Saturday, August 28, 2010






Last week, Gallup and AP polls were released offering the findings that most Americans are opposed to the Iraq War and feel it should never have been started. Gallup found 53% judge it as a failure, 55% judged it a failure. AP's poll with GfK Roper Public Affairs found that 65% opposed the Iraq War. Now Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports on CBS' poll (but doesn't explain why the New York Times took a pass) which finds "nearly six in ten say it was a mistake to start the battle in the first place, and most say their country did not accomplish its objectives in Iraq." The number saying it was a mistake is 59% which is in stark contrast to March 2003 when a majority, 69%, stated the US was correct to declare war on Iraq (the US-led invasion began in March 2003) and only 25% of respondents then (March 2003) said it was a mistake. The most telling response is to question eleven:
Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American lives and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?
Only 20% of respondents say the war was worth the costs while 72% say it was not worth the costs. Looking at the costs to the US, 72% are, in fact, calling the illegal war a mistake.
57% of Americans believe the Iraq War is going well (don't blame them, blame a media that's forgotten Iraq) and who do they credit for that? Montopoli reports that "one in three say both the Obama and Bush administrations [deserve credit]. Twenty-six percent credit the Bush administration, 20 percent credit the Obama administration, and 19 percent say neither deserves credit." Cynthia English reviews Gallup's latest poll which sureveyed Iraqis and found a five-percent drop in approval of US leadership from 2008 (35%) to 2010 (30%) and an increase in approval of Iraqi leadership during the same time (2008: 28%; 2010: 41%).

Jim Michaels and Mimi Hall (USA Today) report on USA Today's poll which found 60% expressing the belief that the Iraq War was not worth it. The reporters then survey a variety of people about the war and we'll note this section which includes Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan:
"I don't think there's been any measurable thing that we could cite that this occupation of Iraq has made better. We achieved exactly nothing," says Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist. Sheehan says the war made things worse for Iraqis and others.
"My work has gone from trying to stop these wars to trying to alert people to the problems of being subjects of a military empire," she says.
Empire as a shell game? That would require the Orwellian use of language to misdirect the citizens and misidentify what is going on. In other words, that would be Barack Obama calling the military "non-combat" forces and calling bases "outposts" and calling the continuation of the Iraq War the 'end.' Today the Council on Foreign Relations' Bernard Gwertzman interviews the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf.
Bernard Gwertzman: President Obama is planning to give a speech on Iraq next week marking the pullout of U.S. combat troops from the country. Does their departure make a big difference in Iraq?
Jane Arraf: It really doesn't. A lot of that is because it isn't a development that has had much of an impact on the ground. Some have called it a "rebranding" of the conflict, and there is some truth to that. What we've got left are fifty thousand other troops, a substantial number, and a lot of those are actually combat troops. Any brigade here is erady, equipped, and trained for combat. It's just that the mission is changing. So with that many troops on the ground, the latest withdrawals really don't have that much of an impact, particularly since we haven't been seeing the United States in unilateral combat missions since June of last year. As part of the security agreement signed by the Bush administration, the U.S. forces are taking ab ackseat to the Iraqi forces. The bottom line is that nothing will change on September 1. What we're really looking at is what happens as next year's deadline of December 31, 2011, approaches for all the troops to leave.
[. . .]
Bernard Gwertzman: Will the United States be providing long-term air defense? Or is that supposed to end next year too?
Jane Arraf: Everything ends next year, so it really all has to be negotiated. The commanding general in charge of training Iraqi forces told me they are in the midst of negotiating an agreement to allow NATO to continue training. Such an agreement of course to replace the Iraq-U.S. security agreement will actually have to be negotiated by whatever new government is formed. The assumption is that it will be a pro-Western, pro-U.S. government, but that's not a certainty. What if, for instance, the Sadrists have a large role to play in the new government? What if it's a much more Iranian-friendly government than some people are suggesting? They could turn to Iraq for a security agreement.
On public radio today, the security agreement was briefly touched upon. On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane was joined by Courtney Kube (NBC News), Moises Naim (El Pais) and David Wood (PoliticsDaily).
Diane Rehm: Let's turn to Iraq. For the first time since the US invasion in 2003, US troop strength in Iraq has dropped below 50,000. Is Iraq prepared to defend itself, Courtney?
Courtney Kube: Well I think you have to remember -- I don't think you'll find many average Iraqis on the street in Baghdad or anywhere in the country that would say that just because Operation Iraqi Freedom is technically ending in a few days, Operation New Dawn begins, US combat forces are out, I don't think the average Iraqi believes that that means a light switch is going to flick off and violence is going to end. The Iraqi security forces are certainly going to be tested in the coming days, weeks, months probably. But the US force that exists there now -- it's still almost 50,000 troops, they're not going anywhere, they're not going any beyond this until next summer.
Diane Rehm: But you did have a wave of coordinated attacks in thirteen cities just --
David Wood: Yeah, just a horrific thing. Mounted apparently by al Qaeda in Iraq, the sort of home grown, foreign directed, Sunni terrorist organization. What was particularly striking, I thought, was that after these bombs went off in these thirteen cities in a two hour period, the Iraqi people rushed in to help and people stoned them and shouted at them and were very angry and yelled: "Why can't you protect us!" And it was, I thought, "Uh-oh." It was a real uh-oh moment because clearly the Iraqi security forces cannot keep this kind of thing from happening.
Diane Rehm: Moises?
Moises Naim: August was the deadliest month for Iraqi security forces in the past three years, at least 265 have been killed in June alone. And if you look at these places where the attacks took place. They bring back names that had gone out of the news. Falludi, Ramadi, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra. These were places where we used to talk about them all the time and then they disappeared. This is a way of telling the world and telling Iraqis, we are still here -- on the part of insurgents in Iraq. And explaining the fact that the US troops are leaving is creating -- plus -- the very important backdrop to this story is that Iraq doesn't have a government. They had an election several months ago. That election does not yield a clear result. And now they have been struggling to create a functioning government.
Diane Rehm: How are these 50,000 so-called non-combat troops going to be able to stand back and watch as this kind of desecration happens.
Courtney Kube: Well they won't be standing back at all. I mean 20,000 of those 50,000 are assigned to advise-and-assist brigades that -- Just today, there was an advise-and-assist, some US troops that went out with Iraqi security forces, arrested seven al Qaeda in Iraq suspected members. They won't be sitting back. Almost half of those forces are going to be involved in combat missions, frankly, it's just that they cannot do it alone.There really hasn't been a big change in posture of US forces since last summer, since the US forces were no longer allowed to operate on their own, no longer allowed to conduct missions within Iraqi cities. So the only real difference that we're seeing right now is the numbers are down a little bit, the combat troops that were assigned to, you know, so-called combat brigades are now out and they're now reassigned to advise-and-assist.
Diane Rehm: There is more than a little ambiguety here, David Wood.
David Wood: I think it's deliberate. I want to pick up on something Moises was saying and that was that there's no Iraqi government in power, of course. There's been a lot of political turbulence since March when there were presidential [C.I. note: Parlimentary elections] elections and nobody won a clear majority or enough to put together a government in Parliament. One of the -- one of the upshots of that is that the United States is supposed to be, by law, withdraw all of its military forces from Iraq by December 31st of next year. I think that agreement was made in the last months of the Bush administration with the understanding that it would be renegotiated because, if it were carried out, you wouldn't even be able to have Marine guards at the US Embassy. With no government, you can't regnegotiate it. And the clock is ticking. And al Qaeda in Iraq has noticed and the statement they issued after this bombing was: "The countdown has begun to return Iraq to the embrace of Islam and its Sunnis with God's permission." Pretty chilling stuff.
Diane Rehm: Moises.
Moises Naim: So the story here again is one of calendars versus conditions. There is a political -- a Washington based or a US politics-centered calendar that people are following and then there are realities on the ground. And these two are clashing. The realities on the ground in Iraq are not in synch with deadlines and with timelines and the calendar that has been decided by purely domestic US politics kind of consideration and calculations.
Diane Rehm: So next week President Obama is going to make an Oval Office speech, next Tuesday. What's he expected to say, Moises?
Moises Naim: He's going to confirm two things that may be a bit contradictory. I think. One is that the troops are going out and this was his campaign promise and that Iraq is in better shape than before and so on. But at the same time he's going to claim the continuing support and commitment of the United States to the building of a democratic Iraqi nation.
Staying on the 'end of war' 'treaty' 'requirement,' Gareth Porter (IPS via Dissident Voice) reports, "All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end." The editorial board for the Seattle Times notes the drawdown is phase one, "Remember, the operative description is Phase One. The departure of all U.S. military is supposed to come at the end of 2011. Do not confuse that goal with an end of U.S. presence or involvement in Iraq. Parsing out the future depends on definitions and interpretations. The exist of designated combat forces still leaves 50,000 American troops in Iraq, with another 79,000 U.S. contractors. Men and women in uniform are essentially replaced by taxpayer supported mercenaries who attract a lot less public attention." Elise Labot (CNN) reports:

