Saturday, December 12, 2009

The greedy diva






Anthony DiPaola and Maher Chmaytelli (Bloomberg News) report Shell Oil (Royal Dutch Shell) has been given the power "to develop the 12.6 billion barrels of oil reserves in Iraq's Majnoon field" beating out China National Petroleum Corporation and Total. Al Jazeera explains it's a joint-contract, a joint-'win' for Shell and Petronas Oil of Malasyia , while CNPC has been given the power to develop the Halfaya oilfield. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) explains CNPC was in a consortium "with Petronas and France's Total" on that bid. Missy Ryan and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) add, "Despite the anticipation, no one bid for one of the supergiants, the 8.1-billion barrel East Baghdad field, part of which lies under the sprawling Sadr City slum in the Iraqi capital. Baghdad is still wracked by periodic bombings and oil executives considered it unsafe to invest in the field." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "Iraqi police and soldiers sealed off roads leading to the Oil Ministry, where the auction took place while [US] helicopters hovered overhead." If you are interested in details on the contracts, please read Jane and not another US outlet which appears confused as to what was bid on or, as they put it, "sold." Meanwhile Ayla Jean Yackley (Reuters) reports that the Kurds are concerned the bidding has been rushed and that the issues of the hydrocarbon laws (never passed) and the disputed territories (oil-rich Kirkuk) should have been resoloved first. The KRG's Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, states, "Anything that is rushed in this manner is not in the interests of Iraq. It's rushed for political purposes."

Moises Naim also noted the Ba'athists issue. Ba'athists were expelled from the government following the start of the illegal war -- expelled by the US. This was addressed yesterday in the Iraq Inquiry which is taking place in London and is chaired by John Chilcot. Offering testimony was M16 head John Sawers -- John "SAWERS," not John "Sawyers" as I wrongly dictated yesterday -- that was my mistake and my apologies for the error. Roderic Lyne is one of the committee members of the Inquiry. He asked Sawers about de-Ba'athification and other issues.

John Sawers: When I arrived in Baghdad on 8 May, one of the problems that ORHA were facing was that they had been undiscriminating in their Iraqi partners. They had taken, as their partners, the most senior figures in the military, in -- not in the military, sorry, in the ministries, in the police, in institutions like Baghdad University, who happened to be there. And in several of these instances, Baghdad University was one, the trade ministry was another, the health ministry, the foreign ministry, the Baghdad police -- the working level were in uproar because they were being obliged to work for the same Ba'athist masters who had tyrannised them under the Saddam regime, and tehy were refusing to cooperate on that basis. So I said, in my first significant report back to London, which I sent on the Sunday night, the day before Bremer came back, that there were a number of big issues that needed to be addressed. I listed five and one of those five was we needed a policy on which Ba'athists should be allowed to stay in their jobs and which should not. And there was already a debate going on among Iraqi political leaders about where the line should be drawn. So I flagged it up on the Sunday evening in my first report, which arrived on desks on Monday morning, on 11 May. When Bremer arrived late that evening, he and I had a first discussion, and one of the first things he said to me was that he needed to give clarity on de-Ba'athification. And he had some clear ideas on this and he would want to discuss it. So I reported again early the following monring that this was high on the Bremer's mind and I needed a steer as to what our policy was. I felt that there was, indeed, an important need for a policy on de-Ba'athifciation and that, of the various options that were being considered, some I felt, were more far-reaching than was necessary but I wasn't an expert on the Iraqi Ba'ath Party and I needed some guidance on this. I received some guidance the following day, which was helpful, and I used that as the basis for my discussion with Bremer -- I can't remember if it was the Wednesday or the Thursday that week but we had a meeting of -- Bremer and myself and our political teams, where this was discussed, and there was very strong support among the Iraqi political parties for quite a far-reaching de-Ba'athification policy. At the meeting itself, I had concerted beforehand with Ryan Crocker, who was the senior American political adviser, and I said to him that my guidance was that we should limit the scope of de-Ba'athification to the top three levels of the Ba'ath Party, which included about 5,000 people, and that we thought going to the fourth level was a step too far, and it would involve another 25,000 or so Iraqis, which wasn't necessary. And I thought Crocker was broadly sympathetic to that approach but at the meeting itself Bremer set out a strong case for including all four levels, ie the top 30,000 Ba'athists should be removed from their jobs, but there should be a policy in place for exemptions. I argued the alternative. Actually, unhelpfully, from my point of view, Ryan Crocker came in in strong support of the Bremer proposal, and I think he probably smelled the coffee and realised that this was a policy that had actually already been decided in Washington and there was no point getting on the wrong side of it. I was not aware of that at that stage and, in fact, it was only when I subsequently read the very thorough account by the Rand Corporation of these issues that I realised there had been an extensive exchange in -- between agencies in Washington.

Commitee Member Roderic Lyne: Just to pause on that, this crucial decision, not just to take the top 5,000, which probably was not a matter of argument, but to add 25,000, sweeping up a lot of professionals, teachers, doctors people like that, who had been obliged to become members of the Ba'ath parties, had been stiched up between agencies in Washington but without any consultation with the number 1 coalition partner, Britain, who were going to be vitally affected by that?

John Sawers: I cannot vouch for that because I wasn't in London, I wasn't involved in those exchanges.

Commitee Member Roderic Lyne: But you would have been aware of if we'd been (inaudible), somebody would have told you.

John Sawers: When I was doing my calls in London on the previous week, this was not an issue that had been raised with me. So I don't know in the embassy in Washington or people in Whitehall were plugged into the debate. I would just say, though, Sir Roderic, that we do need to keep this in context, that a lot of parallels are drawn about Iraq in 2003 with Germany in 1945, and I have to say that was the intellectual mindset that Bremer brought with him, there was a parallel with the reconstruction of Germany in 1945. In 1945, the Allies excluded 2.5 per cent of the German population from jobs because of their links with the Naxi party. What Bremer was proposing was excluding 0.1 per cent of the Iraqi population, ie 25 times fewer, proportionately, than was the case in Germany. And in that context he was looking for a policy of -- a scope for giving exemptions.

