Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The lessons don't seem to have taken





Today Tom Ashbrook used the hour of On Point (NPR) to explore the situation in Iraq and was joined, by phone from Baghdad, the Los Angeles Times' Liz Sly and the New York Times' Anthony Shadid.
Tom Ashbrook: Liz, you remind us in your recent reporting that -- what, about a year ago? -- when US troops withdrew from the cities in Iraq, Iraqis danced in the street, there was celebration. What about this last week? Americans have heard a lot about the withdrawal of combat troops, what's -- Has there been a public response? Has there been dancing in the street from Iraqis, Liz?
Liz Sly: Well there has no. The reaction has been in noted contrast to last year. And that's because two things are different between this year and last year. Last year, the American troops withdrew from the cities under the terms of the security agreement signed with Iraq and so the Iraqi government trumpeted that as a triumph for Iraq, as a sign of its sovereignty. This year -- This year, the unilateral withdrawal of the 50,000 is an American move in response to President Obama's election pledge to bring the troops home. It hasn't really received much attention from the Iraqis. And the other thing that's different between now and last year is that last year Iraq was looking pretty stable. It kind of was better off than Iraq had been in a long time, violence had subsided a lot, the government was relatively strong, relatively popular, relatively in control. This year, the situation really does feel really unstable again. We had elections in March, they failed to produce a winner, there's been no success in negotiations for a new government and a lot of Iraqis now are feeling very worried about what lies ahead and especially wihtout so many troops -- without so many American troops in the country -- to kind of keep order, if you like?
had finally
Tom Ashbrook: Uh, Liz, Anthony, here was US commander in Iraq Ray Odierno just this last Sunday on CBS [Face The Nation]. He was asked about whether the US had won in Iraq?
Gen Ray Odierno: I would say that we've made lot of progress here. I would say to determine whether we've won the war or not, we can see that in three to five years as we see how Iraq works out. A strong, democratic Iraq should bring stability to the Middle East and, if we see an Iraq moving from that two, three, five years, I think we can call our operation a success.
Tom Ashbrook: Two, three, five years from now? It's a long goodbye already. US troops -- formally -- to be out at the end of next year, we'll see what happens with that. But Anthony Shadid, when you look over that kind of horizon, the right now that Liz is talking about, the spikes in attacks, then there's the two, three, five year horizon out there. Where do see Iraq? What do you see coming, Anthony?
Anthony Shadid: I think Liz is exactly right, this is a very precarious moment right here and what struck me in the past few weeks is the degree of the divorce between the population right now and the ruling elite. And it is an utter divide that's going on right there. The ruling elite is discredited, there's not a lot of trust in them, there's an incredible amount of frustration as Liz pointed out in their inabililty to form a government. Where does that -- that disenchantment, that disillusionment lead to? And I think that's one of the most pressing questions and it's not a question that US officials and the military is reallyd ealing with right now. This is a government or an elite that has lost the trust of the people. It's not a good sign of the durability or even the longterm implications for creating a stable political system. I think it's in fact one of the most danger -- one of the biggest dangers they're facing right now.
Tom Ashbrook: Anthony, who is the ruling elite of Iraq today?
Anthony Shadid: Well interestingly it's many of the same ruling elite that we saw back in 2003 and I think this is going to be one of the American legacies of the invasion/occupation and what's followed here. There are people that the Americans helped empower and they're still, in a lot of ways, calling the shots. I mean, we've heard a lot of the names already. Ayad Allawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ibrahim Jaafari and, you know, Prime Minister Maliki is one of the different ones but he's from the Dawa party which is one of the parties that were brought back after 2003. So we're dealing with a lot of the same faces and we're dealing with a lot of the same penchant toward deadlock, toward stalemate that's characterized their dealing, you know, back from 2004 and on.
Tom Ashbrook: Liz Sly, the group that Anthony's pointing at there, from 2003, that the US brought in were largely exiles. What has that meant about the way they've approached politics? The Iraq that they now, you know, more or less, for better or worse, rule?
Liz Sly: Well you've got something of a really fundamental divide going on in Iraqi society and politics at the moment and it's the same divide that we saw back in 2003, back in 2004 as the insurgency started. And it's opened up again, if you like, by this latest election. And that really is a huge divide between religious parties which were empowered very much by the US invasion. The Shi'ite religious parties which had been in exile since they'd been persecuted by Saddam. They came back, they formed the government and now they're in power. What you have now is a bit of a situation where there's a little bit of a pushback against that religious style of government that came in in those years by people who want to see a more secular and less overtly religious form of government and, quite frankly, there is a sectarian overture to that as well because there are Sunnis who don't want Shia religious parties to be in control. And so you've got this fundamental divide that we've never really solved in any of the earlier years when the emphasis was mainly on bringing the violence down and not on solving the fundamental political problems. And you've got that divide opening up again just as the troops are going home.
Tom Ashbrook: Anthony Shadid, what's the problem in getting a new government established? The election is five months and counting behind us now. What are the obstacles to some kind of a compromise to get something settled here? What's the problem?
Anthony Shadid: Well I think on one level it's ambition. It's the ambition of the people who did best in the election. But I think more fundamentally, it's a question of power and who has that power and how is that power -- to what degree does everyone enjoy that power? There is a question right now going on of whether the prime minister will have the powers he's had in the past, whether it will be moved to the Cabinet. There are ideas out there of creating a National Strategies Council, a National Security Council that would take some of the powers away from the prime minister but I think we're still in the preliminary stages there. The Ambassador, Christopher Hill, before he left, optimistically forecast it was weeks away but I think pessimism was probably the better sentiment to have and those negotiations seem to have fallen apart. I think when you talk to politicians right now, we're not all of that -- I mean, maybe I'm overstating it a little bit -- but I don't think we're all that further ahead than we were in March. And I think this could last weeks, even months. And the interim is dangerous. That interim encourages rumors of crisis and confrontation and even coups -- coup d'etats -- and you do wonder where -- where this is all going to lead to?
That's an excerpt. Again, Ashbrook devoted the hour to the very important topic. Shadid and Sly were allowed to speak on various aspects of Iraq that never get noted in the rush for 'the week's headlines' that Iraq is often lumped into. I can't think of a time when Iraq got the full hour on any radio show this year. (The Takeaway still deserves praise for their week long look at Iraq.) Check out the show for that and for more on the elections.
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 17 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.

