Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bombed Back to the Stone Age, How is Iraq Progressing Today?


The New York Times
June 21, 2012
For most of the last decade, Iraq occupied center stage in the Arab world, as it was swiftly invaded and occupied by American forces in March 2003 before being wracked by the insurgency that sprang up in opposition and then by waves of sectarian killing that grew into something close to a civil war.
Since the bloodshed peaked in 2006, order was gradually restored, though violence remained high by any but wartime standards. The fairest elections in the country’s history in March 2010 led to the creation of a government of national unity, although after eight months of political stalemate that played out mostly along sectarian lines.
On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission in Iraq, one that cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded in action; more than one million service members served in Iraq during the course of the conflict. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the fighting that followed, although there are no firm estimates.
The closing ceremony in Baghdad sounded an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It ended without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many officers had hoped, and with the country facing a political crisis.
Even after the formal withdrawal, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops. At the height of the war in 2007, there were 505 bases and more than 170,000 troops. More than one million service members served in Iraq during the course of the conflict.
The end of America’s military involvement reflected the messy, sectarian state of Iraqi politics — both in terms of the political forces that led to America’s withdrawal and in the sectarian political strains that boiled over as soon as the last troops had left.
Despite Violence and Political Gridlock, Oil Output Soars
During a single week in June 2012, more than 150 Iraqis were killed and hundreds more were wounded in an escalation of sectarian violence that included the country’s deadliest day in nearly two years.
The government, meanwhile, remained paralyzed as Sunni and Kurdish rivals to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki pushed hard for his ouster, though diplomats and analysts said he seemed likely to weather the crisis.
Even so, Iraq’s crude oil production was soaring, providing a singular bright spot for the nation’s future and relief for global oil markets as the West tightened sanctions on Iranian exports.
The increased flow and vital port improvements produced a 20 percent jump in exports as of June 2012 to nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, making Iraq one of the premier producers in OPEC for the first time in decades.
Energy analysts say that the Iraqi boom — coupled with increased production in Saudi Arabia and the near total recovery of Libya’s oil industry — should cushion oil markets from price spikes and give the international community additional leverage over Iran when new sanctions take effect in July 2012.
For Iraq, the resurgence of oil is vital to its postwar success. Oil provides more than 95 percent of the government’s revenues, has enabled the building of roads and the expansion of social services, and has greatly strengthened the Shiite-led government’s hand in this ethnically divided country.
Oil has also brought its share of pitfalls for the fledgling democracy, fostering corruption and patronage, and aggravating tensions with the Kurdish minority in the north over the division of profits, a festering issue that could end up fracturing the country.
The country’s improving oil fortunes are well timed to compensate for Iran’s declining oil output, which according to OPEC fell by 12 percent in the first three months of 2012 as India, China and other Asian nations have gradually cut purchases under pressure from the United States and Europe.
With little if any progress achieved so far in negotiations between the West and Iran over its nuclear program, and Iran’s nuclear chief reaffirming in late May that the country would continue producing higher-grade uranium, Western sanctions are set to tighten in July.
Iraq’s role in ameliorating the effects of those sanctions in the oil market could create tensions with Iran, a strong backer and ally of the Iraqi government. But oil experts say exports are too valuable for Iraq to allow its relationship with Iran to impede production.
The recovery of Iraq’s oil industry after decades of wars, sanctions and neglect began in 2009 and 2010 as security improved and Baghdad signed a series of technical service contracts with foreign companies like Exxon Mobil, BP, China National Petroleum Corporation and ENI of Italy. The companies brought in modern seismic equipment and modern well recovery techniques to resuscitate old fields.
The deals have been only modestly profitable for the foreign companies, but foreign executives express cautious optimism that Iraq can eventually produce oil in amounts that could put it in an elite group of exporters with Saudi Arabia and Russia sometime in the 2020s.
History of the Invasion of Iraq
Almost immediately after ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush began to press the case for an American-led invasion of Iraq. He cited the possibility that Saddam Hussein still sought nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in defiance of United Nations restrictions and sanctions. Mr. Bush and other senior American officials also sought to link Iraq to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Both claims have since been largely discredited, though some officials and analysts continue to argue otherwise, saying that Mr. Hussein’s Iraq posed a real and imminent threat to the region and to the United States.
In his State of the Union address in 2002 , Mr. Bush linked Iraq with Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil.'' In his 2003 address, Mr. Bush made it clear the United States would use force to disarm Mr. Hussein, despite the continuing work of United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, and despite growing international protests, even from some allies. A week later, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the administration’s case before the United Nations Security Council with photographs, intercepted messages and other props, including a vial that, he said, could hold enough anthrax to shut down the United States Senate.
The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003 — the early hours of March 20 in Iraq — when Mr. Bush ordered missiles fired at a bunker in Baghdad where he believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding. Within weeks, with a “coalition of the willing” and disputed legal authority, the United States quickly toppled Mr. Hussein’s government, despite fierce fighting by some paramilitary groups. The Iraqi leader himself reportedly narrowly avoided being killed in the war’s first air strikes. The Army’s Third Infantry Division entered Baghdad on April 5, seizing what was once called Saddam Hussein International Airport. On April 9, a statue of Mr. Hussein in Firdos Square was pulled down with the help of the Marines. That effectively sealed the capture of Baghdad, but began a new war.
