Iraq snapshot - January 30, 2012
The Common Ills
Monday, January 30, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, glee in the empire over the hydrocarbons law, at least 18 Sahwa have been killed since December 19th, the drones over Iraq, Iraqi Christians are worse off due to the war according to a US clergy member, AP reports negotiations with Iraq on US troops will continue, Iraqiya ends their boycott of Parliament, and more.
Though US President Barack Obama has repeatedy attempted to portay the Iraq War as a success, reality has refused to play along. David Kerr (Catholic News Agency) reports today, "U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio says the collapse of Iraq's Christian population is among the legacies of America's invasion in 2003." He is quoted stating, "Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country." Catholic Culture quotes him stating, "Before they were a minority that was protected but now they are a minority that is not protected." Meanwhile Mohammed Tawfeeq and Frederik Pleitgen (CNN) report Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling out Barack's description of Iraq as "free, stable and democratic," asking, "What sort of Iraq are we talking about? How the Americans will feel proud? How the American administration is going to justify to the taxpayer the billions of dollars that has been spent and at the end of the day the American saying, 'Sorry, we have no leverage even to put things in order in Iraq'?" In addition, Al Sturgeon (Sioux City Journal) weighs in with his opinion on whether the Iraq War was "'worth it?' Unless you can check reasoning and logic at the door, the answer seems to be a resounding 'no.'" Actress Kim Schultz wrote the play No Place Called Home to draw attention to the Iraqi refugee crisis. At Policy Mic, she points out:
Over 4 million Iraqis have been displaced since the 2003 invasion, a war that would not have taken place without the Bush administration's violent overreaction to 9/11. That's 4 million people; about 1 in 5 Iraqi citizens have been displaced. After travelling across the country to perform my play, I've learned that most Americans don't know this. And at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion. 100,000. These are big numbers.
Almost 3,000 innocent Americans died on 9/11, a tremendous loss. Yet the carnage in Iraq is far greater, and the 100,000+ innocent lives lost in Iraq in the wake of our invasion get scant attention, if any. These people were real mothers, sons, and daughters. What day commemorates the Iraqi father shot on the street? Or the kidnapped and beheaded uncle? Or the murdered Iraqi child?
Most Americans don't know these numbers or the stories behind the numbers, because it doesn't fit the narrative we tell ourselves about our war of "liberation," or what the news media told us about Iraq.
Last week, Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) was reporting on something troubling western rulers, "The political crisis engulfing Iraq's power-sharing government threatens to further dealy a landmark draft of its long-delayed oil law -- five years after the first version was submitted to parliament. [. . .] The first hydrocarbon draft law was agreed by Iraq's diverse political blocs in 2007, but it's approval has been held back by infighting among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish political groups, worrying investors seeking more guarantees for the industry." The war that was about oil couldn't let the hydrocarbons law remain in a state of limbo. CNN reports: US Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and spoke on Friday with Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi:
"The two Iraqi leaders described deliberations under way among all Iraqi political factions and parties in the run-up to a proposed national conference led by President Jalal Talabani," the White House statement said. "The vice president discussed with both leaders the importance of resolving outstanding issues through the political process. The vice president and Iraqi leaders agreed to stay in close touch as events unfold."
In addition the White House, the Iraqi Parliament also released a statement. KUNA reports, "A statement by the parliament said Biden and Al-Nujaifi, who is a member in the Iraqiya List, discussed ways of narrowing the gaps between the parties to end the political conflict. They also discussed the national conference that would bring about participation of political forces to discuss the political process."
After much intervention from the US, Al Rafidayn reports Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damluji announced Iraqiya was ending their boycott of Parliament. The paper notes deep divisions continue between the various blocs. Unlike the New York Times' sad report, Al Rafidayn does note the Erbil Agreement and the failure (by Nouri) to implement it. Aswat al Iraq adds, "The Chairman of Iraq's al-Ahrar (Liberals) Bloc, Bahaa al-Aaraji, has highly assessed the decision of al-Iraqiya Bloc, led by former Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, to resume attending the Iraqi Parliament's sessions and its acceptance of its call, calling on the Bloc to end its boycott to attend the sessions of the Council of Ministers as well." Al Mada reports that Iraqiya made its decision following a three hour meeting of various Iraqiya members. They are seeing their return to Parliament as a gesture of goodwill and state that the political crisis ends only by returning to the Erbil Agreement and releasing the innocnets who have been arrested while resolving the issues regarding Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Nouri has issued an arrest warrant for the vice president on charges of 'terrorism.' He's also demanded that al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post. Both al-Hashemi and and al-Mutlaq are members of Iraqiya which bested Nouri's State of Law in the March 2010 elections. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland declared (link is text with video option):
Well, first of all, we are encouraged by the decision of the Iraqiya bloc to end their boycott and to return to work at the Council of Representatives and also by the statements of other key blocs inside Iraq welcoming that decision. We're also encouraged that President Talabani has pledged to lead a process that's going to prepare a national conference that's going to focus on a political solution that protects the interests of all Iraqis within their constitution.
