Friday, March 27, 2009

Afghanistan and Iraq

Rebecca: Last Friday, we did our fourth Iraq roundtable and were planning to get back to our regular postings this Friday. Something changed. Including a bad press conference staged by the Feminist Majority Foundation on Afghanistan -- a topic we also recently roundtabled on. We're going to move to Afghanistan quickly and then to Iraq but we'll start with something else first. Participating tonight are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ava; me, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man;C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz; Trina of Trina's Kitchen; Wally of The Daily Jot; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends; Marcia of SICKOFITRADLZ and Ruth of Ruth's Report. Betty and Cedric are joining us by phone. The rest of us are at Trina's and we need to do a thing from Trina first before we get to Afghanistan.

Trina: Thank you. Five different women e-mailed me and I was planning on addressing this tonight, Rebecca's letting me here. You've made some form of hamburger helper or some combination of noodles and have leftovers. Grab a small can of tomato sauce -- eight ounce and some cheese, mix it in together with the leftovers and then heat on the stovetop or in the microwave oven. If it won't go with tomatoes, add two tablespoons of sour cream and some cheese. Cheese is grated in both cases. It will add some zip to the leftovers. That's a question that came up in five e-mails and I have e-mailed the tip to the women but if they're asking, with this economy, a lot of other people are wondering as well. The ecoonomy is in crisis and the news today included some states were seeing double digit unemployment.

Rebecca: Glad you covered it and agree that if it's popping up in the e-mails a lot of people are asking. For those who don't Trina's site, she talks about Iraq, the economy and cooking. Okay, now we're moving to Afghanistan and Ava and C.I. can comment on the press conference by Feminist Majority Foundation. They can not, repeat NOT, comment on Barack's press conference this morning. Why? Jim's wants a piece on that at Third this weekend. Due to that, Ava and C.I. agreed to say nothing about Barack's 'same way to quagmirel' plan on Afghanistan -- and that's their phrase, by the way. Ava and C.I. are taking notes throughout and Trina's grabbing when one of them nods to her. So thank you to the three of them for that. Ava and C.I. will type this up and it will appear at the sites of all participating. So Betty, I'm going to let you set us up.

Betty: We did an Afghanistan roundtable a few weeks ago and did it when the administration was floating playing footsie with the Taliban. We called it out and stood firm. Today the very weak Feminist Majority Foundation held a very weak press conference featuring the very weak Eleanor Smeal and the very weak Dr. Sima Samar.

Elaine: I think Betty just did the perfect set-up and I'll argue that not only did the Feminist Majority Foundation need to be stronger, they were required to be as a result of being silent for so long. Where were they? Where were they when it mattered?

Marcia: No where to be found and showing up today with weakness.

Rebecca: Trina, you're going to grab the notes here? Okay, she's nodding. Ava and C.I., I'm bringing you too in now.

Ava: As Betty, Elaine and Marcia have pointed out, it was very weak. It was a very weak, weak-ass embarrassment. We heard about it as it was happening from enraged feminists who feel this is yet another example of how Eleanor Smeal is not fit to be a leader. For example, the Taliban? Never mentioned until the questions. Smeal and Samar both spoke at length, never mentioned the Taliban. Avoided the issue because heaven forbid the damn asshole Barack Obama be called out. It was pathetic, it was embarrassing and it was shameful. If we thought it was bad, and we did, when 'leaders' sold out women to cozy up to the homophobic and sexist Barack, it was even worse to see that press conference.

C.I.: As Ava just explained, the Taliban would have gone unmentioned if reporters hadn't raised the issue. That fact totally neutralizes the very bad, very shoddy press conference that was so bad that Eleanor couldn't even get tired phrases correct. Example, she meant to say women were the "canaries in the coal mine" and instead said they were the "canaries in the mine." There's a difference. And there's a difference between being prepared and standing in front of the press and babbling away like two idiots.

Ava: And there's a difference between covering your hair and not covering your hair. If the doctor wanted her hair covered, she should have dressed appropriately. Her non-stop grabbing her little bonnet and putting it back on her head was a distraction. And if "little bonnet" is offensive, f**k you, your press conference was offensive. We spoke to twelve Afghanistan women and the level of fury over Eleanor little stunt is off the charts. Eleanor being called a "whore" is one of the nicer things said. Afghan women got sold out today.

C.I.: Yeah, that was about the nicest thing anyone said about Eleanor Smeal today. Now some might argue, "Well, they were thrown because they scheduled the press conference today and then Barack had one at the same time." Too damn bad. They should have scheduled a press conference immediately. We're also fully aware that the two press conferences going on at the same time didn't just happen. Eleanor can play dumb all she wants, but it didn't just happen. And it didn't just happen that the 'neediest of the cases' Eleanor could bring up was a man. She spoke about an Afghanistan man for nearly a minute which was thirty seconds more than, for example, she gave to Afghan women who had acid thrown in their face.

Ava: It was the most telling moment. As my aunt said, "That's Eleanor and that's all that's wrong with the leadership." There she was sucking up to a man, on her knees, kissing his knob instead of helping women. One little Afghan man matters more than anything else. Boo f**king who, Eleanor Smeal.

C.I.: We're referring to the male reporter. And Eleanor couldn't stop babbling about him. The point was -- as her incoherent, unplanned babbling continued -- a man matters more than a woman or many women. That's what she did by making one man, imprisoned unfairly -- no question, more the focus than any Afghan woman. A woman can be nailed to a tree alive, she can have acid thrown in her face, she can be killed in front of children, you name it. But she is not as important as a man.

Ava: Because the male reporter was a man and it is apparently a sign of importance when a man actually thinks beyond himself. Now women, we're supposed to do that, but Eleanor is so blown away that some guy could be a big boy and actually leave his own isolated world for a second or two that she makes him a god, she dresses him up like a god and, as C.I. explained, through her emphasis and the amount of time she gives him, makes it all about him. He gets more time from Eleanor than any Afghan woman. He hasn't been tortured as far as anyone knows. He is just the victim of injust justice system and, word to Ellie, there are many Afghan women that are the victims of the 'legal' system.

Rebecca: Okay, Betty had a point and I want to bring her in on it. And then if there's a comment from anyone else, that's fine, but otherwise I'm going to toss back to Ava and C.I. who are going to transition us into Iraq. Not immediately, but they're going to take us from that bad press conference to Iraq. Betty?

Betty: I watched the press conference online this evening when I got a call inviting me to the roundtable. I found it offensive that a reporter wanted to say Laura Bush worked on the Afghan issue so what are Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton going to do? That was the question. Hillary is not a First Lady, she is the Secretary of State, she is a former, twice elected US Senator. And this was not pointed out by the hideous Ellie Smeal who did find time to brag about how 'as we all know' Michelle's a feminist. What? Michelle's gone out of her way to reject the feminist label verbablly, she's said she doesn't consider herself one and that's before we get to her actions that I'm tabling because I'm going to pitch it at Third.

Kat: Jim will love that, that we're all coming in prepared to pitch stuff for the edition. This may be all I say the entire edition but Feminist Wire Daily has a an item on it and they seem to forget that we live in an online world. By that I mean, they're telling you that CSPAN aired it live and CSPAN will repeat it. Excuse me, you can watch it online right now at CSPAN. Click on ""Feminist Majority Foundation Press Conference on Afghan Women and Girls (March 27, 2009)" and you can watch it when you want.

Rebecca: Thank you for that. Anyone who wants to watch the conference can via the link. We've got Stan, Wally and Cedric participating -- and we're thrilled to have them -- and I want to be sure that they know they can jump in anytime they want. I've got nods from Stan and Wally. Cedric, I can't see you.

Cedric: Yeah, I'll jump in when needed but I'm really enjoying this and eager to hear Ava and C.I. again. I'm on the phone so, just out of curiousity, how are they handing off to each other?