Chaos and Insurgency
The fall of Iraq’s brutal, powerful dictator unleashed a wave of celebration, then chaos, looting, violence and ultimately insurgency. Rather than quickly return power to the Iraqis, including political and religious leaders returning from exile, the United States created an occupation authority that took steps widely blamed for alienating many Iraqis and igniting Sunni-led resistance. They included disbanding the Iraqi Army and purging members of the former ruling Baath Party from government and public life, both with long-ranging consequences. On May 1, 2003, Mr. Bush appeared on an American aircraft carrier that carried a banner declaring " Mission Accomplished,” a theatrical touch that even the president years later acknowledged sent the wrong message.
In the security and political vacuum that followed the invasion, violence erupted against the American-led occupation forces and against the United Nations headquarters, which was bombed in August 2003, killing the body’s special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 — the former leader was found unshaven and disheveled in a spider hole north of Baghdad — did nothing to halt the bloodshed. Nor did the formal transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people in June 2004, which took place a few months after the publication of photographs showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had further fueled anger and anti-American sentiment.
In January 2005, the Americans orchestrated Iraq’s first multi-party elections in five decades, a moment symbolized by Iraqis waving fingers marked in purple ink after they voted. The elections for a Transitional National Assembly reversed the historic political domination of the Sunnis, who had largely boycotted the vote. A Shiite coalition supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric, won a plurality, and put Shiites in power, along with the Kurds. Saddam Hussein stood trial, remaining defiant and unrepentant as he faced charges of massacring Shiites in Dujail in 1982.
A new constitution followed by the end of the year, and new elections in January 2006 cemented the new balance of power, but also exposed simmering sectarian tensions, as many Sunnis boycotted. In February 2006, the bombing of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, one of the most revered Shiite shrines, set off a convulsion of violence against both Sunnis and Shiites that amounted to a civil war. In Baghdad, it soon was not unusual for 30 bodies or more to be found on the streets every day, as Shiite death squads operated without hindrance and Sunnis retaliated. That steady toll was punctuated by spikes from bomb blasts, usually aimed at Shiites. Even more families fled, as neighborhoods and entire cities were ethnically cleansed. Ultimately, more than 2 million people were displaced in Iraq, and many of them are still abroad, unable or too afraid to return.
Arab and Kurdish tensions also ran high. In Mosul, a disputed city in the north, Sunni militants attacked Kurdish and Christian enclaves. The fate of Kirkuk, populated by Arabs, Kurds and smaller minority groups, remains disputed territory, punctured routinely by killings and bombings. After a political impasse that reflected the chaos in the country, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a little-known Shiite politician previously known as Jawad al-Maliki, became Iraq’s first permanent prime minister in April 2006.
At Home
The messy aftermath of a swift military victory made the war in Iraq increasingly unpopular at home, but not enough to derail Mr. Bush’s re-election in November 2004. Almost immediately afterwards, though, his approval rating dropped as the war dragged on. It never recovered. By 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress. Their victory rested in large part on the growing sentiment against the war, which rose with the toll of American deaths, which reached 3,000 by the end of the year, and its ever spiraling costs. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death just before the Congressional elections, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned the day after the vote, widely blamed for having mismanaged the war.
In the face of rising unpopularity and against the advice of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of prominent Americans, Mr. Bush ordered a large increase in American forces, then totaling roughly 130,000 troops.
The “surge,” as the increase became known, eventually raised the number of troops to more than 170,000. It coincided with a new counterinsurgency strategy that had been introduced by a new American commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the flowering of a once-unlikely alliance with Sunnis in Anbar province and elsewhere. Moktada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric, whose followers in the Mahdi Army militia had been responsible for some of the worst brutality in Baghdad, declared a cease-fire in September. These factors came together in the fall of 2007 to produce a sharp decline in violence.
Political progress and ethnic reconciliation were halting, though, fueling calls by Democrats to begin a withdrawal of American forces, though they lacked sufficient votes in Congress to force one. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, an early opponent of the war, rose to prominence in the Democratic race for the nomination in large part by capitalizing on the war’s unpopularity. But by the time Mr. Obama defeated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination in 2008 and then the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, Iraq hardly loomed as an issue as it once had, both because of the drop in violence there and because of the rising economic turmoil in the United States and later the world.
Bush Reaches for an Agreement
At the end of 2007, Mr. Bush and General Petraeus had succeeded in maintaining the level of American forces in Iraq above what it was before the “surge” began. Mr. Maliki’s government, increasingly confident of its growing military might, expanded operations against insurgents and other militants that had once been the exclusive fight of the Americans. The militias loyal to Mr. Sadr, who had gone into exile, were routed in a government-led offensive in southern Iraq, though significant assistance from American forces and firepower was needed for the Iraqis to succeed. By May, the offensive extended to Sadr City in Baghdad, a densely populated neighborhood that had been largely outside of the government’s control.
American and Iraqi officials spent most of 2008 negotiating a new security agreement to replace the United Nations mandate authorizing the presence of foreign troops. Negotiations proceeded haltingly for months, but Mr. Bush, who for years railed against those calling for timetables for withdrawal, agreed in July 2008 to a “general time horizon.” That ultimately became a firm pledge to remove all American combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from the whole country by 2011. He also agreed to give Iraq significant control over combat operations, detentions of prisoners and even prosecutions of American soldiers for grave crimes, though with enough caveats to make charges unlikely.
