Saturday, August 31, 2013

Big Brother (as in Orwell) Awards

Friday!  At last.  Labor Day Weekend, in fact.

Did you catch this on Free Speech Radio News today:

And finally, last night in Amsterdam, the Dutch privacy group Bits of Freedom handed out the Big Brother Awards to the two biggest privacy violators of the year. The dubious honors are given out annually in several countries throughout Europe. With recent revelations about widespread US government monitoring of citizen communications, organizers are seeking to drive home the idea that “fighting crime by committing one” is not an acceptable tactic. FSRN’s Peter Teffer reports from Amsterdam.
“De winnaar...  van de publieksprijs van de Big Brother Awards 2013 is...  Ivo Opstelten!”

The Dutch minister for Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten was the winner if this year’s audience award. He was given the “prize” for privacy-violating policies, like one plan to allow police officers to search and even control computers of suspects.  Although he was not present at the ceremony in Amsterdam, Opstelten did respond via a video message, in which he jokingly filmed himself with a drone. The US National Security Agency was also nominated, but perhaps the Dutch voters thought it better to stay close to home. American hacker Jacob Appelbaum, who gave a key note speech, noted in reference to the NSA head, that at least the Dutch minister was generous enough to send a response.
“Imagine if we wanted to ask General Alexander for a comment like that. It would never happen.”

A jury prize was also given to the Dutch tax office, which accessed information from other governmental agencies that should have been deleted.  Peter Teffer, FSRN, Amsterdam.

We should be giving out awards like that.  I'm not joking.  Norman Solomon could probably work up something like that.  And we should have a real award ceremony.  No, the NSA would not show up to accept but we could have someone accept for them and that would give a visual that they could use for photos and videos to popularize the event.

I'm 100% serious although, think about if we had comedians accept on behalf?  Like Kathy Griffith or Griffing or whatever her name is.  Or Julie Brown.  It could really be entertaining and in the process raise awareness of what is being done.

Okay, Kat did a post you have to read entitled "Top 10 Bond themes" that, if you're a James Bond fan like me, you will especially want to check out.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, August 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, Nouri attempts to stop protests tomorrow, Stuart Bowen weighs in on the US efforts in Iraq, John Kerry continues to huff and puff about Syria, US government may have lost France's support as well (yesterday they lost England -- at least for now), four US Senators (Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, Richard Burr and Bill Nelson) work together (proving that it can be done) for the American people, and more.

We'll move quickly to Syria and then onto Iraq but with the US government being such an embarrassment currently as so many members of Congress think the term "oversight" actually means "conceal from the American people," let's open with the rare example of members of Congress working for the betterment of the American people and doing so in a bipartisan fashion.  Applause for Senator Bernie Sanders (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee),  Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Senator Richard Burr (Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) and Senator Bill Nelson (Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging) -- an Independent (Sanders), a Republican (Burr) and two Democrats (Murray and Nelson) working together and for doing what we expect members of Congress to do but what rarely is done anymore.  From the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 – Leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging said today that they are “deeply troubled” by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lax oversight of private advisers to veterans applying for pensions and other benefits.
The senators cited a new report by the Government Accountability Office that faulted the VA for loosely enforcing its own vague rules on accrediting private financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents and others. The nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs also criticized the VA for leaving itself vulnerable to abuses and for keeping veterans in the dark about their rights.
The GAO report was cited in a letter to Secretary Eric Shinseki from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the veterans’ committee. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a veterans’ committee member and former chairman, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, also signed the letter.
“We are deeply troubled by the findings indicating weaknesses in the accreditation program, which may prevent VA from ensuring that veterans are served by knowledgeable, qualified, and trustworthy representatives,” the senators wrote. 
The senators said the accreditation procedures should be strengthened to protect veterans from unscrupulous advisers among the 20,000 approved by the department. They also echoed a GAO recommendation and urged the department to do a better job letting veterans know how to report abuses. Problems with the accreditation program are compounded by a lack of staff and inadequate technology, the senators added. 
The latest GAO report builds on an investigation last year that found weak oversight and unclear rules made the VA ripe for abuse. That report found that some firms overcharge veterans for services or sell financial products that end up limiting veteran’s access to the benefits that they deserve.
To read the GAO report, click here.
To read the senators’ letter to the VA secretary, click here.

Daniel Akaka was Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee before Senator Murray and he and Richard Burr had a professional and respectful relationship.  Murray and Burr continued and deepened that.  It continues now with Sanders and Burr.  No, Burr didn't agree with the three on everything or them with him on everything but they found a way to be adults and to stay focused on the issues.  It's a shame that this is not carried through on every Congressional Committee.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has been able to focus on a large number of issues and actually move mountains on a few because of the lack of egos in leadership.  Akaka, Murray, Sanders and Burr especially deserve applause.  And, again, it is so very nice to see one aspect of Congress (or, for that matter, the federal government) which functions and works.

Over to the topic of Syria . . .

Still reeling from yesterday's vote in the British Parliament (which means -- for now -- England will not be able to join the US government in attacking Syria), US President Barack Obama insisted this afternoon that, Eyder Peralta (NPR) notes,  "he has not made a final decision on launching a military strike on Syria." Why?  The morning started with efforts by the administration to sell France as a historic and glorious partner in an attempt to use France's support of an attack to take the place of England's backing.  Ian Black (Guardian) was calling it a "coalition a deux."  But, by mid-day, a wrinkle emerged on that front.  John Lichfield (Independent) reports that French President Francois Hollande "appeared today to back away from immediate air strikes against Syria by talking of the importance of a 'political solution' to the crisis."

Another break Barack and his fellow War Hawks couldn't quite catch this week.  And the reason that, mid-morning, the White House dropped the effort to talk up historic ally France. 

Before Barack spoke on the matter, US Secretary of State John Kerry had a mini-meltdown in front of the press.  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote him blustering, "This is common sense.  This is evidence.  These are facts."  Facts?  John Kerry offered facts?  Jason Ditz ( cleared up that misconception:

Secretary of State John Kerry, leading the charge for war in Syria for months, is continuing to take the helm in pushing the case in speeches, not so much providing evidence for their allegations but reiterating the claims and insisting that the evidence is “clear.”
Incredibly, Kerry doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the allegations that have already been disproved, reiterating rebel claims of 1,429 killed as an unquestionable fact even though Doctors Without Borders already put the real figure at 355 dead nearly a week ago.

Having yet again presented 'facts' that were not, in fact, actually facts,  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote John Kerry insisting, "This matters to us, and it matters to who we are, and it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world."