Rebecca: When one of them winds down speaking, as they're on the last sentence, they nod to each other. And on that, I'm tossing back to them. Ava?

Ava: The press conference was so offensive. Now the woman who should have been speaking wasn't the increasingly chubby Ellie Smeal. Why was she there? There was no reason for it and to hear her weak ass non-mea culpa just underscored that. Ellie Smeal got in bed with the Bush administration and helped bring the world the Afghanistan War.

C.I.: And yet, she couldn't get honest about that. She could just refer to meetings and how there were 'hopes.' Ellie, the hopes bit you in your fat ass. You're not supposed to be the leader of Hopey Town, you're supposed to live in the real world. In 2001, Ellie was smitten with George W. Bush, today's she's in love with Barack Obama. In both instances, women suffer. The press conference did not play like it was about helping Afghan women -- it played like it existed to promote the CIA's war that became a full blown one in 2001.

Ava: Exactly. The press conference existed to promote war and to provide cover. Just like Ellie Smeal did in 2001. Is trashy Ellie Smeal CIA? That was the question. Feminism is not about war. Feminism is about peace. If Ellie Smeal wants to go to war, she needs to enlist.

C.I.: Ellie's 'so glad,' she explained, that the foucs is back on Afghanistan where, in her opinion, it matters. And she's so very happy about the 60,000 US service members that will be stationed in Iraq. She's practically fingering herself with glee at the idea of a ramped up Afghanistan War.

Ava: And it's what matters, she explained. They matter, the Afghan women, and Iraq was a distraction, Ellie explained.

C.I.: Explained or spat into the face of Iraqi women? Iraqi women don't matter. They -- and the damage the US has done to their lives -- is a distraction. But Ellie's going to throw her big ole ass down and make sure we all pay attention to Afghan women and ingore Iraqi women.

Ava: Iraqi women don't matter because we have to 'save' Afghan women. We have to 'save' them and then, of course, we'll have to 'save' Iraqi women because we refuse to take seriously what has been done to their lives and what is being done to their lives.

C.I.: War is not a feminist value and Ellie Smeal has turned into a War Hawk. The Feminist Majority Foundation needed to call out the Afghanistan War but, just as they couldn't call out the cozying up to the Taliban talk, they couldn't call out that war that has accomplished nothing -- most wars don't -- unless the goal was to further destroy the lives of Afghanistan women. The thing to do was to argue for how improvements can be attempted for Afghanistan women and that wasn't possible.

Ava: Because doing so would have required repudiating the Afghanistan War. Would have called for demanding a timeline to end the Afghanistan War and made clear markers for what needed to be done prior to the withdrawal. Instead, Ellie Smeal used the Feminist Majority Foundation to put a happy smile on the administration. It was disgraceful.

C.I.: Both women disgraced themselves and the doctor was as bas as Smeal. They both worshiped Bush as 2001 wound down, today they worship Obama. It's a damn shame that old and old looking women can't act their age and learn the power in women as opposed to seeking to bask in the power of men.

Ava: Which brings us back to the emphasis Ellie placed on men. One Afghan man was worth more talk from Ellie than any Afghan women because, again, for Ellie it's not about women discovering their own power or using their own power. For Ellie, feminism is all about basking in the glow of a penis. She's a disgrace.

C.I.: And the Feminist Majority Foundation has done nothing to raise the awareness on Iraqi women. But they did spend the last few years promoting 'security' conferences with War Hawks. Females ones, you understand. NSA, CIA, those types. And they pretended that it was about 'security' and 'peace,' but all it was about was trying to whore feminism's good name out to promote more wars.

Wally: I'll jump in now because I was present for a group talk, where Ava and C.I. were talking to Afghanistan activists, women, this afternoon, and they were ticked. Ava and C.I. can't begin to explain how outraged the women are. There is huge, huge anger over that little stunt -- and I conisder it a stunt and agreed with the activist who said the press conference was fake and a put-on intended to promote Barack.

Rebecca: Okay. Kat, you were present and I was present too. Do you want to add anything to Wally said?Kat: He's right. I mean, there was just so much outrage, so much of a sense of betrayal -- that, yet again, Afghan women were being used by American women as pawns to push their own agendas. "Their own agendas" meaning American women's agendas. There was such huge outrage and let me note that the 'good' doctor is a War Hawk, she's been plugging war on the Sudan for some time.

Rebecca: That was the one point I was going to raise. You beat me to it. So the Feminist Majority Foundation made it clear that war is the answer -- thereby explaining why they refuse to demand an end to the Iraq War or to raise awareness on the plight of Iraqi women. Iraqi women suffer. In today's snapshot, an Iraqi woman who moved to Lebanon with her family after threats and the slaughter of her daughter, talks about what happened, how one day her daughter didn't come home from school, how she was kidnapped. How she was raped, tortured and murdered and then her body was dumped in the town to send a message. Any thoughts on that?

Stan: I watched that video and, first off, thanks to C.I. for the transcription in the snapshot and for linking to the video. I really everyone who can stream that video needs to do so. Those stories in the video . .. they'll tear you apart. For anyone who hasn't read the snapshot yet today, C.I.'s emphasizing the plight of Iraqi refugees. And I'm assuming one reason is because the disgusting Andrew White is trying to get back in the news on the backs of Iraq's religious minorities.

Marcia: I agree and want to add, I'm a racial minority. I don't know why anyone would be offended for being called a religious minority -- as Andrew White attempts to insist they are -- but I really don't care. I don't think it's true but I don't care regardless. Ruth, you're a religious minority. Is the phrase offensive to you?

Ruth: Not at all. I am Jewish, a religious minority. I have always known that. It is not a secret. I know the Jewish Iraqi population is now predominately refugees but I cannot imagine any of them being offended by being called a religious minority. We know we are, Jews know this. That is why it was so easy to round us up and target us during the Holocaust. And if I could go futher, Andrew White is responsible for one of Baghdad's many churches. It is the only Anglican church. He cannot speak for all of Iraq's religious minorities, he does not even know them. He is someone who truly needs to learn to stop issuing orders and start listening.

Cedric: For me, I have this entire host of issues regarding Andrew White including not being able to get over the fact that this War Cheerleader who was cheerleading in the leadup to the illegal war got money from the US government, from the Defense Dept, in 2008. Tax payer money. US tax payer money went to him. Are we going to find out tomorrow that our money in 2008 also went to pay Ahmed Chalabi?

Trina: Yeah. I, yeah. I agree completely, Cedric. What were they thinking? As C.I. points out, the Christian community in Iraq has more ties to the Catholic Church. That's what you've got in Baghad and Mosul and all over. Andrew White? He's responisble for what is the Church of England which only had one church in all of Iraq. Why the heck was US tax payer money going to him? He knows nothing about the situation, he doesn't leave the Green Zone -- expect when visiting his family in England for months at a time each year -- because his church is in the Green Zone. He's a huckster and no American tax payer dollars should have ever gone to him.

Rebecca: I want to toss out something C.I. floated in the snapshot today. Using Latin America as an example, the horrors inflicted on them by the US and the US proxies, C.I. talked about how they were able to lie, the US government and the media, and get away with it but today reality is widely known and one reason is due to the fact that the refugees surfaced around the world and told the truth.

Betty: I agree with that absolutely. C.I. was specifically talking about the world church community and I can remember being a young girl and we would have people from, El Salvador, for example, visit us and explain what had happened. I never really knew of the disinformation campaign by the government and the media until the 90s when I was reading a book. And, for any who don't know, I'm talking about a Black church, in Georgia. And we had many, many refugees come through to speak to us. And that is why I know about the death squads the US government backed, armed, trained and funded and the torture that was used and how CIA agents would be present for the torture but not do the actual torture because that could get them prosecuted. So they farmed it out but supervised the torture.

