Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who will she give diet tips too?






Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died, Nov. 27, of non-combat related injuries. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4366.

Meanwhile, I wasn't aware Thanksgiving was an Iraqi holiday but apparently it is. That would explain all the outlets off today and unable to report especially on any violence. The US military hypes, "Two cultures come together at a table. The hosts, strangers in an exotic land, welcome native guests with a rich history stretching back thousands of years.
This scene, reminiscent of the historic celebration at Plymouth, took place here on Forward Operating Base Falcon, Nov. 26, as dozens of Iraqi tribal, civil and military leaders and their families were guests of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team for Thanksgiving dinner." Reminscent of the historic celebration at Plymouth? Did they really just say that? And then they want to act shocked when accused of attempting to colonize Iraq. Also suprisingly unhelpful is US Maj Marty Reigher who declares, "Iraqi culture is built on trust and a man's word." It's disgusting how the US military continues to do their part and then some to make life more difficult for Iraqi women. Not only was an American officer stupid enough to say it, someone was stupid enough to include it in a write up.

But at least the one writing up the hype worked today. More than you can say for those who should be reporting on violence. (No, there's no chance in hell that there was no violence in Iraq today.) Yesterday AFP reported that a Mosul "church and a convent were struck by bombings" -- the Church of St. Ephrem and St. Theresa Convent of Dominican Nuns -- and quoted Father Yousif Thomas Mirkis stating, "These attacks are aimed at forcing Christians to leave the contry."

Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad car bombing claimed 1 life and left ten people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left another person injured, a second Baghdad sticky bombing left one person injured, a third Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left three people injured, 2 Babil market bombings which claimed 2 lives and left twenty-eight people injured.
Turning to the issue of Iraq's 'intended' January elections and Iraq as Groundhog Day. It's apparently November 8th or a few days prior all over again. Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri (Washington Post) reported Thursday that a proposal has emerged which may or may not have backing in the Parliament and which may or may not pit Sunni against Kurd and, "Even with the agreement, which must now be approved by the Iraqi electoral commission, election officials said it would be almost impossible to hold the election in January as originally planned. Mid- to late February was more likely, since a major Shiite Muslim holiday will not end until Feb. 10." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) explains, "A compromise, however, did not appear likely to be reached before next week, as Iraqis began to celebrate the Islamic holiday Id al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, which lasts until Tuesday. One of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, released several statements suggesting that he was open to a compromise. At the same time, he threatened to veto a new election law, as he did last week, raising the specter of a political and constitutional crisis." Shadid and Barki reported this afternoon that while Tariq al-Hashimi has called the proposal "good news" he has also stated, "It's still early to talk about ratifying the law, because we are awaiting the electoral commission's interpretation of the agreement." In addition, the reporters explain the Kurds have yet to indicate where they stand on the proposal. Liz Sly and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report that even though the country's "constitution stipulates that the poll must be held by January," it does not appear to be likely that January elections will be held "so a delay will require some constitutional tinkering, which could set a dangerous precedent." AFP quotes Speaker Iyad al-Samarrai stating, "The (election) commission announced it would be held on January 16th, this is not possible anymore because there is no law. I believe that the election will be held in March."

In England, the Iraq Inquiry continues. Those needing audio can't turn to Pacifica Radio because, despite all those "Thanksgiving is abomination!" 'reports' they inflict on listeners, the holiday rolls around and everyone needs off for Thursday and Friday so programs such as Free Speech Radio News and Democracy Now! offer canned 'news' programming. Not unlike KPFA's infamous New Year's Eve Special on December 31, 2006 that was, in fact, not live despite being presented on air as live. For audio on the hearing, the Guardian's podcast this week features Anne Perkins and Polly Toynbee discussing the inquiry. Thursday the inquiry heard from Christopher Meyer on the topic of Transatlantic Relationship and Jeremy Greenstock offered testimony today on the topic of Developments in the United Nations [links go to video and transcript options for the testimony of each witness]. Chris Ames (Guardian) observes of Meyer's testimony:

At the Iraq inquiry this morning, Sir Christopher Meyer has let so many cats out of the bag that it is hard to keep up with them all. He has confirmed that by the time Tony Blair met George Bush at Crawford, Texas in April 2002, Blair had already agreed to regime change. Meyer and others had told the US administration about this change of heart in March 2002. The "UN route" was a way to justify the war but the inspectors were never given the chance to do their job. Or did we know all that already? Ever since the war, there has been a massive gulf between what various leaked documents have shown and the official version. Previous inquiries have failed to close that gap. Now Meyer, who was the UK ambassador to Washington at the time, has done exactly that. The government's version of events was always that it was taking action to deal with the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Leaked documents, most notably the Downing Street documents, show that the policy was to go along with the US desire for regime change and use weapons of mass destruction as a pretext. This version of events was confirmed by what Meyer said this morning. I don't think it could be more explosive.

We'll pick up where Meyer is discussing the 2002 meet-up between Bush and Blair.