For the people of Iraq, the withdrawal of U.S. forces will be largely symbolic. The average Iraqi has not seen U.S. forces since June 2009, when they redeployed to the outskirts of Iraqi cities under the terms of the 2008 security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Since then, Iraqi forces have been in charge of urban areas: manning most checkpoints, conducting operations against extremists and maintaining law and order.
But for the United States, the transfer from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is monumental. The handover will put the U.S. State Department in an expanded and indeed unprecedented role, one it is forced to scale back before it even starts due to budget constraints.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010






Yesterday, Iraq was slammed with bombings and Jason Ditz ( counts 92 dead from violence with 379 more people left injured. The press consensus yesterday appeared to be that security personnel were the primary targets of yesterday's violence. Violence continues today. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Baquba attack today has claimed 6 lives. The target? Sahwa members. Sahwa, also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq," are fighters (mainly Sunni -- but according to Gen David Petraeus's April 2008 Congressional testimonies, not exclusively Sunni) who were paid by the US military to stop attacking US military equipment and US military personnel. In 2008, as Congressional members began to get vocal about the financial cost of Sahwa (approximately $300 per member per month with over 96,000 Sahwa), the transition to Iraq's government or 'government' out of Baghdad picking up the bill was supposed to take place. Despite claims in November and again in early 2009, as late as the summer of 2009, the US was still footing the bill regularly for many Sahwa. Despite claims by Nouri that he would absorb a number of Sahwa (about 20%) into Iraq's security forces, that really didn't come to be and Sahwa members began waiting weeks and weeks for late monthly payments and then came the targeting of them, followed by attempts to disarm them, followed by more targeting.
Al Jazeera puts the number dead at 8 (cites police sources for the number) and notes that 52,000 Sahwa continue to remain unemployed/unabsorbed into Nouri's 'new Iraq." Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) notes that al-Iraqiyah TV is reporting 8 deaths as well and reminds, "The U.S. hailed the decision of its Sunni Muslim members to turn against al-Qaeda as a key to a country-wide decline in attacks about a year later." The Morning Star also reports 8 dead and states that the bombing "killed four of the guards immeidately before gunmen reportedly finished off the survivors." Reuters adds, "A second simultaneous assault on another Sunni militia group in the same province was thwarted, with one attacker killed and two arrested, Interior Ministry and provincial officials said." AFP quotes police Cpt Firas al-Dulaimi stating, "Several members of al-Qaeda attacked a Sahwa office when nine people were inside. Six Sahwa were killed, two were wounded and one was unhurt."
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 8 Sahwa killed in the attack and also notes a Diyala Province bombing in which 2 Iraqi soldiers were killed and two more were wounded. Reuters notes an Abu Saida clash in which 1 person was killed and two more were arrested as they attempt to assault Sahwa, a Mosul car bombing which injured Nezhat Ali of the Turkmen Front as well as five other people, a Hawija roadside bombing which injured one person and, dropping back to Wednesday night for the rest, a Mosul bombing which injured one adult and one child and Kirkuk attack in which one person was wounded in a shooting.
Meanwhile Arthur MacMillan (AFP) reports on Sahwa Sahwa reaction to the news of the drawdown which is fear in light of the targeting leading Sahwa's Samarra commander Majid Hassan to ask, "If our houses are being attacked and destroyed by the terrorists even before the withdrawal, what will happen to us when the US forces leave?" For Morning Edition (NPR), Mike Shuster files a report about other reactions to the waves of violence.
Mike Shuster: They did the bombings because of the Americans, said Abu Salman at his butcher shop in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad. They claim that when the Americans leave, there will be more bombs in Iraq. Abu Mohammed, a construction worker, agreed. "They do think the Americans are weaker now, so let's do it," he said. Abu Salman added, "They are getting stronger because there's no government and there's no protection in the street."
Meanwhile the Arab Times reports on a poll by Asharq Research Centre which surveyed 1,150 Iraqis (18 and older) from August 15th through 23rd and found:
* 59.8% stated that the it wasn't the right time for US forces to leave; 39.5% felt it was
* 53.1% did not agree that "combat" operations should end August 31st; 46.2% did agree
* 51% felt the drawdown would have a negative effect; 25.8% felt it would be positive
* Does Barack Obama care about the situation in Iraq? No = 41.9%; Yes = 39.8%; don't know = 15.5%
Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) observes, "The attacks exposed as a fiction the Obama administration's long-standing claim that the Iraqi forces were ready and able to take over from U.S. troops. While that claim may have played well with war-weary Americans, Iraqis have never been fooled: only last week, the commander of the Iraq military said his forces would not be fully ready until 2020. The bombings don't automatically mean all (or even much) of Iraq is once again in the grip of the insurgency. But they suggest the country is in for a great deal more violence in the months ahead." The Hindu adds, "The spate of murderous attacks in cities across the whole of Iraq over the last 10 days has taken the August 2010 death toll to 535, with nearly 400 wounded. This exceeds the July total of 500 deaths; the authorities attribute the bombings to Sunni-militant followers of al-Qaeda. Only one attacker was stopped in advance: in Mosul, Iraqi soldiers spotted and killed a suicide bomber before he could blow his car up. Above all, the intensified attacks show how little control the United States and the Iraqi authorities have."
Surveying the landscape, The Economist offers, "American commanders were quick to remind Iraqi and American audiences this week that their troops could still return to patrolling the streets if needed. That is meant to be reassuring, and to a growing number of Iraqis it is. But it does not address the underlying problem, namely the inability of the Iraqi state to function effectively, including running the police. Many Iraqis expect the police to respond to the latest attacks by hiding behind even more sandbags and blast walls."

