Saturday, February 21, 2009

Forty belly aches from the fool

Starting with one-time Halliburton subsidary Kellogg Brown & Root, US House Rep Carol Shea-Porter's office announced that a letter was sent to US Secretary of Defense "Robert Gates asking why defense contractor KBR, Inc. was recently awarded a new $35.4 million contract involving electrical work in Iraq.  KBR is currently under investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General for the deaths of 18 Americans, who were electrocuted in buildings that KBR held a contract to mainatin.  Military criminal investigators have reopened five cases, and the Army Criminal Investigate Services has classified one of them as 'ngeligent homicide'."   The letter, signed by 18 other members of the House, notes:
As you are aware, KBR has held a contract for building maintenance for U.S. military facilities in Iraq since 2003.  During this time, there have been numerous investigations into the dangers KBR's faulty electrical work is creating for our military personnel. The Department of Defense Inspector General is currently investigating the electrocution deaths of 18 Americans (16 soldiers and 2 contractors) in KBR-maintained facilities.  KBR is under criminal investigation for the electrocution deaths of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq.   The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted an in-depth investigation into the problem of electrocutions in U.S. facilities in Iraq and the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a decorated Green Beret electrocuted in his shower on January 2, 2008.  The Committee's investigation showed that KBR was alerted to the deficiencies in this and other cases, but failed to take corrective action. In 2008, the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) issued a "Level III Corrective Action Request" to KBR, indicating that the contractor was in "serious non-compliance."  This action request, the final warning before a contract is terminated, points to KBR's continuing failure to ensure electrical safety for our troops.  With this history, it is not surprising that Capt. David J. Graff, commander of the DCMA's International Division, was quoted in an Associated Press article, stating that "many within DOD have lost or are losing all remaining confidence in KBR's ability to successfully and repeatedly perform the required electrical support services mission in Iraq."       
Despite these serious, ongoing concerns, the Department of Defense has awarded KBR a new contract that includes the type of work that KBR failed to perform adequately for years.  Threats to the safety and lives of soldiers or others because of known hazards and negligent performance of work are not acceptable.    
US House Rep Betty McCollum is among the 18 signing the letter and she released this statement earlier this week, "Secretary Gates should immediately rescind any new awards to KBR.  It is irresponsible and negligent for the Department of Defense to grant additional contracts to a company facing such serious allegations.  We recently learned, after five years of scrutiny, that a Minnesota sailor was electrocuted to death by faulty wiring.  Who can trust KBR's work? . . . We have a moral responsibility to esnure the safety for our troops at home and abroad -- not pad the pocket of a negligent military contractor."  CorpWatch's Pratap Chatterjee (writing in Asia Times) explains that $35.4 million contract is "for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq.  The center will include a power plant, an electrical distribution center, a water purification and distribution system, a waste-water colleciton system, and associated information systems, along with paved roads, all to be built by KBR."   KBR is being entrusted with a project that has to do with electrocity?  It should not be getting any contracts but you'd think that just the term "electricity" in a KBR contract would be more than enough to make one pause.