Committee Member Martin Gilbert: That brings me to my last question before I hand over to Sir Roderic Lyne, and it brings me to Crawford in April 2002. What I would like to ask you is this: to what extent did American and British policy towards Iraq merge in April 2002 along the lines that you suggested during that weekend at the Crawford ranch, in particular Bush's commitment at that time, as he put it, to put Saddam on the spot by following the UN inspectors' route and also by constructing and international coalition, which was the Prime Minister's strong input? How do you feel about the convergance of policy at that time?

Christopher Meyer: It took a while for policy to converge -- sorry, if we are talking about Americans, the President accepting, for realpolitik reasons, it would be better to go through the United Nations than not, which was a repudiation of where his Vice-President stood. It took a while to get there, probably until August of that year. I said in my briefing telegram to Tony Blair, before Crawford, a copy of which, again, I couldn't get hold of in the archive -- and by that time there had been a couple of months, maybe more, maybe three months, in which contingency discussion of, "If it came to war in Iraq, how would you do it?" It was all very -- it was all vey embryonic. Of course, while regime change was the formal policy of the United States of America, it didn't necessarily mean an armed invasion, at that time, of Iraq and it may sound like a difference without a distinction or a distinction without a difference, but it wasn't, not at that time, and so I said -- I think as I remember I said to Tony Blair, "There are three things you really need to focus on when you get to Crawford. One is how to garner international support for a policy of regime change, if that is what it turns out to be. If it involves removing Saddam Hussein, how do you do it and when do you do it?" And the last thing I said, which became a kind of theme of virtually all the reporting I sent back to London in that year was, "Above all" -- I think I used the phrase "above all" -- "get them to focus on the aftermath, because, if it comes to war and Saddam Hussein is removed, and then . . .?" The other thing at that time, Sir Martin, which people tend to forget is actually what was blazing hot at the time and a far more immediate problem -- and it wasn't Iraq, it was the Middle East, because the Intifada had blown up, hideous things were going on in the West Bank, the Israeli army were in the West Bank and we had prevailed on the Americans, as one example of British influence working that year, to put out a really tough statement before Tony Blair arrived in Crawford telling the Israelis in summary that they needed to withdraw from the West Bank towns and withdraw soon. Now, let me be quite frank about this. Crawford was a meeting at the President's ranch. I took no part in any of the discussions, and there was a large chunk of that time when no adviser was there, I think -- I don't know whether David Manning has been before you yet, but when he coomes before you, he will tell you, I think, that he went there with Jonathan Powell for a discussion of Arab/Israel and the Intifada. I think it was at that meeting that there was a kind of joint decision between Bush and Blair that Colin Powell should go to the region and get it sorted. I believe that, after that, the two men were alone in the ranch until dinner on Saturday night were all the advisers, including myself, turned up. So I'm not entirely clear to this day -- I know what the Cabinet Office says were the results of the meeting, but, to this day, I'm not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood, at the Crawford ranch. There are clues in the speech which Tony Blair gave the next day at College Station, which is one of his best foreign policy speeches, a very fine piece of work.

Committee Member Martin Gilbert: How do you assess the balance in that speech between, as it were, potential pre-emption and the UN rule in Iraq?

Christopher Meyer: There were lots of interesting things in those speeches. It sort of repays a kind of criminological analysis. To the best of my knowledge, but I may be wrong, this was the first time that Tony Blair has said in public "regime change". I mean, he didn't only deal with Iraq, he mentioned other issues as well. But he -- I think what he was trying to do was draw the lessons of 9/11 and apply them to the situation in Iraq, which led, I think, not inadvertently, but deliberately, to a conflation of the threat by Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. It also drew in spirit on the 1999 Chicago speech on humanitarian intervention.

In one of the more interesting bits of the testimony, he recounted when the Bully of England met the Bully of the US with George W. Bush saying, "Hello, Tony. May I cally ou Tony? Welcome to Camp David," and Tony Blair responding, "Hello, George. May I call you George? Great to be here. What are we going to talk about?" Oh, there's nothing more heart warming than two dithering idiots bonding. He went on to declare that "I remember Condoleeza Rice saying to me, 'The President has just got back and he said the only human being he felt he could talk to was Tony, the rest of them were like creatures from outer space'. or some such phrase."

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Little girls love to play dress-up





Today in London, the Iraq Inquiry continued its public hearings. Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) explains, "The six-member panel is looking into the decision of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to join the U.S.-led war that brought down the Iraqi dictator in 2003. It will interview policymakers, secret service chiefs, military commanders and relatives of soldiers who died in the war. Blair is scheduled to appear in January. " The day's focus was WMDs. John Chilcot heads the Inquiry.

Chair John Chilcot: Good morning. Our objective today is to look at the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This will take us from the time of the first Gulf War and the inspections that followed it right up to the final report of the Iraq Survey Group, the organisation with responsibility for providing an account of Saddam's weapons' programmes after the Iraq conflict. Several reports have already been published on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. We do not propose in this session to go in detail into areas which have already been examined closely before by other investigations, but what we do hope to do is to elict communities' concern about Saddam's weapons, the development of the government's policy on this issue, the threat that the government believed that Iraq's weapons posed, and what was found after the conflict. I would like to recall that the Inquiry has access to literally thousands of government papers, including the most highly classified for the period we are considering and we are developing a picture of the policy debates and the decision-making process.

