraq -- because there was immediate violence in December 2011.  That's why I'm so shocked what happened today because these people have to be protected."
Today Ala Talabani

Turning to London where there was an incident last week.  We covered it Sunday at Third with "Bremer and smelly shoes:"

Wednesday, L. Paul Bremer [. . .]  showed up in England hoping to take a victory lap.  Rather astounding because no US official -- not even Bully Boy Bush -- was harshly criticized more in the hearing for the Iraq Inquiry.
But there was Bremer, the original US bwana in Iraq, when Yasser al-Samarani stood and hurled not one but two shoes at him.
"You have to improve your aim if you want to make such a move," Bremer smugly declared as the first shoe missed him and he himself missed in his attempt to catch the second shoe.
Yasser al-Samarani tells Bremer, "You f**ked up my country, you destroyed the country!  F**k you and f**k your democracy!"
And Bremer's reply?
He insisted, "If he had done that while Saddam Hussein was alive, he would be a dead man by now."
That's a pleasing tale, just not an honest one.  Were Saddam Hussein alive or were al-Samarani to have thrown the shoes at Bremer in 2002 when Hussein was alive, we seriously doubt Hussein would have any problem with Yasser al-Samarani's actions.
December 14, 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw two shoes at Bully Boy Bush when he and Nouri al-Maliki had a staged photo op in Baghdad as they signed the Strategic Framework Agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq Tweets:

View summary

Today at Salon, Murtaza Hussain offers what passes for truth and bravery at Salon:

In a legitimately meritocratic society governed by the rule of law, it would be reasonable to expect that after presiding over an unmitigated strategic and humanitarian calamity such as the Iraq War neoconservatives such as Bremer would face legal charges or at least devastating career repercussions that would exclude them from taking part in public discourse — but regrettably this has not happened to a great degree. While it is true that former Bush administration figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo and Dick Cheney have been subject to criminal charges in countries around the world from Germany to Malaysia, many of those most prominently associated with the neoconservative movement in America are still making an impact pushing the same policies of aggressive military action and disregard for the rule of law that they were a decade ago. Figures such as John Bolton, Elliot Cohen and Bremer’s former spokesman, Dan Senor, can still be found in the public sphere peddling the same criminally disastrous political ideology that killed and made refugees out of millions in Iraq while costing the United States trillions of dollars, thousands of soldiers’ lives, and much of its moral and political legitimacy in the Middle East. The stated refusal of the Obama administration to “look back” at past transgressions has in many ways made possible the repetition of such crimes at a particularly crucial moment as the U.S. crafts a policy to confront an alleged nuclear program in Iran. In what would seem to be a case of history repeating as farce, the same neoconservative hawks who cynically pushed claims about weapons of mass destruction are publicly singing the exact same tune today about Iran and trying to resurrect the same aggressively militaristic ideology.

Only at Salon -- and other craven sites -- would they pretend that Bully Boy Bush's cadre of criminals are out of the government.  Dick Cheney's Principal Deputy National Security Advisor has a very high profile position in the Barack Obama administration, for example, she's the State Dept spokesperson.  Yes, Victoria Nuland and her neo-con husband Robert Kagan is an adviser to Barack and, as we were most recently again noting in the January 3rd snapshot, Barack's State of the Union address last year built around Kagan's The World America Made -- so much so that even Kagan's publisher, Random House, noted it.  When Salon finds the guts to note those kind of things, it may have the maturity to sit at the grown ups table.  Until then, it's all paper plates and plastic forks for them.