Marcia: I'm up north, African-American church, and we did and do get the survivors from regimes coming to share their stories. To be Black in America, my opinion, means to trace back to slaves so for our churches, it is about this adversity, it is about government cruelty and government abuses. That's what slavery was, that's what the death squads in El Salvador were. So when you have, for example, Christians from El Salvador speaking, it is going to register with our churches. And I do agree that it is the pipeline for the realities and will be the pipeline for the realities about what's really taken place in Iraq.

Mike: Let me jump in. I'm Catholic. Boston. And, we always have visitors come through and we do hear stories of abuses and horrors and I think it's that way across the country.

Kat: Catholic to Catholic, I'll jump in. California, Bay Area, my whole life, and, yes, and, yes, especially with Latin America which is a region with a large number of Catholics. We had a constant source of information -- even during the disinformation from Reagan and the media -- about what was taking place. Trina, would it be the same in Boston? Back during the eighties? I know Mike's talking about now. But back then?

Trina: Yes, completely. From the entire region, which the US was attempting to destabilize by backing groups like the contras. In terms of El Salvador, I can remember the first time, in Church, that we heard about Sister Ita Ford, Sister Maura Clark, Sister Dorothy Kazel and layworker Jean Donovan being murdered December 2, 1980. And we actually had a group speaking, two or three, to us when the news had hit that the murderers were being paroled. That was like 18 years later. There is very much a social network in America's churches -- of all religions. And that's as true on the right as it is on the left

Stan: There was another point floated and I liked it as well. Not all right-wing churches were for the war, in this country, for the Iraq War. But a number were and it's so great that they, as much as centrist churches and left churches, will be part of getting the truth out about what was done in Iraq. Bully Boy Bush installed fundamentalist thugs and in doing so created the slaughter of Christians in Iraq. He's never going to overcome that with most people as these stories are heard over the next years.

Cedric: Am I jumping in on anyone?

Rebecca: That was me, clearing my throat, go ahead, Cedric.

Cedric: I have to say I agree with Stan. This is the system that is going to get the word out for future generations. And the reason is, so few care about Iraq today. Look around the country, you'll see it's true. But Christians, American Christians, faced with tales of slaughter, Christian slaughter? That's going to be discussed and addressed and some churches will put it into a historical context and more end-of-times-types will see it as a sign and it's going to go across right and left and just really saturate the culture. George W. Bush, alleged Christian man, unleased a slaughter on Christians in Iraq. That's not forgotten and it will be the takedown on his legacy.

Wally: Because while the so-called 'alternative' media will rush to forget and hitchike to other causes, this will not go away within the American Christian community.

Rebecca: Mike and Elaine both spoke the least and Mike spoke more recently than Elaine so I'll toss to her for a close.

Elaine: I think the Jews have a legacy and they pass it on. I believe Muslims do the same. And I believe Christians do as well. When any of those groups are targeted -- and I'm sure this is true for other religious groups -- the targeting is taken personally worldwide and it becomes part of the religion's narrative. Iraqi Christians were targeted and this is now folded into the larger struggles that Christians have gone through at other times. The same for Iraqi Jews and Iraqi Muslims -- who, of course, were also targeted.

Rebecca: Alright. That's the end of the roundtable. This is a rush transcript.

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Iraq snapshot
Friday, March 27, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the largest refugee crisis in the world continues, Odierno raises a concern regarding Kirkuk, KBR's back in hot water, and more.

War Hawk and Professional Liar Andrew White shows up today at the Telegraph of London to remind that some collars are dirty -- extremely dirty. He tosses around various 'facts' but after getting caught out lying in a public hearing about the number of Jews in Iraq (he claimed they were all gone when he knew that was a lie -- what he didn't know was that reporters were present, he threw a fit when he learned out his 'testimony' was on the public record) we'll ignore any claims he make that don't have to do with his own self-serving and fat ass: "I am a minority here in saying that the war had to happen and Saddam had to be removed, but I was here in Iraq before the last war. I saw the fear and debauchery of the regime. I still do not denounce the war, but what happened afterwards was worse than terrible. It was awful for all but particularly for those groups who are small in number. I do not call them minorities because they themselves object to that term. It does not mater if they are Mandeans, Yazidees, Turkman, Fali Kurds or Christians -- they have all suffered, been marginalised and forgotten by the masses." You'd think that in so short a passage, White could be quoted without lying but that's underestimating him. He uses the term "minorities" all the time to describe them. He did so at speaking before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in July of 2007. He did so throughout 2008 and did so promoting that bad book that the entire world avoided. (To read his blog post in full is to assume he spends every day in Iraq. That's not true. He has a wife and kids and stays with them regularly . . . in England.) It's really cute that he wants to claim the illegal war was worth it while noting explaining publicly how much it was worth . . . to him personally. Not just from his blood-money soaked books but the US Defense Department gave him their own version of Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes last year and he cashed it, he banked it. All that money -- all that US tax payer money -- funneled to his own personal Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East and where's the improvement? Where's the advance for Iraqi Christians? There is none.

Things are worse now for Iraqi Chrisitans than they were last year. Every year they get worse but Andrew White got a pay day and that's what really matters . . . to him. And anyone who knows even a little about the culture in Iraq would have grasped White wasn't just an outsider, he was an outsider who could never bridge the gap with larger Iraqi culture. It went far beyond him being a Christian. But despite all the anthropologists like Monty McFate the DoD puts on their payroll (or maybe because of those idiots) no one ever grasped that reality. Andrew White can't speak to Iraqis. And that includes but is not limited to the fact that he can't speak Arabic or Aramaic. He speaks English. And the US Defense Department decided to throw away tax payer money on him? That's insane. It's equally insane that as late as 2008, the government was giving money to someone who advocated for the Iraq War in the lead up and made predictions that never came to pass (easy, brief war). Andrew White is a menace to the planet and his vanity organization has never accomplished a damn thing. He tries to present himself as speaking for all of Iraq's Christian minorities and the reality is that he doesn't. The Catholic Church speaks for more of Iraqi Christian population and White can't speak for them either, he's Church of England -- created so Henry V could get a divorce. All of the Christian churches in Iraq (in 2003 and in today) and only one church (Baghdad's St. George's Church) was Anglican. No, White never represented or spoke for most Iraqi Christians or other religious minorities. DPA reported last night, "In the second such killing in as many days, police on Thursday said they had found the body of another member of the minority Yezidi sect murdered near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Police said the man had been shot in the head and in the chest, and that his body was found in the Bashiqa district east of Mosul". Again, no change, no improvement.

Sahar S. Gabriel is one of the Iraqis employed by the New York Times and she noted this week (at the paper's Baghdad Bureau Blog), in contrast to Andy White, "We didn't like him [Saddam] much but he protected the Christians in Iraq, though we did not know to what extent. We didn't know what kind of evils were waiting for us when he wasn't ruling. Not that I am saying in any way that we want him back or that he was our savior. Before 2003 we never really heard of the Islamist movements which became so powerful later. We weren't aware that there were people who would target Christians. I had never even heard of the Sadr family. I had never heard of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, the Badr Brigades." This video by Beirut, Lebanon's Chaldean Church traces the attacks on Iraqi Christians and starts the timeline with a demand that the cross on St. John the Baptist Church in Baghdad and other demands as well as removals, followed by bombings. At some point, the US will have to answer for what happened. The US decided to push the Shi'ite thugs -- the ones Sahar S. Gabriel's explaining she had never heard of -- and promote them. Thugs were easier to pay off and wink-wink 'keep the peace'. What laws may prevent you from doing, thugs will gladly carry out. There were techoncrats, secularists, academics, etc. in Iraq. It was not the fundamentalist nation-state it's becoming. But the US backed the fundamentalists and you either left the country or you went along (at least publicly) with the thugs. That's the story of the illegal war and occupation and while a large number of people may think it can be denied the reality is it cannot. It cannot be buried or hidden because Christians around the world will not allow it to be. That's the fact that the Bully Boy Bush White House wasn't aware of, didn't grasp. Watch the video, see (yet again) the comparisons of what's happening to Iraqi Christians to what was done to Christians in earlier times. Grasp that this is a very personal issue and that demands for answers will come. Long after this falls out of the headlines, long after the illegal war is over, Iraqi Christians will still be entering other countries and they will be telling their stories. The US (under Carter -- yes, St. Jimmy -- and Reagan) thought they could get away with some of the worst human rights crimes in Latin America. And they might have. But the stories were and are told. And though the US media looked the other way or outright supported these assaults in real time, the realities are known today. And those stories reached the wider audience via the refugees and the church groups. Despite the fact that Bully Boy Bush courted and won some support from US Christians for his illegal war at the onset (there were vocal Chrisian leaders and churches in the US against the planned Iraq War), it is this same community, this same network that will spend the next decades getting the reality out on the slaughters the US invasion brought about.

