Last week was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. The retrospectives weren't that many. The finest I caught -- and I caught 20 if you include Al Jazeera -- was the radio documentary that Nora Barrows-Friedman did for Flashpoints (KPFA) entitled Iraqi Frequencies: 10 Years of Occupation and Resistance. If you missed it, you can currently click here and stream. It is also posted at Project Censored for streaming but that's a KPFA stream as well. Nora made the documentary with Shakomako and they've posted it at their website.
Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera journalist, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will To Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan): So Iraq is, today, a shattered country. It's a failed state. Again, it's a country where the Maliki regime -- You know I've referred to Prime Minister Maliki as a Shia Saddam and I think that that's accurate. One of the bizarre experiences was being in our Baghdad bureau last year -- December and January -- and watching Maliki -- this was just in the wake of the so-called US withdrawal. He had a military parade. It was the first military parade in Iraq since the last one that Saddam had just before he was removed from power by the invasion. And Maliki had it in the exact same place. It was in the Green Zone. It was on the same street that goes underneath the two big swords arching over the street. And Maliki stood in the same place and there was the same camera angle of him that Saddam did. It was a very surreal experience to watch. A new dictator brought in to replace the former one -- and yet this one also supported by the US. So it was a bit surreal and particularly given that while he was standing there, the Green Zone was taking mortar fire from resistance fighters and the city, even to this day, remains largely unreconstructed. Again the electricity situation, the water situation, employment all of them are dismal. As I said, Iraq remains a failed state.
So-called withdrawal is correct. Today, US President Barack Obama signed into law the "Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013." [PDF format warning, click here.] From page 101.
SEC. 8094. The Department of Defense shall continue to report incremental contingency operations costs for Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom or any other named operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operation on a monthly basis in the Cost of War Execution Report as prescribed in the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation Department of Defense Instruction 7000.14, Volume 12, Chapter 23 "Contingency Operations", Annex 1, dated September 2005.
Or take page 128:
For an additional amount for "Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide", $7,714,079,000: Provided, That of the funds provided under this heading, not to exceed $1,650,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2014, shall be for payments to reimburse key cooperating nations for logistical, military, and other support, including access, provided to United States military operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and post-operation Iraq border security related to the activities of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, notwithstanding any other provision of law: Provided further, That such [. . .]
From page 154:
SEC. 9012. From funds made available to the Department of Defense in this title under the heading "Operation and Maintenance, Air Force" up to $508,000,000 may be used by the Secretary of Defense, notwithstanding any other provision of law, to support United States Government transition activities in Iraq by funding the operations and activities of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and security assistance teams, including life support, transportation and personal security, and facilities renovation and construction: Provided, That to the exxtent authorized under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, the operations and activities that may be carried out by the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq may, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, include non-operational training activities in support of Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Counter Terrorism Service personnel in an institutional environment to address capability gaps, integrate process relating to intelligence, air sovereignty, combined arms, logistics and maintenance, and to manage and integrate defense-related institutions: Provided further, That not later than 30 days following the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State shall submit to the congressional defense committees a plan for transitioning any such training activities that they determine are needed after the end of fiscal year 2013, to existing or new contracts for the sale of defense articles or defense services consistent with the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq.): Provided further, That not less than 15 days before making funds available pursuant to the authority provided in this section, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a written notification containing a detailed justification and timeline for the operations and activities of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq at each site where such operations and activities will be conducted during fiscal year 2013.
AP reports it "provides another $87 billion for overseas military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq" -- military operations in Iraq. Last week, as Mike noted, Kai Ryssdal observed on American Media's Marketplace, "The United States has officially been out of Iraq for about 15 months. But there are still thousands of American soldiers stationed in the country today, ten years after the first full day of war."
Let's review what those forces are based on previous reporting. Most recently, Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman's "CIA Ramps Up Role in Iraq" (Wall St. Journal) reported March 11th:
In a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq's Counterterrorism Service, or CTS, a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, officials said.
The CIA has since ramped up its work with the CTS -- taking control of a mission long run by the U.S. military, according to administration and defense officials. For years, U.S. special-operations forces worked with CTS against al Qaeda in Iraq. But the military's role has dwindled since U.S. troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2011.