Golly, that doesn't seem like national security at all.  That sounds like vanity and ego.  You know how to avoid having egg on your face and being a public laughingstock?  Stop making false claims and stop making threats.  As a member of the Senate, John Kerry grasped that.  In fact, he so grasped what diplomacy was that world leaders were pulling for the 2004 election to result in President John Kerry.  All that skill and ability has left him as he degrades himself and his legacy (Secretary of State is Kerry's last big hurrah on the national scene).  DS Wright (Firedoglake) dissects the speech here.

John Kerry, possibly after being beaten at the ballot box by a moron like Bully Boy Bush, has no respect for the American citizens.  Mark Murray (NBC News) reports on a new poll.  The Hart Research Associates poll could be titled Bad News For Barry.  48% disapprove of Barack's job performance as president (only 44% approve); 49% disapprove of Barack's "handling foreign policy" (41% approve); approval for handling of Syria specifically 44% disapprove (35% approve).  What should the US government do with regards to Syria?  7 responses in order of popularity:

Provide only humanitarian assistance  40%
Take military action to help stop the killing 26%
Take no additional action  23%
Provide arms to the opposition 6%
Not sure 3%
Take some sort of action 1%
Take some mix of actions 1%

 If chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government, 42% say military action is needed while 50% say no, it is not.  41% feel military action would not improve life for the people of Syria while 27% think it will.

Asked, "Do you think that President Obama should or should not be required to receive approval from Congress before taking military action in Syria?"  79% said, "Should be required to receive approval."  Only 16% say he's not required to.

PDF format warning, the full results are here.  Margin of error is +/- 3.70%

Are you getting why John Kerry's so desperate that he's spouting lies to the American people?

George Eaton (New Statesman) offers a breakdown of yesterday's historic vote in England with 224 Labour MPs, joining with 30 Conservatives, 9 Liberal MPs (Eaton has a list of the MPs by name).  Also weighing in on the vote, Great Britain's Socialist Worker's "Cameron's Defeat Is Proof Of Protest Power:"

David Cameron was humiliated last night, Thursday, when he suffered a historic Commons defeat on plans to bomb Syria.
He asked MPs to back military action but in an unprecedented blow, they voted by 285 to 272 against air strikes.
The vote reflects the overwhelming anti-war feeling among people in Britain – and the fear that missile strikes against Syria would be the start of yet another failed attempt by the West to control the Middle East.
Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support for his proposals to launch attacks on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue an embarrassing climbdown.
The shaken leader admitted it was clear that parliament “does not want to see British military action”. He added, “I get that. The government will act accordingly.”
Opposition MPs responded by shouting, “Resign”.
The last time a prime minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782. As the scale of the historic defeat became clear Conservative MPs turned on each other. Education secretary Michael Gove barked, “You’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace” at government rebels.
The result was also a blow to Nick Clegg who had ditched his party’s soft anti-war stance to side with the Conservatives.
“This marks a sea change in British politics. The government no longer has a blank cheque to go to war,” Labour MP and chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Jeremy Corbyn, told Socialist Worker.

Jes Burns (Free Speech Radio News) reports:

As the United States and France move towards military action in Syria, Syrian-Americans are voicing concern for the safety of their families back in the Middle East.  FSRN’s Theresa Campagna reports from Chicago.
Anti-war protesters in several cities worldwide will march Saturday, saying a Western intervention in Syria will only intensify the war already happening on-the-ground.  This morning, both President Obama and President Hollande of France told the press they want military intervention, despite their ally's vote against it in the UK.
“My cousin was on his way to his senior, like exam, you know, his high school exam you know.  It was the same day the university was bombed.”
That's Bassel Al-Madani, a Syrian American in Chicago who has been fundraising to send money to family in Syria since February.  He says most Syrians are getting by, despite the war.  But like many Syrian-Americans, Al-Madani wants it to end so his family can move on. FSRN, Theresa Campagna, Chicago.

At the Fellowship of Reconciliation,  Joshua Brollier offers a list of thing to remember including the following:

To those who think the United States should intervene in Syria,
Remember this is the same United States which;

Earlier today, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is text, video and audio) explained, "Pentagon officials say the U.S. Navy has moved five destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. This comes as the British Parliament voted Thursday not to back international action against Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons last week. This comes as a team of U.N. inspectors, who spent the week traveling to rebel-controlled areas in search of proof of a poison gas attack, is set to give its preliminary findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday."

On this week's CounterSpin (FAIR -- link is audio), Peter Hart spoke with IPS' Phyllis Bennis about the coverage of the US push for an attack on Syria.  Excerpt.

Phyllis Bennis:  Only if the [United Nations] Security Council votes to endorse the use of force is the use of force legal.  No other agency, institution, organization has that right.  So the Kosovo precedent that you refer to and that unfortunately this is being talked about in the press.  It's being asserted that if the Security Council doesn't agree, there are other options.  Yeah, there are other options.  The problem is they're all illegal.  The Kosovo model was illegal.  What the US did in 1999, when it wanted to bomb, to start an air war against Serbia over Kosovo, realized it would not get support of the Security Council because Russia had said it would veto.  So instead of saying, 'Well okay we don't have support of the Security Council, I guess we can't do it,' they said, 'Okay, we won't go to the Security Council, we'll simply go to the NATO High Command and ask their permission.'  Well, what a surprise, the NATO High Command said 'sure.'  It's like the hammer and the nail.  If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you're NATO everything looks like it requires military intervention.  The problem is, under international law, the UN charter is the fundamental component under international law that determines issues of war and peace.  And the charter doesn't say that the Security Council or NATO or the President of the United States can all decide over the use of force.  The only agency that can legally approve the use of force is the Security Council of the United Nations.  Period.  Full stop.

 [. . .]

Peter Hart: We've heard right from the beginning that the Syrian government would not allow inspectors access to the site of this attack.  That was considered proof that they were culpable, that they were hiding something.  But the reality seemed to be that the United States was trying to pull the plug on this UN  investigative team from the start which I think is one of the most shocking, under-covered part of this story.

Phyllis Bennis: I don't think we can say with any certainty what the motivation was of the US but certainly what they did was to try and scuttle the role of the team and to deliberately mislead people.  Secretary Kerry, in particular,  misled people about what the timeline was and stated that the time line very clearly indicated some guilt by the Syrian government.  His claim was: 'We asked -- and the UN asked --  for access to the site on Thursday.  They didn't grant that access until Sunday, therefore, they were delaying for days because they were trying to hide something.  They're trying to degrade the evidence.  They may be bombing the evidence.  They're trying to make sure that the inspectors can't do their job.'  Well it turns out that the facts are a little different.  The facts are that on that Thursday, the UN announced that they were going to request access. The actual request did not arrive until Saturday when Angela Kane, the disarmament chief of the United Nations, arrived in Damascus.  The announcement that they were going to ask is not a legally acceptable anything in diplomatic terms.  When asked about it, when pushed on it, the UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said, 'Well that's just semantics.'  But diplomacy is all about semantics, you know?  A press release does not equal an official request from the United Nations. There was an official, legal request and it arrived on Saturday with Angela Kane.  On Sunday, the Syrian government said "yes," the inspectors can go in.  And on Monday, the investigators were on the ground doing their work.  That's hardly an example of a major delay.  Now I should be clear in saying that, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Syrian regime is not responsible for these attacks.  They may well be.  But it does mean that that claim by Secretary Kerry -- which is the basis, a big part of the basis, for saying --'This proves that they are responsible and therefore we can go in and bomb Syria,' it certainly did not happen that way. 

