Thursday, May 02, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 2, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Congress is informed about US troops still in Iraq, the United Nations finds April to have been the most violent month in Iraq in five years, with crises mounting some fear civil war, Patrick Cockburn reports some argue civil war has already started, a new awareness campaign on violence in Iraq uses the tagline "You're Next," Iraq tops another list of countries (it's not good news), James McCormack gets sentenced, and more.

Like Jon Stewart, The Onion's gotten a little too long in the tooth, it's audience a little too broad and a lot too stupid.  That's how you get their 'joke' where they insulted the 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis back in February.  It's how you get last week's Onion piece about Barack sending troops back into Iraq for the "reinvasion" -- which I suppose passes for humorous if you're stupid and ignorant and want to advertise those facts.

From Tuesday's snapshot:

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "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 [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

Mike and Elaine covered Iraq at their sites on Tuesday noting their disbelief that Daniel Ellsberg and Phyllis Bennis would make fools of themselves twaddling on about how US troops have left Iraq.  All US troops never left Iraq.  Last March, Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post) included the claim that all had left in his "Five myths about Iraq" column.

Last week, the US Congressional Research Service published "Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights."  The report was written by Kenneth Katzman.

General [Martin] Dempsey's August 21, 2012, visit focused on the security deterioration, as well as the Iranian overflights to Syria discussed above, according to press reports.  Regarding U.S.-Iraq security relations,  Iraq reportedly expressed interest in expanded U.S. training of the ISF, joint exercises, and accelerated delivery of U.S. arms to be sold, including radar, air defense systems, and border security equipment. [. . .]
After the Dempsey visit, reflecting the Iraqi decision to reengage intensively with the United States on security, it was reported that, at the request of Iraq, a unit of Army Special Operations forces had deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence, presumably against AQ-I.  (These forces presumably are operating under a limited SOFA or related understanding crafted for this purpose.)  Other reports suggest that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) paramilitary forces have, as of late 2012, largely taken over some of the DOD mission of helping Iraqi counter-terrorismf orces (Counter-Terrorism Service, CTS) against AQ-I in western Iraq. Part of the reported CIA mission is to also work against the AQ-I affiliate in SYria, the Al Nusrah Front, discussed above.
Reflecting an acceleration of the Iraqi move to reengage militarily with the United States, during December 5-6 2012, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller and acting Under Secretary of State for International Security Rose Gottemoeller visited Iraq and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with acting Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaymi.  The five year MOU provides for:

* high level U.S.-Iraq military exchanges
* professional military education cooperation
* counter-terrorism cooperation
* the development of defense intelligence capabilities
* joint exercises

The MOU appears to address many of the issues that have hampered OSC-I from performing its mission to its full potential.  The MOU also reflects some of the more recent ideas put forward, such as joint exercises.

So the Congressional Research Service explains, in a report for the US Congress, that US troops have gone back into Iraq?  The liars aren't capable of shame.  Phyllis Bennis, since the 2011 drawdown (the US Pentagon called it a "drawdown" and not a "withdrawal" and did so for a reason), has sometimes declared all have left and sometimes noted some remain.  It's apparently too hard for her to tell the truth so she needs little 'breathers' to catch her breath.  This isn't something that should vary.  If you're an analyst and billed as such and discussing US troops in Iraq, there's only one answer, only one correct one. 

Let's go over what the report said the Memo of Understanding provided for:

* high level U.S.-Iraq military exchanges
* professional military education cooperation
* counter-terrorism cooperation
* the development of defense intelligence capabilities
* joint exercises

Pretty obvious.  But so was the explanation of what the MoU provided that we offered in the December 10th snapshot.  Even so, we were compelled to review it again in the December 11th snapshot:

In yesterday's snapshot, we covered 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.  Angry, dysfunctional e-mails from Barack-would-never-do-that-to-me criers indicate that we need to go over the Memo a little bit more.  It was signed on Thursday and announced that day by the Pentagon.   Section two (listed in full in yesterday's snapshot) outlines that the two sides have agreed on: the US providing instructors and training personnel and Iraq providing students, Iraqi forces and American forces will work together on counterterrorism and on joint exercises.   The tasks we just listed go to the US military being in Iraq in larger numbers.  Obviously the two cannot do joint exercises or work together on counterterrorism without US military present in Iraq.
This shouldn't be surprising.  In the November 2, 2007 snapshot -- five years ago -- we covered the transcript of the interview Michael R. Gordon and Jeff Zeleny did with then-Senator Barack Obama who was running in the Democratic Party's primary for the party's presidential nomination -- the transcript, not the bad article the paper published, the actual transcript.  We used the transcript to write "NYT: 'Barack Obama Will Keep Troops In Iraq'" at Third.  Barack made it clear in the transcript that even after "troop withdrawal" he would "leave behind a residual force."  What did he say this residual force would do?  He said, "I think that we should have some strike capability.  But that is a very narrow mission, that we get in the business of counter terrorism as opposed to counter insurgency and even on the training and logistics front, what I have said is, if we have not seen progress politically, then our training approach should be greatly circumscribed or eliminated."
This is not withdrawal.  This is not what was sold to the American people.  Barack is very lucky that the media just happened to decide to take that rather explosive interview -- just by chance, certainly the New York Times wasn't attempting to shield a candidate to influence an election, right? -- could best be covered with a plate of lumpy, dull mashed potatoes passed off as a report.  In the transcript, Let-Me-Be-Clear Barack declares, "I want to be absolutely clear about this, because this has come up in a series of debates: I will remove all our combat troops, we will have troops there to protect our embassies and our civilian forces and we will engage in counter terrorism activities."
So when the memo announces counterterrorism activies, Barack got what he wanted, what he always wanted, what the media so helpfully and so frequently buried to allow War Hawk Barack to come off like a dove of peace.

The administration is as empty as the media.  If you doubt that, September 26th, the New York Times' Tim Arango 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 Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

This is not a minor topic.  If you claim you pulled all troops out and you didn't, that's called news.  If you claimed you pulled all troops out and September 26, 2012, it's reported you didn't, that's big news.  If you're running for re-election and you have debates after September 26th, that topic should be front and center. 

But as Ava and I repeatedly noted (here and at Third) it wasn't.   At the end of September Tim Arango's report appears.  Where was the traction, where was the coverage, where were the questions?   From Ava and my November 7th "Let the fun begin:"

Days later, October 3rd, Barack 'debated' Mitt RomneyAgain October 16thAgain October 22nd.
Not once did the moderators ever raise the issue.

If Barack's sitting before them and he's flat out lying to the American people, it's their job to ask.  They didn't do their job.  Nor did social menace Candy Crowley who was apparently dreaming of an all-you-can-eat buffet when Barack was babbling away before her about how he wouldn't allow more "troops in Iraq that would tie us down."  But that's exactly what he's currently negotiating.

Maybe Candy Crowley missed the New York Times article?  Maybe she spends all her time pleasuring herself to her version of porn: Cooking With Paula Deen Magazine?

That is possible.

But she was only one of the three moderators.  Bob Schieffer and Jim Lehrer also moderated.  Of course, they didn't foolishly self-present as a fact checker in the midst of the debate  nor did they hit the publicity circuit before the debate to talk about how they were going to show how it was done.

Three moderators moderating debates after Tim Arango's article is printed allowing Barack to claim he withdrew troops from Iraq in three debates, one after the other.  Crowley, Schieffer and Lehrer never raised the issue.  We won't call them whores for a change, we'll just note how stupid and ignorant they are.

In yesterday's snapshot, I said we'd address the topic today.  That's because I get tired of going over it.  I have to provide links, I have to go so slow, bit-by-bit.  And even so, the public e-mail account will fill with e-mails that Martha, Shirley, Eli, Beth, KeShawn, Jess, Dona, Jim, Kat, Ruth, Isaiah, Ava and myself will have to endure insisting I am lying.  E-mails from people who -- even when you provide them with links -- links that go to the New York Times, links that go to the Pentagon (the Pentagon issued a press release on the Memorandum of Understanding, they weren't shy about it, the press refusal to cover it is a question for you to ask whatever news outlet you turn to) -- will insist that I've made the whole thing up.

The most common statement in these e-mails will be an insisting that if Barack had sent US troops back into Iraq, it would be all over the news and on the front pages.

It should be.

But it wasn't. 

At some point, you're going to have to stop trying to stone the Cassandra and face reality.  [Or maybe I just close the public e-mail account and we just take feedback from community members.  As Gina (the gina & krista round-robin) has long observed, this is a private conversation in a public sphere.]

Iraq remains a disaster.  Today it manages to come in number one on a list of countries but, sadly, that list is the Committee to Protect Journalists' 2013 Impunity Index:


Iraq has the world’s worst record on impunity. No convictions have been obtained in 93 journalist slayings in the past decade. The vast majority of the victims, 95 percent, were local journalists. They include freelance cameraman Tahrir Kadhim Jawad, who was killed on assignment outside Baghdad in 2010 when a bomb attached to his car exploded. Jawad was a “courageous cameraman” known for getting footage “where others had failed,” Mohammad al-Jamili, Baghdad bureau chief for the U.S. government-funded outlet Al-Hurra, said at the time. Police opened an investigation but made no arrests.
Impunity Index Rating: 2.818 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants
Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.906

It's been an interesting few last weeks as Nouri has insisted upon an investigation into the death of this member of federal forces, or these five members.