Previously, December 12, 2011 on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams, Ted Koppel reported who would remain in Iraq after the drawdown:
MR. KOPPEL: I realize you can't go into it in any detail, but I would assume that there is a healthy CIA mission here. I would assume that JSOC may still be active in this country, the joint special operations. You've got FBI here. You've got DEA here. Can, can you give me sort of a, a menu of, of who all falls under your control?
AMB. JAMES JEFFREY: You're actually doing pretty well, were I authorized to talk about half of this stuff.
That was during the drawdown masquerading as a withdrawal. In addition that, US forces were beefed up in the fall. September 25, 2012, Tim Arango (New York Times) reported:
Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.
Negotiating an agreement? We covered that agreement. It was finalized December 6, 2012 (and it's posted in full in that day's snapshot). It's the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department of Defense of the United States of America. We addressed its meaning at length in the December 10th and the December 11th snapshots. John Glaser (Antiwar.com) pointed out March 12th:
Most Americans have been led to believe that all US forces besides those guarding the massive American Embassy in Iraq have been withdrawn since the end of last year.
In reality, US Special Operations Forces as well as the CIA have been providing this support to these elite Iraqi forces that report directly to the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They have essentially been used as a secret police force for Maliki to attack, detain, and torture his political opponents and crack down harshly on public dissent.
And Nouri has not impressed professor Henri J. Bakey (Los Angeles Times):
Iraq is on its way to dissolution, and the United States is doing nothing to stop it. And if you ask people in Iraq, it may even be abetting it.
With very few exceptions, an important event in Iraq went unnoticed in the U.S. media this month. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki sent a force that included helicopters to western Iraq to arrest Rafi Issawi, the former finance minister and a leading Sunni Arab opposition member. Issawi, who was protected by armed members of the Abu Risha clan, one of post-2003 Iraq's most powerful Sunni tribes, escaped capture.
This action came on the heels of Maliki's telephone conversation with Secretary of State John F. Kerry and took Washington by surprise. Had a confrontation ensued, the results would have been calamitous. It could even have provided the spark for the beginning of a civil war. Still, Maliki's actions represent another nail in the coffin for a unified Iraq. Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, had previously accused Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a leading Sunni political figure, of terrorism, forcing him to flee Iraq in 2011. Hashimi was subsequently tried in absentia and sentenced to death.
Luiz Flavio Gomes (Pravda) sums up Iraq today, "After a decade, and more than a billion dollars spent, a new Iraq is far from built from the rubble today, ruled by a tendentiously dictatorial Prime Minister , that wants to perpetuate himself in power, with Parliament voting against it." Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports that the way Nouri handled the 2013 budget showed he has no concern over power-sharing or consensus and notes:
There is a lack of trust in government and there is a lot of missing legislation as well as a lack of civil peace. That's why it's still important that alls ectors of Iraqi society be represented in politics -- then they won't feel marginalized and they will be reassured that a new dictatorship cannot emerge. When those various sectors do start to feel left out of the political process, the results have been violence and tension, they say.
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Tuz Khurmatu roadside bombing has claimed the lives of "Qader Ali, head of the Tuz Khurmatu town council, and Rasheed Khorshid, a member of the Salaheddin provincial council." There are also people injured from the bombing. All Iraq News reports this includes the Mayor of Tuz Khurmatu and three of his bodyguards. AFP adds that the two who died were en route to "inspect a road paving project" and that the two were "candidates in provincial elections due to be held on April 20." Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) notes that the two deaths bring to 11 the number of candidates killed in this election cycle. Kick that number up to 12. NINA notes, "The Unal Rabee'ain slate's nominee for provincial council [Bahiat Mohammed Sa'eed Yaseen] killed in an armed attack on Tuesday evening, March 26, in northern Mosul." National Iraqi News Agency reports "the head of al-Rasheed municipal council, south of Baghdad, was wounded when a car bomb exploded," an Iraqi military captain and a soldier were shot dead in Tikrit, a Tikrit home invasion left 3 family members dead, and a Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi police officer with two more police officers. All Iraq News adds that a Samarra bombing has claimed the life of 1 police officer and left three more injured. World Bulletin reports, "A bomb explosion in fron of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) office in Kirkuk injured three KDP guards." Alsumaria notes 1 person was shot dead in Mosul. In addition, Alsumaria reports that "masked gunmen" have told cab drivers who work the Baghdad to Mosul route that they will kill any of the drivers they find transporting security passegners to Mosul from Baghdad or vice versa.