Plans for Withdrawal
The American military returned control of military operations to Iraq’s military and police on Jan. 1, 2009. The American combat mission — Operation Iraqi Freedom, in the Pentagon’s argot — officially ended on Aug. 31, 2010.
President Obama marked the date with a prime-time address from the Oval Office, saying that the United States had met its responsibility to Iraq and that it was time to turn to pressing problems at home.
The mission’s name changed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, and the 50,000 remaining transitional troops were scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
At the end of June 2009, also in keeping with the security agreement, the vast majority of American troops withdrew from Iraq’s cities, garrisoning themselves on vast bases outside. Mr. Maliki declared June 30 a national holiday, positioning himself as a proud leader who ended the foreign occupation of Iraq. But Mr. Maliki’s fanfare about ending the occupation rang hollow for Iraqis who feared that their country’s security forces were not yet ready to stand alone. A series of catastrophic attacks in August, October, December and January 2010 — striking government ministries, universities, hotels — only heightened anxiety and suspicion among Iraqis.
Iraq’s Fractious Postwar Politics
Iraq’s latest parliamentary election was originally scheduled for December 2009, but was delayed for months by political bickering. A parliamentary commission with disputed legal standing disqualified more than 500 candidates on the grounds they were former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party or remained sympathetic to it.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, hoping to build on his success in the 2009 provincial elections, sought to form a broader, cross-sectarian coalition that would include Sunnis, Kurds and other minority groups. Other parties followed suit, appealing for “national unity” in a country where it has rarely before existed, and only then a unity ruled by an iron hand.
They faced a formidable challenge from a coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who served as interim prime minister before the 2005 elections. Mr. Allawi’s alliance, called Iraqiya, drew broader support across the country’s sectarian lines.
The pre-election turmoil unfolded against a backdrop of violence and intimidation, and a steady withdrawal of American troops. On Feb. 12, 2010, the Islamic State of Iraq, the insurgent group that included the remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, vowed to disrupt the elections. While the level of violence had plunged from the shocking carnage of 2006 and 2007, suicide bombers continued to attack, seemingly at will, plunging Baghdad into chaos on a regular basis and undercutting Mr. Maliki’s claims to have restored security. Political disputes between Arabs and Kurds in the north continued to fester, prompting the Americans to intervene. Mr. Maliki’s use of the military and security forces to settle political disputes also raised alarms, and put the Americans in the awkward middle.
Election Day in March 2010 was marked by violence that left at least 38 dead, but that did not dissuade voters from turning out in large numbers. The vote counting process proved to be more chaotic than expected, with accusations of fraud by leading parties, divisions among highly politicized electoral officials and chaos in disclosing the results.
The initial results showed the coalition led by Mr. Allawi taking a slim lead over the slate of Mr. Maliki. Mr. Allawi, although himself a Shiite, benefited from a surge in voting by Sunnis, many of whom boycotted earlier elections.
Mr. Maliki vigorously challenged the results, but Mr. Allawi’s narrow lead survived a recount. Mr. Maliki also forged an alliance between his coalition and the other major Shiite bloc, a move that cleared the way for a Shiite-dominated government for the next four years. Together they were only four votes short of a majority, leading many in Iraq to expect that a deal could be reached with Kurdish parties, once the Kurds extract new promises of expanded autonomy.
But as weeks dragged on, the Shiite alliance had not agreed on a candidate for prime minister, as many of its members strongly opposed giving Mr. Maliki a second term. The leader of one Shiite faction, Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric, even met with Mr. Allawi in an apparent effort to increase pressure on Mr. Maliki to step aside. American efforts to have the two men share power also failed to resolve the issue.
On October 1, it was announced that Mr. Maliki’s party, State of Law, and another Shiite party with ties to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr shut out a third, the Iraqi National Alliance, and its contender, Adel Abdelmehdi, in negotiations within the Shiite bloc.
The Kurds, with 57 seats in the new 325-member Parliament, emerged as powerbrokers in the final talks, throwing their support behind Mr. Maliki in exchange for holding onto the presidency.
The Obama administration had for months urged Iraq’s quarreling factions to create a government that included all major ethnic and sectarian groups, lest the country descend into the chaos that consumed it in the worst years after the invasion of 2003.
Under the new pact, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, remained as president, solidifying the role of Iraq’s Kurds. The government that would oversee the withdrawal of American troops on paper looked much like the one that had governed in the previous four tumultuous years. But Mr. Allawi’s role in the new government was ill-defined.
Mr. Maliki was formally granted a second term on Dec. 21, when Parliament unanimously voted to accept the cabinet he had painstakingly assembled.
By the following summer, feuding between the two men had brought the government into a state of paralysis. Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi, who refused to speak to each other, had not even been able to agree on choices for the two most important ministries, defense and interior.
Deadly attacks in August 2011 heightened political tensions as Mr. Maliki appointed a member of his governing coalition as acting defense minister. Sunni leaders criticized the appointment as reneging on the earlier political deal.
