Saturday, August 31, 2013

A few kind words for Matt Damon

David Walsh (WSWS) reports:

Matt Damon, one of the most popular film actors currently working, told a BBC television host last week that he supported the actions of Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower who has lifted the lid on the criminal activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).
Damon, who has received three Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe nominations and five Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, told Husam Asi, host of the BBC Arabic television show “Alternative Cinema” [Cinema Badila], that Snowden had done “a great thing.” The clip was posted on YouTube August 22, and the entire interview aired on “Alternative Cinema” two days later.

I do not care for Matt Damon and have noted that before several times.  So when I saw this story by Mr. Walsh, I figured I should make time to note it in fairness.   Good for Mr. Damon, I will applaud him for that.
I will even not comment on Mr. Walsh's assertion that he is "one of the most popular film actors currently working."

N.S.A. whistle-blower Ed Snowden needs the support of as many people he can get.

Good for Mr. Damon for supporting Mr. Snowden and goof for him for doing so publicly.

I am embarrassed by a number of 'political' actors (Susan Sarandon, Lily Tomlin, etc.) who cannot be bothered with defending Mr. Snowden or defending us from the ongoing illegal spying.  So I applaud Mr. Damon and congratulate him.

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

Friday, August 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, Nouri attempts to stop protests tomorrow, Stuart Bowen weighs in on the US efforts in Iraq, John Kerry continues to huff and puff about Syria, US government may have lost France's support as well (yesterday they lost England -- at least for now), four US Senators (Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, Richard Burr and Bill Nelson) work together (proving that it can be done) for the American people, and more.

We'll move quickly to Syria and then onto Iraq but with the US government being such an embarrassment currently as so many members of Congress think the term "oversight" actually means "conceal from the American people," let's open with the rare example of members of Congress working for the betterment of the American people and doing so in a bipartisan fashion.  Applause for Senator Bernie Sanders (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee),  Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Senator Richard Burr (Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) and Senator Bill Nelson (Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging) -- an Independent (Sanders), a Republican (Burr) and two Democrats (Murray and Nelson) working together and for doing what we expect members of Congress to do but what rarely is done anymore.  From the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 – Leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging said today that they are “deeply troubled” by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lax oversight of private advisers to veterans applying for pensions and other benefits.
The senators cited a new report by the Government Accountability Office that faulted the VA for loosely enforcing its own vague rules on accrediting private financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents and others. The nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs also criticized the VA for leaving itself vulnerable to abuses and for keeping veterans in the dark about their rights.
The GAO report was cited in a letter to Secretary Eric Shinseki from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the veterans’ committee. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a veterans’ committee member and former chairman, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, also signed the letter.
“We are deeply troubled by the findings indicating weaknesses in the accreditation program, which may prevent VA from ensuring that veterans are served by knowledgeable, qualified, and trustworthy representatives,” the senators wrote. 
The senators said the accreditation procedures should be strengthened to protect veterans from unscrupulous advisers among the 20,000 approved by the department. They also echoed a GAO recommendation and urged the department to do a better job letting veterans know how to report abuses. Problems with the accreditation program are compounded by a lack of staff and inadequate technology, the senators added. 
The latest GAO report builds on an investigation last year that found weak oversight and unclear rules made the VA ripe for abuse. That report found that some firms overcharge veterans for services or sell financial products that end up limiting veteran’s access to the benefits that they deserve.
To read the GAO report, click here.
To read the senators’ letter to the VA secretary, click here.

Daniel Akaka was Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee before Senator Murray and he and Richard Burr had a professional and respectful relationship.  Murray and Burr continued and deepened that.  It continues now with Sanders and Burr.  No, Burr didn't agree with the three on everything or them with him on everything but they found a way to be adults and to stay focused on the issues.  It's a shame that this is not carried through on every Congressional Committee.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has been able to focus on a large number of issues and actually move mountains on a few because of the lack of egos in leadership.  Akaka, Murray, Sanders and Burr especially deserve applause.  And, again, it is so very nice to see one aspect of Congress (or, for that matter, the federal government) which functions and works.

Over to the topic of Syria . . .