The repeated targeting of candidates should have clued you in that campaign season was underway. For Ammar Karim (AFP) the tip off is the campaign posters throughout Baghdad. Karim describes one poster:
For one of his election posters, erected in a town south of Baghdad, Salam Kurdi Abboud is depicted in traditional attire -- clad in the dishdasha, the long robe worn in the Gulf, and keffiyeh, or chequered scarf.
Across the poster runs text in Arabic relating one salient detail: Salam Kurdi Abboud is dead.
The poster is asking voters to cast their ballots for his widow, Sausen Abduladhaim Ahmed, a member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc -- but her face does not appear anywhere on the poster.
Today, John Glaser (Antiwar.com) gets around to noting Kerry's trip, "Secretary of State John Kerry went to Iraq this weekend to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and tersely request that he stop allowing Iran to use Iraqi airspace to send weapons and support to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. They shouldn’t be supporting one side in a civil war, Kerry insisted." Well, he went to Iraq Sunday. Just Sunday. It was a one day trip. It wasn't a weekend trip which implies Saturday and Sunday. In addition, Syria was only one aspect of the trip. The State Dept wants it stressed. So I guess John Glaser's enlisting to offer government propaganda when he focuses just on that? He also didn't go to meet with Nouri only. As the State Dept noted Sunday morning, "The Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Maliki. He’ll meet with Speaker Nujaifi. He’ll talk with Massoud Barzani on the telephone. Massoud is in Erbil finishing up the Nowruz celebrations. He would have talked – he would have met with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, but is today in Doha for the Arab League foreign minsters meeting. You’ll remember, speaking of the Arab League, that a year ago the Arab League Summit was in Baghdad. It was opened by President Talabani a year ago. That’s another meeting the Secretary would have had, except that, of course, Talabani’s recovering in Germany at the moment, so he’s not able to speak to him."
Some details on the trip covered in Iraqi media. The Iraq Times reports Nouri al-Maliki was the last to learn of US Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Iraq on Sunday. Al Mada cites a CBS News report that Nouri and Kerry engaged in two hours of heated debate about various issues including whether or not Iran was aiding Syrian President Basher al-Assad with weapons it was transporting through Iraqi air space. Kitabat notes that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr's response to Kerry's trip was to call for national dialogue.
What is the US diplomatic presence in Iraq going to be? The State Dept posted the background briefing on Kerry's trip. The background briefing was given Sunday in Amman, Jordan. In the background briefing, Syria was the second topic touched on. The first was, "The watchword for this -- these -- the set of conversations today is engagement. The Secretary will be talking to Prime Minister Maliki about the importance of engaging with all elements of Iraqi society, with the Kurds, with the Sunni, to work out how best to counter the very serious terrorist threats that are of deep concern to Iraqis." Then came Syria. Then came the April 20th elections, engagement within the region and the Jordan pipeline. And those were the topics that Kerry planned to discuss with Nouri. And with KRG President Massoud Barzani? The background briefing noted:
And then on the question on the – on oil, in the conversation he’ll have with Barzani, he will talk about the importance of maintaining the unity of Iraq, that separate arrangements with Turkey, with anybody else, any other country, undercut the unity of the country, that the Kurdish Republic cannot survive without – survive financially without the support of Baghdad, with the 17 percent, and that it is very important that he and – that Erbil and Baghdad engage with our help, and with the help of anybody else that they’d like, to think in terms of developing the Iraqi strategic pipeline, that that is the route to prosperity and success for all parts of Iraq.