Those actions are on the House side of Congress.  December 23rd, we last noted what the Senate was working on.  KBR was involved in that as well.  For an update, we'll note that Senator Evan Bayh's office issued the following statement last week:
Washington -- Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are taking issue with the conclusions of an Army investigation into the exposure of hundreds of U.S. soldiers to a deadly carcinogen, sodium dichromate, at Qarmat Ali in Iraq in 2003. Since September 2008, Bayh has pushed to ensure the Army conducts a thorough investigation to ascertain whether every precaution was taken to protect Indiana National Guardsmen serving in Iraq.
"I am still unsatisfied with the information provided by the Army about their response to the exposure of U.S. service members to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water injection facility in Iraq," Bayh said. "We are asking again for a complete account of how our service members were exposed to these conditions and what went wrong. If there's criminal negligence, people must be held accountable. If there was a lack of oversight by Army Corps of Engineers, people ought to be fired."                  
Senators Bayh and Dorgan released a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, saying the conclusions reached by the Army study the senators requested only raise new questions on the exposure of U.S. troops from Indiana, North Dakota, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina.    
The senators say the Army's evidence and their own investigations indicate that exposure of the troops appears to be far more severe than the Army or KBR have acknowledged.
Bayh said he still has many unanswered questions about KBR's role in the original exposure and contamination.      
"The company needs to be held to account for its behavior in this incident. We have a moral obligation to the men and women who were put in harm's way. We need to make sure to never find ourselves in this situation again," Bayh said.    
They also asked Gates and Geren to explain how the Army could pronounce itself "satisfied" with its own oversight of contractor KBR, and with the response by KBR and the Army to the exposure, given that:   
  • Some soldiers, exposed to the deadly chemical in the spring and summer of 2003, still have not been informed by either the Army or KBR that they were exposed.  
  • For months, KBR failed to identify the presence of the chemical, even though it was required to conduct an "environmental risk assessment" at the site.
  • According to the Army's own timeline, nearly three months passed after the initial detection before KBR began testing at the site. KBR waited two more weeks to start to start remediation of the site, and protective gear was not provided to soldiers until nearly a month after that.  
  • Indiana National Guard personnel were not told of the exposure until they saw KBR employees using PPE (personal protective equipment) at the site.        
"It looks like conclusions were made, without regard to the facts," Dorgan said. "We owe our soldiers much more than that. Given the well documented and serious failures at the site, I don't understand how the Army can claim KBR acted appropriately.  
"We have to identify those service members who were exposed to sodium dichromate and other lethal chemicals and make sure they get the kind of long-term care and treatment they deserve," Bayh concluded.
That is KBR, a corporation that Pratap Chatterjee points out has raked in "more than $25 billion" from the US government.  KBR announced another contract this week.  They're currently being sued by ten contract employees over the exposure to the carcinogen and AP notes of that lawsuit, "The KBR contractors' complaint in Houston is scheduled to be heard by an arbiter at a March hearing that will be closed at KBR's request. Contractors with complaints about work in Iraq generally have gone to arbitration as part of KBR's contract with the U.S. government in Iraq." 
Despite the above, UPI reported that the corporation won a contract "from the Army Contracting Command" worth $`9.2 million to "provide bulk fuel farm support for the Army in Kuwait".  Tom Fowler (Houston Chronicle) reported last week on KBR's guilty plea to bribing "Nigerian officials to win contracts to build a massive natural das project in that country".  Zachary A. Goldfarb (Washington Post) reports the $579 million fines agreed to are "the biggest fines ever paid by U.S. companies in a foreign corruption case".   We're not done with KBR.  The February 10th snapshot included thi
Meanwhile Deborah Haynes and Sonai Verma (Times of London) report that "a British manager for the services company Kellogg Brown and Root" is accused of an inappropriate sexual relationship with an Iraqi women working for the British embassy and that the manager "was also accused of sexual harassment more than 18 months ago by an Iraqi cleaner and two cooks at the embassy."  The reportes quote the cleaner who charged sexual harassment a year and a half ago stating today, "I was in the British Embassy and under the British flag and I was oppressed but nobody did anything about that."
Today Afif Sarhan (Islam Online) reports the woman described above "is locking herself home, refusing to meet anyone and sinking into despair over what she describes as sexual abuse and bullying at the British Embbassy and notes serious questions being raised as to why the British Embassy is allowing KBR to (again) investigate themselves?  British attorney Anna Areen declares, "The UK has long been very serious on the law of conduct inside government and similar places.  If they don't take on their hands the investigation in Baghdad, they will be saying that it is sllowed in Britain on the coming future.  [Those] responsible should pay for what they did and it will be honorable if UK officials take head of the investigation and punishment." . 
The January 9th snapshot highlighted Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk (Bloomberg News) report that KBR and Halliburton decided that the an attack on a KBR truck in 2004 was not due to lack of security provided by the mega-rich corporations, the attack -- resulting in deaths and injuries -- was the fault of "the U.S. Army and Iraqi terrorists". Which was a low even for them.  Throughout the illegal war, KRB has put the US military at risk -- not just by electrocuting them or exposing them to dangerous chemicals.  When the KBR trucks would have a flat, get stuck or whatever, KBR employees would be able to leave the scene while US service members would have to stay there and wait for orders on what to do.  Stay there and be sitting ducks.  Kelly Dougherty (IVAW) has explained repeatedly, they would wait and wait and then finally be told to destroy the trucks and any cargo on it. Which would frequently anger the local populations.  In March of last year, Iraq Veterans Against the War held their Winter Soldier Investigation.  KPFA carried the hearings live for the bulk of the four days and Aaron Glantz and Aimee Allison were the on air moderators.  One of the ways to hear the audio of the hearings is to go to Glatnz' War Comes Home site.  [Allison is co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None.]  March 14th was the first day of panels (the previous day was the opening of the hearings) and one of the afternoon panels was on corruption and war profiteering.  Appearing on that panel was Doughtery and we'll note this from the March 14, 2008 snapshot:
KBR was the focus of Kelly Dougherty's testimony.  She discussed how she and others serving in Iraq assigned to protect convoys were repeatedly put at risk when a KBR vehicle broke down, how they were told it was an asset to be protected even if that meant killing someone and then they would be told to forget it, to destroy the vehicle and move out.  Iraqis desperate for fuel or the contents of the truck were not a concern and, if pressed, the US military command would instruct service members that distributing something in the trucks (before destroying them) could cause a riot.  All of which goes to Doughtery's statement of Iraqis, "I'm looking at people I can't even look in the eye."  Moving to Kuwait after serving in Iraq and while waiting to be sent back homes, service members were living in a KBR tent city.  Doughtery explained, "When we were leaving . . . we were put in these tent cities.  Our tents were completely covered with mold on the inside."  The tents had bunk beds and not cots so service members were not allowed to (as some wanted) sleep outside the tents to avoid what appeared to be Black Mold.  Instead, they suffered from respitory infections.  Dougherty noted "this living condition where we couldn't even be in the place were we were supposed to live without getting sick."  KBR made a big profit of the illegal war.  KBR provided the troops with tents that made them sick.  Where's the audit on that?  
They were dealing with KBR trucks -- which were worth about $80,000, chump change to KBR. You may remember the stories of contractors abandoning trucks and cars and the cost for new ones (usually on a cost-plus contract) being passed back on to you and me the tax payers. 
Doughtery noted that KBR's trucks "would break down a lot, would get in accidents a lot." They'd stop for flat tries or because they got stuck in the mud,things like that as well. The drivers were treated horribly by KBR and were from countries such as Pakistan, India, etc. 
The truck would break down, the driver would hop out of the truck and get a ride with someone else in the convoy and the MPs would be called in to secure the abandoned trucks. 
Doughtery explained, "For us as miltary police, we're told when we get into Iraq and when we're getting on these convoy missions" that KBR's trucks are United States assets and "need to be protected, with force, with deadly force if necessary." 
The drill was always the same: secure the trucks and wait. Then came the call that they couldn't find anyone to come get the trucks so they should just leave it.
That didn't mean, "Hop in your vehicles and leave!" 
That meant disable the vehicles (fire grenades into the engine blocks) and destroy whatever cargo it had. That meant setting fuel on fire in front of Iraqis who had no fuel. That meant burning produce in front of Iraqis who were hungry. That meant destroying a brand new ambulance in an area that had none and really needed one. Doughtery explained that even the local sheiks were out on the last one, trying to convince US soldiers that if they would leave the ambulance alone, they (Iraqis) would figure out how to get it off its side and out of the mud.
"That was pretty much a daily occurence," said Dougherty. "Where we were abandoning vehicles by KBR contractors on a daily basis."
And we'll use Kelly Dougherty's testimony as the transition to Iraq Veterans Against the War in order to note:
  • IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st

    As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)  
    To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.     
    For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or

