Thursday, August 01, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, July 1, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq reaches record levels of violent deaths for the month of July, Nouri orders house searches in Baghdad, questions need to be asked about Iraq but apparently won't be in the US, NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is granted temporary asylum in Russia, and more.

Breeze driftin' on by you know I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me
-- "Feeling Good," written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and still best recorded by Nina Simone

Today is a new day and, in fact, the first day of August.  Now that July is over, death tolls are being released for the month's violence in Iraq.  Iraq Body Count is missing Thursday the 31st but for the other 30 days, they note their total is 968  AFP offers 875  -- Prashant Rao is not in Iraq currently.  When he's in Iraq, the spreadsheet is done regularly.  The fact that he's been out of Iraq may account for the huge undercount.  Yesterday, Iraq's government ministries released their total:  989.  This morning,  the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued their totals for violent deaths and the number of people left injured in July:

Baghdad, 1 August 2013 – According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of 1,057 Iraqis were killed and another 2,326 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in July.

The number of civilians killed was 928 (including 204 civilian police), while the number of civilians injured was 2,109 (including 338 civilian police). A further 129 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed and 217 were injured. 

“The impact of violence on civilians remains disturbingly high, with at least 4,137 civilians killed and 9,865 injured since the beginning of 2013,” the Acting Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Gyorgy Busztin, warned. “We haven’t seen such numbers in more than five years, when the blind rage of sectarian strife that inflicted such deep wounds upon this country was finally abating. I reiterate my urgent call on Iraq’s political leaders to take immediate and decisive action to stop the senseless bloodshed, and to prevent these dark days from returning.”

Baghdad was the worst-affected governorate in July with 957 civilian casualties (238 killed and 719 injured), followed by Salahuddin, Ninewa, Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar (triple-digit figures).

Babil, Wasit and Basra also reported casualties (double-digit figures).

Since UNAMI began publicly releasing their monthly tolls, this is the quickest they've done so and they accomplished that under the leadership of  Gyorgy Busztin who is serving as the acting UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq.  In terms of the numbers, many outlets are announcing a Hawija moment, such as Yang Yi (Xinhua), "However, April 23 was a turning point in the Sunnis' protests when security forces backed by helicopters stormed a rally in the city of Hawijah, some 220 km north of Baghdad, killing and wounding dozens of protesters."  The April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll eventually (as some wounded died) rose to 53 dead.   UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

The massacre in Hawija was a major event and many outlets and observers have pointed to it as some form of a turning point.  Though it surely hardened resolve against Nouri -- as all governmental  slaughters against innocents hardened opinions against leaders -- the reality is the violence was already on the rise in Iraq.  We'd been noting the increase throughout 2012 and throughout 2013 prior to the April 23rd massacre.  Iraq analyst Kenneth J. Pollack (a centrist) pointed out this week:

2012 saw a 10 percent increase in Iraqi deaths (from 4,100 in 2011 to nearly 4,600 in 2012), the first annual increase since 2006. 3 This year is s haping up to be even worse. Iraq could experience as much as a 100 percent increase in violent deaths over 2012, with roughly 3,000 killed in the first six months of 2013 already -- roughly 1,000 in May alone -- according to the United Nations.

Again, I don't doubt that the massacre on the innocents of Hawija hardened resolve but violence was already increasing before Nouri used his US-trained SWAT forces to attack the people.  This point has been bungled by many (including Thomas E. Ricks).  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) probably puts it better than anyone in the press when observing today, "The killings significantly picked up after Iraqi security forces launched a heavy-handed crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija on April 23. A ferocious backlash followed the raid, with deadly bomb attacks and sporadic gunbattles between insurgents and soldiers -- this time members of the Iraqi security forces rather than U.S. troops."  Reporter Jane Arraf is a longtime observer of Iraq so when she offers an analysis, it's worth considering her judgments.  Today she offers one for the Christian Science Monitor which includes:

Despite the Iraqi government’s attempt to combat a record wave of bombings, the attacks across central and southern Iraq are paralyzing the country, leaving many Iraqis to suffer through a long hot summer with neither public services nor security.
But seven years after an Al Qaeda bombing of a Shiite shrine touched off a civil war, attacks aimed at reigniting a sectarian battle have failed to provoke wider conflict. Although the country continues to reel from the explosions, enough has changed since 2006 that even continued attacks are unlikely to bring Iraq back to the brink of war, officials and many analysts say.

It's really difficult to ascertain what she's saying -- other than she thinks Iraq is not going to move into civil war.  The analysis would have benefited from another page.  Her argument needs more room.

It's especially needs more room since it's contrary to the US government's take -- a take that is neither discussed nor mentioned in passing the column.