Widening Sectarian and Political Conflicts
Within days of the departure of the last American convoy, the country was in political turmoil that was extreme even by its own standards. The Shiite-dominated government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi,one of the country’s most prominent Sunni leaders, accusing him of running a personal death squad that assassinated security officials and government bureaucrats. Mr. Hashimi denied the charges and accused Mr. Maliki’s government of using the country’s security forces to persecute political opponents, specifically Sunnis.
Almost as significant as what Mr. Hashimi said was where he said it: in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan. Because of the region’s autonomy, Mr. Maliki’s security forces cannot easily act on the warrant. Mr. Hashimi said he would not return to Baghdad, effectively making him an internal exile
The following day Mr. Maliki threatened to abandon the American-backed power sharing government created a year previously, and ward Kurdish leaders that there would be “problems’' if they did not hand over Mr. Hashimi.
On Dec. 26, 2011, a powerful political group led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for Parliament to be dissolved and early elections to be held, the first open challenge to Mr. Maliki from within his Shiite coalition. The move by the Sadr bloc is not enough to immediately bring down the Maliki government. But even the prospect of a new vote adds more uncertainty to Iraq’s fragile political landscape, possibly setting the country’s main factions — Shiites, Sunnis and ethnic Kurds — and its byzantine networks of political allies scrambling for turf, influence, money and votes.
Less than two weeks later, Mr. Maliki’s government indicated that it was welcoming an Iranian-backed militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, into Iraq’s political system. The Shiite-led government’s support for the militia, which had only just sworn off violence, opened new sectarian fault lines in Iraq’s political crisis while potentially empowering Iran at a moment of rising military and economic tensions between Tehran and Washington. It could also tilt the nation’s center of gravity closer to Iran.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq — the name translates as League of the Righteous — broke away from the militia commanded by Moktada al-Sadr. The American military has long maintained that the group, led by a former spokesman for Mr. Sadr, Qais al-Khazali, was trained and financed by Iran’s elite Quds Force — something that Iran denies.
One of the deadliest insurgent groups operating in Iraq, Asaib Ahl al-Haq bombed American military convoys and bases, assassinated dozens of Iraqi officials and tried to kidnap Americans even as the last soldiers withdrew. Military officials said the group was responsible for the last American combat death in Iraq, a November 2011 roadside bomb attack in Baghdad.
Thousands of other militants, both Sunni and Shiite, cut deals with the government to stop fighting, and few officials see a meaningful peace in Iraq that does not include reconciling with armed groups. Yet critics worry that Mr. Maliki, facing fierce challenges to his leadership from Sunnis and even his fellow Shiites, may be making a cynical and shortsighted play for Asaib’s support. They say Mr. Maliki may use the group’s credentials as Shiite resistance fighters to divide challengers in his own Shiite coalition and weaken Mr. Sadr’s powerful bloc, which draws its political lifeblood from the Shiite underclass.
By doing so, Iraq’s government could embolden a militia with an almost nonexistent track record of peace while potentially handing Tehran greater influence in a country where the United States spent billions of dollars and lost nearly 4,500 American soldiers in nearly nine years of war.
The Displacement of Iraq’s Kurdish Minority
In Iraq, near the border of Iraqi Kurdistan, large numbers of Kurds have been forced to flee their homes, often after being terrorized and threatened. Others have been pushed out over property disputes that can be traced to Saddam Hussein’s policy in the 1970s of expelling Kurds and resettling Arabs.
Though a court was set up to handle claims stemming from the Arabization policy, Kurds say that property records that would verify their ownership claims were destroyed. As a result, Arabs are reclaiming homes that were seized from Kurdish families in the Hussein years.
Whether by terrorism or judicial order, the continuing displacement of Iraq’s Kurdish minority lays bare the unfinished business of reconciliation in the wake of the American military’s withdrawal, and it is a symptom of the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the semiautonomous Kurdish government based in Erbil and the central government in Baghdad.
The schism, which is most immediately over sharing oil wealth but is more deeply about historical grievances and Kurdish aspirations for independence, raises serious questions about the future of a unified Iraq. The Kurds, unlike the Sunnis, have their own security forces, oil reserves, ports of entry and even their own de facto foreign policy, with envoys operating in other countries. This could eventually lead them to seek more independence from Baghdad.
In the latest chapter of a long-simmering dispute, Kurdish authorities have shut off their oil exports, claiming that Baghdad is behind on payments to oil companies working in the Kurdish region. Officials in Baghdad, angered by this and by Kurdistan’s oil deal with Exxon Mobil that bypasses the central government, in turn threatened to cut off billions of dollars that flow to Kurdistan from the Iraqi budget. Both sides have accused the other of smuggling oil and siphoning off profits.
A New Level of Insurgent Violence
After the American military withdrawal, a fierce string of attacks added a new level of violence to the political and sectarian feuds.
Assaults against Iraqi civilians and government officials swelled in late December 2011 and January 2012, as the country was gripped by a political crisis rooted in imbalances of power and festering conflicts between the Shiite prime minister and his largely Sunni and secular political opposition.
The crisis eased somewhat as opposition politicians ended their boycott of the Parliament and cabinet. But Iraq’s leaders have punted on deeper questions of how to share power, deliver services and divide control of disputed territories and oil resources, leaving plenty of room for insurgents to attempt to exploit a persistent sense of instability and dissatisfaction with the government.
