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« Reply #120 on: September 28, 2010, 10:34:43 am »

Iraq snapshot - September 27, 2010

The Common Ills

Monday, September 27, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the use of silencers in assassinations on the increase in Iraq, more on the FBI raiding peace activists Friday, the US military sees more deaths, Sahwa gets kicked off the police force in Anbar, and more.
Saturday, Parks & Recreations' Amy Poehler returned to Saturday Night Live as the host and, on Weekend Update, she and Seth Meyers did their "Really" sketch (click here to stream the episode at NBC, click here to stream it at Hulu and click here to stream the Weekend Update clip at Hulu).
Seth Meyers: But you know what else is crazy? Anyone who says we need to attack Iran because we're definitely in two wars already. Yes, two. Because saying combat operations are over in Iraq when they're are still 50,000 troops is like saying, 'Hey, I quit drinking . . . tequila shots!'
Amy Poehler: Really.
Seth Meyers: Really.
US Capt Paul Cluverius describes September 5th (after the end of "combat" operations), "I came out of my office, was walking down the hallway when the VBIED went off. [. . .].  The blast, even as far away as our building is, still threw me against the wall. Soldiers were stumbling trying to find out what was going on.  We immediately went to the roof to try and get eyes on what was going on."  US Sgt Christopher Williams adds, "As long as we're here in this country, personally, as long as they're a threat, then there's combat operations. You tell yourself that, you don't get complacent. We're going to continue to do what we need to do to get home safe."  Those are some of the voices of US service members that the BBC News' Gabriel Gatehouse has been speaking to since the magical August 31st when 'combat operations' ended via Barack casting a verbal spell.   Apparently that incantation didn't take so somebody hand Barack a Book Of Miracles.  In the meantime, Gatehouse was sharing those voices with John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee on The Takeaway (PRI) today.
John Hockenberry: An every man for himself, get home mission? Is that what Operation New Dawn is all about now? You can hear this sense of betrayal in the voice of Sgt. Williams' commander, Capt Cluverius.
Capt Paul Cluverius: We have some soldiers, they were a little angry about it, saying, 'Hey, we're still over here.  My personal standpoint? I thought it was humorous that they're saying combat operations are stopped because, I mean, combat operations are stopped? And what are we still doing here now? But our families, the people who know us, they know what we're doing.  There is no switch that you can throw to say combat operations are stopped. I believe it was more of a media -- It was something built for the media.
[. . .]
Gabriel Gatehouse: These two guys, Paul Cluverius and Sgt Chris Williams were incredibly frank. To be honest, I didn't expect them to be that frank. We asked the US military if we could come on to that base and talk to people about that attack on the 5th of September. I expected them to be a bit more tight-lipped because, obviously, it-it contradicts the narrative about the end of combat operations. This happened only four days after the official handover. But they were very honest and I think that does play into the fact that those who are left behind here do feel that the whole media storm around the 'last combat troops leaving' and the handover was a bit of a media event and that it doesn't really reflect their reality on the ground today. 
That's an excerpt.
Seth Meyers: But you know what else is crazy? Anyone who says we need to attack Iran because we're definitely in two wars already. Yes, two. Because saying combat operations are over in Iraq when they're are still 50,000 troops is like saying, 'Hey, I quit drinking . . . tequila shots!'
On Friday's Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera), former British MP George Galloway stated that sectarianism was incompatible with democracy: "It may be that the last election result shows that Iraqis, at least in their the majority, simple majority, are recognizing that and searching towards some kind of governance that will unite people across these sectarian divides.  That's the meaning, I think, of Allawi -- much as a I despise him -- that's the meaning of his victory in those elections. The people chose his list rather than the other list which was overtly, systematically sectarian in nature. So I'm not saying that Iraq is doomed forever, but it will never rise above this morass until it can consolidate itself on the basis of Iraqi national unity." March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty days with no government formed.
Over the weekend, Iraiqya issued a statement.  Al Jazeera quoted portions of it including: "Iraqiya believes the current type of government headed by Maliki cannot be repeated, so Iraqiya will not take part in any government headed by him."   CNN observed, "The pronouncement highlights a failure to form an Iraqi government, and Iraqi officials fear that insurgents would take advantage of the political vacuum by trying to reignite the Sunni-Shiite sectarian bloodshed that gripped Iraq for years." AFP added, "Iraqiya also said on Saturday it regarded the newly formed National Alliance as 'a desperate attempt to strengthen political sectarianism'."  Xinhua reports that State Of Law has a response to Iraqiya's announcement, dismissing Iraqiya's statement as "representing the opinion of the extremist members in their bloc."
Today, Alsumaria TV reports that Iraqiya met last night to discuss their options while "The National Alliance is pursuing talks after it failed in Sunday's meeting to name the Prime Minister candidate. Iraqi Vice President and Islamic Supreme Council senior official Adel Abdul Mehdi announced that the alliance did not make any progress in five days." And the stalemate effects more than the political slates and parties.  Timothy Williams and Yasi Ghazi (New York Times) observe:
The voters have since watched winter turn to spring, and now summer become fall -- and the people they elected still have no leader. They are waiting for their parties to come to an agreement so they can start work. And while the summer months were marked by a surge in violence and by riots over the lack of electricity, drinking water and other basic services, in Baghdad, members of Parliament have lived out a workers' fantasy: a vacation of more than 200 days (and counting), with full pay and benefits, each free to do his heart's desire.
Meanwhile John Daniszewski and Edith M. Lederer (Associated Press) report on an interview AP did with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari who is calling for the US to help break the political stalemate, "I personally think strongly that they have a role -- to encourage, to urge, to facilitate the Iraqis leaders to meet, to take the process further."  This is not the first time Zebari has issued that plea.
Violence continues.  Reuters reports a Baiji roadside bombing targeting Sahwa injured three of them and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Sunday Kirkuk sticky bombing targeted the car of a Sahwa leader. Sahwa, also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq," are predominately Sunnis who were put on the US payroll to stop attacking US military equipment and US service members -- according to the testimony of Gen David Petraeus to various Congressional committees in April of 2008. As US senators objected to the payment -- US tax payers footed the bill -- when Petraeus and then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker appeared before Congress, it was decided that the issue of Iraq paying Sahwa themselves would be taken up. They were supposed to take over the payments and absorb Sahwa into jobs -- security and government jobs. That really did not happen.  Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports that Anbar is about to get even more tense and possibly more unstable as police officrs there ("hundreds") are about to kicked out because they were Sahwa -- known at the time they were hired, in fact, the reason they were hired. The blame is being laid at the Ministry of Interior whose minister, remember, is appointed by Nouri. Not noted by Fadel is that the Sunni-stronghold could be the location for strong protests should an announcement be made that State Of Law's Nouri will remain in place as prime minister despite his slate coming in second and despite the fact that he is both controversial and unpopular. Fadel quotes Maj Raheem Zain: "We sacrificed our blood and our families. I think they want to take the province back to square one. I'm afraid of what will happen if we leave. Even the citizens are afraid from this."  Staying with violence.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing wounded journalist Alaa Muhsin and a Kirkuk car bombing injured police Chief Ahmed Resheed and three of his guards and three civilians. Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing which left two Iraqi soldiers injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Kirkuk home invasion in which Dr. Mohammed Adnan was shot dead and, dropping back to Sunday for the rest, a Baghdad attack on Mohammed Ghanim (an employee of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani) which left him and one other man injured, police Capt Haider Zuhair was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 police officer shot dead in Baghdad, and a Mosul home invasion in which 2 brothers were shot dead. Reuters notes a Kirkuk drive-by in which 1 person was shot dead and a 1 person shot dead in Mosul.  Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report that those targeting officials and security forces are increasingly using "silencer pistols or small bombs" and that, according to the Monistor of Constitutional Freedom and Bill of Rights, 686 is the number of people killed thus far in Iraq shootings by guns with silencers. .
Saturday's news noted that Marc Whisenart was killed in Kuwait while on his second tour of duty in the Iraq War.  Middletown Press reports Pfc Gebrah P. Noonan  died Thursday in Falluja and that Governor Jodi Rell has ordered that state flags be lowered on Noonan's behalf. Friday USF announced: "CAMP LIBERTY – Two United States Forces - Iraq service members died of injuries sustained in a non-combat-related incident today. One other service member was injured and evacuated to a military medical facility for treatment."
Sunday BBC News reported that the Iranian government sent their Revolutionary Guard into Iraq's borders where they killed at least 30 Kurds whom the Revolutionary Guard decided were 'militants.' Nasser Karimi (AP) noted that the raid took place on Saturday but Iran announced it today. Yahya Barzanji (AP) reports today that the Kurdish rebels deny that a raid took place.  Meanwhile Burhan Nawprdani (Rudaw) reports, "The Iranian government has been building a wall and setting up several military outposts on its border with Iraqi Kurdistan, an attempt that could lessen trafficking between the Iranian Kurds and Iraqi Kurds. Rudaw has found out that one of the outposts will be located in the Iraqi territory. Iran's pretext for building these military outposts and the wall is the prevention of smuggling of goods and drug trafficking. According to an anonymous source from Kurdistan's Border Police, the Iranian government has already built six military outposts in the Haji Omaran area." Lara Jakes (AP) reports on the Iranian bases here.
On Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq which began airing Friday, Jasim Azawi spoke with former British MP George Galloway and Raanan Gissin, one-time advisor to Ariel Sharon. Excerpt: 
Jasim Azawi: George Galloway, I would like to start with you for obvious reasons.  We don't have time to catalogue the calamities and the pain and the suffering of what Iraq went through during those seven years.  But is there a silver lining among all the horrible events that we witnessed from 2003 until now? 
George Galloway: No, I'm afraid the outlook is as gloomy as the London leaden sky behind me. This was, to paraphrase the French statesman [Charles M. de] Talleyrand,  a crime alright but it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.  If you're talking -- as you are -- about profit and loss, about a balance sheet, than we have to factor a number of things in.  First of all a million dead Iraqis according to Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet, the journal of the BMA, British Medical Association. Then there's the three million Iraqi exiles -- many of them begging on the streets of neighboring countries.  Then there's the fanatisization -- first inside Iraq itself and across the Muslim world, extremism has cascaded everywhere in the world as a result of this enterprise and none of us is safer as a result.  And the breaking of Arab power in Iraq has, of course, fantasically inflated Iranian power -- both in Iraq and in the region as a whole. And none of that is, I'm sure, the intended consequences of the British Parliamentarians, at least, behind me. But they were duped into this war and I've said from day one -- even before day one -- this war was about oil, it was about Israel but, above all, it was about demonstrating the overwhelming  power of the United States of America to make sure that nobody would dream of contesting the claim that this would be "a new American century." In that last respect, at least, it's been a colossal failure for the United States of America for what has been demonstrated are the limitations of American power rather than the shock and awe they thought they would devastate the world's public opinion with.
Jasim Azawi: Before we go into that catalogue outlined by George Galloway, Raanan Gissin, I would like to give you an opportunity to have a counter-idea.  From your perspective -- whether it's an Israeli perspective or a Middle East expert, do you see it otherwise?
Raanan Gissin: Well there's no good and beautiful scenario in the Middle East anyway you look at it. I think there's a tendency by Mr. Galloway to romanticize a little bit about the period before the war.  I mean, Iraq was not in a state of peace or tranquility at the time. I mean, people forget about the reign of terror of Saddam Hussein, what the casualties and the damage that he caused to the country and what he did in Kuwait before so, I mean, it's not a question between once there was a very beautiful and good Iraq and then the United States stepped in and destroyed everything and brought the calamity to the Iraqi people. Yes, there is great suffering in Iraq but this suffering is not a result of the American invasion, so to speak, in 2003.  Rather, it's the result of the British Empire decision in 1923 to lump three groups together, which were at loggerheads before, and to create the modern day Iraq for the sake of Prince Faisal at the time. So we've got to put things in the proper perspective before we lament about the current condition and try to glorify the previous era that existed in Iraq.
George Galloway: Of course the consequences were easily forseen. It's true that the whole of the million dead in Iraq were not killed by the Untied States.  But they were killed as of a consequence of the British and American invasion, illegal as you described it, of that country. And, of course, we can't go around the world unpicking all the colonial settlements. Otherwise the whole world will look like what Iraq looks like today. But there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the invasion. Now there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of al Qaeda in Iraq. And, by the way, al Qaeda has been fantastically enhanced around the globe -- its attractiveness, its world view has become enormously more popular amongst many Muslims, perhaps many tens of millions of Muslims -- including here, in my own country.  Iran was not powerful in Iraq before the invasion but it's certainly very powerful now. And the reality is, of course, Israel knew that Iraq was a threat -- the only Arab country that was economically and militarily any kind of counter-balance to themselves, so they wanted it destroyed. And now they want us to destroy Iran.  The same arguments they had used to encourage people to attack Iraq are now being rehearsed and ready to be rolled out again in another farce in the run-up to a potential attack on Iran.
Friday the FBI began raiding the homes of peace activists. Jacob Wheeler (The UpTake -- link has video) spoke with Mick Kelly whose home was raided.  With Kelly's permission, The UpTake has since [PDF format warning] posted the FBI search warrant which outlines the targeted info of the search:
(1) Documents, files, books, photographs, videos, souvenirs, war relics, notebooks address books, diaries, journals, maps or other evidence, including evidence in electronic form, related to:
1) Kelly's travel to and from and presence and activities in Minnesota, and other foreign countries to which Kelly has traveled as part of his work in FRSO; Kelly's ability to pay for his own travel from the United States to Palestine, Columbia and travel within the United States from 2000 until present, including all materials related to Kelly's personal finances and finances of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization ("FRSO");
c) Kelly's potential co-conspirators, including any address books, lists, notes, photographs, videos, or letters of Kelly's personal contacts in the United States and abroad;
d) the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to join FRSO, including materials related to the identity and location of recruiters, facilitators, and recruits, the means by which the recruits were recruited to join FRSO, the means by which the recruitment was financed and arranged;
e) the recruitment, indoctrination, and facilitation of other individuals in the United States to travel to Colombia, Palestine and any other foreign location in support of FTOs including, but not limited to FARC, PFLP and Hezbollah, including materials related to the identity and location of recruiters, facilitators, and recruits of these FTOs, the means by which individuals were recruited to travel to Colombia, Palestine and other foreign locations in support of FTOs, and the means by which the recruitment was financed and arranged;
f) FARC, PFLP, Hezballah and other FTOs which the FRSO and Kellyl have supported, attempted to support or conspired to support;
g) Kelly's use of the email address and and telephone numbers [I'm deleting] and [ibid] or any other telephone numbers, and Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking websites.
2) Computer equipment, electronic storage devices, and cellular telephones belonging to Kelly and their contents, including files, telephone numbers, photographs and videos, related to the evidentiary items listed in paragraph 1 above, pursuant to the procedures set forth in the accompanying affidavit.
Two things on the above.  First, you didn't miss it, there is no (1) b).  Second, I am not comfortable putting a phone number up (even if it's already up and online) so I have edited out Mick Kelly's two phone numbers listed in the warrant. And repeating a point made here on Friday: 8 searches and ZERO arrests?  There's a problem.  If you're the FBI or police, you try not to do a raid unless you think you're going to get evidence of crimes because, once raided, you've tipped those raided off to the fact that legal authorities are monitoring them.  So how do you have eight raids in one day without any arrests?  Either the raids were a huge bust or the raids weren't supposed to result in arrests, they were supposed to intimidate people into silence.
At David Swanson's War Is A Crime,  a video by The UpTake of a Friday press conference staged by Women Against Military Madness has been posted.  Friday, Elaine noted SDS' statement on the raids:
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters across the country in the face of FBI repression of progressive causes. SDSers, along with members of the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Twin-Cities Anti-War Committee, the Colombia Action Network, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera had their homes searched and documents and electronic devices seized.               
"The government hopes to use a grand jury to frame up activists. The goal of these raids is to harass and try to intimidate the movement against U.S. wars and occupations, and those who oppose U.S. support for repressive regimes," said Colombia solidarity activist Tom Burke, one of those handed a subpoena by the FBI. "They are designed to suppress dissent and free speech, to divide the peace movement, and to pave the way for more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Latin America."           
Grace Kelley, an SDSer from the University of Minnesota, said "SDS at the U of M condemns the terror tactics used by the FBI to silence activists who organize against wars and for peace here in Minneapolis as well as across the nation. Tracy Molm from SDS at U of M was one of the activists whose house was raided. SDSers across the country need to stand up and condemn these raids and say that we will not be scared into silence, that we will continue to stand up and fight for what's right".                   
Several activists in Minnesota and Chicago have had papers, CDs, and cell phones stolen among other items; as well as being issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury. The FBI are apparently looking for evidence linking activists to "material support of terrorism" specifically liberation struggles in Colombia and Palestine. In addition to SDSers being harassed in Minneapolis, two SDSers in Milwaukee were also contacted by the FBI about their anti-war activism.               
The activists involved have done nothing wrong and are refusing to be pulled into conversations with the FBI about their political views or organizing against war and occupation. No arrests have been made -- make no mistake, this is a fishing expedition by the FBI.         
We urge all progressive activists to show solidarity with those individuals targeted by the U.S. Government. Activists have the right not to speak with the FBI and are encouraged to politely refuse -- just say "No".             
Show your support! Organize solidarity actions in your city demanding that the FBI halt all searches and seizures against progressive activists who have done nothing wrong. Contact your local media and let them know that we will not tolerate this kind of harassment from the government. And be aware -- if the FBI knocks, you do not have to give out any information or answer any questions.         
For more information, contact:   

Grace Kelley, University of Minnesota SDS: 612.709.3424
Kas Schwerdtfeger, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee SDS: 262.893.2806

Today Justin Raimondo ( explores the raids and their meanings at length and concludes, "In an atmosphere like this, anything is possible: repression, mass raids, and, yes, even dictatorship (in the name of 'preserving democracy,' naturally). We are in for some hard times, and certainly some tumultuous times: if we're going to survive, we must shed any illusions that the State is going to back off, or give us a break, because, after all, 'our' guy is in the White House. The Obama administration is the enemy of freedom at home and the main danger to peace abroad -- and progressive opponents of war and domestic repression need to either acknowledge that, or else give up the fight. The Obama boomerang has hit them squarely upside their heads: now they need to pick themselves up off the ground and face reality."
Remember that  the National Lawyers Guild issued a new report Friday, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." We'll try to note it again this week. (Already noted in Friday's snapshot.)  Amy Goodman explored the subject on Democracy Now! today (link has audio, text and video) by speaking with activists Jess Dunin in Minneapolis and Joe Iosbaker in Chicago about the raids on their homes as well as with former FBI agent Coleen Rowley.  Jess Sundin stated:
Well, as you mentioned, in the Twin Cities we had a meeting the night that the raids happened. There were more than 200 people who gathered, and really every organization in the Twin Cities. But I'd say countless organizations across the country have contacted us to ask us how they can help. There will be, today and tomorrow, as you mentioned earlier, demonstrations in at least twenty cities around the country. We've had word of plans for demonstrations at embassies in other countries, as well, at US embassies.  So, one of the things we're doing is trying to call attention to what's happened and really make it clear to people that we have done nothing wrong. There is no basis to the claim that we've in any way given support to terrorist organizations. But in fact, we are being -- we are being --there is attention on us because of our work in the antiwar movement, and in particular, our perspective of solidarity with people in the countries where the US war and militarism are happening. We, following up on these demonstrations, are going to be pulling together a network of people from many of these organizations that have expressed their concern. Folks who want to get tied into that can find us through the Anti-War Committee website, which is very outdated. We're doing our best to get it up. Of course, as we explained, all of our computers were seized. So we're doing a lot of catch up, trying to get ourselves organized.  And, of course, we're also very concerned with making legal plans to protect ourselves. A number of people have been called before a grand jury in Chicago. And we, you know, don't want to be -- you know, a case to be framed up around us. All of us are quite confident that nothing that was found in our homes will give substantiation to the claims against us. And there's, in fact, no charges against us. But we want to do everything we can to both protect ourselves legally while at the same time working with the movement to call attention to what's happened.