Dropping back to the July 23rd snapshot:

"Iraq is now back in a civil war, US officials tell NBC," Richard Engel announced this morning.  And that's not surprising except for the fact that if US officials believe Iraq is "back in a civil war," you'd think they'd be addressing that and asked about it in press briefings.  Engel reported that fact on this morning's Today show.  Hours later at the White House press briefing, no one bothered to raise the issue and, even later, at the State Dept press briefing no one raised the issue.

The same evening, on Nightly News with Brian Williams, Richard Engel reported on Iraq.

Richard Engel: Iraq is back in a civil war -- bad for Iraqis.  More than 600 killed just this month in bombings and Sunni versus Shi'ite vengeance.  And bad for Americans -- after all nearly 4,500 US troops died to bring stability to this strategic, oil rich country A trillion dollars was spent, hundreds of thousands of American troops were deployed and deployed again.  But now Iraq is tearing itself apart again.  al Qaeda in Iraq won a big victory this weekend, perhaps enough to reconstitute itself.  They staged a major prison break, a major assault on Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.  Hundreds of militants were freed from their cells.  Iraqi officials today said at least 250.  al Qaeda in Iraq puts the number even higher at 500.  Militants stormed the prison, car bombs blasting open the gates, as suicide bombers rushed in and reinforcements fought off guards with mortars and assault rifles.  Nothing good seems to come from Abu Ghraib.  It was Saddam Hussein's dungeon.  After his fall, it held US detainees and became infamous for graphic images of prisoner abuse and humiliation.  And now a prison break releasing militants who will likely target the Iraqi government but who also have years of training fighting American troops. Richard Engel, NBC News.

The US government saying Iraq is in a civil war does not make it so.  (For the record, I happen to agree with the assessment.)  But if Jane Arraf is going to argue a counterpoint a week after the US government's position is known, the column would be stronger if she would acknowledge that.   To provide a counter-argument to that position would be even better but even acknowledging the position would have improved her analysis.  (And her analysis may be 100% correct or a majority correct.  I have no idea.  But I do agree with the assessment of the US government -- and not because "IT'S THE US GOVERNMENT!" -- the US government is often wrong.  But the violence has been on the increase and I'm not a Nouri apologist.  Jane Arraf frequently is.)

Earlier, we were noting Kenneth Pollack on the violence for the last two years.  Pollack made his points earlier this week, when the Brookings Institute released his analysis entitled (PDF format warning) "The Fall and Rise and Fall of Iraq."   Excerpt.

The problems reemerged after Iraq’s 2010 national elections. Ayad Allawi’s mostly - Sunni Iraqiyya garnered slightly more votes than Maliki’s overwhelmingly Shi’a State of Law coalition. But Maliki refused to believe that he had lost, and refused to allow Allawi to take the first shot at forming a government. He pressured Iraq’s high court to rule that he could get the first chance to form a government.
Rather than insist that Allawi be given the first chance, as is customary in most democracies and was clearly what was best for Iraqi democracy, the United States (and the United Nations) did nothing. Ten months of bickering, backstabbing and political deadlock followed. In the end, the Iranians forced Muqtada as - Sadr to back Maliki, uniting the Shi’a behind him. At that point, the Kurds fell into place, believing that the prime minister had to be a Shi’a, and Iraqiyya’s goose was cooked. But so too was Iraqi democracy.
The message that it sent to Iraq’s people and politicians alike was that the United States under the new Obama Administration was no longer going to enforce the rules of the democratic road. We were not going to insist that the will of the people win out. We were willing to step aside and allow Iraq’s bad, old political culture of pay - offs, log - rolling, threats and violence to re - emerge to determine who would rule the country -- the same political culture that the U.S. had worked so hard to bury.
It undermined the reform of Iraqi politics and resurrected the specter of the failed state and the civil war. Having backed Maliki for prime minister if only to end the embarrassing political stalemate, the Administration compounded its mistake by lashing itself uncritically to his government. Whether out of fear of being criticized for allowing him to remain in office in the first place, or sheer lack of interest and a desire to do what required the least effort on the part of the United States, the Administration backed Maliki no matter what he did -- good, bad or indifferent.

You cannot divorce the violence from Nouri al-Maliki.  Yes, he is prime minister but he's also in charge of more than that.

The 2010 parliamentary elections saw Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya beat Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law.  It was a major (press) upset since so many (in the press) had been saying not only that State of Law would come in first but that it would do so by a huge margin.  NPR's Quil Lawrence could be heard, right after the election, announcing State of Law's victory.

But State of Law didn't win.  Someone might want to ask Quil if he was paid by the hour for that whoring?  What happened was not surprising.  As we've noted repeatedly since the results of 2010 were announced, they confirmed the trend of the 2009 parliamentary elections -- both results were a move against sectarianism towards a broader based Iraqi national identity.   Pollack makes the same assessment in his analysis this week so maybe everyone who wanted to argue that reality with me over the course of the last three years will take Pollack's word for it now? (I'm not referring to drive-by e-mails from visitors, I'm referring to the members of the press who wanted to argue the meaning of the results with me.)