That was one of the key moments in yesterday's hearing (the Iraq Inquiry did not hold a public hearing today, they resume public testimony on Monday with five witnesses scheduled, Lt Gen John Kiszely, Lt Gen Robin Brims, Lt Gen Jonathon Riley and Gen Peter Wall). Michael Evans (Times of London) reports of Sawers' testimony, "He said that the de-Baathification programme and the disbandment of the Iraqi Army, which many critics claim triggered the Sunni insurgency, had been agreed in Washington -- apparently without prior consultation with Britain. Sir John said that the Government had supported plans to remove the top three tiers of the Baathist regime -- 5,000 officials -- but not the 25,000 lower-grade Iraqis on the fourth tier of the regime, many of whom were teachers. He told the inquiry that he had argued against the decision but that Paul Bremer, the US official in charge of the civilian effort in Iraq, ignored him." Con Couglin (Telegraph of London) emphasizes the exchange and provides context on the decision:

As the Chilcot inquiry heard yesterday from Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, who was in Iraq immediately after Saddam's overthrow, the "de-Baathification" policy implemented by the US-led coalition resulted in tens of thousands of Sunnis being thrown out of their jobs because of their support for Saddam's regime, and for his Baath political party. During the insurgency that followed, hundreds of thousands of Sunnis fled Baghdad and other areas to seek sanctuary in Syria. When Saddam was in power, there were an estimated five million Sunnis living in Baghdad. Today, that figure has declined to just a few hundred thousand: Baghdad is now a Shia city, where many prominent politicians are in the pay of their co-religionists in Iran.

Couglin also reminds readers of the benchmarks George W. Bush set with his 'surge' which did include de-de-Ba'athification. Benchmarks? They're meaningless. (Remember that as it relates to Afghanistan.) They were never followed. The White House benchmarks were supposed to take place by the end of 2007. They didn't. Then began the spin of "oh, we wanted progress on these benchmarks." No. Those benchmarks were how the Congress and the American people were supposed to be able to measure 'progress.' There was not supposed to be, "Well, they moved a little towards this . . ." Many of the benchmarks related to things the Iraqi Constitution already mandated. They weren't met in 2007, they weren't met in 2008. Coughlin feels they're forgotten by the Obama administration. At the end of November, Steven Lee Myers showed the honesty that the GAO has refused to show when he wrote a thought piece for the New York Times (he's a reporter for the paper but the piece linked to is an opinion piece which appeared in the Sunday opinion section, the Week In Review). If you drop back to the September 16, 2008 snapshot, you can see US House Rep Lloyd Doggett grill Joseph Christoff of the GAO on the benchmarks. Bremer started the de-Ba'athification process. Ending it (parts of it) was a 2007 benchmark. In January of 2008, Solomon Moore (New York Times) reported on the much-trumpeted 'progress' on that: the Parliament passed a law -- "a document riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in -- particularly in the crucial security ministries that U.S. officials have called the key to their plans for eventual withdrawal from Iraq." Back in November of 2004, Jon Lee Anderson (New Yorker) reported on some of the fallout from de-Ba'athification:

[Stephen] Browning recalled a meeting that he and other officials had with Bremer before the announcement. "Bremer walked in and announced his de-Baathification order. I said that we had established a good working relationship with technicians -- not senior-level people -- of the Baath Party, and I expressed my feeling that this measure could backfire. Bremer said that it was not open for discussion, that this was what was going to be done and his expectation was that we would carry it out. It was not a long meeting>'
The order had an immediate effect on Browning's work: "We had a lot of directors general of hospitals who were very good and, with de-Baathification, we lost them and their expertise overnight," he told me. At the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which was another of his responsibilities, "we were left dealing with what seemed like the fifth string. . . . Nobody who was left knew anything."

The illegal war was both illegal and a disaster from the start. Built on that, there was little chance that 'good' would bloom. It did not. Among the many bad decisions after the illegal war started was the decision to force out the Ba'athists.

Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A Multi-National Corps-Iraq Soldier died Dec. 10 from non-combat related injuries. Release of the identity of the Soldier is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin. The name of the deceased service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site 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 incident is currently under investigation." The announcement brings to 4369 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

No one can figure it out







As the violence continues in Iraq and people are wounded and dying, it's not all about oil, Ayla Jean Yackley (Reuters) helpfully explains, it's about the "drilling rigs" which will need "thousands of tonnes of cement and steel, many miles of pipeline and tens of thousands of trained and qualified workers." PFC Energy's Raad Alkadiri crows, "Iraq will place a massive call on the service sector. It will start to be a black hole, sucking a lot of the sector in from the region and beyond." Hassan Hafidh and Guy Chazan (Wall St. Journal) report on the running of the bores, foreign oil execs who "are flocking to Iraq" in the hopes of landing some of the winning bids in the Friday and Saturday rounds of bidding. Remember, if you're going to Baghdad Green Zone, be sure to wear the blood of many dead, if you're going to Baghdad Green Zone . . . Sinan Salaheddin and Brian Murphy (AP) report 15 fields are up for bid and 44 companies are competing to be the big winner (the people of Iraq have already been cast as the big losers in the continued filming of The Theft Of Iraqi Oil). Reuter's Simon Webb has apparently been hired to do the soundtrack and performs a modified Elvis classic "It's now or never . . for Big Oil in Iraq." During a spoken rap at the bridge, Webb explains, "It is one of the largest auctions ever held, with around the same reserves on offer as all the oil in OPEC-member Libya." The Iraq War, the illegal war, is big business. Iran's Press TV today reports on the $2.4 billion, BILLION, weapons deal Iraq entered into with the Ukraine. If you're missing the point, Bellamny Pailthorp (KPLU -- link has audio and text) quotes Iraq Ambassador to the US sami Sumaida'ie in Seattle declaring, "Iraq is open for business." On the visit, Chris Grygiel (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) adds: "The purpose of Samir Sumaida'ie's two-day visit to the region was to meet with Boeing, Microsoft and others as Iraq continues to rebuild after the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled and the United States scales back its military presence in the country."

Scaling back the military presence? Before the tag sale? Not hardly. In fact, some might consider the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, landing in Baghdad today increasing the US military presence. Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes) reports Gates met with President Jalal Talabani. Remember the supposed 'improved' 'security' in Iraq? Even now, nearly seven years after the Iraq War started (March, 2003), Robert Gates still has to sneak into the country on what Baron terms an "unannounced stop". Iran's Press TV terms it "a surprise visit" which sort of makes you picture Gates arriving with a bag of presents. Gates may have wante to be in and out on the same day; however, Nouri put him off and now Gates has a layover as he waits for Nouri to find the time to meet with him. Elisabeth Bumiller and Marc Santora (New York Times) explain, "American defense officials insisted that Mr. Maliki had not rebuffed the defense secretary, but it was not until late Thursday, hours after Mr. Gates landed in Baghdad, that they said that Mr. Maliki had agreed to see him on Friday morning. Mr. Gates' aides scrambled to rearrange his schedule." CNN adds that Gates "called off a planned news briefing as a result" of the postponement.

