Monday, January 11, 2010

The jokes






Starting in London where the Iraq Inquiry resumed their public hearings for the week. The Inquiry is chaired by John Chilcot. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger blogs and tweets the public hearing and notes:

Two weekend nuggets that you may have missed, especially if you're not a Twitter follower. By a strange twist of synchronicity, exactly one hour before the Campbell session starts at 10h00, the Dutch equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry will release its own report on that country's involvement in Iraq.
I won't pretend to follow the minutiae of Netherlands politics but at least one media report suggests that "Tuesday could be the blackest day" of the Dutch PM's career: it sounds as though he resisted the creation of the "Davids Commission" as long as he possibly could. No parallels there then.

The second thing Iraq Inquiry Blogger notes is this BBC profile of committee member Roderic Lyne. Glen Oglaza (Sky News) is also providing live Twittering of the Iraq Inquiry. On the Dutch issue, Radio Netherlands states the country's prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende's future "could [be] deterime[d]" by the findings: "Unless the commission resolves all doubts about the level of Dutch support, the lower house will in all likelihood demand a full parliamentary enquiry. One of the main questions that many people hope the Davids Commission will answer is whether the cabinet fully informed the lower house about the Netherlands' involvement in Iraq. Rumours about the involvement of Dutch special forces and intelligence operatives have been circulating since the invasion and if they prove to be true, it could lead to the prime minister's resignation."

Today the Iraq Inquiry heard from Lt Gen Richard Shirref and Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw (link goes to video and transcript options). Shaw commander the British M-NF forces from January 2007 to August of 2007 while Shirref was in charge from July 2006 until Shaw took over. British forces were primarily in and around Basra and the now forgotten Maysan.

Lt Gen Richard Shirref: The two provinces which were principally the concern of the British, Maysan and Basra, were a different story though. Maysan had always been a very difficult province. There were effectively no security at all where MNF were concerned. The cities of Amarah and Majarr-al-Kabir were effectively no-go areas, and in particular Amarah; any operations into Amarah resulted in significant fighting, at times up to battle group level. The principal British base in Maysan, Camp Abu Naji, was being subjected to continuous attack, as was any movment up and down the route to and from that camp.

For an overview of what the British faced in 2006, this is from the November 22, 2006 snapshot:

In England, This Is London reports: "Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett this afternoon surprised MPs by signalling the countdown to a withdrawal from Iraq. She told the Commons that Basra, where the bulk of the UK's 7,200 personnel are stationed, could be handed over from British military control to Iraqi forces as early as next spring." Basra has been a violent area for British soldiers (and for Iraqis). Earlier this month, on England's Rememberance Sunday, four British troops were killed while on a boat patrol in Basra and three more were wounded. The four killed included Sharron Elliott who was "the second British female servicewoman to die in action." The other three were Jason Hylton, Ben Nowak, and Lee Hopkins. Mortar attacks have been common in Basra and, in August, a British soldier died as a result of wounds received from mortar rounds. In October, a British soldier died in Basra from road traffic. The end of October was also when the British consulate in Basra was evacuated after it was decided it was no longer safe after two months of mortar attacks. (In August, British troops 'evacuated' from their base in Amara due to repeated mortar attacks.)

Amara would have been a topic to explore. The British fled with no notice. The base was then ripped apart by 'insurgents' in less than 12 hours of the British fleeing. The committee largely ignored the issue. Committee member Lawrence Freedman did observe, "Effectively, our forces were spending a lot of their time protecting themselves and were therefore not available for other tasks." Shirref didn't want to go into as anything other than a fleeting mention and he quickly asserted Basra was all that mattered.