But all that's really underlined is that there's never any real investigation of any of the journalists who've died.  Reporters Without Borders notes today is World Press Freedom Day and adds:

The persistently high level of impunity is not due to a legal void. There are laws and instruments that protect journalists in connection with their work. Above all, it is up to individual states to protect journalists and other media personnel. This was stressed in Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists, which the United Nations security council adopted in 2006.
Nonetheless, states often fail to do what they are supposed to do, either because they lack the political will to punish abuses of this kind, or because their judicial system is weak or non-existent, or because it is the authorities themselves who are responsible for the abuses.
The creation of a mechanism for monitoring adherence to Resolution 1738, which Reporters Without Borders has proposed, would encourage member states to adopt specific provisions for penalizing murders, physical attacks and disappearances that target journalists, would extend Statesʼ obligations to non-professional “news providers” and would reinforce their efforts to combat impunity for such crimes.
At the international level, the legal protection of journalists is also guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Geneva Conventions and other instruments. The United Nations recently published an Action Plan on the safety of journalists and measures to combat impunity for crimes of violence against them.
The International Criminal Court’s creation has unfortunately not helped advance the fight against impunity for those responsible for the most serious crimes of violence against journalists, although journalists play a fundamental role in providing information and issuing alerts during domestic and international armed conflicts. The ICC only has jurisdiction when the crime takes place on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute (which created the ICC) or if the accused person is a citizen of a state party.
Furthermore, the Rome Statute provides for no specific charge for deliberate physical attacks on journalists. Article 8 of the statute needs to be amended so that a deliberate attack on media professionals is regarded as a war crime.

Of course, chief thug and prime minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki celebrated World Press Freedom a little early this year.  Sunday, Nouri's government announced they were pulling the licenses for Al Jazeera, al-Sharqiya, al-Sharqiya News, Babeliya, Salahuddin, Anwar 2, Taghyeer, Baghdad and Fallujah.  All Iraq News quoted Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi declaring, "The decision is considered a clear threat for freedom of expression in Iraq and completely incompatible with the concept of democracy.  This decision will arouse many suspicions since Iraq is currently passing through a tense phase that requires all the media efforts to expose breaches and to follow up on the involvement of senior figures in corruption."

Violence continues with National Iraqi News Agency noting a Karbala bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left two more injured, an armed attack in Falluja left four police officers injured, a Baghdad military headquarters was hit by three Katusha rockets,  and Kirkuk Province police chief "Jamal Taher Bakr escaped an assassination attempt by an explosive device."

On the never-ending violence, Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports:

A group of young Iraqis mourning deaths after a popular Baghdad café was bombed are taking matters into their own hands. They want Iraqis to stop simply counting bodies and start feeling the human toll of sectarian conflict.   

“You’re Next”. This is the somewhat chilling slogan that is being used by a new youth organization to promote their campaign.

“But we didn’t choose this slogan to make anyone feel insecure,” they insist. “We just want to alert people to the sad future that awaits if we all keep silent. It’s a fate that awaits all victimized Iraqis and it’s a future that nourishes political greed and corruption.”

The group behind the You’re Next campaign was founded as a reaction to the ongoing violence and resulting deaths in Iraq, and in particular, as a reaction to the April 19 bombing of a café in the Amiriya neighbourhood of Baghdad.  The café was one popular with local youth. The You’re Next campaigners not only condemn those who planted the bombs but also those who have adapted to a life full of bombings and similar acts.

“We’re just shocked at how many people are numb to the killings that occur almost daily and who have forgotten the human impact of these acts,” Nouf al-Assi, one of the five young people who started the campaign told NIQASH. “For them, these kinds of things are just part of daily life. We’re also frightened by what we see as the spread of sectarian-based publications and sectarian debates.”

Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports the United Nations have released their figures for the month of April: 712 people killed in violence and 1,633 left injured.  Basing it on their own figures, the UN declares last month to have been the most deadly in Iraq in five years.

