Iraq snapshot - April 19, 2012
The Common Ills
Thursday, April 19, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq is slammed with violence, former US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill mocked the assassination of JFK (while being paid by US taxpayers), Tareq al-Hashemi talks to the BBC about future steps in Iraq, Nouri continues his war with ExxonMobil, and more.
Al Arabiya reports, "More than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 36 and wounding more than 100, police and hospital sources said, raising fears of sectarian strife in a country keen to show it can now maintain security." Adnkronos International quotes Baghdad security chief Diya al-Wakil saying of the attacks, "It's an attempt to cause our efforts to return security to the country to collapse. It's a way to make the Iraqi people have a bad opinion about our work."
Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) explains "The blasts were a series of co-ordinated attacks in Baghdad and northern cities but mostly within Shia neighbourhoods." Prensa Latina notes, "An Interior Ministry's spokesman said the first explosion occurred at rush hour this morning, when a car bomb exploded in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad, killing three and injuring 11." The Belfast Telegraph adds, "Extremists launched 12 attacks in the Iraqi capital and in the cities of Kirkuk, Samarra, Baqouba, Dibis and Taji. Mortars were fired into the northern cities of Beiji and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, but no injuries were reported there." UPI counts 35 dead and over seventy-three injured while the Voice of Russia counts 36 dead and over one hundred dead. ITV also goes with 36 killed. Salam Faraj (AFP) counts it out this way, "Twenty-two civilians, eight police, three members of an anti-Qaeda militia and two soldiers were killed in dozens of attacks, including 14 separate car bombings." Alsumaria puts the number injured at over 146. As the day ended, AFP noted the death toll -- per security officials -- had risen to 38 with over one-hundred and sixty people wounded.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued the following:
The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, condemned in the strongest terms the series of bomb attacks that took place today across Iraq and that have reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.
SRSG Kobler expressed concern at the continuation of violence in the country and the targeting of security officials and personnel as well as the indiscriminate attacks on civilians. "These horrendous crimes being committed against the Iraqi people need to stop for Iraq to achieve the prosperous and secure future its people duly deserve," SRSG Kobler said.
SRSG Kobler reiterated the need for all Iraqis to work together to end the hideous crimes being committed against the Iraqi people to hamper its success as a democratic, stable and prosperous nation.
SRSG Kobler extends his condolences to the families of those who were killed and his wishes for the speedy recovery of those who were injured, and called on the Iraqi people to remain steadfast in the face of the attempts to derail Iraq's quest for a better future.
This would be a good place to note the lousy performance of the US State Dept, but we'll pick that up after the day's violence.
The Los Angeles Times explains, "The attacks drew sharp criticism of the country's security apparatus, with Maysoon Damalooji, spokeswoman for the Iraqiya political bloc, saying they reflected planning weakness. Parliament Speaker Usama Nujaifi demanded that leaders of the security forces bear responsibility." Peter Cave (Radio Australia News)quotes Maysoon al-Damaluji stating, "The continuation of bloody explosions, although it has been already announced that tight security measures have been taken, reflects the weak security plans and the necessity to reconsider them. The commander of the armed forces [Nouri al-Maliki] is responsible for providing security and complete safety for citizens." Alsumaria reports that the Kirkuk Provincial Council is calling for all security plans to be reviewed stating that the plans clearly are not preventing attacks or providing security. John Glaser (Antiwar.com) offers, "Many criticize Maliki with being preoccupied with his own authority instead of ensuring security in the country." Al Bawaba also stresses that perception, "These attacks occur amid a highly tense political climate. Several political parties have accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is in office since 2006, of seeking to impose a new dictatorship in Iraq."
Last month, Iraq Body Count reported at least 295 people died from violence in Iraq. And that March total came about only after Baghdad was under lockdown for a full week in the days leading up to the Arab League Summit. Already this week, Xinhua has reported 13 dead in Monday's violence alone (nine injured).
BBC News (link is text and video) breaks down today's violence as follows:
In Baghdad, a series of at least five blasts struck in various Shia neighbourhoods
Police say two car bombs went off in Kirkuk, 180 miles (290km) north of Baghdad
A suicide bomber killed a police officer in Baquba, an army officer said
Two car bombs targeted security forces in Samarra
A parked car exploded killing passers-by in Dibis
A roadside device exploded in Taji
Rami Ruhayem declares, "The targets have been varied. Some of them are civilian targets such as shops, Iranian pilgrims in Baghdad and also army and police forces." Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) observes, "Five members of the Sahwa, or Awakening Council, a Sunni militia formed by the American forces before they left the country to combat Al-Qaeda in their own areas, were killed in a bomb attack on a checkpoint in Samarra." Deutsche Welle adds, "The blasts unfolded closely, over an hour and a quarter." Xinhua notes there were car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombs and shootings. Press TV states, "Police officials in the provincial capital city of Mosul in Nineveh said three people sustained injuries in a bomb attack carried out in a restaurant."
