Saturday, December 17, 2011

Idiot of the week?

The weekend at last. And on most Friday's I do "Idiot of the week."

This week I'm noting Naomi Spencer.

But she didn't earn "Idiot of the Week," she earned "Genius of the Week."

How did Naomi Spencer earn "Genius of the Week"?

She wrote a piece for WSWS about Bradley Manning.

And she never forgets that he's entered no plea as yet. And she still manages to defend him.

All the things that everyone wants to pretend are so hard are not impossible and Naomi Spencer proves that. So good for her. She's shown up so many people by writing an important article that never attempts to argue the government's case for it.

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

Friday, December 16, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Bradley Manning's Article 32 hearing begins, Nouri's hold on Iraq seems ever more fragile, Tom Hayden publishes political porn, and more.
A gleeful and pompous Geraldo Rivera (Fox News) announces he's back in Iraq. I don't think he's been so giddy since he did the 20/20 segment that was supposed to be an interview with John Travolta (then promoting Staying Alive) that Geraldo turned into a workout session. If viewers can be thankful for little else, Geraldo has thus far kept his shirt on. So lightheaded and deranged, he forgets to note his previous visit to Iraq. March 31, 2003, CNN reported, "The U.S. military said Monday that Fox News Channel Correspondent Geraldo Rivera was being expelled from Iraq for divulging details of a future military operation, though later in the day a Central Command spokesman said he was not sure whether the newsman would be forced out." The following day, Chris Plante (CNN) would report, "Fox News Channel executives and the Pentagon reached a deal Monday in which correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who raised the military's ire when he reported operational details, will leave Iraq voluntarily rather than be expelled, Pentagon officials told CNN. [. . .] In the live broadcast, Rivera told his photographer to aim the camera at the sand in front of him. Rivera then outlined a map of Iraq, and showed the relative location of Baghdad and his location with the 101st Airborne. He then showed where the 101st would be going next." Peter Arnett did a journalistic courtesy and gave an interview to Iraqi television on March 31st. Fox News personalities immediately began demonizing him on air non-stop. By April 1st, NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic had all dumped Arnett. Though Arnett gave out no information that could have endangered anyone, Rivera did. He still works for Fox News despite violating a US military policy he agreed to when he entered the embed program. Geraldo was also a war cheerleader. They don't get punished. They don't have to admit they were wrong. They're allowed to lie and then lie about lying. That's how it works -- and not just at Fox News (or right wing outlets -- this is the mainstream, it's the left, it's everywhere, there's very little integrity in the press).
But on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today, Diane and her guests -- Nadia Bilbassy (MBC TV), Robin Harding (Financial Times of London) and David Ignatius (Washington Post) offered some reality on Iraq.
Diane Rehm: David Ignatius, the war in Iraq is finally over. In your view, what has been accomplished?
David Ignatius: Well that's really the hardest question to answer for Americans and Iraqis with this week's visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. You had to say, in terms of specific commitments going forward, very little. We have an Iraqi democracy but it's headed by someone who's widely regarded as no paragon of democracy. He hasn't succeeded really in reaching out to other Iraqis. I'm struck, Diane, this week, a war that began famously with shock and awe, as we termed our spectacular bombardment of Iraq, ended with the muted, somber sense of how difficult this proved to be, how many mistakes the United States made. And, in the terms of measurable outcomes, how little the US got out of it, at the loss of nearly 4,500 US soldiers, 1000,000 -- at least -- Iraqis killed. So it's a painful story but we would have to say most of all for Iraqis.
Diane Rehm: 32,000 US troops wounded, more than $800 billion spent.
I'm not interested in silly spin. The president's campaign? He' is the one over it. He decides, he says yes or he says no. You can't claim that he is downplaying it but his campaign -- this entity over which he has no control -- isn't. Don't create this false wall that doesn't exist. Barack's campaign is Barack. I'll further point out that Barack did three days of press on this and that's just this week. So stop pretending that he tried to keep it low key. Stop pretending?
Tom Hayden's pretended to be human for years now. Apparently having pickled his mind with booze, he seems to think he can continue to lie and get away with it. Forgetting his huge, massive failure in the LA mayoral election, the Los Angeles Times runs tired Tom's sad little brew of fantasy which include:
It was a brave stance to take for an ambitious politician at a time when American support for war with Iraq was building. He went on to become the first president to campaign on a promise to end an ongoing American war, and the peace movement helped put him into office.
He's referring to Barack's stupid 2002 speech which did not oppose going to war with Iraq, it opposed rushing to war. Barack didn't say no to war, he said the case wasn't yet made. He would spend the next years -- check the New York Times archives especially in 2004 and WHORE Tom knows this -- changing his stance. But in 2002, he wasn't running for national office, not even the Senate. And there's no way in hell his state legislature district would have supported him unless he took some stance -- no matter how tiny -- against the drums of war. Also, the peace movement helped put him into office? No, the Cult of St. Barack did. A lot of dirty whores like Tom Hayden who never made an honest buck and, in fact, would be depending on charity today were it not for the ridiculous and unmanly move of demanding millions to end a marriage. Greedy little whore, that's Tom-Tom.

In the years leading up to the 2008 election, there were at least 10 national antiwar demonstrations that drew more than 100,000 participants each. The movement helped Rep. Barbara Lee to rise from a lone war opponent in Congress to the leader of a bloc of as many as 200 representatives calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Those combined forces -- the peace movement and lawmakers who opposed continuing the Iraq war -- created a political climate that enabled Obama to end the Iraq war over the objections of many in the Pentagon and most of his Republican presidential rivals.
What a trashy whore. Tom's not going to be welcomed into the DNC. He has no real money left (not to throw around on donations which is all the DNC would want from a low life like Tom to begin with). Whores tend to spend other people's money a bit too quickly. So he'll always be on the low rung he's lived since his divorce. But he seems to believe that if he just lies long enough, the DNC will embrace him. Seriously?
After Barack repeatedly -- in 2007 and 2008 -- ridiculed "Tom Hayden Democrats" -- publicly ridiculed them, the little whore Tom thinks he's ever going to rise even one tiny step up the ladder? Please.
Reality, as everyone knows, Barack was planning to keep thousands of US troops in Iraq. Iraq wouldn't grant immunity from the Parliament. (Nouri was prepared to grant it himself.) So what happened then? They followed the deal the Bush administration negotiated in November 2008. Tom's praising George W. Bush. You kind of get the feeling that for a few more of the millions Jane earned while Tom relaxed on his ass and cheated, for just a few more, he'd blow George W. Bush in downtown LA at high noon. And swallow with a smile.
Another reality? Negotiatons never ended. This week Osama al-Nujaifi publicly declared that the Parliament was prepared to give "partial immunity." A step up from the stance in October of no immunity. That's what negotiations do, they see each side stake out a position and then see if they can move closer to one another's position as talks continue. Nouri has stated -- and Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee he felt it would happen -- that they can pick up the issue of "trainers" in the new year.
Want some reality from the press that few offered this week? David S. Cloud and David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) observed, "The Obama administration had adopted its own version of the Bush administration claim that the conflict was worth the cost because it helped free Iraq from Hussein." We'll pick back up with The Diane Rehm Show when Nadia gets honest or closer to it. If she's only now aware of the 4.5 million internal and external Iraqi refugees which have been in the news since 2006, that doesn't say very much for her information base level (her intelligence level is brutally low but we'll address that on Sunday).
Nadia Bilbassy: In research I've been doing for the last week about the war, I came across something really striking. I mean, looking at -- looking at -- just to give you an example -- I found that, for example, 2 million people are internally displaced inside Iraq. Two and a half million refugees are outside the country in neighboring countries like Syria and like Jordan. Twenty-three precent of Iraq is under -- live under poverty line, that's $2 a day. This is a rich country that's sitting on the second largest oil resource in the world. They have -- 34,000 doctors left the country and forty-percent is the unemployment level. So, in a way, yes, they got a democracy in terms of the process of voting but this government, as David said, where the strong man like Prime Minister Maliki still holds the ministry of national security and defense, unable to bring somebody into the country -- into the government.
Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) looks at Nouri and Barack's meet-up from a number of angles including what took place in Iraq while the bulk of the press kept their eyes on DC:
As Al-Maliki visited Washington on Monday and Tuesday, seven people died in shootings and explosions in Iraq itself, seen by many Iraqis as having been motivated by sectarian considerations.
On Tuesday, two bombs set off a blaze at an oil pipeline in Basra, Iraq's main oil refinery in the south of the country.
Even more troubling than the security weaknesses has been the erosion of the fragile political process established under the US occupation, which has been eroding since the formation of the current governing coalition in Iraq.
Many Iraqis believe that Al-Maliki is pursuing his own sectarian agenda that focuses on consolidating Shia power and monopolising control of the state and security forces under his Daawa Party.
Al-Maliki's failure to preserve a multi-ethnic political accommodation in Iraq has increasingly pushed the country's Sunni minority population to demand semi-autonomous status.
Let's discuss the provincesnd the semi-autonomous issue. Iraq is a country composed of 18 provinces. Three are semi-autonomous (Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah) and they form the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The other 15, at present, are under the control of the Baghdad-based government. Thursday, October 27th, Salahuddin Province's council voted to go semi-autonomous. Monday, Diyala Province's council passed a decision for the province to become semi-autonomous. Xinhua explains: Iraqi constitution says 'one or more governorates (provinces) shall have the right to organize into a region based on a request to be voted on in a referendum submitted in one of the following two methods: First: a request by one-third of the council members of each governorate intending to form a region. Second: a request by one-tenth of the voters in each of the governorates intending to form a region."