Lt Gen Richard Shirreff: Basra itself seemed to me to be the key issue, the second city of Iraq, and it was in Basra that the British reputation was going to stand or fall. What I found when I arrived was effectively no security at all. Any movement required deliberate operation to conduct -- to get around the city. There was a significant lack of troops on the ground. I think when I went out on my recce in May 2006, the single battalion commander responsible for a city of 1.3 million people told me that he could put no more than 13 half platoons or multiples on the ground, less than 200 soldiers on the ground, in a city of 1.3 million. You compare that, for example, with what I recall, as a young platoon commander in West Belfast in the late 1970s when there was a brigade on the ground. The result of all that was what I call a cycle of insecurity. No security meant no reconstruction and development, it meant a loss of consent, the militia filled the gap and, effectively, the militia controlled the city. So my objective was to re-establish security in Basra.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: You say "re-establish," what you have described is a pretty gloomy prospect. How do you think, after all this time, this situation had been allowed to develop?

Lt Gen Richard Shirreff: I can't answer that. All I can tell you is the situation as I found it.

Of the day's other witness, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian of England) observes, "Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw, British commander based in Basra in 2007, told the inquiry that Basra was 17th on the department's list of priorities. That British forces there had to rely on US money was 'pretty shaming', Shaw said." Where did American money go -- identified by Shirreff as "US tax payer money," which it is, but let's note he was aware of it and credited it as such repeatedly in his own testimony -- on propaganda films according to Shirreff (he didn't use the word "propaganda") which aired on local televsion. Back to Shaw. He used the term "the dark state" and was asked of it, told it sounded like something out of Harry Potter leading him to reply it wasn't JK Rowling:

What it meant, therefore, was that you had a direct link between the people in power advising Maliki sat in his Cabinet down through the shadow state and down to their militias, the sort of violent militias, the criminals, the murderers and the terrorists at the bottom, there was a strict linkage between those three, and so what you ended up with was a system where the dark state was protected by the official state.

Tomorrow Alastair Campbell appears before the Iraq Inquiry and his appearance comes after a revelation over the weekend. Chris Ames (Guardian) explains:Once again it is the media -- rather than the Iraq inquiry – who are putting new information about Iraq into the public domain. In today's Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor and I reveal the extent to which the notorious September 2002 dossier on Iraq's WMD was sexed-up on Alastair Campbell's instructions to fit in with bogus American claims. The idea that Campbell and intelligence chief John Scarlett were unwitting participants in accidental sexing-up has taken another blow. There is a prologue and an epilogue to today's story. The prologue shows that Campbell and Scarlett knew exactly what they were doing. The epilogue shows that Campbell was still not happy, even after the dossier's worst-case estimate of how quickly Saddam Hussein could get a bomb was effectively halved to fit in with what George W Bush had told the UN. According to his published diaries, on 2 April 2002 Campbell and Scarlett were at a meeting at Chequers where Tony Blair had made clear that the aim of UK government policy was "regime change". Three weeks later Campbell met officials including Scarlett "to go through what we needed to do communications wise to set the scene for Iraq, eg a WMD paper and other papers about Saddam. Scarlett a very good bloke." In July 2002, Blair, Campbell and Scarlett were all present at the now famous Downing Street meeting where Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of MI6, reported that in the US "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of invading Iraq.

Tim Shipman (Daily Mail) adds, "The first draft of the British dossier was completed, using intelligence from MI6, on Septemofber 10, 2002. It concluded that it would take 'at least two years' for Iraq to get a nuclear bomb. But two days later President Bush used a keynote address to the United Nations to declare: 'Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year'." And "11 days later," Tony Blair began stating publicly "a year or two."