ITN quotes a wounded police officer in Kirkuk stating, "I was trying to stop traffic to let a police patrol pass. When it passed, a car bomb exploded and I fell on the ground and police took me to the hospital."
In addition to the above, Alsumaria notes a Baiji refinery came under a mortar attack causing minor damage to the refinery and fence but leaving one worker injured.
While the UN spoke clearly, the US State Dept continued its role as eternal disappointment. Spokesperson Mark C. Toner handled the breifing today and wouldn't have even raised the issue of Iraq if, in the last five, the issue of Iraq and a meeting with Iran May 23rd to discuss nuclear issues, hadn't been raised. Once the issue was raised, the spokesperson suddenly remembered Iraq.
Mark C. Toner: Oh, absolutely. We are -- first of all, I want to strongly condemn today's attacks. Targeting of innocent civilians is unacceptable; it's cowardly. And we obviously offer our condolences to the victims. But we are -- they just hosted a very successful Arab League Summit and we have every confidence that they can host this meeting.
The State Dept spends more on Iraq than any other country. They claim they need 6 billion dollars yearly and aren't prepared to say when that 'need' might end but admit to Congress that it will be "years." Yet as violence sweeps Iraq today, they can't even think to weigh in on the subject? They have to be asked to remember? And that's in the last three minutes of a lengthy press conference?
Someone needs to explain it to the State Dept. First, if you ask the American people if the State Dept needs $6 billion annually just for Iraq, the answer back is going to be NO. Not by a plurality but by a strong majority. Second, if you're spending taxpayer money, taxpayers have a right to expect updates. Under Barack Obama (US President) and Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), the State Department has become as secretive as the Department of Justice under Bully Boy Bush -- and that's nothing to be proud of. The secrecy is evident in the continued attacks on Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren. At his blog today, Van Buren's notes the violence in this post and the US Embassy in Baghdad's silence as well as including a photo that was also up in a post yesterday while everyone was focused on the US official who received a blow job on a Baghdad roof. The photo is of former US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. It's Halloween and some woman has dressed as then-Jackie Kennedy which is in poor taste since she and Chris Hill are a 'couple' (at least for Halloween). Hill's dressed as? A Secret Service bodyguard of JFK's.
That's not funny. I hate Bill Maher, but if he did it, I wouldn't care. I wouldn't care about any private citizen. But Hill was the US Ambassador to Baghdad and he thought it was hilarious to mock the day JFK was assassinated? What kind of leadership did this asshole provide?
All the manic depressive kook did was rip apart the diplomtic ground work Ryan Crocker had established. Hill was afraid of Nouri al-Maliki. Gen Ray Odierno had to repeatedly calm the fretful Chris Hill down. So not only was he not up to the job (as we said in real time after he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), he was a total creep. What he did was disgusting and that he did it an Embassy Halloween function? Chris Hill needs to be loudly condemned. I knew he was an ass and I knew he was an idiot but I was passed his personnel file before he was confirmed. Based on that record alone, he shouldn't have been confirmed.
But to now find out that the ass thought it was appropriate to mock one of the worst days in American history? To dress up as a Secret Service agent who wasn't able to protect Kennedy and some State Dept Woman (referred to as SDW from this point on) who thought she could dress up as Jackie Kennedy from the same day? Cause what's funnier than seeing your husband shot dead before your eyes? What's funnier than have bullets flying all around you?
Did Jacqueline Kenney Onassis really deserve that 'joke'? She conducted herself on the day and the immediate days after in a manner that still sets a standard for First Ladies. And some employee of the State Dept thinks they can go to a department party mocking her? Mocking her on what was one of the scariest and saddest days of her life?
(FYI, SDW is an idiot for many reasons including her pink ensemble isn't what Jackie was wearing that day -- Jackie had on a pink skirt, a black top, a pink jacket and a pink hat, the idiot doesn't even the outfit right.)