Nouri was busy with a number of things today including facing Parliament. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) quotes Nouri insisting: "It is hard for us to appoint the chief of intelligence since each political bloc demands that this man should be from their blocs." Al Jazeera quotes from this melodramatic Nouri moment: "All of the recent crime is because of political and sectarian differences. I call on parliament to issue a decision to purify the security services from anyone who belongs to any political party, including my party." BBC News explains that quotes from Nouri "were relayed to reporters after the closed door-meeting on Thursday." Which only makes it more confusing because Nouri's talking out of every side of his mouth. Tuesday he did what he always does, insist it's former Ba'athists in Syria. David Kenner (Foreign Policy) notes Nouri did that in August and October as well (on "Bloody Wednesday" and "Bloody Sunday") and that, "Maliki raised eyebrows for previously pointing the finger at Syria, when the released evidence looked less than definitive. However, the fact that he is repeating his claims now shows he has on intention of backing down -- and is an important data point on where Iraq will stand on intra-Arab disputes in the future. Saudi Arabia, for example, has remained intensely skeptical of the Shia-dominated government, and has so far refused to send an ambassador to Baghdad." Meanwhile Lara Jakes (AP) explores Rabiya, on the border Iraq and Syira share, and finds little to support a claims of Syrian foreign fighters or Ba'athists entering from Syira and "Iraqi and American security forces alike [. . .] say they've neither seen nore heard of Baathists illegally crossing the border in recent months." In Syria, Andrew England (Financial Times of London) speaks with former Ba'athists, "Syria has rejected all those claims. Mr [Abdul Nasser al-] Jenabi, who represents a Sunni insurgent group aligned with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a Baathist who served as deputy head of Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council, said his group did not target Iraqis and had no role in the bombings. He said that he and others like him in Syria were involved in media relations and political issues. Some observers also say Mr Maliki may have decided to point the finger of blame because of the damage the attacks have caused to his own credibility."

Credibility? Nouri? Tuesday, Dar Al Hayat reported (translation is mine and my Arabic is very poor) that there is a possiblity Sahwa ("Awakenings," "Sons Of Iraq") will stop receiving payment from the Iraqi government at the end of December and that this comes as Sahwas continue to be targeted (gives an example of recent violence that claimed 6 lives). The article notes that the Sahwa were supposed to have been incorporated into Iraqi jobs by the end of this year "according to an agreement between US forces and the Iraqi government". A Sahwa leader (from western Baghdad), Naji, speaks of concerns about a security vacuum should Sahwa be taken off the payrolls and he notes the possiblity that they could return to their older ways (the US military paid them off originally so they would stop attacking US military personnel and equipment) -- he terms this "a big problem." He speaks of announcements by the National Reconciliation Commission (a body in Parliament headed by Zuhair al-Jalabi) that they will be closing out the Sahwa at the end of the year. A Diyala Province Sahwa leader, Sheikh Hussam, issued a call on the Iraqi government to live up to the promises it made to Sahwa and refers to the need for the government to compensate the families and children of Sahwa who have been killed. Again, that's my translation and it's very poor.

Nouri's credibility? Today wasn't all melodrama, Nouri also played bully. Iran's Al-Alam News reports that he stated (at his website) that the Mujahedin-e Khlaq Organization (MKO -- also known as the MEK) would be "quarantined in a far-fetched region south of Iraq before leaving the country." The residents of Camp Ashraf are Iranian dissidents who were welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein. When the US invaded in 2003, they took over the protection of Camp Ashraf. An agreement was reached between Nouri and the previous administration at the end of last year whereby Nouri promised not to attack or harm the residents. Nouri never lived up to that promise and -- pay attention, KRG -- the US didn't do a damn thing. Not a damn thing. [Pay attention, KRG? The KRG's been promised a lengthy list of items by the Obama administration. A great many of those things will require the consent of Nouri or the next prime minister. And if they don't consent? The US government doesn't exactly have a record they can point to.] July 28th, Nouri ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf, at least 11 residents were killed. Nouri's announcement today of moving them (possibly as soon as next Tuesday) is certainly beneficial . . . for him. Sarah Cosgrove (Edgware Times) reports British "MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum have welcomed a Spanish court's deicison to investigate claims Iraqi troops killed refugees at Camp Ashraf." Since the attack, Nouri's barred most journalists and aid organizations from visiting Camp Ashraf. Now, as Spain's going to investigate, he wants to ship all the residents to "a far-fetched region"? The Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance on Iran states Nouri is taking orders from Iran and:

The Iranian Resistance denounced remarks by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, concerning "Transfer of Camp Ashraf residents to Nuqrat al-Salman" which was described by him as a "step towards expelling them (from Iraq)," as unlawful and disgraceful kowtowing to orders of the religious fascism ruling Iran in the midst of nationwide uprising in Iran. The Iranian regime has set the suppression of Ashraf residents in Iraq as a precondition to its support for al-Maliki in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq.
Simultaneous with the nationwide uprising during the past few days that people have been chanting "Down with Khamenei" and "Down with the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute rule of clergy)" that has sounded the death knell of the regime;
While the international community has condemned suppression of uprising in the strongest terms and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that "The suppression of protests is escalating, it is much more serious," and has been "calling for respect for the right to protest that is also a fundamental freedom," and Amnesty International described "Human rights violations in Iran are now as bad as at any time in the past 20 years";

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

He's not winning them over





Under the law, Mr. Obama can designate a charity or charities to receive the money and avoid any tax liability. There could be a complication to this, however, as's Declan McCullagh noted last month: The Peace Prize is closely linked to the Norwegian government, and the U.S. Constitution limits gifts to government officials from any "foreign state." The White House has argued that the prize doesn't come from a "foreign state," even though members of the Nobel committee are current or former government officials. Teddy Roosevelt won the prize but still asked Congress for permission to distribute the money to charity, and some lawmakers want Mr. Obama to follow suit.



Turning to the Ukraine. From Kiev, Simon Shuster (AP) reports Ukranian MP Anatoly Grytsenko is trumpeting the new $2.5 billion sale of "weapons and military equipment" deal that has just been made for the "Ukraine to produce and deliver 420 BTR-4 armored personnel carriers, six AN-32B military transport planes and other military hardware to Iraq." There's no money to fix the services -- the basic services (potable water, electricity, etc.) -- but yet again Nouri's making a big money buy of weapons?

Excuse me, but setting aside the fact that these weapons aren't needed and overlooking the fact that turning all of these weapons over to a Failed State which can still not protect its own government building's might strike many as dangerous, wasn't concern over Iraq and weapons the heart of selling the illegal war. England could be attacked in 45 minutes! (It couldn't.) Chemical and biological weapons were amassed! (They weren't.) We don't want the next warning sign to be a mushroom cloud! (Iraq had no nuclear weapons.)