Still reeling from yesterday's vote in the British Parliament (which means -- for now -- England will not be able to join the US government in attacking Syria), US President Barack Obama insisted this afternoon that, Eyder Peralta (NPR) notes,  "he has not made a final decision on launching a military strike on Syria." Why?  The morning started with efforts by the administration to sell France as a historic and glorious partner in an attempt to use France's support of an attack to take the place of England's backing.  Ian Black (Guardian) was calling it a "coalition a deux."  But, by mid-day, a wrinkle emerged on that front.  John Lichfield (Independent) reports that French President Francois Hollande "appeared today to back away from immediate air strikes against Syria by talking of the importance of a 'political solution' to the crisis."

Another break Barack and his fellow War Hawks couldn't quite catch this week.  And the reason that, mid-morning, the White House dropped the effort to talk up historic ally France. 

Before Barack spoke on the matter, US Secretary of State John Kerry had a mini-meltdown in front of the press.  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote him blustering, "This is common sense.  This is evidence.  These are facts."  Facts?  John Kerry offered facts?  Jason Ditz ( cleared up that misconception:

Secretary of State John Kerry, leading the charge for war in Syria for months, is continuing to take the helm in pushing the case in speeches, not so much providing evidence for their allegations but reiterating the claims and insisting that the evidence is “clear.”
Incredibly, Kerry doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the allegations that have already been disproved, reiterating rebel claims of 1,429 killed as an unquestionable fact even though Doctors Without Borders already put the real figure at 355 dead nearly a week ago.

Having yet again presented 'facts' that were not, in fact, actually facts,  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote John Kerry insisting, "This matters to us, and it matters to who we are, and it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world."

Golly, that doesn't seem like national security at all.  That sounds like vanity and ego.  You know how to avoid having egg on your face and being a public laughingstock?  Stop making false claims and stop making threats.  As a member of the Senate, John Kerry grasped that.  In fact, he so grasped what diplomacy was that world leaders were pulling for the 2004 election to result in President John Kerry.  All that skill and ability has left him as he degrades himself and his legacy (Secretary of State is Kerry's last big hurrah on the national scene).  DS Wright (Firedoglake) dissects the speech here.

John Kerry, possibly after being beaten at the ballot box by a moron like Bully Boy Bush, has no respect for the American citizens.  Mark Murray (NBC News) reports on a new poll.  The Hart Research Associates poll could be titled Bad News For Barry.  48% disapprove of Barack's job performance as president (only 44% approve); 49% disapprove of Barack's "handling foreign policy" (41% approve); approval for handling of Syria specifically 44% disapprove (35% approve).  What should the US government do with regards to Syria?  7 responses in order of popularity:

Provide only humanitarian assistance  40%
Take military action to help stop the killing 26%
Take no additional action  23%
Provide arms to the opposition 6%
Not sure 3%
Take some sort of action 1%
Take some mix of actions 1%

 If chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government, 42% say military action is needed while 50% say no, it is not.  41% feel military action would not improve life for the people of Syria while 27% think it will.

Asked, "Do you think that President Obama should or should not be required to receive approval from Congress before taking military action in Syria?"  79% said, "Should be required to receive approval."  Only 16% say he's not required to.

PDF format warning, the full results are here.  Margin of error is +/- 3.70%

Are you getting why John Kerry's so desperate that he's spouting lies to the American people?

George Eaton (New Statesman) offers a breakdown of yesterday's historic vote in England with 224 Labour MPs, joining with 30 Conservatives, 9 Liberal MPs (Eaton has a list of the MPs by name).  Also weighing in on the vote, Great Britain's Socialist Worker's "Cameron's Defeat Is Proof Of Protest Power:"

David Cameron was humiliated last night, Thursday, when he suffered a historic Commons defeat on plans to bomb Syria.
He asked MPs to back military action but in an unprecedented blow, they voted by 285 to 272 against air strikes.
The vote reflects the overwhelming anti-war feeling among people in Britain – and the fear that missile strikes against Syria would be the start of yet another failed attempt by the West to control the Middle East.
Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support for his proposals to launch attacks on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue an embarrassing climbdown.
The shaken leader admitted it was clear that parliament “does not want to see British military action”. He added, “I get that. The government will act accordingly.”
Opposition MPs responded by shouting, “Resign”.
The last time a prime minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782. As the scale of the historic defeat became clear Conservative MPs turned on each other. Education secretary Michael Gove barked, “You’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace” at government rebels.
The result was also a blow to Nick Clegg who had ditched his party’s soft anti-war stance to side with the Conservatives.
“This marks a sea change in British politics. The government no longer has a blank cheque to go to war,” Labour MP and chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Jeremy Corbyn, told Socialist Worker.