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« Reply #121 on: October 01, 2010, 07:38:00 am »

Iraq snapshot - September 29, 2010

The Common Ills

Wednesday, September 29, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Robert Gates gets a tough question from a conscientious objector and the Secretary of Defense replies with what is an attack on Christianity, Senator Daniel Akaka receives an honor for his work on veterans issues, a House Veterans Affairs Subccomittee wonders why -- a year later -- no progress has been made on employment issues for veterans, the British pullout from Basra is examined, new rumors surface that Nouri will remain prime minister in Iraq, and more.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is currently taking questions at Duke University as I dictate this.  He's grandstanded on the back of veterans and the military as he always does in that mincing manner he has.  (Still crying over the death of PG, Bobby Gates?)  We'll note his awful speech later in the snapshot but Gates got a little bit of a surprise when a 2006 Conscientious Objector stood up to ask a question.
The C.O. spoke of the demonization he received when he was going through the process and Gates grew visibly nervous and began shifting from foot-to-foot while his eyes darted wildly around the lecture hall at Duke's Bryant Center.  "As a Christian," the CO expalined, "I'm concerned that I'm not able to respond to the denominational body I belong to when they deem certain wars unjust" as they did the Iraq War.  He noted that, in contrast to the religious training and beliefs, soldiers are encouraged to "forfeit their moral agency to the officers" above them.  And he wondered, "What your office might do to correct this tarnishment on our national integrity?"
By this point, Gates looked as if he was sucking on a lemon.  War Hawks don't like being confronted.  He began a snippy performance that seemed to prove true the rumors that he does a nasty camp Bette Davis impersonation.  "I would say, first of all, this goes to the heart of my remarks tonight. In an all volunteer army, one does undertake a contractual obligation when enlisting.  But there is certainly no obligation to re-enlist.  And one should know -- anyone who has joined the military since 2002 has known -- that they are going into war with all of the moral challenges that can face people with -- So I think, ultimately, it has to be the choice of the invidivual."
Robert Gates is not a lawyer.  He is a spinner.  He's a damn good spinner if your goal is to advance illegal war or lies.  If it's not, he's just a tired spinner who needs to create a job by retiring.
Volunteer army or not, the conscientious objector status is always recongized as a possibility or is Gates unaware that it remains on the books, has remained on the books since the draft ended, has remained on the books and has remained practiced for over thirty years?  Is Gates so stupid that he doesn't know that?
(No, he's just a liar.)
As for 2002, the CO was specifically referring to the Iraq War.  The Iraq War had not broken in 2002.  All the lies Gates tells, it gets so hard for him to keep facts straight.  The Iraq War started in March 2003.  That's a fact.  Equally true is that the administration lied repeatedly and the press went along with it.  Finding out the truth about the Iraq War required real work.  Lt Ehren Watada is one example of someone who had to do the work for themselves.  In 2005, he was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in the summer of 2006.  He began researching the war.  He wanted to be able to answer any questions those serving under him might have.  In researching the Iraq War, he discovered the realities including that it was an illegal war.
Lt Watada knew what Gates appears to have never learned: His pledge was to uphold the Constitution and he was required to refuse any illegal order.  Is Gates unfamiliar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice?  Gates does a vicious camp routine but he appears woefully short on the facts.
He also appears hostile to Christianity.  Many Christian faiths are based on baptisms and on the Christian receiving the word of the God, a religious awakening.  Gates appears completely ignorant of that fact.  Anyone who joined before 2002 (or after) could very well have a religious awakening or a deepening of their religious beliefs -- those are core components and beliefs of Christian faith.  Gates' bitchy little answer didn't recognize that reality.and showed extreme hostility to -- and prejudice against -- the Christian faith.
In a functioning government, Gates would be called to the carpet and told to issue an apology.  That won't happen which will further lead to the suspicion among some Americans that defending religious freedoms only matters to the White House when the religion is Muslim.  I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying it's fair.  I'm saying you're an idiot if you're ignoring the public perception of the White House -- demonstrated in multiple polls -- at this late date . And to allow your Secretary of Defense to launch what many Christians will see as an attack on the Christian faith and to not call it out will deepen the perception that some religions enjoy a "most favored nation" status at the White House.
"Some of the witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee may recall that we previously held a Federal Contract Compliance hearing on May 14, 2009," Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin declared this afternoon at the House VA's Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing.  "In that hearing we received testimony from stakeholders highlihgting several concerns.  The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs lack the resources to enforce federal laws, the Vets 100 List was not available for public viewing  and job listings -- as required by VEVRAA [Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act]  -- were not available or easily accessible to veterans seeking employment.  Unfortunately, the written testimonies we received for today's hearing express the same sentiments -- such as limited outreach by contracters and a failure to post announcements in the appropriate job listing services."
Herseth Sandlin was chairing a hearing on Federal Contractor Compliance and the two departments most responsible for contracting with regards to veterans are the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs but DoD was 'too busy' to appear before the Subcomittee today.  Ranking Member John Boozman noted in his opening remarks  "what appears less clear is the government's committment to enforcing the law." 
DoD elected to skip the meeting today at a time when veterans unemployment is a serious issue. The full House Veterans Affairs Committee met this morning for a legislative hearing and US House Rep Cliff Stearns explained of his HR 3685, "Unemployment is at a record high today and unemployment in our veteran community is higher than at any time I can remember."  This week Laura Clarizio (Examiner) noted of the weekly unemployment data that last week saw "[n]ewly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled42,633, an increase of 537 from the prior week."  Yesterday on PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee were joined by Stand Down's Dr. Casi Crockett and financial contributor Beth Kobliner to discuss the issue of veterans employment.  Excerpt:
Beth Kobliner: If you look last year for unemployment for post-9/11 vets, then the general population or the non-vets. The rate was 10.2% for post-9/11 vets versus 9% for non-veterans. But the real story is when you look at young veterans, 18 to 24-year-olds.  They have seen last year unemployment at 21% compared to 16% for non-veteran peers. So really, it's clear that the the job prospects for veterans are certainly no better than non-vets and, for young [veterans], they're much worse.
This is a pressing issue.  And DoD chose to ignore the hearing.  And yet, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the head of the Defense Dept, had the nerve to call out Americans for what he saw as "apathy."  Gates spoke this afternoon at Duke Unveristy's West Campus. (Pentagon Channel streamed the speech live.)  Completing his speech, Gates reached for a water bottle and proceeded to chug it.  You'd probably be parched if you too had trashed Americans.  Americans are apathetic, only 1% of them are serving Gates stated, and serving in the military is something the American people see as a task for "other people to do." Really?  Well first of all, Gates clearly sees testifying to Congress as something "other people to do" since his lazy and inept ass couldn't send a single representative to the economic hearing today.  And his grandstanding on the backs of veterans is rather weak since he and the DoD have done little to nothing to improve the employment rate for veterans.  As for whether or  not Americans are meeting challenges, the Iraq War is an illegal war.  Bush administration hold over Gates has blood on both hands -- once for the last administration, once for the current.  He needs to stop grandstanding, he actually needs to leave because he's doing such a poor job. If there's any apathy he's experiencing, it's the apathy that allowed him to remain Secretary of Defense when Bush was replaced with Barack.
21% is the unemployment rate for veterans aged 18 to 24 and Gates wants to offer quotes from letters John Quincy Adams wrote to his son -- yeah, like that'll put bread on the table. Gates needs to answer as to why DoD refused to send a representative to today's hearing.
The first panel was made up of Christina Roof (American Veterans), Joseph Sharpe Jr. (American Legion), Rochelle Webb (National Association of State Workforce Agencies), Richard F. Weidman (Vietnam Veterans of America) and Joe Wynn (Veterans Entrepreneurship Task Force) while panel two was composed of the Dept of Labor's Les Jin and the Dept of Veterans Affairs Jan Frye.  Excerpt of the first panel:
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: I'd like to just start out the questioning with a general one and it may touch on the end of Mr. Wynn's testimony, but I know that some of you have commented either in your testimony today or your written statements about perhaps the need for a compilation, some sort of a national listing, an official listing.  For anyone that wishes to respond, who -- who's in the best position to compile and maintain that in your opinion?
Rochelle Webb: Madame Chairwoman, NASWA believes that a accurate list is needed and that it needs to be through a collaboration of all the federal agencies that are involved in contractor compliance. So we would look for not only OFCCP [Dept of Labor] to be involved but agencies such as ODEP [Labor's Office of Disability Employment] dealing with disability employment as well as representatives from the state work force agencies through our association,  through the veterans program for DVETs [Directors for Veterans' Employment and Training] -- we also believe needs to be involved. One part of the puzzle will remain one part of a puzzle.  We need all pieces working together to have a comprehensive solution that will work for both state and federal level agencies.  Thank you.
Joe Wynn: Madame Chair, I'd just like to say that between the Veterans Employment Training Service Dept and Labor OFCCP -- between the two, they should be maintaining a list of federal contractors who are required to submit information about employment opportunities for veterans. And it's very important, too, that we get information included in that listing -- or if it needs to be in an additional listing -- on subcontractors.  There are a lot of employment opportunities available through subcontracts.  There are thousands of subcontracts tied in to each prime federal contractor. But that list needs to be compiled, made readily available and made available throughout the year -- not just at one time when the submission of the Best 100 [yearly Vets 100 Report due out each September] is done. Thank you.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well thank you, Mr. Wynn.  Any -- Ms. Roof?
Christina Roof: Just a really quick comment. AMVETS is looking forward to seeing the outcome of the presidential executive order bringing these agencies together: DoL, OFCCP, SBA [Small Business Administration] so that they can get a good understanding and stop doing things like duplication of efforts, taking this knowledge -- this wealth of knowledge and building a data base. So we're looking forward to seeing what comes out of that as well. Thank you.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That's a good point. We know how important the interagency collaboration is in so many other areas.  But I think, in addition to the collaboration, if we're going to make this happen,  one -- somebody needs to ultimately have the -- bear the responsibility of maintaining it, right? And being the point of communication. And that leads me to my follow up question in terms of the Vets 100 Report.  A number of you made different suggestions.  Mr. Wynn just made mention of subcontractors.  I think,, Dr. Webb, you may have in your written testimony as well.  What kind of oversight and verification is needed over the Vets 100 Report to make it a meaningful exercise?
Rochelle Webb: Madame Chairwoman, NASWA believes that the oversight needed is first of all to review, and perhaps a study would be useful here, to see what type of information reported on the Vets 100 could actually help increase the effectiveness of contractor compliance. The way the Vets 100 Report is now, it's an annual report, it's a static snapshot in time. It's immediately outdated once it's submitted and, as Mr. Wynn has indicated earlier, it's very difficult for state agencies to know within your state who are the entities that receive subcontracts because the major contract could have been in another state. But there are employment opportunities that are lost unless they are uncovered by our DVOPs [Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program] and our LVER [Local Veterans' Employment] staff within the states on their outreach. But in Arizona where we have over 140,000 employeer, it's very difficult for a staff of just over 60 veteran staff to outreach that  many employers to try to uncover which of those jobs are out of compliance or should be listed and are not.
Brief excerpt of panel two -- again composed of the Dept of Labor's Les Jin and the Dept of Veterans Affairs Jan Frye.
US House Rep Gus Bilirakis: Mr. Jin, what are your concerns with regards to NASWA's job central system?
Les Jin: Congressman, I think that the key thing is that we want to make sure that there's a system in place so that the priority referral provision for veterans is-is-is handled in a way that works for everybody, works for the veterans, works for the state and local organizations that put this together. So I don't have a specific concern but I think that we got a system in place that was developed and, you know, we would be happy to have conversations with the organization about any issues they want to raise. As far as I know, we have not done that and they have not reached out to us in that regard. One thing that I want to mention is that we have regulations, proposed regulations, as I mentioned, and during that process, we took a lot of comments from a lot of different stakeholders.  My Director  [Patricia] Shiu met with a lot of organizations, she had a webinar where she talked with over a thousand organizations and individuals concerned about veterans issues. She did townhalls in New Orleans and Chicago and San Francisco.  She's got a lot of input and we just want to make sure that whatever changes we make are fully reviewed and-and-and everything is integrated into that decision.
Subcommittee Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin pointed out to Jin that NASWA recommended last year that "an official list of federal contractors" be generated by his department and she wondered if that had taken place?  Jin danced around the topic  in his immediate reply leaing to a redirect  by the Chair ("Well, it was a recommendation made a year ago.), Jin stated "I was not hear until the last few months."  But, in those months, he had no conversations on that topic.
From the US government to efforts in Iraq to form a goverment, Syria's Day Press reports, "President [Bashar] al-Assad's received on Wednesday a delegation from the Iraqi List led by Iyad Allawi. Talks dealt with the latest developments in Iraq and the ongoing efforts and negotiations among different Iraqi blocs to form an Iraqi government." DPA adds, "Allawi's meeting in Syria comes as a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, known as the National Alliance, are due to hold a third day of talks Wednesday evening after they failed to meet their own deadline to nominate a candidate for the position of prime minister." While that meeting was going on, Alsumaria TV notes, "Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem discussed with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon the situation in Iraq. [. . .] The Syrian Foreign Minister affirmed that Iraq's security is bound to the country's national unity stressing the necessity for all Iraqi components to take part in shaping up Iraq's future."

And if you're late to the ongoing stalemate, March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-two days with no government formed.
Suadad al-Sahly and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) note that "despite increasing acrimony," the talk is Nouri will be nominated by the Iraqi National Alliance (State Of Law already has him as their nominee) and he will be Iraq's 'next' prime minister.  Hurriyet Daily News reports, "A group of prominent Iraqi nongovernmental groups have gone to court to try to break the political deadlock that has left the war-torn country adrift without a government and, according to many, vulnerable to insurgent attacks and worsening social conditions, a report said."   Brian Murphy (AP) reports that US Brig Gen Rob Baker states that the continued stalemate is not only encouraging violence among 'insurgents' but could lead other Iraqis not to report suspect behavior to the Iraqi forces or the US forces. Youchi J. Dreazen (CongressDaily) reports similar concerns expressed today by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen: "I'm extremely concerned about their inability to stand up this government. The politics there are from my perspective too slow . . . and the longer that lasts, the more I and others worry about what does the future hold."
It takes a lot of stupid for the US government to deny their own involvement in all of this.  I'm not just referring to their continued backing of the unpopular Nouri al-Maliki.  I'm also referring to their allowing him to push back the elections to begin with.  This first happened under Bush and was okayed by Barack when the elections were pushed back to fall/winter of 2009.  Once Barack was sworn in, other push backs took place.  Nouri intentionally dragged his feet.  That was obvious to all international observers.  Which is how Iraq repeatedly missed one deadline after another -- all the while the US government insisting that elections would take place before the end of 2009 -- and that is how elections which should have taken place in mid-2009 did not take place until March of 2010.  The six months and counting spectacle is shameful.  But never forget that the US encouraged it and allowed it by repeatedly allowing Nouri to push back the date and to interfere with the passage of needed legislation by Parliament that would have allowed the elections to take place in 2009.
It takes a lot of stupid to hail 'progress' in Iraq when they have no government, when elections took place over six months ago and the results were not honored. When Nouri's term long ago expired but he remains in office, not as a 'caretaker,' but as a tyrant. And if you're missing the point, Alsumaria TV reports, "The Iraqi cabinet Tuesday approved a $733 million deal for Leighton Offshore Private Ltd. Singaporean Oil Company to build a new oil export terminal in the southern city of Basra, a spokesman for the Iraqi government said." That's not the actions of a caretaker government. A caretaker government ensures that electricity is supplied, that trash is picked up -- all the things Nouri's government has FAILED to do. A caretaker government does not negotiate a multi-million dollar contract.
The violence continues.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded two people, two Baghdad bombings (one after the other) left five people injured, a mortar attack on the Green Zone and, in Beshdar, a man crossed over the border from Iran to Iraq and was reported to Kurdish intelligence who attempted to detain him but he set off a bomb taking his own life and injuring two Kurdish intelligence agents. Reuters notes a Saqlawiya home bombing which injured "three woman and a man" and, dropping back to last night for the following, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured six people and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured a police officer.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Samarra home invasion in which police chief Major Saeed was shot dead (it was his home).  Reuters notes that last night 1 "tribal leader" was killed when his Mosul home was invaded.
Turning to England and its role in the Iraq War, Defence Management Journal reports:

The British withdrawal from Basra in 2007 was "a huge mistake" and a "defeat" for the British Army, according to senior American commanders.       
In the BBC's Secret Iraq documentary, one US General said the move by British troops from Basra Palace in the city centre to Basra International Airport left local people to be "terrorised" by militias.   
General Jack Keane (ret'd) told the BBC's Secret Iraq programme: "I think it was a huge mistake to pull out of Basra and to go out to the airfield and to leave the people of Basra to be subjected to the Iranian surrogates who brutalised them, intimidated them, terrorised them."

In real time, we noted the regional withdrawal and then the Basra one and how embarrassing it was for the British military. Since, we've noted how the Iraq Inquiry has bent over backwards to avoid exploring those realities. (Known realities. Shortly before the Basra pullout, there was the abandoned base in the area, abandoned due to attacks, which the British military fled and which was torn apart by attackers in less than 24 hours.) Few outlets noted the reality on the British military mission in Iraq -- and even fewer of US outlets noted it. The Telegraph of London always covered it and today their Thomas Harding reports:     

Some of the evidence in BBC Two's Secret Iraq was not given to the Chilcott Inquiry into Iraq. The comments will revive debate about whether the British pull-out from Basra in September 2007 was a prudent tactical move or a humiliating retreat.         
The retired US general Jack Keane says: ''I think it was a huge mistake to pull out . . . and to leave the people of Basra subject to the Iranian surrogates who brutalised them, intimidated them, terrorised them."         
A US colonel, Peter Mansoor, who was executive officer to the US commander Gen David Petraeus, says Basra was in "dire straits". "I don't know that you could see the British withdrawal from Basra in 2007 in any other light other than a defeat," he said.