Nouri refused to step down even though, per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi was now supposed to be named prime minister-designate and then, if he could assemble a Cabinet in 30 days, he was to be named prime minister.

But Nouri wouldn't step down.  For eight months he refused to do so.  Prior to the 2010 elections, General Ray Odierno, then the top commander in Iraq, had seen this as a likely outcome and had warned that the US should not only prepare for the possibility but should plan how to ensure democracy triumphed.  But the White House didn't want to listen.  The idiot Chris Hill was in the midst of his disaster turn as US Ambassador to Iraq and Hill was bad mouthing Odierno to the White House and insisting that he needed support (which translated as Hill wanting the White House  to tell Odierno to stop talking to the media -- Hill's real beef was that his own press presence wasn't more important and high profile). As Nouri turned a demand for a recount into a long political stalemate where he would not leave the office he had lost, then-Secretary Robert Gates was made aware of the problems with Hill (who was lazy, too cozy with Nouri, anti-Sunni and more eager to plan 'fun functions' for staff than to do diplomatic work), He went to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with those facts and how Odierno's observations had been ignored.  The two of them then met with US President Barack Obama to explain the problems.  This is when the White House stops backy the idiot Chris Hill and asks for his resignation. Hill did not want to leave. That needs to be underscored because he's repeatedly treated today -- by outlets like NPR -- as if he's some sort of genius on Iraq.

He didn't know the facts about Iraq before he was confirmed for the post.  When Hill was nominated the press was all over itself, licking one another, purring and cooing, humping and moaning.  I had no opinion of Hill until I attended the confirmation hearing (see the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th one) and it became very clear that he was uninformed, ignorant and full of himself (with no reason to be).  It was also conveyed to me (as I noted here before the confirmation point) that Hill's own State Dept personnel record made a strong case for him not being named ambassador.  All of this was ignored and, as a result, any headway in terms of diplomacy that Ambassador Ryan Crocker had made in 2008 and early 2009 was lost.  Hill didn't know Iraq, didn't want to know Iraq.  We pointed that all out ahead of his confirmation.

Let's again note John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

If you read that book, you'll find many of the things we pointed out in real time.  Hill's disrespect for the Iraqi people, for example.  We noted it repeatedly here.  The book reveals that it was not just an open secret among the US diplomatic staff (which is why I knew about it) but that Hill even showed the disrespect in front of Iraqis.  At one point, he's trashing the country and its people and doing so in front of an Iraqi.  You think that didn't get out?

Hill was a disaster.

Nouri was about three months into his eight month struggle to hold onto the position he didn't win the votes for.  The White House was unsure what to do -- it's very difficult for Barack to make a decision (and that will be widely known after he's out of office and all the books come out) -- he surveyed everyone and, sadly, placed the least weight on Vice President Joe Biden's take.  Biden had been the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  In that capacity, he had chaired hearings on Iraq, had made multiple visits to Iraq as a Senator (and as Vice President).  He damn well knew you couldn't trust Nouri.  But Barack didn't want to listen.

Instead, he placed his faith in the so-called expertise of Samantha The Problem From Hell Power and Susan Rice.  When the stalemate became unavoidable, the French government began exploring the United Nation setting up a caretaker government while issues got resolved.  Susan Rice's sole Iraq 'expertise' was in ensuring that didn't happen.  She and Samantha argued that Nouri had "experience"  and that Nouri would be the best choice because why change horses in the midst of a race?  One person on the National Security Staff was so appalled by these recommendations because they made no sense (you don't steal the Iraqi people's votes and tell them they have democracy) and because the idiotic argument had been a campaign talking point for Bully Boy Bush's 2004 race.  So they were stupid and aping the Republican party.  In addition, Samantha Power was known for being petty and vindictive towards anyone who raised objections to suggestions she made in front of Barack. She used her long standing relationship with Barack to smear anyone who disagreed with her.

So the idiots said support Nouri (who had been installed by the Bush administration in 2006 -- over Ibrahim al-Jafaari whom the Parliament wanted) and Barack did.

The votes didn't give Nouri a second term.  The Constitution didn't give him a second term.  The laughable 'court verdict' by the Baghdad court he controlled had no meaning or weight.  First of all, it was only revealed after Nouri came in second even though, it turned out, Nouri got the court to give him that verdict before the election even took place.  He just didn't publicize it until he needed it.

But if the votes don't give him a second term and the Constitution doesn't, how can the White House give him a second term?

The decision was made (chiefly by Samantha Power) to go around the Constitution and create a legal contract.  This is the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  It was sold to the leaders of the other political blocs as, "Nouri's being a child throwing a tantrum.  But, here's the thing, he could keep throwing that tantrum for another year.  Iraq needs leadership.  You be the mature adult and do what's best for Iraq.  Give Nouri a second term and, we'll put this all in writing, in exchange, you can demand concessions from Nouri."  The Kurds, for example, wanted Article 140 implemented.