Our understanding is that the consultations leading to that conference are still ongoing. I think we've said here and elsewhere that we have been active, whether it's at the level of Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Jeffrey, in encouraging all of the Iraqi leaders to participate in this dialogue. We've been talking to all of them about their interest in preserving a unified Iraq and protecting their hard-fought constitution.
Alsumaria TV notes that only the boycott of Parliament has been ended and nothing has been said about the boycott of the Council of Ministers. But, of course, the Cabinet was no longer involved in the hydrocarbon process. Making that clear is Reuters report today that, "After five years in the making, Iraq's parliament could have a first reading of a landmark oil law by early February, a senior Iraqi energy official said on Monday."
RTT adds, "The development comes amid a Shia-Sunni power struggle triggered by a warrant issued for the arrest of Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi on terror charges. Hashemi is a senior leader of the Iraqiya bloc headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi." CNN has a video interview with al-Hashemi.
Tareq al-Hashemi: This case is politically motivated from the beginning. [. . .] For the prime minister to be chief in command [commander in chief], Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and the Chief of Intelligence and the Chief of National Security, what else you could do that? My country, in fact, because of this unbelievable power consolidation that we are heading back to restore the same regime that prevailed before 2003.
Dar Addustour reports State of Law MP Nahida Daini is defending Nouri's failure to name a Minister of Defense by stating Nouri has left the post vacant because he is afraid of a coup. If you were afraid of a coup, you might actually fill the security ministries (Interior, Defense and National Security) but instead Nouri has left them vacant (despite the Constitutional requirement that a Cabinet be named in 30 days for someone to become prime minister). He's left them vacant for a year and a month. Soon to be a year and two months. Because, Daini insists with an apparent straight face, Nouri fears a coup. Daini does admit that the Erbil Agreement has been ignored.
The excitement over the oil law possibly coming to a vote may cause many outlets to ignore the targeting of al-Hashemi as well as the plight of 2 Iraqi women. Amnesty issued the following:
Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president.
Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges.
Al-Hashimi has denied the charges, saying the accusations are politically motivated.
"The arrest of the two women appears to be part of a wider move targeting individuals connected to Tareq al-Hashemi," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.
"The Iraqi authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Rasha al-Hussain and Bassima Kiryakos. At the very minimum they should have immediate access to their family and a lawyer.
"The circumstances of their arrest and their incommunicado detention when we know that torture is rife in Iraq can only raise the greatest fears for their safety," she said.
Security forces detained the two women without arrest warrants, informing the women's families that they were being taken away for questioning, without explanation.
Bassima Kiryakos called her husband on 20 January and informed him she was to be released the following day but neither woman has been heard from since.
Bassima Kiryakos was previously arrested and beaten in December but released without charge after three days in detention.
The two women worked for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashimi,who is accused of ordering his bodyguards to commit acts of terrorism.
"It is up to the authorities to provide convincing evidence that the two women have committed a crime. Otherwise they should be immediately released," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
A warrant for Tareq al-Hashimi's arrest was issued on 19 December shortly after his Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya party announced it would boycott Parliament, accusing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of being sectarian.
Al-Hashimi is currently in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
In December, state run TV channel Al-Iraqiya broadcast "confessions" by men said to be al-Hashemi's bodyguards saying that they had killed police officers and officials from ministries in exchange for payoffs from al-Hashemi.
This was followed by a wave of arrests of Sunni politicians.
On 19 January, the Iraqi authorities reported they had arrested Ghadban al-Khazraji, the deputy governor in charge of investment in Diyala province and a member of the Islamic Iraqi party. Several of al-Khazraji's bodyguards were also arrested.
In the last few years, hundreds of detainees have been shown on the Al-Iraqiyqa channel making "confessions" admitting responsibility for various terrorism related offences.
These confessions have invariably been extracted under torture and other ill-treatment. Many people were convicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq on the basis of these confessions.