BBC News adds that 45 women were killed immediately after the British left Basra and quotes one Basra resident stating, "They started killing unveiled women. I had to buy an Ak-47 for personal protection. They started killing people who sell alcoholic drinks and barbers who shave beards."
There's plenty of news that should be in this snapshot but there's just not room and I note that because we're closing with two press releases.  The first one is from Senator Daniel Akaka's office.  He is the Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and he has won an honor.  I've called him out in past snapshots so it's certainly only fair that we note he has received an honor:
Washington, D.C. -- Today The Military Coalition (TMC) presented U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) with one of its highest awards in recognition of his leadership on behalf of veterans and their families, especially his role in passing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. Akaka received the 2010 Award of Merit at the Reserve Officers Association Building on Capitol Hill.
"I thank The Military Coalition for this honor, and for their service to veterans. I look forward to continuing our shared work on behalf of America's troops and veterans, as well as the families who support them," said Akaka, Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"Senator Akaka has taken the lead on almost every aspect of veterans' benefit improvements this year. We're especially grateful for his leadership in winning compensation and health coverage for caregivers, many of whom have had to sacrifice their jobs and homes to provide full-time care for a wounded loved one," said Joseph Barnes, TMC Co-Chair and National Executive Driector of the Fleet Reserve Association.
The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Service Act was signed into law by President Obama on May 5, 2010. The law includes provisions to establish an unprecedented permanent program to support the caregivers of wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand support services for homeless veterans.
The Military Coalition represents the interests of more than six million members around the world, including active duty, National Guard Reserve, and retired members and veterans, as well as their families. For more about TMC, click here [.]
Kawika Riley
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
We're closing with a lengthy release by the VA.  We're doing that due to the attacks on moves made by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to ensure that Vietnam era veterans receive what they are owed.  If you're late to the attacks -- the Congressional attacks -- on Shinseki, see last week's  "Iraq snapshot" and "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Senator Roland Burris (Ava)," Wally's "Senate Veterans Affairs hearing (Wally)," Kat's "Jim Webb: The new Bob Dole" and The Third Estate Sunday Review's "No friend to veterans."  Here's the press release from the VA:
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki today announced the publication of a final regulation in the Federal Register that makes it easier for Veterans to obtain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and disability compensation for certain diseases associated with service in Southwest Asia (including Iraq) or Afghanistan. 
"This is part of historic changes in how VA considers Gulf War Veterans' illnesses," said Secretary Shinseki. "By setting up scientifically based presumptions of service connection, we give these deserving Veterans a simple way to obtain the medical and compensation benefits they earned in service to our country."
The final regulation establishes new presumptions of service connection for nine specific infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia beginning on or after the start of the first Gulf War on Aug. 2, 1990, through the conflict in Iraq and on or after Sept. 19, 2001, in Afghanistan. 
The final regulation reflects a determination of a positive association between service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and nine diseases and includes information about the long-term health effects potentially associated with these diseases: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella Burnetii (Q fever), Malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis and West Nile virus. 
With the final rule, a Veteran will only have to show service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and that he or she had one of the nine diseases within a certain time after service and has a current disability as a result of that disease, subject to certain time limits for seven of the diseases.  Most of these diseases would be diagnosed within one year of return from service, through some conditions may manifest at a later time.
  For non-presumptive conditions, a Veteran is required to provide medical evidence to establish an actual connection between military service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and a specific disease. 
The decision to add these presumptives was made after reviewing the 2006 report of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (NASIOM), titled, "Gulf War and Health Volume 5: Infectious Diseases." 
The 2006 report differed from the four prior reports by looking at the long-term health effects of certain diseases determined to be pertinent to Gulf War Veterans.  Secretary Shinseki decided to include Afghanistan Veterans in these presumptions because NAS found that the nine diseases are also prevalent in that country. 
The 1998 Persian Gulf War Veterans Act requires the Secretary to review NAS reports that study scientific information and possible associations between illnesses and exposure to toxic agents by Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War.
While the decision to add the nine new presumptives predates VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force (GWVI-TF), the overarching responsibility of the GWVI-TF is to regain Gulf War Veterans' confidence in VA's health care, benefits, and services and reconfirm VA is 100 percent committed to Veterans of all eras.  The GWVI-TF began in fall 2009 and is not a static, one-time initiative but will continue to build on its work with annual reports issued every August.  The group's focus centers on unanswered Gulf War Veterans' health issues, improving access to benefits, ensuring cutting edge research into treatments, and to make sure Veterans' concerns are heard and addressed.  This includes continuing to solicit Veterans, experts, advocates and stakeholders to share their views to better inform the important work of the GWVI-TF.  The GWVI-TF Report can be found at
Disability compensation is a non-taxable monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service. 
Last year, VA received more than one million claims for disability compensation and pension.  VA provides compensation and pension benefits to over 3.8 million Veterans and beneficiaries. 
Currently, the basic monthly rate of compensation ranges from $123 to $2,673 for Veterans without any dependents.
For information about health problems associated with military service in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan, and related VA programs, go to and
For information about how to apply for disability compensation, go to or

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Iraq snapshot - September 30, 2010

The Common Ills

Thursday, September 30, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, talk of Iraqi civil war increases, Congress explores the true costs of war, Congress is informed that current economic problems will continue for 20-to-30 years, Iraq's political stalemate continues, and more.,
Logan Mehl-Laituri.  That's the name of the Conscientious Objector whose question led US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to spin so wildly yesterday.  Video of Gates' appearance at Duke University is posted online and Logan comes in at approximately 45 minutes and thirty seconds.
Logan Mehl-Laituri: Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  My name is Logan Mehi-Laituri and I served in the army as an artillery forward observer from 2000 to 2006.  First at Fort Bragg, just south of us, and then at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii I deployed in support of OIF 2 in January '04 and I returned with three combat decorations in  February '05 after which I came to the point as a noncommissioned officer where I, for religious, moral and ethical reasons, I could no longer carry a personal firearm. In response to my application to be a noncombat conscientious objector to my unit -- for which I earned the titles of "coward" and "traitor" -- I was involuntarily but honorably discharged in 2006 and I now speak to you as a div[inity] student actually as a master of theological studies, hopefully, I'll graduate in 2012 with a masters degree. My question is, -- My question is as a Christian, I'm concerned that I'm not able to respond to my --  the denominational body that I belong to when they deem certain wars to be unjust as was the case with the Iraq War in 2003.  Furthermore, as a Christian, I also must oppose this slavery of moral ambiguity that requires servicemembers for, on the one hand, telling them that -- that they forfeit their moral agency to the commanders and the officers that are appointed above them but then, on the other hand, they're required to refuse to obey these "unlawful orders" which are nowhere defined in the UCMJ leaving incredibly important juridical concept to a commander's discretion.  So I'm wondering what your office might do to correct this -- this tarnishment on our national integrity but also on --
Peter Feaver: I think we have that question. 
Logan Mehl-Laituri: what can be done.
Peter Feaver: This is hard enough to answer as it is
Robert Gates: I would say, first of all, this goes to the heart of my remarks tonight in an all volunteer army.  One does undertake a contractural obligation when enlisting but there is certainly no obligation to reenlist and one should know, anyone who's joined the military since 2002, should know that they're going into war with all the --
Logan Mehl-Laituri: I joined in 2000.
Robert Gates: -- so I think it ultimately it has to be the choice of the individual.
Peter Feaver was a sycophant in the Bush administration who moved over to Duke and has called in favors repeatedly in an attempt to establish an academic reputation -- if one can be built around the 'get' of an hour of softball questions publicly tossed to hero and bedroom wall pinup Karl Rove.  Amazingly -- or maybe not so, Feaver went to the trouble to write up a little mash note to Bobby Gates, a little Valentine at Foreign Policy, but chose to ignore the most important part of the evening (the above exchange). Peter did make time, however, to weigh in on his own hair. By contrast, at Vanity Fair, Henry Rollins offers a reality check on Gates' speech:
Since war as we know it has no end in sight if some people get their way, more fodder is needed to shove into that big defense cannon. Without more people signing up for the war without end, the Pentagon's toy will run out of batteries!
"But in reality, the demands on a good part of our military will continue for years to come. And, it begs the question: How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we -- as a military, as a government, as a society -- continue to place on them?"
Oh no! How dare you learn from history and not seek to repeat it! Were you actually reading those books? Don't tell me you're in the invasion-and-occupation-of-Iraq-was-a-catastrophic-mistake-that-killed-perhaps-millions-and-drained-America's-cash-reserves crowd. What a drag! What if the demands on a good part of the military won't continue for years to come? What if we had the guts to find peaceful ways to resolve conflict? Could you handle that? The question begged is: Are you ever going to face the world with something other than a hammer and stop calling every problem challenging America a nail? There is no way forward for Mr. Gates besides more human bodies, more hammers.
We covered Logan Mehl-Laituri's exchange in yesterday's snapshot but didn't quote from Logan or identify him because, honestly, I was half-paying attention during the question and answers until I heard "conscientious objector" (Gates' reply was covered).  To the objections noted yesterday of Gates' response (which is an attack on Christianity -- as e-mails from community members and visitors overwhelmingly agree), Ann (and her parents) add, "Gates is claiming contracts trump God. That's not how it works. And that is offensive to a large number of Christians. It is offensive to my parents and it is offensive to me. A contract does not trump your religious beliefs and how dare Robert Gates claim that it does. [. . .] Let me make it really clear for Gates who apparently doesn't know a thing about Christianity: He can vote in every election, he can drive the speed limit, he can pooper scoop after his dog, he can obey every state and federal law, every municipal code and that won't get him into heaven. In the Christian world, which is what the question he was asked was about, God trumps all. If Gates can't grasp that, it's on him. He owes American Christians an apology."
Logan's remarks are deserving of -- and are now part of -- the historical record.  It's a shame so many elected to look the other way.
"Let the record show that members in attendence, besides the Chair, are Mr. [Harry] Mitchell of Arizona, Mr. [Harry] Teague of New Mexico, Mr. [Ciro] Rodriguez of Texas, Mr. [Jerry] McNerney of California and I would ask unanimous consent that our collegue, the gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. [Walter] Jones be allowed to sit at the dais and participate as a member of this Committee for the purpose of this hearing," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner declared at the start of today's full committee hearing entitled "The True Cost of the War."  He would go on to note that US House Rep and House VA Committee member Zachary Space ("from Ohio") was also present for the hearing and that non-Committee member Jim Moran (Rep from Virginia) was present and that he would also be sitting at the dais and participating, for today's hearing, as a Committee member.  US House Rep George Miller (California) also joined the hearing during the first panel.  But where were most of the members?  What was going on?  Congress adjourned today before the hearing.  Congress wasn't in session.  Those participating stayed on to participate while others in the House rushed to return to their districts and begin campaigning.
We're going to note a lengthy portion of Chair Filner's opening remarks and three things before we do.  One, these are his stated remarks, not his prepared, written opening statement.  Two, pay-go means that you have to have the money in the budget when you approve the spending.  He'll note that the Defense Dept's budget isn't required to do that.  That means that department makes a request and gets it even though the money isn't there which is what they mean by "taxing your children" (or grandchildren) because when the money's not there, the bill has to be paid by someone and it falls on the future tax payers.  Third, Bob Filner has spoken out against the VA's use of "personality disorder" discharges to avoid covering veterans' needed treatment (he did so most recently in a September 15th hearing). He brought up the topic in a single-sentence today and I'm not sure it's clear in the statement if you're just reading it (the tone of his voice made it clear if you were at the hearing).
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars.  And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma.  The true cost of war?  We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder."  And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation.  Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that?  When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize.  We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military  veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed?  Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year.  We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers.  We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years.  We don't have it.  Why don't we have it?  They fought for this nation.  We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one.  So we have to find a pay-go.  But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to.  So they system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way.  That's much easier than to care for them when they come home.  This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get  enough money for our veterans.  We got to fight for it every day.  We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue.  This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat.Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of  our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea.  Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liabiilty of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost.  It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically.  If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget?  Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess."  That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.
Rep Walter Jones would note that he thought the Veterans Trust Fund was a good general first step and one he would be supporting: "I feel frustrated when I sit here, I've seen it for years, I see those kids at Walter Reed with their legs blown off, I see the moms crying, the wives crying.  The kids are 19, 21-years-old and, as you said, it's 30 years from now that we've really got to be careful. [.. .] But Mr. Chairman, please know that you have my commitment to  join in whatever effort we move forward on because we're not being honest, we're cheating the veterans, if we don't do what is necessary today."
The first panel was composed of professors Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stigliz (of Harvard and Columbia, economists who wrote The Three Trillion Dollar War) and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph A. Violante.  There were three panels.  Due to space limitations, we'll focus on the first panel today and return to this hearing in tomorrow's snapshot.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Mr. [David] Obey, myself, Mr. [Jack] Murtha, I think Mr. [Charlie] Rangel, perhaps Chairman Filner, we voted for an amendment that went nowhere but we did it for two or three years running -- it was Mr. Obey's idea -- to have a surcharge to pay for the war. If we were going to pursue the Iraq War, let's just figure out what the cost is and pay for it rather than making that decision to go to war but passing on the cost to our children and grandchildren to pay for it.  It went down, I think there were more than 400 people voted against the concept but it doesn't mean it wasn't a legitimate issue to raise and I think it would have been the responsible thing to do. So my first question of two would be would you have been able to estimate what that surcharge would have been when we were actually making the decision?  Is that consistent with the thrust of your testimony that that's how we should go about making the decision of whether or not to go to war in the future? Professor Stigliz?
Joseph E. Stigliz: I think it's an excellent idea for a number of reasons. First, I think - I think it's very important to have transparency and accountability in government.  That you ought to know what you're doing and what it costs and citizens ought to know that if you want to get something you have to pay for it. Just like shopping.  Anything.  Secondly, we can calculate it.  That's the point that we're making. You can't estimate it perfectly but you can't estimate Social Security perfectly.  But you can get a fairly reliable estimate that would be the basis of a surcharge.  And how -- whether you express it as a percentage of the defense appropriations or as a tax, a separate tax, you know, express it in a number of different ways. It would be very easy, actually, to do that. And the third point is the point that professor Bilmes made and the Congressman made which is: By doing that you would be setting aside money into a trust fund and that is the only way that you can insulate this money against what I see as the increasing budget stringency that our country is going to be facing and we should recongize that for the next twenty, thirty years we are going to be facing very difficult budgetary problems and they're not going to go away.  And there is no easy way -- I have some views about how you could do it -- but there is no easy way out of that. And the reality then is that under the pay-go current framework that supporting these obligations that we've undertaken to our veterans has to compete with every other expenditure.  And -- and there will be pressure.  And the reference to the Debt Commission, the reference to former Congressman SImpson's testimony is evidence of that kind of pressure that will be put on veterans expenditures.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Well thank you, professor. You've mentioned in your testimony,  and Professor Bilmes' as well, the fragmented costs of war.  Just one example, in the Defense Appropriations Committee, we put 900 million dollars just for Traumatic Brain Injury and then, in this continuing resolution, I don't think there's two or three members who are aware that we added another 300 million dollars -- was a reprogramming of money for something else -- bringing up to 1.2 million dollars just for Traumatic Brain Injury, just for one year, Fiscal Year 2010. But the other question I wanted to ask -- and then I'll yield back the time and I thank the Chairman -- Senator [Jim] Webb and others in both the House and Senate strongly supported and was passed a GI Bill of Rights. The idea was to basically create a middle class again in the way that we did after WWII -- by enabling returning veterans to get higher education and to be able to lead to fuller, better employment prospects -- as you said, 30% of our veterans returning home are unemployed. But this also extends to the family, the wives and spouses.  Do we have an estimate of the cost of that? And I know that [House Education and Labor Committee] Chairman [George] Miller would be very interested as well. What are we paying for that portion of higher education out of the same federal budget?  Professor Bilmes?
Linda J. Bilmes: I mean, I don't have an estimate for that but I think it's a good question. And I think it is, like all of these numbers, it's a number that could be calculated.  One of our overall points throughout the process of working on these issues has been that there's actually very little attention to getting robust estimates in the veterans field.  And when you compare the amount of effort, for example, that goes into  studying the Social Security system compared with the amount of effort that goes into studying the longterm costs of veterans -- whether it's the educational, the transition assistance program, the research funding, the benefits, etc. -- it's a tiny fraction, not in scale with the, you know, the actual absolute size of the liability.  But unfortunately I don't have that particular number.
US House Rep Jim Moran: No, but it would be interesting to calculate.
Joseph E. Stigliz: Can I just make --
US House Rep Jim Moran: Yes.
Joseph E. Stigliz: -- one further comment about the importance of providing the kind of benefits, GI Benefits. As we move to the all-volunteer army, we are recruiting particular socio-economic groups into the army and other military services and these are often among the parts of our society that are less privileged.  And unless we do that we will continue to have the problems of the 30% unemployment, which is a long run problem, for our society.  And there's been reference made to high suicide rates, high problems of family -- Those problems are all compounded when people can't get a job and when people don't have the adequate education in a modern economy, it's very difficult to get the jobs.  So I view this as part of our social obligation to those who fought for us which we are now really not fulfilling.
US House Rep Jim Moran: Absolutely and one cost -- a very substantial cost -- that we don't factor in is the burden on local, municipal human service programs because these folks -- a vast, a large number -- go back into the community but still have mental health adjustment problems, domestic abuse problems and so on related to  their combat experience and its muncipalities responsibilities to care for them and we don't calculate that cost, let alone add it to the full cost of the war.
Again, we'll pick up more on the hearing tomorrow. Staying with Congress, Sam Stein (Huffington Post) reports that Senator Lindsey Graham believes that US service members in Iraq are and should be called combat troops (he also believes they should get combat pay -- which they are receiving) and he thinks the American people are dropping the ball in demanding that Congress focus on the wars (he is not, sadly, stating that more Americans need to be calling for an end to the wars). Still on Congress, Senator Daneil Akaka Chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. His office released the following:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, praised his colleagues for supporting a comprehensive veterans benefits package now headed to the White House for President Obama's consideration. If signed into law, this bill will expand insurance options for disabled veterans, upgrade compensation benefits and employment protections, authorize VA construction projects,and allow VA to keep using private physicians to quickly and accurately provide veterans with disability evaluations.
"I commend my colleagues for supporting this bill to upgrade the benefits that veterans have earned through their honorable service. I look forward to President Obama signing this important measure into law," said Akaka, a key sponsor of this legislation.
The Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 (H.R. 3219, as amended), includes the following:



Raises an automobile assistance benefit for disabled veterans from $11,000 to $18,900.   
Authorizes federal grants to provide job training, counseling, placement, and childcare services to homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.   
Substantially increases the maximum levels of supplemental insurance for totally disabled veterans, as well as Veterans' Group Life Insurance and Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance.   
Provides retroactive Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance benefits for troops who were traumatically injured between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, regardless of where their injury occurred.   
Clarifies that the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits wage discrimination against members of the Armed Forces.   
H.R. 3219 passed the House late last night, after clearing the Senate on Tuesday, September 28. The bill now goes to President Obama for his consideration. A detailed summary of the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 is available here: LINK.
The full text of the bill, as amended by the Senate, is available here: LINK.
Kawika Riley
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
Turning to Iraq where the violence never ends in Iraq. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "At least two officers were killed and three civilians were wounded when police and gunmen traded fire in Baghdad on Thursday after an apparent bank robbery attempt, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said." In addition, Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker (New York Times) report that there have been 23 mortar/rocket attacks on the Green Zone so far this month and "the intensity of the attacks has compounded a sense of anxiety here -- and back in Washington -- as Iraq's political impasse drags on almost seven months after parliamentary elections in March."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-three days with no government formed.