But that was where people should have been smart but were stupid.  Article 140 is in the Iraqi Constitution -- which Nouri helped draft and supported.  It was voted into effect as 2005 wound down.  Nouri becomes prime minister-designate in the spring of 2006.  Article 140 is supposed to be implemented (it settled the disputed region of oil-rich Kirkuk via a census and referendum --both the central government out of Baghdad and the KRG insist that Kirkuk belongs solely to them).  Per the Constitution, it's supposed to be implemented by the end of 2007.

I'm sorry to be the one to point out the obvious but only stupidity explains believing, in 2010, that a new legal contract will make Nouri implement Article 140.  If the country's Constitution required for him to do that (and to do it by the end of 2007) and yet in 2010 he still has refused to do it, why in the world would you believe that Nouri would now do it because a legal contract said he would?

Maybe because the US officials repeatedly told the Iraqi leaders that The Erbil Agreement would have the full backing of the US government?

Maybe so.  If so, hopefully they've learned that the US government is not to be trusted.

Ayad Allawi was walking out of Parliament's first session in November 2010, right after Nouri was named prime minister-designate because Nouri immediately declared that promises in the contract would have to wait.  The White House was on the phone to Allawi, insisting he (and his supporters) return to the Parliamentary session, swearing The Erbil Agreement was a bind contract that would be enforced.

Allawi went back in.

Nouri didn't implement The Erbil Agreement.  By the summer of 2011, Iraqiya, the Kurds and cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr were all demanding that Nouri implement The Erbil Agreement (as he was supposed to in November 2010).  He refused to do so.  (Just like he has refused to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.)  This is what causes the political crisis in Iraq -- the one that's still ongoing.  Nouri holds an office he didn't win and he refuses to honor the contract that gave the office to him.

This was a disaster.  It said to the Iraqi people that their votes didn't matter.

What a stupid, stupid thing for the White House to do.

The Iraqis were going for a national identity and rejecting sectarianism.  That should have been applauded, lauded and rewarded.  Instead, the White House spat on the Iraqi people and made clear that democracy didn't exist in Iraq.

The 2012 provincial elections saw a low turnout.

Is that really a surprise?  When Iraqis saw their own votes overridden by a foreign leader (Barack), why the hell should they feel the need to vote?

It was destructive and it was disgusting.  Barack will be remembered for this historically.  The Cult of St. Barack can write all the features fawning over him they want, history will remember the truth.

All of that's backstory on Nouri and how his being prime minister causes tensions and trouble today.  But it's also why the violence is to blame him.

Back in July, 2012,  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  Those positions were supposed to have been filled before the end of December 2010.  They were not.  Per the Iraqi Constitution, you do not become prime minister if  you cannot get a Cabinet together in 30 days (that's nominating and getting each member approved by Parliament).  But the Constitution was circumvented.  The Erbil Agreement was extra-constitutional.

It's how Nouri got in power and so he never had to follow the Constitutional outlines about becoming Prime Minister.  So he never put together a full Cabinet.

The Whores of the US Press, in late 2010 and January 2011, insisted this was no problem.  They filed multiple reports on how Nouri would get around to filling out his Cabinet in February.  Ayad Allawi said in January 2010 that Nouri would never fill those security ministries, that this was a power grab on Nouri's part.

The way it works is you are nominated by Nouri to be the Minister of Defense.  Your nomination is sent to Parliament.  Parliament then votes.  If they say no, you're not the Minister.  If they say yes, then you are the minister.  If you're the Minister confirmed by Parliament, you then do your job -- as you feel you need to.  Nouri can't remove you.  Only Parliament can.

In December of 2011, Nouri had another one of his tantrums -- brought on by his never ending paranoia (first noted in 2006 by the State Dept) -- and he went after Iraqiya.  Specifically, he wanted Tareq al-Hashemi (Vice President) stripped of his title and thrown in jail.  Tareq had committed many 'crimes' but the chief one was being suspected of outing Nouri on the secret prisons.  Nouri's repeatedly run secret prison and repeatedly been caught.  Tareq had made the prisons one of his issues, calling for reforms, visiting the prisons, etc.  Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN that Nouri was becoming Saddam Hussein.  That's why Nouri went after al-Mutlaq.  Both men belonged to Iraqiya and were Sunnis.  Nouri's attacks didn't encourage faith among the Sunnis.  But the real lesson for Nouri was he couldn't get his way.

