Tuesday, April 05, 2011






Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A U.S. service member died April 3 in a non-hostile incident in northern Iraq. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of deceased service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are published on the website no earlier than 24 hours following notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Today's announcement follows yesterday's: "Two U.S. service members died April 2 of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." Dar Addustour reported on the two deaths and noted that "indirect fire" usually means mortars or rockets. The paper added that a Babel police source reports 3 rockets hit/landed on the US military base Camp Kalsu in Iskandariya. Those three deaths bring to 26 the number of US service members who have died serving in Iraq since August 31st when Barack Obama declared combat operations over. Cpl Brandon Hocking died March 21st in an enemy attack and was buried March 29th. He died ten days before he was scheduled to return home. Brandon Hocking's family spoke to Eric Wilkinson (KING 5 News). His father Kevin Hocking said, "We were counting down the days not only for him to bet back but for him to be moved up here for his family to be around him." He worries that Iraq has become the forgotten war and stated, "I don't want him forgot. I don't want any of them to be forgot." Megan McCloskey (Stars and Stripes) speaks with the family and Brandon's sister Britney explains that when she tells people about her brother's death, "I've actually had people ask me: 'Do you mean Afghanistan?'" McCloskey observes, "Iraq was once the dominant story on any given front page and nightly newscast. Today, attention has dropped to less than 1 percent of the daily news, according to the Pew Research Center."
Iraq receives so little attention that even hosts of the Sunday chat & chews are unaware of what is going on. Yesterday, Senator Lindsay Graham appeared on CBS' Face The Nation today (here for transcript, here for video). We'll focus on his Iraq War remarks. "Well, here's the back-up plan. If all military forces have withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, the State Department has come to the Congress and said we're going to need over fifty MRAPs, mine resistant vehicles. We need a fleet of helicopters and thousands of private security guards to protect us as we go to the four consulates in Iraq to do our job to help the Iraqis build a civil society out of a dictatorship. I think that is a losing formula. I do not believe the State Department should have an army, that-that that's not the way to provide security to our State Department." On that, he's correct. And militarizing diplomacy should be a non-starter for all members of Congress.
Here's the section where host Bob reveals he's unaware of the plans to militarize the State Dept if the SOFA isn't extended.
Bob Schieffer: I -- I -- I'm sorry. But I find this a -- a hard to believe. Are you talking about we're going to arm our diplomats and put them in these kind of vehicles that people are driving around Iraq now?
US Senator Lindsey Graham: Yeah. You -- you -- you've got it, Bob. That we're going to have private security guards providing security. I think American soldiers and the Iraqi army should provide security. We're talking about helicopters, a fleet of helicopters so they can get around to the four consulates, spread throughout Iraq. We're talking about MRAPs, mine resistant vehicles bought by the State Department, a mini State Department army. We've never done that before. That will fail. I'm urging the Obama administration to work with the Maliki administration in Iraq, to make sure that we have enough troops ten to fifteen thousand beginning in 2012, to secure the gains we've achieved to make sure Iran doesn't interfere with the Iraqi sovereignty and-- and to develop this country. We can't do it with a State Department army and I will not support that. This is a defining moment in the future of Iraq. And the Obama administration has the wrong strategy in Lib -- Libya and, in my view, they're -- they're going down the wrong road when it comes to Iraq.
Bob Schieffer: Well, I find all of it hard to believe. [. . .] All right. We'll you certainly made some news this morning, Senator. I'll give you that.
Amazingly, Bob Schieffer expresses surprise when Graham's speaking of the State Dept using contractors and US forces -- and this has been discussed at length by Congress. I know it wasn't reported at length by the media so we won't mock Bob for not knowing. But it's been addressed at length. And Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have signed off on it in a report they issued earlier this year. From the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's [PDF format warning] "IRAQ: THE TRANSITION FROM A MILITARY MISSION TO A CIVILIAN-LED EFFORT:"

But regardless of whether the U.S. military withdraws as scheduled or a small successor force is agreed upon, the State Department will take on the bulk of responsibility for their own security. Therefore, Congress must provide the financial resources necessary to complete the diplomatic mission. Consideration should be given to a multiple-year funding authorization for Iraq programs, including operational costs (differentiated from the State Department's broader operational budget), security assistance, and economic assistance programs. The price tag will not be cheap -- perhaps $25 - 30 billion over 5 years -- but would constitute a small fraction of the $750 billion the war has cost to this point.