David Blair (Telegraph of London) weighs in on the shocking figures noting:

This rising drumbeat of violence reflects an increasingly bitter political conflict. Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of a Shia-led government, has been accused of naked sectarianism, purging members of the Sunni minority from his administration.
Having boycotted the previous poll, Sunnis voted in large numbers during the last election in 2010 and the party they mainly favoured, Iraqiya, came first with 91 seats compared to Mr Maliki's 89.
But the prime minister put together a coalition that allowed him to stay in power and then used his victory to sack key Sunni politicians, notably Rafie al-Issawi, the respected finance minister, who was dismissed in December.
When Sunnis demonstrated against what they viewed as a Shia sectarian government, they were often bloodily repressed. Last month, the security forces destroyed a protest camp in the Sunni town of Hawija, killing at least 20 people.
"What the Sunnis did in 2010 was to invest in the ballot box," said Toby Dodge, the author of "Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism". "Since then, they have been systematically betrayed in their investment in democracy."

The International Crisis Group's Maria Fantappie told ABC's Radio Australia's Anna Hipsley today, "Well of course we know Iraq is a violent country which has been under constant violence but the violence increased in the past month.  And I would say that the main difference between the past and what is happening now is that what is happening now is a real political confrontation between, on one side, government forces and, on the other side, protesters who have, for four months, they have been demonstrating peacefully but in recent events in the last weeks, when the government forces raided the camp of the protesters in Kirkuk, near Kirkuk, in Hawija camp, this has led [. . .] to an increase in the confrontation between the government forces and the protesters."

She stated that she had just left Iraq and that Anbar Province protesters were being threatened by government forces.  Daniel Serwer (World Politics Review) offers his take on the crises which includes these observations:

The protesters feel equally justified. They view Maliki as increasingly sectarian and authoritarian. Torture is common in Iraq’s prisons. Iraq’s media are under pressure. Maliki has bypassed official processes to appoint personally loyal military commanders and undermined the independence of the central bank, the judiciary, anti-corruption investigators and other countervailing institutions. Several Sunni politicians have been accused of supporting terrorism and their personal security details subjected to arrest, with at least one guard dying in detention under suspicious circumstances.

Maliki’s current crackdown comes amid other political challenges. Kurdistan is chafing at the restrictions Baghdad wants to impose on its oil exploration, production and exports, including from “disputed” territories. Passage of a budget without their support also offended the Kurds, even if it safeguarded their 17 percent of the country’s oil revenue. Irbil is now openly flirting with Ankara, which is eyeing newly discovered Kurdish oil resources and enjoying rich construction contracts.

Maliki needs at least some Sunni support to rein in Kurdistan. But his once-good relationship with Sunni former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi soured when Iraqi security forces arrested Issawi’s personal security detail on terrorism charges. Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni former Baathist who rallied to Maliki despite having called him a dictator, has been weakened politically and is now waffling. Maliki risks finding himself without significant support from either Sunnis or Kurds, leaving him exposed to the whims of his Shiite sometime-ally Muqtada al-Sadr.

Still on the violence, Patrick Cockburn (Independent) offers:

Iraqi leaders fear that the country is sliding rapidly into a new civil war which "will be worse than Syria". Baghdad residents are stocking up on rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs in case they are prevented from getting to the shops by fighting or curfews. “It is wrong to say we are getting close to a civil war,” said a senior Iraqi politician. “The civil war has already started.”

This is borne out by the sharp rise in the number of people killed in political violence in Iraq in April, with the UN claiming more than 700 people were killed last month, the highest monthly total for five years.

Former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker has a column (Washington Post) which is mistaken beyond means.  He proposes everyone just talk and:

It is also incumbent on the friends of Iraq to support this effort. Progress in Iraq came when coalition elements encouraged Sunni communities to work with a government in which they still lacked trust. It is vital that the spirit that animated the progress then be reinvigorated now. It has thus been good to read of the activities in recent days of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and the U.N. mission there, calling for calm, engaging with all parties and reminding them of what they could lose: the new Iraq that they and we paid so much to create.

That's insanity.  While the key moments of betrayal did not happen on his watch (it was under the dithering idiot Chris Hill), you cannot act, in 2013, as if talk will bring back the progress of 2010.  We'll address that at length tomorrow.  As with the issue of US forces in Iraq, it's one of those topics we have to keep going back to because so few will ever bother to cover it.  The shortest version is when you make a deal in 2010 and one party (Nouri) fails to honor it, you can't show three years later and say, "Well let's just talk and try to progress."  No, we don't reset the clock.  If there is to be progress in 2013, the first step is honoring the contract that was signed in 2010.