Not only were weapons what the Iraq war was sold on, but weapons were what the conservatives attempted to sell debt relief on. Don't believe me. Click here for the Heritage organization -- right-wing as they come -- advocating for debt relief for Iraq in 2003 and let's zoom in on one key section:

The case of Iraq also raises an important moral dilemma: Should the citizens of a liberated country be burdened with the debts of a brutal dictatorship? As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz observed in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, much of the money borrowed by the Iraqi regime had been used "to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of oppression."

So in 2003, not only did alleged possession of weapons sell the war on Iraq but the fact that Saddam Hussein spent money on weapons was reason enough, according to Paul Wolfowitz, for Iraq's debt to be forgiven. But all Nouri does is buy weapons. Does no one get that. He stockpiles a ton of money and spends a bit -- but spends it on weapons. For those who have forgotten, let's drop back to March of this year. Aseel Kami (Reuters) reported, "Iraq's falling oil income will force it to cut spending on basic services that its war-weary citizens crave, such as sewage treatment and power supply, officials say." Grasp that Nouri's deal today is only one of many weapons deal. And yet Kami was reporting that the electricity contracts with GE -- for $600 million -- were canceled because Iraq just didn't have the money. For things that really matter. But for weapons? Nouri's always got the money for the weapons. Something is very wrong with this picture. Nouri, the new Saddam, is allowed to stockpile weapons and no one's supposed to ask: "Weren't weapon allegations how the illegal war was sold?" Nor are they allowed to point out that while Nouri spends everything on weapons, the Iraqi people continue to do without. And how did Basra's deal with the lack of potable water this summer? Saleem al-Wazzan (Nisqash) reported in July, "Recently, Shiltagh Abboud Sharad, the province's governor, resorted to religious pleas to encourage the frustrated population. On a tour of teaching hospitals the governor told doctors complaining about the lack of drinking water to be 'patient' and to remember the fortitude of the revered Iman Hussein."

NPR's Corey Flintoff (Morning Edition) filed a report earlier today where the problem for Iraq's economy was that the private sector is forced to face too many rules and regulations. Of course Flintoff also used Leigh University's Frank Gunter as an expert for the same story which made it only more questionable. Gunter insists, "If they don't find jobs, then these young Iraqis, mostly men, mostly young, mostly uneducated, become a recruiting pool for the criminal gangs, for the insurgency, the militias that work for the religious and political groups." Really? That's the problem? That's the problem if you're both a pig and and idiot. In the real world, Iraq has two growth 'areas': Orphans and widows and shame on any 'expert' who dismisses women's need to work. Of course, Nouri does have that new plan for women. They can whore themselves out and get a few bucks tossed at them for marrying a Sunni (if they're Shia) or a Shia (if they're Sunni). That's Nouri's 'answer' to the widow issue. And shame on Gunter for refusing to acknowledge the serious problem women face and let's note that Sahar Issa remains the only one at a major US outlet who has reported on women's economic plight this year from Iraq.

Sahar Issa is an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. It's not easy to be a US reporter stationed in Iraq but it's not easy to be an Iraqi reporter in Iraq and, in fact, most evidence would suggest being an Iraqi makes it even harder -- as evidence by the death toll of journalists in Iraq (most are Iraqis). McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel reported at the end of November on Iraqi journalists being brave and taking a public stand in Baghdad's Firdos Square: "There was nothing stage-managed about today's gathering--a demonstration in response to the near-fatal shooting five days ago of Imad Abadi, a well-known television anchor known for his criticisms of politicians and parties of every stripe, his crusades against corruption, and his aggressive defense of press freedom. Abadi, 36, was wounded in the head and neck, in what the nonprofit group Reporters Without Borders said was clearly a target shooting. He remains in intensive care at a Baghdad hospital." In October, Joel Brinkley (News Observer) noted another demonstration by journalists and explained, "Today many of the surviving reporters are scared. The government is censoring, suing and harassing reporters. In July, The Economist reported, police arrested a journalist for taking pictures of a typical, massive Baghdad traffic jam, saying the photos reflected badly on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's campaign to demonstrate that the quality of life was improving." Noting that the satellite channel Al-Alarn was taken off the air, the Layalina Review points out:

Other media outlets are also feeling the wrath of censorship in Iraq, reports Asharq-Alawsat, raising fears of a crackdown on Iraq's often partisan media ahead of national elections early next year. Lawsuits have been filed or threatened against both foreign and local media outlets critical of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's government.
Asharq-Alawsat points to a recent incident where the British newspaper The Guardian was ordered by an Iraqi court to pay 100 million Iraqi dinars (USD 86,000) in compensation for an article "in which unnamed Iraqi intelligence officials accused Maliki of being increasingly authoritarian."
At the same time, the Iraqi Department for Communications and Media has issued rules allowing it to shut down any media company that encourages "terrorism, violence and tensions," and requiring individual broadcasters to obtain licenses. The Iraqi government is also moving to censor some books, and is seeking powers to block websites deemed to be pornographic or inciting violence.

As November grew to a close the Guardian newspaper and the press found a hitherto unknown defender: former UK prime minister and forever Poodle Tony Blair. Julian Borger (Guardian) quoted Tony Blair writing and e-mailing the following statement, "I have been following the Ghaith Abdul-Ahad court case against the Guardian in Iraq. We fought for freedom in Iraq including freedom of the press. Often what the press says is harsh or unfair. But that freedom is essential and must be upheld. So while I may not always agree with what the Guardian write I do hope that when the case goes to appeal the courts will follow due process in accordance with the Iraqi constitution." But it was Tony Blair's decision to force the scientist David Kelly to testify in public (Blair already knew who Andrew Gilligan's source was) that added to Kelly's stress. If indeed Kelly killed himself (there's a call for an inquiry into that) then Blair's actions clearly influenced Kelly's actions. Blair was offended that Kelly had told the BBC about the way intell was fixed and "sexed up." It's a strange kind of support for a free press Tony Brown thinks he has.

In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues. Brian Jones worked for the UK Ministry of Defence from 1973 to 2003. In the Guardian, he argues the Iraq Inquiry needs to show more openess:

I have published all my witness submissions to the Hutton inquiry and Butler review on the Iraq Inquiry Digest website to add to public understanding of the two issues on which I feel best qualified to comment: weapons of mass destruction and intelligence analysis. These are complicated matters, and there is a risk that the Chilcot inquiry will miss significant facts.
So far the inquiry has provided precious little documentary evidence as background to its hearings. It is not clear whether this is the inquiry's decision or a consequence of the protocols imposed by the government. However, the result is that there is uncertainty about the sources the inquiry is using and the assumptions it may be making about their evidence.
Such uncertainty is likely to inhibit those who might be inclined to offer additional insights to the inquiry, because potential witnesses are unsure whether the inquiry is already aware of the information they know about. There may also be some reluctance to submit complicated information through a secretariat whose loyalties are unclear and that may decide to prevent public release under one or other of the exclusions offered by the protocols. I hope that others who provided written evidence to previous inquiries might be encouraged to disclose them for public scrutiny.

