Monday, September 21, 2009

The hardest working man in show biz





Today the US Defense Department issued a release announcing "the death of an airman who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Senior Airman Matthew R. Courtois, 22, of Lucas, Texas, died Sep 20 as a result of a non-hostile incident on Abdullah Al Mubarak Airbase, Kuwait. He was assigned to the 366th Security Forces Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation." DoD is supposed to supply the names to the deaths M-NF have announced. Yet again, M-NF 'forgot' to make an announcement. Yesterday M-NF did make an announcement, the US military announced: "JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- One U.S. service member was killed and 12 others were injured when a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter went down inside of Joint Base Balad at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday. 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 cause of the incident is unknown and is under investigation. More information will be released as soon as it becomes available." The two announcements bring to 4346 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. Giddy with the Cheese Whiz, Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added Sunday that only 8 -- only 8! -- US service members have died this month ("among the lowest monthly tolls since the war began in 2003"). The toll is now 9. And the New York Times reported the monthly toll in July and August as 7 for each month. (After the Times reported their monthly total, the US military punked them yet again by upping it to 8. The paper couldn't correct because their entire coverage hung from the hook of "low, low, low!!!!!") In addition, Myers declared, "The helicopter crash was the first since two reconnaissance helicopters collided while under enemy fire in January near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing four soldiers." That would be the last US military crash. The last crash of a US helicopter? Tim Cocks (Reuters) reports, "The last reported incident was on July 17, when a U.S. State Department helicopter crashed near Baghdad, killing two crew members. In January, two U.S. military aircraft came under enemy fire and crashed into each other, killing four soldiers."

Last week (see Wednesday and Thursday snapshots), Ahmed Abdul Latif threw a shoe at the US military in Falluja and was shot. Nawaf Jabbar and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported that Latif fell to the ground after being shot according to eye witness Ahmed Mukhlif who says that then "the four U.S. Humvees stopped and a man stepped out, his rifle pointing toward the wounded Iraqi, and a policeman intervened and prevented the American from firing again." Saturday an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy reports that Ahmed Abdul Latif died in the hospital Thursay and quotes his brother stating, "Maybe now he is at peace." Earlier, an Iraqi correspondent at McClatchy had noted of Ahmed Abdul Latif:

A man who lived through the "cleansing" of Fallujah by occupation forces. Two battles - not one. He saw his city burn, his friends killed, his neighbours maimed. His mind broke, and he became imbalanced. He roamed the streets with long unkempt hair, disheveled clothes and a wild look in his eyes. Whenever he saw an American military convoy pass, he would shake his fists in the air and raise his voice and swear at them. He would sometimes pick up a pebble and hurl it at them.

In Iraq, Camp Ashraf is where Iranian dissidents belonging to MEK live. They have been in Iraq for decades. Following the 2003 invasion, the US provided protection to Camp Ashraf and declared them protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. The US turned over control of Camp Ashraf to Nouri al-Maliki's government at the start of the year -- after getting assurances from him that he would not assault the camp or ship the dissidents back to Iran. Despite assurance, Nouri launched an attack on Camp Ashraf July 28th resulting in at least 11 deaths, hundreds injured and thirty-six residents hauled away. Yesterday, Michael Holden and Elizabeth Fullerton (Reuters) report that Archbishop Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Church, issued a statement on Camp Ashraf. From the Archibisoph of Canterbury's website: The continuing situation in Camp Ashraf, together with the fact that the 36 people taken from the camp in July have not been released, constitutes a humanitarian and human rights issue of real magnitude and urgency. There is a strong argument in terms of international law that the Ashraf residents are "protected persons". Both the government of Iraq and the government of the United States -- as the agency responsible for the transfer of the residents to another jurisdiction -- have an obligation to secure the rights of these residents and to defend them from violence or abuse. I am in contact with our own government as well as representatives of other governments to urge that the current situation be remedied urgently. A very significant step towards the long-term security of the residents will be the establishing of a UN monitoring team to visit the camp. Meanwhile I hope that all concerned will listen to what those across the world who are deeply anxious about these human rights violations are saying, and respond as a matter of urgency. In the same humanitarian spirit I would also urge those who have been demonstrating their concern by not taking food to bring their fast to an end. Further loss of life would only compound recent tragic events.

Saturday Brian Knowlton (New York Times) reported on Camp Ashraf supporters demonstrating in DC. 26-year-old Iranian-American Hamid Goudarzi who is on a hunger strike stated, "I'm getting weaker every day. But I'm here to the end." Knowlton added, "The protesters are calling for the resumption of American protection of the camp until a United Nations presence can be arranged and for the release of 36 members who have been detained since the clash at Camp Ashraf, which is home to about 3,400 people."
Turning to the topic of drugs. Most people are familiar with a "mule" in the drug trade: A person carries drugs -- sometimes swallowing them in a balloon so that they carry the drugs inside of their body -- across a border. On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera -- video link), Dr. Abdul Rahman Hamid of Al Muthanna Province, explains how camels are used, "The smugglers perform surgery on these animals. They usually cut open the camel's hump, place the drugs inside and stitch them back up and then cover the stitches with the camel's hair so it won't be noticeable. It is criminal what they're doing to these animals." Inside Iraq began airing Friday and Jasim Azzawi explored the topic of drugs which have plauged Iraq in recent years. Iranians have been blamed for the influx, US troops have been blamed, British troops have been blamed, 'security' contractors and other contractors (labor brought in to build or work in non-security roles) have been blamed.