And Chris Hill didn't just give it a thumbs up which would have been bad enough, he actively participated in the sick 'joke' by dressing as a Secret Service agent. (In fairness to the Secret Service which is under fire right now, it should be noted that the 'joke' was in poor taste to their efforts that November day as well.)
That is disgusting. That is offensive and grasp, please grasp, that Hill was supposed to be a diplomat. He's an idiot and he owes the American people an apology. That little stunt wasn't funny and it wasn't cute. Apparently, if he'd remained in government service, he'd be dressed as a 9-11 victim this year and his date as the Twin Towers. This was beyond tasteless. Chris Hill needs to answer for this. And I think Hillary does as well. What did the White House think when they learned Chris Hill, at a party in Baghdad, thought it would be funny to lampoon the assassination of JFK?
That is beyond tacky, it's beyond offensive, there's no excuse for it. Chris Hill is trash, 100% trash.
Tacky? Offensive? Nouri al-Maliki.
As he's pushed his power-grab, he's targeted nearly every classification in Iraq. In December, he was targeting Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (demanding he be stripped of his post) and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (demanding he be arrested for 'terrorism.' Until recently, al-Hashemi was in the KRG which provided him with asylum. He is currently on a diplomatic mission and has visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey.
From Turkey, he spoke with the BBC (link is text and audio) today and explained, "The difference is now between me and Maliki. It's the difference between somebody who is interested in democratic model in the Middle East and somebody else who's still very much interested in divert the political process into some sort of autocractic regime. This is the basic difference, in fact." He also stated that he intends to return to the KRG and that, whent he political crisis is over, he intends to return to Baghdad.
Al Sabaah notes the National Alliance's call for a return to the Erbil Agreement. The Erbil Agreement ended Political Stalemate I, eight months of gridlock following the March 2010 elections. The US-brokered agreement managed that feat by getting all sides to make concessions. The White House wanted Nouri al-Maliki to have a second term as prime minister so that was the biggest concessions after Nouri's State of Law came in second place in the elections. But Nouri agreed to minor concessions to hold onto the post. This was November 2010. By the end of December, after he was named prime minister for a second term, he trashed the agreement. This is Political Stalemate II and the current crisis. National Alliance MP Hassan Sinead notes they remain committed to the Erbil Agreement, they have not rejected it and the agreement is an example of solidarity for Iraq so it is the responsibility of the political blocs, the Parliament, the executive branch and the judicial branch to implement the agreement. Kitabat notes Moqtada al-Sadr's call for his followers to direct their questions about the political impasse towards Nouri. As noted yesterday, these events may indicate some motion in the impasse. Dar Addustour notes that the National Alliance has postponed a scheduled meeting; however, one component of the National Alliance, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has announced that they aren't opposed to someone from the Sadrist bloc being nominated for prime minister (that refers to Moqtada). An MP from State of Law and one from Sadr's bloc are both quoted insisting that there's no move to hold a vote to withdraw confidence in the current government. With BBC today, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi declared of his meeting in Istanbul with KRG President Massoud Barzan:
I'm scheduled to meet Mr. Barzani this afternoon. We had an agreement on various steps and this step is going to be escalated depending on the reaction of Maliki. If Maliki responded positively we will be very much happy to sit down and negotiate in a courageous way. If he declined to attend then definitely we have to go into other options. And the other option could be a vote for confidence. This has already been agreed principally to. This could be a political opportunity to sort out our political differences.
Elsewhere, Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) concludes of the current crisis, "What happens next is largely al-Maliki's choice. He could respond to the pressure for change by sharing power with others, or he could go his own way. His record in government and rhetoric suggest that he will lean towards the second course." Rebwar Karim Wali (Rudaw) offers this reflection on the political crisis:
Iraq is in deep crisis and it is nothing new. It is not that Iraq has started moving toward dictatorship and totalitarianism just now. No! And in fact the Americans and Kurds have contributed to the creation of the dictator. The constitution of the "New Iraq" does not stipulate a just power sharing among the country's various components. That is the main reason as to why the situation has ended up where it is now.
The Kurds thought they were able to devolve the powers through the Erbil agreement of 2010, but that agreement only gave legitimacy to the current system. Iraq's constitution was violated the day Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won the elections and was not allowed to form the government. Instead, it was Maliki's bloc that formed the government. Both then and now, the Kurds were part of creating a new dictator in Iraq.