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010








Iraq was slammed by violence but before we get to that, the Pentagon found a new way to insult gays and lesbians this week as, apparently, apparently did President Barack Obama. Instead of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Barack's promised to study it for a year. He didn't need a study when he made it a campaign promise. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is the policy put in place in the early 90s to allow gays and lesbians the ability to serve. It did not allow them to serve openly. The policy was they couldn't tell and they couldn't be asked. It was a compromise policy. People were being asked and were being kicked out the military for their sexuality. The policy never worked the way it was hoped because the questions and witch hunts continued. It was a step and the most then-President Bill Clinton could get in the face of opposition from Congressional Democrats and Colin Powell. Time does move on, thankfully. And Barack campaigned on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell so that gays and lesbians could serve openly without fear of being kicked out for their sexuality. But instead of doing that, he announced a 'study' was needed. If the study says "Don't Repeal!" will Barack still repeal? Ask Magic 8-ball, it's more honest than Robert Gibbs. As offensive as the study option was, it's now gotten worse. 150,000 questionaires were sent out this month by the Pentagon . . . to the husbands and wives of service members asking for their input.
Next up look for the Pentagon to check with the cable guy of service members and, after that, their dry cleaners. That should eat up enough time that Barack will be out of the White House and his 'promise' long forgotten. If you want to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, you repeal it. It's not that difficult -- unless Barack's saying that, like his cigarette smoking, homophobia is a personal addiction for him.
In the United States today the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, spoke in Chicago. He was speaking to a variety of business leaders and the thrust of his speech was how returning veterans were a valuable employment resource with skills companies would be more than fortunate to have. He took questions (although he refused to address topics that had nothing to do with him or his position -- including the Water Cooler topic that the chattering types can't shut about). Alex Keefe (Chicago Public Radio -- text and audio) quotes him stating, "This is a - an effort on the part of al Qaeda, in particular, in Iraq to re-ignite the sectarian violence." He addresses the Detroit Economic Club tomorrow and he spoke with Steve Courtney today on the Paul W. Smith AM Show (WJR).
While Mullen offered hypothesis. At least 60 dead at least 265 injured today as Iraq is slammed with bombings -- mocking Joe Biden and the speech he gave to the VFW on Monday. That always happens. Attempt to serve up a wave of Operation Happy Talk and expect Iraq to correct your spin with a bracing splash of reality. As Jackson Browne once sang, "With all the times that I've been burned, by now you'd think I'd have learned" ("Rosie"). Ned Parker and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) explain, "The violence shook at least seven cities from north to south and appeared timed to undermine confidence in the Iraqi army and police as the U.S. military ends it formal combat mission in the country." Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) note the assaults appear "to be part of a coordinated wave of attacks" and they quote Mohammed Abbas who lost a cousin in one of today's bombings: "There may be a state, there may be a government. But what can that state do? What can they do with all the terrorists? Are they supposed to set up a checkpoint in every house?"
Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explain, "Car bombs were used in the attacks in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Baquba, Kirkuk and Wasit, the officials said in statements." In addition, they note, "Vice President Joseph Biden and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said at separate events yesterday that the administration is confident Iraqi forces are capable of taking on the primary security role." Barbara Surk and Hamid Ahmed (AP) point out, "The attacks made August the deadliest month for Iraqi policemen and soldiers in two years, and came a day after the U.S. declared that its troop levels were at their lowest level since the war began in 2003." BBC News reminds, "Iraq's top army officer recently questioned the timing of the pull-out, saying the country's military might not be ready to take control for another decade." On the attacks, Reuters notes a Baghdad suicide car bombing claimed 15 lives (plus driver for sixteen) with fifty-six injured, a Kut suicide car bombing which claimed 30 lives (plus driver) and left eighty-seven injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five people, a Dujail car bombing which injured twenty people, a Basra minbus bombing which injured twelve people, a Kirkuk car bombing which killed 1 person (nine more injured), six Balad Ruz roadside bombings which injured thirteen people, a Falluja suicide car bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left ten people injured, a Baghdad, a Muqdadiya car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left eighteen injured, a Ramadi car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left thirteen wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three people, a Baghdad car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left fourteen people wounded, two Samarra roadside bombings which wounded Col Mustafa Hameed and three of his bodyguards, a Tikrit roadside bombing which injured two police officers, a Tikrit roadside bombing which injured two college students and five Iraqi soldiers, and a Baghdad attack on a police checkpoint which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed 1 life, a Wasit car bombing 10 people (fifteen injured), a Karbala car bombing claimed 1 life (eight more injured) and a Mosul suicide car bombing which claimed the lives 3 Iraqi soldiers (thirteen more injured). By 7:30 a.m. US EST this morning, the totals were at least 60 dead, at least 265 injured. BBC offers a slide show of the aftermath of some of the bombings. Jason Ditz ( reports, "Though the casualty figures are still coming in and may change, at least 86 Iraqis, including a large number of security forces, were killed and 371 others were wounded in the attacks." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports "Day of violence hits every corner of Iraq." Mike Hanna (Al Jazeera) states, "It does appear the primary targets are police stations, check points [and other] symbols of the attempt to create a system of law and order within Iraq." Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) explains, "U.S. commanders and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly have blamed the attacks on a hodge-podge of insurgent groups, including extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and, separately, to Iran. They allege the groups are trying to take advantage of a political vacuum -- politicians have yet to form a government after March polls -- and sow fear amid the U.S. withdrawal." Jane Arraf, Laith Hammoudi and Mohammad Dulaimi (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) report, "No group has yet taken responsibility but Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki's office blamed the attacks on Al Qaeda and Baathists. The statement said the bombings would not derail the 'historic national achievement' of the troop withdrawal in line with Iraq achieving full national sovereignty." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The US military faces mounting pleas from Iraqis to reconsider its exit." Tang Danlu (Xinhua) notes the continuing political stalemate as the violence continues.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 18 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.
Lebanon's Daily Star covers the rumors that Moqtada al-Sadr may move "to Beirut to escape Iranian pressures to endorse a second-term for incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki" and that "On Tuesday, Ziyad al-Darb, a lawmaker from Iraqiya said Sadrist lawmakers were throwing their weight behind Allawi for prime minister."
BBC News' Hugh Skyes appeared on The Takeaway today supposedly to offer insight but instead apparently wanted to convey that Judi Dench is far from Britian's only drama queen. For the record, if he's going to admonish the host, he ought to get his facts correct. The drawdown is not, IS NOT, mandated by the Status Of Forces Agreement (" . . . that their forces are down to the 50,000 required by the State Of Forces Agreement here"). Know what you're talking about Hugh before you lecture someone else. What a putz. I can't imagine anything more stupid than being a reporter on Iraq and not knowing what the SOFA says and what it doesn't. Especially at this late date. The evening of November 27, 2008, the White House finally provided a copy of the Status Of Forces Agreement to the American people. (Even the US Congress was working with a translation of it prior, the White House did not provide Congress with a copy.) Read over it and find that 50,000 in the SOFA, Hugh Sykes. You won't. Because it's not in there as Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) and countless others have attempted to make clear over and over for nearly two years now. The 50,000 is Barack. It is not the SOFA which was signed on off before he was president. I don't think I've ever heard a guest on American public radio treat a host so rudely. And the reality is that while Hugh got his knickers in a wad, he's the idiot who doesn't even know what the SOFA says. Before he offers his next condescending lecture, he might try familiarizing himself with the basic facts.
Marco Werman: Egyptian society is typical of much of the Middle East. It's conservative. But one country stands out from its neighbors. That's Iraq. Prostitution, drugs and pornography are now widespread there. It wasn't always this way but it's part of the enormous change that the country has gone through in the past eight years. Jane Arraf has witnessed the changes in Iraq as a reporter, first for CNN and now as a freelancer. Jane, how is Iraq different from its neighbors and when did it change?
Jane Arraf: Well I think the thing about Iraq is that with the toppling of Saddam, it basically lifted the lid on pretty much everything. It wasn't as if prostitution didn't exist before the war. It certainly did. And particularly in that period of sanctions when there were international trade sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s and even middle class women who couldn't find food for their families were turning to prostitution. I think the thing is now though that essentially it became lawless after the invasion, after Saddam was toppled, then law was imposed again. It has become quite religious. So it's this really odd combination of increasing religiousness -- Islam, of course -- and an openness and the two things coincide rather unhappily.
Marco Werman: Gives ua an example. Perhaps you can talk about the pornography situation in Iraq. I mean what was Saddam's point of view on pornography and what is the kind of the national approach to pornography today?
Jane Arraf: Well, essentially pornography is bad. It's about as simple as that. It certainly doesn't jive with any sort of religion and it's frowned on. But, having said that, this is a country where young men particularly do not have many avenues open to them. They can't really have sex. They certainly can't have sex with women for the most part. And pornography is one of the few ways that they have access to that sort of thing. It's the same on US military bases. There's a prevalence of pornography on the bases even though it's officially banned there. But really the thing about Iraq is, well, I think is, it's a country that's very much still coming to grips with what kind of country it wants to be. And we've seen that in the spate of recent killings of gay men. This has been an openness that many people have taken advantage of. They couldn't have dressed the way they dress under Saddam Hussein's era. They couldn't have engaged in the kind of behavior, danicing in clubs, that they did then. Men with men. But, having said that, it's collided with an increasingly religious atmosphere here. It has resulted in the death of at least a dozen gay men and they've eseentially gone underground, gone to Syria, gone to other places and gotten the message very clearly that even though things seem open here, they're not really.
Jane Arraf went on to explain, "Sexual experiences between young men are considered fairly normal before they get married. So that if you have an experience of that sort with another man, you're not necessarily considered gay here. The thing that really offends people is not so much the sex, it's the appearance of being gay. It's the perception that you're gay, that you're effeminate."
Psychologically speaking, it is the rejection of self and what the man has done which frequently manifests itself in homophobia and leads to lashing out -- verbally and/or physically -- at those who may or may not be gay (or bi) but whose appearance might result in that assumption. Along with the rejection, there's the projection and, of course, the almighty quaking fear that if "Mustaffa" is gay and you don't attack Mustaffa, you may be thought to be gay as well.

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"The lessons don't seem to have taken"