Tareq al-Hasehmis has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to the death penalty several times over.  He is not, however, the "ex-Vice President."  Anytime you read that, a journalist has just confessed to how stupid they are or how far they'll go to whore for Nouri.  Tareq has never been stripped of his post.  Only Parliament can do that.  They have refused.  Tareq may be in Turkey, may be in Jordan, certainly isn't in Iraq, yet he remains Vice President.  (And his kangaroo court convictions are meaningless because he can't be tried on criminal charges while holding his office.)  Nouri also struck out in having al-Mutlaq stripped of his title (and Nouri conceeded that in May of 2011 when he gave up that fight).

So if you are now the Ministry of Defense, that's your job.  You call the shots, you're in charge of the military (or the police if you're Minister of the Interior).

Allawi was correct.  This was a power grab.  Nouri has created 'acting' Ministers for the security ministries.  They have no power.  They've never been confirmed by Parliament so they do what Nouri tells them or he strips them of their post.

That's contrary to the Constitution and you can thank Barack Obama for that.

Violence has been on the increase bit by bit until it boiled over in 2013 so much that even the press had to note it.  If the security ministries have had no real leader (Nouri is there leader since 2010) during this time as violence has skyrocketed, that's on him.  He's responsible.

Let's go back to centrist Pollack's analysis which is much kinder than mine:

The Obama Administration has excused the prime minister’s misdeeds and refused to take a public stance against him. Through it all, the United States has continued to do little. The U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Steve Beecroft, and several other mid - level officials have tirelessly implored all sides to do the right thing, but they have been given painfully little to work with. Washington made no effort to build up new sources of leverage with Baghdad when the troops departed. 
Some of Obama’s senior most aides recognized the importance of translating the U.S. - Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) into a wide - ranging set of programs by which Iraq would receive American assistance for its political, economic, military, educational and social development as a way of giving average Iraqis and their leaders a continuing stake in the relationship with the United States. This, in turn, would have preserved a considerable amount of U.S. government influence in Baghdad. Yet it never happened. Instead, or perhaps because of this failure, the Obama Administration has excused the prime minister’s misdeeds and refused to take a public stance against him. 
They have tried quiet diplomacy, but without leverage it has had little effect. Instead, they have loudly blamed the various opposition groups — the Sunnis, Kurds, and others. 
None of them are blameless. 
All of them share in Iraq’s dismantling. 
But in fixing on them, the Obama Administration has reminded many Iraqis, particularly many Sunnis, of the early years of the Bush occupation, when Washington turned a blind eye to Shi’a warlords using the government as a weapon against the Sunni community. And the Kurds fear that they will be next. At this point, there is no reason to believe that Iraq is going to get better any time soon. All of the evidence indicates that it is going to get worse. The real questions now are how bad will it get and how quickly? 

And yet few are asking those questions.

They need to be.  Especially since All Iraq News is reporting:

The member of the Iraqiya Slate stressed “The Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, seeks assuming the PM post for a third term rather than to resign from his post.”
He stated to AIN “We do not have a culture of resignation in Iraq when the officials fail in performing their duties,” noting that “We wished any official to resigne giving the priority for the interests of Iraq.”

Not only is Nouri a failure, he told AFP in early 2011 (when there were widespread protests against him) that he wouldn't seek a third term.  Will AFP remind people of that interview?  Will anyone?  Many should because they ran headlines and stories praising Nouri for the decision.  While they did that, we pointed out that Nouri would most likely break that promise.

Iraq briefly came up in today's US State Dept press briefing conducted by spokesperson Marie Harf


MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: There’s a report that there was over a thousand deaths in July, which sets a record for the last few years, and I was wondering if the State Department had a comment on that.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, we are deeply concerned by the nature of these attacks that we’ve seen and by the levels of violence in Iraq. The targeting of innocent people in an effort to sow instability and division is obviously outrageous and reprehensible.
I would make a point that we believe that the rise in violence is driven by terrorists who are not representative of Iraqi society writ large. The vast majority of Iraqi people continue to reject this violence and call for political dialogue to resolve tensions. And I would underscore that we are encouraged that many political and religious leaders have taken a strong stance against this violence and that they have continued to explore ways to address the ongoing political and security issues.

And that passes for the US government 'discussing' Iraq.  How shameful.  How many billions is the State Dept going to spend in Iraq each year and yet fail to inform the American people of how that money is spent and what the results are? 

The Voice of Russia's Rob Sachs spoke with Michael O'Brien about the violence today and, at the end of the interview, a point was made that really applies:

 At this point, ten years out, Americans are tired of hearing about violence in Iraq, tired of hearing about efforts to stop it, but why should average Americans care at this point?

Well, you know, that's a real good question. Average Americans probably don't, but if you are an American that believes in right and wrong, if you're an American that believes in consequences, if you're an American that believes in the Constitution and also strictly focused on the defense of our country, then you'd be an American that would be going, "Why did we go over there in 03?" And you'd be an American that would be saying not only that, but "No one has been held accountable for us going there." And I'm talking about American leadership.