In the opening to the [PDF format warning] statement he's released, he argues for various reforms regarding intelligence analysis and the communication of it. Reports going up the chain are not, he argues, always properly appraised due to a lack of knowledge in the higher pools reviewing the reports. This makes it easier to misunderstand and also easier to distort what the data actually states. We'll note this re: Iraq from his statement:

At the time of the production and issue of the Prime Minister's dossier on Iraq's WMD in September 2002 and up to my retirement in January 2003 there was no convincing evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons or even significantly progressed its programme following its dismantlement in the 1990s.
The evidence supporting the existence of an offensive CW [Conventional Weapons] and BW [Biological Weapons] capability was of a much lower order than in 1990. [. . .] there was no solid evidence of the continued existence of either capability or continuing programmes.

Jones then republish's his previous statements to both inquiries.

Today's witnesses were Lt Gen Frederick Viggers, Lt Gen Andrew Figgures, Hilary Synnott, Lt Gen Lamb and Maj Gen Andrew Stewart (link hs videos and transcript). John Chilcot is the chair of the Inquiry which started with Viggers and Figgures whom Chilcot identifed as "the Senior British Military Representatives in Iraq based in Baghdad". The two testified together and had no disagreements, even when asked such as by Committee Member Lawrence Freedman ("Can I just check with General Viggers, did you have that role in terms of liaison with the CPA as well?" "Absolutely."). The following section sums up their joint-testimony:

Commitee Member Lawrence Freedman: When you arrived, did you have any sense that -- had you been warned this is what you were going to face or did it become glaringly obvious on arrival?

Lt Gen Frederick Viggers: Yes, and I think before we came it was rather like going to the theatre to see one sort of play and realising you were watching a tragedy as the curtains come back. We suffered from the lack of any real understanding of the state of that country post-invasion. We had not done enough research, planning, into how the country post-santcions -- the country coming out of 30 years of the Ba'athist regime, the dynamics of the country, the cultures, the friction points between Sunni, Shia, Kurd, the malevolent influence of people from the region, none of that had really been thought through. So as this curtain came back, what we thought we were going to be dealing with, which was essentially a humanitarian crisis and a population willing to support us, was a long way from that.

The next grouping of witnesses did not offer a more organized picture of preparations or support. Maj Gen Andrew Stewart testified with Lt Gen Graeme Lamb and the former Coalition Provisional Authority South head Hilary Synnott. We'll note this section of Synott's testimony where he's speaking of having heard from Basara that things were "bleak" before he arrived.

Hilary Synnott: Once I got out there, this was very much confirmed: A pretty dysfunctional team of eight to ten different nationalities, very, very few British, three Foreign Office officials, one permanent DFID official and a lack of focus and a lack of capability. In a way, to me on the first night the taste of it was confirmed to me when I said, well, I have been asked by the Foreign Office to send at least a report a day. So I said, well, how do I report back? And there was nothing available. The phones didn't work, there were no mobile phones at that time and nobody had thought to provide me with any form of computer. So the Americans very kindly provided one and linked me through their computer network through Washington and the only way I was able to communicate with the Foreign Office was by setting up my own free computer link on Yahoo. And that became the main, and, indeed, only form of communication to London for some time. Fortunately -- I mean, what we agreed was that those reports should be taken off Yahoo and then circulated as Foreign Office telegrams, as coming from me. So that to me was a sort of indication of the sort of problems we had to face.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Not exactly a secure line?

Hilary Synnott: No. Actually, funnily enough when I called on the Prime Minister the day I left, at the Prime Minister's request, I had already heard there was no secure communication and I pointed this out, and the head of the JIC was present at that meeting and was not aware, he said, that there was no secure communications. But then, you know, up to that point it hadn't been a British-run arrangement.

Another key moment for that group of witnesses was the following.

Maj Gen Andrew Stewart: I think the biggest concern I had was the one that Graeme had had, which was the inability to meet the expectations of the Iraqi people, because retaining the consent of the Iraqi people there, we saw as my centre of gravity. I had to work within their country, they had to accept us and we just were never going to meet expectations. If I can give you a very quick example, walking through the souk, went to a white goods seller, "How many washing machines do you sell a week," I asked, because washing machines use electricity, they use water and they produce sewage. Three areas -- three of the four things we could not provide. He was selling 20 a day. So our ability to help the Iraqis by producing white goods for them at a cheap price was destroying our ability to help, and we were never going to meet that expectation. And I think it is -- that's something that we never really came to terms with. And if you think again about the Basrawi, he used to have under Saddam 18 to 20 hours' electricity a day; under us, because Baghdad was the centre of gravity and CPA saw that and it was, "We must sort Baghdad," they reduced from 18 to 20 hours a day to about 12 hours a day because electricity was being moved up to Baghdad. So life was getting worse for the Shia under us than it was getting better, and that was a real issue with how we, therefore -- all the commanders -- were focused on trying to talk to the major dealers, whether it was the clerics, whether it be the local heads of the SCIRI or Badr, to try to keep them on side, to say, "Look, this is how we are trying to help" because actually each day it was getting worse for them and actually we started to see that build up as time went by.

Lt Gen Graeme Lamb felt that CPA was not at all helpful and declared that ". . . Hilary's arrival was most welcome. I think we got on pretty well actually, but it is all in the delivery and I think in one of my reports I likened the CPA to dancing with a broken doll. It was a lot of effort, and in fact the department wasn't giving much in return. In fact they were making you look rather stupid." Lamb also found a way to compare Moqtada al-Sadr to the Stones, s "Those that followed Moqtadar himself, rock star status -- he could call out a large crowd a bit like the Rolling Stones".