While not bothering to cover this, the New York Times also misdirects on drones in Iraq this morning but are we surprised that the paper would intentionally get that wrong? Does any US paper have closer ties to the CIA? No. And the CIA and the FBI operate in Iraq. Strangely Ted Koppel can tell you that while the New York Times refuses to do so. Which is not to say the State Dept isn't operating drones in Iraq. They are. We covered that (an dobjected to it) when it was presented as wonderful to Congress. In addition, Turkey gave space on the Iraq border to the CIA for a base and they are supposed to receive drones in exchange for providing the land for the base. Iraq, which cannot patrol its own skies due to training and a lack of planes, has many drones flying over it. And that may be why Iraqis are objecting and noticing the drones especially. The State Dept indicaes to the paper that it is them but that's what the State Dept would do if it were FBI or CIA drones. Mark Thompson (Time magazine) sums it up best, "Somehow, the State Department has been able to shoot itself in the foot with an unarmed drone." At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland took questions and offered statements on the use of drones in Iraq.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Let me tell you what I can on this situation. First of all, let me say that the State Department has always used a wide variety of security tools and techniques and procedures to ensure the safety of our personnel and our facilities. We do have an unmanned aerial vehicle program used by the State Department. These are tiny little things. They are not armed. They are not capable of being armed. And what they are designed to do is help give us pictures over our facilities to help in their protection. The operation of this program is extremely limited in scope. It is only going to even be considered in critical threat environments. I'm not going to get into the where for obvious reasons. We don't get into our precise security posture anywhere around the world. So I'm not going to divulge details. But just to repeat, we are talking about very limited use in critical threat areas of tiny, little, unarmed, unmanned aircraft which cannot shoot anything. They only take pictures to help us with embassy personnel and facility security.
QUESTION: How big is a tiny, little thing?
MS. NULAND: I haven't seen them, but I've seen pictures of people holding them.
QUESTION: Are we talking about, like, mosquitoes?
MS. NULAND: No, we're talking about like the size of --
QUESTION: That's not tiny.
MS. NULAND: -- my podium. Yeah, like that. Like that.
QUESTION: But when you said they are used to give us pictures over our facilities, is that – is it the case that they are only used over U.S. facilities? Or do they also get used, for example, when U.S. officials may travel?
MS. NULAND: They can be used to protect facilities and personnel, personnel who are moving.
QUESTION: So not just over U.S. facilities?
MS. NULAND: They can be used over the facilities or to track personnel who are moving, yes.
QUESTION: Not in the facilities, though, right, who are moving?
MS. NULAND: They can't see inside walls. No, they cannot. No, they don't have --
QUESTION: No. But I -- it goes to my next -- no, but my next question is sort of directly relevant. Either countries that are sovereign -- and some of us remember the sort of great enthusiasm with which a former administration talked about how Iraq had regained its sovereignty after the U.S. invasion -- either a country that is sovereign has control of its airspace or it doesn't. And so if you are letting these things not fly just over your embassy or your facilities, as you suggested, but in fact, they can roam elsewhere in the country, do you have any agreement or authorization from the Iraqi or from any government in the world to do that, to essentially give you access to their airspace?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me just make a general statement in response to that, Arshad, and I think you will understand that, again, to protect operational security I'm not going to get into details. But we, the State Department, always work closely with host governments on the physical protection of our facilities and our personnel, and this was part and parcel of that.
QUESTION: But you can work closely with somebody and still not have their explicit agreement for you to use their airspace, correct?
MS. NULAND: Suffice to say that this is part and parcel of a larger security program where it is necessary and we do work closely with host governments.
QUESTION: Well, in each instance, and I'm not asking you where these are used and I understand you don't want to talk about exactly where they're used, but in each instance when they are used, do you obtain the agreement of the host country for use of their airspace?
MS. NULAND: In the context of our larger security posture, we always work with host governments.
QUESTION: That's not a yes. I mean, you can work with them. It doesn't mean you've gotten their permission.
MS. NULAND: We are talking about something that started as a pilot program, something that is now being bid out and looked at for broader use. So some of the questions that you are probing for are premature; but in the context of our general consultations with governments on security, those are ongoing and we always consult with hosts.
QUESTION: Does the -- consultation is a very different thing from obtaining their permission.
MS. NULAND: I understand. I don't have anything further on your precise question.
QUESTION: Last one on this for me, if I may.
MS. NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: What -- does the U.S. Government permit any foreign country to use unmanned aerial vehicles over -- in its airspace?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, Arshad, we have never received such a request from a foreign country.
Nuland would go on to deny any knowledge that the drones were resulting in any anger on the part of Iraqis.
Last Friday, a US helicopter went down in Baghdad (emergency landing) and a second US helicopter instantly landed and took away the people in the first helicopter. The helicopter incident is important to Iraqis. Dar Addustour notes that Parliament's Security and Defense Committee will be addressing the issue this week and they see it as a clear violation of the Strategic Framework Agreement that the US currently operates in Iraq under. So the sick and addictive relationship between the two countries leaders continues.