That is next month and World Can't Wait is another organization participating. Hopefully someone will ask President Barack Obama about the speech he gave in Danville, immediately after the 2004 DNC convention, where he declared, "I'd pick up arms right now to defend this country.  But if I'm going to ask someone else's son and daughter to go to war, I want to make sure it's the right war."  Did Iraq suddenly become "the right war"?  And what makes Afghanistan the right one as well?  (Barack's always said this is where the fight must be -- but aside from a lot of 9-11 spin, he's never said why.  Yes, Barack is the new Bully Boy and, just like the other one, hides behind 9-11 to justify his actions. (Has everyone forgotten that Bush insisted some pages not be released to the public -- regarding the Saudis and 9-11 -- in the official report?  If Barack's going to toss around 9-11, he might need to order those papers released -- as Congress had intended for them to be.)
While some pretend things are great or even good or even okay in Iraq, Dahr Jamail, back in Iraq, offers some realities:
"We only want a normal life," says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," Um Qasim told IPS. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
Meanwhile CBS Radio News' Tammy McCormick explained in this afternoon's newscast, "And anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is hailing the Iraqi election results as a new chapter.  He now says religious leaders and others should work together to put the needs of the country first. al-Sadr has long backed rebellions against the invasion and occupation."   AP quotes al-Sadr stating (through a spokesperson -- like when Michael Jackson was interviewed by Rolling Stone and he whispered all his answers to Janet), "Iraq has turned a new page after the elections, which I hope will be a gate for liberation, a gate to serve the Iraqis and not keep occupiers to divide Iraqis.  Goals are unified between politicians and the resistance to push out the occupiers."  I guess the press could pretend al-Sadr's statements meant something if they hadn't all spent the week leading up to the election and the days immediately after telling their news consumers that al-Sadr was nothing, that he had no pull and that he was a relic or at least, as Tanya Tucker once sang, a faded rose from days gone by.  Of Anbar Province, AP notes, "The so-called Awakening Councils won eight of 29 provincial seats in Anbar - giving them a strong hand to form a governing coalition with smaller Sunni groups across a province that was once a major al Qaeda stronghold."  Alsumaria reports, "While Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) was announcing the provincial elections final results a constitutional controversy was raised regarding the conditions of electing a new House Speaker. In fact, Accordance Front insists that its candidate Iyad Assamarrai won while some other blocs say that Saturday's session will decide who won the seat of Speaker of House."  That's yesterday but they have video and it's worth nothing again that there is no Speaker all this time later.
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barack has a senior moment






Starting with today's Most Needy (the intelligent deficient), little Eric Stoner, come on down. Eric was one of Katrina's coffee fetchers nearly three years ago and that task provides no on the job training. Now he 'works' at Aging Socialite's Cat Litter Box -- in fact, word is he has cleaning duties. Taking his recycled blog post and limited intelligence to the Labour Party's party organ (Guardian -- you can catch it at ZNet which we will link to), Stoner (was a last name ever more apt) babbles about Blackwater between the muchies. Like the gut over the belly young 'dude' he fancies himself, Stoner knows, just knows, where there are problems, there is a woman causing it all. So the Barack Cult Member whines that mercenaries are still in Iraq:

Hillary Clinton offerred a glimmer of hope when she endorsed this bill during her campaign for the presidency. But as Obama's secretary of state, she has quickly abandoned her commitment to "show these contractors the door."

Oh, that awful Hillary! Cursing her must give Stoner something to focus on while digging the sand and tar out from underneath Arianna's toe nails (or is that hooves?). Reality, Stoner, Hillary's 'glimmer of hope' was a bill she supported as a Senator. And she was slimed by Jeremy Scahill and others while your poster boy Barry got yet another pass. Did you forget that? Or just ignore it? Samantha Power pulled a charm offensive (yes, that is scary) and purred in Jeremy's ears and he felt so 'included' and couldn't shut up about his 'secret source,' his 'high level source.' It didn't matter that Our Modern Day Carrie Nation Sammy Power was telling him that Barack wouldn't support the bill, what mattered to Jeremy was attacking Hillary. So he hissed at her bill and he invented motives (some fed to him by Sammy) for Hillary. Anything to make Barry look better.

That was a Senate proposal. Barack didn't get on board. It died. Barack is the president. Hillary is the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State does not make policy -- she or he implements it. Is that too complex for you, Stoner? Translation, Barack didn't support Hillary's bill during the Democratic Party primaries and he doesn't support it now that he's president. If you're unhappy with that fact, the blame goes to Barry. Not to Hillary. The blame goes to Barry and all the Cult Members who lied and covered for him and continue to do so -- like you, Eric Stoner.

Feb. 13th, Blackwater made the news for changing its name to Xe -- in an attempt to run from their blood crimes. For those late to the party, Steve Grant (Comic Book Resources) provides this recap: "Remember Blackwater, the third-party army serving as mercena -- whoops, I mean 'civilian contractors' -- in Iraq for the occupation, as well as building private prisons and other interesting activities here in the States (no word on the future of those now that their government contracts are theoretically all dried up)? Blackwater is no more! It has 'rebranded itself' Xe, pronounced Z, apparently to shake off their war-built image as civilian-murdering thugs. As long as they're updating their image, they might want to rethink the busines cards printed with human blood, too..." The Fayetteville Observer makes a prediction, "The company does, after all, have an image problem -- thanks, among other things, to accusations that its employees were rampaging Dirty Harrys in Iraq, gunning down innocent civilians. We doubt that the public will quickly adopt Xe, any more than it has embraced Altria as the new name for Philip Morris." Al Arabiya quotes Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrell whining, "We were defined as a security company, we never were a security company. We offer a lot of other services. But Blackwater became synonymous with our security work." Nathan Hodge (Wired) reports the mercenary corporation has just completed another "round of layoffs". Name changes and layoffs don't wipe away the September 16, 2007 slaughter in Baghdad. Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) reported US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina refused the motion to dismiss the charges against five Blackwater employees and notes, "The charges were brought under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which allows U.S. prosecutors to charge American service members, their family members and those employed by the military for illegal acts committed overseas." The Virginian-Pilot notes that the judge also dismissed the motion by the defense to move the trial to Utah.

From the criminal Blackwater to he-should-be-set-free Muntadhar. Muntadhar al-Zeidi garnered international attention for the events of December 14th. Then Bully Boy of the United States George W. Bush had traveled to Iraq for photo-ops with puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki as the two singed the Strategic Framework Agreement and the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement. Bully Boy was just declaring, "The war is not yet over -- but with the conclusion of these agreements and the courage of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi troops and American troops and civilian personnel, it is decisively on its way to being won" -- just declaring that when . . . it was as though someone cranked up Carly Simon's "De Bat (Fly In Me Face)" as one-shoe, two-shoe was hurled by the journalist who explained, "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss you dog" and (with the second shoe) "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." Neither shoe hit Bully Boy and, apart from Nouri soiling his pants, neither man suffered physically. Bully Boy, in fact, was laughing, "Okay, everybody calm down for a minute. First of all thank you for apologizing on behalf of the Iraqi people. It doesn't bother me. And if you want some -- if you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw." Bully Boy and everyone else had a good laugh -- everyone except Muntadhar who was being attacked by Nouri's thugs -- thugs who grabbed the moment to show the world what thugs they were and how the US installed strong man of Baghdad resorts to violence as they beat the journalist down. He was whisked away and only allowed one visit with his family and his attorney before this month -- and that visit only came about after the press covered the fact that he was being denied visits.