Unless attributed to a news outlet, all quotes from today's hearings are from the [PDF format warning] rush transcript provided by the Inquiry (which they note may change) or from the videos of the hearing provided by the Inquiry. Emma Alberici (Australia's ABC and link has text and audio) summarizes, "The Chilcot inquiry has now heard two days of evidence from the most senior Foreign Office officials who received and analysed intelligence on Iraq for two years before the war and in the year after the invasion. It has emerged that Britain's Foreign Office also told former prime minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction had been dismantled, 10 days before Britain invaded Iraq." Tim Dowse and William Ehrman were today's witnesses. Channel 4's Iraqi Inquiry Blogger observes, "One thing I'll remember about today's hearing was watching two career diplomats relive the moments that must surely be the absolute nadir of their professional lives. I'm talking about the weeks and months following the Iraq War when the weapons their department had so confidently assessed would be found failed to turn up." And it is apparently difficult for some liars to ever get honest. From today's hearing:

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: So in terms of your concerns over this period, you mentioned Iran, you mentioned North Korea, you mentioned Libya, you mentioned Pakistan, at least through AQ Khan, and you mentioned Iraq, but in terms of rank ordering again, where would Iraq come on that list, in terms of the most threatening in proliferation terms?

Tim Dowse: It wasn't top of the list. I think in terms of -- my concerns on coming into the job in 2001, I would say, we would have put Libya and Iran ahead of Iraq.

William Ehrman: I would like to add to that. In terms of nuclear and missiles, I think Iran, North Korea and Libya were probably of greater concern than Iraq. In terms of chemical and biological, particularly through the spring and summer of 2002, we were getting intelligence, much of which was subsequently withdrawan as invalid, but at the time it was seen as valid, that gave us cause for concern, but I think there is one other thing that you need to recall about Iraq, which was different in a sense from some of the other countries. First of all, they were in breach of a great many Security Council Resolutions. Secondly, as Tim Dowse has mentioned, Iraq had used chemical weapons bother internally against its own people and externally against Iran. Thirdly, it had started a war against Iran and it had invaded Kuwait and it had also fired missiles to Iran, Kuwait, Israel and Saudi Arabia. So in that sense in terms of use and in terms of -- ignoring a great many Security Council Resolutions, Iraq was unique.

Was Iraq the big threat in 2001 or 2002? No. Dowse says other countries ranked ahead of it. Ehrman can't have that and it's time for him to lie and confuse the issue. He does that by bringing a number of areas which, pay attention, were offered as reasons . . . for . . . the . . . FIRST GULF WAR. It is equivalent to the US and England declaring World War II based on the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Ehrman also appears to have been snoozing (or hoping everyone else was) only minutes prior when Dowse had addressed the issue of missiles and noted that they "are not weapons of mass destruction in themselves". Now let's go to do Dowse addressing what they saw as real concerns prior to the start of the Iraq War (March, 2003).

Tim Dowse: Could I maybe illustrate that with regard to some of the countries concerned? Take Libya as one example. Between 1998 and 2003, the assessments that were being carried out painted a picture of steady progress on Libya's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. It had been identified by 2003 as a prime customer of AQ Khan network. We were also concerned about activity in the chemical weapons field and about work at research sites on dual-use potential to support biological weapons-related work. With Iran, Iran had used ballistic missiles in the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s. It had aquired Scud B missiles from Syira and from North Korea and after -- it also produced Scud C sllightly longer-range missiles. After the war, North Korea sold to Iran production technology for Scud B and Scud C and in the mid-1990s, it brought a few examples of North Korean No-Dong 1 missiles. These were long-range and, from that, it devloped its own missile, the Shahab 3, of 1300 kilometres. Iran's nuclear fuel activities had developed steadily over more than two decades by 2001 to 2003. It had announced, or the IAEA had reported, a large Iranian conversion facility at Isfahan; a large facility for gas centrifuge fuel enrichment; it had indigenous facilities to manufacture centrifuge components; it had obtained P2 centrifuges; it had got technical drawings, whose origin the IAEA had concluded was AQ Khan. So we were considerably worried about the development in Iran. As for North Korea --

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: I think you have made your point that there are a vareity of different stages and the example you have given us from Iran is quite interesting perhaps as a comparative with what was thought to be the case with Iraq. Can we move on to Iraq itself? You have mentioned all the things before that Iraq was known to have done, but these were all prior to 1991 in terms of attacking its neighbours and actually using these weapons. So, since 1991, do you believe that it had been effectively contained?

Tim Dowse: I would say we regarded the effect of the -- certainly with WMD, the weapons inspectors, UNSCOM's activities, the IAEA's activities through the 1990s, until 1998, as effectively disarming Iraq. There were quite a large number of unaswered questions, things that we were unsure about.

