Wednesday, August 04, 2010





Happy Birthday, Barack


Yesterday US President Barack Obama served up some pretty lies on Iraq and the result was a 'surge' of media interest in Iraq. Today on PRI's The Takeaway, John Hockenberry and Lynn Sherr (sitting in for Celeste Headlee) spoke with Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) about Iraq.
John Hockenberry: So Jane, let me begin with you. Is there any way of assessing the quality of life in Baghdad and what the trend line stands at this morning as, the president says yesterday, we're on schedule for the drawdown of US forces?
Jane Arraf: Well I think that's a great question but like so many of those simple, vital questions, a little difficult to answer because the standard is so different here. As you pointed out, it's not normal in New York City or Chicago or anywhere else to face roadside bombs, no electricity every day -- all the other things that people face here routinely. And this is a country where people are used to war, they're used to hardship. But by that measure, things are really still tough. They're not nearly as dangerous as they were three, four years ago at the height of the civil war. The economy is somewhat better but day to day you see people struggling. A lack of jobs, a lack of electricity, a spike in violence. It might not be a rise in terms of a long-term trend but it is certainly a spike and things are very, very fragile here still.
John Hockenberry: Jane Arraf didn't even mention the fact that since the elections earlier this year, there is still no official government in place in Iraq. Joost Hiltermann, what do we make of that? The surge was supposed to be a success. If there's no government and a spike in violence, it seems like something's come awry here.
Joost Hiltermann: No, it's a -- it's a serious problem. And for ordinary Iraqis who are suffering from the problems that Jane has listed, the absence of a government just makes things worse because there is no governance, there is no prospect that some of these issues will be addressed. And, moreover, the bickering politicians give Iraqis the image that there is no solution to their problems and that the politicians don't reallly care about their concerns. And they fear that if things continue this way, violence will recur because they-they think that, if no agreement can be reached, these various political faction leaders will resort to violence through their various militias and that civil war will return.
[. . .]
Lynn Sherr: Jane Arraf, what about ordinary people in Iran -- in Iraq, excuse me. Are they basically glad or sad that the troops will be leaving?
Jane Arraf: Well it's kind of a very complicated set of emotions, Lynn. You know a lot of people -- most people, I would say -- do not want to see foreign troops in their streets. They haven't seen them in the streets for awhile ever since they've withdrawn to the bases for the most part. There aren't a lot of visible combat operations anymore that include US forces. But there is but there still the perception that this is a country that is under occupation -- even though legally Iraq has full control of its sovereignty and its security, it's considered still an occupation.
PRI's The Takeaway intends to explore Iraq all week. Yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Chip Reid covered the speech and the actual breakdown of numbers and facts.
Chip Reid: When he came into office, there were 144,000 US troops in Iraq. Today there are 81,000 and, by the end of this month, there will be 50,000. Officially, they'll be designated as non-combat forces but that may be misleading because the troops will still be in harm's way and continue to support Iraqi combat forces. They also can engage in 'targeted counterrorism operations.' And while the US troop reduction is on schedule, Iraq's transition to a stable nation is not. The President today said violence is near the lowest level in years but the Iraq government disagrees. They say July was the most violent month in more than two years
On World News with Diane Sawyer (ABC), Sawyer cited an ABC News - Washington Post poll. Diane Sawyer, "As their mission ends, most Americans -- 55% -- say the war was not worth fighting." 55% said no, 42% said yes. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams was the only network evening news to offer anyone in Iraq.
Brian Williams: Our NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is back in Iraq tonight, a place where he spent much of the last eight years. He's with us from Baghdad tonight for a closer look at the fragile state of things. Again, after seven or so years of war, Richard, I talked to you earlier today. You had the rare distinction of hearing the President speech from Baghdad. What is the state of life there these days?