The video features (you can also click here if you have any problems with the first link) an Iraqi family telling their story. The mother worked for their church and the father ran a liquor store. Those were the family's 'crimes.' And for that, their daughter was raped, tortured and killed.

Viviane's mother: They used to go to school together [her two daughters]. On that day her sister was sick and returned at nine from school, but Viviane stayed there. She usually returns at one p.m. She didn't show up, so I started to worry. I said maybe she stopped at her friends who live nearby. So I went to them and asked why didn't Viviane come back home? They said "there was a black Opel, which blocked our way, as we were getting back from school, with four gunmen in it. Two of them stepped out and grabbed Viviane threatening us with their machine guns and ordering us to go directly home. Then they left with Viviane, kidnapped." I heard all that and started beating myself. I returned home and notified my parents and my father-in-law. We waited for a phone call to find out what they wanted. At seven p.m. they called and I asked them whether they wanted money or anything else. They answered, "No, we don't want money. We want to break your heart because we consider her father a traitor." And he hung up. My brother tried to dial back their number but they didn't answer. Five, six days passed by. On the seventh day at six a.m. some young men from the neighborhood came by screaming. They said, "There is a dead girl thrown in the square and we fear she might be your daughter." Everyone in the area knew that our daughter was kidnapped. We all went there running. We saw her. They had covered her with a bed sheet. Her chest was all burnt. Her face disfigured. She was disfigured, raped many times and tortured. She had been bleeding to death. We made the arrangements for the funeral and buried her in our village.

If you're able to stream, the video has captioning. You'll be able to watch the way discussing the brutal assault on Viviane still pains the family. Viviane's sister explains, "I want to study and become like all other children. Not like what I am doing now: go to work from early morning till late at night. And we see nothing but humilitation. This one shouts at you from here, another one from there . . . why? We have no hope in this life. We want nothing but go to school." Viviane's mother adds, "We are destroyed. We are destroyed. We are finished. One would describe this as a slow death. We came here to die slowly. Die a little bit each day." That's only one

Iraqi man: My brother-in-law was killed. He owned a liquor store. They caught him for 18 days and asked for a ransom of fifty-thousand dollars. His brother bargained with them to make it thirty. He went on April 6, the day of my wedding, to give them the money. At nine o'clock, they took the money and killed him. We thought they would release him. We waited 2, 3 days but after two weeks we found him killed, shot nine times. He was married and had seven children. I used to work with him in the liquor store. The Mahdi Army came every month to threaten me. I couldn't take it and I left after four month. They used to send me a message each month: a bullet in an envelope asking me to surrender and become Muslim otherwise they would kill me and my family

Genevieve Pollock (Zenit) interviews missionaries Diane and Hank McCormick who are in Northern Iraq. Hank explains, "Thousands of Catholics have arrived in Northern Iraq over the past three years. In a two-moth period, more than 10,000 families were displaced from Mosul alone, and resettled in the Dioceses of Alquoch. Catholics have experienced forced immigration twice in their lives. Early in the Saddam regime they were forcibly moved from their Kurdish villages and relocated to Baghdad and Mosul. Over the 30 years of the regime, those families made Baghdad or Mosul their home. With the collapse of the regime, and the civil violence that followed, Catholic families became victims of religious persecution and financial extortion. They were murdered, kidnapped, and threatened with their lives." The McCormicks intend to stay in Iraq for the near future:

Q: You are planning to live in Iraq for the next few years to help the Church. Why? Hank: The present population has survived decades of terror and violence under Saddam, a war with Iran, two Gulf wars, an international embargo, and the ensuing chaos that followed the fall of Saddam's regime. Today, amidst 28 million Muslim Iraqis there stand no more than 700,000 Iraqi Christians -- of whom almost 70% are Catholics. They have begun to rebuild their communities. They have begun to piece back together their lives in a new era of hope. We will be honored and blessed to contribute in any way possible to help the Catholics in Iraq preserve their traditions and their presence in their homeland. Iraq is a great place. There are great religious sites and archeological sites to visit, and there is much to do. Iraqis are friendly and welcoming. We would like to help promote economic opportunity, create bridges between the Eastern Churches and the Church in the West, and participate in Christian-Islamic dialogue. Q: How can the international Catholic community help the Church in Northern Iraq? What can motivate them to do this? Diane: Bishops and priests from the Catholic Church in the United States and other countries can travel to Northern Iraq to see the situation first hand, and then share that knowledge. Delegations from England and France have already visited, and Germany has made arrangements to go. Catholic businessmen, investors, and economic experts can tour the area, and make recommendations on development and economic opportunities. Parishes around the world can participate in the Adopt-a-Parish program. This program will connect Catholic parishes inside Iraq with Catholic parishes in the rest of the world.

AFP reports on Armenian Christians in Iraq and notes, "Their main church in Central Baghdad's Tehran Square holds documents as old as 1636. At least 45 Aermenians have been killed in the post-Saddam years of rampant inusrgency, sectarian warfare and often unbridled crime, while another 32 people have been kidnapped for ransom, two of whom are still missing." Armenian Christians in Iraq are estimated to number 12,000. In the US,
Dolores Fox Ciardelli (California's Danville Weekly) reports on Sister Diana Momeka, a Dominican nun from Baghdad, speaking to Catholics at Work, "Americans see stories of towns returning to normal, markets opening and people shopping for their daily groceries but the sense of everyday angst, uncertainty and fear are not seen in the stories." From Fox Ciardelli's article:

"In the late '90s to 2003 everyone said there would be war," she recalled. "Then on March 29, I was sleeping and the blast of bombing started." "We were happy that freedom would come," she said, "but we did not know the consequences." She was attending the University of Mosul and every day she would see bodies on the road. "They could not pick up the bodies or they'd get killed," she explained. Kidnapping also became prevalent. One of her brothers, a mechanic, was sitting in front of his shop and three men came and shot him with 30 bullets. "A neighbor said they shot him because he was a Christian. The men had tried to convert him to Islam," she said. "He left four teenagers and a wife, 39. The oldest was 15, and they started to work." She also lost four cousins, some killed by terrorists, others by U.S. soldiers. "One cousin was kidnapped for 40 days, and U.S. soldiers released him," she said. "They found him in the mud, half dead." She also fears because education, which was good before 2003 and cost nothing, has been interrupted. "It's very dangerous," she said. "If you don't have an education, you will be miserable." Sister Diana has been living in the United States for three years and relishes each day free from fear. "In Iraq, when people leave in the morning they don't know if they will come back," she said. "People see their children dying and they don't have medicine. You go to a hospital and there are no doctors." She told stories of a priest being kidnapped, a Christian woman raped in front of her husband and him being set free to tell the tale. She told about Islamic terrorists making Christians leave their homes. "They say, 'You have three choices. You can get killed, convert to Islam, or leave without anything,'" she said. "The people close to me left with nothing."

