Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another tax cheat

In a letter to senators, Sebelius said the changes involved charitable contributions, the sale of a home and business expenses. She and her husband paid a total of $7,040 in back taxes and $878 in interest from 2005-2007, AP says.

U.S.A. Today notes the above. Can someone explain to me how Barack Obama keeps finding (and nominating) these tax cheats? Sebelius is Kathleen Sebelius, the woman not smart enough to wear a bra when addressing the nation. For those who may have forgotten that moment, here is Ava and C.I. commenting on it last year in "TV: Nah-nah-nah, Hey-hey-hey, Goodbye" (Third Estate Sunday Review):

We didn't have much time to ponder because the network was trying out a new show, An American Response. Though not normally fans of the rescue show format, after the sedate and hopefully series finale of Make Room For Bully, we could use a little action, maybe some sirens and smoke. But the only fire we saw was in a fireplace and we realized that either we were watching an extended commercial for Duraflame logs or else someone was attempting to recreate FDR's fireside chats.
The main character, well, the only character, was a woman named Kathleen Sebelius and we quickly grasped from that nervous, masculine energy that it was Jane Lynch resurrecting her role of Christy Cummings in Christopher Guest's hilarious Best In Show.
What she lacked in action, she made up for in delivery giving just the right sting to the pompous words her character was reciting while wearing a blouse that appeared to have no buttons and to plunge to the waist. Obviously, we weren't the only ones disturbed by that since CBS blocked the bottom fourth of the screen with a red bar and a CBS logo. Lynch is really too good of an actress to go the bra-less T&A route and we had to wonder what that said about actresses today that Lynch would think that was how a governor appearing on national television would dress?
Maybe she was just attempting to spice up the vague dialogue which even her look-but-don't-touch, frosty demeanor could only do so much with. For instance, she declared, "As governor of Kansas, I am the commander in chief of our National Guard. Over the past five years, I have seen thousands of soldiers deployed from Kansas. I've visited our troops in Iraq; attended funerals and comforted families; and seen the impact at home of the war being waged." We couldn't figure out whether that was bragging (a resume being floated for higher office?) or if she was treating the illegal war like a faux pas.

Brian Montopoli (CBS News) covers news of the tax cheat here. Mr. Montopoli is a young man and may buy Kathleen Sebelius' nonsense about misplacing charity letters. All of her tax papers are kept in one central location. That's just nonsense. The equivalent of the dog ate my homework. CNN adds:

Kathleen Sebelius revealed Tuesday that she recently paid nearly $8,000 in back taxes and interest, becoming the sixth Obama nominee to have tax issues.
In the letter, released Tuesday by the committee and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Kansas governor said she had errors in her 2005, 2006 and 2007 tax returns.
Sebelius said she did not have letters supporting three charitable contributions she and her husband made and deducted, and had "insufficient documentation required to claim some deductions for business expenses."
Also, she and her husband sold their home for an amount less than their outstanding mortgage balance, and mistakenly continued to deduct the interest. The couple also treated a home equity loan the same way.
As a result, they have now paid $7,040 in taxes and $878 in interest.

I do not believe Sebelius is either qualified or needed. I would prefer Dr. Howard Dean or any doctor in the position. And that was before we knew she was a tax cheat. She is allegedly qualified based on being able to run a state as governor; however, during that time she was not qualified enough to get her tax returns correct.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Tuesday, March 31, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US announces another death, Bob Casey holds a hearing on Iraqi refugees, tensions continue in Baghdad, and more.

Today Senator Bob Casey chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommitee hearing on the "The Return and Resettlement of Displace Iraqis." The hearing started late (one minute shy of an hour late) and lasted approximately one hour and thirty-two minutes. The turnout among senators was dreadful. On the plus side, I've never attended a hearing where witnesses were asked to be frank, given additional time to be frank, offered the chance clarify and to raise issues that they had not been asked about. Casey ran a very effective hearing and did it all by himself because no one else asked any questions. (Senator James Risch passed on speaking and Senator Edward Kaufman just noted that they were voting and had already voted on three budget proposals). Casey opened by noting the refugee crisis and called it "one of the most tragic humanitarian consequences" of the Iraq War. He entered his statement into the record and skipped reading it out loud ("for the purposes of moving" the hearing along). He noted the UNHCR numbers of 2.7 million internal refugees (IDP -- internally displaced persons) and 2 million external refugees for the total of 4.7 million refugees and wanted the three witnesses to discuss the numbers at the start. Appearing before the committee were Ellen Laipson (Henry L. Stimson Center), Nansy Aossery (International Medical Corps) and Nabil al-Tikriti (University of Mary Washington).

Ellen Laipson worries whether Iraqi refugees will be seen as the new Palestinians? That's a thread that came up throughout her responses and one she introduced in her opening remarks. She feels that countries such as Jordan and Lebanon are motivated to help the Iraqi refugees today in part because of scars from being less helpful to the Palestinians in earlier times. She noted that there were "definitional problems" regarding the refugees because some of the returnees (to neighborhoods, IDPs) are returning from pre-2003 exits. The current terminology does not help clarify the situation. She noted there were two big refugee waves since the start of the Iraq War. You had the 2003-2005 wave and then the 2006 wave which was larger and came in response to the fighting between Shia and Sunni sects.

She would like to see:

1) Work to improve conditions in Iraq and make returns viable
2) More support for host countries
3) Encouragement and support for Iraqis to find long term solutions

Nancy Aossey's International Medical Corps has been in Iraq since 2003 and they have a staff of 5,000 ("primarily outside the Green Zone"). She would touch on the issue of women and children -- which make up the bulk of the refugee population -- throughout the hearing. She noted the number of returnees from outside Iraq is small and she noted the "debt of gratitude" the international community owes those countries who have taken in the refugees. She would stress repeatedly who decides on returns: "Return, and I repeat, can only occur when Iraqi families feel it is safe to do so." She explained that even when they leave, they are in contact with "relatives and friends from the community" and they do get news and updates from them which provide a sense of how things are in Iraq, specifically in their home neighborhoods. On the numbers of refugees, she agreed with Laipson that the numbers were fluid but she pointed out that the United Nations uses the same methodology when determining any refugee crisis in the world. And she noted that some do not register for relief programs or with the UN refugee program because they fear being forced to return to Iraq. Her recommendations were:

1) US policy towards Iraq needs to develop a strategy for IDPs and refugees.
2) Increased support for humanitarian efforts
3) Additional resources should be provided to the US State Dept and USAID
4) Urge and support the Iraqi government to develop a safe and sustainable return
5) Capacity building measures within Iraqi ministries ("managing this crisis must be an Iraqi process")