Richard Engel: Many people here don't share the same kind of optimism that was expressed not only by the President but also by analysts across the United States today. Life in Baghdad right now is very difficult. This is not what you could consider a normal or stable city. Just coming in from the airport this morning and driving to our bureau -- it's about a twelve mile journey along a short stretch of road -- we had to pass through six different checkpoints, there is a curfew in place tonight as there is every single night. And that gives you an idea of how much stability there is here -- not very much at all. Also, Iraqis only have about three hours of power every single day. They had 24 hours of power here in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein. While the United States might want to 'close the door' and 'turn off the lights' on this conflict, many Iraqis are not even able to turn the lights on in their own homes. Many couldn't even watch the speech today because they didn't have power.
Brian Williams: Richard Engel, our veteran of that conflict, back in Baghdad for us tonight. Richard, thank you for your reporting.
Click here and here for The NewsHour (PBS) coverage (audio, video and transcript). The first link is Gwen Ifill covering the speech and providing an overview of Iraq. The second link is a waste of time and really kind of tacky and cheesy in a reality-TV manner -- they pit two advisers (one to Barack, one to Bush) against each other. The NewsHour, you would expect to tell you about Iraqis, but instead they went with strong-winded American gas bags who really aren't experts on much of anything. At CNN (link is text and video), Rick Sanchez reviews some of the supposed key moments in the war that didn't turn out to be key moments. Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Michelle Norris spoke with Anthony Shadid (New York Times) about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Anthony Shadid: Well you know we're experiencing what's turned out to be a remarkably long stalemate that followed Iraqi elections in March. Iraqis went to the polls, the elections by most accounts were pretty successful. But what's followed has been basically a standoff between the winners of that election. It's nearly five months now and that stalemate seems to be nowhere near reaching an end. In fact, some predictions are saying they could last weeks, even months longer. What it leaves us with in Baghdad is basically political paralysis, a dysfunctional political system, an environment where you haven't had a law passed in months, you don't have a government and you have minisitries adrift and perhaps even security forces fraying around the edges with no leadership in the country.
On the speech, Dimiter Kenarov offers "Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq" (Esquire):
1. The Iraqi Police hate the Iraqi Army.
Sounds like a poorly-scripted domestic dispute -- wife clawing at husband, husband slapping wife. And it is. Everybody's heard of the conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a, but few are aware that the Ministry of the Interior hates the Ministry of Defense and, by proxy, the local cops hate the hometown troops. (Note to self: the U.S. State Department isn't exactly on the best terms with the Pentagon, either.) While I was in Iraq, nobody could quite explain to me the roots of the problem, but it all looked like the usual turf war, with two government rackets fighting for lucrative territory.
Since Iraq is still in a state of emergency, the army is actively involved in the internal security of the country, stepping with their military boots on the bare toes of the cops. As one Iraqi police general, Abdul Kareem Hatim, complained to me, "Right now our biggest problem is the Iraqi army. We want the army out of internal security, out of the cities. When a bomb goes off, the police and the army start arguing who's responsible for the breach of security. We need the army out, so we can take full responsibility. All the security breaches happen because of lack of coordination." The main problem in Iraq today, if I had managed to follow his logic correctly, was not too little security but too much. I wonder if the road to peace in Iraq might not be getting rid of the security forces altogether.
Today Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) spoke with the Commission on Wartime Contracting's Grant Green about what happens if the US military leaves and Green explained that the US State Dept takes over the contractors who will "fly an aircraft, [be] driving armored vehicles, providing Medivac, dealing with explosive ordinance disposal" -- "contractors who are doing military or quasi-military functions."
The Iraq War has not ended. Nor have US forces even left Iraq. Something a great many seem unaware of. 4413 US service members will not be returning home and who knows how high the death toll will be when the US military finally leaves Iraq -- whenever that may be.
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
I knew when we woke up
You would be leaving
You knew when you left me
It might be too long
That kiss on your shoulder
It's me looking over
Close to your heart
So you're never alone
Say a little prayer till they all get home
Say a little prayer till they all get home
-- "Till They All Get Home," written by Melanie (Safka) and first appears on Melanie's Crazy Love.

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