Today Alsumaria TV reports that State Of Law submitted a "political reform paper" to Iraqiya and Iraqiya has refused the paper. UPI notes that Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh issued a statement denying that Iran was attempting to influence the process. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) adds that Syria is working on the political stalemate and attempting to encourage negotiations. Rahmat al-Salaam (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reports:

For his part, Al-Iraqiya member Muhammad Allawi said that "Al-Maliki has two options; he can either assumes the second post after the prime minister or accepts to stay as a member of parliament." On the possibility of starting dialogues with the SLC anew in spite of Al-Maliki's insistence to remain a candidate for the post of prime minister in the next government, Allawi said that "Al-Iraqiya had set a condition not to mention the name of Al-Maliki as a candidate to head the next government during the dialogues or the negotiations with it, and in case this happens, the meeting with the SLC would stop." He stressed that Al-Iraqiya is adopting this stand since it is the bloc that has the electoral right which authorizes it to form and head the government."
Muhammad Allawi added that the Al-Iraqiya list "is going ahead in its negotiations with the Iraqi National Alliance (led by Ammar al-Hakim) in determined steps, and the same is the case of the Kurdistan Alliance, while keeping the door open for the SLC to take what it deserves of main posts, specifically the second highest post after the prime minister."
UPI reports that supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr have made a decision whom to back: "Ziyad al-Darb, a lawmaker from Iraqiya, told the Voices of Iraq news agency that Sadrist lawmakers were throwing their weight behind Allawi for prime minster." Saturday Alsumaria TV noted Al Hayat Newspaper was reporting that al-Sadr would be supporting Allawi. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reported Sunday that al-Sadr and Allawi would meet-up in Syria shortly. Ma'ad Fayad (Asharaq Alawsat Newspaper) reports that rumors are swirling that Moqtada al-Sadr is planning to move to Lebanaon "in order to escape from Iranian pressure, which is pushing for his approval of the nomination of Nuri al-Maliki, leader of the State of Law Coalition and outgoing Prime Minister, for a second term in office." Al Bawaba also notes the rumors and quote an unnamed source stating, "Al-Sadr rejected all the pressures and proposals made by Iranian officials for the approval of al-Maliki and today is planning seriously to go to Lebanon and stay in Beirut." Consider all of the reports today to be etched in soft clay and able to wash away at any time as has repeatedly happened during the nearly six months since the elections.
Today many reporters had a sick day on the job while other 'reporters' continued posing and they all tried to tease a report out of a press release. It was pimping and worse. It was not news. It was whoring. Thanks Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy never planned for you to be such a whore, let alone a cheap whore. CSM's editorial board (the same crap that palled around with LIAR Daniel Schorr -- forever remembered as the 'brave guy' who tried to falsely blame Lesley Stahl to save his own ass) wants to tease out the press release and insult our intelligence -- the latter by repeating the tired, disproven trope that US service members were spat on during Vietnam. Who gives the editorial board it's history lessons? Barack Obama. (He was only 8 years old!) Here's reality, you damn dirty whores of the Christian Science Monitor editorial board, from Jerry Lembcke (Vietnam Veterans Against the War):
Many of the current stories are accompanied by stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans. The recent story of spitting in Asheville, for example, was traced to a local businessman who says he is a veteran who was also spat upon and called a "baby killer" when he returned from Vietnam. An Associated Press story of April 9 reported stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans surfacing in several cities including Spicer, Minnesota whose mayor said he was spat upon in the San Francisco airport while coming home from Vietnam in 1971.
Similar stories became quite popular during the Gulf War of 1991 which raised my curiosity about where they came from and why they were believed. There is nothing in the historical record -- news or police reports, for example -- suggesting they really happened. In fact, the Veterans Administration commissioned a Harris Poll in 1971 that found 94% of Vietnam veterans reporting friendly homecomings from their age-group peers who had not served in the military. Moreover, the historical record is rich with the details of solidarity and mutuality between the anti-war movement and Vietnam veterans. The real truth, in other words, is that anti-war activists reached out to Vietnam veterans and veterans joined the movement in large numbers.
Stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans are bogus. Born out of accusations made by the Nixon administration, they were enlivened in popular culture (recall Rambo saying he was spat on by those maggots at the airport) and enhanced in the imaginations of Vietnam-generation men -- some veterans, some not. The stories besmirch the reputation of the anti-war movement and help construct an alibi for why we lost the war: had it not been for the betrayal by liberals in Washington and radicals in the street, we could have defeated the Vietnamese. The stories also erase from public memory the image, discomforting to some Americans, of Vietnam veterans who helped end the carnage they had been part of.
The facsimiles of spat-upon veteran stories that are surfacing now confuse the public dialogue surrounding the war. Debate about the war itself and the politics that got us into it is being displaced by the phony issue of who supports the troops. Everyone supports the troops and wishes them a safe and speedy homecoming. It's the mission they have been sent on that is dividing the nation and it is the mission that we have a right and obligation to question.
And you can read more of Jerry's book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam online via Google books. (Or actually buy the book. It's a great book and Jerry's a great guy.) You can also refer to Tim King's 2008 article for Salem-News. But what you can't do is WHORE out whatever was left of your reputation and expect anyone to take you seriously. What the Christian Science Monitor has done is repeat a blood libel that they decided to bring up on their own. All on their own. They're liars, they're whores, they're uneducated and they're uniformed -- and that's your editorial board. Beginning to see why -- even with considerable tax breaks -- the Christian Science Monitor could no longer hack it as a print newspaper? Mmmhmm. Watch the little liars try to weasel out of issuing the correction that damn well know they need to. Well remember, they supported the Iraq War. A fact they'd like you to forget. They supported it, they whored it, they did the advance work for it -- that includes the 'brave' and thankfully dead Danny Schorr.
Now a lot of outlets tried to tease the press release into 'news' and no one did a worse job than the Christian Science Monitor. Who actually managed to deliver news? NPR did. They treated it like news meaning they did something more than rewrite the press release, they added the details that were being (intentionally) left out. From their hourly news break this morning.