Noting the rumors swirling that Nouri's got the post, Jason Ditz ( observes, "But can he form a government? That is less than clear, as much of the INA has already ruled out participating in a government giving Maliki a second term, and even a small portion of the State of Law bloc is opposing him. The Iraqiya bloc, which has the biggest plurality, has also ruled out working with Maliki."  Hurriyet Daily News reports today that Joost Hilterman (International Crisis Group) has stated, "There are two ways in Iraq. Without a government, which is the very bad scenario, it can lead up to the return to civil war." The alternative, as he sees it, is for Iraq to form a government encompassing a wide range of groups.  He's not the only one worrying over civil war.  Noting Leila Fadel's recent report for the Washington Post about the decision to purge Sahwa ("Sons Of Iraq" and "Awakenings") from Anbar Province's police force, David Bender (Foreign Policy) notes:
The big question is how will the Sunnis respond? Should they decide they have no stake in the success of the next government, what will be their next move? Sunnis could cease their security cooperation with Baghdad, but a return to the sort of civil war we saw between 2005 and 2007 is unlikely. The Iraqi government of today, for all its problems, is significantly more stable than it was in 2005, and Iraqi security forces are dramatically more capable. Still, parallel efforts -- not cooperation but a sharing of similar goals -- by disaffected Sunnis and an AQI looking to reconstitute -- could keep Baghdad and Iraq's west violent and unstable for years to come.
For more on Sahwa, Sam Collyns (BBC News) reports here -- text and video. Spero News reports, "An independent United Nations human rights expert today urged the Iraqi Government and the international community to provide more assistance to internally displace persons (IDPs) in the country and protect their rights, stressing that ending displacement must [be] considered a key element of rebuilding Iraq." But some countries -- such as England -- refuse to take the refugee issue seriously and continue forcibly deporting refugees back to Iraq. IRIN notes, "The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern about the growing number of deportations of Iraqi asylum-seekers from Western Europe in the last two months. Special charter flights to take failed asylum-seekers home have increased in frequency, and Iraqis are being returned to parts of the country which are still unsafe, in contravention of UNHCR guidelines for the handling of Iraqi asylum applications, it says."
Meanwhile in the US a grieving mother is angry.  US soldiers Gebrah Noonan and John Carrillo died in Iraq last week and are said to have been shot dead (with a third soldier wounded) by US soldier Neftaly Platero. Cindy Horswell (Houston Chronicle) reports efforts to reach the accused's wife and parents were unsuccessful "But neighbors across the street from a home on Birch Creek in Kingwood where he used to stay with family recall him as a quiet, unobtrusive person who didn't draw attention to himself. Military authorities said no charges have yet been filed and would not further discuss the pending investigation." Joe Goldeen (Stockton Record) reports John Carrillo Jr. died the day after the Thursday shooting and that he was "trying to break up a fight between two soldiers" when he was shot. His survivors include Reylene (wife) and two young children, Desiree and John Carrillo Sr. (his parents) and three young siblings.  My Record Journal reports that while the Governor of Conn., Jodi Rell, the state's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and others have contacted the family of Gebrah Noonan, they have not heard from US Senator Joe Lieberman and Gebrah's mother, Ling Noonan, was disappointed in the silence.  WTNH adds:

Noonan's mother, Ling Noonan, released a statement thanking the community for all the support, as well as Gov. Rell, Sec. Bysiewicz, Attorney General Blumenthal, and Sen. Dodd and other local politicians for their condolences. But Ms. Noonan says she was disappointed in Sen. Joe Lieberman's response. Gebrah was Jewish and she stated frankly, "from a fellow Jew we expected more."
We're including the above not to pick on Joe Lieberman.  His office is actually usually very good at contacting the families of the fallen in his state and he's already made plans to speak with Ling Noonan.  But a few weeks back, we pointed out that government representatives in the House, Senate and in governor's offices were dropping the ball on this.  We made a point of noting that Governor Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) is among the few whose office always notes the fallen publicly and contacts the families. If you're speaking with any of the families of the recent fallen, you'll quickly hear from them how few elected officials are noting their loved ones' passing.  Joe Lieberman, again, is already addressing the issue.  Every elected official should be doing a self-check right now on whether or not they are honoring the fallen.  In the last few months, this is becoming a big issue with families of the fallen.
We have room for one more thing and I've been trying to work this into a snapshot all week.  Libbyliberal is addressing the upcoming elections in her writings.  This is from Libbyliberal's "The Secret is Not in Trying to Win a Rigged Game, It's Walking Away From It" (Corrente):

People of conscience need to call out both the rat bastards and the rabid rat bastards. Not protect and enable the Dem rat bastards because they are not as rabid as Repubs and Teapartiers. Which makes them even worse. They have potential still to be rational, humane and sane. Or do they?   

I keep trying to figure out how to get farther this time. I also keep trying to figure out why there isn't a bigger tent for the people of conscience. Why the health care single payer folks couldn't have a fire in their collective belly to end the illegal wars and support those people of conscience and vice versa. I mean, I am guessing they do, but how to channel that support formally and effectively? And the climate change folk, and the women's rights folk.   

There are so many fresh and not so fresh any more hells ... and we of course can not be fighting on every front. But we need each other collectively. Because so many of us get the travesty to humanity collectively on all of these fronts. But we need to form that effective and loud critical mass.   

A lot of small choirs of conscience. How do we rally those with conscience into a focused voice? There is the theory of the 100 monkeys. Once the hundredth monkey gets the message of truth and reality, the entire monkey nation gets it. With Vietnam I think the hundredth monkey was actually Walter Cronkite. When he got it (being in the media helped for sure) the Vietnam War, so late in the game with so much devastation, lost traction. Though some never got it and came back with a vengeance as insane neocons. Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. Power mad.

We have a window of opportunity here in the next six is it weeks. I hoped we could make demands. But we have the colossal ego of Obama who only seems to know the art of hypocrisy and we **** him off now. Yeah, no drama Obama seems to only have strike back power when it comes to us. Go figure. He must protect his EGO on all of this and we will not enable his EGO. And Obama's vast enablers are fighting for his "brand" and their egos, too, I suppose. Can't admit to the con. Can't see the forest of humanity and are lost among the "team trees".


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« Reply #123 on: October 06, 2010, 05:54:46 am »

Middle East
Oct 7, 2010
Iraq a house divided

By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Iraq recently broke a world record though its government vacuum, which has lasted since March, beating the Netherlands that stayed with no government for 208 days in 1977. The closest thing the Middle East had to such a record was Lebanon, which survived with no president from November 2007 to May 2008.

The record - damning as it is - speaks volumes about how difficult and potentially explosive the situation is in Iraq, seven months after the world hailed its parliamentary elections as a beacon for democracy in the region.

On Friday, optimists wrote about signs of hope coming from Baghdad, as the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), which includes heavyweights like Ammar al-Hakim, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, decided to put their collective weight behind incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The INA, however, commands no more than 70 out of 325 seats in the Iraqi parliament. Even if Maliki's 89 deputies teamed up with the INA's 70, they would still be four votes short of securing a 163-seat majority to make him prime minister.

The tipping balance, therefore, lies among Sunnis and Kurds, who control 57 seats. They can make or break the political ambitions of either Maliki or his prime rival and predecessor Iyad Allawi, who controls 91 seats.

Convincing the Sunnis, who have backed Allawi since March, to support Maliki will not be easy given the amount of bad blood between them and the prime minister. From experience, they don't trust Maliki, who promised to fulfill many of their demands in return for supporting him back in 2006 and backed out on almost every one of his pledges.

Their representation was never expanded within the Iraqi government, no amnesty was granted to set thousands of Sunnis free from jails, and no steps were taken vis-a-vis reconciliation with the Ba'athists.

When the Sunnis walked out on the Maliki cabinet in the summer of 2007, he did not lift a finger to appease them and keep them onboard. Maliki continued to crack down on the Awakening Councils, a group of armed Sunni tribesmen established in 2007 to combat al-Qaeda, and meanwhile did nothing about armed Shi'ite militias roaming the streets of Baghdad.

To say "yes" to Maliki, Sunnis would need guarantees that malpractices of the past four years will not be repeated by the prime minister. That guarantee has to come through trustworthy states like Saudi Arabia and Syria, which on Tuesday, hosted Hakim of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).

Additionally, the INA is not united in its decision to back Maliki for the premiership. This is clear from the statements of prime-ministerial hopefuls like Adel Abdul Mehdi, who said on Sunday, "Up till now, we haven't seen anything that would make us change our decision not to support him."

Abdul Mehdi, who was the INA's candidate for the job of prime minister last March, blasted Maliki for "mobilization of power, bad governance, and no vision." As for the Kurds, they have said that they won't join or endorse a cabinet that doesn't include Allawi's Iraqi National List and the SIIC.

An approval from top figures in the INA, therefore, does not guarantee a smooth landing for the prime minister, despite all that has been written and speculated in the international media since Friday.

A few days ago, US Vice President Joseph Biden called on all major players in Iraq to uphold "a process, not a specific candidate or outcome" that results in an "inclusive government.” The US, however, is clearly unwilling to immerse itself at a micro-level in Iraq, as was done during the George W. Bush years, to support one candidate against the others. It has left day-to-day politics in Iraq to the Iraqis themselves and heavyweights in the region like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In September, it was "rumored" in Iraq that a "secret understanding" had been reached between the US and Iran over maintaining Maliki. Iran has apparently forgiven Maliki, after a prolonged grudge, for having gone astray and nominated himself on an independent list away from his traditional allies in the INA last March.

Everybody in the neighborhood feels that the cabinet crisis in Iraq has gone too far and now threatens to bring violence within Iraq, as well as export it to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.

July and August were among the worst months of violence in Iraq since 2008. In as much as the US would have loved to see the secular Allawi replace Maliki, it realizes that due to political dynamics within Iraq, this is becoming close to impossible. Heavyweight Shi'ite players will simply never endorse him, regardless of how many seats he commands in parliament.

Perhaps the best possible solution would be for all parties concerned to rule out the option of bringing either Maliki or Allawi to office and concentrate instead on other players who are acceptable to Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds.

In theory, neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran is 100% committed to either Maliki or Allawi. Iran is very keen however, on not making Allawi premier in as much as Saudi Arabia insists that it will not tolerate another four years of Maliki, who it sees as a sectarian politician who greatly harmed the interests of Sunnis.

This is where Syria's say comes into play, given its excellent relations with Sunnis and Shi'ites, creating a balance that neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran enjoy. Syria has the ear of Hakim and Muqtada of the INA and also is very influential with Allawi and Sunnis.

All of these players – the Syrians, Iranians and the Saudis, as well as Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds and Shi'ites – need to be part of the deal that ends the cabinet vacuum in Iraq. Thinking that the approval of one party, like Muqtada’s, is enough to maintain Maliki as premier would be to nurse an optimistic illusion. Simply put: politics are not that clear cut in Iraq. Parliamentary majorities and numbers amount to little in such a complex game.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

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« Reply #124 on: October 06, 2010, 06:20:23 am »

Iraq snapshot - October 4, 2010

The Common Ills

Monday, October 4, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, the violence continues, Law & Disorder explores attacks on political speech -- a classification of speech that is protected by the Constitution -- and more.
Saturday the Democratic Party and their enablers held a get-out-the-vote non-action in DC.  The only thing worth noting is Harry Belafonte who stuck out like a sore thumb because he actually had something to say.  Democracy Now! (audio, video and text) broadcast his speech today:
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of this memorial and declared that this nation should come together and embrace its greater ideals. He said that we should rally together and overcome injustice and racism, and that all citizens should not only have the right to vote, but that we should exercise that right and make America whole.

That is part of why we are today. But we're also here to tend other grievances. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I Have a Dream" speech forty-seven years ago, said that America would soon come to realize that the war that we were in at that time that this nation waged in Vietnam was not only unconscionable, but unwinnable. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in that cruel adventure, and over two million Vietnamese and Cambodians perished. Now today, almost a half-a-century later, as we gather at this place where Dr. King prayed for the soul of this great nation, tens of thousands of citizens from all walks of life have come here today to rekindle his dream and once again hope that all America will soon come to the realization that the wars that we wage today in far away lands are immoral, unconscionable and unwinnable.

The Central Intelligence Agency, in its official report, tells us that the enemy we pursue in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the al-Qaeda, they number less than fifty -- I say fifty --people. Do we really think that sending 100,000 young American men and women to kill innocent civilians, woman and children, and antagonizing the tens of millions of people in the whole region somehow makes us secure? Does this make any sense?   

The President's decision to escalate the war in that region alone costs the nation $33 billion. That sum of money could not only create 600,000 jobs here in America, but would even leave us a few billion to start rebuilding our schools, our roads, our hospitals and affordable housing. It could also help to rebuild the lives of the thousands of our returning wounded veterans.   

Dr. King loved this nation. He saw, as all of us here today see, that this great nation should not be allowed to perish. Martin's vision was also the vision of Abraham Lincoln, who understood the evil of slavery and, in abolishing that evil, saved America. Although slavery may have be have been abolished, the crippling poison of racism still persists, and the struggle still continues. We have the largest prison population in the world. And as we industrialize these prison systems, we rob hundreds of thousands of workers of the jobs that they need and the wages that are rightfully theirs. 

The plight of women bear no better. Their oppression refuses to yield, as **** and domestic violence and sex slaves and teenage pregnancy abounds.   

But perhaps the greatest threat of all is the undermining of our Constitution and the systematic attack against the inalienable rights of the citizens of this nation, rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution. At the vanguard of this insidious attack is the tea party. This band of misguided citizens is moving perilously close to achieving villainous ends.           

This gathering here today is America's wake-up call. The giant called democracy is at last stirring again. Citizens are coming together to say freedom does not sleep. It may have been fueled and lulled for the moment into a lethargy, but it's fully awake now. And we the people are its engine. We must awaken the apathetic, the cynical, the many angry doubters, who see their future as the perpetual hopelessness, and show them that our greatest weapon is the vote. And it is the answer to much that nags in us.     

On November 2nd, in the millions, we must overburden our voting booths by voting against those who would see the nation become a totalitarian state. Americans know that Dr. King's dream is not dead. Let us vote on November 2nd for jobs, for jobs, for jobs, for peace, for justice, for human rights, for our children and the future of America. And let us put an end to war. Peace is necessary. For justice, it is necessary. For hope, it is necessary, for our future.             