Last week, Germany accepted a small number (122) of Iraqi refugees from Syria. This AP story has photos of their airport arrival. Der Spiegel estimates the 122 were 60% Christian, 15% Muslim and 15% Mandaen. (That only adds up to 90% -- address your questions to Der Spiegel.) Der Spiegel notes:

The refugees include people like Rita, who once owned a hair salon but had to give it up after receiving death threats. She lived a life of fear until, like many other Christians, she fled the country with her family. Now she has nothing to return to -- her house has been occupied and her neighborhood has been "ethnically cleansed."
Rita's father was kidnapped because he is a Christian. His wife searched for him for one month and then fled to Syria. Police freed him after eight weeks, but it took him nine months to find out where his family had gone.
Indeed, many of the Iraqi refugees survived horrible events and are traumatized. Sixteen-year-old Muhanad, for example, was kidnapped on his way to school at the age of 14. His kidnappers held him captive until his parents were able to raise $10,000 in ransom by selling jewellery and getting help from other family members. They took the money and dumped the boy in the street with two broken legs. "I cried for two weeks, but now everything is okay, " he says. Muhanad's family belongs to a Mandaean minority group, which like Christians and Yazidis, became the target of terrorism early on.
His family used to be well off -- they had two cars and his father, an engineer, sometimes worked for German companies. But the threat of terror grew. After US soldiers searched his family's house, masked men arrived and accused them of being informants. Fleeing the country was unavoidable. All the family now has as a momento of their past lives is an envelop full of family photographs.

Last month, Ann Jones offered "Iraq's Invisible Refugees" (The Nation) about Iraq's refugee crisis which has resulted in over two million external refugees:

On May 6, 2007, two men in black visited the Baghdad house Imad shared with his parents and younger sister. It stood in a mixed neighborhood where, for as long as Imad can remember, Sunni and Shiite Muslim families lived side by side with Christian and Sabaean Mandaean families like his own. The visitors invited Imad's father to the neighborhood mosque to become a Muslim. If he failed to do so within three days, they said, he would be killed.
The family stayed indoors for five days, not knowing even if the visitors and the mosque were Sunni or Shiite. Such things had never mattered before. Then Imad's father, daring to carry on with life, went with his daughter to the market to buy food. Three masked men were waiting for him in a car. He told the girl to run. She heard the shots that killed her father. After the funeral, Imad left for Syria to find refuge. The family, including Imad's older brother, his wife and two young children, reunited in Damascus within days.

With over four million (some estimates are six million) internal and external refugees, Iraq is the global refugee crisis. At Wednesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Chris Hill for Ambassador to Iraq, chair John Kerry listed six issues the next US Ambassador to Iraq would have to focus on. From that list, "Fifth, addressing refugees and internally displaced persons. Millions of Iraqis -- perhaps as many as one in six -- have been forced to flee. The unwillingness or inability of the vast majority to return to their homes is an indicator of Iraq's continuing instability and a potential source of future conflict. Iraqi's religious and ethnic minorities are particularly at risk. This is a problem that will only grow worse if it is not addressed." Despite Kerry raising that issue and despite Senator Bob Casey Jr. also raising it later in the hearing, it wasn't a deep concern on the part of Chris Hill as evidenced by his disinterest in discussing the issue.

Bob Casey noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Iraqi refugees this Tuesday and noted the "enormous numbers" and that it was "very important that we focus on" the refugee crisis. Hill tossed out a brief, mealy statement and had more to say about his son serving in Iraq (in Defense Intelligence). And then wanted to joke that he hoped he hadn't revealed anything top secret. In his prepared remarks (which he read word for word to the Committee despite being asked to summarize them), he mentions refugees once, in a subordinate clause of a sentence. [Once in five typed page -- click here for PDF version of letter.] This week Government Accountability Office's study entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight" which notes:

Despite security improvements, UNHCR has reported that conditions are not yet suitable for the safe return of Iraqi refugees, and most refugees that do return are settling in areas controlled by their particular sect. According to the Department of State (State), the United States has recognized the need to take the lead in mitigating the effects of this humanitarian crisis. As the administration further defines its plan for Iraq, it will need to consider how best to support the Iraqi government and the international community in addressing the needs of Iraqis displaced within Iraq, as well as those who have fled to neighboring countries.
[. . .]
The U.S. government and UNHCR face challenges offering lasting solutions for Iraqi refugees. According to UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution, but conditions in Iraq are not yet suitable for Iraqis to return. The Iraqi government has cited improvements in security and offered financial incentives to returning families, but there is no clear trend on the number of Iraqis returning to or leaveing Iraq. Difficulties renewing visas, lack of funds, and limited access to employment and public services affect Iraqis' decisions to stay in or return to Iraq. Another solution is resettlement in the host countries, though Jordan and Syria consider Iraqi refugees "guests" who should return to Iraq once the security situation improves. Resettlement to a third country is another option, according to State. The U.S. government has made progress resettling Iraqis under its U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In 2007, the United States admitted 1,608 Iraqi refugees but did not achieve State's expectation of admitting 2,000 to 3,000 refugees; however, the U.S. government surpassed its fiscal year 2008 goal of 12,000 witht he admission of 13,823 Iraqi refugees. According to UNHCR, as of September 30, 2008, other countries resettled 5,852 Iraqi refugees in calendar years 2007 through 2008.
A related issue for Congress to consider is the plight of Palestinian Iraqis who have been living mostly uner very harsh conditions, in three refugee camps in Syria and Iraq for about 3 years. As of December 31, 2008, about 2,540 refugees remained in these camps. About 446 camp refugees were resettled in 2007 and 2008, mostly in Chile and Europe. According to UNHCR, during the fall of 2008, Australia, Canada, the United States, and several European countries expressed interest in resettling these refugees.

On the last category, Nicholas Keung (Toronto Star) reports that Canada has set no refugee spots aside for the Iraqi Palestinians, "Canadian refugee advocates claim Ottawa has excluded Palestinian refugees in camps at the Syria-Iraq border from its government-assisted resettlement program for displaced asylum seekers." And we'll end the refugee discussion today by returning to Sahar S. Gabriel. The US accepts far too few Iraqi refugees and has yet to show any 'change' on that with the new administration. The target goals (reached only once by the previous administration) need to be raised and the process needs to be streamlined. Gabriel has been accepted and she writes at Baghdad Bureau of some of her hopes for what she'll find in the United States:

I have always wanted to study in an American university. Somewhere I don't have to beg and grovel to check a book out, or where you can't go to the library because it doesn't have electricity.
I want to go to a place where your university semantics instructor doesn't start telling you - as mine did in Baghdad - that Darwin must have been mad, and a blasphemer, for thinking that we were descended from apes.
We are Christians, we too have a verse in our Bible saying that God made us in his image. But as a scholar you have to have a place where you allow such doubts. This wasn't even her subject, but she had to have her two cents worth.
I remember I turned to my friend, because I had an exclamation mark all over my face. But she was nodding approval. I felt like an alien. I am definitely not in my place. My friend wasn't into religion so much that she would agree on religious grounds. Maybe she was agreeing because everyone else was. I wanted very much to say something, but I couldn't. I was the instructor's best student and I didn't want to lose that. Anyway I wouldn't voice such thoughts anywhere in Iraq, because you learn to keep quiet, to keep those things to yourself.

It's a Friday, not much violence gets reported on Fridays. Reuters notes three events from Thursday which were only reported today: a Mosul grenade attack which injured a father and son, a Samarra bombing which injured four employees of the electricity ministry and that Abdul-Kareem Juma was shot dead in Jalawla and his son was injured in the shooting as well.