Today Muntadhar was in court. AP's Sinan Salaheddin quotes him declaring, "What made me do it was the humiliation Iraq has been subjected to due to the U.S. occupation and the murder of innocent people. I wanted to restore the pride of the Iraqis in any way possible, apart from using weapons." Tina Susman and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond) explain the hearing lasted 90 minutes, that there were three witnesses and that the trial is adjourned "until March 12". Jomana Karadsheh (CNN -- link has text and video) reported on the trial noting that Muntadhar declared, "I don't know what acomplishments he [Bush] was talking about. The accomplishments I could see were the more than 1 million martyrs and a sea of blood. There are more than 5 million Iraqi orphans because of the occupation. . . . More than a million widows and more than 3 million displaced because of the occupation."

Jomana Karadsheh: He was very calm and he spoke mainly about what motivated him to throw his shoes at former president Bush. What he said was,he was sitting throughout the press conference -- if you remember the incident happened at a press conference -- right after former president Bush finished speaking. And he said former president Bush was speaking about his accomplishments and victories in Iraq an al Zaidi said the 'accomplishments' for him, in his view, were the one-million widows in Iraq, the orphans, the martyrs and what he called violations committed against the Iraqi people. He referred to president Bush as the commander of the occupying forces here and this is what really, he says, like pushed him. He said "I could see the blood that was spilled in Iraq while he was speaking. He was justifying. He showed no remorse or regret for what was done. On the other hand he was trying to also explain that president Bush to him was not a guest of Iraq. He was saying "they are here, the US forces are in Iraq. They are an occupying force. So he does not see him as a visitor who should be -- who should be diginifed by Iraqis. As he was -- After the session ended -- for technical reasons basically -- the judge decided that they want to get more information from the prime minister's office on whether president Bush was here on an official or non-official visit.

Many of the reports are noting claims of torture taking place while Muntadher was in custody. Liz Sly (Chicago Tribune) gets specific explaining that silly statements (silly on the face) were introduced by the prosecution and Muntadher explained they were "untrue and had been extracted under torture including electric shocks." Register that and grasp that Iraq has a long history of torturing prisoners -- both before and after the start of the war. So when Samira Ahmed Jassim al-Azzawi is arrested by police on January 21st and February 3rd -- 13 days later -- the police suddenly wants to tell the world they arrested her and also offer a 'confession' she's made -- grasp that there's a good chance she made no 'confession' freely. (Late to the party? Feb. 3rd snapshot, Feb. 4th morning entry, Feb. 4th snapshot.) Originally, al-Azzawi allegedly recruited and trained the women. As the lurid details piled on, she was organizing the rapes of the female bombers. It was lurid, it was sleazy, it was unverifiable and it required more suspension of disbelief than any film that provides Clint Eastwood with a love interest under 60. Now why was that? And why was it necessary to paint the female bombers -- who had previously been portrayed as widows by Iraqi MPs -- as rape victims (which is 'shameful' for women in Iraq -- not for the rapists, just for the women)?

Thom Shanker (New York Times) explains the way it works. A young woman came forward -- this is the woman Leila Fadel covered non-stop (in what should have been the left's final clue as to how entwined with US military propaganda McClatchy was becoming) -- who had a story and the US military commanders "convened sessions with Iraqi politicians, activists and journalists" and, much to their surprise, they didn't have to pay for coverage or write it themselves (as they had in the past) because it was "the content" itself that was of interest. Col Darryl Williams explains, "We supplied suggestions, informations. But we had no control over editorial content." No, you were the source and a lot more than that because you had the counter-insurgency 'gurus' advising you -- a fact Shanker either was unaware of or preferred to avoid. Shanker does note that Williams "ran the division's unit that analyzed the effects of combt and noncombat operations" and maybe Shanker believes that passes for using the term "counter-insurgency"? Shanker tells you, "The Iraqi news media leapt on the story" -- well they did and so did Leila. Most outlets filed one story. Leila was writing stories, doing blog posts. She was a one woman Voice of America. Shanker informs that the US military wanted to use the fifteen-year-old girl "to spread the word that Rania and others appeared not to have been willing bombers and that the killing of innocent Iraqis could not be defended as an approved religious act. But they wanted to do so without American fingerprints that might undermine the message." Without American military fingerprints.

Which brings us back to al-Azzawi who was a societal nightmare with all of the allegations hurled at her. When a story seems too good to be true, it probably is. The Iraqis kept piling on lurid details -- a lot like they did when they pimped The Myth of the Great Return in late 2007. That started out with a very small group of Iraqis returning and, much to their surprise, it got press, positive press. From Saturday to Sunday evening, the same group had grown from 2,000 to 20,000 and was still growing the next day. That's your first tip that a story is false. When the 'facts' change that quickly in a matter of days, that's your first clue. Fortunately Damien Cave and Cara Buckley (New York Times) had the guts to report the truth and bury The Myth of the Great Return. And let's note that again: Damien Cave and Cara Buckley. They did so as November ended. For weeks, the myth was pimped and it was pimped by Big Media and Panhandle Media. We saw no bravery in our so-called 'independent' and 'alternative' media. Remember, The Nation didn't fight that myth, Amy Goodman didn't question it -- two reporters for the New York Times did.

Back to Muntadher and Liz Sly who describes the court scene: "Baghdad's Central Criminal Court, located inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, erupted in chants and cheers from Zaidi's relatives when he entered the room. His aunts and sisters ululated, and one of them thrust into Zaidi's hands an Iraqi flag, which he kissed and then draped around his shoulders." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) explains three judges presided over the case and al-Zaidi's lawyers are attempting to argue (one of many points) that Bush was not on an official visit to Iraq. NPR's Corey Flintoff (All Things Considered -- link has text and will have audio) adds of the attorneys, "Police added extra chairs behind the defense table to accomodate some 20 volunteer lawyers who wanted to be part of the defense team, which is led by the president of the Iraqi Bar Association." Ernesto Londono and Zaid Sabah (Washington Post) describe Muntadhar's court room appearance: "leather shoes, a pressed beige suit and a scarf emblazoned with the Iraq flag". And those who need to pretend there is a justice system in place in Iraq should skip the next part: Muntadar testified "from a wooden cage before a packed courtroom." From a wooden cage.