Al Qaeda in Iraq: A Deadly Presence
Many of the attacks of late 2011 and early 2012 could be attributed to the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq. The terrorist group, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Baghdad on Dec. 22, 2011. The explosions, which transformed the morning commute into a bloodbath, killed more than 63 people.
There were many more attacks during the next two months. Perhaps the most shocking occurred on Feb. 23, when insurgents unleashed a barrage of coordinated car bombings and small-arms attacks across the country, killing at least 55 people and wounding more than 200.
The worst of the violence was concentrated in Baghdad, where dozens of people were killed in explosions and fusillades of gunfire that transformed the morning commute into a landscape of carnage.
Although civilians suffered the worst casualties, most of the attacks were aimed at police officers, security convoys and other signposts of government authority. Bombs exploded outside a police station, a court, a political office and a local council building.
Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.
Diplomatic Overture From Saudi Arabia
Moving to repair a long-fractured diplomatic relationship, Saudi Arabia named its first ambassador to Iraq in more than two decades, Iraq’s foreign minister announced on February 2012.
The Saudis did not, however, say they were reopening an embassy in Baghdad. Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said in a Twitter posting that the Saudi ambassador to Jordan would serve as the new “nonresident” Iraqi envoy. He is Fahd al-Zaid.
Still, the Saudi move restored normal diplomatic relations between the oil-rich neighbors for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It may have also signaled Saudi Arabia’s desire for a stronger presence in Iraq to buttress against the influence of Iran, a longtime nemesis of the Saudi kingdom.
Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq had been especially strained since the 2003 American invasion toppled Mr. Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government and ushered in a Shiite-led one which has cultivated closer relations with Iran and Iranian-supported political movements inside Iraq.
Iraq: War Crimes, Lies and Statistics
By Felicity Arbuthnot
Global Research, June 18, 2012
URL of this article:
“A rock,
Breathing with the lungs of a lunatic,
That is it,
This is the twentieth century.” (A Mirror for the Twentieth Century:
Adonis – Ali Ahmad Said, 1930
Recently a contradictory, but in important areas, remarkably sunny opinion poll on “progress” in Iraq, conducted in April, was released. (i)
It was, it has to be said, a divide and rule sort of survey as it split respondents in to Shia, Sunni, Kurdish – the Shia, obviously were largely supportive of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, from the Iranian backed Dawa Party.
However, for those in the West wishing a phoenix to rise from Iraq’s ashes - the illegal invasion, occupation, destruction, resultant mass graves of maybe one and a half million beings, the million orphans, the over four million displaced, the unimaginable, near industrial scale, often daily carnage, nearly a decade on – incredibly, things are looking up.
Around half the respondents thought Iraq was going in the right direction and that Nuri al Maliki was OK at the steering wheel. (Don’t mention torture, secret prisons, hasty swathes of executions and a largely more than questionable judiciary.)
Near three quarter polled said it: “... was more important to have a strong leader to keep Iraq stable, even if it meant giving up some freedoms.”
Arguably then they would have done better with President Saddam Hussein. He even managed to keep the lights and water on for longer, the streets safe and grenade and car bomb free (with the exception of the occasional car bombs, allegedly courtesy of CIA-backed, former post-invasion, interim, allegedly British passport holding “Prime Minister” Iyad Allawi’s Iraq National Accord’s handiwork.)
Seemingly, if an election were held immediately, al Maliki’s Dawa Party would be a popular choice. An unasked question was whether that would be because of the cited fraud, death threats, confiscation of the life-line ration cards until people voted the “right way”, as in previous “free and fair”, post-invasion elections.
In questions on key issues, fifty nine percent opined that security had improved and - fifty percent that basic services had. Both starkly contradict reality.
[Left: Residents gather at the site of a bomb attack in Samarra, 100 km north of Baghdad February 24, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Bakr al-Azzawi)]
Here is the current British Foreign and Commonwealth overview on security in Iraq (ii):
“We advise against all but essential travel to the whole of Iraq ... terrorists and insurgents maintain the ability to conduct attacks throughout Iraq, including regular attacks in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk. Major attacks within the last six months include:
• On 13 June 2012, a series of car bombs detonated across Iraq, including Hilla, Kirkuk, Karbala and 8 bombs in Baghdad, killing over 80 people and injuring nearly 300.
• On 19 April 2012, a series of car bombs detonated across Iraq, killing 34 people and injuring 120.
• On 20 March 2012, a series of car bombs detonated across Iraq, including in Hilla, Kirkuk, Karbala, and Baghdad, killing at least 40 people and injuring more than 100.
• On 4 March 2012, gunmen attacked police check-points around the town of Haditha in Anbar province, Western Iraq. 27 policemen, including two senior commanders were killed and several others wounded. Al Qaeda-Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks.
• On 23 February 2012, a series of coordinated attacks across Iraq, including in Baghdad, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, Anbar and Babil, killed at least 50 people and injured hundreds more.
• On 27 January 2012, a suspected car bomb attack in the Zafaraniya district of Baghdad killed and injured a large number of people.
• On 24 January 2012, a number of suspected car bomb attacks in the Sadr City area of Baghdad killed several people and injured many more.