While Dowse appeared to be making some effort towards answering questions, William Ehrman could not stop spinning. There was no evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda but Ehrman could not let go of that lie and repeated it throughout his testimony. One example, "But there was also the fact that he was supporting terrorist groups, Palestinian terrorist groups, and although we never found any evidence linking him closely to AQ Khan and we did not -- sorry, to Al-Qaeda, and we did not belive that he was behing, in any way, the 9/11 bombings, he had given support to Palestinian terrorist groups and also to a group called the MEK, which was a terrorist group directed against Iran." There is no linke, NON, to al Qaeda but Ehrman repeatedly worked it in and then would walk it back as though it was an accident. He seemed to feel he was Mr. Subliminal and the Inquiry should have told him to stop making the linkage. As for the MEK, the Inquiry should have asked Ehrman which country he thought he was working for in the lead up to the Iraq War? Did England classify the MEK as a terrorist organization in 2002? Then why is Ehrman blathering on about them?

While Ehrman repeatedly (and falsely) attempted to link Iraq to al Qaeda (and then rush back a qualifier), there was no link. CBC's report makes that clear and notes that Dowse testified there was no link and that, "After 9/11 we concluded that Iraq actually stepped further back. They did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda. They weren't natural allies."

For perspective, in the US, George W. Bush started the illegal war and he's a Republican (Democratic Barack Obama continues it). In Australia, then-Prime Minister John Howard started the Iraq War and he is a member of his country's Liberal Party. He was replaced by Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party who has ended Australia's miltiary presence in Iraq with "the last 12 Australian soldiers" still in Iraq departing at the end of July. Of the three major countries pushing for the illegal war, only England has seen the original pimp replaced with a member of the same party. Tony Blair was replaced as prime minister by Gordon Brown and both men are members of the Labour Party. Not only are Blair and Brown members of the same party and also of the New Labour segment of the party, they have a relationship which goes back decades and Blair's ascendancy to the top of his party took place with the promise that Brown would be his successor. Brown supported Blair on every major policy decision including the Iraq War. Bully Boy Bush lied about 'programs' and 'yellow cake' and pretty much everything including, most likely, his own choking (allegedly on a pretzel). In England, the lie was that Iraq had the capabilities to launch a WMD attack on England in less than one hour. Rob Welham (Xinhua) observes, "The intelligence about Iraq's military capability, set out in the so-called "dodgy dossier", proved to be wrong, and the decision to go to war became one of the most controversial foreign policy decisions in living memory." Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) addresses that false claim in his report:

Asked about suggestions that the Blair government's 45-minute deployment claim had referred to weapons of mass destruction usable by Iraq to strike another nation, Dowse said: "I don't think we ever said that it was for use in a ballistic missile in that way." The inquiry panel member Sir Lawrence Freedman pointed out: "But you didn't say it wasn't."

Liberal Democrat Party MP and chief of staff Edward Davey issued the following statement today: "It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception. The threat that Saddam could deploy WMD within 45 minutes was fundamental to the Government's arugment that Iraq presented an imminent danger. Yet this new evidence shows that the intelligence was, if anything, pointing towards Iraq becoming less of a threat. A leader of courage and conviction would have used such evidence to halt the drumbeat for war, but Blair just turned a blind eye to intelligence that contradicted his case. This evidence proves what has long been suspected, that intelligence was cherry-picked or dismissed to support the case the Government wanted to make. It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception flying in the face of the latest and best intelligence." David Brown (Times of London) emphasizes, "Intelligence information that Saddam Hussein had dismantled his weapons of mass destruction programme was received by the Foreign Office days before Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, an inquiry into the war heard today." Ben Macintyre (Times of London) revisits MP Robin Cook's decision to leave Blair's cabinet in 2003 and his calling out the rush to illegal war:

With delicate ferocity, he presented the case against war: "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction ... Neither the international community nor the British people is persuaded there is an urgent and compelling reason for this action in Iraq."
He warned that a dangerous sense of Muslim injustice was building, that Britain was being dragged into conflict by a far more powerful ally, and that the deep misgivings of voters were being ignored: "The prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain."
Above all, Cook insisted that Britain must not be taken to war without a vote in Parliament. "From the start of this present crisis, I have insisted on the right of this place to vote on whether Britain should go to war," he said in his resignation statement. Two days later, the government motion supporting the use of British forces in Iraq passed by 412 to 149.
To listen to politicians speak today, one might imagine that the consensus in 2003 was opposed to war, and Blair and his inner circle the sole drum-beaters. Parliament backed the war. The majority of MPs voted for it. The Cabinet supported it and remained in their jobs with the exception of Cook and, eventually, Clare Short. The media were broadly supportive of military action.