Daniel Fineren (Reuters) reports that, at this point, ExxonMobil is not on Iraq's "list of 47 pre-qualified bidders for the next round of Iraq energy exploration rights." For any wondering, Total is among the 47. In the press release, the Ministry of Oil notes:
The Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate (PCLD) at the Ministry of Oil announced Thursday (20/4/2012) that Iraq's Fourth Petroleum Licensing Round will take place as scheduled on May 30-31, 2012. The Final Tender Protocol and the final model Exploration, Development and Production Service Contract (EDPSC) were sent Thursday to all prequalified companies. The final list of prequalified companies includes a total of 47 entities, split between operators and non-operators.
"We are happy to announce that the next bid round is on schedule. The Final Tender Protocol and the definitive model Contract have been issued to all prequalified companies" said Abdul Mahdy Al-Ameedi, director general of the PCLD.
Iraq is offering 12 large exploration blocks of an average size of 6,500 square kilometers for bidding. Winning companies, or consortia of companies, will carry out exploration, appraisal, development and production activities within the 12 Contract Areas.
The aim of the fourth round is primarily to expand Iraq's natural gas production capacity to satisfy the power generation sector and create gas-based industries, as well as increase the country's oil reserves.
"We are looking forward to welcoming all participating companies in Baghdad. The fourth licensing round will be conducted in a transparent and public manner and according to the same procedures as the first three rounds," Al-Ameedi said.
Since launching the first licensing round in 2008, Iraq has awarded 14 service contracts for the development of discovered oil and gas fields in three licensing rounds in addition to the Ahdeb contract. It also signed a major joint venture with a consortium of Royal Dutch Shell and Mitsubishi to capture and monetize associated natural gas produced in southern Iraq.
The press release continues with a list of the 47 companies.
AP speaks with Sabah al-Saidi ("Deputy head of the Oil Ministry's Licensing and Petroleum Contracts Department") who states, "Exxon has been removed from the list of qualified companies because it refused to abandon the deals with the Kurdish region as requested by the Ministry of Oil." Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:
Reuters reports, "Exxon Mobil has told Baghdad it will not break ground on its oil blocs in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north until the centeral government approves the contracts, Iraq's top energy official said on Wednesday." The official is Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani. That alone makes the claim questionable -- remember, April 3rd, he was in the news for insisting the Kurds were secretly selling oil to Iran. He's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest.
And apparently for good reason, he's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest. So we're pleased with ExxonMobil one day for allegedly promising it won't "break ground" with regards to that contract and the next day we're punishing it?
Iraq better figure out where they stand on ExxonMobil real quick because this isn't about ExxonMobil, this is about how Iraq looks on the world stage. Contracts were signed months ago. Are they valid or not? If they're not valid, then they don't exist. If they don't exist, then why is ExxonMobil being punished?
The punishment phase would indicate that the contracts are valid (the KRG certainly considers them valid). It's petty and indicates the Baghdad-based government has no eral power so they just lash out.
Iraq needs to diversify its economy and it needs to do so quickly. It also keeps insisting it needs international investment. If that's true, they need to stop alienating businesses and looking so ridiculous. A contract's legal or it's not. Clearly for all the bluster, Baghdad can't cancel the contract ExxonMobil signed with the KRG. So they think they'll pick a fight. ExxonMobil's not going to be hurt by any of this. They're a multi-national corporation that managed to survive the Exxon Valdez disaster. Whether Nouri will survive is a political question. But everything he's currently doing on the world stage -- from the power grab to the nonsense on the ExxonMobil contracts, is bad for Iraq and creates the wrong image for the country.
In the US, Senator Patty Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
Senator Murray's Statement on VA Hiring Announcement
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, made the following statement after the VA announced that it would be moving to hire 1,600 mental health care professionals. The announcement comes just days before the findings of a major VA Inspector General report that Senator Murray requested on long wait times for VA mental health care are expected to be announced. VA's action is welcome news to Senator Murray who has held multiple hearings over the past year on overcoming barriers to VA mental health care. Murray will hold a third hearing on this subject in order to hear the Inspector General's findings on Wednesday, April 25th.
"I am pleased that the VA has taken this desperately needed step toward providing timely access to mental health care. Too often we have seen staff vacancies, scheduling delays, and red tape leave those veterans who have been brave enough to seek help in the first place left with nowhere to turn. With suicide rates that continue to be high and an influx of new veterans into the system these barriers to mental health care are completely unacceptable. I look forward to fighting for the resources needed to meet this staffing request as it is clearly a cost of the decade of war that has taken such a toll on our veterans and their families."