• On 5 January 2012, 45 pilgrims died in a suicide attack in Nasiriya and 27 people died as a result of bombings in the Sadr City and Kadhimiya areas of Baghdad. More than 130 people were reported wounded in these attacks.
• On 22 December 2011, a series of co-ordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad killed and injured a large number of people.
• On 5 December 2011, bomb attacks against Shi’a pilgrims marking Ashura in al-Hilla and Baghdad killed and injured over 70 people.
• On 28 November 2011 in Baghdad international zone, a car exploded near the Council of Representatives VIP entrance which killed one person and injured several others.
• On 26 November 2011 in Baghdad, three improvised explosive devices in Rusafa district killed 8 and injured 13, and an attack on the Abu Ghaib-Fallujah road to the west of Baghdad killed 7 and injured 28.
• On 24 November 2011, three improvised explosive devices exploded in a Basra marketplace killing 19 people and injuring 65.”
Further, foreigners in Iraq are: “ ... high value targets to terrorists, insurgents and criminals who conduct frequent and widespread lethal attacks ...”
The Foreign Office also advise seeing their “Terrorism Abroad” page (hyperlinked.)
Their web page is clearly not updated regularly.
On 16th June, fifty one people were killed and one hundred and fifty four injured in attacks across Iraq. (iii) On 17th June nineteen were killed and fifty three injured in further violence.(iv)
In 2011 Iraq had second highest death toll in the world for deaths resulting from terrorism, just behind liberated Afghanistan which topped the list, according to a US study.(v)
The US State Department: “warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq given the dangerous security situation. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous. (There are) ongoing security concerns for U.S. citizens in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence.”
Threats of attack ... throughout Iraq continue, including in the (super fortified) Baghdad International Zone.
“(Attacks include) roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Explosively Formed Penetrators; magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs, mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets, and shootings using various direct fire weapons. Numerous insurgent groups remain active throughout Iraq.”(vi)
So who conducted a survey painting such an optimistic picture? (Though even the most committed fantasist has had trouble in some areas.)
None other than the National Democratic Institute (NDI), whose “Chairman” (sic) is Madeleine K. Albright, former US Secretary of State and who, as former US Ambassador to the UN, thought the price of the lives of half a million Iraqi children were a: “price ... worth it.”
The NDI has even: “established the Madeleine K. Albright Grant, to recognize the contribution she has made in ... improving the lives of women across the globe.”(vii)
Tell that to the mothers of her child sacrifices across Iraq.
The Institute describes itself as: “a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.”
For a “nonpartisan” open and accountable Institute their supporters(viii) include a remarkable array of governments, arguably partisan Foundations and multi-lateral institutions. For a “non-profit” it seems eye wateringly well financially backed.
Earlier this year NDI employees in Egypt were accused of being spies and working to destabilize Egypt, with the authorities placing a travel ban on them and others connected with a case which is ongoing.
An illuminating insight (ix) is that: ”NDI began working with reform-minded Iraqi politicians in 1999 and established an in-country presence throughout Iraq in June 2003.” (Thus: “in-country” a month after George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.”)
Since the US had no diplomatic or any other presence in Iraq since, as the British, they fled ahead of the missiles and bunker busters of Desert Storm in 1991, an educated guess would be that they were working with the likes of “reform minded” foreign passport holders such as convicted embezzler and CIA funded beneficiaries Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi and their ilk.
The link above has a helpful “Select a Country” facility for the NDI’s other areas of operation. To paraphrase William Blum: No oil, mineral producing or strategically useful country too small, too far away not to be apparently reform-mindedly involved in.
The heartening survey on Iraq’s progress since its 2003 destruction, was carried out by Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner Research.(x) Their website makes further enlightening reading.
Stanley B. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO: “has served as polling advisor to presidents and prime ministers, CEOs ... in the US and around the world, including President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Nelson Mandela, as well as the national leaders in Israel, Europe and Latin America.”
Greenberg’s corporate clients include Boeing, Microsoft and other global companies.
Also, in 1999 Greenberg co-founded Democracy Corps, an organization: “born out of outrage over the impeachment of President Clinton ... the leading organization providing in-depth research and strategic advice to progressive groups, candidates and leaders.”
When Karl Rove listed in the Wall Street Journal ten steps to regain the Republican majority, step one was to create a Democracy Corps.”
When Greenberg’s (clearly non-partisan book) “Dispatches from the War Room: In the Trenches with Five Extraordinary Leaders”, was published, George Stephanopoulos concluded: “No single strategist has done more to lay the foundation for modern progressive politics - across the globe.”
Stanley Greenberg: “conducts polls for the Israel Project in the US, Europe and the Arab world ...”
“The New Yorker reported Ehud Barak’s victory in 1999 as ... just another Greenberg client taking his place as the head of state."
Apart from 1999 clearly being an auspicious year for the forward march of US manipulation of the aspirations of other far away countries, careful reading of the background to the optimistic Iraq poll, is dazzlingly illuminating in a far wider context.
Iraq beefs up security for Arab summit after Al-Qaeda attacks
(AFP, AP, Al-Akhbar)
Published Wednesday, March 21, 2012
[Left: Iraq's security forces locked down key routes in Baghdad on Wednesday after the country suffered its deadliest violence in two months in the run-up to a landmark Arab summit due next week.]