I love you all, and God bless America.
Harry Belafonte who always knows that truth never goes out of fashion.  If the non-action had any other speakers like him, they might have accomplished something other than holding a pep rally for the corporatist War Hawks in the Democratic Party.  Justin Raimondo ( wasn't invited but if he had been he might have said something similar to what he writes in his latest column:
Aside from a generalized desire for "change," the Obama-crats took the Democratic presidential nomination -- and the presidency -- largely on the strength of their candidate's alleged antiwar credentials. Barack Obama's opposition to the Iraq war was the line of demarcation that set his campaign apart from that of his main rival, Hillary Clinton. What his antiwar supporters didn't know -- or want to know -- was that this opposition was based on his often-stated contention that we were fighting a war on the wrong front: Afghanistan, Obama averred, is the main battlefield in our generations-long "war on terrorism." Iraq was merely a "diversion" -- and, he suggested, we ought to go into Pakistan, if necessary, an idea that horrified even John McCain, who denounced it as "irresponsible."
People believe what they want to believe, however, and the left fell into line behind Obama, who by this time had become a kind of cult figure around which liberals and self-identified "progressives" could rally after eight years in the political wilderness. What they didn't notice was that shortly after his election, which was greeted by the right with despair, the "progressive" Center for a New American Security -- the source of many high level appointments by the Obama administration -- held a joint conference with Kristol's newly-created "Foreign Policy Initiative," which hailed Obama's decision to escalate the Afghan war. The participants busied themselves with the intricacies of CNAS's new counterinsurgency doctrine -- essentially a "nation-building" scheme to set up a semi-permanent colony in the wilds of Afghanistan, and extend the war further into the heart of Central Asia.
The event was garbage.  We noted that here Saturday.  Third covered it in this editorial. Click here for Chris Floyd's take (scroll down to "Update"). You need to remember these liars and hypocrites because when the Dems no longer control the White House, they will return to claiming that they are 'objective' and not beholden to any arty and they'll make noises about maybe a third arty is needed. But then you'll see -- as you did in 2008 -- them **** themselves to elect a Democrat yet again. What you need to watch for is the in-between.  In that period, you need to starve the beast.  These peole cannot keep gainful employment.  They are dependent upon the Panhandle Media and begging for a living.  Starve the beast.  That's the only way you'll ever take away their platforms and end their non-stop whoring for the Democratic Party.  (And for those late to the party, I actually am a Democrat -- unlike many of the whores who are Socialist and Communists -- but I don't **** for anyone or anything. Nor should you.  Read Janis Ian's wonderful and heartfelt Society's Child and you'll see she learned that truth before 17. That link, FYI, goes to the book and her double disc collection for only $16,95 -- two discs of amazing music including her best loved songs like "At Seventeen," "Society's Child," "Stars," "Jesse," "When Angels Cry," "Days LIke These" and many more -- Kat reviewed it here and and Janis' amazing book which, Martha and Shirley reported was the community's choice for best book of 2008.) 
Friday brought the news that Nouri had the support of the Iraqi National Alliance (he's had it before and lost it before but no one wants to note that reality). And yet the political stalemate continues. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported, "A coalition of Shiite political blocs chose Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as its candidate for Iraq's top government job on Friday afternoon - a step that could break a months-long standoff over who will govern the country. Despite the new support, Maliki must still find more votes in the Iraqi parliament if he is to remain in power and form a new government. The fact that the Shiites now supporting Maliki are mostly Sadrists - followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who staunchly oppose the American presence here - also has the potential to alarm Washington." Today Hussam Ali and Newsweek report on the deal al-Sadr and Nouri made: "A Sadr official tells Newsweek privately that the breakthrough came when several ranking members of Maliki's coalition, the State of Law, met with Sadr in Iran to negotiate his key demand. At issue: 2,000 of Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters who have been held since they were rounded up, with Maliki's blessing, in 2007 and 2008."
Jim Muir (BBC News) noted  Saturday that Iraq 'won' " the world record for the length of time it is taking to form the new government, passing the 208-day mark set by the Netherlands in 1977. But it seems likely that the old record will be broken by quite a substantial margin, as the process of settling the contending factions into a viable governing formation still has some way to run." In addition, Muir noted that it does not appear as though Nouri has 100% support from the Iraqi National Alliance. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "After a meeting on Saturday, Iraqiya leaders said they would now try to court two Shiite parties that oppose Mr. Maliki, as well as two smaller parties that won 10 seats, though that would still leave the bloc without enough seats to thwart Mr. Maliki's re-election." Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports, "A Shiite Muslim competitor accused Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Sunday of hoarding power and lacking a vision for Iraq, suggesting that the incumbent still was a long way from securing a new term." That competitor would be Adel Abdul Mehdi who is currently Iraq's Shi'ite Vice President (Iraq has two vice presidents, one Shi'ite, one Sunni). Parker reports that Abdul Mehdi is using his group's twenty-five seats to attempt to form an alternative to Nouri. That would mean -- if no other group is holding out -- Nouri sits at around 134 seats currently.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's six months and twenty-seven days with no government formed.
Meanwhile Fars News Agency reports that the governments of Syria and Iran are denying that they are in opposition over whom the next prime minister of Iraq should be. Press TV adds that Iran's Ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Danaeifar, states that Iran is not interfering in the process. However, Tariq Alhomayed (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) notes the rumors swirling, "There is a belief amongst many of the Iraqi elite, as well as other Arab politicians, intellectuals and journalists, that the U.S. is conspiring with the Iranians on the issue of Iraq, and that there is a plot to divide the region. The allegation is that America is concluding a deal with its Iranian counterparts, to persuade Tehran to cooperate with America and the West on the subject of its nuclear program [in exchange for allowing the Iranians to politically intervene in Iraq]. This was already offered by the Iranians to the West, in particularly the Americans. Therefore Washington, according to those skeptical of U.S. intentions, does not see the harm in Nuri al-Maliki renewing his post for a second term, at the expense of other Iraqi components. This skepticism deserves to be analyzed, if only for the fact that it has spread like wildfire amongst the Iraqi elite, who generally do not believe in conspiracy theories, and mostly advocate rationality regarding relations with the West."  Allawi is in Egypt today.  Al-Masry Al-Youm reports he's supposed to meet with Omar Suleiman ("Egyptian intelligence chief") and other officials "to discuss the ongoing deadlock over the formation of the country's next government."
Reports of blocs scrambling to make deals are coming out of Iraq.  Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports that officials with Iraqiya are hinting that they might back Nouri for prime minister if Allawi became president and if the role of president came with expanded powers.  This as Alsumaria TV reports that the Kurdistan bloc states talks will take place only after "written approval" of their demands: "Referring to the National Alliance and Al Iraqiya List, Khalil clarified that the Kurdish paper includes 10 items mainly executing Constitution Article 140 that protects major components of the Iraqi people namely Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs from injustice, he said." One problem already developing is that the Kurds expected Nouri's promise of an October census (oil-rich Kirkuk) to be a promise and are now learning otherwise (he's pushed it back to December this time). Which may be why the bloc plans to meet in Baghdad to firm up their demands before meeting with any non-Kurds.
Kirkuk?  In "Kirkuk and the Up-coming Census," an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reported:
You don't belong here -- Leave unconditionally within 24 hours -- or else we are prepared to use all means including force, if necessary"       
Armed men, in civilian clothes distributed fliers to Arab and Turkoman families in Kirkuk -- but mostly to Arab families.                       
A general census is to be held in Iraq on October 24.                   
And all through the political crisis -- and until this day, PM Nouri al Maliki keeps on statements affirming the date of the census -- again and again, as if there was nothing else on his mind.

The oil-rich Kirkuk is disputed territory, claimed by the KRG and by the central government or 'government' out of Baghdad. The Iraqi Constitution mandates a census and then a vote which will determine who gets Kirkuk. Prior to the start of the Iraq War, Kurds were forced out of Kirkuk and after the start of the war -- as documented by Edward Wong (New York Times), among others, the KRG began forcing Kurds back into the region. While trying to continue holding on to the post of prime minister, Nouri announced that a census would be held in October and it would be held regardless of whether or not the issue of the prime minister had been resolved. It is now October. Nouri, spin tells you, is set to be the next prime minister. And lo and behold we have a new announcement. Aseel Kami (Reuters) reports that the census has been pushed back to December 5th. And it needs to be noted that the US government wanted it postponed. This is the census the Constitution mandated be taken in 2007. This is the census that one of the White House benchmarks (in 2007) was that Nouri would hold it. Or as AFP puts it, "The October 24 census has now been delayed until December 5, the latest in a string of deferrals that have consistently put back a count originally due in 2007." News of the delay comes as Azzaman reports that Ashawees (Kurdish security forces) are terrorizing Arab and Turkmen residents of Kirkuk in an attempt to scare them into leaving. MP Omer Khalaf is quoted stating, "Kurdish security forces, known (locally) as Ashawees, have withdrawn papers from Arab immigrants in the city and have warned them to leave within 24 hours." As a result, DPA reports, US forces have been sent into Kirkuk "to protect Arab Sunni and Shiite residents".
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "A magnetic bomb that was stuck to the private car of Tahrir Kathim, a media assistant who works for U.S. backed al Hurra satellite channel, detonated Monday morning killing him straight away." Reporters without Borders issued a statement today which included:

Reporters Without Borders condemned the killing today of cameraman Tahrir Kadhem Jawad, working for the Arabic-language service of the US TV channel al-Hurra, who was killed by a bomb placed under his car as he was going to work near Jasr al-Korma, east of Fallujah.
This killing is the latest in a series of targeted attacks against journalist over the past few weeks (for further information see:["Journalists are victims of violence by security forces and targeted attacks".]
The Committee to Protect Journalists' statement includes:
Jawad died instantly after a bomb attached to his car exploded in Garma, 50 miles west of Baghdad in volatile Anbar province, according to local press freedom groups and online news reports. Jawad was driving to the capital to deliver footage when the bomb exploded. Security forces swiftly cordoned off the blast site and initiated an investigation, but made no arrests at the scene.

Jawad had worked as a journalist for seven years, first as an editor with the weekly Al-Karma, and then as a freelance cameraman who supplied numerous television broadcasters with footage. The slain journalist was "a courageous cameraman" who obtained distinguished footage "where others had failed to do so," according to Mohammad al-Jamili, the Baghdad bureau chief for U.S.-government-backed Al-Hurra television, one of Jawad's employers. Jawad is survived by his wife and five children.               

 "We extend our condolences to the family of our fallen colleague Tahrir Kadhim Jawad," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "As the country's internal security situation has steadily deteriorated over the past months, we have witnessed Iraq 's rapid degeneration into one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, and this only after a short-lived period of relative calm. Jawad is the third journalist to be murdered in Iraq in less than a month."

Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing wounded two people, another Baghdad sticky bombing injured one person, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 bodyguard for the Science and Technology Minister and wounded four more people, another Baghdad roadside bombing targeting police  Brig Gen Amer Hameed which wounded him, two of his bodyguards and four bystanders, another Baghdad sticky bombing wounded one person, Baquba stun bombs drew the police and Iraqi military in time for another bombing which claimed 4 of their lives and left two more wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and a Mosul sticky bombing which wounded eleven Iraqi soldiers, two Mosul roadside bombings which wounded two Iraqi soldiers.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1st Lt police officer Hashim Sattar was wounded in a shooting in front of his house and 1 Sahwa member was shot dead in Jurf Al Skhar.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 female corpse discovered in Hilla, Professor Ibraheem al Qassab was killed in Mosul home invasion.
Turning to the US,  Friday, September 24th FBI raids took place on at least seven homes of peace activists -- the FBI admits to raiding seven homes -- and the FBI raided the offices of Anti-War Committee. Just as that news was breaking, the National Lawyers Guild issued a new report, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." Along with being a National Lawyer Guild member (she's actually Executive Director of the national office), Heidi co-hosts WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio (9:00 a.m. EST Mondays -- also plays on other stations around the country throughout the week) with fellow attorneys Michael Ratner and Michael Smith and today the program explores the raids with guest Jim Fennerty.  And that's 9:00 a.m.  I wrongly said 10:00 a.m. EST.  WBAI is no longer airing Democracy Now! twice a day and Law and Disorder has moved up an hour.  My apologies to anyone who missed today's broadcast because of my error. You can stream the broadcast at  Law and Disorder Radio  online and, for the next 89 days only, at the WBAI archives.  Today, we're going to excerpt the conversation that took place at the top of the show.  We'll note the interview with Jim Fennerty later in the week. Excerpt:
Michael S. Smith: Heidi Boghosian, you're the Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild and you've been following this story very closely.  As you know, at around 7:00 a.m. Friday, September 24th, agents of the Joint-Terrorism Task Force of the FBI barged into eight homes in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois breaking down doors and in coordinated raids against leftist activists.  Agents seized papers, computers, cell phones and personal items of Hatem Abudayyeh, Joseph Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner in Chicago and served Thomas Burke of Chicago with a subpoena ordering him to appear before a grand jury investigating "material support to terrorism." In Minneapolis - St. Paul, agents raided the homes of Meredith Aby, Mick Kelly, Tracy Molm, Anh Pham, Jess Sundin and the offices of Twin City's Antiwar Committee. FBI spokesmen said that, "interviews" were being conducted across the country.  No arrests have been made or charges reported, yet about a dozen activists have been supoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury whose proceedings are secret. Heidi, put this in context for our listeners please.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, these raids are actually not surprising.  Over the last decade, the National Lawyers Guild has witnessed a pattern of government intimidation of activists ranging from infliltrating, spying on peace, antiwar and other political organizations,  targeting individuals whom they perceive as lead organizers so that before national special security events -- for example, the 2004, 2008 Republican National Conventions -- we saw FBI agents and members of Joint-Terrorism Task Force going around the country, visiting activists at their homes, going to their families, their place of work, asking them questions about their political views, whether they plan to attend the conventions, sending what we call a chilling effect on free speech. Other tactics we've seen take place at these mass assemblies such as the RNC and the DNC where police engage in a wide range of really fearful activities -- not only the use of less lethal weapons against crowds but using horses, bicycles, motorcycles to push crowds to then trap detain and then mass arrest without probably cause. Meaning that they're taken off the streets, out of the site of the media, out of the sight of the delegates, detained for often days with no charges and then released.  Many individuals are charged with anti-terrorism laws and that's the trend that we're seeing that these trends are apart of, vilifying domestic activists.  And the Supreme Court has a body of case law that supports vigorous language such as "Shut down the convention."  We've been seeing that for decades.  All of the sudden, such words and even ordinary household objects that are picked up in these raids become "Oh, the makings of a molotov cocktail!" Police and law enforcement are ascribing evil intent to political literature, political jargon and household objects.  In these recent raids, I think we have to look at the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. And that means that any politically active entity or individual who provides what they call material support -- and it can be in the form of legal advice, the writing of an amicus [friend of court -- supporting] brief, humanitarian aid, any kind of dialogue even if it's aimed at coming up with peaceful resolutions or ways to work together , that becomes a terrorist activity. 
Michael Smith: Remember that Lynne Stewart issuing a press release was 'material support to terrorism.' Heidi, what's your take on the level of government where these recent September 24th raids originated.  My thinking is that they happened in Illinois, they happened in Minnesota.  This wasn't a local decision.  It must have been a decision that went up at least as high  as [Eric] Holder, the Attorney General, and maybe in consultation with advisers in the White House -- perhaps even former Constitutional Law professor President Obama.  Have you thought about that?
Heidi Boghosian: There's no doubt that this originates from the top.  This comes from the Oval Office.  This now is a hallmark of the Obama administration.  One of the interesting developments is that at the same time as the same time these raids took place, the Obama administration announced it was supporting new regulations to compell popular internet messaging services like Facebook, Blackberry, to open up their systems to FBI surveilance.  So it was reported right after the raids and one may wonder if the raids are also a distraction from pushing through this kind of legislation that more deeply erodes our fundmental rights to privacy.
Michael S. Smith: I think it's ominous.  There was discussion last month about their ability to turn off the internet so that those of us that had hopes about the internet being this marvelous way to organize, you know, unless you have meetings where you actually, physically rub shoulders with people, we could be in a lot of trouble because they'll turn off our lights.
Heidi Boghosian:  Michael, I think it's worth noting also that we see greater repression on the part of the government at times when the popular movement begins to have measures of success. So, for example, we've seen the creations of domestic anti-terrorism laws aimed at shutting down the very successful animal rights welfare movement in this country, the environmental movement -- laws that were particularly designed to penalize actions that are related to those two groups.  Why?  I think because they've had success. 
Michael S. Smith: I think that you're absolutely correct. Look at the three sorts of groups that were targeted in the September 24th raids.  One of the people, Abudayyeh, a Palestinian living in Chicago was the head of the solidarity movement in Chicago of the Palestinian people. And this is coming just a time when more and more Americans and particularly more and more Jewish Americans and younger Jewish Americans are disgusted with Israel's policy towards Palestinians and want to change.  Or, a second example, the Twin Cities' Antiwar Movement against the escalating war in Afghanistan and the fake pull-out from Iraq and the drone bombings in Pakistan, this excellent group of antiwar activists in Minneapolis gets targeted.
Heidi Boghosian: Now we saw that under the [Richard Tricky Dick] Nixon administration, we had the same kind of crackdown on domestic dissent .  We had the use of grand juries as fishing expeditions  to gather personal information rather than to seek an indictment.  We had raids, we had the villification of activists as subversive entities.  We've seen the use of informants.  And I'm going to mention the case of the RNC 8 which happened during the 2008 RNC in the Twin Cities.  Individuals were arrested, their homes raided, materials confiscated on the basis of search warrants that had been based on informants false information.  What happens?  Then these individuals are caught up in the legal system for two or more years.  That, in and of itself, is a disruption of one's life, costly even if they get lawyers who donate some of their services, it still brings an enormous cost to their lives and their immediate community.  Now, in a postivie development, but I think it's telling about where these indictments come from, recently charges were dropped against three of the RNC 8.   There are four remaining who will stand trial on October 25th of this year.  But I think the fact that the charges were dropped is an indication that there really was nothing other than rhetorical speech --  "Shut down the convention" -- and good organizing on the part of these individuals.  And I should remind you that these individuals did nothing other than organize and the police are saying that one or two acts of vandalism or property damage that happened at the RNC are the direct result of that and they tie them in under state terrorism laws to riot.  But we see this, what I think is pre-emptive punishment that sends a chilling message of 'If you are an organizer, if you have literature that calls for people to take action, you risk arrest under severe anti-terrorism  statutes.  And you risk not only having your life ruined but the specter of decades in prison.
Michael S. Smith: And the movement that you're part of being sidetracked and depleted in its effort to defend you.  And you risk having your computer taken and downloaded.  Your Blackberry, same thing.  The list of how your organization raises money and who gives it, same thing. This is what they ripped off when they went into these various homes and offices on September 24th.
Heidi Boghosian: Well they're building enormous data banks and what they call terrorists watch lists. And the government itself has admitted that a lot of the information on these lists is inaccurate but there's no way to get your name off it once you're there. And as you know, it's shared widely with law enforcement all around the country.
Michael S. Smith: Believe me, I know.  Every time I try to get on the airplane.  Heidi, when the FBI knocks, what do you do?
Heidi Boghosian: It is crucial that if anyone listening to this show is contacted by the FBI or if your friends or family members are, that you do not talk to them. You just say, "I would like to consult with my lawyer. May I have your business card? My lawyer will get back to you."  Never say anything because anything you say, no matter how seemingly mundane --  answering a question: Do you live here?,   Is your name such and such? -- can be used against you in further grand jury proceedings.
Michael S. Smith: Well they can go after you saying that you lied to them. Don't talk to them.  Call your lawyer. Call our hotline. Get out a pencil.  Heidi, give them the hotline.
Heidi Boghosian: If you're visited by the FBI, you can call the NLG's Hotline. It's 888-NLG-ECOL. Or 888-654-3265. 
Michael S. Smith: Heidi, please repeat the hotline.
Heidi Boghosian: The hotline is 888-NLG-ECOL.  And how you can remember that is that originally we started this as a hotline for environmental and animal rights activists so it was for ecology.  It was Eco Law but we shortened it.
Michael S. Smith:  It may be that the government bit off more than it could chew here, that democratic rights are cherished by a lot of people in this country.  In the wake of their September 24th raids, demonstrations were called to happen simultaneously in 27 cities across the country. So we can fight back on this one, we can win on this one. We can shame them and hold them off.
Heidi Boghosian: I think the response has been great and it must continue to have a groundswell of support from everyone who cares about protecting their Constitutional rights.
Again, the plan is to note the discussion with Jim later in the week.  And later in the week, there's an event this week in NYC:

For immediate release   

Contact: Kimber Heinz, National Organizing Coordinator, War Resisters League (NYC) cell: (941) 266-8033, 

A cross-section of local and national community, legal, and global justice organizations will speak in New York City on the ninth anniversary of the Afghanistan war and will be available for interview on-site at the press conference and by phone. 


WHO: Former Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya, members of Iraq Veterans against the War, organizers with the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, Human Rights attorney Pardiss Kebriaei from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Iraqi refugee organizer Fatima Hindi, representatives from the Freedom Party of NY State, immigrant youth members of Vamos Unidos, and national organizers from the War Resisters League

WHEN: Thursday, October 7 -- 11am 

WHERE: Center for Place, Culture and Politics, CUNY Graduate Center – room TBA [365 Fifth Avenue, between E 34th and 35th Street]   

WHAT: On the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, veterans, community organizations, and global justice activists will gather in Manhattan for a press conference with the united message that the ongoing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is "bad for Afghan people of all genders, bad for U.S. soldiers, and bad for the people of the U.S."

VISUALS/DETAILS: Personal testimony from a cross-section of speakers from represented groups and organizations, including a statement from former Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya and members of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW) on the day of their Operation Recovery campaign launch. Members of represented organizations will be available for interview on-site.   

More information on Operation Recovery:

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Middle East
Oct 19, 2010   

Why call not it a 'Petraeus Village'?

By Spengler

"May his name be blotted out!" declares the most terrible Hebrew curse. History has devised a curse more terrible still, that is, to have one's memory blotted out, all except for a name that popular usage links to disaster.