In the last years, the person on the Shi'ite side of the political fence who has repeatedly seemed most mature and aware has been cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  The Hawija massacre was carried out by Nouri's forces.  Moqtada had nothing to do with that.  Yet World Bulletin News reports that it is Moqtada who has offered a public apology to the Sunni community, "I apologize to the Sunnis for the cruelty of the Shiite government and if I were a Sunni, I would too apologize to the Shiites for the things that they had gone through."

Good for Moqtada.  The slaughter has to be acknowledged.  Nouri doesn't want to acknowledge it because he's responsible for it.  But the only thing more harmful to Iraq right now than the slaughter is for political leaders to act as if it did not take place.  That compounds a very serious injury and breeds hostilities.  Iraqiya has called out the slaughter.  Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, is a Shi'ite.  Moqtada called out the slaughter and now he's also issued a statement recognizing the pain.  Nouri's inability to join in these conversations and be a part of a productive Iraq goes beyond paranoid to petulant.   Nouri has become the country's biggest liability. 

All Iraq News notes that Allawi expressed alarm at the human rights situation in Iraq today while meting with Sarah Otis and Erin Evans of Human Rights Watch Organization.  He is quoted stating, "The situation of the human rights in Iraq is regrettable and serious due to the daily violations that occurred at the protest squares or inside persons or even on the streets through the arrests and the assassinations and so forth."

Dropping back to the June 8, 2010 snapshot:

In November of last year, Rod Nordland (New York Times) explained the 'bomb detectors' in use in Iraq: "The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works 'on the same principle as a Ouija board' -- the power of suggestion -- said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wantd as nothing more than an explosive divining rod." They are the ADE 651s with a ticket price of between $16,500 and $60,000 and Iraq had bought over 1,500.  More news came with arrests on January 22: "Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight -- link has text and video) reports that England has placed an export ban on the ADE-651 'bomb detector' -- a device that's cleaned Iraq's coffers of $85 million so far. Steven Morris (Guardian) follows up noting that, 'The managing director [Jim McCormick] of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today'." From the January 25th snapshot:

Riyad Mohammed and Rod Norldand (New York Times) reported on Saturday that the reaction in Iraq was outrage from officials and they quote MP Ammar Tuma stating, "This company not only caused grave and massive losses of funds, but it has caused grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and thousands, from attacks that we thought we were immune to because we have this device."  Despite the turn of events, the machines continue to be used in Iraq but 'now' an investigation into them will take place orded by Nouri. As opposed to months ago when they were first called into question. Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) adds that members of Parliament were calling for an end to use of the machines on Saturday.  Martin Chulov (Guardian) notes the US military has long -- and publicly -- decried the use of the machines,  "The US military has been scathing, claiming the wands contained only a chip to detect theft from stores. The claim was based on a study released in June by US military scientists, using x-ray and laboratory analysis, which was passed on to Iraqi officials." 
Today the BBC reports police raids took place at "Global Tech, of Kent, Grosvenor Scientific, in Devon, and Scandec, of Nottingham. Cash and hundreds of the devices have been seized, and a number of people are due to be interviewed under caution on suspicion of fraud."  Michael Peel and Sylvia Pfeifer (Financial Times of London) add, "Colin Cowan, head of City police's overseas anti-corruption unit, said investigators were seeking further information from the public about the manufacture, sale and distribution of the devices. Det Supt Cowan said: 'We are concerned that these items present a real physical threat to anyone who may rely on such a device for protection'." 

The wands didn't work, they were never going to work.  The liar who sold them, and got rich off them, James McCormick, was convicted last month.   Robert Booth and Meirion Jones (Guardian) report, "A jury at the Old Bailey found Jim McCormick, 57, from near Taunton, Somerset, guilty on three counts of fraud over a scam that included the sale of £55m of devices based on a novelty golfball finder to Iraq. They were installed at checkpoints in Baghdad through which car bombs and suicide bombers passed, killing hundreds of civilians. Last month they remained in use at checkpoints across the Iraqi capital."  Today, Jake Ryan (Sun) reports, McCormick, who is 57, was sentenced to a "maximum ten years today."

Robert Booth (Guardian) notes Saad al-Muttalibi ("adviser to Nouri al-Maliki) is insisting Nouri's considering suing on behalf of the victims.  Actually, the families of the victims should be suing Nouri for allowing those things to be used for the last years, even after the wands were globally revealed to be a joke.  The Belfast Telegraph notes that McCormick "showed no reaction as he was told his 'callous confidence trick' was the worst fraud imaginable."  Jake Ryan quotes Judge Richard Hone stating, "The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.  Your profits were obscene.  You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse."

 the belfast telegraph