No justice, no democracy. Xinhua reports that the 'official' 'results' to the 14 provincial elections on January 31st were released today (Iraq has 18 provinces) by the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (the group that responds to threats of violence by awarding votes to those who make the threats). Dalwat al-Qanun (State of Law -- proving Nouri al-Maliki does have a sense of humor -- who knew?) didn't do wonderful. In Baghdad, they won half the seats (28 of 57). Baghdad's the seat of al-Maliki's power. In Basra, Dalwat won 20 of the 36 seats. Missy Ryan, Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) report,"In the western desert province of Anbar, Sunni tribal chiefs who helped U.S. forces drive out Islamist militants like al Qaeda, and who had threatened to take up arms again if they did not win political power, got the most seats. It was a surprise after the tribal chiefs placed second in preliminary results. The tribal chiefs, with 8 out of 29 council seats, plan to form an alliance with a secular Sunni group." Yes, that was surprising. And completely unbelievable. Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in the race (though he did use his office in an unethical manner and did offer bribes for votes) but his party didn't do very well. They will have to form consensus governments with other parties in order to rule. That's not a majority. That's nothing. So Iraq remains lukewarm on al-Maliki. And you can remember that when you read Lyndon LaRouche proteges offering their garbage on the elections and the 'meaning' for Iraq -- 4 provinces haven't voted (and Dalwat is not expected to do well in any of the four) and, even in Baghdad, Dalwat limped along.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"New Adventures of Old Christine (and Old Ruth)"
"Music tip"
"A book and, Al, sit down already"
"So he probably wanted something more"
"His wars"
"Barack the continual disappointment"
"Condi Rice, Dangerous Fashion Plate"
"Dress casual? Presidential casual."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dress casual? Presidential casual.






Heaven save the world from the idiot Patrick Cockburn. You'd think with that family, the members would have long ago reached the beyond-disgrace stage but Paddy keeps upping the ante. Most recently in his latest I'm-Crazy-Ass-Cockburn-Column (no link to trash or insanity) where he praises an increase in prices for real estate in a section of Baghdad. A traditionally ritzy section of Baghdad -- not far from the country clubs. But Paddy can't tell you that and it's a real come-down from his deranged high when, near the end, he has to start mentioning hos it might not be good news. But, what the heck, the Iraq War is over.

It's not? Don't tell Crazy Ass Cockburn who informs readers the illegal war is over ("Boom time Baghdad"): "Mr Hadithi says that this is explained primarily by the end of the war." The Iraq War is not over. There hasn't even been the limited drawdown yet. But Patrick Cockburn is an idiot and a crazed one at this point. That entire family has become a menace to society. You've got Laura-The-Self-Loathing-Lesbian intoning, "Embrace the homophobia," Nutty Alex rubbing his crotch while moaning "Mena! Mena!" and offering crazed theories on Vince Foster. . . We could go on and on because pretty much the whole family is nuts and if Andrew's managed to keep it together thus far (which he has) it's got to be just a matter of time before he goes bug-eyed nuts like the rest of them.

As Patrick declares the illegal war over and minimizes the economic plight of Iraqis, he also invents a mass return of refugees. We've already had The Myth of the Great Return and it being disproven but Paddy's damn sure that his name means something (it doesn't) that he thinks he can say it's so and no one will argue. Reality argues with crazy men, reality always argues with them. Refugees International has started a new campaign to ask that Barack Obama, US president, not forget about the Iraqi refugees. They note:

Five years into the US military intervention in Iraq, the country is dealing with one of the largest humanitarian and displacement crises in the world. Millions of Iraqis have fled their homes -- either for safer locations within Iraq, or to other countries in the region -- and are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. Failure to address the needs of Iraqis will have dramatic impacts on security inside Iraq.
Refugees International has observed extreme vulnerabilities among the approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan and other neighbors of Iraq, as well as the 2.7 million internally displaced persons within Iraq. Most are unable to access their food rations and are often unemployed; they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services.
The Governmnet of Iraq has access to large sums of money, but it lacks both the capacity and the political will to use its resources to address humanitarian needs. Due to this failure, militias of all denominations are filling the vacuum and playing a major role in providing social services in the neighborhoods and towns they control in Iraq. Not only do these Shiite and Sunni militias now have a qausi-monopoly in the large-scale delivery of food, oil, electricity and money, but an increasing number of civilians are joining their ranks -- including displaced Iraqis.
Some Iraqis who have tried to return home have found their homes occupied or destroyed, the likelihood of violence still high, a collapse of social services, and neighborhoods divided into homogenous, sectarian areas. While Refugees International hopes that Iraqis will be able to return to their homes in the future, the necessary conditions for returns to take place in safety and dignity do not exist. Returns must not be encouraged until the violence subsides and people can receive adequate assistance and protection.
Actions Needed
The U.S. must craft a new policy to:
1. Assist Iraqi refugees.
2. Ensure a safe, voluntary return home when possible.
3. Pressure Iraq to meet its responsibilities to its own people.
4. Increase resettlement for those who can't go home. Read more about our comprhensive plan here.

Saturday Justin Martin (News & Observer) reported from Amman, Jordan and noted, "My country's claim of liberating Iraq means nothing without the liberation of those the campaign violently expelled from their country. The basic math is that around 2.2 million Iraqi refugees have been forced from their country since 2003, according to the United Nations, and the United States has admitted just over 16,000 according to a Baltimore Sun report in December. This is about seven admited refugees per 1,000. The majority of the remaining 2 million-plus refugees are scraping by in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where the savings of many have been exhausted and unreplinished, since many can't find legal employment in these countries." And as IRIN noted at the end of last month, in Syria some refugees are forced to sell food rations in order to make rent. George Baghdadi (CBS News) notes US Senator Ben Cardin is leading a US delegation in Damascus and that they intend "to visit the United Nations High Commission for Refugees facility in Damascus to assess the situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria." The most well known Iraqi refugee to go to Syria is Riverbend (Baghdad Burning) who moved their with her family in 2007.