Nabil al-Tirkirit stressed that the ethnic and religious identities do go back in Iraqi history but not sectarian conflict and that outbreaks of sectarian conflict have been rare in Iraq's history. He would stress various groups (including MEK which he wrongly stated at the end had not been mentioned) in his opening statements -- bascially the entire demographics of Iraq -- and note that the three divisions most utilized and noted (Kurds, Sunni, Shia) were a division that the US brings along to 'explain' Iraq when he would characterize the division in Iraq prior to the start of the Iraq War as "between Baghdad and the rest of the country." On the issue of refugee numbers, he would point out that the low is 3.8 million while the high if 5.5 million -- general range -- so 4.7 million seems to be a reasonable average. His recommendations included:

1) Property adjudication and returnee assistance
2) Radical increase in housing across
3) Ensure that all Iraqis -- regardless of where now located -- are able to vote in the upcoming Parliamentary elections
4) Make the public distribution cards easily transferable (if you move from one neighborhood to another, your rations card does not transfer in most cases and you're required to go back to your former neighborhood)
5) Increase protection for "micro-minorities" possibly through the creation of a micro security council
6) Create a look-and-see program for Iraqis to return to their neighborhoods to determine if there are improvements. If not, they should easily be allowed to leave (not always easy to enter or leave due to border policies).
7) Speed up the process for refugees applying for asylum and increase US programs.

Aossey spoke of capacity building in her opening statement and Chair Casey wanted to know if she could expand on her remarks about the Ministry of Displacement and Migration? Aossey explained, "Our expereince with this Ministry is that they do have the will. I mean, we've worked very closely with them and we do believe that they [. . .] are very interested in doing the right thing thing with their people." The issue is the capacity building she feels is needed. "We haven't seen within Iraq, throughout the country, that there's an ability for the people and for people within the ministries -- they just literally don't have any historical experience with setting up systems, with delegation . . . to not only make decisions but to implement them as well." She would touch on the historical experience in the time immediately prior to the Iraq War (Saddam Hussein period) and how there was a need for capacity skills to be increased through civilian internation and programs. Bob Casey would sum it up as "experience in operation" and she would agree with that and note that "the history there is that people there were not necessarily empowered to do these things." Bob Casey wanted to know about other agencies working to assist with the crisis and Aossey stated that bolstering "the civilian capacity is very, very important. . . . A lot of this is just management training and adminstrartive expertise."

al-Tikriti pointed out that the Ministry of Displacement and Migration was "a post-2003 cretation itself" (by Paul Bremer) and that, as late as 2007, it still "had a small staff and budget." He wasn't sure how they'd do with the issues today but stated that prior to the creation of the Displacement and Migration Ministry, the issues would have gone to the Ministry of the Interior and the Red Crescent.

Senator Casey notes that he and other senators wonder "what's happening at the senior levels of the government. One of the challenges we face is determining whether the central government, which has Shi'ites in charge, whether the govenrment is discriminating against the displaced Sunni population." Before going to the answers, note that both women's organizations interact with and are dependent upon the al-Maliki government.

Laipson felt that if there was a problem it might be that the Sunnis are "not fully testing the system." They might not, she stated, believe that the rule of law is in place and would be followed. She then made an interesting comment that Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, "sees the return of some refugees as part of Iraq's credibilty" and image to other countries but "others such as the prime minister . . . are simply enjoying being the ones on top." Really? Talabani's more concerned than al-Maliki? al-Maliki and his spokespeople have repeatedly lied and said it was safe to return to Iraq. Talabani's never publicly made those statements. Talabani's also noted he's stepping down from his figure head post at the end of his term (this December). al-Maliki would like to continue as prime minister. Again, her organization depends on al-Maliki to continue its work.

Aossey sidestepped the issue by noting, again, the networks refugees have, the ones they're in contact with, and the communication which allows them to know whether or not it is safe to return or not. She noted "it first starts with the feeling that safety must be durable" because no one's going to return if they don't believe it's safe. She then noted that, in Iraq, "people who are Sunni have a more difficult time accessing services" ("our general experience" in working in Iraq with all the populations). The Sunnis "seem to struggle more in accessing services that they need but we don't know why that is, we can't pinpoint it but there tends to be trends in that regard."

al-Tikirit pointed out "just this past weekend" you saw the tensions flare up with the move on the Sunni "Awakenings" which "may have set off the beginnings of a civil uprising in Baghdad." He also noted the rising tensions between the Kurds and Arabs "happening right now."

Casey would follow with "a more blunt question" to al-Tikriti, "is it your sense or do you have any reason to believe that Prime Minister al-Maliki is actively inhibiting the return of refugees who happen to be Sunni?" al-Tikriti responded, "No, I do not believe that. I do, however, believe -- and think there's a lot of evidence to back this up -- that those who do not want to return do not trust al-Maliki."

Bob Casey noted that the Obama administration is committed to spending $150 million on Iraqi refugees this fiscal year and he wanted to know if the United States was providing adequate resources? Assoey's response was that "additional resources are needed less for infrastructrue and more to do the things that USAID and the State Department have known all along are important: to build the capacity of the people." She explained this civilian training needed to be emphasized. "The training becomes a priority?" Casey asked and she agreed.

al-Tikriti poined out that "$160 million is not so greatly different than it was in the last couple of years" under the previous adminsitration. And that "much of the international community feels that this is a US crisis" and therefore that the US should be contributing more monies.

"Look at this problem just through the eys of a child," Bob Casey suggested noting that children make up a significant number of Iraqi refugees. He asked them to think about not just what services they receive or not but whether they would be attracted to some "harmful" ideology. Ellen Laipson's "deep concern" was Iraqi teenagers in Syria "who are idle all the time". Nancy Aossey noted that 75% of the refugee population are said to be women and children and that "Refugee populations and IDP populations children suffer disproportionately and, if I could add, women and children." She pointed out how many of the families suffering are now one-parent families due to the deaths and destruction of the war. She futher pointed out, "Children living in poverty for a whole host of reasons is always a bad situation" and that the hardships are frequently "too much for an adult to cope with [. . .] let alone a child." She stated children measure the world through their parents. "If you don't help the mother and the father, if they aren't employed [. . .] if they are deprived, if they are afraid, then chances are so are the children." Nabil al-Tikriti explained, "I'm personally uncomfortable with the paradigm of youth as a security risk." He went on to state this could translate as, "Educate me or I'll blow up a building."

In terms of neighboring countries, Ellen Laipson declared that Jordan and Lebanon "are deeply, deeply nervous" that Iraqi problems will be transferred to their regions but she feels this was "more acute in 2006 and 2007" and that the fear "is down a bit". On Syria, she stated there was frustratation on the part of Syria "that they have not been able to do business with Iraq." She noted the US attitudes towards Syria and stated that the attitudes were seen (by Syria) as having impacted Syria's chances. Nancy Aossey pointed out, "I can't think of many countries that want refugee populations in their country permanently." She then talked about general concerns regarding influxes of refugees and how those "affect their own balance."