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the wave of nationwide gun and bomb attacks on Tuesday that killed 50 people and left 255 others wounded on the anniversary of the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The closures worsened already choking traffic in Baghdad, which has seen unprecedented levels of security as part of preparations for the first meeting of the 22-member Arab League to be held in the Iraqi capital in 20 years.
AFP journalists reported full or partial closures of key routes in the capital, while roads that remained open saw increased numbers of checkpoints and security forces, and virtually all of the bridges that traverse the Tigris were also shut.
The violence rocked 20 towns and cities spanning the northern oil hub of Kirkuk and the city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, from 7:00am, and continued through the day.
A statement posted Wednesday on an Al-Qaeda affiliated website said the Islamic State of Iraq wanted to prove how weak the Iraqi government's security plans were ahead of next week's Arab League meeting in Baghdad.
Al-Qaeda said its "Sunni lions" targeted the plan of the "fool government preparing" for the summit.
The attacks were swiftly condemned internationally, with United Nations envoy Martin Kobler describing them as "atrocious."
Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the "brutal criminal" attacks, and said they were part of efforts by Al-Qaeda to "derail the Arab summit, and keep Iraq feeling the effects of violence and destruction."
Following the attacks, the government declared a week of public holidays from March 25 to April 1.
Coupled with Kurdish New Year festival Nowruz on Wednesday and the weekly Muslim day of prayer on Friday, much of Iraq will be largely closed until after the summit.
Security forces have mooted the possibility of imposing a city-wide curfew on March 29, when Arab leaders are expected in Baghdad, the first such meeting to be held in the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Officials insist Iraq's forces are capable of maintaining security for the summit, and have drafted in an additional 4,000-odd policemen and soldiers to do so, but admit they may need to effectively shut down Baghdad.
Tuesday's violence was Iraq's deadliest day since January 14, when 53 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside the southern port of Basra.
World Report 2012: Iraq
Events of 2011
Human rights conditions in Iraq remained extremely poor, especially for journalists, detainees, and opposition activists. In part inspired by peaceful uprisings elsewhere in the region, thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the streets to demand better services and an end to corruption. Security forces and gangs responded with violence and threats.
Reports continued of torture of detainees unlawfully held outside the custody of the Justice Ministry. In late June or early July United States forces handed over the last of the 192 detainees in Iraq who were still under US control at the end of 2010, including some former members of Saddam Hussein's government. Attacks by armed groups killed hundreds of civilians as well as police. The US continued to withdraw troops as part of a 2008 agreement that calls for a complete US withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Freedom of Assembly
After thousands took to the streets in February to protest widespread corruption and demand greater civil and political rights, federal Iraqi authorities and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities both responded with violence.
On February 21, Iraqi police stood by as dozens of assailants, some wielding knives and clubs, stabbed and beat at least 20 protesters intending to camp in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, the capital. During nationwide demonstrations on February 25, security forces killed at least 12 protesters across the country and injured more than 100. Baghdad security forces beat unarmed journalists and protesters that day, smashing cameras and confiscating memory cards.
Anti-government protests started in Kurdistan on February 17. At this writing security forces had killed at least 10 protesters and bystanders and injured more than 250.On March 6, masked assailants attacked demonstrators in Sara Square—the center of daily protests in Sulaimaniya—and set the demonstrators’ tents on fire, but failed to evict the demonstrators from the site. On April 18, security forces seized control of Sara Square to prevent further demonstrations. On April 27 the KRG released a 19-page report that determined that both security forces and protesters were responsible for violence, and that security forces “were not prepared to control the situation.”
On June 10 in Baghdad government-backed thugs armed with wooden planks, knives, iron pipes, and other weapons beat and stabbed peaceful protesters and sexually molested female demonstrators as security forces stood by and watched, sometimes laughing at the victims.
Authorities also used legal means to curtail protests. On April 13, Iraqi officials issued new regulations barring street protests and allowing them only at three soccer (football) stadiums, although they have not enforced the regulations. In May the Council of Ministers approved a "Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration" that authorizes officials to restrict freedom of assembly to protect "the public interest" and in the interest of "general order or public morals." At this writing the law still awaited parliamentary approval.
Freedom of Expression
In 2011 Iraq remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. Armed groups and unknown assailants killed at least five journalists and one media worker, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Journalists also contended with emboldened Iraqi and KRG security forces.
On February 20, dozens of masked men attacked the private Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) station in Sulaimaniya. They shot up broadcasting equipment and wounded one guard. They then doused the premises with gasoline and set fire to the building, according to the station's staff. NRT had begun its inaugural broadcasts of footage of the protests only two days before the attack.
On February 23 security forces in Baghdad raided the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a press freedom group. Their destructive search lasted more than an hour and they seized computers, external hard drives, cameras, cell phones, computer disks, and documents as well as flak jackets and helmets marked “Press.”
More than 20 journalists covering protests in Kurdistan said that security forces and their proxies routinely threatened journalists, subjected them to arbitrary arrest, beatings, and harassment, and confiscated or destroyed their equipment. After quashing the daily protests in Sulaimaniya in April, KRG officials and security forces expanded their suppression of journalists through libel suits, beatings, detentions, and death threats. The threat of attacks and arrests sent some journalists into hiding.