Tony Blair continued to make the claim that Iraq could launch an attack on England in less than an hour. A false claim. Gordon Rayner (Telegraph of London) reports on that aspect and notes Ehrman testifying, ""On March 10 we got a report saying that the chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and that Saddam hadn't yet ordered their re-assembly and he might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents." Mark Stone (Sky News) offers this observation of today's hearing:

One thing bugged me though. The Inquiry committee appeared not to follow up some points with obvious questions. An example. One of the panel, Sir Roderic Lyle, referring to a statement Blair made in 2003, asked the following pertinent question:
"Would you regard the Prime Minister's statement in December 2003 that 'the Iraq Study Group [tasked with finding WMD after the invasion] has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories' as corresponding to advice you were giving to ministers?"
The response from Tim Dowse was, somewhat sheepishly: "I did not advise him to use those words."
But then... nothing from the panel! They did not ask whether the advisors told the PM to back off from words which appeared clearly to be out of kilter with the advice they were giving him.
None of what was said today will make Mr Blair feel very comfortable as he prepares for his appearance. We have to wait until January for that though.

Channel 4's Iraqi Inquiry Blogger notes these reactions:

Simon Carr in the Independent wasted no time; "The Chilcot Inquiry looks set to be boring, miasmic and faintly dishonest.
"This is a panel that the toadiest of Blair toadies would have chosen. Why Brown agreed to it is a mystery."
The Daily Mail was scarcely more optimistic for the Inquiry's prospects, John Kampfner writing that as the Inquiry began "one conclusion could be drawn before a single person had said a single word: Tony Blair will get away with it. Again."

On only the second day of the public hearing, Nico Hines and David Brown (Times of London) reported the accusations that England's current prime minister, Gordon Brown, was attempting to derail the inquiry, "When the Prime Minister announced the inquiry, he claimed that national security would be the only legitimate barrier to full disclosure in Sir John Chilcot's report into the Iraq war. A set of protocols published on the Cabinet Office website, however, indicates that a tranche of additional restrictions have been imposed. The guidelines issued to Sir John and his team set out nine extra restrictions, including commercial and economic interests, that would allow a government agency or department to remove a section from the report." BBC News (link has text and video) reports the Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg has stated, "This protocol includes nine seperate reasons why information can be suppressed" and acts as "rights of veto" to keep, at best, embarrassing moments from the public: "How on earth are we, and is the whole country, going to hear about the full truth of the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by his government's shameful culture of secrecy?" Sian Ruddick (Great Britian's Socialist Worker) declares, "Only by declaring Tony Blair guilty of war crimes will it help to bring justice for those millions of Iraqis who have paid with their lives for a bloody, pointless war."

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Princess Di died for his sins





This morning Al Jazeera reported that, "The storm clouds are already gathering over this Inquiry being held among high security in London." That is the Iraq Inquiry chaired by John Chilcot. Ruth Barnett (Sky News -- link has text and video) reports that Chilcot used his opening remarks this morning to insist that the inquiry would be "fair and frank." Since the announcement that it would start this year (and continue next year with former prime minister Tony Blair expected to testify after England holds elections), there has been much speculation that the inquiry would be a farce. We'll note the following from Chilcot's opening statement:

Welcome to the Iraq Inquiry's first day of public hearings. For those of you who do not know me, I am Sir John Chilcot chairman of the Iraq Inquiry. I am joined by my colleagues Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar. Together we form the Iraq Inquiry Committee. Next to me is Margaret Aldred who is the Secretary to the Inquiry.
The Iraq Inquiry was set up to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK's involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations.
To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn't -- and, crucially, why.
My colleagues and I come to this task with open minds. We are apolitical and independent of any political party. We want to examine the evidence. We will approach our task in a way that is thorough, rigorous, fair and frank.
The Committee and I are also committed to openness and are determined to conduct as much of our proceedings in public as possible. I welcome those members of the public who join us here today -- thank you for taking the time and effort to travel here this morning. I also welcome the media present here at the QEII. For those not physically present, I am pleased that the Inquiry proceedings are available for broadcast and are being streamed on the internet.
These public hearings are the activity which will attract the most publicity but they form only one part of our work.

Ben Quinn (Christian Science Monitor -- text and audio) offers that no one may be pleased with the outcome, "Critics of the war probably won't get what they most want from the government-appointed panel – a public drubbing of unpopular former Prime Minister Tony Blair for leading the nation to war in the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And supporters of the war are unlikely to get a clear declaration that Britain's participation in the invasion was the right thing to do." Quinn goes on to note that many critics of the inquiry point out that the "six member panel [. . .] includes not a single lawyer or judge" leading people to doubt the inquiry's ability to determine the legality of the war. From the audio.

Pat Murphy: Ben, first off, can you tell us a little bit about these people that are making up this British board of inquiry?

Ben Quinn: Yes, Pat. Well there are six members on the panel. They were appointed by the prime minister, by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The chair is Sir John Chilcot, a British civil servant. He's a Whitehall mandarin -- Whitehall being the headquarters of the British civil service. He has the unenviable task of chairing this panel. He has come into criticism in the past from, uh, various commentators who feel that he has taken a soft-touch to questioning in previous probes. So he'll be eagerly watched in terms of his handling of this inquiry. There are five others on the panel. Perhaps one of the more interesting figures is Sir Lawrence Friedman who is a distinguished academic. Now he's, he's been a professor of war at King's College in London since 1982 but notably he's credited with writing a large part of Tony Blair's famous -- infamous, perhaps -- some would say -- 1992 Chicago speech where he basically made the case for liberal military intervention.