Asking questions, paying attention might mean questioning the Pentagon's decision to provide $2 billion more in weapons and training to Nouri's forces.  As Allen McDuffee  (Daily Beast) notes:

“I believe our national strategy towards Iraq might soon need to be reassessed,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. “Business as usual with arms sales to a government that is in some ways stoking an internal conflict may need to be rethought.”
“I’m not sure any arms sales make sense, or at least not any new ones, until we see Maliki stop harassing people like [former Iraqi deputy prime minister Rafi] al-Issawi,” said O’Hanlon.
In 2011, as finance minister, al-Issawi warned of the risks of providing arms to a sectarian army.
“It is very risky to arm a sectarian army,” el-Issawi told the New York Times. “It is very risky with all the sacrifices we’ve made, with all the budget to be spent, with all the support of America — at the end of the day, the result will be a formal militia army.”

 And the violence continues today.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Falluja shoot out led to the death of 1 rebel, an Anbar sticky bombing left at least one Sahwa injured, 1 crane operator in Basra has been shot dead, Nouri's forces shot dead 1 truck driver outside of Mosul suspecting him of being a bomber, and a Diyala Province bombing left 1 person dead and another injuredWorld Bulletin adds that a Baquba cafe bombing claimed 5 lives and left twenty people injured.

Asharq al-Aswat reports on a meet-up of the National Iraqi Alliance headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, "A statement issued after the meeting said 'the attendees have expressed their great concern about the recent deterioration in the security situation. They stressed the importance of taking necessary and urgent measures to deal with security breaches and intensify efforts to instill security'."

How does Nouri deal with such concerns?

All Iraq News reports: "The Commander General for Armed Forces, Nouri al-Maliki instructed the Ground Forces Command, Baghdad Operations Command and the Anti-Terrorism Department to launch raids and search campaigns in some areas in Baghdad and its outskirts."

Yet again, Nouri's 'answer' requires pissing off a lot of people.  And this is who the US government keeps backing and keeps arming.

The State Dept didn't want to talk about Iraq but, goodness, didn't they want to talk about Ed Snowden.

This morning, Ed Snowden left the Moscow airport he has been at since June 23rd.  He's been granted asylum in Russia.  Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) reports, "The temporary refugee status allows Mr. Snowden to move freely within the country and is valid for one year, Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer assisting Mr. Snowden with the asylum request, said in a telephone interview."  BBC News adds, "Despite the heavy presence of news organisations at the airport, his departure was apparently not spotted by media."   WikiLeaks has Tweeted:


Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for a year and has now left Moscow airport under the care of WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison

 Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."

The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything."  As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned."  Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation."  He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation.  It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."

Not everyone will be pleased with today's news.  For example, the very sorry excuses for Senators Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein  will not be happy.  The CBS News on air who laughed on air yesterday about what the Bradley Manning verdict might mean to Ed is not pleased (to be clear, the on air was caught laughing on audio -- the camera was on Bob Orr while she laughed).

But not everyone's unhappy, Ed's father Lon spoke to Rossiya 24 (Russian television) yesterday:

Lon Snowden:  I would also like to thank President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for the -- what I believe -- the courage and the strength and the conviction to keep my son.  Like any mother or father who loves their child, I love my son.  And I will be forever grateful for what you have done for my son. But considering the actions taken, particularly with grounding [Bolivian President] Evo Morales' airplane when they thought my son was on that, I feel that Russia has the strength and resolve and conviction to protect my son, to keep him out of the reach of those who would wish him harm.  That's why I would, if it were me, I would stay in Russia and that's what I hope my son would do.

RT reports, "With his newly-awarded legal status in Russia, Snowden cannot be handed over to the US authorities, even if Washington files an official request. He can now be transported to the United States only if he agrees to go voluntarily."  Again, for the CBS 'talent' (as opposed to reporter) who laughed on air yesterday morning, today's news must be devastating.  But no doubt, wasting everyone's time with celebrity gossip and puff interviews -- which really is CBS This Morning -- will have her mended and back on the superficial track in no time at all.

 WikiLeaks Tweeted:

  1. We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle--now the war.

RT notes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke (via video link) at a conference yesterday:

The world is witnessing the creation of a new world order that involves the security state apparatus as an overwhelming force, Julian Assange said during his speech at OHM2013 Observe, Hack, Make conference.
“We are seeing the doubling of the power of the national security agency every four years,” Assange said, adding that even some experts might not have “enough perspective about what is going on."  

A statement from Barack's administration -- one offering no thank you to Russia -- is expected later this morning.  Ben Brumfield (CNN) reports:

Snowden's father told Anderson Cooper that the FBI had wanted to fly him to Moscow to encourage the National Security Agency leaker to come home to the United States.
But Lon Snowden said he backed out because it was not clear he would be able to speak to his son.
When he asked FBI agents if they would be able to set up communications, they hesitated, he said. It made him suspicious.
"I'm not going to get on a flight and go to Moscow and sit on a tarmac to be an emotional tool for you to use against him. I want to first be able to speak to my son," he told them.