Under either scenario, the Iraq War doesn't end. And what the White House -- and its groupies -- are counting on is that as long as it two US deaths every other month or so, you won't give a damn. If the two plans are new to you, you can start by referring to "Iraq snapshot," "In appreciation of Lindsey Graham (Ava)," "It's a bi-partisan hole (Wally),"
"John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Jim Webb," "Iraq snapshot," "The forgotten covert wars on Latin America (Ava)," "It's a boom economy!" and "Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
At the February 3rd Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Chair Carl Levin noted in his opening remarks, "One major question is what security relationship the United States and Iraq will have once the 2008 Security Agreement expires in December. It is unclear whether the Maliki government will seek any type of continuing US military presence after December given the terms of the security agreement that all our troops be removed by this December. Iraq needs to engage with the United States sooner rather than later if such a request is going to be forthcoming." At the same hearing, in his questions, Ranking Member John McCain noted one obvious problem with the claim that US forces leave at the end of December.
Ranking Member John McCain: Are they [Iraq] going to be able to build an air force without US presence there?
Gen Lloyd Austin: They-they do have a number of options to both aquire equipment from-from or training from other nations. Certainly --
Ranking Member John McCain: So they would have to acquire equipment and trainers from other nations?
Gen Lloyd Austin: They-they would.
Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported on Robert Gates' Congressional appearance February 16th: "In an impassioned plea during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on next year's Pentagon budget, Gates cited the loss of more than 4,000 American lives in Iraq and the expenditure of some $900 billion. He said it is 'a critically urgent concern' that a planned $5.2 billion allocation for fiscal 2012 be approved, so that the State Department can carry on the training of Iraqi police and other programs once handled by the Pentagon." From the Feb. 16th snapshot:
US House Rep Dunan Hunter: Let's talk about Iraq for a minute. If the Status Of Forces Agreement is not changed or the Iraqis do not ask for our help and ask us to stay, what is our plan for 2012? At the end of this year, what's going to happen?
Secretary Robert Gates: We will have all of our forces out of Iraq. We will have an Office of Security Cooperation for Iraq that will have probably on the order of 150 to 160 Dept of Defense employees and several hundred contractors who are working FMS cases.
US House Rep Duncan Hunter: Do you think that represents the correct approach for this country after the blood and treasure that we spent in Iraq? My own personal time of two tours in Iraq. There's going to be fewer people there -- and that 150 -- than there are in Egypt right now. Somewhere around 600, 700 of those types of folks in Egypt. How can we maintain all of these gains that we've maintained through so much effort if we only have 150 people there and we don't have any military there whatsoever. We have more military in western European countries than we'd have in Iraq -- one of the most centralized states, as everybody knows, in the Middle East.
Secretary Robert Gates: Well I think that there is -- there is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence and the truth of the matter is the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they're going to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers. They will not be able to do the kind of job and intelligence fusion. They won't be able to protect their own air space. They will not -- They will have problems with logistics and maintenance. But it's their country, it's a sovereign country. This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government and we will abide by the agreement unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.
One way or another US troops stay -- either under DoD as they are presently or under the State Dept.
The last weeks have not been a pleasant time to be an Iraqi journalist. As the protests got into full swing, the government began attacking journalists. Not just preventing them from covering protests (bad enough -- and that happened again Friday) but hunting them down in Baghdad cafes after the protests, beating them up and hauling them off to jails where they were tortured. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory explains the latest journalist to be targeted is Morteza Aahtor who was arrested in Nasiriya by a "special security force sent from Baghdad" for articles he'd written. Attorney Ghassan Saleh states that Morteza was arrested not on a court order but on a government order. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory is calling for the immediate release of Morteza.

Assaults on journalists have included Iraqi forces raiding news outlets in Baghdad and throughout Iraq such as February 23rd when the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory was raided by Iraqi forces who smashed the equipment. Dropping back to that day's snapshot:

Iraq where the governmental war on the press never ends. Dar Addustor reports on the Iraqi military raid of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad after midnight this morning with the military seizing things including computers and personal items. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes JFO's Bashar al-Mandalawy stating, "The only reason behind this is to stop freedom of the press and expression in this country." Wael Grace and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) report [. . .] that it was the Iraqi military and the police raiding the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and that they entered by breaking down the main door and that the Baghdad Centre for Media was also raided at the same time.

March 9th, the JFO calculated the numbers for two weeks and found that there were 60 attacks on journalists in the KRG and 150 in the rest of Iraq. At that point, those two weeks, 33 journalists had been arrested. In last week's Tikrit assualt, journalists Sabah al-Bazi (or al-Bazee) and Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad were killed. UNESCO released the following today:
The Director-General UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing of Iraqi freelance journalist Sabah al-Bazee in a gun attack on a government building in Tikrit, Iraq, in which more than 20 people were killed and dozens injured.
"I condemn the killing of Sabah al-Bazee," the Director-General declared. "The vicious attack that took his life, and many others as well, is an attack against the whole of Iraqi society and must not go unpunished.
"Free and independent information, the basis of open informed debate, is essential for the reconstruction of Iraq where all too many journalists have been paying with their lives to keep civil society at home and abroad informed.
"I encourage the authorities in Iraq to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice."
Sabah al-Baze, 30, worked for several media organizations including Reuters, CNN and other international news outlets. He was among more than 20 people who were killed on 29 March when gunment seized control of the provincial government building in Tikrit, 140 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.

Reporters Without Borders notes the various journalists that have recently gone missin gin Iraq. Naliya Radio and Television's Dana Bakir went missing at the start of the month "when security forces attacked journalists who were covering a demonstration in Freedom Square (Saray Azadi) in Sulaymaniyah." Sources state he was arrested and is in prison. The same day Lvin Magazine's Jiyar Omer was taking pictures in the square, "At no point did I think they [security forces] would target me until the moment when they tried to arrest me. Demonstrators came to my aid. Later, when I tried to take photos of security forces firing on the crowd, they hit me in the stomach and back with the butts of their Kalashnikovs." The next day security forces attacked Kornal's Goran Othman, Hakar Muhammad, Mohamed Jamal and detained Zmnako Ismail. Those are only some of the journalists listed.
Grasp how this has taken place with little-to-no Western press coverage (the Washington Post has covered some of it in reports, they've also done an editorial on the subject; the New York Times hasn't reported on it but they have done an editorial).

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