Schoolchildren no longer learn about King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who won battles against Rome at such heavy cost that he lost the war, but everyone knows that a "Pyrrhic victory" is to be avoided. Few remember Grigory Potyomkin (1739-1791), Catherine the Great's statesman and lover, but everyone knows the idiom "Potemkin Village", a facade constructed to deceive passing inspection.

Why not call it "Petraeus village"? General David Petraeus, now America's commander in Afghanistan, pacified Iraq by putting 100,000 fighters for the country's Sunni minority on the American payroll. Now that America has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq and the Shi'ite-majority government in Baghdad has embraced Iran's military arm, the Sunni fighters are quitting by the thousand, and joining the anti-government guerrilla movement associated with al-Qaeda. This we learn from the October 17 New York Times:
Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters - many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military - appear to have rejoined al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.

The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shi'ite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from al-Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq's inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided al-Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters.
On September 27, the Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government had fired Sunni police officers in Anbar province.

When Petraeus held the Iraq command, he put over 100,000 Sunni gunmen on the American payroll, offering them money and weapons to lie low for the interim. That arrangement lasted until the government of Nuri al-Maliki invited the Iranian-backed party of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to join his government - the same Muqtada whose Mahdi Army battled American forces for control of Sadr City in 2004. News reports on October 15 cited unnamed Washington sources saying that the Obama administration would end its support for Maliki if he allied with Muqtada, although it is not clear what that might entail.

Sectarian war is playing out in the predictable way, and America will have nothing to show for a trillion dollars' worth of "nation-building" and several thousand dead soldiers except a civil war much bloodier than might have occurred without America's provision of money and guns to the Sunni Awakening. In May, I reviewed this likelihood in an essay titled General Petraeus' Thirty Years War (Asia Times Online, May 4, 2010.)

The "surge" turns out to be the facade of a Potemkin - or perhaps we should say Petraeus - village, a facade like the old Hollywood Western sets, behind which prospective combatants oil their weapons and refill their magazines.

The Republican establishment hailed the "surge" as proof that the George W Bush administration's nation-building exercise had succeeded, and Petraeus has been invited to address every conservative association from the American Enterprise Institute to Commentary magazine.

Last week, I heard a prominent conservative commentator brag to a conservative gathering (off the record) that the surge reduced American war deaths in Iraq in July 2008 to only one, while the military's monthly average rate of accidental death was three. What about Iran?, the conservative sage was asked. The American public simply isn't ready for the consequences of bombing Iran, he explained: if we were to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, the result would be a terrible outbreak of terrorism, along with a spike in oil prices.

I stared into my souffle. How did it come to the point that America had to fear retaliation by Iran? In effect, this conservative opinion-maker conceded what I have alleged since 2004, in this publication and elsewhere, that Washington had a de facto agreement with Iran: do not make trouble in Iraq, and we will let you build up your nuclear capacity as well as your terrorist capabilities elsewhere.

The chairman of President Barack Obama's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, admitted as much in a March 16, 2009, interview with Charlie Rose: "What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it's the unintended consequences. It's the further destabilization in the region. It's how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn't predict."

In return for a temporary truce in Iraq - a truce that is now crumbling as Iran inserts its military proxies into the Baghdad government and the Sunni fighters defect - America allowed Iran time to possibly produce weapons-grade uranium, stock Hezbollah in Lebanon with advanced missiles, and deploy terrorist networks wherever it wanted.

All of this is blowing up in America's face, along with the twin farce in Afghanistan. The same talking heads who cheer-led the Bush administration claim that the problem is that Obama has encouraged the enemy by signaling his desire to withdraw. They know perfectly well that American voters cannot make sense of why so much blood and treasure has been poured into countries about which they care little.

Organizations exist in order to protect their members from the consequences of error, and that is as true of the organs of the conservative movement as any other. Collectively and individually, the Republicans cannot easily admit that the whole business of nation-building was a gigantic blunder, not after a trillion dollars and four thousand dead.

The right-wing social engineers who planted the idea into the impressionable mind of Bush have their reputations to defend, and they will circle the wagons and fight to the death. Academics, journalists and think-tankers live hand to mouth, and have nothing to justify their next paycheck except for their street cred. No matter what the outcome, and no matter how deep the accumulation of facts, they will not admit error. If only Obama had continued the Bush policy, they insist, we would have triumphed in Iraq.

No one has excoriated Obama's foreign policy more than I (Life and premature death of Pax Obamicana Asia Times Online, December 24, 2009).
But it seems self-serving to blame the present administration for the vast expansion of Iran's power.

Last week Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad toured Lebanon like a triumphant overlord and threatened Israel with destruction. How did Lebanon turn into an Iranian protectorate? The Bush administration bears a great deal of responsibility for promoting the delusion that Hezbollah could be enticed into Lebanon's parliamentary system. Bush personally offered the idiotic thought that once Hezbollah officials had to fix potholes they would abandon their declared ambition to turn the Middle East into an Iranian-led Islamic Republic. On March 16, 2006, Bush told the press:
Our policy is this: We want there to be a thriving democracy in Lebanon. We believe that there will be a thriving democracy, but only if - but only if - Syria withdraws ... her troops completely out of Lebanon ... I like the idea of people running for office. There's a positive effect when you run for office. Maybe some will run for office and say, vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America. I don't know, I don't know if that will be their platform or not. But it's - I don't think so. I think people who generally run for office say, vote for me, I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes, or making sure you got bread on the table.
The Bush administration failed to scotch the Persian serpent when the costs of doing so would have been limited. These costs, though, would have been borne first of all by American troops in Iraq in constant contact with a hostile population. If attacked, Iran - just as Mullen explained - would have used such proxies as Muqtada's Mahdi Army to kill Americans. The Bush administration would have paid for it at the polls, which it did, despite the Potemkin, er, Petraeus Village success of the "surge". To dig Iran out of Lebanon today would require drastic action. It will be ugly, and to some extent it will be the fault of the Bush administration.

American voters are in a mood to blame Obama, and rightly so; his economic policy has failed miserably and he has no cards left to play. Republicans will blame him for strategic disaster as well, and Obama surely deserves his share of the blame. After the mid-term elections, though, and the likely loss of a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, Obama will demand of the Republicans: "What would you do?" The Republican answer cannot be to send American combat troops back to Iraq. They will try to blame Obama for the failure of a war that he inherited, and it will not wash with the voters.

At some point, the Republicans, if they wish to govern, will have to explain to the American public that America needs to fight fire with fire, asymmetric warfare against asymmetric warfare. There are many ways to do this, ranging from cyber-war to promotion of competing Islamic heresies, as I suggested in a September 14, 2010 essay (Terry Jones, asymmetrical warrior).

None of them are pleasant, and none of them should be discussed in detail. But in some fashion, the Republicans must explain to the voters that rather than wasting American blood and treasure in a quest to stabilize fractious and fragile countries in the Middle East, America will do what it far easier and more effective; that is, destabilize its enemies.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, senior editor at First Things magazine.
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« Reply #126 on: October 19, 2010, 05:29:22 am »

Middle East
Oct 20, 2010 

And the winner is ... Muqtada

By Pepe Escobar

Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki hit Tehran this Monday. He was duly received by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and talked extensively to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, still beaming after his rock-star tour of Lebanon last week.

Maliki visited the holy city of Qom, described Iran-Iraq relations as "strategic" and called for even deeper Iran-Iraq cooperation. A good time was had by all - but certainly not the Armageddon-warning brigade in Washington.

Now let's shine some light over the broader context. Take this headline; "White House demands Maliki oust [Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-]Sadr from coalition." Anyone repressing uncontrollable rolls of laughter wins a sheesh kebab.

All through these interminable seven months since the Iraq elections on March 7, the Barack Obama administration said it would "not interfere" in internal Iraqi politics. Even the ghosts of the whores of Babylon knew Washington wanted its own favored, slightly pro-Western "coalition" in power - a Maliki-Iyad Allawi "cohabitation", as the French put it, with that Arab version of Tony Soprano, former Central Intelligence Agency asset and former "butcher of Fallujah" Allawi as prime minister. (See The new Saddam, without a moustache Asia Times Online, July 16, 2004.)

Now it turns out Washington is involved in - guess what? - a whole lot of interfering. Maliki is set to actually remain in power - thanks to support by the Sadrist bloc. Allawi's Iraqiya List had slightly more seats (91) than Maliki's list (89), but not enough to form a government. At the same time, the Sadrists became predominant over the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Iraqi National Alliance (10% of the 325 contested seats). Even said ghosts of the whores of Babylon also knew that after the elections the real kingmaker in Iraq would continue to be Muqtada.


Oh, those were the days when "firebrand" Muqtada was the Pentagon's top bogeyman - even bigger than Osama bin Laden, routinely described as "the most dangerous man in Iraq". It was so much easier to try to take him out than to deal with his nationalist appeal.

Today, only armchair "strategists" in Washington can actually believe that Maliki will tremble in his brogues and show Muqtada the door; for in that case Maliki would literally kiss his majority coalition goodbye.

As much as the Obama administration wanted a Maliki-Allawi cohabitation, Tehran wanted a Maliki-Muqtada cohabitation. Guess who's the winner - again; not only the regime in Tehran, but also the Shi'ite clerics in Iraq. With an important point to be considered; just because Muqtada himself is studying in Qom to become an ayatollah, that does not mean that Baghdad will be ruled from Tehran.

Western media have often spun that Iran masterminded a sort of coup d'etat in Baghdad. It's much more subtle than that.

Tehran abundantly knew the many reasons why Muqtada would not ally the Sadrists with Maliki. So they set in motion a very skillful diplomatic chess game operating first via religious channels.

Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, Muqtada's spiritual adviser, asked him to give Maliki a try. Then last month, Maliki sent his chief of staff to Qom along with Abdul Halim al-Zuhairi from his Da'wa party to talk in person to Muqtada.

Hezbollah's Mohamed Kawtharani came from Beirut, and they were all joined by General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the al-Quds Brigades of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Then Ahmadinejad met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on his way to the United Nations in New York - Ahmadinejad did a tour de force to convince Assad that Maliki was OK.

To top it all, Supreme Leader Khamenei - not to mention eminent Qom elders - and Hezbollah's secretary general Hassan Nasrallah gave their final imprimatur to the Muqtada-Maliki cohabitation.

No wonder an outmaneuvered Washington is now on overdrive warning once again of a "Shi'ite crescent" - that figment of the imagination of those wildly democratic heavens such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait. As for the Allawi camp, its spin mantra - very popular in US corporate media - is that Iran is taking over Iraq. In a late September interview to German weekly Der Spiegel, Allawi insisted fear prevailed everywhere and war could soon break out all across the Middle East.

Obama may have declared the end of the Iraqi war to all those gullible enough to swallow it - but the fact remains that thousands of US troops will continue to be in Iraq even after the December 2011 withdrawal deadline, which in itself will be fought one Bradley vehicle at a time by the Pentagon. No one will know for quite a while what sort of military agreement will be struck by the - still - US occupiers and a theoretically sovereign Iraqi government. Needless to say that the Pentagon - religiously following the "full-spectrum dominance" doctrine - will pull out all stops to keep at least a handful of military bases inside Iraq.

These latest developments anyway seem to be producing three inalterable facts.

Number one. Baghdad will have a Tehran-friendly and Shi'ite-friendly government, with intertwined strategic interests. But that does not mean it will be ruled by Tehran. Sunnis will have to included; otherwise civil war will be back (not that it ever left; what General David "counter-insurgency or bust" Petraeus managed to do was to sell to a gullible US public opinion a "surge" as a fake victory).

Number two. All that oil. Iraq's proven oil reserves now stand at 143.1 billion barrels, up from 115 billion barrels. That makes them the third-largest in the world, above Iran, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Oil exports account for 95% of Baghdad's revenue. And most of the new oil will be exploited by Chinese, Russian and Asian companies, not US Big Oil. So much for the neo-conservative dream of a US-controlled Iraq as "the new OPEC".

Number three. The final nail in the coffin of the neo-conservative fantasy of a Greater Middle East as an American lake. And to believe that these people still have a shot at being back at the helm of the US government by November 2012. Uncle Marx, we miss you so much; history does prefer to repeat itself as farce.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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« Reply #127 on: October 25, 2010, 09:56:17 am »

Beyond Kingmaker: Moqtada al-Sadr and the Future of Iraq

Posted on Oct 24, 2010
By Scott Ritter

A supporter holds up a poster of religious, political and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

More than seven months have passed since the national elections in Iraq on March 7. So far no government has been formed, and it is unlikely that one will emerge before year’s end, if at all. This election was touted by the United States as the vehicle that would produce an Iraqi government capable of unifying a divided nation, and in doing so provide a level of stability and security that would justify President Barack Obama’s decision to remove all combat troops from Iraq by August 2010. Instead, it has become clear that Iraq, some seven years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein at the hands of a U.S.-led invasion, remains a deeply fractured country unable to produce a democratically elected central government capable of bringing the nation together. This ongoing political paralysis paves the way for the resurgence of both major sectarian fighting and an anti-government insurgency that would severely erode whatever limited progress Iraq has made in the post-Saddam era.

That the March 2010 election in Iraq produced such an inconclusive result should not have come as a surprise to anyone. The foundation upon which this election was constructed was unsound both in form and substance. While Iraq possessed an elected parliament under Saddam Hussein, the lack of any viable opposition to the one-party rule of the Baathists made elections a strictly pro forma exercise whose outcome was preordained by the powers that were. Political power under Saddam was dependent upon tribal relationships with the president’s family, and the political machinations of the president and his inner circle. Baath Party membership was a prerequisite, which had less to do with ideology to a cause than loyalty to the president. The president was the state, and state institutions became, by extension, a commodity carefully doled out by the president as a means of rewarding loyalty and maintaining political balance. While inefficient and undesirable from a democratic perspective, the system of government under Saddam Hussein possessed both a discipline and predictability that provided a foundation of consistency and reliability that is lacking in Iraq today.

The overthrow of Saddam and the Baathist Party in 2003 left Iraq as a nation bereft of not only any basic framework of government, but, more important, any unifying leadership. While logic dictated that the soundest course of action would have been to preserve the existing governmental institutions that had existed under Saddam, especially those dealing with security, and install a new leadership dedicated to reforming these institutions from within, the U.S. occupation authority, known as the Coalition Provisional Authority (or CPA, headed by Paul Bremer), chose instead to eradicate any institution or agency formally associated with Saddam or the Baathist Party. The CPA then simultaneously inserted a new governmental authority required to not only confront the formidable task of governing a nation torn by decades of conflict, but to do so while building new institutions from the ground up. The end result was a virtual collapse of centralized government in Iraq and the outbreak of chaos and anarchy, which manifested as a growing resistance to the U.S.-led occupation, in turn thrusting the American military into a nation-building role it neither wanted nor was prepared to execute. This process, involving the formation of an interim government and constitution that oversaw the preparations and conduct of national elections in January 2005, failed to produce either viable Iraqi governmental institutions or the requisite supporting social and legal frameworks necessary for any government to succeed. As such, successive Iraqi governments and elections, including the recently concluded March 2010 elections, have been deeply flawed.

One of the primary criticisms of the January 2005 election, and that which followed in December 2005, is that it made use of a “closed list” system of voting that saw the people of Iraq able to vote only for political parties that had been positively vetted by the CPA. These parties, in turn, designated a slate of candidates. The election was not about the individuals, but rather the parties, and it was up to the parties to designate which candidates would fill the allocated seats. This system of closed lists was insisted upon by the Shiite-dominated parties, and agreed to by the Iraqi Kurdish parties, as the best mechanism available to assure themselves of attaining political control of post-Saddam Iraq following decades of domination at the hands of the Iraqi Sunni minority. Through this system, the Shiites won a majority of seats in the provisional parliament that emerged following the January 2005 election, and took control of the process of crafting a new Iraqi constitution and election law, which again made use of the closed list system of voting in the December 2005 election that produced Iraq’s first constitutionally elected prime minister of the post-Saddam era.

The closed system of voting, while successful in securing political power for the Shiites and the Kurds, failed in its effort to elect an individual capable of running the nation of Iraq. In 2005, the Shiites of Iraq were split into three major competing political constituencies—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI (an Iranian-backed anti-Saddam movement), the Islamic Dawa Party (a Shiite fundamentalist movement formed in the late 1950s that violently opposed Saddam Hussein), and the Sadrist movement (composed of Shiite backers of Moqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi cleric from a distinguished Shiite religious family, who resisted Saddam Hussein’s rule from within the country).  All three were encouraged by the premier Shiite religious leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to cooperate with one another to achieve the goal of Shiite political dominance. It was Sistani who had insisted on holding the elections in January 2005, and for these elections to be conducted using the closed list system. The Shiite coalition prevailed in the elections, and it was widely assumed that the political head of SCIRI, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, would become prime minister. But Hakim refused the post, believing he could exercise more power from outside government than within, and the job instead went to the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, Ibrahim Jaafari. Thus, from its infancy, the post-Saddam Iraqi government was undermined by weak central leadership susceptible to outside influence.

Jaafari replaced the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who owed his political power more to his former associations with Western intelligence services (the CIA and MI-6) than any popularity engendered among the Iraqi people. Allawi, as the head of the foreign intelligence-funded Iraqi National Alliance (INA), carried out anti-Saddam activities including the planning and implementation of a failed coup attempt in June 1996. It is this status as an anti-Saddam leader that the CPA believed would give Allawi credibility as an Iraqi political figure. But Allawi’s tenure as Iraqi prime minister was contentious, with resistance to the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq rapidly escalating. Under Allawi, Iraq supported several major American military operations, including two, against the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah and the Shiite religious center of Najaf, which proved to be extremely controversial among the Iraqi people given the level of violence inflicted upon the local populations. Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord Party fared poorly in the January 2005 election, and Allawi was replaced by Jaafari in April 2005. Allawi’s Iraq National Accord did even worse in the December 2005 elections, and while his party participated in the unity government that was formed from that election, Allawi himself did not take a seat in Parliament.

Ibrahim Jaafari was, at the time of his selection as prime minister, the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, which was founded for the purpose of promoting Islamic rule in Iraq. In the 1970s the Dawa Party began waging an armed struggle against Saddam Hussein’s regime, leading to a violent crackdown against Dawa that drove Jaafari and others into exile. Jaafari left Iraq for Iran in 1980, where he represented the Dawa Party and where, in 1983, he brought the Dawa Party into the fold of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an umbrella group of anti-Saddam Shiites who made common cause with Iran in its war against Iraq. Dawa by that time had been severely weakened in its fight with Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Jaafari found both himself and his party politically subordinated to Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI. 