The news of the asylum was raised at today's State Dept press briefing:

 QUESTION: Can we start with U.S. relations with Russia?

MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I’ve obviously seen what the White House has said about your extreme disappointment with this and also that the U.S. Government is reevaluating the utility of a summit. Is it fair to conclude that your reevaluation of the utility of a summit with President Putin is directly in response to this one event, or is it part of a wider set of issues including that arms control talks don’t appear to be going very far with the Russians?
MS. HARF: I would say that it is directly related to this very disappointing event, yes.
QUESTION: And are you considering any additional steps to manifest your unhappiness with this unfortunate step including, for example, canceling the so-called 2+2 meeting that I think is supposed to happen later this month?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have an announcement for you yet on the 2+2. Obviously, as the White House said, this is not a positive development. And we are also reevaluating the utility of that as well.
QUESTION: And had you ever set a date for that? Because I saw the Secretary said back in Brunei in July that it would be during the month of July. Interfax, I think, has said August the 8th. Was there ever a date in mind?
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that, Arshad. I’d have to check into whether we actually set a date or not.
QUESTION: And one other thing. Why – I mean, I understand that you’re reevaluating the utility. That doesn’t mean you’re going to cancel it. Might there not be some utility in talking to your Russian defense and foreign minister counterparts to see if there’s some way to try to work out the Snowden case?
MS. HARF: Well, again, we continue to work, to talk to the Russian Government about this today, and we will in the future as well. In terms of whether that would be part of any such summit, we’re still reevaluating that right now.
QUESTION: And last one for me on this. U.S. officials are always saying that they have a very broad agenda with the Russians, that you work with them when you can and you disagree when you can’t on, for example, on things like human rights. Why reevaluate the – given the breadth of your interests with Russia, given such issues as Iran, North Korea, arms control, why would you be so piqued by one incident such as this that you would consider throwing away a summit meeting that has long been planned?
MS. HARF: Well, I think I’d make a few points. First, no decision has been made. We have nothing new to announce at this point about the 2+2 summit, so I don’t want to get ahead of where that process is.
You’re right, we do have a broad agenda that we talk to the Russian Government about. There are issues where we work together, as you know, Afghanistan, Iran sanctions, and elsewhere. But there are times when we very strongly disagree. I think that today’s action, as my colleagues at the White House said, is extremely disappointing. And so in light of the fact that they have taken such action, it behooves us to evaluate where the relationship is, whether the summit makes sense. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of any decision on that at this point.
Yes, Jill.
QUESTION: Marie, can we get into some more of the nitty-gritty?
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When this came out, when the news broke, was the State Department surprised? Because after all, you’ve been talking with the Russians for quite a long time now about this subject. Was it a surprise that he was given temporary asylum?
MS. HARF: We were not informed in advance of this move. We are currently reaching out to the Russian Government for formal confirmation and to discuss the issue further.
QUESTION: And what is Secretary Kerry doing today concerning this? I know he has a busy schedule in Pakistan.
MS. HARF: He does. He has a schedule in Pakistan. If I have any updates on his involvement I will be sure to let you know. I’ll check in with the traveling party again. Ambassador McFaul and our Embassy there have discussed our views with the Russian Government, including today. But I will update you if there are additional contacts to read out.
QUESTION: And there are some very strong comments coming from the Hill. I think probably the strongest is Senator McCain, who’s saying relook at the entire relationship – I mean, missile defense, Georgia, you name it. Do you think he is right? Is this time at this point where it’s being interpreted as Putin really poking his eye – sorry – poking his finger in the eye of the United States? Is it really time now to relook at the relationship?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we and President Putin himself have been clear that we don’t want this issue to broadly negatively affect our bilateral relationship, because as you said, there are places where we work together including in Afghanistan, with Iran sanctions, with reductions in our nuclear arms arsenals. So we’ve both been very clear that this is an example of something that we want to treat separately, that we don’t want it to adversely affect the whole relationship. That being said, this was an extremely disappointing step. I don’t want to get ahead of any discussions about where we’re going to go from here other than to say again that we continue to press with the Russian Government that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States where he will face a free and fair trial.
QUESTION: So in other words, you’re going to just kind of put this on the backburner in a way as separate?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t say on the backburner at all. Clearly, we are coming out very strongly today in saying this is an issue of importance to us and that we’re very disappointed. I wouldn’t – so I wouldn’t characterize it in that way, but I would put it into the context of the fact that we’ve all said throughout this process that we don’t want it to affect the relationship. That’s why – in part why today’s news is so disappointing.
QUESTION: But why won’t it affect – I mean, how can you possibly divorce this?
MS. HARF: Well, obviously no issue is discussed in a vacuum, clearly. But it’s not about divorcing it. It’s about saying, as Arshad said, there are areas where we work together. We’ll continue to do so because it’s in our interest to do so. There are areas where we disagree, as we’ve talked about, not just Snowden but others. And again, we’re evaluating our summit, the 2+2. We’re looking at that right now. So clearly this could have an impact, but the relationship is a broad one where we have many national security interests as well.
QUESTION: The issue of the Sochi Olympics which has come up, not only in the context of Snowden but in the context of the issues on LGBT rights, has there been any decision or – obviously probably not a decision at this point, but is there any further view on Sochi whether a boycott would be useful?
MS. HARF: I don’t have anything further for you on that. I just – I haven’t heard about any of those discussions that are ongoing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) talking about seeking further confirmation of the decision on Snowden.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that going on through the Embassy, through McFaul or people here are involved?
MS. HARF: Well, Ambassador McFaul is certainly in touch. A number of our other folks are as well. We’ve said throughout the process that we’re also working through the appropriate law enforcement channels. So I know lots of people are involved in this and on the phone right now, and we’re looking for a little more clarity. But I think one point I would underscore, and that everyone’s underscoring with the Russians, that this move by the Russian Government undermines a longstanding record of law enforcement cooperation, particularly since the Boston Marathon bombings. So we will continue to make that point with the Russian Government at all points in this process.
QUESTION: The Boston Marathon bombing was not particularly long ago.
MS. HARF: That was just one example of our longstanding record of law enforcement cooperation.
More on Snowden?
QUESTION: Just – I mean, do you – I mean, you’re mentioning about the cooperation’s been there in the past.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I mean, do you think in the course of this, was it made clear to the Russians the repercussions this would have for the relationship by making a decision like this? Was it explicitly said that this would be the case?
MS. HARF: I’m not going to get into details of our diplomatic conversations with the Russians. We’ve, again, been making privately the same points we’ve been making publicly, that Mr. Snowden is wanted on very serious charges and that he needs to be returned to the United States to face those charges.
QUESTION: Russia --
QUESTION: Could you ask you a question – oh, sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a clarification. On that 2+2, are the subjects, these kind of broader issues like missile defense, nuclear arms reduction, crisis in Syria, can you at least – even if it doesn’t happen or it does, is that what they are talking about?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a preview of what that would entail. It’s my understanding it would be a broader agenda. And again, setting aside a specific summit, we are clearly going to keep talking with the Russians about all of these issues. So we’re not going to stop engaging with them on Syria, on the way forward, on missile defense, on any of these issues because one meeting does or does not happen. So I wouldn’t read that into whether or not this meeting happens.
QUESTION: Can I just ask also on Mr. Snowden himself --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- it’s been said in Russia that he’s no longer in the airport. Has the U.S. had any contact or made any attempt to have any contact or to find out his whereabouts?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any knowledge of any of that. Again, it’s a moving situation on the ground, and not to my knowledge has anyone tried to reach out to him.