Al Mada notes that 30 residents of Diyala Province staged a protest which quickly turned into a sit-in. The protesters were registering their objection to the decision for Diyala Province to move to semi-autonomy. Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) notes that protests took place in Baquba yesterday for the third day in a row -- with "hundreds" participating. Alsumaria TV adds, "Sadr movement stated, on Thursday, that Diyala Region's declaration was advanced in a provocative and challenging way. Head of Diyala Province is spurring discord between the province's different components, the movement accused while asserting that the Iraqi Central Government is responsible for demands to establish federal regions." Bryar Mohammed (Zawya) adds, "Baghdad is trying to bully Diyala Province out of trying to become an autonomous region, AKnews has learnt. Suhad Hayli from the Iraqiya List party says he expects the Iraqi government will use force to quash the autonomy demands of the Province to the north east of Baghdad, bordering Iran. Diyala Provincial Council's demand for regional autonomy was announced two days ago, almost two months after another Sunni dominated province Salahaddin called for the same." On Salahuddin Province, the Kurdish Globe notes the events leading up to the October vote:

The provincial council of Salahadin last October unanimously supported making the province an autonomous region after the dismissal of faculty members from the University of Tikrit and mass arrests in Salahaddin province. Last October, the Baghdad Ministry of Higher Education dismissed 140 faculty members from the University of Tikrit in Salahaddin Province. The ministry pointed out that "it was simply following the parliamentary directive on "de-Baathification." Later, Iraqi security forces started an operation in the central and southern provinces, arresting former members of the Baath Party and accusing them of plotting a coup against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government after the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of this year.
The arrest came after Maliki received information from former Libyan interim leader Mahmoud Jibril, whose rebel forces obtained documents indicating that former Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi tried to support an attempt by Baath members to overthrow the Iraqi government.

That's one problem Nouri faces. There are many more. Many, many more.
Monday, November 28th, a car bomb was detonated near Parliament -- apparently targeting Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and members of Parliament. Nouri al-Maliki was no where near the building (he was out of the country) and not scheduled to appear in the building that week; however, his spokesperson and then Nouri himself began insisting that the bombing was an attack on him. Al Mada reports that Parliament's investigation committee noted yesterday that it was a suicide car bombing which claimed the life of the driver, that none of the four people who've been taken into custody on suspicion of involvement work for the Parliament and that early signs are a group of people (men and women) based in Baghdad and Anbar Province were behind the bombing.

In other explosive news, Al Mada reports that Iraqiya has announced it is breaking off talks with the ruling bloc. Iraqiya is the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya still came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law still came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Political Stalemate I ended in November of 2010 with the Erbil Agreement hammered out in Erbil between the major political blocs (and the US) whereby every one was supposed to make concessions. The Kurds would get to keep Jalal Talabani as president. They thought they would get three vice presidents. Iraqiya won the elections in March 2010 and the political bloc was headed by Ayad Allawi. Nouri wasn't stepping down and the White House was backing Nouri. For Nouri to remain prime minister, Allawi was promised he would head a new, independent council over security issues. He was also promised that the Iraqiya candidates demonized as Ba'athists and forced out of the 2010 elections by Nouri's friends would have their names cleared.

On November 11th, the new Parliament held their first real session. They voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker of Parliament (he was from Iraqiya and that was part of the Erbil Agreement), Jalal was named president and Nouri was named prime minister designate (but we were all informed in the following days that this was 'unofficial' -- once named prime minister-designate, you have 30 days, per the Constitution, to put together a Cabinet and get the Parliament to sign off on each member). But what of the security council? What of clearing the names of the falsely accused?

That would come, State of Law insisted, in time.

Allawi and a number of Iraqiya members walked out. They should have refused to participate from that day forward. Instead, they foolishly believed promises (from both State of Law and the White House). Nobember 25th, Jalal 'officially' named Nouri prime minister-designate.

Nouri had created Political Stalemate I by refusing to surrender the prime minister post. He'd done that for eight months. In that time, he should have had some ideas about a Cabinet. But Nouri's problem was he over-promised to get support. So when it was time to name a Cabinet, suddenly the Cabinet had more ministers and deputy ministers than it had previously (from 37 in 2006 to 42 in 2010). And he still couldn't keep his promises to everyone.

December 22nd, the Constitution was tossed by the wayside and Nouri was allowed to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister because he'd assembled a kind of Cabinet. He named 31 out of 42 ministers and people pretended that was good enough. He had failed to meet the Constitutional mandate of naming a Cabinet but everyone looked the other way.

He refused to name the security posts: National Security, Interior and Defense. His defenders (including the White House) swore those posts would be named in a matter of weeks. His detractors saw the refusal as part of a pattern of power grabs on Nouri's part and stated he wouldn't fill the posts. This is the start of Political Stalemate II.
Six days from now, it will be a year since Nouri was wrongly (per the Constitution, per the vote) named prime minister. And Iraq still has no Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior or Minister of National Security.