In January, William Dalrymple (New York Review of Books) noted "the wreckage of Iraq" included the "over two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population". And proving just how the al-Maliki government refuses to help the people of Iraq, Press TV reports that Iraq's Deputy Minister of Refugees and Displaced Persons, Asghar al-Moussawi is scapegoating those attempting to assist Iraqi Christians by insisting, "To encourage a group of any particular faith to leave the country is against international law, and causes more harm than benefit to those people." Really? Want to talk about Baghdad's decimated Jewish community? Didn't think so. Just because al-Moussawi has the gift of speech doesn't mean he needs to utilize it but when he does it only reminds everyone of how ineffective al-Maliki was during the attacks on Christians in Mosul last fall and how the puppet government has repeatedly ignored the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations in insisting it was 'safe' for refugees to return to Iraq. Paul Isaac (International Herald Tribune) writes a plea on behalf of Assyrians in Iraq:

Since 2003, over 40 churches have been bombed by Islamic militants. Numerous priests have been murdered, including the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, killed last year shortly after he reminded extremists that the Christians of Iraq predate Islam.
Knowing that Assyrians lack militias or regional backers, terrorist groups understand that for every bomb and slain priest many Christians will flee their homes. And to this end, the militants have been dreadfully successful: While representing only 3 percent of the population, Assyrian Christians comprise over 20 percent of its refugees. Perhaps half of the pre-war Christian community has fled, in what one Iraqi bishop has dubbed a "campaign of liquidation."
While some have touted the success of the "surge" in reducing violence, the targeting of Assyrians has not diminished.

He calls on the US to do more* and notes that whether Barack started the Iraq War or not doesn't matter, it's Barack's war now. (*"More" is being generous. And the Feb. 11th snapshot noted the Assyrian community's open letter to Barack and vice president Joe Biden.)
Cockburn's lunacy on the 'gold rush' was offensive in terms of the refugees and it's offensive in terms of realities for Iraqis -- a topic he chooses to bury. Sunday, Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported on the United Nations' latest findings regarding economic realities for Iraqs which include "28% of males age 15 to 20 are unemployed; 17% of women have jobs; and most of the 450,000 Iraqis entering the job market this year won't find work 'without a concerted effort to boost the private sector'." IRIN notes the report's findings that the rate of unemployment "could undermine long-term security and social stability". And Iraqis struggle while AFP reports Nouri al-Maliki is purchasing $5.5 billion dollars worth of weapons from the US. And while he destroys the already meager budget for the Ministry of Women's Affairs (from $7,500 a month to $1,500). Yesterday wowOwow offered a news brief on the situation for women in Iraq and quoted Parliament's head of women's affairs Sameera al-Moussawi stating, "Women don't need a ministry to represent us. We need effective women in every ministry of the country."

Regardless of where you stand on the issue (and it doesn't have to be one or the other -- women could and should be represented in the ministries and they could also have the Women's Ministry of Affairs) don't look for any of that mythical 'progress' in Iraq any time soon. Not even when culture results in bitter power struggles. Monday, Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) covered the power struggle between the Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities and the Culture Ministry as to whether or not the museum will open next Monday. The Culture Ministry's Jabir al-Jabiri is stating that the museum is not opening and his ministry is over the Ministry for Tourism and Antiquties while MfTaA's Baha al-Mayahi states yes, they are opening next Monday. Aseel Kami (Reuters) explains today that nothing's changed. MfTaA's maintains that the museum will open Monday and Jaber al-Jaberi continues to insist that it won't and that "is the official and final position." Kami observes, "The feud illustrates some of the challenges facing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government as it seeks to capitalise on a drop in violence and unify a country shattered by war." And if they can't get their museum opening straight, lots of luck with prisoners. Marc Santora (New York Times) reports that Wijdan Mikhail Salim (Human Rights Minister) confirms Iraq has received the four, Santora uses Human Rights Watch to provide the names: Hassan Abudl Said, Arkan Mohammad Ghafil al-Karim, Abbas Habid Rumi al-Naely and Ali Abdul Motalib Awayd Hassan al-Tayeea. The paper speaks with the sister of the first man (Hassan Abudl Said) and she (Nada Abdul Hadi Said) tells them she hasn't seen her brother since "1999 when he was drafted into the Iraqi Army" but began hearing from him after the Red Cross told the family in 2004 that "he was a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay." What happens next to the four men is as big a question as when will the US ever leave Iraq?

Ross Colvin (Reuters) reported last night that an unnamed administration source has declared the decision of what Barack plans to do about "cutting troop levels in Iraq" will come "in weeks, not 'days or months'." Rebecca noted that last night. As pointed out most recently in the Feb. 6th snapshot, what to do was supposedly already settled, that campaign 'promise' which included him initiating upon being sworn in. But his Cult never holds him accountable. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Gordon Duguid was asked if the airspace or land of Turkey and Jordan could be used for US equipment "when the time comes" and Duguid responded, "I am not aware of any discussions on that. I know that the President has asked for a review from the Pentagon on just how you could draw down U.S. forces in Iraq. I am not aware that the review has been finalized, so I would have to refer you to the Pentagon for where that stands at the moment." From J.K.'s "Obama--War Criminal" (The Guillotine):As we noted earlier, if Obama chose to continue the war(s), then he would be the war criminal. Well, it's one month into his regime, and the Los Angeles Times reminds us that Obama has said (among a number of things) that he wanted combat troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010--so almost two years from now!--but that: "There are about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Obama has not detailed plans for reducing the force in Iraq". Did anybody who voted for Obama, thinking he was the "anti-war" candidate, really think he wouldn't even have announced any details of a plan to reduce troops in Iraq by the end of his first month in office? Of course, all along Obama, the lawyer, allowed himself a loophole. He would only reduce troops in Iraq if his generals told him it was OK to do so. In other words, he would do what the military told him to. Funny, because in addition to that being the same excuse Bush always used for escalating (and also losing) the wars, the command structure in the US military actually doesn't work that way. The president is the commander-in-chief of the military and it is he who orders the generals around, not the other way. And, has anybody ever asked--what the hell does "OK" mean anyway?Because it wasn't "OK" for US troops to have been in Iraq one damned second. And it still isn't "OK", and it won't ever be "OK"--till they get the hell out of Iraq.

