Iraq snapshot - February 23, 2012
The Common Ills
Thursday, February 23, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, a wave of attacks hit Iraq, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani again sees one of his clerics targeted, Iraqiya calls for the government to provide protection or resign, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc lashes out at the United Nations over Camp Ashraft, and more.
Today a series of spectacular attacks struck Iraq. Martin Kobler, the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, declared, "The continuing violent attacks on Iraqis are totally unacceptable and have to stop. I call on the Iraqi authorities to fully investigate these outrageous acts of violence and bring the criminals to justice. Today's despicable attacks are an assault on human life and death. They are meant to hinder the achievement of national unity and stability." At the US State Dept, spokesperson Mark C. Toner (link is text and video) stated, "Obviously, these were horrible, even heinous, acts that took place today. We strongly condemn these acts of violence and obviously offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims. Frankly, we view these as desperate attempts by terrorist groups to sow fear and undermine Iraqi democracy at what everyone recognizes is really a critical juncture in their -- in the Iraqi political process." Obviously, the US goes to the 'terrorist' well at the drop of the hat. Having installed a puppet government of exiles and ignored Iraqi will (in the 2010 elections, Iraqis voted Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya ahead of Nouri's State of Law but the White House demanded that Nouri remain prime minister -- in spite of the will of the Iraqi people, in spite of the Iraqi Constitution), the US government has left Iraqis not thrilled with an ineffective government composed of exiles few avenues to pursue to effect change. (Had they honored the will of the Iraqi people expressed in the 2010 elections, there might be more faith in elections within Iraq. The US government is 100% to blame for the attitude in Iraq that elections change nothing.)
The Washington Post's Asaad Alazawi and Ernesto Londono observe, "Iraqi officials did not provide an official death toll, and few appeared on television to speak about, or condemn, the attacks. Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraq parliament's Speaker, said the attacks represented an attempt to 'flare up strife' among Iraqis."
The wave of attacks were spread across ten locations. RT notes, "The violence started with a drive-by shooting in Baghdad and was followed by blasts inside and outside the capital." Salam Faraj and Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) count 16 car bombings and 8 roadside bombings and note Baghdad, Babil, Diyala, Slaheddin, Kirkuk and Nineveh were all hit. Rick Dewsbury (Daily Mail) notes, "The coordinated bombings and shootings unfolded over four hours in the capital Baghdad -- where most deaths were -- and 11 other cities. They struck government offices, restaurants and one in the town of Musayyib hit close to a primary school." Vatican Radio (link is audio) reported on the atta
Charles Collins: It was one of the bloodiest days in Iraq since US troops pulled out in mid-December. In Baghdad, at least 10 explosions tore through mainly Shia neighborhoods during rush hour and other attacks targeted police patrols, commuters and crowds gathered in shopping areas. One bomb went off near a school injuring several children. There were also attacks in Baquba, Mosul and Kirkuk and the province of Salaheddin. Tensions have grown since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against senior members of a predominantly Sunni political bloc, accusing them of ties to death squads. The blasts hit just weeks before Baghdad plans to host an Arab League Summit which was cancelled last year due to fears of violence in the county.
Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph of London) observes of Baghdad, "Witnesses spoke of seeing wrecked cars and blood stains on the floors and chains of an ice cream shop. One attack claimed six lives in Kadhimiya district, where bombs exploded along a restaurant lined street filled with people having breakfast and morning coffees." 50 dead and "hundreds injured" throughout the country. Asaad Alazawi and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) count 52 dead and add, "The majority of attacks, which were carried out with car bombs and small arms, appeared to target security forces in the capital and other cities, authorities said." The death toll continued to rise throughout the day. Kareem Raheem (Reuters) noted the death toll has risen to 60. By the end of the day, the Wall St. Journal was reporting the deaths had risen to 70.
BBC News offers a series of photos of the aftermath here. Globe and Mail offers four photos here. The Telegraph of London offers video here. Jack Healy (New York Times) notes mourners in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood where 16-year-old Sajad Montasire died waiting "for a minibus to take him to school" and quotes his brother Mustafa explaining, "He just had his breakfast, took his books and left walking. I heard the explosion, I ran into the street, and I found his shoe." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains Sunnis were targeted (not just Shi'ites) and quotes Iraq Body Count's Hamit Dardagan stating, "The situation is worsening [January's count of over 400 dead] shows a constant level of violence that doesn't seem to let up." Al Arabiya notes the death toll from today's attacks has risen to 70. Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) notes that the Interior Ministry rushed to blame al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but MP Hassan Jihad -- who serves on the Parliament's Security and Defense Committee -- notes that "the attacks show that the Iraqi armed forces and the country's security apparatus were not where they need to be." It should be noted that the Deputy Minister at the Interior Ministry feels Iraq's security forces have had enough training. (He advised the US government to spend the money for training Iraqi security forces on something in the United States instead.) It should also be noted that he unofficially runs the Ministry of the Interior. That's because, in his second term as prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki has refused to appoint a Minister of the Interior. In addition, Nouri's refused to appoint a Minster of Defense or a Minister of National Security. (Technically, he's refused to nominate. Parliament votes up or down on the nominee. But Nouri's refused to offer nominees to head those three security ministries.) Nouri's named prime minister-designate in November 2010. Per the Constitution, he is to form a (full) Cabinet -- that includes each nominee being approved by Parliament. At the end of December 2010, he was unconstitutionally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister despite having failed at the Cabinet (which should have meant President Jalal Talabani named a new prime-minister designate who would then have 30 days to try to form a Cabinet). During this period with no heads of the three security ministries, violence has been on the rise. Over a year later, Nouri has still not named people to head the security ministries and a National Alliance member recently revealed that the National Alliance (Nouri's State of Law, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq are the three biggest blocs in the National Alliance) doesn't want anyone named to the posts. They'd prefer that, for the duration of Nouri's term, the ministries remain headless.