When announcing that talks were over, Al Mada notes Iraqiya stated that they had given up a great deal for the good of Iraq but there was no compromise from another. That's a reference to Nouri's State of Law as well as the coalition he now heads. In giving up the right to prime minister, Iraqiya was promised (and the Erbil Agreement is in writing) that an independent security commission would be created and that Ayad Allawi would head it. That's among the many broken promises Nouri made to keep his claws on the post of prime minister.
Tuesday on KCRW's To the Point, Warren Oleny addressed Iraq with many guests. We'll note part of his conversation with Feisal Amin Rasoul Istrabadi -- the part where the realities of Political Stalemate II are addressed.
Warren Oleny: Feisal Istrabadi is a dual Iraqi- U.S. citizen. He was Iraq's Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations. He drafted the country's interim constitution. He is now Director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University. Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being on our program.
Ambassador Feisal Amin Rasoul Istrabadi: My pleasure to be with you again.
Warren Oleny: Why did you sever yourself from the current government of Iraq? You're no longer the ambassador and you're here at Indiana University.
Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi: I am. Well Indiana University happens to be my alma mata anyway. But, at the time, in 2007, I left at the height of the sectarian violence in Iraq. And I simply felt [clears throat], excuse me, I simply felt that the government and many entities in the government were complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad and other places throughout the country and I felt no longer able to speak on behalf of that government so I left.
Warren Oleny: Are you concerned that that sort of thing will continue now that American troops are gone?
Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi: I very much am concerned as your previous guests also were discussing. The current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has made a number of moves which indicate that he intends to continue to act against particularly the Sunnis of Iraq. And this, of course, is likely to lead to further deterioration in the country and most likely lead to further violence. It's a very, very worrisome sign to me.
. . .
[Clip of Barack Obama speaking on Monday, specifically this, "Mr. Prime Minister, you've said that Iraqis seek democracy, 'a state of citizens and not sects.' So we're partnering to strengthen the institutions upon which Iraq's democracy depends -- free elections, a vibrant press, a strong civil society, professional police and law enforcement that uphold the rule of law, an independent judiciary that delivers justice fairly, and transparent institutions that serve all Iraqis." but click here for full remarks.]
Warren Oleny: Feisal Istrabadi, how close is Iraq to achieving the kinds of thing that we just heard the president describe?
Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi: If this is a check list of what Iraq needs to do to establish the rule of law and Constitutional democracy, Iraq is failing on each of those items. Let me start with, being a lawyer, what's nearest and dearest to my heart, the judiciary. The judiciary has become a rubber stamp for the government. Constitutional cases -- a number of Constitutional cases have been decided by the Iraqi judiciary, in each case, given Maliki precisely what he wants. He has maintained control over the Interior Ministry which controls the -- he is acting Interior Minister, in fact -- which controls the-uh-the-uh internal security structure. He is, Nouri al-Maliki is, acting Defense Minister which controls the army. And he is also acting Minister of State Security. So he has the entire state security infrastructure, he has direct control over the entire state security infrastructure which, if you'll recall, is the way that Saddam Hussein rose to power in the 1970s -- precisely by controlling the state security infrastructure. We are repeating the same lessons of Iraq's past unfortunately. Each of these criteria, ticked off by President Obama, is a cause for deep concern for anybody concerned about democracy and the rule of law in Iraq.
Warren Oleny: Is there anything the Obama administration should be doing differently from what it is?
Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi: Well, I mean, that's hard to say because obviously it's influence is somewhat waning. The critical mistake the Obama administration made occurred last year when it threw its entire diplomatic weight behind supporting Nouri al-Maliki notwithstanding these very worrisome signs which were already in place in 2009 and 2010. The administration lobbied hard both internally in Iraq and throughout the region to have Nouri al-Maliki get a second term -- which he has done. Right now, the betting there's some question among Iraq experts whether we'll ever have a set of elections in Iraq worthy of the name. I mean, you can almost get odds, a la Las Vegas, on that among Iraq experts. It's a very worrisome thing. What can they do in the future? Well I suppose it would be helpful, it would be useful, if we stopped hearing this sort of Happy Talk coming from the administration -- whether its Jim Jeffreys in Baghdad, the US Ambassador or whether it's the president himself or other cabinet officers. We're getting a lot of Happy Talk, we're getting a lot of Happy Talk from the Pentagon about how professional the Iraqi Army is when, in fact, the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff himself has said it's going to take another ten years before the Iraqi Army can secure the borders. So it would help, at least, if we would stop hearing this sort of Pollyanna-ish -- if that's a word -- exclamations from the administration about how swimmingly things are going in Iraq and had a little more truth told in public, that would be a very big help to begin with.

Al Sabaah reports
that Allawi met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday and that they discussed various topics including oil-rich, disputed Kirkuk.

Jalal is an increasingly unpopular figure in the KRG -- which is why Massoud Barzani's competing political party continues to have greater support and why the new emerging Goran party continues to grow. Jalal's popularity won't be helped by the news that Dar Addustour reports: There's been no reduction in his salary or in the salaries of the vice presidencies. Not only that, the promised (in February) bill was never voted on by the Parliament.

In January and early February, scattered protests began to alarm Nouri al-Maliki. The protesters wanted improved basic services (potable water, dependable electricity, etc.), jobs and for the government to stop "disappearing" people. The protesters were also noting the vast corruption in Iraq and how an election had been held but the president, vice presidents and prime minister remained the exact same people who held the posts before the election.

Facing this discontent as discontent raged throughout the region (most prominently in Egypt), Nouri attended to head off the protests (and Moqtada al-Sadr rushed in to help Nouri) by promising a number of things. He would solve the corruption in 100 days -- just give him 100 days, Moqtada insisted -- and, right now, Nouri would promise reductions in government salaries, including his own. His salary was never reduced nor was Jalal's.

More broken promises from Nouri (and Iraq's First Lady Moqtada al-Sadr).

Polling brings more bad news for Nouri. Al Sabaah reports on a poll of Iraqis in which 70% say that they do not have access to all items the ration cards are supposed to provide. That's bad enough but it gets worse. All of Nouri's February promises of improvement? The people aren't seeing it. 80% of Iraqis say that there's been no efforts to repair the sewage systems in the areas that they live in, 68% state that there's no improvement in the water. Meanwhile Al Mada reports on a poll by the Arab Center for Studies which found that most in the MidEast region feel Iraq will be the next country hit by the "Arab spring."

This is not good news for Nouri who rightly feared in February that the Iraqi people were more than just disappointed in him. On the issue of the "disappeared" -- arresting peole and disappearing them so that families have no idea if their loved ones are even alive, that's not been addressed and Nouri's latest crackdown on "Ba'athists" (he sses them everywhere) only reminded Iraqis of the lack of improvement.
Reuters notes two police officers were injured in a Falluja shooting, that the Baghdad "convoy" of Baghdad security spokesperson Qassim al-Moussawi was attacked and one bystander was left injured, and, dropping back to last night, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one student, a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured one Iraqi military officer and a Mosul home invasion left 1 police officer dead.
In the US, Bradley Manning's Article 32 hearing began today at Fort Meade, Maryland. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning has been at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key, for months. In March, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. David E. Coombs is Bradley's attorney and he provided a walk through on Article 104.

Today, Ellen Nakashima (Washington Post) reports, Coombs requested that Lt Col Paul Almanza step down as presiding officer in the hearing due to the fact that, in addition to the military, Almanza also works for the Justice Dept which has an ongoing WikiLeaks investigation. Almanza refused to recuse himself. Scott Shane (New York Times) adds, "Mr. Coombs appealed the recusal decision to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and asked the court to halt the hearing until it could rule. A decision on a possible postponement could come as early as Saturday, when testimony is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m." Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers' Miami Herald) offers, "Making his first court appearance, Manning sat unemotionally behind the defense table wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a combat patch from the 10th Mountain Division on his Army uniform. He stared ahead, not glancing at the row of supporters sitting behind him and his defense team, which includes two military lawyers. After 19 months in military custody at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he appeared thin but healthy."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

They're out in full force

Thursday. Almost the weekend.

The Iraq War liars are out in full force. Trying to pretend the occupation ended. As though our government still isn't occupying Iraq. That was the purpose of the Embassy in Baghdad, after all. It is why over 17,000 Americans will remain just for the embassy and the consulates.