Yesterday's Baghdad car bombing has really exposed Iraqi anger in Baghdad. See Anthony Shadid's "After Bombing, Iraqi Police Face Local Ire" (Washington Post) where the police whine about the reaction of Iraqi citizens and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explains, "The bombing rattled public confidence in government efforts to promote an atmosphere of business as usual, with three world leaders visiting Baghdad this week. The blast, which also wounded more than 45 people, called into question just how safe Baghdad is these days." Campbell Robertson (New York Times) notes the anger (and he was quoted on that in yesterday's snapshot) but also reports today that the provincial elections -- held January 31st in 14 of Iraqi's 18 provinces -- are finally ratified and that the provinces will get the results Sunday. On those elections, Larry Kaplow (Newsweek) offers an 'analysis' of Iraq's political situation currently -- we're back to provincial elections -- and he has some strong points and some incredibly weak ones. Weak? Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in provincial elections so therefore he was not a "winner." His party didn't do amazingly well, but he wasn't even a candidate. At some point, American writers are going to have to learn the names -- and how to spell them -- of politicians in other countries but that day's apparently not arrived yet. He notes tensions from "Kurdish leaders" and they do exist but he appears to draw some line from provincial elections to these tensions and that's not accurate. More to the point, the Kurdistan Regional Government DID NOT hold provincial elections January 31st. They're due to hold them in May. And, no, Nouri is not expected to be a 'winner' because he's not on the ticket but his party is also not expected to do well. Here's where Kaplow mixes insight and ignorance most generously:Though their numbers in the provincial councils are now lower, the Kurds, ISCI and the Iraqi Islamic Party are still formidable in the parliament (which is not up for election until January) and are supposedly discussing ways to curb Maliki's burgeoning power. One way would be to hold a no-confidence vote that could turn Maliki into a weakened, caretaker prime minister. But that could also backfire, allowing Maliki to blame his opponents for the government's failure to provide services, like electricity and water. The parliament could also try to invoke more of its powers to examine and investigate the prime minister's offices. It already cut his budget. Any of this could be alarming to American officials, since it could cause paralysis and friction as U.S. troops begin to pull out. To keep his momentum, Maliki has clearly been seeking to broaden his alliances. After using government forces last spring to pound into submission illegal militias led by renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, he has been reaching out to Sadrist politicians in parliament, negotiating top ministry positions he could offer to their partisans. To keep his momentum? No. That is a complete misunderstanding of the Parliamentary system and the parties participating and appears to confuse provincial results with the Parliament. Provincial elections (in 14 of 18 provinces) were the equivalent of electing, in Colorado, people to the state Congress, your state legislature. Parliament is the equivalent of the US Congress. The two are not related. There is a similarity in that -- as with Parliament -- provincial councils will be ruled by coalitions. That's because it's a multi-party system and coalitions are necessary to claim a 'majority.' al-Maliki's had to have coalitions since the US installed him -- coalitions in Parliament.Kaplow wants to argue that deals can be made at the provincial council level that will result in Parliamentary support. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December (though they may or may not take place then). No one but a political idiot of an incumbent in Parliament is going to go along with some deal crafted for the provincial council. It's like your own state legislature telling you that s/he will get your US senator to do something -- it's a promise that can be legitimately made. At any time. But especially not when Parliamentary elections are months away and (see earlier points above) the Iraqi people have been repeatedly told 'security' is here and it's not. They have the anger of the voters to deal with, they don't have time for horse-trading done at a local level with no real benefits to them. (And no member of a provincial council can promise that Parliament will agree not to move to a no-confidence vote on Nouri. S/he has no vote in Parliament. You can't promise a vote that's not your own.

Though public support for the Kurds continues in the US government, it has been noticed that the support is now most vocal from the Congress and not the administration -- surprising considering both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's statements regarding the Kurds role in Iraq ("crucial" role) when the two were serving in the US Senate. This week saw strong statements of support from US Senator Russ Feingold, among others. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) interviewed Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, "In an exclusive interview with NPR, Gen. Ray Odierno says a brewing dispute in the oil-rich north could lead to renewed instability if left unresolved." As noted in Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots, Chris Hill showed zero grasp of the Kirkuk situation.

Turning to England where this week it was announced that a public inquiry into the Iraq War will take place after July 31st. Only it might not be public. And no one's sure when after July 31st it would take place -- maybe August 1, 2025? The Times of London -- the paper that published and covered the Downing St. Memos, the Guardian didn't, the New York Times didn't -- has drawn up a series of questions they feel should be posed in the inquiry. The questions include:

Was the Government of Tony Blair determined to go to war with Iraq alongside the United States irrespective of the intelligence evidence on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme? There is circumstantial evidence that by the midsummer of 2002 -- several months before the publication of the WMD dossier in September -- President Bush had the implicit support of Mr Blair for an invasion
Was the British Government locked in with the Americans to the idea of getting rid of Saddam? Was this the true goal of the invasion, supported by the UK? Jack Straw, as Foreign Secretary at the time, denied that regime change was the reason for the planned invasion. He said that provided the WMD were found and destroyed, there was no reason why Saddam could not continue as leader of Iraq. But there can be no doubt that Mr Bush would never have agreed, which was why US forces drove all the way to Baghdad
How genuinely convinced was the Blair Government that Saddam had a huge stockpile of WMD and that he would order his troops to fire chemical and biological weapons at the invading forces? Belief in the intelligence was sufficiently strong for Major-General Robin Brims, commander of 26,000 British combat troops, to warn his men that Saddam might turn to nonconventional warfare once they had passed a "red line" in southern Iraq

Also in the UK, Shan Ross (The Scotsman) reports that the five British citizens held hostage in Iraq since being kidnapped in May 2007 may be freed shortly, stating that "a deal has been struck".

Meanwhile, in the United States, Paul J. Weber (AP) reports that Sam Marcos commissioners are rethinking using KBR after two Iraq War veterans, Bryan Hannah and Gregory Foster, spoke out at a commissioner's court meeting against the war profiteer KBR which stands accused of intentionally exposing US troops in Iraq to carcinogenics and of doing such a poor job in their building of US facilities in Iraq that showering becomes a hazard for US service members. On the latter point, Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein (CNN) report on the deadly showers KBR constructed which have claimed the lives of at least 18 US service members since 2003 and they quote "master electrician and the top civilian expert in an Army safety survey," Jim Childs explaining of the work KBR did, "It was horrible -- some of the worst electrical work I've ever seen." January 2, 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was killed as he showered in Iraq and his mother, Cheryl Harris, tells Robin Acton (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) that, "We're playing Russian roulette with their lives every time they step into a shower." Cheryl Harris also points out "that 65,000 facilities still need to be inspected. It's been 15 months and the CID (Army Criminal Investigation Division has not closed its investigation. All I want is accountability, so these guys have a safe place to shower." On the 65,000 facilities not inspected, AP quotes Senator Bob Casey stating, "Just imagine getting the news that they've done 25,000 facilities, but your son or daughter is in the 65,000 they haven't done."

