Wednesday, December 09, 2009

He's not winning them over





Under the law, Mr. Obama can designate a charity or charities to receive the money and avoid any tax liability. There could be a complication to this, however, as's Declan McCullagh noted last month: The Peace Prize is closely linked to the Norwegian government, and the U.S. Constitution limits gifts to government officials from any "foreign state." The White House has argued that the prize doesn't come from a "foreign state," even though members of the Nobel committee are current or former government officials. Teddy Roosevelt won the prize but still asked Congress for permission to distribute the money to charity, and some lawmakers want Mr. Obama to follow suit.



Turning to the Ukraine. From Kiev, Simon Shuster (AP) reports Ukranian MP Anatoly Grytsenko is trumpeting the new $2.5 billion sale of "weapons and military equipment" deal that has just been made for the "Ukraine to produce and deliver 420 BTR-4 armored personnel carriers, six AN-32B military transport planes and other military hardware to Iraq." There's no money to fix the services -- the basic services (potable water, electricity, etc.) -- but yet again Nouri's making a big money buy of weapons?

Excuse me, but setting aside the fact that these weapons aren't needed and overlooking the fact that turning all of these weapons over to a Failed State which can still not protect its own government building's might strike many as dangerous, wasn't concern over Iraq and weapons the heart of selling the illegal war. England could be attacked in 45 minutes! (It couldn't.) Chemical and biological weapons were amassed! (They weren't.) We don't want the next warning sign to be a mushroom cloud! (Iraq had no nuclear weapons.)

Not only were weapons what the Iraq war was sold on, but weapons were what the conservatives attempted to sell debt relief on. Don't believe me. Click here for the Heritage organization -- right-wing as they come -- advocating for debt relief for Iraq in 2003 and let's zoom in on one key section:

The case of Iraq also raises an important moral dilemma: Should the citizens of a liberated country be burdened with the debts of a brutal dictatorship? As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz observed in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, much of the money borrowed by the Iraqi regime had been used "to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of oppression."

So in 2003, not only did alleged possession of weapons sell the war on Iraq but the fact that Saddam Hussein spent money on weapons was reason enough, according to Paul Wolfowitz, for Iraq's debt to be forgiven. But all Nouri does is buy weapons. Does no one get that. He stockpiles a ton of money and spends a bit -- but spends it on weapons. For those who have forgotten, let's drop back to March of this year. Aseel Kami (Reuters) reported, "Iraq's falling oil income will force it to cut spending on basic services that its war-weary citizens crave, such as sewage treatment and power supply, officials say." Grasp that Nouri's deal today is only one of many weapons deal. And yet Kami was reporting that the electricity contracts with GE -- for $600 million -- were canceled because Iraq just didn't have the money. For things that really matter. But for weapons? Nouri's always got the money for the weapons. Something is very wrong with this picture. Nouri, the new Saddam, is allowed to stockpile weapons and no one's supposed to ask: "Weren't weapon allegations how the illegal war was sold?" Nor are they allowed to point out that while Nouri spends everything on weapons, the Iraqi people continue to do without. And how did Basra's deal with the lack of potable water this summer? Saleem al-Wazzan (Nisqash) reported in July, "Recently, Shiltagh Abboud Sharad, the province's governor, resorted to religious pleas to encourage the frustrated population. On a tour of teaching hospitals the governor told doctors complaining about the lack of drinking water to be 'patient' and to remember the fortitude of the revered Iman Hussein."

NPR's Corey Flintoff (Morning Edition) filed a report earlier today where the problem for Iraq's economy was that the private sector is forced to face too many rules and regulations. Of course Flintoff also used Leigh University's Frank Gunter as an expert for the same story which made it only more questionable. Gunter insists, "If they don't find jobs, then these young Iraqis, mostly men, mostly young, mostly uneducated, become a recruiting pool for the criminal gangs, for the insurgency, the militias that work for the religious and political groups." Really? That's the problem? That's the problem if you're both a pig and and idiot. In the real world, Iraq has two growth 'areas': Orphans and widows and shame on any 'expert' who dismisses women's need to work. Of course, Nouri does have that new plan for women. They can whore themselves out and get a few bucks tossed at them for marrying a Sunni (if they're Shia) or a Shia (if they're Sunni). That's Nouri's 'answer' to the widow issue. And shame on Gunter for refusing to acknowledge the serious problem women face and let's note that Sahar Issa remains the only one at a major US outlet who has reported on women's economic plight this year from Iraq.