Senator Casey floated the idea of a Special Coordinator for Refugees in the White House. Nabil al-Tikriti was in favor of this noting the government maze already existing with departments like State and Homeland Security and felt it was necessary for the issue of assistance when refugees manage to make it to the US. Ellen Laipson feels it's all already "mindboggling complex" and "I'm not sure that Czar in the White House can break through all of that." She'd prefer to see Homeland Security streamline its process and noted that the refugee process is stalled by many post-911 measures in the US. Nancy Aossey, like al-Tikriti, was in favor of the position, "I think it would show the extraordinary importance of this -- whether or not it would get muddled into bureaucratic process, it's difficult to know. She feels it's "a good idea in large part because it would be someone's only job" allowing them to focus on the issue. al-Tikriti felt there was much more the federal government could be doing with the refugees here in the US and pointed to the refugees from Vietnam and a program that allowed them to obtain jobs in which the federal government paid half the salary. It provided steady income and allowed families to set down roots. As an example, he offered Joesph Cao who was a Vietnam refugee and his family benefitted from that program. (Cao is a US House Rep today.) What of the issue of resettling the refugees, Casey wanted to know?

This led to an interesting discussion. I've tried to stay with they-said throughout but I'll be offering opinions here and it will be obvious when I do. Ellen Laipson rightly noted that "we're doing poorly across the board. I think the numbers are too low and I think once they get here we're not doing enough." "American affiliated Iraqis" getting special treatment while others waited concerned her. It concerns me as well. However it does not concern al-Tikriti who thinks they should be able to jump in line and also thinks it is bad to help Iraqi Christians. It causes problems back in Iraq. Iraqi Christians are targeted. For who they are. Not because they collaborated with an invading force, not because they went against their own country. They are targeted for who they are. When you read of a liquor store owner shot dead, that's usually an Iraqi Christian. The external refugee population has a huge number of Iraqi Christians. Inside Iraq, a huge number have left their homes and relocated to the Kurdistan Regional Government where they feel safer. (Relocated after threats and attacks.) Just last summer you saw the attack on Christians in Mosul. They are attacked for who they are. They are real refugees. Ellen Laipson was correct in her remarks and al-Tikriti was wrong in his. It's just that simple. Laispon did not say "No translators!" She did note that refugee is a classification and that the US needs to be sure that they are meeting the needs of refugees which includes determining refugee status. That goes beyond "I like ___ because they helped us with . . ."

Nancy Aossey skipped the issue and took it back to the proposal of a White House level coordinator. She stated there "needs to be some overall leadership at the highest level."
That's an overview (I've skipped PRTs -- and al-Tikriti had his best point there, we may return to it tomorrow). In closing, Senator Casey asked them to offer what they would underscore as important.

Ellen Laipson feels the "refugee story is an important test of American leadership" and she "would like the United States to pay more attention to the refugees. Having said that I want to think about this refugee problem in a more holistic way" which, she explained, means looking at it in terms of the system and not just a group of people here, a group there, but the system and how the solutions can be integrated.

Nancy Aossey wanted to stress "that we take the hard won gains and the progress that have been made over the last few years and keep things progressing so that we don't bracktrack. That is, we cannot rush the returns of the refugees or the IDPs. People need to be comfortable. [. . .] Certainly, I believe that this should be civilian led."

Nabil al-Tikriti stated that "the focus should be on the most vulnerable populations and it hasn't always been" (like in his remarks about Iraqi Christians?). He listed three groups. We'll note the Palestinain refugees -- "effectively trapped. They need to go somewhere and they're stuck." He again noted the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) although he stated thay hadn't been noted. He rightly pointed out that the US has been the only thing protecting the Irani refugees in Iraq -- since 1979 -- and that when the US leaves, what happens then?

That's the basic hearing. Staying with the MEK,
Lara Logan (CBS News -- link has text and vidoe) notes Camp Ashraf is their location:

Ashraf is home to Iranian opposition members from the PMOI -- or People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran. These people are the reason Iran's nuclear program was exposed -- it was their intelligence that brought it to the world's attention. But in Iran's eyes, they are a terrorist organization. The current Iraqi government agrees and the group is still on the U.S. blacklist, although it has been taken off the list of terrorist organizations by the EU. Tehran wants their camp shut down, wanted members arrested and handed over for trial - and their organization destroyed. But the U.S. has an obligation to the people of Ashraf. In July 2004, the United States Government recognized PMOI members as Protected Persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, meaning that they should not be deported, expelled or repatriated, or displaced inside Iraq. Now, as U.S. influence wanes in Iraq, Iran's influence continues to strengthen and grow. Through Iran's allies in the Iraqi government, a noose has been applied around Camp Ashraf and the people living there, and is slowly tightening. So far that has meant stopping fuel supplies, cutting off logistic trucks -- allowing only limited shipments of food to the camp. This month, when Iraqi forces occupied a building that had been housing Iranian women, there were clashes with the camp's residents and several were beaten by Iraqi soldiers, until U.S. forces stepped in.

Over the weekend, the uneasy tensions between the Shi'ite government of al-Maliki and the Sunni "Awakenings" erupted as Sunni leader Adel Mashhadani was targeted and arrested. The response in his Fadhil neighborhood of Baghdad was outrage and many took up arms against the combined Iraqi and US forces. Several Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped (later released) and people were killed and wounded. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) reported yesterday:

The Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil is on lockdown. Dozens of tanks and Humvees, and hundreds of Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces now control the area. They are conducting house-to-house searches looking for weapons and wanted men. Until this weekend, the U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitaries known as the Sons of Iraq kept security here.
[. . .]
But on the streets of Fadhil, several residents said they feel there were sectarian motives for the crackdown. Approching an NPR correspondent, an older Fadhil resident angrily denounced the raid, shouting repeatedly, "This is a war against the Sunni areas."
Iraqi army officers quickly arrested him, abruptly accusing him of planting roadside bombs.
Nearby, another woman cries out that the army arrested her son for no reason. Dozens of other residents line the street, silently watching the security operation.

In this morning's New York Times,
Rod Nordland reports on yesterday's situation and the US military's claim that Fadhil was now weapon free -- the US military is presumably military spokesperson David Perkins who is quoted throughout the piece. Weapon-free, as the house-to-house raids went on. That timeline is what had a friend at M-NF laughing this morning who noted that "Awakenings" have seen this coming and have no doubt stashed weapons which, in Iraq, would include burying them and a house-to-house search (even a thorough one which would take some time -- more than was spent yesterday) wouldn't turn those up. Nordland explains, "Only a week ago, Mr. Mashhadani had complained publicly about late pay and lack of jobs, warning that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia might well return to his community." And then he was arrested. Not unlike the elderly man attempting to speak to NPR only to be seized with the 'excuse' that he was wanted for planting bombs because, after all, don't most bomb planters want to go on NPR -- I believe they all covet an hour with Terry Gross.

Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) reports today continued unease among the Sunni population over Nouri al-Maliki's latest stunt. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayess tells Time, "The Sahwa has been infiltrated by al-Qaeda. A civil war is coming." (Sahwa, "Awakenings" and "Sons of Iraq" are three interchangeable terms.) Abouzeid writes:

In recent months, al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates have been regrouping, recalibrating their targets and tactics; they have recruited disenfranchised members of the U.S.-allied Sahwa movement, planting them as sleeper agents among the mainly Sunni neighborhood patrolmen, who number some 94,000 nationwide, according to a highly placed source close to the insurgency. "Many of the Sahwa have returned after seeking forgiveness, but they are still Sahwa," the source tells TIME. "They wear the government's uniform, but they plant explosives and sticky bombs. The Sahwa is the biggest recruiting pool for al-Qaeda." (
See the most dangerous streets of Baghdad at the height of the insurgency.)
The source claims that some 40% of the Sahwa are insurgent spies. A senior source in the Interior Ministry who requested anonymity does not deny the infiltration but puts the figure closer to 20%. The Interior Ministry source says intelligence agencies are reviewing the Sahwa files. Abdel-Karim Samarraie, the deputy leader of parliament's defense and security committee and a senior member of the largest Sunni bloc, the Tawafuk, says that al-Qaeda moles represent a small minority of Sahwa but should be weeded out. "The Interior Ministry fired 62,000 of its employees because there were legal accusations against them. The same thing can be applied to the Sahwa." The U.S military did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Maybe true, maybe not. No one knows. For one thing known, we'll return to
Paul Jay's interview of McClatchy's Leila Fadel for the Real News Network:

Now it isn't a 100,000 people being detained but there are hundreds of them being detained and the people that are being detained or are in exile are the ones that were the faces of the movement when it was really dangerous. When if you joined the police, you were killed. When there were headless bodies in the streets of Diyala Province. This was at a time when this was a really dangerous thing to do and those types of guys, if you look at it now, are the ones who are really getting targeted.

Author of the new bestseller
The Gamble, Thomas E. Ricks, noted at Foreign Policy yesterday:I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn't think that would begin happening this quickly. It's only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad. Anyone who tells you that the Iraq war is over should be forced to memorize this paragraph from the Sunday edition of the Washington Post: "As Apache helicopter gunships cruised above Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood, former Sunni insurgents fought from rooftops and street corners against American and Iraqi forces, according to witnesses, the Iraqi military and police. At least 15 people were wounded in the gunfights, which lasted several hours. By nightfall, the street fighters had taken five Iraqi soldiers hostage." That is Iraq 2009. Does it sound peaceful to you? Does it seem like the political questions vexing Iraq have been solved?

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .

Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad mortar attacks which left five people wounded, a Mosul suicide truck bombing which claimed 4 lives and left thirty-eight injured, a Falluja sticky bombing which wounded one police officer. Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and that the Mosul suicide bombing claimed 7 lives and also a Mosul grenade attack which injured three people.

Today the
US military announced: "AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- A Multi National Force -- West Marine died as the result of a non-combat related incident here March 31. The Marine's name is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4262 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

In the US,
Courage to Resist, Bay Area Iraq Veterans Against the War,& Unconventional Action in the Bay are sponsoring an event this Friday:
Friend and filmmaker Rick Rowley comes to town with three films just shot on the ground in Iraq-- in typical high energy in-your-face style. Rick is joined by local IVAW organizer Carl "Davey" Davison and cutting-edge movement analyst Antonia Juhasz to do some collective thinking-discussing about how we can take on Obama to make the world a better place. Hope you can join us! Please Invite your friends: Bay Area Premiere from the makers of "Fourth World War" & "This is What Democracy Looks Like"OBAMA'S IRAQ A Big Noise Film followed by a Public Discussion: How Do We End Occupation & Empire Under Obama? Carl Davison, organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in the Marines and the Army, and refused deployment to Iraq. Antonia Juhasz, analyst, activist, author of Tyrany of Oil; The World's Most Powerful Industry--and What We Must Do to Stop It Rick Rowley, Big Noise film maker recently returned for Iraq. Friday April 3, 7pm ATA THEATER 992 Valencia Street (at 21st), SF Everyone welcome, $6 donation requested, not required. Obama's Iraq is an evening of short films never before seen in America. Shot on the other side of the blast shields in Iraq's walled cities, it covers a very different side of the war than is ever seen on American screens. It reports unembedded from war-torn Falluja, from the giant US prison at Umm Qasr, from the Mehdi Army stronghold inside Sadr City -- from the places where mainstream corporate channels can not or will not go. Obama's Iraq asks the questions -- what is occupation under Obama, and how can we end the war in Iraq and the empire behind it? After the film, a public discussion will begin to answer that question. Join us.

Lastly, as Trina ("
The economy"), Kat ("Stevie Nicks, music and TV") and Elaine ("Stevie Nicks") noted last night, Stevie Nicks releases her first ever live album today. (A DVD is also available -- and I believe it is her first made for DVD. Red Rocks and others originally filmed for home video were released on videotaped and transferred to DVD years later, but this is the first one recorded for the DVD technology.) That makes it big news but the fact that it's Stevie makes it big news period. The Soundstage Sessions is the name of the CD (or album downloadable at iTunes and Amazon) and Live In Chicago is the DVD. Deborah Barrow (wowOwow) profiles Stevie today:

What's it like to be a rock goddess at the tender age of 60? "I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy. Our show is very hard and very long: two hours and ten minutes. Spinning around in seven-inch heels, it's long. You have to be in really good shape. You have to take care of yourself."
In her new DVD, Stevie Nicks takes to the stage like the gypsy that she was: blonde hair to the waist. Morgane Le Fay wedding dress under a black jacket. Top hat. Feather. Ubiquitous scarves. As
The Washington Post said about the Fleetwood Mac concert, "Nicks showed she still knows how to really work a shawl."

nprall things consideredlourdes garcia-navarrothe new york timesrod nordland
rania abouzeid
lara logan
leila fadel
mcclatchy newspapers
laith hammoudi
thomas e. ricks
stevie nicks

Monday, March 30, 2009

Greg Sargent's a sexist pig

Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Swinging Prez" went up Sunday.