Let's stay with the stupidity of the press.  The Atlantic (as usual) is working overtime to sell war on Syria.  Molly Ball plays dumb or is big time stupid in her piece which includes:

 Like Obama, Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia who now serves as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, strongly opposed the Iraq war. But he now strongly backs action in Syria. 

Molly Ball, get an education.  I'm not even talking about the Center for American Prissies, I'm referring to the false claim that Perriello "strongly opposed the Iraq War" and the sleight of hand Molly uses to make you think he did that while in Congress.

There is no proof that Perriello opposed the Iraq War -- strongly or weakly.  He wasn't even focused on the US at that point. He spent 2002 and 2003 a s the Special Court for Sierra Leon's International Prosecutor's Special Advisor.   The Center for American Progress insists of Perriello, "Expertise: Congress, Middle East and Africa, conflict . . ."

Stop.  He is not an expert on Congress.  He may be an expert on quickly losing public support.  In the 2008 elections, he was elected to the House of Representatives.  In the 2010 elections, he lost that seat.  He served one term (Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2011).  He was not in Congress when the Iraq War was being sold or when it started.  In the position he did have during that time, he was working for a foreign government and for the United Nations and, in that capacity, if he did have an opinion re: Iraq War, he would have been encouraged to keep it silent.

 In their bio on Perriello,  CAP forgets to note that Perriello received the endorsement of the NRA (probably since demonizing the NRA has become a Democratic Party priority of late)  and that the bachelor candidate Perriello had a campaign that couldn't stop running to the media to scare up homophobic rumors about his GOP rival in the 2008 race.

The Center for American Progress is yet another tired Democratic Party front group -- started by the man who threw "a girlish hissy fit" (words of a Democratic US House Rep) when John Conyers, Ramsey Clark and Francis A. Boyle presented the case for impeaching Bully Boy Bush and the need for it.  John Podesta is a joke.  He's a well used political prostitute and CAP is just a bordello for the Democratic Party.  We've covered this at length for many, many years. And we aren't the only ones to do so.  John Stauber's owned the topic and written of it better than anyone (and written of it much, much, much better than I have).

 On Syria, we'll give the last word to  the Center for Constitutional Rights:

August 30, 2013 – In response to signals from the Obama administration that it will pursue U.S. military intervention in Syria in the wake of attacks last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
We strongly oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria and urge the Obama administration to support increased diplomatic measures to protect civilians in the region. A United Nations investigation into the massacre of last week is still ongoing. For whoever is deemed responsible, accountability must come by way of investigation and prosecutions under international law, not further militarism in the region.
It is a manifest lesson of this country’s recent history that U.S. military intervention in conflicts of this kind has not served human rights or humanitarian purposes, even when these are the stated goals. The U.S. and Iraq are still reeling and suffering from a decade-long illegal war that was waged on the basis of false information about weapons of mass destruction and sold to the American people as a quick military intervention. Hundreds of thousands, including many civilians and children, died as a result of that war, in which the U.S. used weapons that have been widely condemned, such as white phosphorous, napalm-class weapons and weapons containing depleted uranium. Iraq is still dealing with the catastrophic aftermath, which includes skyrocketing rates in birth defects and cancer widely attributed to the use of these weapons. The U.S. should be accounting for this harm and making reparations, not readying to engage militarily once again.
UN officials are calling for political solutions to the crisis in Syria – not additional violence. The Obama administration needs to act in concert with other countries and international legal bodies to broker a political settlement in Syria and bring an immediate cessation of violence. Diplomacy and the rule of law, including international law, must be our guideposts for acting in this situation.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR has previously challenged U.S. military action and use of force as violating U.S. and international law, including in the invasion of Grenada, in El Salvador, in Panama, for the First Gulf War, Serbia/Kosovo and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  CCR is currently representing a group of U.S. veterans of the Iraq war and two Iraqi human rights organizations seeking accountability and reparations for the war as part of the Right to Heal initiative.

From the new war they want to the one they hope Americans have forgotten . . .

Since December 21st, protests have been ongoing in Iraq.  And they continued today. Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

Despite that, look for the attempted storming of Ramadi to be ignored.  Alsumaria reports that Nouri is attempting to use the court, the Ministry of the Interior and Nouri's attorney general's office to stop the protests, insisting that it's so violent in Iraq today, the protesters are in danger.  Whether in Hawija or elsewhere, the only people who have killed protesters have been Nouri's forces.  Alsumaria notes that the attempt to kill the protest is being denounced with a coalition stating Nouri is attempting to violate the Constitution which allows for peaceful demonstrations and that this is yet another attempt by Nouri to silence opposition.

Aswat al-Iraq reported Tuesday:

Iraqi Interior Ministry called the citizens not to demonstrate out of fear of security breaches that may attack them, as well as estimating the current military situation of the country.
In a statement by the ministry, copy received by Aswat al-Iraq, it added that "some youths have the intention to demonstrate on 31 August instant demanding the cancellation of parliamentary pensions and provision of political and economic reforms".

Iraqi Spring MC notes that protests continued today in Najaf, in Baghdad's Almlhanih, in Ramadi, in Falluja, in Samarra and in Jalawha

They protested despite intimidation techniques and safety warnings.  (Protesters who have been killed at protests have all been killed by Nouri's forces.)  They gathered today despite the continued mass arrests of the week.  They gathered today in the hope that they could make that better Iraq that the US government pretended to want back in 2003 when they launched an illegal war on Iraq.

NINA reports:

Preacher Sheikh Mustafa Sabri of Fri-prayers of Fallujah said in his sermon that campaign of /revenge of martyrs / is a sectarian campaign targeting Sunni areas directed by the government in Baghdad belt areas were arbitrary arrests and besiege of residential areas are massively perpetrated.
He added in his sermon addressed to thousands of worshipers who held a unified Fri-prayers east of Fallujah : " Prime Minister Nuri al - Maliki launched unprecedented arrest campaign against Sunnis.
The source also added that the campaign dubbed / martyrs revenge / is extremely a sectarian injustice campaign noting that Iraq ever witnessed a similar which began with the support of sectarian militias backed by Iran, but it created a serious impacts.

