TWO MONTHS SHY OF A YEAR, MEXICAN PRESIDENT FELIPE CALDERON MAKES A RETURN VISIT TO THE UNITED STATES BUT HE AND THE U.S. ARE VERY UNEASY -- THERE'S THE DEATH OF JAIME ZAPATA, FOR EXAMPLE, A DEATH THAT WAS DECRIED IN YESTERDAY'S HOUSE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE WITH A MEMBER OF CONGRESS NOTING HE WOULD TRUST THE WORD OF U.S. AGENTS OVER SOME COMMENTS FROM MEXICO. THERE'S SO MUCH IN FACT.
CHANCES ARE THAT THE VISIT WILL NOT BE LIKE LAST YEAR'S VISIT. BACK THEN, THE DEMOCRATICALLY CONTROLLED CONGRESS STOOD UP AND HOLLERED AND STOMPED AND CHEERED AS FELIPE INSULTED THE UNITED STATES, CLAIMED THE U.S. WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR MEXICO'S VIOLENCE AND SLAMMED THE STATE OF ARIZONA REPEATEDLY.
MIGHT THAT OUTRAGEOUS DISPLAY BE PART OF THE REASON DEMOCRATS LOST THE HOUSE? CHEERING ON ATTACKS FROM AN OUTSIDER. WELL, AT LEAST GOT NANCY PELOSI'S DO-NOTHING ASS OUT OF THE SPEAKER'S POST. REMEMBER, SHE WAS THE FIRST TO STAND AND, GRINNING MANIACALLY, SHE APPLAUDED LIKE A ROBOT.
AGAIN, IT IS DOUBTFUL THE U.S. CONGRESS WILL RUSH SO QUICKLY TO SPIT ON THE UNITED STATES FOR FELIPE'S VISIT THIS GO-ROUND.
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
Today on Morning Edition (NPR -- link has audio and text), Kelly McEvers reported on the chances of a withdrawal from Iraq by US forces at the end of 2011. McEvers notes US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates telling the US House Armed Services Committee last month (Feb. 16th) that "there is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence" in Iraq and she notes "one congressman" said Congress would be okay with 20,000 or so troops remaining in Iraq -- that was Democrat Adam Smith from the state of Washington. Now she's noting comments by US commanders in Iraq including the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Lloyd Austin.
MCEVERS: This kind of spending puts the U.S. military in a difficult spot, especially back in Washington. On one hand, they have to say Iraq is a success story, that all that American blood and treasure wasn't for naught. On the other hand, they have to say there's still work to be done, so lawmakers increasingly averse to spending will continue funding military efforts here. If a large contingent of US troops doesn't remain in Iraq, the plan is to shift much responsibility to the state department. But that means funding a private army of contractors to do things that Austin says the real army does best.
Gen. AUSTIN: If you're talking about combined arms training and joint training, then uniformed people probably do better at conducting that type of training.
MCEVERS: For U.S. troops to stay and do that training, Iraq has to formally ask them. Many analysts believe Iraqi officials will wait until the last minute to do so, mainly because no Iraqi politician wants to be seen as pro-American. But Austin says the Iraqis simply can't wait forever to ask.
Gen. AUSTIN: The answer is we always need as much time as we can possibly get.
The US plan currently to continue the Iraq War past 2011 (US forces remaining in Iraq) are two-fold: One push for a new agreement or an extension of the SOFA to allow DoD to continue to keep forces there while also preparing to switch the forces over to the State Dept (US troops under the State Dept's umbrella) in case no extension or new agreement is reached. Either way, US troops remain past 2011. Today UPI reports on Rasmussen Reports' poll which found "a plurality of U.S. voters think the Arab world's growing unrest makes it unlikely U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the year's end as planned". We'll go into the poll more tomorrow.