Turning to political issues in Iraq. Last week, many of Nouri's political rivals were informed they were being banned from the expected March elections. Today Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reported, "IRAQ'S NATIONAL security council, the country's highest political body, yesterday discussed a call to ban 15 political parties and candidates from standing in the March 7th parliamentary election on the grounds that they are tied to the outlawed Baath Party. If accepted by the election commission, the proposal, put forward by a body charged with purging Baathists, would deny representation to both Sunni and secular Iraqis and torpedo any chance of national unity." Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) adds:

The commission is heir to the old De-Baathification Commission, set up in 2003 by Paul Bremer, the US czar of Iraq, and led by Ahmed Chalabi and his cronies. Among those banned was one of Iraq's most significant players, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni leader and an important member of parliament, whose National Dialogue Front is a popular vote-getter among Iraq's disenfranchised Sunni populace. Mutlaq, a well-known politician, has drawn support from current and former Baathists, secular Sunnis opposed to the Shiite-sectarian rulers in Baghdad, and Iraqis concerned about the intrusive influence of Iran in Iraqi affairs.
Over the past several months, Mutlaq had helped to build a powerful opposition bloc set to challenge both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who controls a faction of the secretive, sectarian Shiite Dawa party, and the broader Shiite alliance comprised of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr's forces, and Chalabi, the neoconservatives' favorite wheeler-dealer. That alliance was formed with the strong support of Iran, whose authoritarian leaders and radical clerics helped assemble it. ISCI, which has a paramilitary arm, the Badr Brigade, was formed in 1982 as an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and for many years it was actually under the command of Iranian military officers. Sadr, a mercurial Shiite nationalist, has fallen under Iran's umbrella, too, and he has spent most of the past two years living in Qom, Iran's religious capital. Chalabi, despite his neocon connections, has long been suspected of having covert ties to Iran's intelligence service.

Bremer was responsible for de-Ba'athification. But who was responsible for de-de-Ba'athifcation. The White House (under Bush) made that one of the Iraq benchmarks -- benchmarks Nouri signed off on. To bring the Ba'athists back in was one of the benchmarks and a weak law was tossed around Parliament but not implemented and when is anything going to be done about that? And why is the US propping up the government it created? Have we all forgotten the Pentagon Papers and the shocking revelation that the government was admitting the US was in Vietnam to prop up the government they'd created? Nouri al-Maliki signed off on those benchmarks and was never forced to follow them. James Cogan (WSWS) notes some troubling signs:

Tensions in Sunni communities were already rising before this latest provocation. The attempt to proscribe Mutlaq and other Sunni parties follows the rewriting of the electoral law by the Shiite and Kurdish parties to reduce the proportion of seats elected in Sunni areas. There have also been reports of widespread arrests and killings of Sunnis by government troops and police.
According to the newspaper Azzaman, "hundreds of young people have been taken away from Tikrit, Anbar and Mosul". In Baghdad, there have allegedly been numerous arrests in the Sunni majority district of Abu Ghraib, in the west of the city. At least 10 militiamen of the Sunni "Awakening" militias in the capital have reportedly been assassinated.
The Obama administration has made no public comment on the actions of the Justice and Accountability Board. However, it can hardly welcome a development that threatens to inflame communal tensions and undermine arrangements that underpin its plans to reduce troop numbers down to 50,000 by August and redirect US forces to Afghanistan.
It is barely two years since the US military struck a deal with the bulk of the Sunni-based insurgency to abandon armed resistance in exchange for an end to sectarian persecution by Shiite forces, regular payment and implicit guarantees of greater political influence for the Sunni elite.

This as NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition, text and audio link) reports on the one-time 'model' Anbar Province which is now seeing increased violence and disenchanted citiznes who protest with chants of "Save us" and "We've been sold out." The "model" depended upon cash. In April 2008, Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker explained to Congressional committees how the 'model' worked: The US military paid Sunni 'insurgents' cash to stop attacking US military equipment and US service members. The US appears to have stopped payments around the month of June of this year and Nouri -- who was supposed to take over payments long ago -- sometimes pays, sometimes pays a portion and sometimes tells these 'insurgents' (who became Sawha -- "Awakenings," "Sons Of Iraq") the check's in the mail. With payments questionable (and Arab media reports rumors that payments end this month) and with the bulk of Sahwa still not brought into Iraqi security forces, many Sahwa no longer feel the need to do what they were once paid for.

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