Monday, August 23, 2010

Cake? Who can even afford cake?







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

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

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

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

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