On her Twitter feed, Kelly McEvers tells another interesting story about a conversation with a US contractor today -- payoff comes in fourth Tweet:
Really don't want to talk about Juan Williams and whether Fox is "fair and balanced" with this security contractor. #flightdelay #Iraq
Today US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared:
Let me walk you through a few of our key investments. First, this budget funds vital civilian missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda is under perssure as never before. Alongside our military offensive, we are engaged in major civilians effort that is helping to build up the governments, economies and civil societies of both countries and undercut the insurgency. Now these two surges -- the military and civilian surge -- set the stage for a third: a diplomatic push in support of an Afghan process to spilt the Taliban from al-Qaeda, bring the conflict to an end and help stabilize the region. Our military commanders are emphatic they cannot succeed without a strong civilian partner. Retreating from our civilian surge in Afghanistan with our troops still in the field would be a grave mistake. Equally important is our assistance to Pakistan -- a nuclear armed nation with strong ties and interests in Afghanistan. We are working to deepen our partnership and keep it focused on addressing Pakistan's political and economic challenges as well as our shared threats. And as to Iraq? After so much sacrifice, we do have a chance to help the Iraqi people build a stable, democratic country in the heart of the Middle Esat. As troops come home, our civilians are taking the lead, helping Iraqis resolve conflicts peacefully and training their police.
It was from her opening remarks to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen set a relaxed but serious tone for the meeting. She and Ranking Member Howard Berman both touched on multiple issues in their opening statements (Berman's appeared to go on forever). Our focus is Iraq. They weren't concerned with it in their opening remarks or in the hearing. Chair Ros-Lehtinen asked Hillary to please summarize her written remarks and, though Hillary agreed she would. she read her prepared remarks outloud. US House Rep Gregory Meeks was one of the few obviously listening to every word (or polite enough to make it appear he was). US House Rep Donald Payne appeared as though he were about to fall asleep during the opening remarks (and Payne and Hillary are friends). When Hillary was talking about State needing to put their "war" money into the Overseas Contingency Operations account (8.7 billion) US House Rep Ann Marie Buerkle's facial expression was an editorial of opposition -- to what wasn't made clear.
In her opening questions, Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked, "And I ask for US protection for the many residents of Camp Ashraf, many of who are here today in the audience and are concerned about their relatives. Thank you, Madam Secretary." It was a series of questions from the Chair and Camp Ashraf was the last of the series. Time ran out before it was dealt with by Hillary.
An excited and red faced US House Rep Dan Burton was concerned about national security due to the fact that so much of our "energy" (oil) is coming from outside the country. If you thought he might have a real discussion on "energy," you were wrong. He wants to open up drilling for oil in the US. Burton announced that "this administration is being derelict in its responsibility." Ron Paul had a long editorial statement that name checked the Iraq War and a hundred other things. A specific question did include Iraq.
US House Rep Dannis Cardoza: Madam Secretary, at least 70 people were killed during an attack last October on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad making it the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since 2003. Less than two months later, extremists bombed the homes of more than a dozen Christian families in Baghdad as well. And on New Year's Eve 23 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Alexandria, Egypt while coming out of mass in St. Marks and St. Peter's Coptic Church. Since these tragic incidents in the Middle East have -- Since these tragic incidents, the Middle East has been rocked by wide ranging protests and regime changes as we've seen in the last few weeks. How has this ongoing instability effected the already heightened risk to vulnerable religious minority groups like Assyrians, Jews, Cops and others?