Today Tom Ashbrook used the hour of On Point (NPR) to explore the situation in Iraq and was joined, by phone from Baghdad, the Los Angeles Times' Liz Sly and the New York Times' Anthony Shadid.
Tom Ashbrook: Liz, you remind us in your recent reporting that -- what, about a year ago? -- when US troops withdrew from the cities in Iraq, Iraqis danced in the street, there was celebration. What about this last week? Americans have heard a lot about the withdrawal of combat troops, what's -- Has there been a public response? Has there been dancing in the street from Iraqis, Liz?
Liz Sly: Well there has no. The reaction has been in noted contrast to last year. And that's because two things are different between this year and last year. Last year, the American troops withdrew from the cities under the terms of the security agreement signed with Iraq and so the Iraqi government trumpeted that as a triumph for Iraq, as a sign of its sovereignty. This year -- This year, the unilateral withdrawal of the 50,000 is an American move in response to President Obama's election pledge to bring the troops home. It hasn't really received much attention from the Iraqis. And the other thing that's different between now and last year is that last year Iraq was looking pretty stable. It kind of was better off than Iraq had been in a long time, violence had subsided a lot, the government was relatively strong, relatively popular, relatively in control. This year, the situation really does feel really unstable again. We had elections in March, they failed to produce a winner, there's been no success in negotiations for a new government and a lot of Iraqis now are feeling very worried about what lies ahead and especially wihtout so many troops -- without so many American troops in the country -- to kind of keep order, if you like?
had finally
Tom Ashbrook: Uh, Liz, Anthony, here was US commander in Iraq Ray Odierno just this last Sunday on CBS [Face The Nation]. He was asked about whether the US had won in Iraq?
Gen Ray Odierno: I would say that we've made lot of progress here. I would say to determine whether we've won the war or not, we can see that in three to five years as we see how Iraq works out. A strong, democratic Iraq should bring stability to the Middle East and, if we see an Iraq moving from that two, three, five years, I think we can call our operation a success.
Tom Ashbrook: Two, three, five years from now? It's a long goodbye already. US troops -- formally -- to be out at the end of next year, we'll see what happens with that. But Anthony Shadid, when you look over that kind of horizon, the right now that Liz is talking about, the spikes in attacks, then there's the two, three, five year horizon out there. Where do see Iraq? What do you see coming, Anthony?
Anthony Shadid: I think Liz is exactly right, this is a very precarious moment right here and what struck me in the past few weeks is the degree of the divorce between the population right now and the ruling elite. And it is an utter divide that's going on right there. The ruling elite is discredited, there's not a lot of trust in them, there's an incredible amount of frustration as Liz pointed out in their inabililty to form a government. Where does that -- that disenchantment, that disillusionment lead to? And I think that's one of the most pressing questions and it's not a question that US officials and the military is reallyd ealing with right now. This is a government or an elite that has lost the trust of the people. It's not a good sign of the durability or even the longterm implications for creating a stable political system. I think it's in fact one of the most danger -- one of the biggest dangers they're facing right now.
Tom Ashbrook: Anthony, who is the ruling elite of Iraq today?
Anthony Shadid: Well interestingly it's many of the same ruling elite that we saw back in 2003 and I think this is going to be one of the American legacies of the invasion/occupation and what's followed here. There are people that the Americans helped empower and they're still, in a lot of ways, calling the shots. I mean, we've heard a lot of the names already. Ayad Allawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ibrahim Jaafari and, you know, Prime Minister Maliki is one of the different ones but he's from the Dawa party which is one of the parties that were brought back after 2003. So we're dealing with a lot of the same faces and we're dealing with a lot of the same penchant toward deadlock, toward stalemate that's characterized their dealing, you know, back from 2004 and on.
Tom Ashbrook: Liz Sly, the group that Anthony's pointing at there, from 2003, that the US brought in were largely exiles. What has that meant about the way they've approached politics? The Iraq that they now, you know, more or less, for better or worse, rule?
Liz Sly: Well you've got something of a really fundamental divide going on in Iraqi society and politics at the moment and it's the same divide that we saw back in 2003, back in 2004 as the insurgency started. And it's opened up again, if you like, by this latest election. And that really is a huge divide between religious parties which were empowered very much by the US invasion. The Shi'ite religious parties which had been in exile since they'd been persecuted by Saddam. They came back, they formed the government and now they're in power. What you have now is a bit of a situation where there's a little bit of a pushback against that religious style of government that came in in those years by people who want to see a more secular and less overtly religious form of government and, quite frankly, there is a sectarian overture to that as well because there are Sunnis who don't want Shia religious parties to be in control. And so you've got this fundamental divide that we've never really solved in any of the earlier years when the emphasis was mainly on bringing the violence down and not on solving the fundamental political problems. And you've got that divide opening up again just as the troops are going home.
Tom Ashbrook: Anthony Shadid, what's the problem in getting a new government established? The election is five months and counting behind us now. What are the obstacles to some kind of a compromise to get something settled here? What's the problem?
Anthony Shadid: Well I think on one level it's ambition. It's the ambition of the people who did best in the election. But I think more fundamentally, it's a question of power and who has that power and how is that power -- to what degree does everyone enjoy that power? There is a question right now going on of whether the prime minister will have the powers he's had in the past, whether it will be moved to the Cabinet. There are ideas out there of creating a National Strategies Council, a National Security Council that would take some of the powers away from the prime minister but I think we're still in the preliminary stages there. The Ambassador, Christopher Hill, before he left, optimistically forecast it was weeks away but I think pessimism was probably the better sentiment to have and those negotiations seem to have fallen apart. I think when you talk to politicians right now, we're not all of that -- I mean, maybe I'm overstating it a little bit -- but I don't think we're all that further ahead than we were in March. And I think this could last weeks, even months. And the interim is dangerous. That interim encourages rumors of crisis and confrontation and even coups -- coup d'etats -- and you do wonder where -- where this is all going to lead to?
That's an excerpt. Again, Ashbrook devoted the hour to the very important topic. Shadid and Sly were allowed to speak on various aspects of Iraq that never get noted in the rush for 'the week's headlines' that Iraq is often lumped into. I can't think of a time when Iraq got the full hour on any radio show this year. (The Takeaway still deserves praise for their week long look at Iraq.) Check out the show for that and for more on the elections.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 17 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.

Today Alsumaria TV reports that State Of Law submitted a "political reform paper" to Iraqiya and Iraqiya has refused the paper. UPI notes that Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh issued a statement denying that Iran was attempting to influence the process. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) adds that Syria is working on the political stalemate and attempting to encourage negotiations. Rahmat al-Salaam (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reports:

For his part, Al-Iraqiya member Muhammad Allawi said that "Al-Maliki has two options; he can either assumes the second post after the prime minister or accepts to stay as a member of parliament." On the possibility of starting dialogues with the SLC anew in spite of Al-Maliki's insistence to remain a candidate for the post of prime minister in the next government, Allawi said that "Al-Iraqiya had set a condition not to mention the name of Al-Maliki as a candidate to head the next government during the dialogues or the negotiations with it, and in case this happens, the meeting with the SLC would stop." He stressed that Al-Iraqiya is adopting this stand since it is the bloc that has the electoral right which authorizes it to form and head the government."
Muhammad Allawi added that the Al-Iraqiya list "is going ahead in its negotiations with the Iraqi National Alliance (led by Ammar al-Hakim) in determined steps, and the same is the case of the Kurdistan Alliance, while keeping the door open for the SLC to take what it deserves of main posts, specifically the second highest post after the prime minister."
UPI reports that supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr have made a decision whom to back: "Ziyad al-Darb, a lawmaker from Iraqiya, told the Voices of Iraq news agency that Sadrist lawmakers were throwing their weight behind Allawi for prime minster." Saturday Alsumaria TV noted Al Hayat Newspaper was reporting that al-Sadr would be supporting Allawi. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reported Sunday that al-Sadr and Allawi would meet-up in Syria shortly. Ma'ad Fayad (Asharaq Alawsat Newspaper) reports that rumors are swirling that Moqtada al-Sadr is planning to move to Lebanaon "in order to escape from Iranian pressure, which is pushing for his approval of the nomination of Nuri al-Maliki, leader of the State of Law Coalition and outgoing Prime Minister, for a second term in office." Al Bawaba also notes the rumors and quote an unnamed source stating, "Al-Sadr rejected all the pressures and proposals made by Iranian officials for the approval of al-Maliki and today is planning seriously to go to Lebanon and stay in Beirut." Consider all of the reports today to be etched in soft clay and able to wash away at any time as has repeatedly happened during the nearly six months since the elections.
Today many reporters had a sick day on the job while other 'reporters' continued posing and they all tried to tease a report out of a press release. It was pimping and worse. It was not news. It was whoring. Thanks Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy never planned for you to be such a whore, let alone a cheap whore. CSM's editorial board (the same crap that palled around with LIAR Daniel Schorr -- forever remembered as the 'brave guy' who tried to falsely blame Lesley Stahl to save his own ass) wants to tease out the press release and insult our intelligence -- the latter by repeating the tired, disproven trope that US service members were spat on during Vietnam. Who gives the editorial board it's history lessons? Barack Obama. (He was only 8 years old!) Here's reality, you damn dirty whores of the Christian Science Monitor editorial board, from Jerry Lembcke (Vietnam Veterans Against the War):
Many of the current stories are accompanied by stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans. The recent story of spitting in Asheville, for example, was traced to a local businessman who says he is a veteran who was also spat upon and called a "baby killer" when he returned from Vietnam. An Associated Press story of April 9 reported stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans surfacing in several cities including Spicer, Minnesota whose mayor said he was spat upon in the San Francisco airport while coming home from Vietnam in 1971.
Similar stories became quite popular during the Gulf War of 1991 which raised my curiosity about where they came from and why they were believed. There is nothing in the historical record -- news or police reports, for example -- suggesting they really happened. In fact, the Veterans Administration commissioned a Harris Poll in 1971 that found 94% of Vietnam veterans reporting friendly homecomings from their age-group peers who had not served in the military. Moreover, the historical record is rich with the details of solidarity and mutuality between the anti-war movement and Vietnam veterans. The real truth, in other words, is that anti-war activists reached out to Vietnam veterans and veterans joined the movement in large numbers.
Stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans are bogus. Born out of accusations made by the Nixon administration, they were enlivened in popular culture (recall Rambo saying he was spat on by those maggots at the airport) and enhanced in the imaginations of Vietnam-generation men -- some veterans, some not. The stories besmirch the reputation of the anti-war movement and help construct an alibi for why we lost the war: had it not been for the betrayal by liberals in Washington and radicals in the street, we could have defeated the Vietnamese. The stories also erase from public memory the image, discomforting to some Americans, of Vietnam veterans who helped end the carnage they had been part of.
The facsimiles of spat-upon veteran stories that are surfacing now confuse the public dialogue surrounding the war. Debate about the war itself and the politics that got us into it is being displaced by the phony issue of who supports the troops. Everyone supports the troops and wishes them a safe and speedy homecoming. It's the mission they have been sent on that is dividing the nation and it is the mission that we have a right and obligation to question.
And you can read more of Jerry's book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam online via Google books. (Or actually buy the book. It's a great book and Jerry's a great guy.) You can also refer to Tim King's 2008 article for Salem-News. But what you can't do is WHORE out whatever was left of your reputation and expect anyone to take you seriously. What the Christian Science Monitor has done is repeat a blood libel that they decided to bring up on their own. All on their own. They're liars, they're whores, they're uneducated and they're uniformed -- and that's your editorial board. Beginning to see why -- even with considerable tax breaks -- the Christian Science Monitor could no longer hack it as a print newspaper? Mmmhmm. Watch the little liars try to weasel out of issuing the correction that damn well know they need to. Well remember, they supported the Iraq War. A fact they'd like you to forget. They supported it, they whored it, they did the advance work for it -- that includes the 'brave' and thankfully dead Danny Schorr.
Now a lot of outlets tried to tease the press release into 'news' and no one did a worse job than the Christian Science Monitor. Who actually managed to deliver news? NPR did. They treated it like news meaning they did something more than rewrite the press release, they added the details that were being (intentionally) left out. From their hourly news break this morning.

Craig Windham: The number of US troops in Iraq is now below 50,000 for the first time since the American-led invasion of that country seven years ago NPR's Mike Schusther in Bagdad says the drawdown of combat forces has been completed a week before the date set by President Obama.
Mike Shuster: The US military says that largely brings to a close the US combat role in Iraq. Now the main mission of those troops remaining will be to train and assist Iraqi security forces. But American troops will still be armed and will accompany Iraqi patrols. There are still almost daily insurgent attacks in Iraq. The US may be ending its primary combat role in Iraq but the violence has not ended. In addition, some of the remaining US troops are Special Forces and they will continue to stage secret operations against al Qaeada in Iraq and other insurgent groups. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Baghdad.