Swinging Prez

Does Isaiah ever get a break? He also does comics for all the community newsletters. He never gets a break and he really has not taken one this year. In the past, he would grab a series of weeks in a row. He really could not afford to take time off in 2008 because he had so much to work with and did not want to miss any of it. But he really needs to take a break now. I worry, for example, that people will expect him to show up every Sunday and when he does not, they will be upset.

On to other matters. Greg Sargent's a sexist pig. No real surprise there. Most remember how he rushed to attack Hillary so he could be part of the Kool-Kids. Now he has posted an article and I would say, "Well he's just reporting . . ." Except . . .

He posted a comment ("I wonder whether her defending herself by bringing in religion also alienates moderates, though…") at his own post. Which takes it from reporting to pushing in my book.

Little Barry Obama is unqualified and everyone knew that. Liars and fools (yes, Greg, that's you and many more) pretended otherwise. Now he is president and completely unfit for the job. No surprise. Having nothing to offer because he is so weak, untalented, brainless . . . (go down the list), the 'strategy' now is to attack Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska.

For something she said?


Just to boost little Barry. He of the leaky penis that underwent corrective surgery but was never really fixed so it pools a lot of 'snot' daily and stinks.

(Poor Michelle Obama.)

So the way to boost little Barry, sort of a political booster chair, is to rip apart Governor Palin. To make fun of her. To target her.

Poor Barry. Failed politician, failed man. Needs to beat up on a woman in order to feel like a man. Maybe that will provide him with an erection?

Probably not. It took bombing for L.B.J. to get up, right?

Sarah Palin was made the scapegoat of 2008 and I will no be silent while the sexist pigs think there is money to be made attacking her some more. I can just imagine the woman-hating Rachel Maddow (lesbians can be women-haters as well and anyone who listened to Ms. Maddow's garbage on the radio over the last years grasps that) thrilled by this because, as Bob Somerby explained again today, Ms. Maddow never tires of attacking Governor Palin and never tires of distorting her in order to do so.

Ms. Maddow and the horrid Ana Marie Cox decided to make fun of Governor Palin Thursday night and 'forgot' to include the facts. Here is Mr. Somerby:

You were played for fools all through the last decade; today, you’re being played again. The targets have changed, but the culture has not. This time, GE’s news gang is on your side. They’ve hired a former sports guy—and a former Rhodes Scholar—who, in routine and unfortunate ways, continue to dumb liberals down.
About that troubling joke: Palin gave a speech like any other speech, the kind pols give every day. (The Anchorage Daily News didn’t bother reporting the speech, for perfectly obvious reasons.) And by the way—most pols like to close with a laugh. As Palin closed, she started telling a story about her youngest daughter:
PALIN: Now, we need to encourage those who are bold enough to step into the leadership. We need to hear from our elders. And we need to acknowledge that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, especially our elders. We need to invite critical thought.
Governor Hammond used to say, “If you want good advice, you go to the very young and the very old.” And I’ve got one Piper story I’ve got to tell you. She’s full of stories. I’ve got to share this one with you, speaking of the very young and wisdom there.
It was the night of the vice presidential debate against Biden.
So, I`m getting ready to go out there on stage. And, before any big thing, I pray. And I ask for, you know, God`s wisdom, his strength, and everything else, and I dedicate it to God and ask him to lift me up.
Before you start to snark too much, Dr. King used to do the same thing. (We don’t.) At any rate, as Palin continued, her story turned into a joke:
PALIN (continuing directly): So, I`m looking around for somebody to pray with. I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra. Well, and the McCain campaign—love them, you know, there are a lot of people around me—but nobody that I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray with. So I’m looking around—
[Audience laughter]
Because they know I respect them. That doesn’t mean anything. There’s no one around—but Piper! So I grabbed Piper right before I go out there to talk to Biden, speak against him—whatever, debate Biden. I said, “Piper, come here, pray with me. Gosh, you know, I want to win this debate...So just pray that God gives me strength, that he speaks through me.”
She said: “Well. That’d be cheating!” [end of speech]
Big pols like to close with a laugh. Palin got a giant laugh (with an applause break), as you can hear on the tape.
Just click here; this material starts around 3:45.
By the way: Before today, had you even heard that this story involves a joke?

Rachel Maddow is a liar. She was born one, she will die one. The joke is on the fools who watch her program. Not that many people watch MSNBC.

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Monday, March 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the "Awakening" Councils appear targeted and they fire back, Barack says no faster draw down but Odierno said something different, Lesley Abdela is the Woman Political Journalist of the Year, and more.

Cindy Sheehan's radio show, Cindy's Soapbox, continues on the internet and she interviewed Ray McGovern last week as Barack prepared to make his "Same Way To Quagmire" speech on Friday. In the portion we're going to note here, Cindy's bringing up the 'surge' in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan: The surge that I believe began in the beginning of 2007.

Ray McGovern: Correct.

Cindy Sheehan: Because I think at the end of 2006, I was arrested in Crawford, Texas trying to -- they were having some kind of meeting between -- it was Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice and, you know, all the major War Criminals of the Bush administration were up at the ranch so I think there were about five of us who got arrested trying to cross the barriers and you've been to Crawford so you know what I'm talking about.

Ray McGovern: Mm-hm.

Cindy Sheehan: The barriers to go to the ranch. So we were arrested protesting the 'surge' because we could see the surge was going to be a nightmare. And no matter how much Obama says the surge was successful. Or Cheney, or Rums -- or Gates, Rumsfeld's out of the picture. I don't even know where he is anymore. However much they say the 'surge' was successful, there was a high price and it's not so successful if you know what really happened, was it?

Ray McGovern: No, it's true, Cindy, most people don't realize that 1,000, at least 1,000, young men and women from our armed forces are dead now --

Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.

Ray McGovern: -- dead. And you know what that means, better than anybody else.

Cindy Sheehan: Yeah.

Ray McGovern: And thousands wounded. Not to mention Iraqis. I mean, Iraqis, last time I checked the Bible, I looked it up. Iraqis are human beings too. Would you believe it?

Cindy Sheehan: Really?

Ray McGovern: Yeah, they really are.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh. Wow.

Ray McGovern: So we have to cout them too.
Cindy Sheehan: But we don't count them. We can only estimate how many Iraqis have been killed.

Ray McGovern: That's right. They don't count. Well that was the attitude. And what we saw with the 'surge' was really bizarre, Cindy. If you think back to the end of 2006, what was clear is that the Iraqi political figures were not taking seriously their duty to get their act together.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Ray McGovern: No matter what we said, they always knew -- well Bush promised them, 'We'll never leave you,' right? That's because he never wanted to leave them, okay? What was happening was the place was falling apart. And General [John] Abizaid and General Casey -- Abizaid being the head of CENTCOM, Casey being the head of the troops there in Iraq -- came back and testified in September before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And what they said was this, "Thank's very much but please -- please -- don't send any more troops. The last thing we need is more troops. Why? Because if we send more troops, those Iraqis will never, never think they have to get their act together. We don't need more troops. What we need is for them to get some religion here. Work out their differences so we can leave, okay?"

Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.

Ray McGoven: Now that's what everyone was saying. That's what the Hamilton . . .

Cindy Sheehan: Baker-Hamiliton report.

Ray McGovern: . . Baker-Hamilton report said. Everybody in their right mind, everybody sane here, which is usually not too many people but most people in Washington were saying we have to acknowledge that. So what did Bush do? Well he talked to Cheney and Dick said, "Well now, Mr. President, you want to lose a war on your watch? You want to tuck tale and go home to Texas and have the whole thing fold in on you? No, we have to -- we have to reinforce, can't listen to these other folks." And so they ginned up some folks at the American Enterprise Institute and a general named Keane and they whipped up this little plan to put in 30,000 troops. 30,000 troops in and around Baghdad. With formal screens, so that the Shia could ethnically cleanse Baghdad.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Ray McGovern: Now that's, that's big, you know?

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Ray McGovern: Baghdad used to be equal Sunni - Shia. What these guys did under the protection of US forces -- and often with the help of US forces -- drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad, we're talking millions of people, Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: Oh, I know. I've been to -- I haven't been to Iraq yet but I've been to Iman, Jordan speaking with the people who were forced out if they were lucky to escape with their lives and if they were lucky to escape the country but, as you know, there are millions of refugees in and outside of Iraq right now.

Ray McGovern: Yes, some four-and-half million folks out of 27 million when the war began

Cindy Sheehan: Mm-hm.

Ray McGovern: So what you have here is a really great success We calmed down Baghdad, partly by driving the Sunni out, and also by building the kind of wall you used to see in Berlin that now we see in the West Bank and also on our southern border, I have to say, having recently been in southern Texas. You know that kind of wall's a really great thing to bring people together, right? Well it seperated what was left of the Sunni and actually divided that whole city so that was really great, that's really great, if you like walls and if you like ethnic cleansing. And then of course we gave Petreaus a whole bunch of money and he gave it out to the Sunnis. "Here, we'll give you $300 a month, just don't fire in our direction."

Cindy Sheehan: Ten dollars a day. They were giving, I think it was estimated about 80,000 people, ten dollars a day to not attack the US.

Ray McGovern: So now of course that dole is run out and what happens to the Sunni now? Well, we'll just have to see.

Yes, we will have to see and we may be seeing it. Over the weekend, the "Awakening" Council members/Sahwa/Sons of Iraq were in the news. It started with arrests and ended with gun battles. Along the way the nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill had his testimony to Congress last week (see
Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots) again punked. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explained Saturday, "16 people were injured (seven Sahwa members, four Iraqi soldiers and four civilians) after clashes broke out between the Iraqi army and Sahwa members in Fadhil neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 2 p.m. The clashes broke out during an operation of the Iraqi army to arrest the leader of Fadhil Sahwa and one of his deputies. Five Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped in the incident." McClatchy's Leila Fadel added Adel Mashhadani was the arrest target and that the arrest of him (as well as an assistant) "heightened fears among Sunnis that the Iraqi government plans to divide and disband the movements now that its taken control of all but a few thousands of the 94,000 members across the country." Now let's pause a moment. The point of opening with Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern's discussion is they're talking about the way Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, eradicated the Sunni presence from Baghdad. So when discussing why "Awakenings" might be leery, why they might not trust al-Maliki, that 'rezoning' plays a big part in it. As does the fact that al-Maliki staffed his ministries with Shi'ite thugs and allowed them to attack Sunnis without any fears of reprimands, let alone reprisals. Nouri's been very clear in his distaste for Sunni thugs -- Shi'ite ones he loves -- which is why US Senator Barbara Boxer was able to reference European press interviews al-Maliki gave stating that the bulk of the "Awakenings" would not be brought into his government. With that and more in mind, Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland (New York Times) quote the spokesperson for Fadhil "Awakening" Council, Abu Mirna, stating Saturday as fighting was ongoing, "American forces have broken the alliance with us by arresting our leader. Now there are clashes in the area between the Americans and Awakening fighters and you can hear shooting. It's chaos." There were reports of 5 Iraqi soldiers being captured in the battle and held hostage.

"The reason it's significant,"
McClatchy's Leila Fadel told Real News Network, "is that it's one of a series of detentions of top leaders of the Sons of Iraq -- in Iraq, across the country. Specifically in Diyala [Province] and Baghdad. And this program, the Sons of Iraq, which is really part of the reason the US military can claim what they call success now with the lower levels of violence because these guys either turned on al Qaeda [in Mesopotamia] or stopped shooting and are on US payroll and now they're being transferred to Iraqi government control. And with that control, it seems that they are trying to weaken these groups and some of that can lead to violence as Fadhil clearly showed over the weekend."

Real News Network's Paul Jay: So they're targeting some of the leaders of these groups at the same time that they are incorporating some of the ordinary members or are they actually targeting the whole organizations?

Leila Fadel: Well the --

Paul Jay: "They" being the Iraqi government.

Leila Fadel: Right. The transfer of authority started in October of last year. Where the US military said "Here are these 100,000 guys who we've been paying $300 a month and who have been in their streets, in their neighborhoods secure them. Now you take them." The [Iraqi] government has always said, "We believe most of these guys are former insurgents. We don't trust them. We don't want them. We won't give them amnesty. And so finally the government said "Give them to us, we want to take them." So now the authority technically is the Iraqi government -- in most of Iraq, not all of them have been transferred Salahuddin [Province] I think has still not transferred. And during that time and right before that, when I say "target," they've gone after them with arrest warrants on accusations of crimes they've committed but the Sons of Iraq themselves are saying they feel targeted, they feel that the leaders who stood up and took a risk and went against the people that were destroying their neighborhoods and also maybe turned on, or changed their minds about things of the past, where they would attack US forces or government forces as their enemy are now being betrayed and being arrested for those crimes of the past.