But, yeah, play cheap whore and pretend the occupation ended.

What a bunch of garbage.

And as usual, you can't count on so-called left media.

And as usual, whores are getting paid. But I didn't know about that until C.I. pointed it out in the roundtable (read the gina & krista round-robin tomorrow and we'll probably grab it for Third on Sunday as well).

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Morning Joe brews a new form of sexism: Erasing all US women who served in the Iraq War, a mayor is kidnapped in Iraq (and killed), Senator Patty Murray calls for a new outpatient care center for veterans and more.
Today on The Takeaway (PRI), the issue of Iraq was addressed. Excerpt:
Celeste Headlee: Ned Parker has covered the war since the beginning as the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times now at the Council on Foreign Relations. So let me ask you about the future of Iraq. Obviously, we've gotten comments from American generals who are worried that this country will descend into chaos. You heard an Iraqi woman just a moment ago talking about how she's optimistic although the government is weak. What -- what do you think? Is this a country that will remain united? Where the path to diplomacy is shaky but-but sure?
Ned Parker: In terms of the country's internal politics?
Celeste Headlee: Yeah.
Ned Parker: Well -- I -- That's what struck me so much my recent trip to Iraq. I was in Iraq this summer from May 'till early August. And at that time I saw many worrying trends in Iraq. The politics of the country were becoming very polarized again and very sectarian -- reminiscent of 2003, 2004 and '05 and the build up to civil war. And also saw a lot of alarming trends from the government by -- from the prime minister's office of security forces being used in questionable raids where people were detained and would disappear into special jails where their families and lawyers could not talk to them. Pro-democracy protesters who were trying to have their own equivalent of an Arab Spring to criticize the corruption among the elite government officials and the lack of transparency started to be attacked in May and June by plain clothes government agents and pro-Maliki supporters. While army looked on, these men would go around and beat people on one occasion. And I had been in Egypt in Tahrir Square in February and had some mobs there attacking pro-democracy protesters. And it was the same thing. So I saw all of that this summer and when I came back it was the same if not worse. And Iraqis are in charge of their destiny and America I don't think in recent years has effectively used its clout and leverage to try to help promote this process of national reconciliation or the respect of civil liberties and freedom of speech.. Particularly I think since 2010 there was an effort of getting a government in place because there had been [crosstalk] Yeah and with the deadline on troops leaving, there was an emphasis on just having a stable figure in power that America could deal with at the expense of these important things: rule of law, freedom of speech. So all of these seems to be going and that was the case when I went back.
Celeste Headlee: Well we've got like a minute-and-a-half left so let me ask you this very complicated question which is Iraq five years from now, ten years from now, stable? Peaceful?

Ned Parker: It's uh -- I mean, I wish I had a crystal ball. I sure hope so. You know I very much respect Iraqis, I have spent a lot of time there and I think everyone wants to see Iraq work out for the best but we really don't know there are so many worrying and different trends there. As I said, the politics have become far more sectarian, in the political class there's very little trust between kind of the Shi'ite elite and Sunnis. There's talk within different provinces of creating their own regions because --
Celeste Headlee: Separating off.
Ned Parker: Right Sunni provinces no longer trust Baghdad so they want to declare their own region. With what's happening in Syria that could also polarize things So it's so complicated. That could lead to more unrest and an authoritarian regime. Or perhaps Iraq will have their own Arab Spring that will lead to responsible government and a process of reconciliation.
From radio we'll switch to TV but before noting something worth noting will first note PIG BOY Willie Geist. Willie is part of the sewer of MSNBC -- the non-news shows, the yackety-yack where buffoons pass themselves off as informed -- and today on Morning Joe he felt the need to weigh in on those US service members who had lost their lives serving in Iraq. It's a serious issue and it's insulting to here people say "4500" -- try getting the actual number you lazy ass fools (and, yes, I'm aware that would include Barack). But Willie did all of them one better, he wanted to talk about the "brothers" who were left behind because they died there. The "brothers." And no one corrected him, not one damn person -- guest or the huge cast of Morning Joe -- stopped the frat boy Bob Somerby has so rightly and so often criticized to inform him that US service members who died in the Iraq War were not just men, women died as well. In July of 2008, CNN would note that the number of female US service members who have died in the Iraq War had already reached 100. As of September 23, 2011, 111 female US service members had died in the Iraq War according to Noonie Fortin -- and 13 US civilian women died in the Iraq War as well. Fortin provides a write up on each one of the dead (including the civilians like DynCorp contractor Deborah Klecker who died at age 51 in June 2005). The first US female service member to die in Iraq was PFC Lori Ann Piestewa (also the first Native American to die in the Iraq War) on March 23, 2003. And the last so far was August 7, 2010, SPC Faith R. Hinkley of Colorado. Here's the link to trash (only because Ava and I will be commenting further at Third on Sunday unless Bob Somerby grabs it Friday).
Twelve minutes and 17 seconds into the clip, Willie Boy asks, ". . . what is the bitter-sweet feeling if that's the way to put it for some of these guys who are happy to be going home but remembering the brothers left behind?"
111 women dead. And no guest or cast member of Morning Joe (it's not a news show) could bother to object when "Tucker Carlson's boy toy" bothered to render women who have served in the Iraq War invisible, including those who died while serving. Maybe Morning Joe can spend tomorrow apologizing to the loved ones of the 111 women who died serving in Iraq as well as to the women who served in Iraq and made it home? (And the total number of US military personnel killed in the Iraq War? The Pentagon's official count currently stands at 4487 -- one up from last week. If you're going to note the deaths and if you think they matter, you bother to get the number right and not go with an estimate.)
Richard Engel: But the biggest change for Iraq may be closer ties with it's Shi'ite neighbor Iran. These days Alkadhimiya is full of Iranian tour groups who come with their own guides with signs in Farsi. Under Saddam, no Iranians came to Iraq, Saddam was Iran's enemy. Today, more than 2 million Iranians visit Iraq every year. Iraq's new dynamic is on display here every day. After nearly nine years, it's Iraq Shi'ites who have benefited the most, they have won this country. The United States toppled a dictator who's been replaced by a Shi'ite government with close ties to Iran. It's hard to imagine how that was ever part of the plan. Across town at Baghdad's famous book market, Kareem Hanash, himself a Shi'ite, doesn't want US troops to leave. He says Iran has calculated all of this very well; they want a Shi'ite Iraq so they can control the assets, economy and politics. Fear of Iran's growing power is sharper still in the Sunni-stronghold of Falljua. Once Iraq's deadliest war zone, Falluja remains violent. A bomb killed 3 policemen here just after we arrived. Police say Sunni radicals killed them because they work for the Shi'ite government. Compared to other parts of Iraq, there's been little development in Sunni towns like Falluja. This building was destroyed by US forces seven years ago and still looks like this. People here accuse the government of persecuting them, ignoring them, trying to cut Sunnis out of the new Iraq. A cloth merchant told me, "You crossed a thousand miles from America. Why? If you want the oil, take the oil. If you want our money, take it. But you have destroyed life, the whole system."
Staying on Falluja, Fadhil al-Badrani, Patrick Markey and Giles Elgood (Reuters) note the US military's two major assaults on Falluja, the first in March 2004, "Hundreds of Iraqis and dozens of U.S. troops were killed but the insurgency was not quelled. Six months later, the U.S. Marines went back in. A month-long assault destroyed much of the city, killed an estimated 1,300 Iraqi fighters and civilians, and wounded thousands more. More than 100 U.S. troops also died."
Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes the corpses of 3 government workers were found in Dhuluiya (all were shot dead, all had their hands bound), the mayor of Jurf al-Sakhar and his son were kidnapped (the mayor was then killed) and 2 Ramadi bicycle bombings claimed 2 lives and left three people injured.
Verbal violence took place at Fort Bragg yesterday when Barack Obama spoke. Bill Van Auken (WSWS) analyzes the speech:
Obama won the 2008 election in large measure due to the deep-going hostility among the American electorate to the wars begun under the Bush administration. He pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of coming to office. Once in the White House, however, he retained Bush's secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and largely ceded policy decisions to the Pentagon brass.
The December 31, 2011 deadline for completing troop withdrawals was set not by Obama, but was rather part of the Status of Forces Agreement reached between Bush and the Iraqi regime in 2008. Bush, like Obama, had fully intended to renegotiate this pact to allow permanent stationing of US troops in the country.
As it is, Washington is doing its best to maintain its grip on Iraq, replacing uniformed troops with an army of up to 17,000 under the nominal direction of the US State Department. It is to include a force of 5,500 private mercenary security contractors, a massive CIA station, and Special Operations troops operating covertly out of uniform. Tens of thousands of US troops are being kept in place across Iraq's border in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, while the US Navy and the US Air Force remain in control of the country's coastlines and airspace.
And Nouri remains in control of Iraq because the US government installed the puppet during the Bush administration and because the Barack administration wasn't going to allow anyone else to be prime minister, the will of the voters (expressed in the 2010 elections) be damned. Dar Addustour reports that the only hope for Iraq's government is for the blocs to meet and iron out their differences. Al Sabaah notes Parliament wants Nouri to appear before them next week to answer questions regarding the status of Iraqi security forces, the withdrawal and the absence of heads for the three security ministries (Defense, Interior and National Security). (This would be the questioning that Moqtada al-Sadr called for weeks ago.) Yes, Iraq remains in Political Stalemate II -- a fact that so much Iraq coverage this week has ignored repeatedly. Noting Barack's false claim that the Iraqi government is inclusive, Warren Olney (To the Point) launched into a discussion Tuesday about the realities. A journalist wasn't up to reality (your first clue was the assertion that "the Americans are leaving" -- which the journalist stated she told to Iraqis who complained about the ongoing occupation. No, 17,000 State Dept employees aren't leaving. Not even all US troops are leaving. There's no reason not to know these things or to not know that violence has increased over the last 17 months.) So instead of wasting our time on that nonsense, We'll note the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Anthony Cordesman from the same broadcast:
Anthony Cordesman: Well I think we need to be concerned more broadly. The structure that we created around the Constitution really never properly defined the role of the Council to the Republic, the legislature. It attempted to limit the power of the president [prime minister[, but it gave him authority in ways where whoever drafted it was less concerned with money and military appointments than theoretical lines of authority. They've never really resolved how to manage the provincial and local government structures -- although that has improved over time. And here we are, nearly two years after the last election [March 7, 2010], you really don't have a functioning Cabinet. You don't have a Minister of Interior who is in charge of the internal security forces. And the Prime Minister is acting as Minister of Defense in part because a body which also is not part of the Constitution but was supposed to be a mix of Sunni and Shi'ite parties with the head or the leading opposition figure [Ayad] Allawi has never been able to work. We really need to be extremely cautious about what is happening there and certainly Maliki has attempted to centralize power but the problem goes far deeper than Maliki.
Warren Olney: Thank you for calling him "prime minister." I called him "president" earlier and that is not the office that he holds. How concerned are you, Anthony Cordesman, about the sectarian issues?
Anthony Cordseman: Well I think again we need to be very concerned. The reason that the US tried to keep troops was the risk of bringing back Sunni and Shi'ite tension and an insurgency. But, more than that, the real fear that clashes in the north between the Kurds and the Arabs could turn into a significant new form of fighting and that, at best, it needed a buffer so that it could be resolved peacefully. We look at the levels of violence and the way that the US tends to count violence in terms of signficant acts still shows a relatively high count. But if you look at other ways of counting which are sort of terrorist and lower levels of violence -- the counts that are used, for example, by the counter-terrorism center, still show a very high level of violence inside Iraq. And reports by another US figure indicated that the pattern of violence was rising as US forces went down.
While so many in the press rush to lie and pretty up things with yet another wave of Operation Happy Talk, not everyone went surfing. Jack Healy (New York Times) did participate in one of the few honest looks at Nouri al-Maliki this week (click here for Healy, Tim Arango and Michael D. Schmidt's article on Nouri) and today he writes about the rally denouncing the US in Falluja yesterday:

Once an inner ring of Iraq's wartime inferno, Falluja is only too eager to say goodbye to nearly nine shattering years of raids, bombings and house-to-house urban combat. At least 200 American troops were killed in this city. Untold thousands of Iraqis died, civilians and insurgents who are mourned equally as martyrs.
We noted the rally in yesterday's snapshot. Strangely, Healy was the only one with an article published this morning (in print, last night online) who could explore the rally. Equally strange, the Operation Happy Talk-ers had no time to mention what Ann noted last night, Press TV reported:

Unknown gunmen have attacked a US military base in the southern Iraq city of Basra with several mortar shells, military sources say.
Possible casualties or damages are yet to be reported.
The outpost is located in Basra International Airport, the second largest international airport in Iraq.

A lot of waves of Operation Happy Talk crashing up against reality as they had time to file on Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense, taking part in a "white flag" ceremony in Baghdad today.

Meanwhile Dar Addustour speaks with officials in Moqtada al-Sadr's political bloc who explain that Iraq has put special forces on the ground in civilian clothing and, in addition, they note that there are "foreign" intelligence agents in Iraq (US). And in another article they note Moqtada's words about resisting the continuation of US occupation in any manner are again being noted.

Al Mannarah reports that Saleh al-Mutlaq, Deputy Prime Minister for Service Affairs, declared on Tuesday that the Diyala provincial council's decision to move towards semi-autonomy for the province was "rushed" and would harm Iraq because, with so many US forces leaving, everyone must work together on security and stability. Dar Addustour notes that a delegation from Parliament went to Diyala to discuss the latest issue (the move towards semi-autonomy). They're also exploring the protests against the move (protests by residents in Diyala Province) and hearing from Mohammed Hassan, provincial council chief, that he had nothing to do with it, he didn't know that this was going to happen, he didn't even know that there was going to be a request forwarded for semi-autonomy. If he thinks that makes him look good, I'm at a loss as to how. He's the chief of the council. He should have had some inkling towards the feelings of the council members on this issue.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will leave Iraq to go to Turkey (Friday) where he will discuss, Dar Addustour notes, $111 million of drone equipment the US will be providing Turkey.
In the US, veterans care is already overwhelming the VA health care system and that's only going to get worse. Senator Patty Muarry is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she's calling for a new outpatient clinic in the state of Washington:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, December 15, 2011 (202) 224-2834

Chairman Murray Urges VA to Establish New, Full-Time CBOC on North Olympic Peninsula

(Washington, D.C.) -- Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray has sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki about the critical need to establish a new, full-time Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) on the North Olympic Peninsula. In her letter, which urges the VA to include funding for a new clinic in the Department's Fiscal Year 2013 budget, Murray cites the growing need for veterans care in the Northern Peninsula region and rising enrollment at the current Port Angeles facility. In addition to sending the letter to Secretary Shinseki, Murray also hand delivered the letter and discussed this issue with Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the VA's top health official, yesterday in a meeting in her office.

"For too long, the needs in the North Olympic Peninsula have outpaced VA's ability to provide veterans in the region with adequate health care services," said Chairman Murray. "While the current lease has been extended until the end of fiscal year 2012, I believe that veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula cannot wait any longer for a new clinic that has sufficient staff, space and hours to meet the needs of veterans living in this rural region of Washington state."