Gideon Rachman (Financial Times of London) refrains from making any predictions while reminding that there were expectations on past British inquiries into Iraq: the Hutton inquiry which people thought "would destroy Tony Blair" instead whitewashed everything and falsely attacked the press (that's my call on the Hutton inquiry, not Rachman's) and the Bulter inquiry which Rachman feels wasn't a whitewash. John F. Burns and Alan Cowell (New York Times) feel reflective and observe, "The unpopularity of the war — and its impact on Mr. Blair's once glittery image among British voters -- contributed to his ouster by Prime Minister Gordon Brown two years ago." Of course, Gordon Brown was Tony's lap dog, his hand picked successor and the one who has carried out every one of Tony's policies (including refusing to release the files on John Lennon and citing 'national security' as a reason). As Gordon's stock continued to plummet, he finally yieled to public pressure this summer and announced he'd do what he had promised several years ago: Launch an inquiry into the Iraq War. Rose Gentle's song Gordon Gentle died serving in Iraq June 28, 2004. He is one of the 179 British forces who were killed in the Iraq War (ongoing Iraq War -- and ongoing for the British which expects to keep 200 service members in Iraq for the foreseeable future.) ITV News speaks with her (link is video) and she tells them, "I just hope the committee stuck to their word because they promised us that they'd look inside and outside and if there were mistakes made, the fingers would get pointed at the person making mistakes." Rose Gentle is a member of Military Families Against the War. Yesterday Julia Reid (Sky News -- link has text and video) spoke with Geoff Dunsmore, father of Chris Dunsmore who died serving in Iraq (July 19, 2007). He speaks of the Iraq Inquiry due to start this week in London, "The nation needs to know why we went to Iraq, clearly and concisely. We need to know why it cost money, but the biggest thing is why it cost a lot of lives -- my son's as one of them. I hope the inquiry will help the families that are struggling and trying to get some sense out of all this." Back in June Independent Labour MP Clare Short explained why she felt a real inquiry was necessary:

We need an inquiry that forces all parties and the public to face up to the fact that we got involved in Iraq because George Bush and the neo-conservatives wanted to overthrow the unpopular regime of Saddam Hussein -- regime change -- and establish a friendly power in Iraq, so that they could relocate American bases in the middle east, dominate the Gulf and have close relations with a country that contained a large proportion of the world's remaining oil. As has been said, all of that is laid out for all to read in the documents published by the Project for the New American Century, which many of those who became senior figures in the Bush Administration had signed up to.
Of course, the US expected the invasion of Iraq to be popular with Iraqis and therefore thought that it would help to stabilise the middle east. The only problem was that international law, laid down after the second world war under the leadership of President Roosevelt and with the support of Prime Minister Churchill, did not permit that, and thus the lying became necessary in order to do what the neo-conservatives thought to be right.
I did not know that Tony Blair had the published documents of the Project for the New American Century drawn to his attention -- they were certainly not drawn to the attention of the Cabinet -- but I think that he was desperate to be close to George Bush and worried that he would not be because of the closeness of his relationship with President Clinton, and that he therefore gave his word early on that Britain would be with him in the planned invasion of Iraq. From that, it all flows: the exaggeration of the threat from weapons of mass destruction to give an excuse for war, because regime change is not legal.
The Butler report and the various leaks from our intelligence agencies have shown that the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. Hans Blix started out believing that there were WMD in Iraq, but when he found and reported that there were not -- he reported to the Security Council what he had found, and also achieved the dismantling of large numbers of ballistic missiles -- he was briefed against and smeared because his truthful findings were obstructing the excuse for war.

Clare Short resigned from Tony Blair's cabinet May 12, 2003 declaring, "I am afraid that the assurances you [Tony Blair] gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached. The security council resolution that you and Jack have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible."

Andrew Gilligan live blogged the first day of the inquiry for the Guardian. He calls attention to several moments in the hearing including, on the issue of the panel itself, this on the day's three witnesses (Peter Ricketts, Simon Webb and William Patey):

This is interesting. Webb also says that, during the time in question, he received a promotion in the MoD after going through a selection process that involved two members of the inquiry assessing candidates - Lady Prashar, who, as First Civil Service Commissioner, was involved in senior appointments of this kind and Sir Lawrence Freedman, who I presume was on the panel as a member of the "great and the good". This disclosure does rather reinforce the impression that the inquiry represents the establishment interrogating itself.