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

He used to think he was lucky






Last night Betty was confronting the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk the press has been pimping, noting how little attention Monday's school bombing in Baghdad was receiving, "But if you've followed the waves of it, you know that the children (dead and wounded) won't get much attention at all due to the fact that this is what happens in the aftermath of a wave. The reporters look the other way. Over and over. Until forced to admit reality. And they're always loathe to admit reality." Until they're forced to. Which would be today. Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports multiple bombings in Baghdad today which "have again exposed how vulnerable Iraqi institutions re to targeted bombings". Based on police sources, Al Jazeera put the death toll at 112 with 200 more people left injured. Their correspondent Zeina Khodr states:We just spoke to a high raking official who said he was worried that the security forces were infiltrated. This is a blow to the security forces and prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is running for re-election on a platform that he has improved security across the country. Attacks have become part of daily life, not only in Baghdad, but across the country. Security is not only fragile, it is deteriorating.The Telegraph of London (link has text and video) offers, "Some police sources said there had been five explosions, two near judicial buildings, one near a university, another near in a central Baghdad commercial district and the earlier one in the south. Smoke billowed from at least two sites." Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora (New York Times) count 121 dead and also go with five explosions, three of which they state were suicide bombings. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) states the targets included the Ministry of the Interior, "a court building and the temporary home of the finance ministry". The Washington Post offers a photo essay here. Jamal Hashim and Ghassan Awad (Xinhua) reconstruct the bombings stating the first one was aimed at the Finance Ministry and was a car bombing, followed by a car bombing targeting the Interior Ministry, then another car bombing targeting the court house, a mini-bus bombing then exploded "near the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs" (the fifth bombing, according to the reporters, took place at a police checkpoint and was a suicide bomber). Chip Cummins (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The intensity of the blasts and their quick succession -- some spaced just minutes apart -- suggested a coordinated bombing campaign." Oliver August (Times of London) explains the cars didn't all just show and wait to explode: "A blue van charged through a checkpoint in western Baghdad just after 10am, ran over a security guard while his colleague fired at the windscreen, and raced through an alley of concrete blast walls. It then ploughed through a second barrier, crashing into the parking lot of the al-Karkh courthouse and exploding on impact." Natalia Antelava (BBC News -- link has text and video) emphasizes, "All five explosions targeted symbols of this state. Not only ministries but also a university and Baghdad's Institute of Fine Arts."

Ammar Karim and Prashant Rao (AFP) describe the scene, "Mangled wrecks of cars, some of which had been flipped over, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several vehicles in the parking lot were crushed by collpased blast walls." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) captures the trauma and quotes a Ministry of Defense employee begging for help, "My son is at school. I don't know if he's dead or alive." At Global Post, Arraf explains, "Iraqi civil defense workers loaded body bags of at least 10 people killed in the blast into ambulances while rescue workers frantically turned over piles of bricks, flinging them aside with their bare hands looking for survivors. [. . .] A judge with building dust on his suit wandered through the rubble. On a nearby street, children evacuated from a school with its windows blown out waited in a minibus for someone in charge to take them home." Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quote shopkeeper Abu Haidar stating, "I never felt so scared in my life. I lived through wars and served in the military, but today was so terrifying. Many people were killed and wounded. Men, women, police and children who sell things, all were killed and injured." Oliver August quotes worker Ahmed Jowad stating, "The glass and windows were blown in as we ducked under the tables because of the shooting but then were thrown across the room. We couldn't get out because there was a fire. Smoke and dust everywhere. Later I saw all the dead bodies in the yard, the young lawyers. I heard screaming and helped people crawl out of the building." Also commenting, Jane Arraf notes, is Paliament which "demanded that the prime minister and senior security officials come in to explain why security forces were unable to prevent the bombings." Marc Santora and Steven Lee Myers quote the spokesperson for Ayad Allawi stating, "The government always forms investigation committees after each explosion, but it comes up with nothing later." Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) quotes the Parliament's head of the security commission, Hadi al Amri, stating, "We have already sent a formal message to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki saying that the current security plan has failed. It is clear that we need a new security plan. There have been consistent warnings that government and civilian targets will be increasingly attacked in the run-up to the national elections, but insufficient action has been taken to stop those attacks." At the United Nations today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was asked his reaction to the bombings and he replied, "I am very shocked, and I condemn in the strongest terms possible, this just unnaceptable, horrendous terrorist bombings against civilians. This must be stopped, and my spokesperson will issue a formal statement on this." As was to be expected, Nouri's spokesperson addressed the press and blamed al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists. The Daily Mirror notes, "Iraqi officials blamed the August and October attacks on al Qaida in Iraq and loyalists of the Baath Party -- even bringing out three suspects on national television who gave what officials termed confessions." Ron Jacobs (CounterPunch) observes:

Like most of the rest of the bombings in Iraq in 2009, the bombers remain a mystery, although the government has blamed Baathists for the October attacks and some US officials speculate whether or not some of the others should be attributed to their favorite bogeyman -- Al Qaida in Iraq. Unlike many of the attacks during the heat of the conflict in Iraq, many of these recent attacks are targeting heavily defended government agencies. If these attacks are the work of the Iraqi insurgency and one places these bombings in the frameowrk of the rest of the conflict in Iraq, they seem to symbolize a resurgence of the insurgency. If one further considers the nature of guerrilla war, these spectacular attacks represent a new phase in the insurgents war against the government.

Various reports note Bloody Wednesday (August) and Bloody Sunday (October) -- two Baghdad attacks resulting in huge deaths earlier this year. Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque) notes, "After you have taken a moment to mull this unspeakable rending of human lives -- not just the individuals who were killed but also the lifelong, lacerting grief of their survivors -- a rending which is a direct result of an American invasion and occupation that not only loosed a sevage sectarian war in the shattered conquered land but also actively abetted it at every turn, go back and read the last paragraph of that excerpt again. The worst attack in -- not years, not decades -- but mere weeks. In other wrods, it's hardly been a month since the last time, of many times, over and over, like clockwork, that dozens of people were ripped to shreds in the American-caused, American-abetted, American-supported civil wars in Iraq."

Meanwhile CNN quotes Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission's Faraj al-Haidari stating, "After intensive discussion with the presidential council we've all agreed on March 6, 2010 to be the new date for parliamentary elections." Marc Santora and Steven Lee Myers also report March 6th and credit it to the Presidency Council. So there you have it, parliamentary elections March 6th, Iraq's installed government has finally reached a conclusion and the matter is . . . What's that. Oh. Never mind. Not only does the date still have to be approved by the Presidency Council but it's already been changed. Suadad al-Salhy, Mohammed Abbas, Ayla Jean Yackley, Aseel Kami, Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Christie and Noah Barkin (Reuters) report it is not supposedly and/or allegedly set to take place March 7th after Kurds pointed out that March 6, 1975 was when Saddam Hussein signed a treaty with the Iranian government that "marginalised" the Kurds. So for now, let's just keep calling them 'intended' elections.

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"Who is he?"

Monday, December 07, 2009

Who is he?