In Samarra, Sheikh Samir Fouad delivered similar remarks, ""The security breaches that followed the sectarian crackdown that targeted areas of Baghdad's belt ,is in reality targeting the people of these areas under the pretext that they represent incubator of terrorism behind them sectarian motives , as during which unjust random arrests are perpetrated so far ."  Alsumaria reports Sheikh Samir Fouad, in Samarra, decried the mass arrest campaign and stated that the many arrests of innocent people has demonstrated to the world that the claim that the campaign is just and to avenge the dead is a false claim.  The Sheikh called for the release of the innocents.  Kitabat adds there was a call in all areas of protests on the members of the Iraqi military to disobey any orders that they target their Sunni brothers and sisters and they called for an end to the killings and displacements.

  Iraqi Spring MC notes that in Najaf, they called on the government to stop trying to shut down the protests.   NINA notes "thousands" participated in the Falluja and Ramadi protests today and quotes Sheikh Mohammed Fayyad stating that today's goal "is to send once again a message to the governing in Baghdad that our demonstrations are peaceful and backed by citizens' deep conviction."  Sam Mahmoud and Ammar al-Ani (Alsumaria) note that the Ministry of the Interior has announced that they have not yet decided to institute a curfew for Saturday but they have banned all vehicles with paper plates (temporary license plates) from Baghdad for 24 hours.  In addition, Ahmed Hussein (Alsumaria) reports that the four bridges connecting the east and west of Baghdad have been closed, large concrete barriers put in place and large numbers of security forces stationed by the barriers.

Earlier today, Human Rights Watch issued a call for the Iraqi government to cease efforts to ban tomorrow's protests:

Iraqi authorities should legitimately explain why it is necessary to ban demonstrations planned for August 31, or allow them to proceed. They should ensure organizers are able to appeal any ban.
Two groups who organized concurrent demonstrations in Baghdad calling for the cancellation of parliamentarians’ pensions applied to the Interior Ministry for permits on August 21, 2013, as required by Iraqi law. On August 22, Interior Ministry officials refused to issue them permits, without providing them a reason. Organizers of both demonstrations expect them to go ahead, but told Human Rights Watch that they are concerned that Iraqi security forces will use force to block what they said would be peaceful demonstrations, and may arrest and intimidate organizers should the planned demonstrations take place.

“It’s ironic that officials suggest that using force to block peaceful demonstrations will assist Iraq’s ‘march to democracy’,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can ban demonstrations if they believe they will be violent, but here the concern seems that protests will be politically embarrassing or inconvenient.”

In a statement published on its website on August 27, the Interior Ministry said that “security challenges and traffic problems require us to delay the demonstrations” of August 31. Citing “consideration of the risks of terrorism by al-Qaeda and Ba’athists… and of weakening the authority of the state, compounded by regional agendas that seek to weaken Iraq for their own interests,” and its determination to “challenge all negative phenomena that stand in the way of the march of democracy,” the statement said security forces would “firmly confront those who disrupt the security of the country and of its citizens.”

The UN’s first special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, emphasized in a May 2012 report that states may only restrict the right to peaceful assembly where there is a “pressing social need.” The report stressed that states should not need to ban peaceful gatherings in order to fight terrorism effectively, and said “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly.” Kiai places responsibility on authorities to provide assembly organizers with “timely and fulsome reasons” for any ban, and the possibility of a swift appeal.

Amnesty International has issued a statement as well entitled "Iraq: tomorrow's protests against MPs' pensions should be allowed to go ahead:"

Posted: 30 August 2013
Ahead of planned country-wide protests across Iraq tomorrow over Iraqi MPs’ pension payments, Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to respect and protect protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Demonstrators are intending to gather in several locations in Iraq tomorrow to protest at regulations that grant Iraqi MPs high pensions - even after only a few years of service. In light of economic difficulties faced by many Iraqis, the generous parliamentary pension scheme has drawn widespread criticism.  
On 18 and 20 August organisers of the demonstration applied for permission with the Office of the Governor of Baghdad and the Ministry of Interior, respectively. Their requests were refused. Since then Iraqi authorities, including the Ministry of Interior and the General Prosecutor, have called for the demonstration in Baghdad to be postponed due to security concerns. However, protesters plan to go ahead with the demonstration.
In several provinces outside Baghdad, including Babel and Diyala, the authorities have reportedly granted permission for demonstrations to be held this weekend. Yesterday the Iraqi Bar Association held demonstrations against the MPs’ pension scheme in several of its branches, including outside its head office in Baghdad.
In general, the Iraqi authorities have appeared determined to stop large demonstrations taking place in central Baghdad since anti-government protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“People in Iraq have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence.
“Rather than preventing peaceful assemblies, the government should be taking steps to ensure people can exercise their right to protest in safety and security.
“Ongoing violence in the country must not be used as a pretext for continuing a blanket ban on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in central Baghdad or any other public spaces, anywhere in the country.”
Hundreds of people continue to be killed every month in violent attacks by armed groups across Iraq. On 28 August scores of civilians were killed in a wave of bomb attacks targeting Shi’a neighbourhoods of Baghdad.
Suppression of protests in Baghdad:
At the end of last year, tens of thousands of Iraqi opposition activists took to the streets, mainly in provinces with a Sunni majority, to demonstrate at violations of detainees’ rights. However, the authorities prevented any such protests taking place in central Baghdad.

Earlier this month (2 August) more than 100 people attempted to demonstrate against corruption and violence at Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Thirteen were arrested by security forces. Several detained protesters later reported being beaten in custody. Amnesty has seen images purporting to show bruises sustained during these beatings.

Kitabat reports the protesters continued preparations for tomorrow's demonstration today.  They are not backing down.  Iraqi Spring MC hails tomorrow as a revolt against injustice.

In today's violence, NINA reports 1 Sahwa leader was killed in Mosul by a roadside bombing which also injured "one of his bodyguards," an armed clash in Anbar left 1 rebel dead, and a Baquba bombing has left one person injuredAll Iraq News adds an armed attack in Tikrit left two Sahwa injured.  Press Association calls Tuz Khormato the site of "the deadliest attack," "Insurgents there set off a non-lethal stun bomb apparently designed to attract a crowd before detonating a real bomb that killed 12 and wounded 10, said the town's police chief, Colonel Hussein Ali Rasheed."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 862 deaths for the month thus far.  .

Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) offers some thoughts on the political groups in Iraq including the following:

On Aug. 5, 2013, Sadr decided to retire from political life, as a punishment to his supporters.
After announcing that decision, Iraqi parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi himself demanded that Sadr retract this decision.
Nevertheless, Hanan al-Fatlawi, a parliament member in Maliki's State of Law Coalition, questioned what Sadr’s retirement from political life meant, asking, “Is he a president, a prime minister or even a minister to [be able to] retire?”
This statement angered Sadr’s supporters, who considered it disrespectful of their spiritual leader. Yet the motives that pushed political and parliamentary forces to call Sadr to retract the decision to retire from political life are that the departure of Sadr would lead to a division or disagreement in his political bloc, or restore power to its military wing, the Mahdi Army.
The fact is, the political party in Iraq reflects the image of its leader. Therefore, there are conflicting speculations about the fate of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the absence of its leader and the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. For this reason also, Maliki's State Law Coalition seems committed to nominating its leader for a third term. It will inevitably be unable to agree on an alternative to Maliki. The same applies to all other parties.

Stuart Bowen Jr. was the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.  Dan Parsons (National Defense Magazine) reports on a talk he gave yesterday:

Between 2003 and 2012, the United States spent $60.6 billion on the relief and reconstruction of Iraq. During the nine-year rebuilding program, $15 million per day was spent on reconstruction.

In some cases security costs estimated at 10 percent of a project’s price tag, ended up being 25 to 30 percent of the total expenditure for some schools and hospitals and other civil infrastructure projects, he said.

“There were several healthcare clinics blown up,” said Bowen, who visited Iraq more than 30 times during the war. “There were 24 people killed building the Basra Children’s hospital. The Fallujah wastewater treatment plant saw multiple people killed and it took eight years to finish instead of two and a half. “

The United States did worse in establishing a democratic government and essential public services like health care and infrastructure building, Bowen said. He awarded basic governance a C-minus, citing the failed election of 2010 as a catalyst of the unrest that has marked the past four years of life in Iraq.

“Our strategy cannot be ‘No more Iraqs and Afghanistans.’ It has to be, 'how are we going to succeed in the next stabilization and reconstruction operation?'

jason ditz


 hannah allem

mushreq abbas

Friday, August 30, 2013

Insane CIA budget

I can't believe it's already Friday!!!! :D

Okay, Free Speech News Radio reported earlier:

The US spends more than $52 billion annually on its intelligence and counter-terrorism programs. The Washington Post today published previously-secret budgetary information based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Post says the budget documents reveal the CIA and NSA are utilizing cyber attacks as part of their work, and that the NSA is investigating nearly 4000 “possible insider threats,” where sensitive information is suspected of being mishandled or leaked from within.

52 billion dollars.

By way of comparison, in June Congress agreed to give NASA a yearly budget of $16.6 billion.

The stupid spy branch really doesn't do a damn thing except spy.  So let's look at the law enforcement budget.

Robert Mueller noted his request in a piece posted at the FBI website:

The FBI’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request totals $8.4 billion in direct budget authority, including 34,787 permanent positions (13,082 special agents, 3,026 intelligence analysts, and 18,679 professional staff). This funding level provides critical funding to address threats posed by terrorists, cyber attackers, and criminals.

You want to explain to me why the CIA is worth over six times the FBI?

This is insanity.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, August 29, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept alienates and (yes) insults Iraqi to the point that the White House should consider suspending Facebook privileges, Barack loses England (for now), Barack tables an attack on Syria (for now), and more.

Hnery Chu (Los Angeles Times) report, "A sharply divided British Parliament on Thursday rejected the immediate use of force as a response to suspected chemical attacks in Syria, putting Washington on notice that it would be deprived of the assistance of its most trusted ally if it launches a strike on Damascus in the next few days."  Robert Winnett (Telegraph of London) calls it "an embarrassing defeat" for UK Prime Minister David Cameron with the 285 votes against an attack on Syria and 272 for it. Winnett points out, "The Prime Minister had played a leading role in persuading President Obama of the need for action against Syria -- with Britain tabling a draft United Nations resolution – and the Parliamentary vote may also undermine Mr Cameron’s international reputation."  Annabelle Dickinson ( offers, "In what is thought to be an unprecedented parliamentary reverse over British military action, Tory rebels joined with Labour to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Prime Minister."

Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn (Reuters) report UK Prime Minister David Cameron is being forced to take the matter to Parliament, "After imploring the world not to stand idly by over Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons, Cameron was forced into an awkward climbdown on Wednesday when the opposition Labour party and lawmakers in his own party said they wanted more evidence before voting for military action."

The Labour and Conservative revolt was actually started by MP Diane Abbott who made clear her opposition earlier this week.   Rowena Mason (Guardian) reported:

 Diane Abbott may be forced to quit Labour's frontbench if Ed Miliband supports military action in Syria, as one of several MPs who are weighing up whether to support their party leaders over the anticipated intervention.
[. . .]
"I voted against the Iraq War. At the moment, I can't see anything that would make me vote for intervention in Syria," she said.
"Essentially it's a civil war. What Libya and Egypt have taught us is that these situations in the Middle East are complex. It's not good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats."

But this apparently isn't Tony Blair's Labour anymore.  Abbott was not ostracized, strong-armed or stigmatized.  Instead, as George Eaton (New Statesman) noted yesterday, Ed Miliband stood up and showed real leadership:

 He announced on Twitter that the party would table an amendment to the government's (then non-existent) motion requiring Cameron to return to the Commons to consult MPs after the UN team had reported on the Ghouta massacre. He added: "Parliament must tomorrow agree criteria for action, not write a blank cheque." Labour sources subsequently briefed that were the amendment not accepted, the party would vote against the motion.

As Ed knows,  the move also further draws a line between Labour and Tony Blair -- something desperately needed if Labour is going to return to power in the near future.  It draws a line because Iraq and Syria are tied together by comparisons and it draws a line because Tony Blair has mistakenly thought he had a voice the world need to hear and has spent the last days demanding an attack on Syria.

Melanie Hall (Telegraph of London) notes 'prophet' Tony sees a "nightmare scenario" coming.  Andy Wells (Daily Star) noted:

After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground.
But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work.

At his website, Blair has even posted a column he wrote this week for the Times of London calling for action on Syria:

  People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder: Syria mired in carnage between the brutality of Assad and various affiliates of al-Qaeda, a breeding ground of extremism infinitely more dangerous than Afghanistan in the 1990s; Egypt in chaos, with the West, however unfairly, looking as if it is giving succour to those who would turn it into a Sunni version of Iran. Iran still — despite its new president — a theocratic dictatorship, with a nuclear bomb. Our allies dismayed. Our enemies emboldened. Ourselves in confusion. This is a nightmare scenario but it is not far-fetched.