Sahar Issa is an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. It's not easy to be a US reporter stationed in Iraq but it's not easy to be an Iraqi reporter in Iraq and, in fact, most evidence would suggest being an Iraqi makes it even harder -- as evidence by the death toll of journalists in Iraq (most are Iraqis). McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel reported at the end of November on Iraqi journalists being brave and taking a public stand in Baghdad's Firdos Square: "There was nothing stage-managed about today's gathering--a demonstration in response to the near-fatal shooting five days ago of Imad Abadi, a well-known television anchor known for his criticisms of politicians and parties of every stripe, his crusades against corruption, and his aggressive defense of press freedom. Abadi, 36, was wounded in the head and neck, in what the nonprofit group Reporters Without Borders said was clearly a target shooting. He remains in intensive care at a Baghdad hospital." In October, Joel Brinkley (News Observer) noted another demonstration by journalists and explained, "Today many of the surviving reporters are scared. The government is censoring, suing and harassing reporters. In July, The Economist reported, police arrested a journalist for taking pictures of a typical, massive Baghdad traffic jam, saying the photos reflected badly on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's campaign to demonstrate that the quality of life was improving." Noting that the satellite channel Al-Alarn was taken off the air, the Layalina Review points out:

Other media outlets are also feeling the wrath of censorship in Iraq, reports Asharq-Alawsat, raising fears of a crackdown on Iraq's often partisan media ahead of national elections early next year. Lawsuits have been filed or threatened against both foreign and local media outlets critical of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's government.
Asharq-Alawsat points to a recent incident where the British newspaper The Guardian was ordered by an Iraqi court to pay 100 million Iraqi dinars (USD 86,000) in compensation for an article "in which unnamed Iraqi intelligence officials accused Maliki of being increasingly authoritarian."
At the same time, the Iraqi Department for Communications and Media has issued rules allowing it to shut down any media company that encourages "terrorism, violence and tensions," and requiring individual broadcasters to obtain licenses. The Iraqi government is also moving to censor some books, and is seeking powers to block websites deemed to be pornographic or inciting violence.

As November grew to a close the Guardian newspaper and the press found a hitherto unknown defender: former UK prime minister and forever Poodle Tony Blair. Julian Borger (Guardian) quoted Tony Blair writing and e-mailing the following statement, "I have been following the Ghaith Abdul-Ahad court case against the Guardian in Iraq. We fought for freedom in Iraq including freedom of the press. Often what the press says is harsh or unfair. But that freedom is essential and must be upheld. So while I may not always agree with what the Guardian write I do hope that when the case goes to appeal the courts will follow due process in accordance with the Iraqi constitution." But it was Tony Blair's decision to force the scientist David Kelly to testify in public (Blair already knew who Andrew Gilligan's source was) that added to Kelly's stress. If indeed Kelly killed himself (there's a call for an inquiry into that) then Blair's actions clearly influenced Kelly's actions. Blair was offended that Kelly had told the BBC about the way intell was fixed and "sexed up." It's a strange kind of support for a free press Tony Brown thinks he has.

In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues. Brian Jones worked for the UK Ministry of Defence from 1973 to 2003. In the Guardian, he argues the Iraq Inquiry needs to show more openess:

I have published all my witness submissions to the Hutton inquiry and Butler review on the Iraq Inquiry Digest website to add to public understanding of the two issues on which I feel best qualified to comment: weapons of mass destruction and intelligence analysis. These are complicated matters, and there is a risk that the Chilcot inquiry will miss significant facts.
So far the inquiry has provided precious little documentary evidence as background to its hearings. It is not clear whether this is the inquiry's decision or a consequence of the protocols imposed by the government. However, the result is that there is uncertainty about the sources the inquiry is using and the assumptions it may be making about their evidence.
Such uncertainty is likely to inhibit those who might be inclined to offer additional insights to the inquiry, because potential witnesses are unsure whether the inquiry is already aware of the information they know about. There may also be some reluctance to submit complicated information through a secretariat whose loyalties are unclear and that may decide to prevent public release under one or other of the exclusions offered by the protocols. I hope that others who provided written evidence to previous inquiries might be encouraged to disclose them for public scrutiny.

In the opening to the [PDF format warning] statement he's released, he argues for various reforms regarding intelligence analysis and the communication of it. Reports going up the chain are not, he argues, always properly appraised due to a lack of knowledge in the higher pools reviewing the reports. This makes it easier to misunderstand and also easier to distort what the data actually states. We'll note this re: Iraq from his statement:

At the time of the production and issue of the Prime Minister's dossier on Iraq's WMD in September 2002 and up to my retirement in January 2003 there was no convincing evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons or even significantly progressed its programme following its dismantlement in the 1990s.
The evidence supporting the existence of an offensive CW [Conventional Weapons] and BW [Biological Weapons] capability was of a much lower order than in 1990. [. . .] there was no solid evidence of the continued existence of either capability or continuing programmes.

Jones then republish's his previous statements to both inquiries.