Asked in Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire what she most dislikes, singer-songwriter Carly Simon responds, "War or anything to do with instruments of war, or war-like tendencies." Carly's latest album is Never Been Gone in which she revisist many of her best known songs (including "You're So Vain," "Anticipation," "Coming Around Again" and "Let The River Run") to find new nuances and shadings. (Kat praised the new album here.) We've got a 'heavy' snapshot so we'll open with Carly for that reason and also because friends at Van Fair have repeatedly asked for links in the past weeks and I haven't had time (for their pain). Staying with Carly for a minute more, as Kat noted Friday, Mike Ragogan (Huffington Post) interviewed her last week and here she's explaining the making of Never Been Gone:

It started in the summer of 2008, when I had been promoting This Kind Of Love which was the Starbucks album, and they had withdrawn Hear Music five days before my record was released. So I didn't have the marketing, I was riding on a horse and there was no horse under me. I was so unhappy, and it was embarrassing, and it was like, "Oh my god, what have I been doing for the last two years but writing this record, making this record, and being so proud of this record." But I was the horseless rider. So I was quite self-involved and indulgently so, and really depressed. It was the summertime and there were lots of people around my house -- Ben and his friends and a lot of musicians were up there working on a project with him. I couldn't be consoled I was so upset. Ben said to me, "Come on, let's turn this into productivity. We have all these musicians here, just sit down in the living room and play the songs the way you wrote them. Let's do an unplugged version," which you picked-up on in your review. There are no drums except for "You Belong To Me" and "No Freedom," we just didn't allow drums on the record, even on "You're So Vain" which was daunting to redo after it was my most popular song. But we did it and I really love the energy that was put into the song, and that really carries all the way through. It's got new vocal ideas, and I just think it's an inventive version.

Inventive was Barack's speech last week where he took Bully Boy's 'lyrics' and made them his own. Al Jazeera's latest Inside Iraq began airing Friday and the topic was Afghanistan and Jasim al-Azawi was joined by retired US General Richard Myers (former commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current War pushed from the boards of Aon Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation and United Technologies Corporation) and Professor As'ad Abu Khalil of the University of California at Berkeley.

Jasim al-Azzawi: General Myers, let's call a spade a spade. In Iraq, pretty much the US army bought off those fighters from the Awakening Councils, you know, paid them salaries and said "Stop shooting at us." And overnight the fighting stopped. Are they going to do the same? Are they going to pour money at the Pashtuns?

General Richard Myers: You know, it's a good question. I don't -- I don't know what incentives will be used and how they'll be used. In that part of the world, money is often used as an incentive. But I mean, Iraq is far from being stable and far from being a sure bet that it's going to be successful. On the other hand, it's been relatively stable and we'll see if they can get through elections here -- coming in January, there's some question about that. But if they do, then I think whatever methods were used, you'll have to say, "Well those were successful."

Jasim al-Azzawi: As'ad Abu Khalil

As'ad Abu Khalil: Let me say the following. I notice that General Myers uses the word "stable" government in Iraq and this is the new lingo because of American officials. It was used by the Bush administration, it's being used by the Obama administration. Remember that we were promised an exemplary democracy in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Instead, we have created some of the most corrupt governments on the face of the earth. Don't take my word for it, look at the recent rank by Transparency International in London and you will find these two governments are literally among the most corrupt in the world. Plus, I want to take issue with the model of success by the revival council in Iraq. These are some of the most repressive, sexist and thuggish tribal councils that oppress women and want to impose traditional views on society. That is not the kind of alternative we need against the sexism and misogyny of the Taliban. Plus, he said that we are moving away from [US-installed Afghanistan 'president'] Hamid Karzai. I'm not sure that's the case. We are, in fact, using two tract policy. On the one hand, we are throwing more additional money -- taxpayers money -- to be embezzled and misused by the Hamid Karzai government and we're also, on the second tract, relying on new council like the so-called Kandahar Strike Council. That council is related to none other than the brother of Hamid Karzai. The notorious, corrupt person known as Ahmad Karzai. So it seems to me with that strategy, we are creating more corruption and we are giving more time for America's enemy to wait it out until the date of withdrawal. Obama is clearly emulating not only the policies and war actions of the Bush administration, he's even copying the rhetoric, the empty rhetoric, that is out there --

Jasim al-Azzawi: As'ad Abu Khalil, let's give the general a chance to answer this.

General Richard Myers: I -- I think that's -- I think those comments are probably -- uh, uhm -- there's a lot of hyperbole in those comments, in my view. If you look at Iraq and Afghanistan, they both adopted -- their citizens both adopted what most people consider liberal constitutions and yet -- it's not playing out, they've elected these governments. Certainly there is corruption but that's not new to that particular region and that's something that has to be worked on daily and I think the president [Barack Obama] said they were going to work on corruption. I know in my conversation with Adm [Mike] Mullens --

Jasim al-Azzawi: That being the case, General Myers, corruption is still rampant in Iraq. How you're going to prevent in Afghanistan? As'ad Abu Khalil just alluded to the president's brother who is somehow in bed with all the corrupt people not to mention trafficking in narcotics.

General Richard Meyer: Well I think, Jasim, I think that's going to be one of the focuses of the strategy in Afghanistan -- is to hold people accountable and, if there's corruption, to hold them accountable for that-that corruption. Now that's easily said, hard to do, but I think you're going to see that in the way both our military and-and the civilians. By the way, it's been little noticed but the embassy in Kabul is going to be increased from 320 staff earlier this year, in January of this year, to about 1,000 by the end of this month and a lot of those people will be deployed to the provinces and a lot of them, I think, will be trying to mentor --

Jasim al-Azzawi: Then again, General, you know the number of US officials in Baghdad was increased, I don't know how many folds. Maybe twenty, thirty. It's the biggest embassy in the world and yet corruption is rampant in Iraq.

As'ad Abu Khalil: 700 additional diplomats are not going to do the job just as 30,000 additional troops are not going to do the job. And just let me say for the record to the audience I would never refer to the government set up in Iraq as a liberal democracy. A constitution that was devised by a Grand Ayatollah who is inspired by Iran and who has not left his house except once in seven years is not a liberal democrat. And I think people in the region are clearly not impressed with whatever set-up -- sectarian, religious, traditional, and sexist government set up in both places. Again, go back to Transparency International. I take my clues from there.

The broadcast offers a look at and fact check on Barack's speech and Myers objects to the terms "colonize" and "occupation." He foolishly rejects both. For the record, it is an occupation and there was no reason for Myers to make an idiot out of himself on international television. The UN approved (after the war started) the occupation (they never approved the war), the UN mandate that was repeatedly renewed until the end of 2008.