Nicholas Witchell (BBC News) offers a video report of today's hearing. Nico Hines (Times of London) offers up "best of the evidence. The Telegraph of London reports a witness has stated that Bush and Blair were planning the Iraq War two years before it began:Sir Peter Ricketts, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, said there was concern in both London and Washington that the strategy of ''containment'' of Saddam Hussain was ''failing''.Giving evidence at the first public hearings of the inquiry, he said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush administration. He said that, in discussions with Secretary of State Colin Powell, it appeared the Americans were ''thinking very much on the same lines''.He added, however, that others in Washington were already thinking further ahead. A second report from the Telegraph offers a second witness testifying that the US was planning the Iraq War back in 2001:Sir William Patey, then head of Middle East policy at Foreign Office said that in February 2001, the UK knew that some in the new US administration wanted to topple SaddamHe said: "We were aware of the drum beats from Washington."However, he said that Britain was not then willing to engage in regime change in Baghdad. "Our policy was to stay away from that." David Brown and Nico Hines (Times of London) add of Ricketts, "He said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush Administration." On Monday, Chris Ames (Guardian) explained that Andrew Gilligan was unearthing a great deal and his scoops "are perhaps as significant for what they tell us about Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry. They are a humiliation for the inquiry, which -- as I write -- has not put a single piece of new evidence into the public domain. [. . .] The Telegraph, on the other hand, is putting a lot of new information into the public domain. It has published extracts from two of the papers on which it has based its stories. It does have to be said that the first of these, 'Stability Operations in Iraq', was published last year on Wikileaks, but the whole effect of what Gilligan has done is to add to the sum of public knowledge." Sunday Gilligan summarized "hundreds of pages of secret Government reports" regarding the Iraq War:Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain's objective was "disarmament, not regime change" and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but "very small numbers" of officials "constrained" the planning process. The result was a "rushed"operation "lacking in coherence and resources" which caused "significant risk" to troops and "critical failure" in the post-war period. Operations were so under-resourced that some troops went into action with only five bullets each. Others had to deploy to war on civilian airlines, taking their equipment as hand luggage. Some troops had weapons confiscated by airport security. Commanders reported that the Army's main radio system "tended to drop out at around noon each day because of the heat". One described the supply chain as "absolutely appalling", saying: "I know for a fact that there was one container full of skis in the desert." The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.The plans "contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen", causing a "notable loss of momentum" which was exploited by insurgents. Field commanders raged at Whitehall's "appalling" and "horrifying" lack of support for reconstruction, with one top officer saying that the Government "missed a golden opportunity" to win Iraqi support. Another commander said: "It was not unlike 1750s colonialism where the military had to do everything ourselves." In another report, Gilligan explains, "In the papers, the British chief of staff in Iraq, Colonel J.K.Tanner, described his US military counterparts as 'a group of Martians' for whom 'dialogue is alien,' saying: 'Despite our so-called "special relationship," I reckon we were treated no differently to the Portuguese'." Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) adds:Fresh evidence has emerged about how Blair misled MPs by claiming in 2002 that the goal was "disarmament, not regime change". Documents show the government wanted to hide its true intentions by informing only "very small numbers" of officials.The documents, leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, are "post-operational reports" and "lessons learned" papers compiled by the army and its field commanders. They refer to a "rushed" operation that caused "significant risk" to troops and "critical failure" in the postwar period.Norton-Taylor has come up with a list of five questions that the inquiry must answer to be seen as genuine.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Right back at you, Andrew Malcolm





On Sunday, the US military announced: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- A Multi-National Division South Soldier was killed in action, Nov. 22.The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin.The incident is under investigation." The announcement brought the number of service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4365.

Turning to the issue of the 'intended' January elections. As Carole King sings ("Chalis Borealis," Speeding Time), "Didn't work out quite the way you wanted, how were you to know?" Last week, Tareq al-Hashemi vetoed the election law citing the law's refusal to recognize the large number of Iraqi refugees. Saturday the Parliament met to resolve the issue and . . . nothing. AFP reported, "The vote is postponed until tomorrow, parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai told reporters on Saturday, after a further day of meetings failed to resolve a dispute on a key provision in the law which will govern the national poll." Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed, Khalid al-Ansary, Michael Christie and Sonya Hepinstall (Reuters) explained, "Parliament must now either address Hashemi's complaints and amend the law, which may invite other interest groups to demand other changes, or send it back to him unchanged only for him to possibly veto it again." DPA added "According to [MP Ezzeddin] al-Dawla, MPs were divided during Saturday's discussions, with 'a majority calling for a rejection of al-Hashemi's demand.' A few, al-Dawla said, 'sought a compromise of reserving 10 per cent of the seats for expatriates'." Sunday saw a repeat of the stagnation with Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) reporting the Parliament is still at "an impasse" and plans to take up the matter (again) tomorrow. Some motion took place today with Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Jon Hemming (Reuters) reporting this morning that the Parliament has finally passed an election law but that it doesn't appear to address the issues that led to the presidency council's veto and may (yet again) be vetoed.

Sahar Issa and Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) observe that the elections could be "delayed by weeks, if not longer" following today's vote which "cut Sunni Muslim voting power even more in several major provinces. More than 50 parliament members walked out in protest, most of them Sunnis, but including a smattering of secular lawmakers and Shiites as well." Nada Bakri (Washington Post) quotes Sunni MP Oussan al-Nujaifi stating, "We're going to veto the law because it's unconstitutional. And that means a delay in the election." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) insists that the "effort to hold parliamentary elections on schedule in January collapsed on Monday" and explains, "The failure to agree on even the terms of the national election has inflamed ethnic and sectarian tensions that had waned somewhat in the last year or so." BBC News adds, "Our correspondent [Jim Muir] says most MPs seem to be determined to reject the veto this time, meaning the law should eventually go through."