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"He spends, he buys"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

He spends, he buys

We''ll start by noting three women.  And three topics: propaganda, the return of something that should have stayed gone and silence equals death. Two get called out.  One doesn't.  Follow along. 
We're almost always glad when other outlets not normally associated with Iraq provide some coverage.  Almost always.  wowOwow features an article allegedly on the provincial elecitons by Zainab al-Suwaij.  What they don't tell you -- click here for Zianab's SourceWatch profile -- is Zainab and George W. Bush were tight.  wowOwow forgets that Zainab is just another Iraqi exile who pushed for the US to start an illegal war. Most of all, they -- and this is so laughable (though possibly telling) considering the women involved in wowOwow -- seem to think a woman can speak for servants.  That's what Zainab does in her bad bit of propaganda.  She has no real data to offer so she goes with "Several women work in my grandmother's home, assisting with cleaning and other domestic work" and wants to tell you what they were planning.  I have household assistance.  I would never attempt to speak for any of them nor would it be my place to.  Nor would I ever assume that someone working for me and agreeing with my point of view was necessarily expressing an opinion they actually shared.  The power dynamics involved in any employer-employee relationship make such assumptions dangerous (and smug when offered by the employer) but that should especially be seen as the case when Zainab tells you her grandmother's household help cannot "read or write."  Zainab offers a lot of lies (maybe she's thinking wowOwow readers don't follow current events?) and what's especially funny is that all her propaganda is defeated with the photo run with her article.  Reader Jera Y has no time for current events or even common sense A.E.B.: "If this war had not happened, would those children have been allowed to play?  Would these women have been allowed to vote?"  As Reader Marina B so aptly responds, "If there was a restriction on children playing in Iraq prior to our invasion, I am not aware of it.  Source, please?  In pre-invasion Iraq, women were allowed to vote to the same extent as men."
Anna Badkhen has reported on Iraq for some time, originally for the San Francisco Chronicle and recently for SalonShe has an article in The New Republic and from it, we'll note this section:
In addition to cajoling the sheiks, Dr. Phil had another idea for insuring the generator's success. On a scorching May afternoon, he invited Betson and a group of soldiers to a sun-drenched intersection on Alwa Street, where a stocky Iraqi in rolled-up gray sweatpants dragged a filthy sheep along the tiled sidewalk. The Iraqi's name was Bassam the Butcher, and, true to his name, he put his right foot--shod in a rubber, manure-caked flip-flop--just below the animal's neck, pinning it to the ground, and, with one swift movement of a short, thin blade, slashed its neck. Betson and his company lowered their M4 rifles and snapped pictures with their digital cameras.    
After methodically repeating the procedure on three more sheep, Bassam carried plastic bags sloshing with blood across the street, to the 500-kilowatt generator, fuel tank, and transformer booth that Betson and his company had recently installed. There, the butcher and some neighborhood boys dipped their hands into the sacrificial blood and pressed their palms against the canary yellow walls of the spanking-new equipment.  
The ancient tradition of public ritual slaughter has made a comeback in Iraq since the war began. Bloody handprints adorn the metal gates of houses of newlyweds and recently freed detainees. Sacrificing the sheep on the sidewalk and then smearing the generator with their blood, Dr. Phil explained, would show Saidiyah's residents that the people behind the project shared their culture, their beliefs, and their superstitions. For this reason, he paid for the sheep and for the butcher's services out of his own pocket--$180, more than half the average monthly income in Iraq, per sheep. "This is something private, " Dr. Phil said, as he watched Bassam the Butcher work. "It's for me, for my family, for Saidiyah."
File it under 'progress.'  And some say the illegal war did little -- it brought back animal sacrifices!  (Anna's the one who didn't get called out, for those counting to two.) 
ESPRIT is willing but her flesh is weak.  Naomi Klein hasn't done much of anything since her wonderful job cobbling together The Shock Doctrine from other sources (with a wrap around interview on torture done by Klein).   Which may be why her recent antics document her slow side back to the mall rat she once was.  She disgraced herself in Chicago before the elections with a now notorius speech.  This month, she wets herself in public on the pages of  Matthew Rothschild's The Regressive where Naomi can't stop gushing about how she lowered the boom on her "anarchist" "friends" -- does Naomi know anarchists or have friends? -- and told 'em it's her party and she was going to wet her panties if she wanted to, wet her panties if she wanted to because Barack was joyous . . . and moist apparently.  It was so special to her, the US elections.  Naomi, pick a damn country already.  Your father fled the US to avoid serving in Vietnam. You stayed tight-lipped about that post-9-11 all the way through December 2008.  Your paranoia insisted that you'd be denied entry to the US if the truth was known!  Oh, no!  But if you want to be Canadian, then be it.  In which case, America doesn't really need your smug ignorance on display.  Go back to your country and work on getting minorities elected there instead of trying to 'take pride' in something that has nothing to do with you. 
Proving that the only thing sharp about Naomi were the corners on those ESPRIT sweaters she used to fold, she embarrasses herself in public again: "In an interview Tuesday, Klein, 38, said she welcomes the election of Barack Obama.  But she has two problems: his refusal to insist on accountability for recent American misdemeanours abroad and at home; and his 'narrative that everything went wrong only eight years ago' with the election of George W. Bush."  Naomi leaves out the Iraq War, doesn't she?  The illegal war Barack's not ending.  The Tiffany of the Great White North may find out shortly that those who pick up the pretty doll and play with it, thereby creating interest in the toy, can put it down just as quick at which point it just gathers dust or ends up in the trash. 
What the mall rat can't explain, Thomas E. Ricks (author of The Gamble) did on  Washington Unplugged (click here for just the Ricks' segment) wher
John Dickerson: Where are we now in Iraq? There's this feeling -- there's been this recent election, 'Oh, things are getting better in Iraq.' What's your view?

Thomas E. Ricks: My view is that there are two fundamental misunderstandings that Americans have about this war. First was how tough the surge was. It was not just a matter of putting a few more troops out into Iraq. It was a very tough six months -- probably the hardest phase of the war so far. The second theme of this book is this war is far from over. Yeah, the war has changed several times. It was an invasion, it morphed into an occupation, into an insurgency, then into a civil war then into an American counter-offensive. It's changing again. Just because it's changing, doesn't mean it's ended. The elections the other day? Yeah. Remember the elections a couple of years ago, purple fingers, people coming out? Followed by a civil war. So I think there are a lot of reasons that Iraq '09 is going to be very tough and in fact harder than the last year of Bush's war. And I think there's a good chance that Obama's war in Iraq will last longer than Bush's war.