The Dawa-SCIRI relationship was strained over SCIRI’s close relationship with Iran. With Iran’s strong support, SCIRI became the dominant Iraqi Shiite military and political force confronting Saddam Hussein, and when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, forcing Saddam out of power, SCIRI, headed by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (who headed the military wing of SCIRI, known as the Badr organization), became the dominant political force in Iraq. When Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim was assassinated in August 2003, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim took over as the head of SCIRI. But Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was more interested in cementing his role as the political leader of Iraq’s Shiites than he was in solving the myriad problems the country faced. His decision to allow Jaafari to become prime minister allowed the Shiites to continue to lead Iraq, but deflected any fault in the governance of Iraq away from SCIRI and onto its political rival, Dawa.

Hakim’s political maneuvering proved to be a dual-edged sword. Jaafari, a compromise leader weakened by a growing sectarian conflict and ongoing anti-U.S. insurgency, was never able to effectively govern, ran afoul of the U.S. government over charges of ineffective leadership and was forced to step down from office. Nouri al-Maliki, who at the time served as the deputy Iraqi prime minister, assumed his position by default, replacing Ibrahim al-Jaafari in April 2006. Malaki, like Jaafari, was a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party. From 1979 until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, he had helped organize Dawa’s guerrilla war against Saddam Hussein from exile in Syria (1979-1982 and 1990-2003) and Iran (1982-1990).

Jaafari’s ouster as prime minister reinforced Hakim’s astute observation that the prime minister’s office was a political minefield. But it also paved the way for a new post-Saddam political constituency, this time under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki. Prior to being selected as prime minister, Maliki was a little-known political figure whose primary reputation had been derived from overseeing the de-Baathification efforts of the Jaafari government. The United States made common cause with Maliki’s government in cracking down on the Sunni-based insurgency, something that helped cement his reputation as being prejudiced against the Iraqi Sunni community, and elevated his status among many, but not all, in the Iraqi Shiite community. In an effort to consolidate his political power, Nouri al-Maliki confronted Moqtada al-Sadr, who headed a powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, which openly challenged both the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as well as the American-allied Iraqi security forces directed by Maliki. Maliki’s Iraqi constituency is derived more from his status as a U.S.-backed authority, and the power that brings, than any grass-roots draw among the population.

It was the “surge” of American combat power in 2006-2007, more than anything else, that established Maliki’s authority to govern. This authority has been openly challenged by Sadr, who insists that Iraq be governed by Iraqis who are free of outside influence. Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in open conflict with U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi Army in 2004, and again in 2006. A ceasefire prompted by the U.S. surge of military forces in 2007 led to the demobilization of much of the Mahdi Army, but, in 2008, open conflict again erupted when Maliki ordered his forces to confront and dismantle the Mahdi Army. The near-civil war that erupted as a result created fissures from within the Shiite political coalition that had won the 2005 elections.

In an effort to secure the continuation of Shiite-dominated rule, Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for a change in Iraq’s election laws, replacing the closed list ballots of the past with a new open list system that empowered the electorate to vote for individuals rather than political parties. In this way, a political figure like Maliki could remain viable even though his political coalition was not. But the open list system turned out to be a debacle. The required new Iraqi election laws were not passed by Parliament until November 2009, delaying the election until March 2010. The emergence of numerous new political parties only confused an Iraqi electorate still new to the concept of national elections. The March 2010 election not only failed to produce an outright winner, but created the conditions in which a viable coalition government was virtually impossible to form.

The 2008 fighting between the Iraqi army and the Mahdi Army widened the existing fissure between Maliki and Sadr, and prompted Sadr to change his approach toward politics in Iraq, shifting away from militant conflict and toward obtaining broad electoral legitimacy. While avoiding direct military confrontation with both the U.S. military and the Iraqi army, Sadr continued to condemn the ongoing U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as well as the government of Nouri al-Maliki, which Sadr characterized as an extension of the occupation. Sadr understood that if he were ever to be able to mount a successful challenge to an Iraqi government that derived its power from the U.S. occupation, he would have to do so from outside the existing political system. While he continued to participate within the Iraqi government by proxy, with his party holding enough seats in the Iraqi Parliament to influence legislation, Sadr himself withdrew to Iran, where he began intense religious studies at a Shiite seminary, or hawza, in the holy city of Qom. Sadr’s goal is to complete his studies and obtain the religious rank of ayatollah, thereby positioning himself to succeed the aging Ayatollah Ali Sistani as the senior-most Shiite religious authority, not only in Iraq but the entire Shiite world.

Sadr understands only too well the importance of religion in Iraq today, especially among the Shiites who make up some 60 percent of the population. While many in the West view Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government he heads as the ultimate authority in Iraq, the reality is that nothing of significance emerges from that government, whether relating to security or Iraqi oil contracts, without the support and blessing of Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Sistani has long favored religious authorities taking a behind-the-scenes approach toward politics, known as “quietism.” This approach differs starkly from the active, often militant, approach taken by not only Moqtada al-Sadr, but also SCIRI, which under the leadership of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was more sympathetic to the Vilayet i-Faqih (governance of the supreme jurisprudence) philosophies of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, a concept that Sistani remains vehemently opposed to.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose father had been a senior Shiite leader, was positioning himself to be the heir apparent to Sistani. His death from cancer in 2009 created a huge leadership gap among not only SCIRI, but also the Iraqi Shiites. His son, Ammar al-Hakim, took over as the political head of SCIRI (renamed in 2007 as the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, or SIIC). Ammar, however, lacks both the personality and background of his father, and the influence of the SIIC has waned under his leadership. In 2009 SIIC joined with the Sadrists and others to create a coalition party, the National Iraqi Alliance. The National Iraqi Alliance was headed not by Ammar al-Hakim, but rather former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who left the Dawa Party. Sadr, sequestered in Iran for his religious studies, did not directly participate in the National Iraqi Alliance, choosing to let his subordinates assume that role. In the March 2010 elections, the National Iraqi Alliance won 70 seats, making it a critical force in the creation of any coalition government which may yet emerge. It is this ability to influence the future course of political affairs in Iraq that has earned Moqtada al-Sadr the title of kingmaker. But such a notion is shortsighted. Sadr doesn’t simply want to influence Iraqi politics—he wants to dominate, and he will do so in a fashion that will make him more “king” than any prime minister the National Iraqi Alliance might assist in elevating to temporary political office.

The selection of Ibrahim Jaafari as the head of the National Iraqi Alliance reflects not only the declining political influence of Ammar al-Hakim and SIIC, but also the growing importance of religious-based political ideology in the future politics of Iraq. SIIC has gravitated away from the Iranian-influenced philosophy of “rule of the supreme jurisprudent,” and toward the quietism of Ali Sistani, diminishing its activism role. Jaafari, on the other hand, as the former head of the Dawa Party, continues to embrace a political ideology derived from the teachings of one of Dawa’s founders, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, who professed a philosophy known as Vilayet al-Ummah, or “governance of the people.” Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, the father-in-law of Moqtada al-Sadr, had initiated the exploration of “governance of the people” as a theological-political ideology, but had not finalized it prior to his execution at the hands of Saddam Hussein in 1980.

Despite his untimely death, the basic constructs of Baqir al-Sadr’s political theory were clear: The legitimacy of an Islamic government comes from the people, not the clerics. Islamic government represents the blending of the people, who are God’s trustees on earth, and the prophets, who are God’s witnesses. The lineage of those who bear witness to God’s word is, in the Shiite faith, traced from the Prophet, to the imams who constituted a direct continuation of the Prophet, and then to the Marja, or religious authorities. While the witness lineage remained intact, Islamic governance would be conducted under its sole auspices. However, since most Shiites believe that the line of the imams terminated during the time of the 12th imam, the concept of governance by those who bear direct witness to God’s word has likewise been broken. As such, according to Baqir al-Sadr, the role of governance has been divided so that the trustees of God’s word, i.e. the people, are directly responsible for government, while the witnesses, or Marja, would supervise the Muslim faith. As such, Baqir al-Sadr was a fervent believer in direct democratic elections of a government by the people to be governed. Baqir al-Sadr died before he could finish his concepts on the role of the Marja in “governance of the people,” but based upon his writings, it is believed that he viewed the Marja’s role as being limited to protecting any deviations from religious doctrine that would threaten the Muslim ideology.

While Sadr had served as an influential cleric in Baghdad during and after Saddam’s rule, his influence was limited to conventional political affairs, since he lacked the formal religious education necessary to issue fatwas, or religious edicts. Sadr has the benefit of learning from historical precedent in terms of how to pursue his religious training. When the Ayatollah Khomeini died in Iran, he chose as his successor Ali Khamenei, a Shiite cleric who lacked the formal religious training to legitimately serve as a Marja, or jurisprudent. As such, Khamenei’s role as “supreme jurisprudent” was significantly diminished, as was his viability as a political leader. Khamenei’s supporters rushed the Iranian leader through a crash course in Shiite theology, allowing Khamenei to assume the title of ayatollah, and with it the position of supreme jurisprudent. But many Shiite religious authorities do not recognize Khamenei’s position, and his effectiveness as a leader has suffered as a result.

Moqtada al-Sadr understands the importance of legitimacy when it comes to positioning himself as a religious authority capable of challenging Ali Sistani. The decision by Sadr to call for a “people’s referendum” following the inconclusive results of the March 2010 elections underscores the fact that he has embraced the “governance of the people” ideology of his father-in-law. As such, Sadr can afford to remain in Qom, deep in his studies, while the issues of governance are worked out by his “trustees,” in this case Ibrahim Jaafari and others. Sadr will continue to study in an effort to finish his father-in-law’s work, namely the matter of defining the role of the Marja in overseeing the state of religion in a government elected by the people. While normally the path to ayatollah rank is a long one, the fact that Sadr is working off a foundation of religious study inherited from his father-in-law will help to hasten the process. It also allows Sadr the flexibility to decide when he is ready to assume his role as a religious leader. Unlike political leaders, who are held hostage by events out of their control, Sadr alone will be able to pick the time of his emergence. There is little doubt that this emergence will be done in a manner and time that maximize the political benefit to Sadr. 

Unlike Moqtada al-Sadr, who has cultivated an image as being in union with the people of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki has sought to foster the image of a law-and-order Iraqi politician. Backed up by American military, political and financial resources, Maliki was able to cobble together the illusion of a functioning government presiding over a stable nation. But this was only an illusion—the U.S.-led surge did little to resolve the underlying causes of the insurgency in Iraq, and the Iraqi government was beset with internal sectarian squabbles and rampant corruption that made the normal functions of governance impossible. In the Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq, the U.S. backed the formation of local Sunni militias, which, in exchange for a promise of greater political autonomy, agreed to assist the American military in the suppression of fundamentalist Islamic organizations such as Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI). This empowerment of the Sunnis made the Shiite-dominated government of Maliki nervous, and the stability achieved by the U.S.-brokered security arrangement with the Sunnis began to unravel as Maliki demanded that the Sunni militias disband and security be turned over to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security services.

It is this estrangement between Maliki and the Sunni that created the political opportunity for the re-emergence of Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who has allied with the disenfranchised Sunnis of Iraq. But both Maliki and Allawi are artificial constructs, neither deriving his position from the legitimate will of the Iraqi people. The reality is that the Iraqi democratic experiment, as manifested in the March 2010 elections, has failed. It is highly unlikely that a consensus-based unity government will be formed in the aftermath of the election, which saw no single party able to win enough seats to form a majority government.

Maliki and Allawi are both not only byproducts of the failure of Iraqi governance in the post-Saddam era, but the leading architects of this failure. Given the imperfect nature of Iraqi electoral processes, neither Allawi nor Maliki can claim his leadership to be reflective of the true will of the Iraqi people, and their current status only underscores the fragile nature of Iraq’s imperfect democratic institutions. There is little likelihood of a viable Iraqi government emerging from the debacle of the March 2010 election. As Maliki and Allawi squared off over their battle for the office of prime minister, their respective coalitions began to fracture and dissolve. Already there has been a decided spike in the level of sectarian violence not only in Iraq overall, but more ominously in Baghdad itself. The Sunnis who supported Allawi are divorcing themselves from the political process, choosing instead to return to the path of insurgency, raising the specter of renewed sectarian fighting. Maliki’s reputation of being the law-and-order leader of Iraq is likewise being tarnished by the new violence.

The inability of the Iraqi security forces to bring this violence under control (and there is no reason to be optimistic that they will ever be able to do so) is placing tremendous pressure on the United States. The deadline set by the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the United States and Iraq in December 2008 (during the Bush administration) requires all U.S. military forces to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011. While the level of violence is escalating in Iraq on a daily basis, it is unlikely that there will be any major outbreak of sectarian fighting until the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces has been accomplished. But Maliki and the United States are reaping what they sowed when they certified the surge of 2007 as a major success.

The surge accomplished nothing of substance. The Sunni insurgency is reforming, armed and trained by the United States over the past three years and operating with a political and financial base of support from Syria and Saudi Arabia, respectively. Despite the much-heralded killing of Abu Musab al-Zaqarwi in 2006, al-Qaida in Iraq has proved to be a resilient foe that has never been truly defeated. The Kurdish Peshmerg has never disarmed or disbanded, but rather serves as a de facto independent military force backed by the newly found oil wealth of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Badr Brigade continues to operate, either as an independent militia or morphed into one of the various “official” security services which exist in Iraq today. And Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army likewise waits in the shadows, a large and viable force that can switch from political activism to militancy overnight. All sides are preparing for open warfare once the withdrawal of American forces is complete. The Iraqi army exists in name only. Once a major outbreak of sectarian fighting commences, it is highly likely the security services Washington is relying upon to hold Iraq together will themselves dissolve, breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines. 

The principal beneficiary from the political collapse of Maliki and Allawi will be the Iraqi National Alliance. Moqtada al-Sadr has reached out to the Sunnis of Iraq in the past, most notably in 2004 when he sent his fighters and supplies to assist in the battle for Fallujah. There is every reason to believe Sadr will continue to reach out to the Sunnis as they lose faith in Ayyad Allawi’s ability to deliver any discernable political result. Maliki’s coalition is heavy with secular-minded Shiites who reject the kind of heavy-handed form of Islamic government that had been the mainstay of SCIRI and Hakim, but who very well might rally around the more subtle approach that seems to be the trademark of Sadr’s “governance of the people.” Of equal importance, at a time when the interference of outside parties in the internal affairs of Iraq has manifested itself in growing resentment for those, like Maliki and Allawi, who are seen as the proxies of foreign interests, someone like Sadr, who is a true product of the Iraqi people, will have a viability that the others lack. Sadr is a reality that three of Iraq’s neighbors—Iran, Turkey and Syria—recognize and, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, embrace. Of all the political figures who factor in Iraq’s future, only Moqtada al-Sadr possesses the combination of domestic and regional support that will allow him to assume a leadership role. The fact that this role will be indirect, via the Shiite Marja he hopes to lead, only makes him more of a political threat to those who are opposed to him, since he will be largely immune from the vagaries of secular politics that are the bane of politicians everywhere.

While it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what the political landscape of Iraq will look like in the coming weeks, months and even years, what is clear is that those who currently aspire to run the Iraqi government will most probably not be in power. The future of Iraqi politics will more than likely be constructed around a new Iraqi government authority, one dominated by a newly anointed Ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr and his completed ideology of “governance of the people.” As demonstrated by his willingness to explore potential political partnerships with both Allawi and Maliki, Sadr has positioned himself as both a peacemaker and deal breaker.

But the reality is that even Moqtada al-Sadr cannot stop the looming violence in Iraq. Instead, he will distance himself from both the violence and those who will lead it, and maneuver to be a force of reconciliation. In this, he will be assisted by the governments of Turkey, Syria and Iran, which have stepped into the void of regional problem-solving created when the Bush administration embraced the military surge, rather than the alternatives offered by the Baker-Hamilton Report, which endorsed American diplomatic outreach to both Syria and Iran. Neither Islamic revolution nor nationalist dictatorship, a Sadr-dominated Iraq would come as close to constituting a legitimate democracy as one could hope for in a land beset with so many difficulties, if only given a chance. Moqtada al-Sadr’s role as an Iraqi kingmaker goes beyond the politics of the moment. Whether or not he can survive the looming civil war in Iraq, or the Machiavellian posturing of his numerous detractors, is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: Short of killing the king, Sadr is, and will continue to be, the principal player in Iraq for many years to come.

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« Reply #128 on: October 26, 2010, 05:30:57 am »

Published on Monday, October 25, 2010 by The Independent/UK

A Worse Record Than Saddam's

It could fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, suicide bombers and ugly attitudes towards the West. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong

by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Bad boy Julian Assange, the pretty, blondish founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks was hugely admired when he uncovered oppressors and political chicanery in places like China and Kenya, but now he takes on Western duplicity and crimes. Can't have that. This spawn of Beelzebub, say our masters, a traitor whose insolence is a crime against the secretive states of the US and UK. Disregard the pique and dyspepsia of officialdom. It is a distraction, smoke from fires deliberately started to stop us seeing what lies before us.

The audacious website first released confidential and candid material on the hellish war in Afghanistan and now opens up a new front, more than 400,000 classified US files documenting the previously untold horrors of the Iraq war. Revealed are countless atrocities and the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of US and British soldiers and Iraqi personnel who had joined the allies. Men were burnt, some had parts removed, others were killed slowly; women were shot, children too, killed before they grew. Anything goes, it seems, during a military conflict and no questions are asked. As an Israeli army trainer said, when asked about the death of Rachel Corrie, the young, pro-Palestinian activist mown down by an Israeli tank: "During war there are no civilians".

The authorities in Iraq did not investigate reports of abuse and killings. An Iraqi friend tells me the **** of girls, women, boys and men was widespread, a tool used both to intimidate and punish. Apparently, there are images from Abu Ghraib prison of these sadistic "punishments"; they were never released because of the feelings they could arouse in Muslim countries. So morally deformed are these men of war that they care more about inconvenient outrage than they do about crimes against the people they supposedly went to save. They should have heeded the words of Martin Van Creveld, an erudite Israeli war historian who compared the disastrous American Vietnam War with the Iraq adventure: "He who fights the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins, also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel." By this reasoning, to fight the weak who are not in any sense your enemy is extreme brutishness and totally self-defeating.

Key figures in the British Army and Government must have been privy to this information. They held their tongues and presumably sidestepped any ethical niggles. The Americans were in command and you don't get to lick the arse of the world's only superpower and then turn round and kick it. That, you understand, is the pact, the unbreakable deal behind our special relationship.

Manfred Novak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, says Obama's administration must investigate and come clean – after all, this President vowed to change the image and behaviour of the US which, for too long, has co-operated with tyrants and violated human rights across the world, including in Guantanamo Bay, which is still open and where captured, lost boys became broken men.