Turning to public TV, tonight (on most PBS stations, check local listings), NOW on PBS examines immigration. On Washington Week, Gwen sits down with NYT's Peter Baker, Slate's John Dickerson, Jeanne Cummings and Washington Post's Spencer Hsu. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
The Internet Is InfectedLesley Stahl reports on computer viruses that propagate on the Internet and infect PCs, which enable their creators – often called cyber gangs – to learn the information they need to electronically rob bank accounts. Watch Video
PoisonedThe African lion, already down as much as 85 percent in numbers from just 20 years ago, is now in danger of becoming extinct because people are poisoning them with a cheap American pesticide to protect their cattle herds. Bob Simon reports. Watch Video
LeBronSteve Kroft profiles the Cleveland Cavalier's superstar, LeBron James, who at only 24, is already among an elite handful of athletes who command tens of millions a year in playing and marketing fees. Watch VideoADDED: Also on PBS (program begins airing tonight, check local listings for date and time in your area), The New Agenda's Amy Siskind appears on Bonnie Erbe's To The Contrary. After NOW's Kim Gandy embarrassed herself last week (as did Eleanor Holmes Norton, see "The Katrina goes to . . .") acting as a film critic (who didn't know the plot of the film she was critiquing) and pimping the concept that the only woman who should have a baby was a woman legally married to a man -- no, that's not feminism -- Amy Siskind's appearance should be a huge improvement.

iraqcnnabbie boudreauscott bronsteinrobin acton
60 minutescbs newsnow on pbspbsto the contrarybonnie erbeamy suskind
the washington postanthony shadidmcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudi
nprall things consideredlourdes garcia-navarrolarry kaplowthe new york timescampbell robertson

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Starlet Barack














Since it was little covered and since what coverage there was missed or (Spency Akerman) distorted the exchange, let's start by dropping back to yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Chris Hill to be Ambassador to Iraq.   A key exchange was the following between Senator Jim Webb and Hill. 
Senator Jim Webb: That being said, I just burned two minutes backing you up here, Ambassador Hill, and I got something I want to get clarified and it's something that's been concerning me for well over a year and that is the nature of the Strategic Framework Agreement and the SOFA agreement in Iraq and what our obligation actually is. And have you read those two agreements?
Chris Hill: Yes I have.
Senator Jim Webb: I-I read them last fall when they were, I think, wrongly categorized as "restricted information" -- where you had to go to a room to read a couple of documents that were not even classified because the previous administration, in my view, was trying to keep this issue away from the public debate.  I re-read them again, about ten days ago, and I'm an old-legislative-council, words are very important to me.  You've been through this many times and I also notice in your  testimony and in the phraseology that's now being used we're talking -- you are talking, the administration is talking more about the drawing down of forces rather than the withdrawal of forces.  And I think -- I think that's a pretty important distinction when looking at the verbage in this agreement.  My concern is this: I was among a number of people -- the chairman [John Kerry], I know, also was, Vice President [Joe] Biden was one -- who was saying an agreement of such magnitude should have had the approval of the United States Congress.  Whether or not it was raised to the level of a treaty, it certainly should have had the approval of the United States Congress.  It required the approval of the Iraqi Parliament.  And yet because of all the machinations and the presidential campaign, the business of the Congress, this agreement was basically done through executive signatories.  It wasn't brought before the Congress at all.  Now if you go and read this agreement -- and this is, if you're not familiar enough in detail to give me an answer today, I really would like to hear what the administration thinks.  If you read this agreement in toto -- if you take Articles 2, 24, 27 and 30 and read them with the defintional phrases against each other, there really seems to be quite loose language when we're talking about a full withdrawal by the end of 2011. Just very briefly and I appreciate that the chairman will allow me a possibly couple of minutes over [overlapping, Commitee Chair John Kerry tells him to take the time he needs] but hopefully not.  In the "Defintion of Terms" a "member of the United States forces" means any member who is a member of the United States Army, Navy, Airforce, Marine Corps.  Any individual.  Now if you read that against Article 24, I'm not going to go into detail through all the phraseology, it says, "All United States forces shall withdraw from Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011."  I -- I am of the understanding, although I was not a participant, that that at one time said all United States forces "must withdraw" but now says "shall withdraw" -- "All United States forces shall withdraw no later than December 31, 2011."  If you then look at Article 27 there are two fairly lengthy paragraphs that I'm not going to quote in total but they basically talk about if there is any external or internal threat to Iraqi soverignty, political independence -- some very loose language -- that we will take appropriate measures. And it also says there will be close cooperation training, equipping, etc.  And finally, if you read all of that against Article 30, it says -- and this is important because of the way we came to this agreement -- it's important to me, anyway, as a legislature:  "This agreement shall be amended only with the official agreement of the parties in writing and in accordance with the Constitutional procedures in effect in both countries."  Well the argument can now be made that, since the Congress was not a part of the approval of the document, that an executive agreement, a signature in the same form as the way this agreement was signed, could basically say "Okay, we're not going to be out of there by December 2011. December 31, 2011"  And in listening to the discussions with respect to residual forces and this sort of thing, I -- I'm not really hearing clearly that it's the intention of the administration to have a complete withdrawal of all United States forces by December 31, 2011. Would you comment on that?
Chris Hill: First of all, with respect to commenting on the specifics of the -- of the  agreement, I would I would rather get back to you with a considered answer.  Words matter on this.  And this is the fundamental document that is the basis for our having forces in Iraq today so --
Senator Jim Webb: So the question really to come back to us on is: "Is it the position of the administration that we will withdraw all American military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011? All?"