And it continued on Sunday.
Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) explain Raad Ali arrest became public (arrested five days prior): "Ali, a former insurgent, had a close working relationship with the Americans, shared a military base with them, and said he had briefed visiting U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan about the Sons of Iraq movement. Ali spoke regularly about the need for Sunnis to enter the political mainstream and leave behind their insurgency." Sudarsan Raghavan and Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) report, "On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. combat helicopters and American troops swept into a central Baghdad neighborhood, arresting U.S.-backed Sunni fighters in an effort to clamp down on a two-day uprising that challenged the Iraqi government's authority and its effort to pacify the capital." Waleed Ibrahim, Wisam Mohammed, Aseel Kami, Abdulrahman Taher, Thaier al-Sudani, Tim Cocks, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) add, "A Reuters Television cameraman saw U.S. military vehicles alongside Iraqi army ones using loudspeakers to warn the fighters in Arabic to put down their weapons, while U.S. military helicopters hovered overhead." Leila Fadel reported Sunday that "Awakenings" had handed "over 10 Iraqi soldiers they'd been holding" after they surrendered "and gav eup their weapons" and that this came after Iraq's "Army sealed off the district, and [US] helicopters circled in the air".

Fadel explains to the Real News Network that "Awakenings" feel betrayed because the US military gave or "Awakenings" thought they were given amnesty but that the US military could only give amnesty for attacks on the US, not attacks on Iraqis. Note that the term "amnesty" was used (this is me, not Leila) by the US military in recruiting "Awakenings." It caused some rumbles on the internet play left side of the world (Arianna Huffington was a huffing back then about it). Clearly, had the "Awakenings" known that the "amnesty" was limited, they wouldn't have gone along. What would be the point? Help pacify/terrorize the country and then when Nouri no longer needs them, he can pick them off? If they had known that the amnesty did not apply across the board, they would not have gone along because the reason they were armed and against the puppet government in the first place was they didn't trust the puppet government (or the puppet).

The US started the "Awakening" Council "movement" by putting Sunni thugs on the payroll (having already installed Shi'ite thugs into the puppet government) because, as Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker repeatedly explained to Congress last April, paying them off meant they wouldn't attack US forces. When paid by US forces, they had many "duties" but primarily they were stationed at checkpoints where they controlled who passed and who didn't. In January and February, some still waiting to be absorbed felt the checkpoints were their responsiblity. What happens now that they feel under attack? What happens as the word gets out that al-Maliki hasn't paid a large number in months and that word is on top of the arrests and targeting of them in Baghdad? As
Sinan Salaheddin (AP) explains, "How the Shiite-led government deals with the Sunni security volunteers is widely seen as a test of its ability to win the loyalty of disaffected Sunnis _ an essential step in forging a lasting peace in Iraq." The arrest on Saturday is said to be because of "Baathism" and that's the charge whenever al-Maliki wants to haul someone away: they're a Baathist, they're plotting to overthrow him, they're an enemy of the state, etc.

al-Maliki's last big claim of "Baathist conspiracy" exploded in his face. If this one does, he'll not only have the "Awakenings" to answer to, he'll also have an international community beginning to tire of his repeatedly playing "they're plotting against me!" Interestingly, the
US military's statement doesn't mention any Baathist charge but does toss out their own constant cry of "al Qaeda in Iraq!": "Mashadani was arrested under a warrant issued by the Iraqi government. He is suspected of illegally searching, detaining and extorting bribes in excess of $160,000 a month from the citizens of Fahdil, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that killed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), leading an IED cell, leading an indirect fire cell, ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and collusion with the terrorist network Jaysh al Islami." Al Jazeera quotes al-Maliki's military spokesperson stating, "We also have information that Mashhadani heads the military branch in Fadel of the [banned] Baath party [of Saddam Hussein, the executed former Iraqi president]." Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed also note the Baathist assertion: "The government accused Mashadani of running a secret wing of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, and his supporters of abusing their power."

For those who forgot, Barack's "best and brightest" (and hopefully not another tax cheat) nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week a lot of fairy tales including that they're all now under Nouri's control -- no, some have been turned over; that they've been abosrbed into the Iraqi forces by Nouri and this weekend proves that's not true plus only 5% have been employed by the government at present; and that Nouri's grabbed the responsibility of paying them from the Americans (US tax payers paid the March salaries for a huge chunk of "Awakenings") and is now on top of the payroll. On top of the payroll?
AP reported Saturday that "leaders of several Awakening Council groups complained the government has not paid them in months, with some threatening to quit a movement." Complaints came from "Awakenings" in Baghdad, Diyala Province and Azamiyah -- Diyala "Awakenings" said they hadn't been paid in three months.

That wasn't the only news over the weekend.
Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported that the Mujahedeen al-Kahlq, an Iranian group that has been in Iraq since 1979 and protected by the US military since the start of the Iraq War, is yet again the topic of al-Maliki's government as they repeat that the group must leave but, for now, the focus is on moving them "to new quarters in western or southern Iraq". Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) quotes some offensive remarks made by Nouri al-Maliki's National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, MEK "should understand that their days in Iraq are numbered. We are literally counting them. . . . The party is over for them. The party is over for coalition protection for them." and, as Londono notes, "them" is al-Rubaie "referring to the U.S. military." The puppet's playtoy wants to say the "party is over for the" US forces? When did the party begin for them? When did the party begin? What an insulting remark from a sleazy, trashy assed piece of ___ who wouldn't even have a job if the US government had installed him and his man-crush al-Maliki. Meanwhile Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) reports it's kick the can down the road yet again regarding the oil-rich Kirkuk which will now have any sort of decision or referendum on its status delayed until June at the earliest. While Kirkuk may be postponable (it may not be), rumors float that Moqtada al-Sad's movement is in danger. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports on a supposed break in Moqtada al-Sadr's movement which takes place as "the government has begun granting secret amnesty deals to members of the breakaway group who also were members of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, in exchange for laying down their arms, according to government officials and three militia members who said they had won amnesty. The militias, dubbed special groups by the U.S. military, have continued to fight U.S. and Iraqi security forces." If either or both are true, al-Sadr's movement might be weakened.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baquba bike bombing which claimed 3 lives and left eight people wounded, a Baquba roadside bombing which wounded a police officer, and a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injured.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul, 3 "Awakening" Members were shot dead in Eskanderiyah, 2 people were shot dead in Babil Province and "the general director of the immigrants and displaced people department" was shot dead in Mosul and his assistant was injured.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baquba.