Secretary Hillary Clinton: Congressman, thank you for asking that question. I think this has not gotten the level of attention and concern it should. We immediately went into action when the bombings took place in Baghdad. Our Ambassador  was deeply involved with the government, making sure that there was protection and security. The ambassador went to Mass in order to show solidarity with Iraqi Christians. But there's no doubt that Christians and other minority groups are feeling under pressure and are leaving countries from North Africa to south Asia because they don't feel protected. I think we need to do much more to stand up for the rights of religious minorities and obviously I'm deeply concerned about what happened to the Christians in Iraq and the Christians in Egypt. I'm also concerned about what happens to minority Muslim groups in Pakistan and elsewhere. So you have raised an issue that I think is one of deep concern and we have to be speaking out more. And we have to hold governments accountable. When I spoke with the prior Egyptian government after the Alexandria bombing, they expressed the same level of outrage that I felt. They said that the Cops are part of, you know, Egyptian history. As you recall from Tahrir Square there were a lot of inter-faith efforts with Cops and Muslims together, worshipping together. Let's hope that continues and let's do whatever we can to make that the future instead of what I am fearful of which is driving out relgious minorities. And the final thing I would say on that because it's an issue that I have paid a lot of attention to, we want to protect religion and religous believers but we don't want to use some of the tools that other countries are proposing -- which is to criminalize defamation, criminalize in the broadest possible definition blasphemy -- and then use it to execute, harass and otherwise oppress religious minorities. So we have to come up with an international consensus about what we're going to do to protect those who are exercising their conscience.
While Hillary was repeatedly saying that the billions to go into Iraq -- a third surge, was how she billed it -- were necessary for national security, a curious thing was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Alex Stevenson (Politics) reports, "Britain has shaken up its international development budget by placing renewed emphasis on poor countries which directly affect the UK's national security. The move means 16 countries including Angola, Niger, Cameroon and Lesotho will no longer receive any funding from Britain. Neither will Russia, Iraq, Vietnam, Bosnia, Serbia and Burudni." That's very interesting. The Iraq War was started and led by the US and the UK. They spent the most money on the illegal war and sent the most bodies to fight it (and had the most foreign people die in Iraq). To sell the Iraq War in the US, Bully Boy Bush resorted to many lies including that Iraq had sought yellow cake uranium from Africa. Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, had the ability to use chemical and/or biological weapons on England within 45 minutes. That's much quicker than an attack on the US and that's because England is physically closer to Iraq than is the US. So why is it that the UK argues today that they don't need to give Iraq anymore aid because it's not a threat to their own national security but the US -- White House and Hillary Clinton -- is arguing differently?
February 10th, Oxfam released their report "Whose Aid is it Anyway?" which argues that aid is not the military (or lunch money you fork over for protection on the playground). They make a solid argument and one I agree with. I'm not taking the State Dept's position that we give aid only for national security. But I am saying that today England announces they're giving aid for their own national security and that means dropping Iraq for them. But in the US, the claim is being pushed that it is our national security that is at stake so we must fund billions and billions more just for next year (that's not even acknowledging what happens after next year when more billions are budgeted for Iraq). It doesn't make sense. And someone needs to clarify it. One country's government is wrong in their classification of Iraq as a national security threat. (And it looks like it's the United States that's wrong.)
Security is always at risk in Iraq. And Iraq remains a violent country as a result of the illegal and ongoing war. Reuters reports today a Falluja roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier. Let's review the month. February 2nd, 5 people were reported dead and ten injured, February 3rd, 17 people were reported dead and forty-eight injured. February 4th, 10 were reported dead and twenty-seven injured. February 5th, eighteen were reported injured, February 6th, 1 person was reported dead and five injured. February 7th, 2 were reported dead and thirteen wounded. February 8th, 3 were reported dead and six injured. February 9th, 10 were reported dead and seventy-eight injured. February 10th, 1 person was reported dead and five wounded. February 12th, 38 were reported dead and seventy-four injured. February 13th, 151 were reported dead (we have always counted a mass grave discovered -- grave from 2003 and later -- in the violence count, it was 150 on this day and 1 protester died). February 14th, six people were reported injured. February 15th, 3 were reported dead and eleven injured. February 16th, 7 were reported dead and fifty-eight injured. February 17th, 9 people were reported dead and forty-seven injured. February 18th, 23 were killed and thirty-one injured. February 20th, 3 were reported dead and six injured. February 21st, 13 were reported dead and fifty-nine injured. February 22nd, five people were injured. February 23rd, 2 people were reported dead and twenty-two injured. February 24th, 18 were reported dead and thirty-eight injured. February 25th, 23 were reported dead and ninety injured. February 26th, 7 were reported dead and eighteen wounded. February 27th, 6 people were reported dead. February 28th, 1 person was reported dead and seven wounded.