Chris Hill: That is -- that is our -- that is the position as I understand it.  Now I understand, too, that this will  this will be in continued consultations but my understanding is that, uh, it is the position that we will withraw all forces by December 31, 2011.
Senator Jim Webb: I very much appreciate that answer.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This is what had little Spency juking in his shorts as he heavy-panted, "that's a flat declaration."  No, it's not and it actually goes to an issue Spency's mocked and made fun of.  The GOP's argument is that they are concerned by what was said by Hill in previous testimony and Senator Sam Brownback feels he was misled by Hill in Congressional testimony.  (See yesterday's snapshot.)   If the position of the adminstration is as Webb fears (and I believe it is based on comments from and arguments with friends serving in the administration) and Hill is held accountable for stating "That is -- that is our -- that is the position as I understand it.  Now I understand, too, that this will  this will be in continued consultations but my understanding is that, uh, it is the position that we will withraw all forces by December 31, 2011."; Hill will come back and say, "Well, I also said before that I didn't know and words matter."  Yes, Hill said that before.  That is correct.  And I don't believe Webb is confused on this issue.
But that goes to what has bothered Brownback.  You can comb through Hill's testimony, his remarks specifically to Brownback while Hill served in the previous adminsitration, and technically Hill has told the truth.  Technically.  But he has misrepresented -- intentionally or not -- because he gives a sloppy presentation.  Now we've remarkded yesterday on how sad/appalling it was that a nominee for an ambassadorship to another country showed up for a Senate hearing without combing his hair (prior to the hearing, at the start of the hearing or even during it -- anytime would have been helpful) and that goes to his sloppy presentation.  But does he intend to be so sloppy?  Does he just not think it matters for him to comb his hair (click here for an example of one huge twig sticking out in the back)?  Does he just not think it matters for him to speak clearly?
On the last question, if he does think it is important to speak clearly, his first reply should have stood.  Hill said, "First of all, with respect to commenting on the specifics of the -- of the  agreement, I would I would rather get back to you with a considered answer.  Words matter on this.  And this is the fundamental document that is the basis for our having forces in Iraq today so --" Hill doesn't know the answer.  That's clear from that statement.  But, as with Brownback, Hill couldn't stick with a solid reply.  Instead he offers comments that are speculation -- and the way he speaks, his speaking manner, during that section, it's clear he's speculating.  If push comes to shove, Hill will point to that first reply ("First of all . . .") and state that he wasn't sure and words matter. 
Throughout the hearing Hill contradicted himself non-stop.  Sometimes he was threatening Iran, sometimes he was talking about how important it was for Iran and Iraq to get along.  Hill is incredibly sloppy.  I have no idea if -- as was asked yesterday -- Condi Rice yelled at him for a North Korea related issue but he has a reputation of being very sloppy of ignoring the directives because he picks from them to choose what he thinks is important.  And what happens when his ranked importance wasn't ranked as highly by higher up in the State Dept?  He would state he'd misunderstood the directive.  [A new GAO report will address a few paragraphs down notes that "the Administration has emphasized the importance of a responsible drawdown of U.S. forces but has not yet defined this term."  Hill's testimony didn't either.] 
Not one, not twice.  This is a repeat pattern and why is the Congress not being told of that?  Hill's sloppy.  I had no opinion of his nomination (as Ava's noted, she and I lobbied friends in the adminstration on behalf of several women to be the US Ambassador to Iraq -- the women we lobbied for were all qualified and would have, by their gender alone, sent a message that needs to be sent when the US has already installed a group of sexist thugs to run Iraq).  I'd stated before that he was qualified though maybe not for Iraq.  Yesterday's hearing and comments that followed after from friends at the State Dept?  He's not qualified.  Do I think he'll be confirmed?  Probably.  But his work habits are as sloppy and as poor as his grooming.  And we'll go on the record right now, while everyone else is silent and wants to play like Hill's qualified, stating he is not qualified.  Congress doesn't need someone who will mislead them -- intentionally or not -- and the White House does not need someone who will take the directive and then determine what he wants to do.  Iraq doesn't need it.  The exchange with Webb underscored Brownback's objection for anyone paying attention.  
Back to Spency Ackerman the Democratic Cheerleader on the public dime.  I'm not really sure that "This Is the Hill Sam Brownback Wants to Die On" qualifies for reporting in commercial publishing. But it is not in keeping -- none of Spency's 'reporting' is -- with their 501 (c) (3) non-profit tax status.  When the day comes -- and it will, it may be ten years or more, but it will come -- that the Republicans have control of one or both houses, look for some of these 'non-profits' that self-describe as 'independent' and 'non-partisan' (and have to in order to be granted that tax status) to come under investigation.  As they should.  You don't cheat the tax payers by being wink-wink independent when actually being a party organ for a political party.  You're seeing the abuses that lead to outrage and lead the public to switch back and forth between the two parties over and over, installing one and then the other.  (A true independent media would have done the work required for a third party to emerge long ago but we don't have an independent media system in this country.)  It's an important point and as long as we're going on the record re: Chris Hill's qualification, let's go on the record re: the appalling clowning that passes for 'reporting.'  These are the nut-jobs who wanted to criticize the MSM.  And yet, as we're seeing, they are guilty of every conspiracy theory they floated against the MSM.  They have no ethics at all and they work in the beggar world of Panhandle Media because their character and ethics are so low that they can't work anywhere else.  Though this [MSM] reporter isn't trying to frighten, Laura Rozen (Foreign Policy) blogged last night:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held Chris Hill's confirmation hearing to become US ambassador to Iraq this morning. Though chairman Sen. John Kerry, ranking Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), two former Bush-appointed ambassadors to Iraq John Negroponte and Ryan Crocker, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as Generals David Petraeus, Ray Odierno and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have come out in favor of getting Hill into place in Baghdad quickly, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to vow to continue to oppose him.
And a real left with a real alternative media would be frightened and bothered that the likes of Bloody John Negroponte and Can I Get Another Buck Down My G-String Zalmay Khalilzad are endorsing Hill for Ambassador of Iraq.
Staying with the issue of the draw down (the White House wants it spelled "drawdown," since we've noted the draw down since January -- as opposed to withdrawal -- we'll continue to spell it the way outlets have in previous wars -- unlike PBS which takes spelling lessons from Barack), Gareth Porter (IPS via Information Clearing House) reports the following:
Despite President Barack Obama's statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.

A spokesman for Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.

But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.

Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on Meet the Press Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission", and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterised differently".

"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."

Obama's decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along - the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.

National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2010 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.

Truths about the draw down will continue to emerge.  Good for Porter for getting the ball rolling.  Returning to the hearing, the peace movement should have been combing through Hill's statement.  It's really important, Hill would repeatedly state, that the US military "take with them a sense of pride in the mission accomplished" and also "we want them to leave behind . . . a sense of security in the country."   He would repeat similar remarks to Senator Russ Feingold (Feingold expressed concerns about the 35,000 to 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq after Barack's plan goes through): "They come back with not only a sense of a mission accomplished but a sense of a mission well done because our nation depends on this."  Our nation depends on lies, Chris Hill?  Kat noted Senator Robert Menendez at the hearing and she pointed out that his questioning was pracitacl and "that it's called 'oversight,' not 'aftersight'."  Menendez noted the three to five billion dollars that the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Iraq has found to have been wasted, the millions "stolen by Iraqi officials" and that the SIGR noted "that there is corruption across the board at Iraq's ministries."  Menendez was bothered by the waste, the theft and the lack of oversight.  he wanted to know "why do you think our efforts there in reconstruction got so badly off track and, if confirmed as an ambassador, what do you consider your responsiblities to be with overseeing continued reconstruction and mitigating waste?"
Hill started off strong noting, "When the American tax payers give you money for something, it is important that we make sure that it is carefully spent -- wisely spent." Hill then went prancing off to The Land of Platitudes.  (His point on this throughout the hearing was no more reconstruction will be paid for by US dollars -- oh really? -- and that US money will only now be used to 'firm up' the ministries, via training.  He stressed this especially in an exchange with Senator Robert Casey Jr. insisting that there would be no actual construction and that US assistance would be "more in terms of technical assistance" from this point forward.)  Other than talking about making sure seminars weren't booked if no Iraqis had interest in attending, he had nothing.  Menendez noted, "I don't get the sense that there won't continue to be needs for US assistance to Iraq."  He further pointed out that when money is mispent, badly spent or stolen, it makes it more difficult to get needed funds in the future for any project, anywhere.  As Kat points out, he was looking for proactive measures by Hill. Hill provided none.  Hill did state that really it was just a case of imposing some regulations.  The SIGR states their massive and widespread corruption in every ministery but Hill believes a few regulations will fix the problem?  If there's a job Hill might have been more poorly suited for than Ambassador to Iraq, it would apparently be fixing the economic crisis in the US so possibly we should all be thankful that he's only been nominated to be an ambassador?
The day Hill insisted that rebuilding efforts in Iraq would only now be technical assistance having to do with how to run ministeries, etc. and asserted that the US was out of the reconstruction of physical structures in Iraq, the US Government Accountability Office begged to differ.  They issued the report entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq and Afghanistan: Security, Economic, and Governance Challenges to Rebuilding Efforts Should Be Addressed in U.S. Strategies." As the report documents, this "technical assistance" for the ministries became the goal in 2007 -- two years ago.  Further, the report indicates that indeed reconstruction will continue to be an issue for the US and this is probably most clear in the Figure 4 diagram.  From the report, we'll note this on the spending (remember, al-Maliki sits on billions while the Iraqi people suffer):
Despite its substantial budget surplus and international assistance, Iraq has not spent the resources it set aside for reconstruction efforts essential to its economic recovery.  As table 2 indicates, Iraq has spent about 12 percent, or $2 billion, of the $17.2 billion it allocated for reconstruction activities in the oil, electricity, and water sectors.  In contrast, U.S. agencies have spent almost 90 percent, or $9.5 billion, of the $10.9 billion Congress made available for investment activities in these sectors since fiscal year 2003.  Moreover, Iraqi ministries have consistently spent far higher percentages of their operational budgets, which include employee compensation, than they have of their investment budgets, which include infrastructure costs.
In yesterday's hearing, Senator Russ Feingold noted "recent press reports on the Kurdish region" and wondered how concerned we should be about this rising tension and what role the US should play in this situation?"  This is where the 'wise' Hill declares of the question mark dangling over oil-rich Kirkuk,  "they're disputes, they're flat out land disputes . . . just old fashioned land disputes."  And then adds, "My understanding is that there are no total deal breakers there."  Today Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports that the US has had to move "a combat brigade" into the area and is being forced to mediate the conflict while Nouri al-Maliki has sent in Saddam Hussein's former strong-man Maj Gen Abdul Amir Zaidi to Kirkuk to "remove Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, from this bitterly disputed province, which is home to as much as 13% of Iraq's oil reserves and borders the semiautonomous Kurdistan region."


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