But Oil Review notes, "ExxonMobil has allocated US$1.65bn to develop the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s West Qurna 1 oilfield in 2013, marking a rise of US$50mn on the amount it allocated in 2012 " As for them needing Baghdad? Well money is money. But the World Bank's warning this month noted, "Iraq's economic and financial performance depends to a significant extent on the performance of the oil sector. Revenues from oil account for about two-thirds of Iraq's GDP and for almost all export and fiscal revenues. Government oil revenues accounted for 60 percent of GDP in 2009, and the shares of crude export revenues in total revenues was 87 percent. As a result, overall GDP growth is vulnerable to oil price and volume shocks. Financial sector deepening is required to support growth of the non-oil sector." That's from this month's World Bank publication [PDF format warning] "Financial Sector Review." That's Iraq as a whole. Even before the start of the Iraq War, the Kurdistan Regional Government (the semi-autonomous northern Iraq) had already established itself as an agricultural producer and oil is its biggest moneymaker today but that's followed by agriculture (which is expected to continue to grow as an industry) and tourism. (For an overview of the KRG's economy, click here.) Tourism isn't something most of Iraq can claim to benefit from. Trade Arabia notes today, "Hilston Worldwide has signed an agreement with Kurdonia Company for Tourism & Hospitality towards managing a new DoubleTree hotel in the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. The new build, 223-room DoubleTree by Hilton Sulaymaniyah is expected to open early 2015." Another hotel. For the KRG. And Baghdad struggles to interest business. Why is that?
Because you can't crazy on the world stage like Nouri al-Maliki without scaring off business. Nouri's arrests of political rivals, his suppression of protests, his secret prisons and jails (torture centers) and his stomping his feet and screeching like a banshee about ExonnMobil doing business with the KRG or Total doing this or that -- all of it makes him look insane on the world stage. And then there's The Erbil Contract.
In March 2010, Iraqis turned out at the polls and Nouri's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya. Per the Constitution, Allawi should have been named prime minister-designate in April 2010 and given 30 days to form a government. But Nouri wouldn't give up the post of prime minister. Refused to. Refused to vacate for over eight months. And he had the White House's backing. Not only that Barack okayed the plan to go around the Iraqi Constitution, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement. This is a contract that gave Nouri the second term the voters didn't choose for him to have.
Then Nouri trashes the contract. Since the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya have been publicly calling for him to honor it.
You're only as good as your word. When you refuse to honor a contract, people don't forget it.
Nouri's a liability for the country now and it's doubtful that will change.
The US government maintains they're changing the diplomatic presence in Iraq. As noted in the March 19th snapshot, US Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Beecroft declared that the US diplomatic presence in Iraq was being scaled back (to "5,500, including contractors" by the end of this year). The scaling back was addressed in the background briefing.
QUESTION: Could, at some point today, you give us some information on the Embassy itself, the staffing --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Let me give you --
QUESTION: -- Embassy versus contractor and also what is the long-term future of this fortress that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Let me give you a few. I’ll give you a few numbers just to give you the – a sense of the glide path. A year ago, the staffing – the U.S. direct hires, we put it, and contractors was around 16,000 in Iraq. Today, it’s 10,500. By the end of this year, because of the glide path we’re on to reduce principally the number of contractors there, by the end of this year it’ll be 5,100. Out of that 5,100, about 1,000 are what we would call diplomatic personnel.
QUESTION: And the rest are?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Contractors.
QUESTION: But --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Contractors providing security, food, that kind of administrative support.
QUESTION: The majority are supplying security, that support?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.
QUESTION: And those numbers are for Iraq as a whole?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s for Iraq as a whole.
QUESTION: Do you have a breakdown for the Baghdad Embassy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t. But it’s mostly going to end up in Baghdad.
As part of the move towards national dialogue, NINA reports that Moqtada sent a member from his block to the Cabinet session to outline "Sadr's four-point conditions for the return of his ministers to attend Cabinet's sessions."
Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry declared in Baghdad:
We know from our own experience how difficult the work of democracy is and can be. Democracy, I would say to our friends in Iraq, is about inclusion and about compromise. When consensus is not possible, those who are dissatisfied should not just walk away from the system, should not just withdraw, just as those who prevail should not ignore or deny the point of view of other people. If the Iraqi democratic experiment is to succeed, all Iraqis must work together so that they can come together as a nation. We will continue to build the partnerships between our security and our defense sectors. But we’re also working to build partnerships in education and culture, energy and trade, finance, technology, transportation, and the rule of law.
Moqtada's four-points are: "forming a security committee charged with the issue of postponing elections in some provinces, without neglecting the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) role, writing the Cabinet's bylaw to limit dictatorial tendency, fulfilling the protesters' legitimate demands and re-establishing national unity by bringing all around dialgoue table."