Since its establishment in 2008, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has served more than 14,000 veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula. As a result of the strong growth in this rural area, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has already exceeded maximum physical capacity and can neither expand services nor accommodate additional personnel. The need for care is expected to grow, with a 20 percent increase in enrollment projected over the next 10 years. Currently, the clinic occupies approximately 1,500 net usable square feet in a building owned by the Olympic Medical Center. A new CBOC would provide primary care and mental health services in a much larger space five days a week.

The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

As you continue to work toward our shared goal of increasing veterans' access to VA services and benefits, I write to urge your support for the establishment of a new, full-time Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Since its establishment in 2008, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has served a critical and growing need for the more than 14,000 veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula. In FY 2010, the clinic delivered primary care and mental health services to 1,200 veterans (a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2009), and accommodated 4,876 patient visits (a 5 percent increase over FY 2009). As a result of the strong growth in this rural area, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has already exceeded maximum physical capacity and can neither expand services nor accommodate additional personnel. The need for care is expected to grow, with a 20 percent increase in enrollment projected over the next 10 years.

When I wrote to you in August 2010 requesting that the Department examine in earnest a full service CBOC to serve veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula, you let me know that the VA Puget Sound Health Care System (VAPSHCS) was working on a lease expansion proposal to develop a larger outreach clinic when the current lease with Olympic Medical Center expires at the end of fiscal year 2011 and that VAPSHCS will request that the outreach clinic be upgraded to a full-time CBOC "as space, staff and hours of operations are expanded." I believe the time has come for veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula to have access to the level of care and services afforded by a full-time CBOC.

For too long, the needs in the North Olympic Peninsula have outpaced VA's ability to provide veterans in the region with adequate health care services. While the current lease has been extended until the end of fiscal year 2012, I believe that veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula cannot wait any longer for a new clinic that has sufficient staff, space and hours to meet the needs of veterans living in this rural region of Washington state.

As you finalize the Department's Fiscal Year 2013 budget, I urge you to include in your request sufficient funding to establish a new, full-time CBOC on the North Olympic Peninsula.

I thank you for your enduring commitment to our nation's veterans and look forward to learning of your plans.


Patty Murray


Meghan Roh

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray



Get Updates from Senator Murray

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

War Criminal Barry

Hump day, hump day. I was in such a great mood when I woke up this morning. It was Friday! Then, as I was getting out of bed, it hit me that it was Wednesday. Great morning crashed immediately.

Meanwhile very few people are telling you the truth about Iraq. C.I. is. She busts her ass to do so. Bill Van Auken (WSWS) is also busting his ass to tell the truth:

In packaging the Iraqi troop withdrawal that is supposed to be completed by the end of this month as an end to war and fulfillment of his campaign promises, Obama is merely recycling the illusions he peddled in 2008. Then he pledged that his administration would represent a clean break with the criminal policies of the Bush administration. Nearly four years later, the US military is at war in more countries than under Bush, Guantanamo and its military trials, along with torture, continue, and the police-state measures imposed in the wake of September 11, 2001 have been substantially expanded.

As for the withdrawal from Iraq, it was not Obama’s intention, but rather the result of the failure to negotiate a deal with the Maliki government to allow up to 20,000 US troops to remain in the country. The sticking point was Washington’s demand for blanket immunity for American forces from Iraqi prosecution. After all of the killing and brutality of the last nine years, such a guarantee was vehemently opposed by the Iraqi people.

It would be more appropriate to describe the current withdrawal as a repositioning of US forces for a continuation and expansion of war throughout the region.

In Iraq itself, uniformed troops are being replaced by a new army in civilian clothes. A massive, fortress-like American embassy in Baghdad has been erected in a walled compound of 104 acres—larger than the Vatican—with two similar facilities having been opened as consulates in the southern oil center of Basra and the Kurdish capital of Arbil in the north.

Thomas Fleming (Daily Mail) also takes on some of the crap from the White House:

President Obama, welcoming the troops returning to Fr. Bragg, triumphantly proclaimed: 'Because of you - because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny.' Obama continued, 'That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the empires of old, we did so not for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right.'

Who writes this stuff? Do they actually get paid? It is not simply revolting in its sentimentality but pernicious in encouraging Americans to believe that our government can do no wrong.

I don't care who is our next president, I just want this War Criminal kicked out after one term. He's attacked Libya, he's a liar about 'ending' the Iraq War, he's continued the Afghanistan War, he's gone after Pakistan with drones, he's a War Criminal.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a rally takes place in Falluja, new information on contractor violence in Iraq emerges, Moqtada's not pleased with Nouri's trip to the US, Joe Biden makes a statement he shouldn't have, and more.
The reposturing of the US military (DoD's term) means that many US troops have left Iraq though some will remain in Iraq after January 1st and some will remain in the surrounding areas. That tens of thousands have left resulted in celebration today . . . in Iraq. Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports, "Thousands of Iraqis rallied Wednesday in the central city of Fallujah, once the epicenter of anti-U.S. insurgency, celebrating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The demonstrators set U.S. and Israeli flags on fire and raised Iraqi flags along with banners saying 'the people want occupation be removed,' and Fallujah is the flame of resistance and symbol of liberation'." No, that's not how it was in Germany at the end of WWII. But then, at the end of WWII, the US government didn't have to pay local leaders to guarantee that US troops could depart safely as they've had to do with tribal sheikhs in Iraq. Aswat al-Iraq also covers the protests, "The demonstration had witnessed reading of poems and verses, commemorating the victims who fell due to American attacks, whilst some of the demonstrators raised the previous Iraqi flag, with 3 stars and burnt American and Israeli flags, along with raising placards expressing their rejoice for the American withdrawal from Iraq, including 'Falluja, the Spark of Resistance and Address of Liberation'." Press TV notes, "Burning US and Israeli flags and carrying photos of Fallujah residents killed by US forces after the 2003 US-led invasion, the demonstrators on Wednesday described resistance against American invaders key to their country's freedom. The demonstration was dubbed the first annual 'festival to celebrate the role of the resistance'." Al Jazeera adds, "Widespread fighting in Fallujah against the occupation begun in 2003, after a controversial event known as the 'pupil's' uprising. The US military had turned a primary school into their city headquarters in April 2003. When 200 demonstrators gathered outside asking for the school to be reopened, US forces opened fire, killing at least 13 civilians and injuring dozens."
Along with protesters in Iraq today, the country also a visit from a US official. Dar Addustour reports US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad today on "an unannounced visit" -- all this time later, US officials still have to sneak into Iraq. But 'with honor!' Barack would insist, 'with honor!' Al Rafidayn notes he is expected to attend a ceremony in Baghdad Thursday. Simon Tisdall (Guardian) observes, "The idea that the Iraq war is over is attractive but deeply misleading." Erik Slavin (Stars and Stripes) explains, that military hardware Iraq is ordering from the US will include trainers, "Following years of training and reorganizing the Iraqi army, a mix of 157 servicemembers and Defense Department civilians working for the State Department's Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq will oversee what they hope will be the next big step: the modernization of three Iraqi army divisions by Dec. 31, 2014. [. . .] The training the contractors will provide is included in the prices of acquiring the various weapons systems.
Those systems include 18 F-16 fighter jets; 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks; 24 self-propelled Howitzers; 120 towed Howitzers; six C-130J cargo planes; 15 T-6A fighter training jets; and 12 patrol boats." Additional US personnel that will remain in Iraq were discussed by Fareed Zakaria and Joe Johns on Fareed Zakaria GPS (CNN):
Joe Johns: Not to be too cynical, several thousand U.S. nonmilitary personnel and contractors will end up on the ground after the military leave. Are those people there for Iraq or are they there for the United States?
Fareed Zakaria: Well, it's a little bit of both. They are, in a sense, disguising the drawdown so it is not a drawdown quite to zero. We have some paramilitary forces, some who are protecting the embassy, embassy personnel, USAID people. There's going to be a fairly healthy contingent, I'm sure, of CIA people. There'll be people from the DEA. You add that together and the United States will have a certain kind of offensive presence in Iraq. It's entirely justified. The U.S. consulate in Basra is minutes from the Iranian border. What were to happen if some Iranian thugs were to cross the border and try to launch an attack on the U.S. consulate in Basra? Well, you've got to be able to protect yourself. The U.S. is appropriately taking precautions so they don't end up in some situation that looks like the Iran hostage crisis all over again.
On the topic of contractors/mercenaries, earlier this week Suzanne Kelly Simons (CNN and author of Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War) reported that ACADEMI was the latest name change for the private mercenary company once known as Blackwater. AFP quotes the company's president and chief executive Ted Wright stating, "We are going to become the best at governance." And should that prove impossible, they can always change their name next to Happy Meals. Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) notes, "Four years after their initial Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has received and published 4,500 pages' worth of detail on the way that mercenaries from Blackwater and other defense contractors conducted themselves in Iraq. Their basic procedure appears to have been to shoot any car that attempted to pass or tailgate any of the convoys they guarded, especially if the driver was a 'military aged male'." Richard Hall (Independent) reports:
Thousands of field reports filed by private security contractors operating in Iraq have been made available to the public for the first time.
The documents reveal details of nearly 200 shootings by contractors working in the country for companies hired by the US government between 2005 and 2007.
On Andrea Mitchell Reports (MSNBC -- link is video) today, Andrea spoke with Stephen Hadley (from the Bully Boy Bush administration) about Joe Biden's assertion that the White House would never have gone along with a request for 20,000 US troops from Nouri al-Maliki.
Andrea Mitchell: There were reports, plenty of reports, that the military wanted at least 20,000 and that we did as well and tried to negotiate that and couldn't with the Maliki government in Iraq. What is your take on this?