QUESTION: And there’s the idea that he could get a new passport, that the United States would be happy to provide him a passport.

MS. HARF: We would be happy to provide him the necessary travel documents to return to the United States to face trial, absolutely.

QUESTION: Do you think that – do you have any reason to think that the verdict against Bradley Manning this week had any impact on the Russians’ decision to grant temporary asylum?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to venture a guess as to why the Russian Government did this, to make any links between any two cases. I think I said from the podium here yesterday that we don’t make links between cases, so I would not want to even venture a guess as to what their motivation was.

QUESTION: But they haven’t, in Ambassador McFaul or other officials’ contacts with them since this was announced, they haven’t conveyed that to you?

MS. HARF: Not that I’ve heard of, but again, I don’t have a full readout of every conversation that’s going on. We are treating this as an individual case, again, making the same points that we’ve been making for months now.

[. . .]

 QUESTION: Sorry, I have one more quick one on Snowden.

MS. HARF: On Snowden?

QUESTION: Yeah. And given that this is a temporary asylum he’s been granted in Russia, are you continuing to stay in touch with other countries that he might be headed to after this point?
MS. HARF: That’s a good question. I don’t have any new outreach to update you on. I think we’ve made clear throughout this process – and our position on that has not changed – that any third country where he might attempt to transit through or eventually resettle to needs to instead send him back to the United States where he should face trial.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been more communication, or has there been any communication with Mr. Snowden’s father? He’s been quite public in his remarks, saying he’s relieved that Russia has provided him with asylum. Has there been any communication with him, as far as you know?
MS. HARF: From the State Department? Not to my knowledge, no.

So many words, so little meaning.  Lesson?  Never mistake the government's bulls**t for diplomacy.

the associated press
sameer n. yacoub