People wince, actually, at the thought of Tony Blair giving advice.  Even those who would not call for him to be tried for War Crimes re: Iraq remember his lie that Iraq had WMD and they could be launched on England within 45 minutes.  As Glenn Greenwald revealed in 2009 while at Salon:

The British are conducting an actual public investigation into the litany of false claims made by their government to justify the attack on Iraq.  Even for those who have long known it, the disclosures are underscoring just how truly criminal this deceit was:
An Iraqi taxi driver may have been the source of the discredited claim that Saddam Hussein could unleash weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, a Tory MP claimed today.
Adam Holloway, a defence specialist, said MI6 obtained information indirectly from a taxi driver who had overheard two Iraqi military commanders talking about Saddam’s weapons.
The 45-minute claim was a key feature of the dossier about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that was released by Tony Blair in September 2002. Blair published the information to bolster public support for war.
Other disclosures reveal that Blair was making claims that his own intelligence services were vehemently rejecting.

But for many Labour voters Blair's greatest crime was the way he degraded and destroyed Labour.  That's his 'New Labour' neoliberal policies, his war crimes and so much more.  Gordon Brown's biggest problem as prime minister was attempting to fix a few of Blair's errors without calling them errors.

Simon Hoggart (Guardian) points out:

A spectre hung over the prime minister's speech. Like most phantoms, the spectre wasn't corporeally present – it has been holidaying on a millionaire's yacht – but Tony Blair was there in spirit all right. Cameron said carefully over and over again that this was different from Iraq. "I am deeply mindful of previous interventions," he said. Thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, the well of public confidence had been poisoned.

Had Brown broke with Blair publicly, Labour might have been able to start the rebuilding process that Ed Miliband has been stuck with.  Some wrongly assume Blair can be 'rehabbed' or note that his polling is not as awful as it could be.  Blair's inability to apologize for his actions(he still maintains he was right -- even with his lies revealed) make image rehab impossible.  And when you look at his polling, you find out just what a liability he is to the future of Labour -- the younger you go, the more he's hated.  40 and under have less tolerance for him.

Blair's support for an attack on Syria probably helped motivate protests like the one Sarah Ensor reported on in "'Don't Bomb Syria' protesters block Whitehall" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Up to 1,000 people blocked Whitehall and stopped traffic in central London yesterday evening, Wednesday, against David Cameron’s threat to bomb Syria.
The Stop the War Coalition (STW) called the protest at short notice once the British and US governments looked set for an immediate attack Syria. The current crisis began with a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last week.

The British parliament has been recalled for today, Thursday, to discuss an attack. The degree of hostility to intervention is so high that Cameron has had to retreat from voting on an immediate attack.

Obi, a student from London, was on her first demonstration. She told Socialist Worker, “This is a very flammable situation and the West could escalate it. Intervention won’t help the situation—we’ll just add fuel to the fire.”

Front bench Labour MP Diane Abbott addressed the crowd, saying she wanted to put it “beyond doubt” that she would vote against an attack.

Stop the War chair Jeremy Corbyn MP also spoke. Other speakers included Steve Hedley from RMT the transport union—who called for civil disobedience—and Mark Campbell, chair of Kurdish Federation in Britain.
This does not mean US President Barack Obama will not still launch an attack on Syria.  It does mean he has lost the fig leaf he needed.  The United Nations Security Council is very unlikely to approve an attack.  This would make a US attack illegal.  By having England (again) stand side-by-side (as they did with the attack on Iraq) would give the appearance to many that the attack was legitimate (as with Iraq, this crowd would dismiss international law).   Without England at his side (at least currently), Barack is left stranded.  France (as noted this morning when I discussed what 2 White House friends were saying) is not thought to have the same impression for Americans that England would carry -- in part because 2002 and 2003 saw US officials and the US press attacking France publicly and repeatedly.

He is also facing a Congressional critique has been led by Senator Rand Paul.  Alex Pappas (Daily Caller) notes that Paul has argued an attack on Syria is without any US "national security" rationale. And as in England, it's taking only one person to stand (and survive a flurry of attacks) for others to start questioning.  Michael O'Brien and Tom Curry (NBC News) report:

A growing minority of lawmakers in both parties are demanding that President Barack Obama seek approval from Congress before launching an attack against Syria.
Most senior leaders in Congress appear content with the administration’s efforts to keep lawmakers abreast of what appears to be a fast-approaching military response to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against opponents in that country’s protracted civil war.
But ahead of any possible military action, a chorus of voices is calling for at least a Congressional debate, if not an explicit vote authorizing the use of force. 

David Lightman and William Douglas (McClatchy) add, "House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on Wednesday wrote a lengthy letter to the president, asking about the administration’s objectives. It came after a day of mounting concern among lawmakers anxious for an explanation for the possible action against Syria."  And Rebecca Shabad (The Hill) reports, "More than 100 lawmakers, including 18 Democrats, have signed a letter that says President Obama would violate the Constitution by striking Syria without first getting authorization from Congress.  A total of 116 lawmakers had signed the letter as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, highlighting bipartisan interest and growing momentum in ensuring a role for Congress in any decision to use force in Syria."  AP reports that Iraq War veteran and US House Rep Tammy Duckworth has come out today against a US strike on Syria.  Speaking in Thailand at a Bangkok college, Duckworth voiced her concerns about US military being used to assist people who may be part of al Qaeda.
On Democracy Now! (link is audio, text and video), Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez moderated a debate between the great intellectual Tariq Ali and Steve Clemons who wore a severe hair do that appeared to suggest he'd just visited Mr. Kenneth.  Excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Tariq Ali in London. You spoke at a rally against an attack on Syria. Your response to what Steven Clemons is saying?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think the main evidence which has been supplied is from an ally, certainly, but the name of the ally is Israel. Israeli intelligence has supplied the signals intelligence to the United States. It should be made public so we can judge it for ourselves. But virtually no one who knows the region believes that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian government, or on its orders. It’s crazy, if you think about it. They let the inspectors in, and then in a hotel barely 10 miles from—in a location barely 10 miles from where the inspectors are staying, there’s a chemical attack. And what good does it do the Syrian government to actually open fire on these inspectors? They want them there. So, I think it’s slightly incredible. And given that citizens in the United States and Europe were lied to in the run-up to the Iraq War—simple, straightforward lies—it’s very difficult to take the West seriously when it cries wolf again. So, 'til the evidence is there, it's impossible to take this at face value.
Secondly, the country that has of course used chemical weapons is the United States, which used white phosphorus in Fallujah. No red lines were drawn them, except the red lines of Iraqi blood.
Thirdly, why is the United States wanting to do this? And I think the reasons are to do with the situation on the battlefield in this awful, ugly, depressing civil war, which is that the opposition to the regime had been losing out, and, effectively, the West wants to improve the relationship of forces on the field. They’ve sent in more arms to the opposition—whoever it may be, and it’s dubious in many cases. And now they want to punish the regime, once again, to push it back. Meanwhile, the civil war continues. You know, no one is really pushing for talks. In Geneva, the opposition refused to come and participate in these talks. And what is required is a political solution; otherwise, you have endless war. And this policy of Obama, we’re not going in for regime change, I think he’s right about that. He’s not—he’s not misleading us. But we are basically wanting to weaken the regime so the civil war continues. What other option is there?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tariq, I’d like to ask you—Tariq, I’d like to ask you about the—what the potential impact is of yet another U.S. military attack on another Arab country, especially in view of the fact that Syria has a mutual defense pact with Iran. And what would be the possible repercussions of such an attack?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think the Iranian regime has made a very strong statement—whether it’s pure bluff, we don’t know—saying that if Syria is attacked, they will retaliate as they see fit. And this is a regime which has been recently elected, the new government, which people said was going to be very different from Ahmadinejad, and yet is saying exactly the same things as the prior government was saying to this, that an attack on Syria will be taken as an attack on Iran because of their defense pact. And they have the possibility, of course, of escalating in Iraq, of escalating in Lebanon and escalating in Afghanistan—three battlefield areas where the United States are involved, which I think is one reason that there has been a lot more caution in the Pentagon and from British military officers, who’ve been on television screens—you know, recently retired, who were involved in Iraq—saying that there is no justification for this war.
People are extremely worried about the consequences. I mean, in Britain, we have 70 Conservative members of Parliament, the ruling party, from the coalition, saying they will not vote for a war. Eighty percent of the population is opposed to it. So, of course, the United States can push it through, and probably the British government, which, you know, is a sort of vassal state-type outfit, will go along with it, but against the will of a huge majority of its people.