Stephen Hadley: Well I think Vice President Biden's quote makes it quite clear that they were not -- the administration was not interested in having 10 - 20,000 troops there. That's a decision they made. I think others, including myself, I would have made a different decision. But I think we have to look going forward, I think it's great that Prime Minister Maliki was here. I think it's good that they're focusing on the Strategic Framework Agreement which is a framework [negotiated by the Bush Administration] for an ongoing relationship between Iraq and the United States with political, economic and security dimensions. And I hope they are exploiting that agreement in laying out a framework for a relationship going forward that includes a vehicle for helping to continue training Iraqi security forces and help them incorporate into their force structure the new hardware that they're doing and help them the counter -- counter-terrorism operations they need to do so Iran cannot destabilize the position in Iraq.
Andrea Mitchell: On that point, our new collegaue Ted Koppel, on
Rock Center [with Brian Williams, NBC Monday night], showed just how exposed our new consulate is in Basra and how much security is being built in and, as you know very well, we have 17,000 American civilians, contractors, diplomats, CIA and other personnel still at our Embassy and outposts in Iraq. How vulnerable are we and how much can we rely on the Maliki government to withstand Iranian influence?
Stephen Hadley: The Iraqis have made it clear that they are Iraqis first and Shia second. And we always felt in the end that Iraqi nationalism will trump Shi'a-ism. I think that is true. And I think Maliki showed that in 2008 when he went south [Basra] and took on an Iranian-backed militia [Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia] that he is an Iraqi first. That is very important. But look we never tried to do what we're doing in Iraq now through a stricly State Department mission. And that's another reason many people think if we left 10 to 20,000 American troops there, it would make it easier to ensure security so that our State Department people can do what they need to do in this situation going forward, to help strengthen ties between the United States and Iraq.
First, Andrea noted published reports on the numbers of US troops that were tossed around. She's correct but I'll note that we can establish 16,000 via Congressional testimony (because some will say, "Those are unsourced reports! Anonymous sources!" and they'll be right in some cases). So Congressional testimony, this exchange is between Senator John McCain and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.
Senator John McCain: Since you brought up regrettably, General Dempsey, 2003 and 2004. The fact is that you did not support the surge and said that it would fail. Secretary Panetta was part of the Iraq Study Group which recommended withdrawal from Iraq and opposed the surge. And so we're all responsible for the judgments that we make and obviously that effects the crediblity of the judgments that we make now on Iraq. I regret that you had to bring that up, General Dempsey. The fact is that there were some of us who were over there in those years you talked about, in fact, maybe even had other members of their family there and saw that it was failing and that we needed to have the surge and the surge succeeded. And the fact is that we could have given sovereign immunity as we have in other countries to keep our troops there and give them the immunity that they needed. We have other agreements with other countries that guarantee sovereign immunity. The fact is, that every military leader recommended that we have residual forces at minimum of 10,000 and usually around 20,000. That was the recommendations made before this committee by General [Ray] Odierno, recommendations made by General [David] Petraeus, recommendations made by even lower ranking military who had spent, as you mentioned a great amount of time there and did not want to see that service and sacrifice all wasted away because of our inability and lack of desire to reach an agreement with Iraqis. As I said in my opening statement, Iraqis are largely responsible as well. But the fact is that when Senator Lieberman, Senator Graham and I were there the Iraqis were ready to deal. And what was the administration's response? They didn't have a number last May as to our residual force in Iraq. So as things happen in that country, things fell apart. Now can you tell the Committee, General Dempsey, if there was any military commander who recommended that we completely withdraw from Iraq?
General Martin Dempsey: Uh, no, Senator. None of us recommended that we completely withdraw from Iraq.
Senator John McCain: When did we come up with the number of uh troops that we wanted to remain in Iraq? Do you know when that final decision was made as to exact numbers that we wanted?
General Martin Dempsey: Uh, it to my knowledge the process started in Augustof [20]10 and, as you know, there was a series of possibilities or options that started at about 16,000 and ended up with about 10[000] and then migrated to 3[000] and then we ended up with [cross talk] --
That's from the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee -- covered in the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," November 16th "Iraq snapshot," November 17th "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)," Kat's "Who wanted what?" and Third's "Gen Dempsey talks '10 enduring' US bases in Iraq" -- and the excerpt above is from the November 15th snapshot.
Now on Hadley's remarks, I'm not comfortable "And we always felt in the end that Iraqi nationalism will trump Shi'a-ism." I don't think (I could be wrong, I often am) a majority of Americans would find that reassuring considering the Bush administration's track record on predictions when it comes to Iraq. We should also note that his observations re: Iraq and Shi'ites (that a national identity will trump Shi'ite identity) aren't born out by other observers. Richard Engel (NBC News -- link is text and videos) shares many observations in his report today and they include:
When I looked closely, I noticed three words were engraved on the cups: Allah, Mohammed and Ali. Including the name Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law, has only one meaning. Ali is the patron of all Shiites. These were Shiite cups. Even the tea at the tourism authority was being served in Shiite cups.
The tourism official is like most government officials in Baghdad these days. He's a religious Shiite from one of the many Shiite political parties. He served our TV crew sweet tea in small hourglass shaped cups.
There are people who want a national identity. But, talk to political experts, they tended to support Iraqiya in the 2010 elections, the political slate which came in first, the one the US government helped prevent from becoming the rulers to keep Nouri al-Maliki on as prime minister. In addition to them, many of the youth protesters in Iraq strongly favor a national identity. A national identity could win out. But saying that it has is incorrect and saying that it will is a prediction and not a fact. It should also be noted that 2 of the 15 provinces Baghdad controls are attempting to become semi-autonomous and, no, that's not a good indicator that a national identity it 'trump'ing in Iraq.
Other than that, Hadley's underscoring (lightly*) that a stupid thing was done last night on MSNBC when Joe Biden declared that they would have turned down a request for 20,000. (A) It flies in the face of previously reported claims. (B) It fuels points made in that Senate Armed Services Committee by Senators McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. (C) If things go bad in Iraq -- especially if US hostages or US deaths take place after January 1st, Joe just gave video for his critics to play constantly.
Iraq has repeatedly refused to flow with the never-ending waves of Operation Happy Talk. That's from this administration and the previous one. No 'turned corner' ever stayed turned if, in fact, one was reached. And Joe knows that. It was a stupid remark for him to make. I know Joe, he's a great person but I cannot believe that he made that remark. It would have been bad enough in print but to give the GOP video for campaign ads?
Can you imagine the ads if Iraq doesn't live up to the Happy Talk (and it never has before)? Let's say there are two hostages or two brutal deaths -- and most likely it would be Moqtada's militias -- picture something like the killing of Blackwater contractors in Falluja in 2004. And they've got photos of something like that to run Joe's comments over? It won't be pretty.
[*Hadley also lightly but very clearly stated that Barack should have given the order for the US drone -- now in the possession of the Iranian government -- to have been detonated so that it would not have ended up in the possession of the Iranian government. His argument is that technology is now at risk. That's probably what most people will take away from Andrea Mitchell's discussion with him.]
While we're on the topic of statements Joe shouldn't have made, we'll note this from Patrick Cockburn's "Wars without victory equal an America without influence" (Independent):

