Thursday, April 14, 2011






US President Barack Obama was speechifying (rhymes with lying) this afternoon. David Swanson (War Is A Crime) offers this analysis:
Obama's speech on the deficit on Wednesday was a flop. He proposed to end no wars, make no serious cuts to the military, REDUCE corporate taxes, tax no estates or investments, raise no taxes on any billionaires, and give an unelected commission the power to slash Medicare.
Obama began by blaming tax cuts, wars, and healthcare:
"[A]fter Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program -- but we didn't pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts -- tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade. To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this: in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years."
Notice that the possibility of ending wars got dropped from that last sentence.
"Look to Iraq," declared Barack Obama in his January 2011 State of the Union address, "where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. American combat patrols have ended, violence is down and a new government has been formed."
Actually, Barack, let's look to the US State Dept which issued a warning yesterday that began, "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks inherent in travel to Iraq and recommends against all but essential travel to the country given the dangerous security situation. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated November 5, 2010, to update information and to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns for U.S. citizens in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence." And at a time when Europe continues forced returns, note that the alert insists "no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions"
And the war drags on. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) speaks with US military brass in Iraq and observes "a growing concern by American officials that the Iraqi governmetn is closing the door on a new aggreement for US troops in Iraq past the end of this year. The comments to a small group of reporters also signaled a concern that a militarily weak Iraq could be another destabilizing factor in what has become a volatile region." Brendan McGarry (Bloomberg News) reports from the Penatgon today and quotes Army Chief of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey stating, "It would certainly be in our interest to see Iraq remain on its current path and becom even more stable. As a member of the national security team, that would be my advice." US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spent several days in Iraq last week pressing the case for the US military staying on the ground in Iraq past December 31, 2011. In what appears to be an attempt at arm twising by the US White House, Anwar Faruqi (AFP) quotes an unnamed US miliary official stating, "If we left -- and this is the health warning we would give to anybody -- be careful about assuming that we will come running back to put out the fire if we don't have an agreement. Rudaw adds:
Chief of Staff of Kurdistan's president said today that the extension of the presence of American troops in Iraq is directly linked to the federal government of Iraq and the agreement between Baghdad and Washington.

This statement by the President's Chief of Staff Fuad Hussein was in reference to the question of American troops being stationed in the Kurdistan Region after the US withdrawal.

"American troops are here only based on the agreement between Iraq and the United States and this agreement will expire by the end of this year." said Fuad Hussein. "If Iraq wants these troops to stay longer, it will have to sign a new agreement."

Fuad Hussein said that only the Iraqi state can sign international agreements and that the Kurdistan Region can do nothing in this regard.

Jane Arraf explains, "If there is no new status of forces agreement, the United States could still negotiate bilateral pacts for specific training and assistance missions but those, too, would be expected to come under the scrutiny of Iraqi cabinet."
The government of Iraq remains frozen. Nouri al-Maliki still has yet to fill the security ministries. His 100 day clock (to show real reform) is ticking away and the political blocs appear to be unraveling. Dar Addustour reports that Ayad Allawi, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi met yesterday to firm up plans for the shadow government. Ayas Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) adds that a source close to the planning notes this was the first meeting between the three leaders to address the shadow government and how to exercise oversight of the Parliament. The article also notes that Nouri al-Maliki, who had previously made noises about forming a 'majority government' (kicking out the winners) is now publicly stating he's dropped the plan (which, knowing Nouri's record, doesn't mean he actually has dropped it)and that he now insists a wide partnership of all the parties is needed. Al Rafidayn notes that Parliament resumed sessions yesterday (after yet another week long break) and that Hisham Darraji is seen as the favorite among the nominees for Minister of Defense. David Ali (Al Mada) observes that Iraq is still without a Minister of Defense or Minister of Interior and that Nouri is left attempting to assure Iraqis that this isn't a problem and that the matter is being resolved. Ali notes that some political observers are not so sure that Nouri will be able to reassure the Iraqi people and an opinion that popular favorite Hashim Darraji is being penalized (by Nouri) due to his congratulations to Ayad Allawi on Iraqiya's win in the elections. (Nouri was State Of Law which came in second in the national eelections.) Aswat al-Iraq reports that the political process was the topic of a discussion today between KRG President Massoud Barzani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujiefi. While Nouri's spokesperson released a statement on a Tuesday meet-up, "The meeting, attended by the Chairman of Baghdad's Provincial Council, Kamel al-Zaidy, Baghdad Governor Salah Abdul-Razzaq, the Chariman of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, Moaya al-Lamy and a large number of journalists, as weel as the Chairman of the Free Youth Gathering, Jalal al-Shahmany, discussed the demands of Baghdad citizens and means to present necessary services for them." The statement was released shortly before another development took place. AFP reports that Baghdad security forces have announced that protests in the capital from now on will only be allowed in one of three football stadiums. The excuse being offered is complaints from shop keepers about traffic issues but the reality is this is yet another effort to hide the protests away. Academics are among those participating in the protests. They are also among those again targeted. UPI reports that the Iraqi class that returned or that managed to hang on during the so-called "brain drain" is once again finding itself targeted by unknown assailants. This was common from 2004 through 2008 but said to have tapered off with 'improved security'.
As the security posts have gone unfilled, Nouri has handled them by himself as a 'temporary' Minister. Some have seen this as an effort to consolidate the powers of the post into the post of prime minister. Others see it as further proof that Nouri lacks the ability to lead and pull the country together. What most can agree on is that while the three posts have remained vacant, the violence has increased in Iraq.
Press TV reports a southern Iraq US military base was attacked with mortars today and that this was "the third such attack on US forces in Iraq over the past week. On Sunday, three rockets targeted a US camp in Diwaniyah, a city south of the capital Baghdad." One of the keys to the reduction in violence in Iraq -- according to Congressional testimony provided repeatedly by Gen David Petraeus and then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker in April 2008 -- was the Sahwa. These were largely Sunni fighters (but, according to Petraeus, they weren't all Sunni) who were paid by the US government not to attack military equipment or soldiers (that was the order Petraues used repeatedly when testifying before Congress). Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 snapshot when the two appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."
In that same hearing, Crocker declared, "What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible." The reverse may have taken place as Sahwa ("Awakening," "Sons Of Iraq") were taken off the US payroll with the expectation that Nouri would pick up the costs. When, a year after the April 2008 hearing, Nouri finally did, he frequently didn't pay the Sahwa. They were also frequently targeted by his forces (on his orders). Many have spoken to the press in the last two years explaining how it's been made clear that Sahwa are not wanted by the government out of Baghdad. Today Aswat al-Iraq reports four Sahwa were arrested and one ("a young man") put a knoose aroun dhis neck and hanged himself. That took place in Kirkuk which was also the site for a car bombing today which claimed 1 life and left sixteen people injured and a Baquba roadside bombing wounded the "Director of the al-Saadiya district and three of his companions." Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured Lt Col Najat Hassan, a Baghdad bombing left three people injured and, dropping back to last night, a Ramadi attack resulted in 1 shop keeper being murdered.