John Dickerson: So who gets this? Does the president get this? You know, he talked about sixteen months removing troops. What are the commanders tell him? Is there a clash coming here in terms of the ground truth versus what the president may think.

Thomas E. Ricks: I think there well indeed might be a clash by the end of the year. Obama's campaign promise to get American troops out of Iraq in sixteen months was a fatuous promise. When Americans heard it, what they heard was I will have no American troops dying in 16 months. But it was a false phraseology: "combat troops." Well, newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops. There's no pacifistic branch of the US Army. Anytime you have American troops out there, there are going to be some of them fighting and dying -- in counter-terror missions against al Qaeda, if you have American advisers with Iraqi troops, they're going to be getting into fights, some Americans will be dying. So I think we're there for a long time and as long as we're there -- unlike, say, the occupations of Korea, Japan and Germany, American troops will be engaged in combat. General Odierno says in the book he'd like to see 35,000 troops there as late as 2015. Well into . . . it will be Obama's second term. So I think that at the end of this year, you're going to see a conflict. Obama's going to want to see troop numbers coming down. Odierno, the other big O, as they call him in Iraq, is going to say, "Wait a minute, you're holding general elections here in December, in Iraq. That's exactly the wrong time to take troops out."
(That's the transcript Ava and I used in "TV: Blustering Boys" -- full transcript is in today's Hilda's Mix.  You can also refer to Michelle Levi's write up of the interview.)  "Well, newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops." Exactly and it's too bad the likes of Naomi Klein care so damn little. 
Sunday Leila Fadel (McClatchy's Baghdad Observer) reported, "The Independent High Electoral Commission has announced and then canceled a series of press conferences. Today they nullified 30 ballot boxes after finding fraud, most in the province of Anbar where tribal sheikhs accused the incumbent Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, of vote rigging."  Monday K. I. Ibrahim (Washington Post) informed that Iraq's 'election' 'commission' was admitting there was widespread fraud ("in all 14 provinces," said Kareem al-Tamimi) but they weren't concerned about it.   Gulf Daily News notes, "Iraqi officials nullified election results in more than 30 polling stations due to fraud in last month's provincial balloting, but the cases were not significant enough to require a new vote in any province, the election chief said yesterday." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) reports that the results are supposed to be revealed on Thursday and notes, "the ISCI, followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and other politicians have alleged voter fraud and accused the elections commission of not doing a good job. Iraqis had until Feb. 3 to file elections day-related complaints. Elections Commission Chairman Faraj al-Haideri said in a press conference today that he regrets some politicians have accused the commission of acting improperly." Does al-Haiden regret that?  Oh, boo hoo.  One person who screamed and threatened was Sheik Ahmad Abu Risha (here, here, here, here and here for starters).  Sheik Ahmad Abu Risha is the thug who got his way, the thug who got the elections results changed. The thug that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have 'paid their respects to' and been photographed with. He didn't like the results of the January 31st elections so he threatened violence. Instead of being shut down right then and there, he was catered to. The results were changed for him.  Dahr Jamail is back in Iraq and he reported on the way monies are wasted in Iraq including 'construction':

That's a polite phrase for what they're doing, and the rubric under which a lot of the payouts take place (however modest actual reconstruction work might be). Think of it this way: Every dealer needs a front man. The U.S. bought the sheiks off and it was to their immediate advantage to be bought off. They regained a kind of power that had been seeping away, while all the money and arms allowed them to put real muscle into recruiting people in the tribes they controlled and into building the Awakening Movement.   

The reasons -- and they are indeed plural -- why the tribal leaders were so willing to collaborate with the occupiers of their country are, at least in retrospect, relatively clear. Those in al-Anbar who had once supported, and had been supported by, Saddam Hussein, and then had initially supported the resistance became far keener to work with occupation forces as they saw their power eroded by al-Qaeda-in-Iraq.  

AQI proved a threat to the sheiks, many of whom had initially worked directly with it, when it began to try to embed its own fierce, extremist Sunni ideology in the region -- and perhaps even more significantly, when it began to infringe on the cross-border smuggling trade that had kept many tribal sheiks rich. As AQI grew larger and threatened their financial and power bases, they had little choice but to throw in their lot with the Americans.  

As a result, these men obtained backing for their private militias, renamed Awakening groups, and in addition, signed "construction" contracts with the Americans who put millions of dollars in their pockets, even if not always into actual construction sites. As early as April 2006, the Rand Corporation released a report, "The Anbar Awakening," identifying America's potential new allies as a group of sheiks who used to control smuggling rings and organized crime in the area.  

One striking example was Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who founded the first Awakening groups in al-Anbar and later led the entire movement until he was assassinated in 2007, shortly after he met with President Bush. It was well known in the region that Abu Risha was primarily a smuggler defending his business operations by joining the Americans.  

Not surprisingly, given the lucrative nature of the cooperative relationship that developed, whenever an Awakening group sheik is assassinated, another is always there to take his place. Abu Risha was, in fact, promptly replaced as "president" of the Anbar Awakening by his brother Sheik Ahmad Abu Risha, also now in the "construction business."    

And that about says it all.  Staying with the political front, as Thomas E. Ricks explained on NPR's Fresh Air last week, "The surge worked militarily.  There's no question that violence declined in Iraq as a result of the surge and the associated things we've talked about -- the deals with the Sunnis, with Sadr's organization, and the grim fact that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad was largely completed by the time the surge began.  That said, the surge failed.  I say that because the surge's purpose was not just to improve security.  It was, as the president said, to create a breathing space in which political change could occur and the fact is that political change has not occurred.   All the basic questions facing Iraq before the surge are still there and have not been addressed, have not been solved. Those are, for example, the disposition of the disputed city of Kirkuk, the power relationships [. . .]  between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, who holds power in the Shi'ite community and, most importantly, the sharing of oil revenue.  None of those exestential issues have been solved.  All of them threaten still to be solved violently."    Note the Fresh Air link also contains a text excerpt of Ricks' new book.
Truest statement of the week Truest statement of the week II A note to our readers Editorial: The simulated 'stimulus' TV: Blustering Boys Sadder Sirota Mailbag The Bronze Booby goes to . . . The Cult of St. Barack Go ask Phallus, Phallus Walker Red It's coming . . . Two things not to miss Iraq roundtable Highlights

"Roundtable on Iraq"