If I lay my head down on you, would it be, would it be too late?
'Cause I can't blame you, baby, it's me that done wrong
'Cause I broke the skies that shine above
But I can't live, oh, without you, love you,
And it's hard to breathe when you're not near
But I can't lie here beside you, beside you
'Cause you steal my soul when you leave
Set me free, baby, set me free
(Disclosure, I just plugged a friend's band and while I will make nothing off the sale of the albums and singles, I do have a charity bet with a friend in London on how big Graffiti6 will be this year in the US. If I win, he donates a sum to Amnesty International, if he wins, I donate to the Actors Benevolent Fund. Stream the "Free" video and I think you'll agree Jamie Scott should make a big impression here in the US -- for his singing, for his songwriting and, yes, for his looks.)
Dar Addustour also notes that a spokesperson for Nouri's Cabinet has announced there are approximatey 50,000 Sahwa ("Awakenings," "Sons Of Iraq") and that they are mainly in 9 provinces and that they wil move to dispense with them despite calls by military commanders to keep them. Sahwa's been targeted for some time but they've especially been targeted since December 18th. From the 19th of December to today, there have been at least 20 reported attacks targeting Sahwa and 18 have been killed with eight more left injured (if you include family members of Sahwa, the number killed and wounded increases). Before the announcement today, Dan Morse (Washington Post) had reported on the difficulties Sahwa face in finding government jobs. If Nouri's plan to dispense with them is carried out, finding employment will probably continue to be a huge problem for Sahwa. Susan Ryan (The Journal) notes AKE's John Drake has compiled figures which see Iraq averageing "56 violent attacks a week" for 2011. Reuters notes today's violence includes a Wajihiya bombing targeting a police officer's home left one person injured, a Baquba bombing targeted a court official (no one was killed or injured), a Baquba roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left three more injured, a Baquba suicide car bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers with three more people left injured, 1 police officer and his father were shot dead in a Mosul drive-by shooting, 1 government worker was shot dead in Mosul, 1 suspect was killed and an Iraqi soldier injured in Mosul, a Rabia clash left 1 person dead and one Iraqi soldier injured, a Baquba roadside bombing injured on Iraqi soldier and a Basra grenade attack left 1 police officer dead and another injured.
Robert Burns (AP) reports this morning Michele Flournoy, outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, explained to reporters that talks will be kicking off shortly between the US and Iraq -- part of the reason the White House strong-armed Ayad Allawi on Friday and over the weekend -- and "to start thinking about how they [Iraqis] want to work with" US troops. Which is completely expected despite the failure of press outlets to pay attention in November. See the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," November 16th "Iraq snapshot," November 17th "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)," Kat's "Who wanted what?" and Third's "Enduring bases, staging platforms, continued war" and "Gen Dempsey talks "10 enduring" US bases in Iraq." One key exchange.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Senator, as I pointed out in my testimony, what we seek with Iraq is a normal relationship now and that does involve continuing negotiations with them as to what their needs are. Uh, and I believe there will be continuing negotations. We're in negotiations now with regards to the size of the security office that will be there and so there will be -- There aren't zero troops that are going to be there. We'll have, you know, hundreds that will be present by virtue of that office assuming we can work out an agreement there. But I think that once we've completed the implementation of the security agreement that there will begin a series of negotiations about what exactly are additional areas where we can be of assistance? What level of trainers do they need? What can we do with regards to CT [Counter-Terrorism] operations? What will we do on exercises -- joint-exercises -- that work together?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
Secretary Leon Panetta: We -- we have these kind of relationships with other countries in the region and that's what we're going to continue to pursue with Iraq.
Senator Joe Lieberman: And in fact, just using the term that both of you have used, that would be a normal relationship. A normal relationship would not exlcude the presence of some American military in Iraq, correct?
Secretary Leon Panetta: That's correct.
Senator Joe Lieberman: So what I hear you saying, assuming that this question of immunities can be overcome, do you, Mr. Secretary, personally believe that it's in the interests of the US to have some military presence in Iraq as part of an agreement with the Iraqis?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I believe -- I believe there are areas where we can provide important assistance to the Iraqis but again I would stress to you, Senator Lieberman, I know that you have been there that in order for this to happen we've got to be able to have them basically say, 'These are our needs, this is what we want, these are the missions that we want accomplished.' And then we can assist them in saying we can provide this in order to accomplish those missions. It's got to be a two-way street.