Fewer and fewer global citizens now believe the rapturous anthems and sombre panegyrics of God's own America. After this week, the number will have tumbled further, which, in some ways, is a pity. There is much to praise about the US, its history of perpetual resistance to unacceptable state power, its energy, creativity, business, intellectual and cultural buzz. When such a great nation does great wrong, its mirror is shattered and even if the shards are stuck back together again, the cracks will always remain. And when the custodian of the free world behaves so appallingly, how do we liberal Muslims promote democratic values across the Muslim world?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (sounding like a clone of Condi Rice) slammed the Wikileaks exposé and warned that lives of US civilians and forces and their allies were now in serious danger. At one level, I fear she is right. The internet traffic over the past two days has been so fast, furious and volatile, it could indeed fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, even more violence in unstable Iraq, suicide bombers in Afghanistan and ugly attitudes towards the West, home to millions of Muslims. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong. Innocent Iraqi people should never have been made to suffer by the allies and even the guilty should have faced due process to prove commitment to justice and decent values. When there was evidence of liberators behaving monstrously, action should have been taken and in the public eye. Clinton must know this, as a lawyer. It is a primary principle of her profession.

I wonder if some staunch supporters of the Iraq war will now think again about the purpose and execution of that illegal and vainglorious expedition. The sanctions and war killed, maimed and destroyed more civilians than Saddam did, even during the most diabolical periods of his rule. Blair, Bush and their armies have never had to face proper, international judicial interrogations. Now imagine good Muslims worldwide, who know all about universal rights, but can see that there is no universal accountability, that Third World despots are made to pay while others earn millions writing autobiographies and lecturing the world on good leadership and governance. Hundreds of savvy, smart, keenly aware young people email me from various Muslim states asking: "What's the point? They say one thing and do the opposite. They say they want to help us and kill our people. Why should we trust the British and Americans?"

What do our army commanders and American leaders advise me to tell these disenchanted Muslims? And Mr Blair, I wonder if he has some wise thoughts? He is, they tell me, still one of the greatest prime ministers this country has had. And his wife, the hot human rights lawyer, does she think these abuses her husband just might have known about should be investigated? No answers will be forthcoming. Those who took us into this war are not obliged to explain themselves, not liable. In that they are worse than the dictator they toppled. Not comfortable that thought, but true.

Copyright 2010 Independent Print Limited

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a Ugandan-born British journalist and author. Currently a regular columnist for The Independent and the Evening Standard, she is a well-known commentator on issues of immigration, diversity and multiculturalism. She is a founder member of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.


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« Reply #129 on: October 26, 2010, 05:38:18 am »

Published on Monday, October 25, 2010 by Al-Jazeera-English

'Crazy Horse' and Collateral Damage

Helicopter squadron that killed two Reuters journalists in 2007 was involved in other attacks that hurt civilians.

by Gregg Carlstrom

In June 2007, a US army Apache helicopter fired missiles at two "bongo trucks" - flatbed pickups – allegedly transporting "multiple persons with weapons" south of Baghdad. It remained in the area for several hours, and went on to fire several more missiles, despite the obvious presence of civilians.

Released documents reveal that the use of airstrikes increased dramatically in 2007, after General David Petraeus took over as the commander of US forces in Iraq, despite his public statements that airstrikes often "provide insurgents with a major propaganda victory." The US dropped 229 bombs in 2006, a number that surged to 1,447 in 2007.(Credit: Reuters/Dan Kitwood/Pool)

UAV observes 4X women at a house waving white sheets next to PB Dog. This is the same house that AIF were congregating at before attack run.

Continuing to observe for 10 min. then CRAYZ [sic] HORSE will engage PB Dog with rockets and Hellfire.

A total of six people were killed in the attack, with another person wounded.

The helicopter has the same call sign – "Crazy Horse 18" – as the one that killed two Reuters journalists and ten Iraqis in a shooting in July 2007. Wikileaks released a video of the incident, which clearly shows that at least some of the victims were unarmed, and that the pilots were almost indifferent to the death below.

"Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids to a battle," one of the pilots joked after hearing that a young girl was among his victims.

For reasons that are unclear, the leaked documents do not include any account of that raid. But "Crazy Horse 18" - either the same pilot, or a pilot from the same squadron - is involved in several other incidents that result in collateral damage or show an excessive use of force.

In perhaps the most egregious, the helicopter pursues and kills two militants riding in a truck who were allegedly carrying a tripod and tube used to launch mortars. The helicopter opened fire on the truck with its 30mm cannon, at which point the men got out and tried to surrender.

Crazyhorse 18 reports AIF got into a dump truck headed north, engaged and then they came out wanting to surrender. Crazyhorse 18 reports they got back into truck and are heading north. Crazyhorse 18 cleared to engage dumptruck. 1/227 lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets. Crazyhorse 18 reports they missed with Hellfire and individuals have ran into another shack. IH6 approves Crazyhorse 18 to engage shack. Crazyhorse 18 reports engaged and destroyed shack with 2X AIF. BDA is shack/dump truck destroyed.

The helicopter, in other words, pursued a group of men who attempted to surrender, firing missiles at them not once but twice.

It is impossible to say, based on the limited evidence in the report, whether the unit's lawyer was correct that the men driving the truck "can not surrender to aircraft".

There is a precedent, though, for just such surrenders: During the Vietnam War, for example, groups of North Vietnamese soldiers would surrender to American aircraft [1] to avoid being bombed with napalm. The aircraft would radio their location to ground troops, which then captured the soldiers and treated them as prisoners of war.

Another incident, in June 2007, has the Crazy Horse helicopter following a van through an apparently populated area.

Crazy Horse is going to engage as soon as van is in an open area. Silver van is now stopped at grid 45544 77884. Crazy Horse is inbound and shot with Hellfire. Crazy Horse is standing by due to possible colatural [sic] damage.

There is no follow-up to explain what, exactly, the "collateral damage" was.

'Total destruction'

The documents show, more generally, that the US often had spotty information about the civilian casualties - the "collateral damage" - caused by airstrikes.

US reliance on airpower

The US military carried out hundreds of airstrikes against targets in Iraq during the six years covered by the leaked documents. Many of them, though, improbably logged zero casualties - despite dropping hundreds of pounds of ordnance on targets.

In August 2005, for example, coalition forces received a report that al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters were "massing in a mansion" near Husaybah, a town along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border. They called in an airstrike:

A section of FWCAS engaged the building with (4) GBU-38s, resulting in approximately 75% destruction of the target. Another section of FW CAS attacked the mansion in order to completely destroy the building. FW engaged with (1) GBU-12 at 0231D. Complete destruction had not been achieved, so the target was attacked again with (1) GBU-12 each at 0255D and 0310D, both bombs were assessed as duds. Total destruction of the building was completed with (1)LMAV at 0333D.

GBU-38s and GBU-12s are both 500-pound bombs; the LMAV is a 125-pound missile. Discounting the two duds, US airplanes dropped 2,225 pounds of ordnance on the house, achieving "total destruction" in just over an hour. But not a single casualty was recorded.

Similarly, in September 2004, an F-15 fighter jet dropped two GBU-12s on an "objective" in Fallujah. "Good hits on target, BDA unknown," the report said, and recorded no casualties.

Contemporaneous news reports told a different story: The "objective" was a house, and eight people were present, including four women and two children. All of them were killed by the blast.

The documents also reveal that the use of airstrikes increased dramatically in 2007, after General David Petraeus took over as the commander of US forces in Iraq, despite his public statements that airstrikes often "provide insurgents with a major propaganda victory." The US dropped 229 bombs in 2006, a number that surged to 1,447 in 2007.

A similar trend is happening now in Afghanistan, where airstsrikes have increased by 172 per cent [2] since Petraeus took command.

© 2010 Al-Jazeera-English


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« Reply #130 on: October 27, 2010, 05:03:49 am »

Middle East
Oct 28, 2010


Aziz's story will remain untold

By Pepe Escobar

The neo-conservatives always contended that the United States invaded Iraq to bring "democracy" (from the barrel of a gun). Seems like if not democracy, at least the greatest hits of the US judicial system are indeed being implemented in (still occupied) Iraq; torture (as WikiLeaks has amply demonstrated) and the death penalty. Talk about liberation.

And talk about payback. Former Iraq deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, 74, ailing, frail, already caged, and the victim of a stroke this year, has been condemned to hang by the Supreme Court in Baghdad, according to Iraq state TV, "for his role in the elimination of Islamic [Shi'ite] parties".

Aziz, born Mikhael Yuhann in 1936 in Mosul, a Chaldean Christian - the only one in the former Sunni and secular Ba'athist inner circle, its worldwide-known "human face" - holder of a degree in English language and literature, is already serving a 15-year sentence for a series of killings of 42 tradesmen in 1992 plus a further seven-year sentence for his alleged role in the deportation of Iraqi Kurds during the Saddam Hussein era. No Western court would admit what was presented as evidence showed that he was personally involved in both crimes.

The European Union (EU) at least is being true to its chart (the death penalty is "unacceptable"); the EU's foreign representative, Catherine Ashton, will appeal to Baghdad to block the execution. Aziz's defense will appeal to the Vatican - which also condemns it. Italian radical leader Marco Pannella has started a hunger strike to denounce it.

Anyone who does not see this as a political verdict is a believer in democracy by "shock and awe". In this case, revenge is served to current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shi'ite Da'wa party, which had been persecuted under Saddam's Sunni regime. Everyone else loses badly - because Aziz is arguably the only person on Earth who could tell the real story, bit by juicy bit, about the rolling, decades-long American dirty game in Iraq.

His is the ultimate political best-seller we'll never be able to read - telling for instance how the US, the United Kingdom and the Saudis shelled out over $60 billion for Iraq to go to war with Iran during the 1980s; what was really discussed between Saddam, himself and former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad when they met in 1983; how every Western politician paid homage at the court of Saddam - the man who would get rid of those demented ayatollahs; how Saddam beat the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's human waves of martyrs by spraying them with Western-supplied chemical weapons; and how those fabled "weapons of mass destruction" were nowhere to be seen since 1995 at least - thus rendering George W Bush's and Tony Blair's casus belli null and void.

When US Marine Corps entered Baghdad on April 9, 2003, his villa was plundered - by the marines and by local mobs. I went to see it as soon as I could (A (mis)guided tour of Baghdad Asia Times Online, April 18, 2003), finding a DVD box set of The Godfather saga - Saddam's favorite was the first one - right at the door. On April 24, Aziz surrendered to the Americans. He was the eight of spades in the Pentagon's infamous deck of cards. (Saddam was the ace of spades.)

History may judge that Bush and Blair - with their Moloch-style terrorizing machine dubbed "shock and awe" - have been no better than Saddam's inner circle; directly and indirectly, their "policies" killed more Iraqi civilians than Saddam ever did. Yet they did (Blair) and they will (Bush) publish books extolling their "glory".

Aziz instead is the only one left with a real breathtaking story to tell. And as the proverbial man who knows too much, he had to be taken out.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

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« Reply #131 on: November 03, 2010, 05:37:32 am »

At least 110 killed in series of Baghdad attacks

By Ned Parker and Jaber Zeki

November 2, 2010,0,202463.story

At least 17 coordinated explosions are set off in Shiite neighborhoods. Al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to be at the root of the violence, which comes just two days after 58 are killed in a Baghdad church.

Reporting from Baghdad —

Militants unleashed a wave of deadly attacks in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 110 people in Shiite neighborhoods, authorities said, in an apparent bid to provoke a new sectarian war in the country.

At least 17 car bombs and other blasts shook the city at sunset in one of the bloodiest days this year. The coordinated attacks, which bore the hallmarks of the Sunni Arab militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq, came just 48 hours after 58 people died when armed men seized a Baghdad church.

"The new Qaeda has started its work again in Iraq," a senior Iraqi security commander warned, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The situation is very bad."

Each deadly incident, whether a fatal shooting or a major explosion, fuels foreboding that Iraq could once more fall apart as the American military presence dwindles and the nation stands without a new government eight months after national elections. The senior commander cautioned that Iraq's political deadlock was tempting disaster.

"It's getting worse," he said, referring to the violence. "Maybe it will be worse than 2005 if the government doesn't form."

In Baghdad's Sadr City, the bedrock of support for populsit Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, a car bomb exploded by a street market, killing 15 people and wounding 23 others, according to police.

Car bombs and small explosives also ripped districts near the densely packed Sadr neighborhood. At least five car bombs detonated in four Shiite districts in western Baghdad, killing 23 people. The bloodshed triggered memories of the warfare in the capital between Shiite and Sunni armed groups that ended a little over two years ago.

In the dark days of 2006, Sunni extremists, associated with Al Qaeda in Iraq, regularly bombed Shiite sections of Baghdad. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia often struck back, with raids into Sunni areas. The violence began to cool in late 2007 after Sunni insurgents turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq, Sadr froze his militia's activities, and the U.S. military sent additional soldiers to Baghdad to salvage a disastrous situation.

One Sadrist lawmaker faulted the political blocs for Tuesday's carnage. Political leaders "are occupied with who gets what position and are busy with quarrels amongst each other. It feels so irresponsible," said Hakim Zamili, a parliament member, beloved in Sadr City for fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq and reviled by Sunnis as a symbol of the Mahdi Army. "I don't think people will resort to revenge. They just want peace and quiet and to live an honest life. "

Hospitalized victims spoke with resignation. Ali Yassin, with shrapnel wounds to his arms, legs and head, had been watching the sunset in Sadr City when he was suddenly knocked down by flames. "I am sorry the situation has gotten so bad," he said. "This emergency room is packed, dirty and chaotic. The doctors are doing everything they can, but what can anyone do?"

Hassan Naima, who operates a food cart in the eastern neighborhood of Shaab, was preparing sandwiches for customers when he heard four loud blasts. Cars raced away with wounded people, and smoke filled the air.

"Where are the people who are bragging about the security?" Naima asked. "Where is the government? They left us to face the unknown. Yesterday, it was the church, and now so many explosions in one day. All the government knows is how to set up road blocks to clog the street and make traffic jams."


Zeki is a staff writer in The Times' Baghdad bureau.

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« Reply #132 on: November 10, 2010, 12:11:53 pm »

US prepares permanent Iraq occupation

by Bill Van Auken

WSWS, November 10, 2010

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled Tuesday that the US is preparing to scrap a 2011 deadline for withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq, setting the stage for a permanent military occupation of the oil-rich country.

"We’ll stand by," Gates told reporters. "We’re ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us." The defense secretary, a holdover from the Bush administration, reiterated Washington’s formal position that while the "initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis; we are open to discussing it."

The reality is that the Obama administration is presently exerting intense political pressure aimed at breaking an eight-month-old deadlock in the formation of a new Iraqi government so that it can have a US client regime capable of taking the "initiative" of asking American troops to stay.

US efforts have intensified in the aftermath of the midterm elections as part of a broad further turn to the right in both US foreign and domestic policies.

Last August, the Obama administration had celebrated the withdrawal of a single Stryker brigade from Iraq, proclaiming that its members were the last combat troops deployed in the country and that the US combat mission had ended.

The reality is that nearly 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, the bulk of them with the same combat capabilities as the brigades that have been withdrawn. The US Air Force remains in control of Iraqi airspace and the US Navy controls its coastlines.

Obama sought to exploit the drawdown of US forces from their peak of 170,000—many of them redeployed to the "surge" in Afghanistan—for political purposes, claiming in the run-up to the elections that the Democratic president had fulfilled his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.

This was a patent fraud. The timetable for the troop drawdown and the December 2011 final withdrawal was set not by Obama, but rather by a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated between the Bush administration and the US puppet government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

The Obama administration is now moving to abrogate this Bush era treaty in order to secure an indefinite US military grip over Iraq.

The immediate impediment to this plan is the absence of a government in Baghdad to sign a new agreement. Eight months after the election last March, the country’s rival political factions have been unable to cobble together a viable coalition.

The principal political factions convened a meeting Monday in the northern Kurdish capital of Irbil to discuss a power-sharing arrangement, but no deal was immediately forthcoming. Both Maliki and his principal challenger, the former prime minister and CIA asset Iyad Allawi, reiterated their claims to the prime minister’s office.

Iraqi political sources reported that Washington has demanded that a deal be worked out quickly. "We’ve been under tremendous pressure by the Americans … in clearly asking President [Jalala] Talibani to step down," a Kurdish official told Jane Araf of the Christian Science Monitor. Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have personally called in recent days to demand the resignation, he said.

The aim is to allow Allawi to assume the presidency and Maliki to remain as prime minister in a national unity government. Thus far, however, the Kurdish parties have shown no desire to surrender the office, which they see as an instrument for blocking any incursion on their semi-autonomous control of the north of the country.

Iraq has faced growing violence, posing the threat of a new eruption of sectarian civil war. Bombings Monday claimed the lives of at least 22 people in the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The killings come little more than a week after the massacre of 58 Iraqi Christians killed in the storming of the church where they had been taken hostage and a series of bombings in Baghdad’s Shiite areas that killed at least 70.

As the political stalemate drags on, the discussion within the US military and foreign policy establishment has increasingly pointed toward the continuation of the US occupation.

The State Department last week released an audit warning that Iraq would continue to need the deployment of US troops to maintain stability after 2011 and warning that it would be too dangerous to turn over the defense of US interests in the country to civilians. According to the Associated Press, the State Department document echoed warnings by defense analysts and former diplomats that "hard-won security gains could crumble if US forces leave on schedule."

The report cast doubt on the ability of State Department personnel—in the absence of US military occupation forces—"to conduct their work in an environment in which 95 percent of the Iraqi population holds unfavorable or ambivalent views of the United States."

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, spoke along similar lines last week, declaring: "I worry that what we’re seeing is a transition from a military lead to no lead. Simply put, the capacity does not exist on the civilian side to take on the vast array of roles and missions that the military has so ably performed in Iraq."

While preparing to extend the US military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, the Obama administration is also expected to issue a review of its Afghanistan policy next month that will prescribe "staying the course" in the current military surge that has driven up both civilian casualties and the death toll among US troops.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last week reiterated the position of the military and of the White House that the July 2011 deadline that Obama announced for beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would not spell even the beginning of the end of the US war there.

The date, he said, would only mean that US commanders would assess in what parts of the country they could "begin to transition increasing security responsibility" to Afghan puppet forces. These would not include the provinces where US troops are now doing the most killing and dying, such as Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar, the spokesman said.

Brought into office thanks in large measure to a wave of antiwar sentiment in the American population, Obama is continuing the wars and occupations that he inherited from the Bush administration, while ratcheting up US military threats against Iran, increasing the danger of a new and potentially far more catastrophic war.

This policy reflects the consensus position within the American ruling elite in support of using military force as a means of offsetting the crisis and decline of American capitalism through wars of aggression aimed at securing US hegemony over the energy rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

Reactionary and unpopular measures already planned, but held back until after the election, are being put into motion, preparing an escalation of the carnage caused by American militarism. The Republicans winning control of the House of Representatives has only served to drive the administration’s policies, both foreign and domestic, even further to the right.

The struggle to end the ongoing US occupations and wars, and to prevent the outbreak of a far bloodier conflagration, can be waged only by the working class mobilizing its independent political strength against both major parties, the Obama administration and the profit system that they defend.

Bill Van Auken

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