Today at the US State Dept, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Rumiana Zheleva and after the two delivered remarks to the press, the issue of Iraq arose.

AFP's Lachlan Carmichael: Madame Secretary, since we have an opportunity to talk to you, perhaps on another subject, Iraq? There's a prospect of the electoral law being vetoed again. What kinds of concerns do you have about that? And do you have any -- can you use your influence to help get it passed, iron out the differences among the factions?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Well, Lachlan, we support the Iraqi government's efforts to pass an election law so that they can proceed with planned elections. We know that there are some continuing concerns as expressed by the vice president that have to be addressed. We will continue working with all of the parties. Our ambassador, Chris Hill, on the ground has been deeply involved in doing so already. This morning, I met and heard a report about the way forward. There are a number of ideas that we will be presenting. There's an interim period because the Council of Representatives will not be meeting for a number of days that we think provide the opportunity for all the parties to come together, and with the help of not just the United States, but UNAMI and others to work out these continuing differences. We believe on balance that there will be elections. They might slip by some period of time until this is worked out, because at some point the law has to be in place for the planning to begin, and so there necessarily needs to be a period of time in which the planning can occur. But we have every reason to believe that elections will be held, which will be another milestone on the journey that Iraqis are taking toward full and comprehensive democracy.

And since Hillary raised the timeline, let's note it because it changed and no one seems to have noticed that (more likely, they've chosen not to raise the issue). Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) reported Sunday, "There are only a couple of days left for parliament to address Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi's veto of an election law, as the law must be passed 60 days before a vote and Jan. 23 is viewed by Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims as the last possible date in January for the ballot to take place."

How does it happen
I don't know
It's so hard to understand
Now you see it
Now you don't
Is this a case of sleight of hand
Sleight of hand
-- "Sleight of Hand," written by Carly Simon and Don Sebesky

B-b-but . . . What happened to 90 days? Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) reported a month ago, "The commission, responsible for organizing polls in Iraq, has said that it needs 90 days to print and distribute ballots. Iraqi and UN officials fear that the election could be delayed if lawmakers fail to pass a revised election law this week." October 29th, Renee Montagne talked about the timeline with Quil Lawrence (NPR's Morning Edition):

Renee Montagne: What, Quil, is at stake with the delay of this election law?Quil Lawrence: Well, as you say, the Iraqi prime minister and his government's term run out on January 31st so the election commission here has said they need 90 days to organize a legitimate poll and Parliament is deadlocked on over a dozen or so complicated issues regarding the election. They may vote on it today. If the elections are delayed or if they are rushed, there's a risk that Iraq's government could be deemed illegitimate and then a whole Pandora's Box of problems can open up -- issues of legitimacy of the government, maybe even a crisis like we've seen in Afghanistan.

How does 90 days become 60? And why did the press never notice the missing thirty? "Sleight of Hand" indeed. Carly Simon's latest album is Never Been Gone (Kat sang its praises here) and this week only you can download the entire album at Amazon for $5.00. That's all 12 tracks. Never Been Gone finds Carly revisiting her songwriting canon to re-imagine some of her best loved hits including "You're So Vain," "Anticipation," "Let The River Run," "Coming Around Again," "The Right Thing To Do," "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" and "You Belong To Me." Tomorrow Carly Will be at J&R Music World in New York (23 Park Row) signing copies of Never Been Gone beginning at 6:00 pm. Carly will be on Greater Boston (WGBH) Wednesday and Thursday (Thanksgiving day) she'll be performing in the Macy's Parade on the Care Bear's Float as well as be on Extra for part-two of her interview.

You should notice that the reporter who raised the issue of Iraq with Hillary Clinton was from a foreign news agency (AFP). Domestic reporters just don't give a damn. Doubt it? At the White House today, a bunch of trained yammers (with few exceptions) stroked and fondled Robert Gibbs with questions of such easy nature as could he explain "diplomatic entertaining" and State dinners. They had plenty of time to make like In Style magazine but damn little time to make like actual reporters. It was the usual embarrassment everyone's come to expect and that can be blamed only partly on Robert Gibbs. Blame? Hillary mentioned Chris Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq, in her comments and this may have been the first time his name has come up in the last few days. For example, the New York Times' awful editorial last week didn't mention him when it called out Iraq for the delay. Shouldn't Hill have been on this issue from day one? Yes, he should have. And who picked Hill? Who picked Hill over qualified people -- many, many other qualified people? Barack Obama. So the candy ass White House press corps should have pressed on the issue of Iraq. Instead they wasted everyone's time and, with few exceptions, better hope their editors and producers don't study that transcript. And on Chris Hill, let's remember one more time that the Republicans in the Senate structured their objections to Hill very carefully and very precisely. They knew he could be the anchor that could hang around Barack's neck. But no one wanted to pay attention back then and now it appears it may be too late. If Iraq falls to pieces, Republicans running for office will not blame military generals. They will, however, go to town on a US civilian like Hill. And they laid the groundwork for that back in his confirmation hearing.

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