Today's witnesses were Lt Gen Frederick Viggers, Lt Gen Andrew Figgures, Hilary Synnott, Lt Gen Lamb and Maj Gen Andrew Stewart (link hs videos and transcript). John Chilcot is the chair of the Inquiry which started with Viggers and Figgures whom Chilcot identifed as "the Senior British Military Representatives in Iraq based in Baghdad". The two testified together and had no disagreements, even when asked such as by Committee Member Lawrence Freedman ("Can I just check with General Viggers, did you have that role in terms of liaison with the CPA as well?" "Absolutely."). The following section sums up their joint-testimony:

Commitee Member Lawrence Freedman: When you arrived, did you have any sense that -- had you been warned this is what you were going to face or did it become glaringly obvious on arrival?

Lt Gen Frederick Viggers: Yes, and I think before we came it was rather like going to the theatre to see one sort of play and realising you were watching a tragedy as the curtains come back. We suffered from the lack of any real understanding of the state of that country post-invasion. We had not done enough research, planning, into how the country post-santcions -- the country coming out of 30 years of the Ba'athist regime, the dynamics of the country, the cultures, the friction points between Sunni, Shia, Kurd, the malevolent influence of people from the region, none of that had really been thought through. So as this curtain came back, what we thought we were going to be dealing with, which was essentially a humanitarian crisis and a population willing to support us, was a long way from that.

The next grouping of witnesses did not offer a more organized picture of preparations or support. Maj Gen Andrew Stewart testified with Lt Gen Graeme Lamb and the former Coalition Provisional Authority South head Hilary Synnott. We'll note this section of Synott's testimony where he's speaking of having heard from Basara that things were "bleak" before he arrived.

Hilary Synnott: Once I got out there, this was very much confirmed: A pretty dysfunctional team of eight to ten different nationalities, very, very few British, three Foreign Office officials, one permanent DFID official and a lack of focus and a lack of capability. In a way, to me on the first night the taste of it was confirmed to me when I said, well, I have been asked by the Foreign Office to send at least a report a day. So I said, well, how do I report back? And there was nothing available. The phones didn't work, there were no mobile phones at that time and nobody had thought to provide me with any form of computer. So the Americans very kindly provided one and linked me through their computer network through Washington and the only way I was able to communicate with the Foreign Office was by setting up my own free computer link on Yahoo. And that became the main, and, indeed, only form of communication to London for some time. Fortunately -- I mean, what we agreed was that those reports should be taken off Yahoo and then circulated as Foreign Office telegrams, as coming from me. So that to me was a sort of indication of the sort of problems we had to face.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Not exactly a secure line?

Hilary Synnott: No. Actually, funnily enough when I called on the Prime Minister the day I left, at the Prime Minister's request, I had already heard there was no secure communication and I pointed this out, and the head of the JIC was present at that meeting and was not aware, he said, that there was no secure communications. But then, you know, up to that point it hadn't been a British-run arrangement.

Another key moment for that group of witnesses was the following.

Maj Gen Andrew Stewart: I think the biggest concern I had was the one that Graeme had had, which was the inability to meet the expectations of the Iraqi people, because retaining the consent of the Iraqi people there, we saw as my centre of gravity. I had to work within their country, they had to accept us and we just were never going to meet expectations. If I can give you a very quick example, walking through the souk, went to a white goods seller, "How many washing machines do you sell a week," I asked, because washing machines use electricity, they use water and they produce sewage. Three areas -- three of the four things we could not provide. He was selling 20 a day. So our ability to help the Iraqis by producing white goods for them at a cheap price was destroying our ability to help, and we were never going to meet that expectation. And I think it is -- that's something that we never really came to terms with. And if you think again about the Basrawi, he used to have under Saddam 18 to 20 hours' electricity a day; under us, because Baghdad was the centre of gravity and CPA saw that and it was, "We must sort Baghdad," they reduced from 18 to 20 hours a day to about 12 hours a day because electricity was being moved up to Baghdad. So life was getting worse for the Shia under us than it was getting better, and that was a real issue with how we, therefore -- all the commanders -- were focused on trying to talk to the major dealers, whether it was the clerics, whether it be the local heads of the SCIRI or Badr, to try to keep them on side, to say, "Look, this is how we are trying to help" because actually each day it was getting worse for them and actually we started to see that build up as time went by.

Lt Gen Graeme Lamb felt that CPA was not at all helpful and declared that ". . . Hilary's arrival was most welcome. I think we got on pretty well actually, but it is all in the delivery and I think in one of my reports I likened the CPA to dancing with a broken doll. It was a lot of effort, and in fact the department wasn't giving much in return. In fact they were making you look rather stupid." Lamb also found a way to compare Moqtada al-Sadr to the Stones, s "Those that followed Moqtadar himself, rock star status -- he could call out a large crowd a bit like the Rolling Stones".

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Questions regarding yesterday's bombings"
"Iraq's 'intended' elections scheduled for March 7 (for now)"
"The Battle of the Story of The Battle of Seattle"
"Nerves and jitters"
"Barry Boob Obooba"
"kind of a victory"
"One term"
"Robin Brims and Brian Burridge"
"The underserving"
"The boob"

"Iraq Inquiry"
"He used to think he was lucky"

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