Craig Windham: The number of US troops in Iraq is now below 50,000 for the first time since the American-led invasion of that country seven years ago NPR's Mike Schusther in Bagdad says the drawdown of combat forces has been completed a week before the date set by President Obama.
Mike Shuster: The US military says that largely brings to a close the US combat role in Iraq. Now the main mission of those troops remaining will be to train and assist Iraqi security forces. But American troops will still be armed and will accompany Iraqi patrols. There are still almost daily insurgent attacks in Iraq. The US may be ending its primary combat role in Iraq but the violence has not ended. In addition, some of the remaining US troops are Special Forces and they will continue to stage secret operations against al Qaeada in Iraq and other insurgent groups. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Baghdad.

That's from the hourly news and I'm not aware of any way to link to that, sorry, so we'll just note NPR. Note that Shuster's able to do what others can't or won't. How very telling. Nor did he have to resort to lying about the peace activists during Vietnam. "Yet since the Vietnam War, when returning soldiers were shunned and even spat on, Americans have learned to distinguish between the service of a soldier and the politics of war" lied the Christian Science Monitor -- which doesn't seem to go with either Mary Baker Eddy's beliefs or those of Christ's -- disgracing itself. ("Shunned"? By the government. But you know that a cowardly editorial board would rather attack the people than hold accountable the government.) This morning, I was surprised to find out that we called out Joe Biden (whom I know and love) in yesterday's snapshot and everyone else wanted to pretend like Joe was making sense yesterday. Jason Ditz ( is the exception: "On the subject of Iraq, Biden mocked those who suggested that violence would rise ahead of the drawdown, insisting it 'didn't happen.' Last month saw the highest death toll of Iraqi civilians in over two years." Good for Jason Ditz. But I was merely surprised by the silence elsewhere. On the smear and attack on the peace movement? I'm furious and outraged. For those who are still suffering from Joe Biden's spin from yesterday, here's Charlie Kimber (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
The truth is that the US has achieved only the sordid destruction of an entire society. Over a million Iraqis are dead because of the war, as are thousands of US, British and other troops.
Some four million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, and the vast majority are too terrified to return. Basic services are in short supply and the reality for the majority of the Iraqi population is poverty and fear.
July saw the highest number of violent deaths in Iraq for two years: August will be worse.
Sectarianism has been created and entrenched. Al Qaida did not exist in Iraq before the war -- but it does now. The lie that the US has made Iraq a better place is on a scale of the lies about weapons of mass destruction.
And of course the US is not withdrawing from Iraq. "Combat troops" are meant to be out, but 50,000 "trainers and advisers" will remain until the end of 2011, and 10,000 even longer. The US is in the process of recruiting 7,000 security contractors (mercenaries) to back up their power.

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