NINA notes Iraqiya will be present at today's Cabinet session as well to consider the demands of the demonstrators.
Back to Nora Barrows-Friedman's Iraqi Frequencies: 10 Years of Occupation and Resistance.
Ali Issa (War Resisters League): [. . .] February 25, 2011 when Iraqis held a day of rage and, in the weeks following they were larger and larger mobilizations until around May and June they reached a kind of critical point where [in Muslaym] there was a general strike, there were hundreds of thousands of people involved in various cities. And what they were asking for is complex because there are so many inter-related problems that preceed the occupation and have to do with sanctions and Saddam regime but that also directly stem from] it. So a lot of the demands were for basic economic restructuring, about employment, about pushing back the efforts at privitazation which weren't just limited to oil. But they were also about sectarianism because the sectarian Constitution which was pushed by [L. Paul Bremer and the occupying forces was so at odds with the legacy of Iraq. For instance, my father who grew up in Baghdad, never saw Iraqis in this way and it really paralyzed a lot of the organizing capacities of a lot of Iraqis. And there were calls for a complete redrafting of the Constitution which would not include a sectarian quota system that was the root of so much political corruption and paralysis which Maliki was driving later and it was also connected to pleasing certain interest groups which were then tied to either the US or Iran or certain corporations. So those demands peaked when it was clear that there was a lot more legitimacy for al-Maliki and the Iraqi political elite outside of Iraq than within. The difficulty was that at that same moment when the sectarian regime was threatened by these popular protests the militarization and the repression increased exponentially. [. . .] They talked about how you had to sometimes literally walk miles to get to a protest site because they set up so many checkpoints. You were banned from having any pen or paper literally so you couldn't hold up a sign. And you couldn't carry water and we're talking about summer in Iraq which is a really, really hot summer and there was sometimes live ammunition used to disperse people. There was tear gas. So the repression became overwhelming but the mobilizations continued until a lot of the leadership was basically imprisoned which relates actually to another demand having to do with Iraq's political prisoners [. . .]
Since December 12th, protests have been ongoing in Iraq. Nothing has stopped them. Not threats from Nouri al-Maliki, not attacks by his forces. Nothing. Dahr Jamail (at Mother Jones) reports of the current protests:
Every Friday, for 13 weeks now, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, which runs just past the outskirts of this city.
Sunnis in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq's vast Anbar Province are enraged at the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because his security forces, still heavily staffed by members of various Shia militias, have been killing or detaining their compatriots from this region, as well as across much of Baghdad. Fallujah's residents now refer to that city as a "big prison," just as they did when it was surrounded and strictly controlled by the Americans.
Angry protesters have taken to the streets. "We demand an end to checkpoints surrounding Fallujah. We demand they allow in the press. We demand they end their unlawful home raids and detentions. We demand an end to federalism and gangsters and secret prisons!" So Sheikh Khaled Hamoud Al-Jumaili, a leader of the demonstrations, tells me just prior to one of the daily protests. "Losing our history and dividing Iraqis is wrong, but that, and kidnapping and conspiracies and displacing people, is what Maliki is doing."
The sheikh went on to assure me that millions of people in Anbar province had stopped demanding changes in the Maliki government because, after years of waiting, no such demands were ever met. "Now, we demand a change in the regime instead and a change in the constitution," he says. "We will not stop these demonstrations. This one we have labeled ‘last chance Friday' because it is the government's last chance to listen to us."
"What comes next," I ask him, "if they don't listen to you?"
"Maybe armed struggle comes next," he replies without pause.
In other news, Prashant Rao (AFP) reports, "Iraq defeated Syria 2-1 on Tuesday, days after FIFA lifted a ban on Baghdad hosting international matches, in just the second friendly to be played in the Iraqi capital since the 2003 invasion." Prashant Rao live Tweeted the game.
Already 5 minutes into injury time, looks like Syria will need a miracle to equalise
Ahhhhh, near miss! Iraq nearly took the lead!
The stage has been set for a frenetic last 10 minutes plus injury time...
NOOOOOOO! Syria equalises in the 81st minute... 1-1
With 70 minutes gone, Iraq is holding on to its 1-0 lead, and staying quite aggressive -- let's hope it stays this way!
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