Press TV emphasizes that today's "deadly violence comes weeks before an Arab League summit scheduled to be held in Iraq at the end of March." Al Mada notes that 13 Arab leaders are expected to participate in the summit and that the US has had "a big role" in persuading Arab leaders to attend. Ali A. Nabhan, Sam Dagher and Jabbar Yaseen (Wall St. Journal) explain:
The latest violence also casts a shadow over Iraq's quest to host the Arab League's summit of leaders on March 29. It would be the first such meeting since uprisings swept through the Arab world, toppling four leaders and besieging the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last year's summit was postponed because of the events. Iraq has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into preparations for the summit and a team from the Arab League met with Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Monday to discuss security and other arrangements.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Baghdad reaction to today's attacks:
"What are the security officials doing?" shouted Hadi Abdulwahab, a father of four whose shop in Karrada isn't far from the site of one of the car bombings. "This is proof that they are not in control. The armed groups are in control."
Only luck, he said, kept him alive. The insurgents "hit when and where they want," he said. "There is no security plan. There is no security. We are alive only because we weren't hit -- this time. We leave our homes in the morning not knowing whether we will return or not."
Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quotes shop owner Ali Sabah Qadim stating, "These explosions increase our concern that security in Baghdad is still not good. What is the guilt of those innocent children who were going to their schools? Today we have a new number to be added to the orphans, widows and handicapped in Iraq."
Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted:
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The official spokesperson of al-Iraqiya Bloc, Mayson al-Damlouji, demanded the government to bear responsibility and stop bloodshed or to present its resignation." The editorial board of the National Newspaper has a very strong editorial which includes:
The increase in attacks on Shia communities also corresponded with Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, the leader of the Shia State of Law coalition, consolidating power at the expense of the opposition Iraqiya party and accusing leading Sunni politicians of planning the violence. Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, a Sunni who fled to the Kurdish Autonomous Region, again maintained his innocence this week after Iraq's top judicial court formally accused him of sectarian violence.
Whether Mr Al Hashimi is guilty or not (and it is difficult to judge in this poisoned political atmosphere), the political feuding and sectarian murders are closely related. As long as Mr Al Maliki's government continues to marginalise non-Shiites, there will be no lasting security solution in Iraq.
No one's tying in the violence to the ongoing crackdowns in Iraq. That ongoing crackdown would include the 92 people Al Sabaah reports Nouri had arrested yesterday. In addition, Yasser Talal (Dar Addustour) reports that more warrants are coming and that Nouri's claiming there's a plot to assassinate him. Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of Iraq and chief drama queen.
Nouri lashed out at many members of Iraqiya in the last months, none more so than Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi whom he accused of terrorism. Last week, 9 judges from Nouri's kangaroo court in Baghdad declared al-Hashemi guilty (despite not having had a trial and despite what Article 19 of the Iraqi Constitution dictates: All are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law). Al Sabaah cites unnamed gossips in Parliament who are insisting that, in three more sessions, Parliament will be declaring a death sentence for al-Hashemi. This despite the fact that Parliament's not holding a hearing and most likely doesn't have the votes to put that forward?
In other violence, Al Rafidayn reports that a cleric of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was targeted for assassination yesterday with a hand grenade as he finished morning prayers and was leaving a mosque in Najaf. He wasn't harmed in the attack. This attack comes after a series of attacks over the weekend on al-Sistanti clerics. Friday Kitabat reported that Supreme Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani accused party officials of widespread corruption -- financial and administrative. Saturday Kitabat reported that six homes in Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah Provinces belonging to representatives of al-Sistani were attacked with hand grenades and bullets. No one was harmed in the attacks which would appear to indicate the attacks were not to harm but to send a message. A warning could be sent for any number of reasons but it is curious that he decries corruption among politicians and the next day homes of his representatives are attacked. Aswat al-Iraq noted 2 of the homes attacked in Diwaniyah Province and that a mosque in the area was also attacked.
Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq's spokesperson Claire Bergoa issued a statement in which she declared there are 5.1 million internally displaced Iraqis (internal refugees) and that 3.1 million became displaced in 2006 or after. The statement on internal refugees comes as the Sadr bloc lashes out at Iranian refugees in Iraq. Ahlul Bayt News Agency quotes Rassem al-Marvani, Cultural Advisor of the Sadr bloc, stating that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "is actually implementing other's policies which are against Iraq's freedom and independence since there is no law that allows Ban Ki-moon to comment on the presence of the MKO in Iraq or their leaving the country." He's referring to Camp Ashraf residents. He accuses Ban Ki-moon of being in league with the US and Europe.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,000 people -- 400 were moved to Camp Liberty last week). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observesthat "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."
Yesterday afternoon, international law attorney Allan Gerson (Huffington Post) addressed the planned relocation of all Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty:
In 1932, the eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote "Moral Man and Immoral Society" warning of the tendency of institutions to lose their sense of humanity. How better to explain today's actions of the US State Department in toying with the lives and hopes of over 3000 Iranian dissidents being "voluntarily" relocated from Camp Ashraf , a small city 40 miles north of Baghdad, where they have lived for the last 25 years? From there they are being moved to a small isolated section of Camp Liberty, an abandoned American base, looted by the Iraqis, with no basic amenities and under the watchful eyes of Iraqi police who have viciously attacked them before.
In the State Department's view, they are doing these dissidents, members of the MEK (The Mujahedeen-e Khalq), a favor and are not dishonoring a solemn commitment made to them by the US Army in July 2004 when it promised that they would be treated as Protected Persons under the Geneva Conventions in return for the MEK's surrendering their means of self-protection. But, sad to say, the State Department's benevolent view is seriously flawed.
In reality, it has, as Niebuhr warned, lost its sense of humanity and has shown instead that US assurances of protection cannot be taken seriously in the face of institutional interests.
The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom issued the following today:
A letter signed by 110 cross-Party MPs and Peers was on Thursday delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Lancaster House urging him to ensure United Nations protection for 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
A delegation led by David Amess MP (Con) delivered the letter which was supported by senior Parliamentarians including Former Home Secretary Lord Waddington QC, former Labour Party chairman Lord Clarke of Hampstead, former House of Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd, LibDem deputy leader Lord Dholakia, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC (former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation), former Lord Advocate for Scotland Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC, Sir Roger Gale MP, Stephen McCabe MP, Brian Binley MP, and Sir Bob Russell MP. The Parliamentarians expressed "deep concern regarding the relocation of the first group of 400 residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty", a former US base near Baghdad airport now a de facto prison used by Iraq to house the dissidents.
The MPs and Peers' letter said: "A group of 400 residents showed utmost flexibility and prepared themselves to move to Camp Liberty on 17 February. This was at a time when many basic necessities at the new camp were clearly lacking. This gesture of goodwill by these residents was responded to by the Iraqi government ordering its police at the new camp to be offensive and hostile."
"Iraqi forces in the presence of UN monitors prevented the residents from transferring medication and medical supplies, a generator, office equipment including chairs, tables and photocopiers, a water heater and hygiene products. "
Camp Liberty, contrary to UNAMI's 31 January statement, does not conform to international standards from the point of view of infrastructure. Upon arrival residents found that there was no electricity or water and its hygienic services were filthy and unusable. "
With Mrs Rajavi having convinced the residents to accept this risky transfer, the current conditions at the camp are totally unacceptable. We expect the United Nations, with the support of the US government and the European Union to make a clear stand against the limitations that the Iraqi government is imposing on the residents. The UN, US and EU must ensure the human rights of the residents are met. UNAMI cannot justify a stance which is clearly not neutral as a result of Iraqi pressure.
"We urge you firstly to ensure that the Iraqi police station and its forces leave the camp and are stationed outside the perimeter of it. Furthermore, you must guarantee the safety and well being of the residents by ensuring they have direct and free access to medical services and that their freedom of movement is secured. UNAMI must keep the gates of Camp Liberty open to reporters, lawyers and the families of the residents. "
In such circumstances there can be no further transfer of residents to Camp Liberty until such time as the current 400 residents at Camp Liberty have been safely transferred to third party states", the letter said. The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom 23 February 2012
In other news, Al Mada reports an Iraqi exile -- one who left Iraq in the eighties -- recently returned from Paris for a visit, hoping to see the home he knew in Baghdad. Instead, what he found shocked him and he declared he was troubled to see Baghdad, the city of art and science, now become a city of sorrow and ignorance and the concept of flirtation has returned to the Dark Ages (in his time, he states, young women spoke throughout Baghdad, fanning themselves with fans in the doorways of restaurants and clubs). He is returning to Paris and states of Baghdad, 'This is not my city."
We'll close with this from John Glaser's "Extrajudicial Execution at President's Whim" (Antiwar.com):
The Obama administration's top Pentagon lawyer on Wednesday said that courts have no business questioning executive branch decisions about whom to target for extra-judicial execution in the war on terror, even if that target is an American citizen.
"Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives," said Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, in a speech at Yale Law School.