Jasim Azzawi: To discuss the drug problem in Iraq, I'm joined from London by Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Centre, and from Tehran by Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Mustafa Alani, drugs in Iraq prior to 2003 were generally unknown and unavailable simply because users, they went to jail for so many years, and traffickers were executed. Today drug abuse and drug trafficking has become endemic in Iraq, threatening the very fabric of Iraqi society. Has the Iraqi government lost the war on drugs?

Mustafa Alani: I think we still have a chance that if the government has a willing -- the intention to fight the war and the capability to fight the war, I still think we have a chance to save the country. You are right, previous regime was able to basically to maintain the country clean from-from the drug. We had a zero rate of drug using and drug trafficking. In 2007, we have 14,000 drug users in Iraq -- this is an official figure from the Iraqi government. So in four years, between 2003 and 2007, we have 14,000 people start to use drug. The government is certainly blamed here but there is another factor actually. We cannot put the blame only on the government door. Another factor because it is an occupied country, because neighboring countries getting benefits from that. So it is a very complicated picture but the government? I think still we have hope that the government going to act soon with determination and put the fighting drug as a priority. I believe we still have some chance to save the country from the drug problem.

Jasim Azzawi: Complicated? Indeed it is and bleak as the way you portrayed it. And Iran somehow stands accused of facilitating if not perhaps looking the other way for drug traffickers and drug to come from Iran into Iraq, Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam?

Sadegh Zibakalam: [. . .] I must disagree with you, both gentlemen, with you, Dr. Jasim, and also with Mr. Mustafa Alani in London. First of all, I don't think that the fact that there was no drug problem under Saddam regime is any credit to that regime --

Jasim Azzawi: Why is that?

Sadegh Zibakalam: -- as I am sure both you gentlemen -- as I am sure both you gentlemen are aware. There is no such a problem, there is no drug problem in almost all the entire ruthless, police-less state and dictatorship countries. There is no drug problem in North Korea, there was no problem -- drug problem -- under old Communist regime and of course there was no drug problem --

Mustafa Alani: Well this is an achievement.

Sadegh Zibakalam: -- under Saddam. When you have democracy -- when you have democracy, you're bound to have drug problem because it is one of the fundamental questions posed by --

Jasim Azzawi: That argument, Sadegh Zibakalam, is absolutely flawed. You are not going to win any argument by stating that, once you become democracy, then it's okay to have drug problem and it's okay to have abusers --

Sadegh Zibakalam: I am not --

Jasim Azzawi: -- and its okay to have traffickers.

Sadegh Zibakalam: I am not saying --

Jasim Azzawi: That's exactly what you just said.

Sadegh Zibakalam: I am not say -- No, no, no. I am not saying that, if you have a democracy, you must have drug problem. All I am saying, all I am saying is that democracy begins with this fundamental, principle question: Is the individual free to do what he or she likes or is the individual --

Jasim Azzawi: I cannot believe --

Sadegh Zibakalam: -- must do what the state believes --

Jasim Azzawi: I cannot believe --

Mustafa Alani: This is unbelievable.

Jasim Azzawi: -- that a professor of political science, a professor of political science is saying that. Basically, you are justifying drug trafficking, drug abuse, Dr. Zibakalam.

Sadegh Zibakalam: No, no. I am -- I am neither justifying the-the drug traffic or the taking drugs --

Jasim Azzawi: Let me ask you another question.

Sadegh Zibakalam: I'm saying that if you look, you have --

Jasim Azzawi: Is Iran responsible for the drug inundated Iraq or not?

Sadegh Zibakalam: You haven't let me to finish my --

Jasim Azzawi: Go ahead.

Sadegh Zibakalam: -- previous comment.

Jasim Azzawi: Go ahead.

Sadegh Zibakalam: You have the drug problem in-in Germany, you have the problem, drug problem, in the United States. Everywhere that you have democratic society, you have some kind of -- some kind of drug problem. Are you going to tell me that there is no drug problem in-in-in Western societies?

Jasim Azzawi: Indeed --

Sadegh Zibakalam: Are you going to tell me

Jasim Azzawi: Indeed --

Sadegh Zibakalam: no western country --

Jasim Azzawi: -- there is a lot of problems. Sadegh Zibakalam, we started by saying that the strict application of the law under the previous regime prevented anybody from even thinking of using it, let alone trafficking it. But let us move on to Mustafa Alani. Mustafa Alani, if the Iraqi government is busy right now fighting terrorism and insurgency and militias and all that -- and, indeed, it is -- and perhaps, as you said, fighting drug abuse and trafficking is not at the top of its priorities because simply those people are very difficult to catch. Explain to me in that case, how is it possible that fields are being cultivated with poppy seeds in Diwaniya, in Kifil and even in the orchard fame of Diyala [Province]. These are well known, as we say in the Arab world, بهذا الشكل الصارخ المتاحة, so flagrantly available, that any police officer will be able to identify it.

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