For the month of February, 353 people were reported dead and 682 were reported injured. The150 corpses counted were not counted when they died. No one knew about it then. We've always counted them when they were discovered. (Which is the way most crime bases do as well in the US.) For those who insist, "It's not fair! It inflates violence!" Yes, it does. And not including in real time (when it wasn't known) made Iraq appear much less violent than it was. Those are the trade-offs. But for the whiners, if you take the 150 away you have 203. AFP tells us the Iraqi ministries ministries count 197 reported deaths. They then claim 330 people were injured. The wounded is obviously off.
It should further be noted that the numbers we are counting are probably way off because they're an under-report. McClatchy hasn't done a daily violence report since December 7th. Few bother to report violence anymore. Iraq Body Count has a total of 254 killed for this month. That's probably more accurate than either our number or the ministries. AFP notes the toll was 259 in January (according to ministries). IBC says 254, the ministries say 197. Go with IBC. And 254 is only 5 less than the ministries claims for January so you can say violence stayed more or less exactly the same in February as it was in January. Some outlets might need to correct their copy and especially their headlines.
What does all the violence mean? It does impact lives. The daily press rarely conveys that -- or even tries to -- anymore. Journalist Annia Ciezadlo's new book is Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War. She was a guest on Think with Krys Boyd (KERA) today (here for audio).
Annia Ciezadlo: There's a story in the book, a short chapter, about a mother in Baghdad. And-and it was just this heartbreaking thing that I actually wrote for the Houston Chronicle. It was the first story I wrote from Baghdad. This mother who had been very, very spooked -- as had many parents in Iraq -- by this terrible bombing that happened right at the beginning of Ramadan. And, as it happened, it was the week before her daughter's birthday. And so she kept her daughter out of school for -- I think it was a week and a half. She-she finally -- Her daughter was going crazy, but it was this terrible choice that she had to make: Let my daughter go to school and take the risk that their might be a bombing on the very road she might be taking to school? Or do I say ''no, education comes first, we can't live like this" and send her to school? It was a horrible choice to have to make. So she decided that she was going to throw this extra special birthday party for her daughter and she was going to get her this fabulous cake. And-and the more she talked about the cake, the more I realized, really, it wasn't about having a fancy cake. The cake had become this symbol to her of normal life, her ablility to go to school and send her daughter to school and all of these things that they had lost. I think -- I think it's natural. I think we all do that with food. I think we all have a food that symoblizes to us something more than just that food.
Krys Boyd: And one thing that, you know, people may not make this direct connection a lot about market places being targeted in times of war, particularly in that part of the world. Even shopping for food can be a dangerous thing. This is this day-to-day thing we always have to do, even when there's a war going on. And it might be the most dangerous thing people go out and do.
Annia Ciezadlo: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's one of the first places that gets targeted: Marketplaces, restaurants, hotels, cafes. I think there's a couple of reasons for this. I think terrorists like to target these places because nothing sews fear like this attack on something you have to do every day, really an attack on normal life. And I should add that in a place like Baghdad where electricity is very irregular, you have to go shopping every day because you can't just keep stuff in the freezer or refrigerator. So all of these forces combine to make it absolutely essential that you go to the market but also dangerous. I think there's another thing about markets and I have a real -- I'm a real market nut. I love markets. And one of the reasons I love markets is that they're often in a city that might be somewhat segregated or somewhat, you know, Balkanized. But the market is usally the place where everybody goes. It's usually a place that's free of divisions or relatively free of divisions of sect or gender or, you know, religion, ethnicity, these kinds of things. And I think that's one of the things that makes them so wonderful and I think that's why terrorists like to target them.
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