That's from the hourly news and I'm not aware of any way to link to that, sorry, so we'll just note NPR. Note that Shuster's able to do what others can't or won't. How very telling. Nor did he have to resort to lying about the peace activists during Vietnam. "Yet since the Vietnam War, when returning soldiers were shunned and even spat on, Americans have learned to distinguish between the service of a soldier and the politics of war" lied the Christian Science Monitor -- which doesn't seem to go with either Mary Baker Eddy's beliefs or those of Christ's -- disgracing itself. ("Shunned"? By the government. But you know that a cowardly editorial board would rather attack the people than hold accountable the government.) This morning, I was surprised to find out that we called out Joe Biden (whom I know and love) in yesterday's snapshot and everyone else wanted to pretend like Joe was making sense yesterday. Jason Ditz ( is the exception: "On the subject of Iraq, Biden mocked those who suggested that violence would rise ahead of the drawdown, insisting it 'didn't happen.' Last month saw the highest death toll of Iraqi civilians in over two years." Good for Jason Ditz. But I was merely surprised by the silence elsewhere. On the smear and attack on the peace movement? I'm furious and outraged. For those who are still suffering from Joe Biden's spin from yesterday, here's Charlie Kimber (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
The truth is that the US has achieved only the sordid destruction of an entire society. Over a million Iraqis are dead because of the war, as are thousands of US, British and other troops.
Some four million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, and the vast majority are too terrified to return. Basic services are in short supply and the reality for the majority of the Iraqi population is poverty and fear.
July saw the highest number of violent deaths in Iraq for two years: August will be worse.
Sectarianism has been created and entrenched. Al Qaida did not exist in Iraq before the war -- but it does now. The lie that the US has made Iraq a better place is on a scale of the lies about weapons of mass destruction.
And of course the US is not withdrawing from Iraq. "Combat troops" are meant to be out, but 50,000 "trainers and advisers" will remain until the end of 2011, and 10,000 even longer. The US is in the process of recruiting 7,000 security contractors (mercenaries) to back up their power.

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Monday, August 23, 2010








The Hindu explains, "Over 50,000 U.S. troops are to remain in Iraq, and their numbers could rise to 70,000. They will be called 'Advise and Assist brigades'; they have warplanes and helicopters and will accompany Iraqi troops into combat. The U.S. also has several big, effectively permanent military bases in Iraq; and intends to maintain about 200,000 mercenaries as 'protectors' of western business and other interests across the country." Before we get to anything else, we need to grasp that reality. A lot of spin was spun today.
In the United States this morning, Vice President Joe Biden gave a very strange speech. Matt Negrin (Politico) has the money quote if not the analytical ability to realize what he has: "Don't buy into 'we have failed in Afghanistan.' We are now only beginning, with the right general and the right number of forces, to seek our objectives." Anyone see the problem? That's a swipe on Stanley McChrystal. So McChrystal was the wrong general? Well darn that Bully Boy Bush for putting McChrystal in charge of Afghanistan. Oh wait, McChrystal was Barack's choice. Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post), June 3, 2009: "Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, President Obama's choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, said yesterday that violence and combat deaths will intensify as more U.S. troops surge into Taliban-held areas, but he vowed to execute a "holistic" strategy in which killing insurgents would be subordinate to safeguarding Afghan civilians. McChrystal, a former Special Operations commander, pledged that if confirmed he will take extreme measures to avoid Afghan civilian casualties -- a problem that has long tarnished the U.S.-led military campaign -- putting civilians at risk only when necessary to save the lives of coalition troops." So Barack's been overseeing a war for how long? He chose the wrong general and it took him how long to realize that?
Biden was there to talk about Iraq and, though he knows better, he gave the usual sap and sop. Instead of talking about how the service members should have the public's 'gratitude,' he should have offered the government's sympathy for sending them off to fight an illegal war and a war built on lies. Joe was in crowd pleaser mode and nothing he said matched with the facts.
"You would not recognize the country today!" he insisted. As proof he pointed to the ethnic cleansing/civil war of 2006 and 2007. That would be the ethnic cleansing which created the Iraqi refugee crisis. After you create 4.1 million refugees (higher by some estimates), you would see less violence but, of course, the thugs need someone new to target and it's a damn shame, A DAMN SHAME, that neither Joe Biden or Barack Obama has said one damn word about the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community. It is as shameful as the long silence Ronald Reagan had on AIDS and they -- Joe and Barack -- better accept how ugly this will look historically on their record. The LGBT community targeted and they never said a word.
Last October, New York Magazine published a horrifying article about the persecution of gays in Iraq. The article describes men presumed to be homosexuals being hunted down, tortured, and shot dead at close range. The militias that commit these horrific acts often leave the bodies on the side of the road, with the word "PERVERT" taped to their chests.
But an even more brutal method of torture and murder has been adopted. Militias use super glue to close the men's anuses, and then force them to drink a fluid that induces diarrhea, causing them to explode from the inside.
As a filmmaker, I spent eight months living in Syria documenting the lives of gay Iraqi men.
One of them, a 24 year-old, left his Baghdad home after a note arrived on his front door reading "If your gay son doesn't leave the country, we'll kill the whole family." He told me he considered himself lucky -- "at least they warned me."
Jennifer Utz has started Iraqi Refugee Stories to tell the stories of the world's largest refugee crisis. Joe Biden heaped praise on the drawdown of 'combat troops' and declared this morning, of Iraq's security forces, that they "are 650,000 strong and already leading the way to defend and protect their country." Robert Fisk (Independent of London via ZNet) observes:

So we should not be taken in by the tomfoolery on the Kuwaiti border in the last few hours, the departure of the last "combat" troops from Iraq two weeks ahead of schedule. Nor by the infantile cries of "We won" from teenage soldiers, some of whom must have been 12-years-old when George W Bush sent his army off on this catastrophic Iraqi adventure. They are leaving behind 50,000 men and women - a third of the entire US occupation force - who will be attacked and who will still have to fight against the insurgency.

Yes, officially they are there to train the gunmen and militiamen and the poorest of the poor who have joined the new Iraqi army, whose own commander does not believe they will be ready to defend their country until 2020. But they will still be in occupation - for surely one of the "American interests" they must defend is their own presence - along with the thousands of armed and indisciplined mercenaries, western and eastern, who are shooting their way around Iraq to safeguard our precious western diplomats and businessmen. So say it out loud: we are not leaving.