Turning to legal news out of Germany,
George Frey (AP) reports US Sgt 1st Class Joseph Mayo entered a guilty plea to "premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder" in the 2007 murders of 4 Iraqis US forces had taken into custody and that this follows Sgt Michael Leahy's conviction last month for his role in the murders. Fran Yeoman (Times of London) reports "Mayo told a court martial in Vilseck, southern Germany, that he thought the shootings were in the best interests of his troops because he feared the prisoners would attack them if released." In other legal news, Friday's snapshot noted: "Meanwhile, in the United States, Paul J. Weber (AP) reports that Sam Marcos commissioners are rethinking using KBR after two Iraq War veterans, Bryan Hannah and Gregory Foster, spoke out at a commissioner's court meeting against the war profiteer KBR which stands accused of intentionally exposing US troops in Iraq to carcinogenics and of doing such a poor job in their building of US facilities in Iraq that showering becomes a hazard for US service members." Bryan Hannah tells his story at US Socialist Worker:

Greg and I brought to the attention of the county commissioners the company's history of scandals, including bribery, the negligent homicide of 11 soldiers and five Marines, rape and gang rape cover-ups, tax evasion and more.
Greg read the top results for a Google search that contained a multitude of shady business dealings and crimes to demonstrate that the commissioners had not done adequate research. He then read a letter from Spec. Jude Prather, a Hays County resident and infantryman in Iraq.
Jude's letter outlined his concerns about KBR being a daily fixture in his community, stating that his convoy escort team's opinions of KBR were "too colorful to be read in court." Greg recalled a saying of his father: "Son, your dollar votes. If you don't like how a company does business, don't do business with them."
I brought to the commissioners' attention the siphoning by KBR of tens of billions of dollars out of our treasury in exchange for the delivery of substandard service and even unacceptable "disservices" to U.S. troops in Iraq.
Some soldiers suffered illnesses from contaminated drinking water, others were exposed to carcinogens such as sodium dichromate, and some died as a result of faulty electrical wiring and air-conditioning units placed so close to showers that water splashed on them.
"Hays County has a laudable record of supporting its service members and veterans," I said. "I do not think we could in good conscience accept that reputation and hire a company responsible for killing U.S. soldiers and Marines, then attempting to cover it up and deny compensation to the families."

Again, Cindy Sheehan's radio show
continues on the internet and she interviewed Ray McGovern for her most recent show. Here McGovern's just finished explaining that the Bush adminstration refused to meet with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Ray McGovern: And we're still not getting any hearing which is really disappointing -- was really disappointing because the tea leaves say, Cindy, that President Obama is about to make his LBJ Vietnam or George Bush Iraq mistake. We're about to get involved in a real quagmire there. And you know, it's almost as though there's something here in the water in Washington, Cindy.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

Ray McGovern: Because it doesn't make any sense at all. And grown up people should know that.

US President Barack Obama appeared today on CBS'
Face The Nation with moderator Bob Schieffer (here for text report by Michelle Levi with video option and link for transcript).
Daivd Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) observes that Barack sounded like LBJ on Vietnam when discussing Afhganistan:But that is what Obama sounded like to me when he was talking about how some of the U.S. troops would only be training their Afghan counterparts for combat. It clearly sounded that way to Schieffer, too, because he came out hard-charging with questions for the president about his commitment of more troops to Afghanistan, and he took precious minutes at the end of his broadcast to do a stand-up outside the White House explaining the decision to focus on Afghanistan."When he decided to move more Americans into harm's way in Afghanistan, for better or worse, it became his war," Schieffer said of Obama. Schieffer closed by wondering whether Obama would look back one day on that decision from last week as a major turning point in his administration and legacy. The questioning on Afghanistan and the related matter of whether or not we will follow terrorists into Pakistan and strike there was so pointed, that at one point, Obama said, "I'm enough of a student of history to know about Vietnam." But he sure sounded like LBJ in 1965 when he talked Sunday about the Afghan Army as having "great credibility" and being "effective fighters" -- all they needed was a little "training" from the American troops. At least, Obama didn't use the 1960s's rhetoric of the U.S. soldiers and Marines only being advisers.

That was on Afghanistan. Iraq came up during the interview (because Schieffer raised the issue):

Bob Schieffer: You said the other day in the 60 Minutes interview that you would not have thought at this point in your presidency that Iraq would be the least of your worries, something to that effect. Barack Obama: Right. Right. Bob Schieffer: Are things going well enough there now that you may consider speeding up the withdrawal of troops from Iraq? Barack Obama: No, I think the plan that we put forward in Iraq is the right one, which is, let's have a very gradual withdrawal schedule through the national elections in Iraq. There's still work to be done on the political side to resolve differences between the various sectarian groups around issues like oil, around issues like provincial elections. And so we're gonna continue to make progress on that front. I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction. But Iraq is not yet completed. We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of training of Iraqi forces to improve their capacity. I'm confident, though, that we're moving in the right direction.

would the draw down be speeded up? No, says Barack. That's what he says?
Friday's Iraq snapshot noted NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) interviewed Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq. Now Barack said yesterday nothing will speed up the rate of the draw down. What did Odierno tell Lourdes Garcia-Navarro?Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Despite those worries and others, Odierno is considering more troop reductions this year ahead of Parliamentary elections. Ray Odierno: In August, September time frame, I will look at how things are going and I will make another decision on whether I think we should either reduce our presence more. And that assessment will be based on "Do I think I have enough forces to ensure that we have a peaceful, successful, national election?" If I believe we can do that with less forces then we will off-ramp some forces. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Eventually there will be around only 50,000 Americans here down from just under 140,000 now. So are you confused? Or is it Barack that is? Meanwhile despite the continued bombing in Basra, all but 400 of the approximately 4,000 British soldiers are gearing up to leave, Reuters reports. Remember that when violence is offered as the excuse for Barack slowing down his draw down. And England and the US both got involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. So possibly something might be transferable? Some form of knowledge? If so, Barack better hope and pray it's not to be found from Richard Dannatt. Michael Evans (Times of London) reports that Dannet has told the paper the decision by then-prime minister Tony Blair to switch the emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2005 led to a huge increase in violence in Iraq. The US military needs to withdraw (not draw down) from both countries. That's not the point in raising the issue of Gen Richard Dannatt. The point is an administration that wants both illegal wars will probably be trotting out the we-didn't-realize excuse at some point in the near future.

Lastly, three years ago journalist Lesley Abdela made the "
Top 50 Heroes Of Our Times" (New Stateman). She has just been announced as the Winner of the 2009 UK Woman Political Journalist of the Year. The honor comes from the Dods & Scottish Widows Women in Public Life Awards and are voted on by the Parliamentary Press Lobby, Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords. You can find out more about Lesley Abdela at Third Sector Women and you can also read up on her at SourceWatch.
Click here for some of her writing at the Guardian.

cindy sheehan
laith hammoudimcclatchy newspapers
leila fadelthe new york timesrod nordlandalissa j. rubinwaleed ibrahimwisam mohammedaseel kamiabdulrahman taherthaier al-sudanitim cocksmichael christiejon boylethe los angeles timesned parkercaesar ahmed
the washington postsudarsan raghavananthony shadid
ernesto londono
gina chonthe wall street journal
face the nationcbs newsbob schieffermichelle levinprall things consideredlourdes garcia-navarro
david zurawik

Friday, March 27, 2009

Roundtable on Iraq and Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cedric: Am I jumping in on anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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