[. . .]


AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, you said that you became convinced by the signal information, in speaking to intelligence officials in the United States. What exactly is that?
STEVEN CLEMONS: Signals intelligence—you know, one of the unfortunate realities is we do have in the United States today a many—much infrastructure that’s part of a security-obsessed national security state. And we’re listening—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we’ve learned in all the NSA scandal stuff. But what—
STEVEN CLEMONS: Yeah, we’re listening to—well, every—no, but everything that—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what exactly is the information?
STEVEN CLEMONS: I’m sorry, how did I get the information?
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah—no, what exactly is that information that has convinced you?
STEVEN CLEMONS: What is—so, from the moment this began to unroll—one of the areas I report on and work on is in the intelligence sector. And when there were attacks, low-level attacks, reported previously, and they were popping up here and there in Syria, it seemed to me natural, given the many months we talked about red lines, that the opposition would be the biggest winner if those were crossed. And so, I went at the time to people that I knew had access to and that were close to what’s called signals intelligence, electronic and digital eavesdropping, if you will, of which there are enormous, not just Israeli interceptors, but lots of other states that are essentially picking up communications inside Syria and filtering that. The NSA’s raison d’être is this. And at that time, there was no evidence whatsoever that there was command staff authority or Assad. There was speculation, but it just didn’t exist. And I got a very clear read from intelligence sources that we just had no evidence at all at that time of this lower chemical weapons usage that it was there.
This time I went in, and said, "Steve, it is—it is definitive, and it’s definitive that members of the command staff of the Syrian army are responsible." There may be factions, and subsequent—you know, reported in the press by Foreign Policy magazine, have reported that there was dismay and shock in some part of the command staff and a panic call to other elements of that. That’s the tip of the iceberg of the communications material we have. But it seems that a portion of the Syrian army, this time, communicated strongly enough that these attacks were held. And so, that intelligence is held there. I agree it should be made public. I think it should be put out into the public.
AMY GOODMAN: So you haven’t seen it, but they told you that this is what it said.

 Steve Clemons, the Ethel Mertz of the global village.  From one national joke to another: Marie Harf.  Laugh as the State Dept's own Minnie Pearl can't handle a basic question, enjoy the way Said Arikat (Al Quds) runs circles around herl.

QUESTION: Does the United States State Department have a definition of what constitutes a war by one country over another?

MS. HARF: A war?


MS. HARF: I’m –

QUESTION: What constitutes a war of one country over another?

MS. HARF: I don’t have a specific definition in front of me, Said. What is the crux of the question that you’re asking?

QUESTION: The crux of the question is that the President is saying that whatever action is taken in Syria, which is obviously alluding to some sort of bombardment, perhaps, by cruise missiles and so on –

MS. HARF: Well, he hasn’t made a decision yet.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But he says accountability – they want to hold with accountability.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I want to ask you: Does lobbing off cruise missiles, whether there are 10 or 90 or 100, does that constitute an act of war on another country, especially if Country B that is being attacked has not provoked any kind of belligerence towards the United States of America?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to define hypothetical actions that haven’t been decided to be taken yet. I will point to a couple points the President made in his interview last night. He talked at length about the national security interest for the United States that are wrapped up in any indiscriminate use of chemical weapons – I think he made that point very clear – and that we need the Assad regime to understand that they’re not only breaking international norms by using chemical weapons, but they’re creating a situation – and I’m quoting directly here – where U.S. national security interest are threatened.

QUESTION: Okay. So Syria – you concur that Syria at the present time presents an imminent threat to the national security of the United States of America?

MS. HARF: I didn’t use that term, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you feel that Syria should be held accountable because it does compromise the national security of the United States of America?

MS. HARF: The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons –


MS. HARF: -- against their own people –


MS. HARF: -- presents a situation where, yes, U.S. national security interests are threatened. It’s in our interest – in our national security interest, but in the world’s security interest –


MS. HARF: -- to not allow this use – these use of chemical weapons to go un-responded to.

QUESTION: Could you explain to us how the use of chemical weapons, whether at this scale that we have seen last Wednesday or before, how does that in any way or directly affect the national security of the United States?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Well, I think I talked a little bit about this yesterday. Clearly, we have an interest – a national security interest in upholding an international norm against the use of chemical weapons. There’s a reason that 98 percent of the world’s peoples live in countries that have said these weapons should not be used.

We'll come back to the State Dept in a moment.  This was a good day for peace, it was not a great day.  Even if you reduce it only to the possible Syrian attack, it was still only a good day.  Good for the British lawmakers and citizens who said no but grasp that Barack is still angling for an attack.  Today appears to be just a setback or temporary delay.  Julie Pace (AP) explains that.

There are people who have expressed disappointment in e-mails that I have no position on Syria (other than foreigners don't need to attack).  We do the "Iraq snapshot," try to grasp that.  We have Iraqis in the US and in Iraq who are part of the community.  Some are Sunni, some are Shi'ite, some are Kurds, and we have 2 religious minorities as well.

I am not Syrian, it is not my job to stick my big nose into their civil war to begin with.  But even more than that, we can't treat all segments in Iraq equally if I'm pulling for a side in Syria.

Iraq shares a border with Syria.  Passions run high in Iraq on the issue with the various groupings tending to support their own ethnic group in Syria.

Were I to take a side, it would discredit everything else we do here.  It would upset at least two of the three major groups in Iraq.  I completely understand that.