Defend and protect their country? They don't even have the capabilities to secure their own borders which is, traditionally speaking, the first measure of a nation-state's level of security. (For those in doubt, look to Greece.) Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports that attempts are being made to integrate the Kurdish and the Iraqi forces and quotes US Lt Gen Michael Barbero stating, "The Iraqis realize they have to get the Iraqi Army focused on defending the sovereignty of Iraq. There is a realization that we have to move on and start doing this and get as far down the road as we can in the next 16 months." Arraf reminds, "Iraq, carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by the victors of World War II, borders six countries -- Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, and Iran."
On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera, began airing on Friday), Jane Dutton explored the current state of Iraq.
Jane Dutton: Iraqis have endured invasion, economic stagnation, wars, sanctions and internal conflict for decades. Today in the aftermath of the seven year war in Iraq, citizens lack even the most basic of services leaving many of them feeling helpless, desperate and in utter disbelief that their homeland is still in a state of chaos. Now the United Nations is promising to create a better future for the people of Iraq. The UN will work closely with a government, civil organizations, academia and the private sector to achieve a series of development goals in Iraq. These goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and create global partnership for development. To find out more about the Millenium Development Goals and whether the UN will be able to achieve in developing them, I'm joined from Erbil by Christine McNab. Ms. McNab is a director of the office of development and humanitarian support at the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and also the United Nations' resident and humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. And from Baghdad, by Ali Babin, the Iraqi Minister of Planning and Development Cooperation. Welcome both of you to the program. Ms. McNab, the very comendable goals, these Millineum Goals, but how do you plan to go about achieving them?
Christine McNab: It's not really a matter of whether they're comendable, it's a matter of the fact that they are very, very good shorthand for a developmental agenda of any country. And even in a country like Iraq which is still struggling with the impact of conflict. They do give us very clear guidelines of what needs to be done. They're not just development goals because they also concentrate on the most vulnerable. So they're also humanitarian goals. Can we achieve them by 2015? It's possible. It's going to be very, very difficult -- partly because of the violence. But we are working closely with the ministries and the Minister of Planning is one of our close partners. We have a network of 600 UN workers across the country -- these are national staff. We have another 150 international staff who are working in and out of the country as possible. And this is done in close coordination -- as you said -- with local NGOs. And the local NGOs and our staff are going to be the real heroes of the Millenium Development Goals because we can help them and we can support them with government. And, especially with the local government and local societies, they are already making a difference.
Jane Dutton: But this is a very big week for Iraq. You touched on the violence, it's one of the bloodiest months since the invasion. The US troops have pulled out which will eventually leave Iraq with only 50,000 support troops. There's sewage running down the street in certain parts of the country. The basic services aren't there. Who really cares about these goals? Who has the desire to push them forward?
Christine McNab: Are you still asking me --
Jane Dutton: I'm asking you Ms. McNab.
Christine McNab: -- or are you asking the Minister?
Jane Dutton: I am asking you.
Christine McNab: Okay, well who has the desire? I certainly have the desire and my team has the desire but that's not enough. It has to come from within, it has to come from the country. And I don't quite recognize the picture you painted because although there is terrific violence going on, there's also normal life going on in many parts of the country, many governorates. People are actually able to go about their business. Hospitals have been rebuilt or new hospitals built. We have been rebuilding the schools. The access to clean water is increasing. And I would be the first to admit it's not fast enough. Sanitation still is a huge issue. And the environment has been terribly neglected.
Jane Dutton: Mr. Baban --
Christine McNab: Women are getting --
Jane Dutton: Excuse me --
Christine McNab: -- better access.
Jane Dutton: Okay, Mr. Baban do you support these goals, do you think that this is something that is achievable in your country?
Ali Baban: Of course, we achieve a lot. But the problem, as you diagnose it, the lack of stablity in the country. The country face many challenges. The chaos, the political antagonism, the lack of stability -- this is the main problems and challenges the country faces. I think without defeating, without overcoming those problems, we cannot achive a lot. You cannot -- You are not talking about a normal country. You are talking about an extraordinary situation. So we should take that in our consideration.
Jane Dutton: How do you think these goals which are often cited as being better suited to Africa, how do you think they fit into this middle-income country of yours?
Ali Baban: Of course the humanitarian need is equal -- are equal around the world. So I think the problem now that Iraqi people can overcome their antagonism -- political antagonism -- and go for work for development. Iraq, as you know and as all people know, is a rich country. So there is no lack of money and we have everything in this country. We have the fortune. But the problem mainly concentrate on development
Jane Dutton: Let's put that to Ms. McNab. How does the UN view this political standoff at the moment. Five months on and there's still no credible government or there's no government at all.
There is no goverment. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 16 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.
And Joe Biden, with a straight face, declared to the VFW today, "It's because politics and nationalism has broken out in Iraq." [Jon Garcia, Karen Travers and Jake Tapper (ABC News) quote him stating, "Politics, not war, has broken out in Iraq." I'm sure they are correct that he said that but I'm going by the speech as it was written, working from the prepared text.] Politics have not broken out in Iraq. They've broken in Iraq. Five months after an election and you still can't form the government? That's a broken process. US national security types threatening Iraqi politicians with "state of emergency" being declared if they don't form a government? That's a broken process. US suggesting that a new position -- that Allawi or Nouri could take -- be created out of whole cloth and contrary to the country's Constitution? That's a broken process. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported: on the stalemate yesterday and quoted Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, stating, "In Washington, I told them, 'It would be embarrassing if you left and there's no government in place.' The U.S. will still have a substantial force here, but it needs to use it to produce results. . . . The Iraqi leaders are at an impasse, and we need help from our American friends." Doesn't sound as sweet as the words flowing from Joe's mouth.
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) reports that State Of Law and Iraqiya are supposed to begin talks again today and that the break off in talks over Nouri al-Maliki's assertion (on state TV) that Iraqiya was a "Sunni" party/slate have been mitigated by an elaboration/explanation on Nouri's part. Talks have broken off before and may again. Meanwhile the Voice of Russia reports that Ayad Allawi is supposed to make a trip to Russia shortly to, in the words of an Iraqiya spokesperson, "establish trust relations between Iraq and its friends."
Joe was crowd-pleasing so much, his nose should have grown 17 inches. Certainly he was orbiting the earth and no longer bound by gravity or facts when he declared that Iraqis voted for the people they wanted to and none of these candidates "were wanted by Iran." Uh, no, Joe. No.
In fact, that's not just wrong, that's grossly wrong, that's insulting. Did the Iraqi people get to vote for the candidates they wanted to? Does no one remember the Justice and Accountability Commission that purged multiple candidates from the lists? And Ahmed Chalabi and his pal Ali al-Lami were working on whose authority? Iran. So not only were voters denied the chance to vote for some candidates they would have liked to have, Iran pretty much ran through the lists. And the winners? Nouri's beloved by Iran. (The US wants Nouri because Nouri's indicated -- according to State Dept friends -- that he will gladly go along with extending the US occupation if he is made prime minister. So it's no surprise that Joe is spinning so wildly for Nouri.) Politics have broken out, declared Joe today but the Financial Times of London points out, "The reality is that the political space the surge was meant to open up created a vacuum that remains unfilled. Iraq's elections are the Arab world's freest, but nearly six months on from the last polls politicians have still not managed to form a new government. And not only the state, but Iraqi society is broken. One in six Iraqis, disproportionately middle-class professionals, have fled their homes, around half for other countries."

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