This is misleading spin, carefully orchestrated to allow Mr Obama to move into the presidential election year boasting that he has ended an unpopular war without suffering a defeat. We already had a foretaste of this a couple of weeks ago, when Vice President Joe Biden visited Baghdad to laud US achievements.
Over the years, Iraqis have become used to heavily guarded foreign dignitaries arriving secretly in Baghdad to claim great progress on all fronts before scurrying home again. But even by these lowly standards, Mr Biden's performance sounded comically inept. "It was the usual Biden menu of gaffe, humour and pomposity delivered with unmistakable self-confidence and no particular regard for the facts on the ground," writes the Iraq expert Reidar Visser. Mr Biden even tried to win the hearts of Iraqis by referring to the US achievement in building hospitals in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, a city he apparently believes is located somewhere in Iraq.
Republican candidates in the presidential election have been denigrated and discredited by gaffes like this. It is a measure of Mr Biden's reputation for overlong, tedious speeches that the US media did not notice his ignorance of Middle East geography. Dr Visser points out that "when Biden says 'we were able to turn lemons into lemonade', refers to 'a political culture based on free elections and the rule of law', and even highlights 'Iraq's emerging, inclusive political culture ... as the ultimate guarantor of stability', he is simply making things up." Sadly, Iraq is a much divided wreck of a country.

Nouri al-Maliki continued his visit to the US. Al Sabaah reports that immunity for US troops was raised to Nouri by Barack and Nouri, according to an unnamed Iraqi who is part of the delegation visiting the US, refused to make any promises. Having just gotten 18 more F-16s approved this week, Nouri is now angling for drones as well. Dar Addustour notes that Nouri and Barack laid reefs at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and that Moqtada al-Sadr is criticizing the visit and the talks on immunity.

In a longer story focusing just on Moqtada's criticism, Dar Addustour notes that Moqtada and his bloc are stating that the US is attempting to weaken Iraq as well as the Arab and Islamic world and that economic agreements are being dangled in an attempt to trick the Iraqi politicians. Iraq continuing to be under Chapter VII at the UN is raised and the Sadr bloc states that this is proof that the US is not sincere. The continued occupation via the US Embassy is called out as well. But the trip to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier especially results in a tongue lashing at Nouri, "Maliki's visit to that tomb of the dead Americans in Washington is an insult to the blood the dead of Iraq. It would have shown more respect for Maliki to visit the cemetery in Najaf."

Still on Moqtada, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Shiite Sadrist Trend leader called not to interfere in Syrian events, pointing that it is a country with sovereignty and dignity. Muqtada al-Sadr expressed his concern of the foreign intervention and internationalization of this case. On the other hand, a Sadrist MP denied news of sending militias to Syria to suppress the protests there, describing these accusations as aimed against the political process in Iraq."

Tensions abound in Iraq. Al Sabaah reports on issue raised in Parliament this week including Turkey's building another damn on a river thta flows through Dohuk Province (part of the Kurdistan Regional Government) which has damaged the water resources and Turkey's non-response to complaints led for calls to take this issue to the international courts. Jim Michaels (USA Today) explores Iraqi concerns and observes, "An inability to finalize a government 22 months after elections has raised concerns about the sincerity of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to form a coalition representing all Iraqis." Still on tensions, Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition, link has audio and text) reports that when the US turned over a base in disputed and oil-rich Kirkuk, the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga both attempted to claim it leading to six-hour standoff which included drawing guns on one another.

Kelly McEvers: The standoff is an illustration of the larger problem in Kirkuk. Kurds want to regain control of a city they say was once theirs. Arabs don't want to let go of a city that they settled in at the encouragement of Saddam. Turkmen, Christians, and other ethnic groups are caught somewhere in the middle. In a market in the center of Kirkuk, most people are afraid to talk about the departure of the Americans, and who could help the Kurds and Arabs resolve their differences now that U.S. troops are leaving. One young Arab, named Mustafa, says his family was offered about $17,000 as part of a government program to move Arabs out of Kirkuk. But that wasn't enough.
Kirkuk was a site of violence today. Reuters notes 1 Kurdish security official was wounded in a Kirkuk shooting, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one person, 1 Iraqi soldier was injured in an attack on a Mosul military checkpoint, a Mosul roadside bombing injured a woman, a police colonel was injured in a Baghdad shooting, a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people and 2 Tal Afar car bombings claimed "at least" 3 lives and left thirty-five people injured.

Kael Alford (MSNBC) has a photo series up from her return to Iraq over the summe and in the text of her essay, she notes:

When I returned this summer, the violence had diminished but was once again climbing. On the morning of my arrival in Baghdad, a loud explosion shook me awake. At first I thought it was a nightmare, but a characteristic second explosion a few minutes later confirmed I wasn't dreaming. The target was a Turkish restaurant across the street from the compound where I was staying. No motive was known, and luckily no one was injured at that early hour. A week later, even the shattered glass of the nearby windows had been replaced and life returned to normal.

Also offering a photo essay on Iraqis is Shannon Stapelton (Reuters). Stephen Farrell and the New York Times' Baghdad Bureau survey a variety of Iraqis about their thoughts as the US military is repostured.

Nour Kasim, 30, Housewife
1. It is not the right time for America to leave Iraq with such internal conflicts and the security situation so unstable and unsafe. We need more time to stabilize security and to be ready for any external confrontation. I don't think Iraq is ready to do this alone.
2. I don't know exactly the American goals, but I believe that they achieved them, otherwise they wouldn't decide to leave. I don't have any problem with America, Saddam or any ruling party because I don't get myself involved in politics. I hope Iraq will be liberated, but we have to be able to protect our country first.
In the US, only one anti-war candidate is declared so far: Ron Paul. He's running for the GOP's presidential nomination. Yesterday, On Point with Tom Ashbrook (WBUR -- link is audio) spent the hour exploring his campaign.