Does the US State Dept?

This morning, we noted the US Embassy in Baghdad and the State Dept's silence on the worst attacks (judged by death toll) this month in Iraq.   Adam Schreck and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) report 80 died yesterday in Baghdad alone.  All Iraq News notes:

The British Government condemned the car bombings that took place in Baghdad on last Wednesday.

A statement by the British Embassy in Iraq received by AIN cited “The British Government condemns the terrorist attacks that took place across Baghdad yesterday morning. My thoughts are with the families of those who were killed and injured.”
The statement quoted the British Ambassador to Baghdad as saying “I offered my condolences to Foreign Minister Zebari yesterday afternoon, and affirmed the United Kingdom’s solidarity with the Iraqi government in its efforts to combat terrorism.”

And they note:

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (UNAMI), Jaclyn Babcock, strongly condemned the series of recent terrorist explosions that took place in Baghdad and resulted in killing and wounding many innocent people.
UNAMI quoted Babcock as saying ''These terrorist operations can not be justified by any political goals or sectarian rancor where these operations are killing innocent  people continuously without any mercy.''

But due to silence, they couldn't note any statement from the US State Dept or the US Embassy in Baghdad.  I pointed out that the US Embassy in Baghdad posted a lot of nonsense on their Facebook page yesterday.  And let's point out that there is worse than "nonsense," there is "harmful."  The US Embassy in Baghdad is like a pre-teen that really shouldn't be left alone on Facebook.

MLK?  He's an international inspiration, one of the world's all time greats.  By all means, note him and the 50th anniversary.  But why in the world would you decide to post those speeches by Secretary of State John Kerry to the US Embassy in Baghdad's Facebook page?  We'll share one example:

‫شاهدوا معنا التسجيل الكامل و المترجم لبيان وزير الخارجية السيد جون كيري حول سوريا، 26 آب/2013
Remarks of Secretary of State Kerry on Syria, 26 August, 2013‬
  • Tareq Al Wady انا ضد الاسد ولكن امريكا بلد لايهتم بالشعوب وانما همهم الوحيد هو اسراءيل نحن العراقيين ذقنا من الويلات مالم يراها بشر غيرنا ومازلنا نتجرعها وذلك بفضل امريكا انظروا المشهد العراقي كل يوم نزيف دم للابرياء والحكومه العراقيه تتفرج وتقتل بالسنه والشيعه وتعتقل السنه فمن جاء بالحكومه العراقيه انها امريكا لكن نحن شعب نوءمن بالله واقداره فنحمد الله على كل حال لان الله مولانا وانتم لامولا لكم وحسبنا الله ونعم الوكيلSee Translation
  • Holy Diamond God curse America

"God curse America"?  Not a surprising comment when you consider how divisive the Syrian civil war is in Iraq.  It was outrageous for that Embassy to post that speech.

Don't give me the crap that it's a speech by the US Secretary of State.  Kerry recently gave a speech on LGBT rights.  You know how many Embassy Facebook sites posted that video (I do, I know the actual number).  Among the many not posting that speech?  The US Embassy in Iraq.

I didn't rip them a new one here.  I was disappointed but they're supposed to be doing diplomacy and I could write off a decision I didn't agree with by noting they did not want to antagonize.

But if you don't want to antagonize, why the hell are you posting John Kerry taking sides and calling out one group in Syria?

  • Nadheer Mahmoud هل الأسلحة التي استخدمت في العراق من قبل الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية والتي تحتوي اليورانيوم المنضب والتي يعاني العراقيين من آثارها من حصول التشوهات الخلقية للمدنيين الأبرياء لا يحاسب عليها القانون الدولي وان القتل هو واحد مهما اختلف نوع السلاح والفضل لأمريكا بنشر ثقافة العنف من قبلكم من خلال تقسيم المجتمع في البلدان العربية على أساس عرقي أو ديني أو عقائدي والذي كان يعيش في أجواء أخوة

Nadheer Mahmoud replies to the Kerry post by rightly noting the US used chemical weapons on Iraq.  Nadheer is elequent and to the point -- there's nothing alarming or shocking in his words. From Monday's snapshot:
Today, US Secretary of State John Kerry idiotically made a declaration (link is text and video):

 What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.

 I like John Kerry but he needs to learn to shut his mouth and stop trying to lead the administration.  He wants war on Syria, I don't.  That's not the issue.  The issue is the State Dept is over US efforts in Iraq currently.  That's where Kerry's in charge.  With that reality in mind, let's look at that statement one more time:

What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.
If those words really mean anything, Iraqis have every right to expect Kerry to speak out for them, especially when the WHO report is finally issued.  You never, as Secretary of State, paint yourself into a corner.  The Secretary now has painted himself into a corner and, in doing so, painted his Dept and the administration into one.   The State Dept is supposed to practice diplomacy which is another reason John Kerry should be a lot less quick on the draw and a little more concerned with dialogue.

The reaction taking place on Facebook is not shocking or surprising.  The fact that the State Dept is less intelligent than I am is highly disappointing.  I don't expect genius, I do expect better than me from them.  If I saw the fall out potential, they should have.  But they're so repeatedly stupid, they can't see a thing and destroy chances of goodwill over and over.

Read through the comments -- I'm going by the Arabic ones but you can just read the English ones -- this is nightmare.  How could the US Embassy have been so stupid to post that speech?

Were they trying to inflame Iraqis?

Are they so stupid that they don't grasp it's not just Moqtada al-Sadr's movement calling for the "occupiers" to go home.  This is a feeling that's probably around 52% (at least) currently in Iraq.  And that was before the idiots at the State Dept and the Embassy couldn't be bothered with a message of condolence for the victims of Wednesday's violence and before they were stupid enough to post John Kerry's speech.

The stupidity needs to stop immediately.  If it can't, the US needs to close all embassies and consulates in Iraq.  Not just because they're wasting billions of US taxpayer dollars with their stupidity but also because their stupidity is putting diplomatic staff in Iraq in jeopardy.   If nothing's being accomplished except for painting big targets on the backs of American there, the Iraq mission needs to stop and all those dollars can be spent on programs in the US.

In Iraq, violence continues.  NINA reports a 1 police officer and 1 Iraqi soldier were shot dead in Mosul, 1 person was shot dead in Basra, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and 2 civilians, 1 Shabak was shot dead near his Mosul home, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three people injured, and a Hilla bombing claimed 1 life and left two more people injuredMohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "The deadliest attack was in Samaeea, where 16 people died when a car bomb exploded in an outdoor market" with twenty-seven left injured.  He counts 23 dead today.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 823 violent deaths in the country so far this month.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:

  1. So far this month, at least 633 killed and 1,682 wounded by violence in Iraq - tally:

amy goodman