On September 8 an unknown assailant shot to death Hadi al-Mahdi, a popular radio journalist often critical of government corruption and social inequality, at his Baghdad home. The Ministry of Interior said it would investigate his death, but at this writing no one had been charged. Immediately prior to his death al-Mahdi received several phone and text message threats not to return to Tahrir Square. Earlier, after attending the February 25 “Day of Anger” mass demonstration in Baghdad, security forces arrested, blindfolded, and severely beat him along with three other journalists during their subsequent interrogation.
In April Iraq’s parliament approved a Journalists’ Protection Law, intended to protect media workers and compensate them for injuries sustained while working. Critics say the law does not do enough to ensure proper protections for journalists.
In May the Council of Ministers approved adraft of the “Law on Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration,” which contains provisions that would criminalize speech, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Under article 13, anyone who “attacks a belief of any religious sect or shows contempt for its rites”, or publicly insults a “symbol, or person who is held sacred, exalted, or venerated by a religious sect” would face up to one year in jail and fines of up to 10 million Iraqi dinars (US$8,600). The law provides no guidance about what might constitute an unlawful insult.
Secret Prisons and Torture
In February Human Rights Watch uncovered, within the Camp Justice military base in Baghdad, a secret detention facility controlled by elite security forces who report to the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Beginning on November 23, 2010, Iraqi authorities transferred more than 280 detainees to the facility, which was controlled by the Army's 56th Brigade and the Counter-Terrorism Service.
The same elite divisions controlled Camp Honor, a separate facility in Baghdad where detainees were tortured with impunity. More than a dozen former Camp Honor detainees told Human Rights Watch how detainees were held incommunicado and in inhumane conditions, many for months at a time. Detainees said interrogators beat them; hung them upside down for hours at a time; administered electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals; and repeatedly put plastic bags over their heads until they passed out from asphyxiation. On March 14 the Justice Ministry announced that it would close Camp Honor after a parliamentary investigative committee found evidence of torture during a spot inspection of the facility. Human Rights Watch has since received credible information that elite forces may still hold and interrogate detainees at Camp Honor.
At this writing the authorities had not prosecuted any officials responsible for torture at Camp Honor.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights and Gender-Based Violence
Iraq adjudicates family law and personal status matters pursuant to a 1959 Personal Status Code. The law discriminates against women by granting men privileged status in matters of divorce and inheritance.The law further discriminates against women by permitting Iraqi men to have as many as four polygamous marriages.
On October 6 Iraq’s parliament passed legislation to lift Iraq’s reservation to article 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Article 9 grants women equal rights with men to acquire, change, or retain their nationality and pass on their nationality to their children.
Violence against women and girls continued to be a serious problem across Iraq. Women's rights activists said they remained at risk of attack from extremists, who also targeted female politicians, civil servants, and journalists. “Honor” crimes and domestic abuse remained a threat to women and girls, who were also vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced prostitution due to insecurity, displacement, financial hardship, social disintegration, and the dissolution of rule of law and state authority.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced mainly in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and several official and non-governmental studies estimate that the prevalence of FGM among girls and women in Kurdistan is at least 40 percent. On June 21 Kurdistan’s parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes several provisions criminalizing the practice, as well as forced and child marriages, and verbal, physical, and psychological abuse of girls and women.
Attacks on Civilians
Attacks by armed groups killed hundreds of civilians and security forces. Assailants targeted provincial councils and government officials, checkpoints, markets, and mosques. In one of the worst attacks, a string of over 40 coordinated assaults in 17 cities on August 15 killed more than 90 people, including many unarmed civilians and members of the security forces.
The ongoing attacks, along with injuries from abandoned landmines and cluster munitions, have created a disproportionately high number of persons with physical and mental disabilities, many of whom have not received rehabilitation or support for re-integration into their communities. On August 17 Iraq's parliament held a second reading of a resolution to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Two draft disability laws under consideration would create a national body to oversee disability issues. But the proposed laws have several deficiencies including language that is incompatible with the CRPD.
Key International Actors
The European Court of Human Rights issued two landmark judgments on July 7, 2011, which ruled that the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations apply to British acts in Iraq, and that the UK had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to adequately investigate the killings of five Iraqis by its forces there, and that its internment of Iraqis had amounted to arbitrary detention.
On September 8 a three-year UK inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist who died in British custody following serious abuse by British soldiers, condemned inadequate detention procedures, leadership failures, poor training, a loss of discipline, and a lack of “moral courage” among soldiers to report abuse. Only one British soldier was convicted of any crime in connection with this killing, and he was sentenced to only one year in prison.
In September Wikileaks released thousands of classified cables from the US embassy in Baghdad, one of which called into question the results of a US military investigation of a 2006 incident in which US soldiers may have handcuffed and executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians.
In July the United Nations Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year. UNAMI’s 2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq, released in August 2011, found that “significant problems remain with law enforcement and the administration of justice, especially in relation to the provision and respect for due process and fair trial rights,” and that “incidents of abuse and torture remain widely reported.”
Also See:
American-backed Death Squads in Iraq
28 November 2007
Iraq - What has the Bush Administration Done to You?
30 December 2008
Troops withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan!
31 December 2011