He also expressed foolishness when he spoke of January elections when those have been off for some time. Saturday AFP reported that the Iraqi Parliament adjourned today because they did not have a quorum despite the session being called by President Jalal Talabani. Then Sunday night, ten minutes before midnight, the Parliament passed (another) election measure which still has to go before the presidency council (like the last one) and will become law only if it is not vetoed. Warren P. Strobel and Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) did the best job reporting on the developments. They not only provided the details of what happened just before midnight, they provide the details of what happened before and they explain, "While agreements have been reached in the past only to fall apart, there were high hopes that this one would stick. Hashimi withdrew his veto threat early Monday morning." Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quote Tariq al-Hashimi (Iraq's Sunni vice president) stating on satellite TV, "All of our demands have been achieved. The displaced people have been treated fairly, the value of people inside and outside Iraq are the same. I am happy because of this accomplishment and I consider it a historic day in building the modern Iraq." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) quotes a statement issued by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today, "The secretary-general congratulates the Iraqi Council of Representativeson finalizing amendments to the Election Law and commends Iraqi leaders and parliamentarians for overcoming their differences and reaching a compromise. The way is now paved to hold national elections in Iraq on a date to be determined by the Iraqi Presidency Council. The secretary-general firmly believes that these elections will be an important step forward for Iraq's political and democratic process." In a sign of just how incompetent the US 'diplomatic' mission is in Iraq, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports today that "uncertainty over" the vote had "US Ambassador Christopher Hill rushing back from Washington" -- along with not grasping that he goes by Chris -- officially, he is Chris Hill -- Arraf doesn't grasp that this is a huge detail and instead buries it in a puff piece. (It is puff -- Barack has no pull with the KRG. It was their 45 minute phone call with Joe Biden that sealed the Kurdish agreement to the deal. And it's nice that she's been led off the trail -- nice for the White House and other interests. The following paragraph is word for word from last night.

Parker and Salman note that the Kurdish Regional Government extracted a promise from the US that a census would take place in the coming year. Presumably, the promise had some form of 'teeth' to it since the US has long promised that the Constitutionally mandated census would take place and yet, year after year, it has not. The KRG is aware of that and presumably would not fall for yet another round of pretty words. If that is indeed the case, one wonders how the press will report on this issue since Barack and Bully Boy Boy Bush both asserted Iraq was a sovereign nation -- that was the whole point of ending the UN mandate (it truly was -- as a sovereign nation, Iraq could start the tag sales on their assets that they couldn't while under UN supervision). If Iraq's a sovereign nation and since Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, has been the road block to a census since 2006, what did the US government promise the KRG this time that convinced them? The tensions between Baghdad and the KRG aren't exactly secret nor is the tremendous ill will towards Nouri from the KRG a secret. So if he's the roadblock and he's hoping to be the prime minister (elected by Parliament) again after the elections, what did the US promise the KRG, how did they convince the KRG that it would be different in 2010 then it has been in the last three years?

Dorothy Parker once said you can lead a horticultural but you cannot make her think -- true as well of the press which has a huge story staring it in the face but either can't see it or is on orders to refuse to see it. I have no idea which. People often ask, in DC when the gossip is flying, "Why don't reporters report on ____?" Because they're not able to either because they're so easily distracted or because their superiors won't let them. The big story is what the US government promised the KRG. I said it last night and said it for a reason. I can lead you to the water but I'm not putting in your mouth, kids. Let's note something.

The United States welcomes the resolution adopted December 6 by Iraq's Council of Representatives regarding the election law. This legislative action will allow Iraq to hold national elections within Iraq's constitutional framework. It is a decisive moment for Iraq's democracy and we congratulate the Iraqi people and their elected representatives. As part of the ongoing U.S. dialogue with the Iraqi leadership, the President and Vice President spoke on the morning of December 6 with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. The President and the Vice President confirmed the U.S. commitment to a long-term relationship with Iraq, including the KRG.

You say, "Uh, it's the White House's official statement. And?" Click here and you go the KRG's website where that statement is posted in full. No, that is not common for the KRG's website. In fact, it's highly uncommon. You need to start using your brain because obviously you can't count on the press.

Though the press in the US has never been perfect, even as late as the 1980s, you could still count on the press to ask: What deals were made and how?

Apparently we need a sports star with a scandal or a woman willing to pose topless to get some attention to the deal that was struck. A deal was struck. Leaving aside what was all the talk in DC, we all know Barack has no pull with the KRG. We all know Joe was put in charge of Iraq -- after Barry's handpicked two-some failed (that's not a reference to Hillary, Iraq was never assigned to her) -- because the KRG trusted him and he had a solid relationship with them. Anyone who paid attention to pre-war and early war issues knows that the US used the KRG for the Iraq War and knows that the KRG agreed with the understanding that not only would Saddam Hussein be removed from office but also the KRG would stand to benefit. The Bush administration repeatedly broke key promises -- the PKK issue is what forever broke the trust the KRG had in the Bush administration. Barack, as senator or as president, has never had anything to do with the Kurdish issue and spent the bulk of his time -- on his for show trips to Iraq in 2008 and 2009 -- attempting to woo Nouri. Barack has no pull with the KRG. Joe Biden they trust. Barack spoke to them, but Barack offered pretty words and promises. It took Joe to sell them on the promises. The issue for the press should be what was promised?

"A census!" shout some. Uh, a census has been promised forever. In fact, the 2005 Iraq Constitution requires one. How did the US government convince the KRG that a census would take place in 2010? The press needs to be asking that question. Again, when sides in any conflict suddenly agree, the immediate question for a working press is always: What deals were made? That's the question that's not being asked and it's the most important question -- far more important than the elections. Iraq didn't fix its Constitutional crisis (or stop being a Failed State) by possibly passing a measure that will allow elections to take place AFTER the Constitutionally mandated deadline for them to be held. The elections had to take place at some point. And they will. Maybe with this measure, maybe with another. But to get this measure signed off on, deals were made.

The KRG feels (rightly or wrongly) that they have given and given and no one has lived up to the bargain on the other side. That is their attitude. They feel the previous administration made a ton of promises and it is the PKK issue that (still) most enrages them because it was supposed to be dealt with (by the US) in 2003. That didn't happen. They have a relationship of trust with Joe Biden but that relationship can go down the toilet if promises aren't kept. So the US public has a right to know what was promised? We have a right to know because if the promises aren't delivered what keeps being pimped by the press as "stability" in Iraq is going to get even worse.

Nouri has been the thing preventing the census. How can the US government promise the KRG that a census will take place? It hasn't thus far and it's in Iraq's Constitution. The census would especially effect Kirkuk -- a disputed territory sought by the central government in Baghdad (who asserts that it is not a predominately Kurdish population in the area) and by the KRG (who asserts that it is historically Kurdish and point out the Kurds were forced out by Saddam Hussein). Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports new construction is ongoing in oil-rich Kirkuk with Kurds constructing new homes. The Kurds want Kirkuk. They may or may not deserve it and they may or not end up getting it. But when the US government discussed "census" with the KRG, you better believe the KRG representatives and president brought up Kirkuk. What was promised? More importantly, what was the KRG led to believe?

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