Jes Burns (Free Speech Radio News) reports:

As the United States and France move towards military action in Syria, Syrian-Americans are voicing concern for the safety of their families back in the Middle East.  FSRN’s Theresa Campagna reports from Chicago.
Anti-war protesters in several cities worldwide will march Saturday, saying a Western intervention in Syria will only intensify the war already happening on-the-ground.  This morning, both President Obama and President Hollande of France told the press they want military intervention, despite their ally's vote against it in the UK.
“My cousin was on his way to his senior, like exam, you know, his high school exam you know.  It was the same day the university was bombed.”
That's Bassel Al-Madani, a Syrian American in Chicago who has been fundraising to send money to family in Syria since February.  He says most Syrians are getting by, despite the war.  But like many Syrian-Americans, Al-Madani wants it to end so his family can move on. FSRN, Theresa Campagna, Chicago.

At the Fellowship of Reconciliation,  Joshua Brollier offers a list of thing to remember including the following:

To those who think the United States should intervene in Syria,
Remember this is the same United States which;

Earlier today, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is text, video and audio) explained, "Pentagon officials say the U.S. Navy has moved five destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. This comes as the British Parliament voted Thursday not to back international action against Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons last week. This comes as a team of U.N. inspectors, who spent the week traveling to rebel-controlled areas in search of proof of a poison gas attack, is set to give its preliminary findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday."

On this week's CounterSpin (FAIR -- link is audio), Peter Hart spoke with IPS' Phyllis Bennis about the coverage of the US push for an attack on Syria.  Excerpt.

Phyllis Bennis:  Only if the [United Nations] Security Council votes to endorse the use of force is the use of force legal.  No other agency, institution, organization has that right.  So the Kosovo precedent that you refer to and that unfortunately this is being talked about in the press.  It's being asserted that if the Security Council doesn't agree, there are other options.  Yeah, there are other options.  The problem is they're all illegal.  The Kosovo model was illegal.  What the US did in 1999, when it wanted to bomb, to start an air war against Serbia over Kosovo, realized it would not get support of the Security Council because Russia had said it would veto.  So instead of saying, 'Well okay we don't have support of the Security Council, I guess we can't do it,' they said, 'Okay, we won't go to the Security Council, we'll simply go to the NATO High Command and ask their permission.'  Well, what a surprise, the NATO High Command said 'sure.'  It's like the hammer and the nail.  If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you're NATO everything looks like it requires military intervention.  The problem is, under international law, the UN charter is the fundamental component under international law that determines issues of war and peace.  And the charter doesn't say that the Security Council or NATO or the President of the United States can all decide over the use of force.  The only agency that can legally approve the use of force is the Security Council of the United Nations.  Period.  Full stop.

 [. . .]

Peter Hart: We've heard right from the beginning that the Syrian government would not allow inspectors access to the site of this attack.  That was considered proof that they were culpable, that they were hiding something.  But the reality seemed to be that the United States was trying to pull the plug on this UN  investigative team from the start which I think is one of the most shocking, under-covered part of this story.

Phyllis Bennis: I don't think we can say with any certainty what the motivation was of the US but certainly what they did was to try and scuttle the role of the team and to deliberately mislead people.  Secretary Kerry, in particular,  misled people about what the timeline was and stated that the time line very clearly indicated some guilt by the Syrian government.  His claim was: 'We asked -- and the UN asked --  for access to the site on Thursday.  They didn't grant that access until Sunday, therefore, they were delaying for days because they were trying to hide something.  They're trying to degrade the evidence.  They may be bombing the evidence.  They're trying to make sure that the inspectors can't do their job.'  Well it turns out that the facts are a little different.  The facts are that on that Thursday, the UN announced that they were going to request access. The actual request did not arrive until Saturday when Angela Kane, the disarmament chief of the United Nations, arrived in Damascus.  The announcement that they were going to ask is not a legally acceptable anything in diplomatic terms.  When asked about it, when pushed on it, the UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said, 'Well that's just semantics.'  But diplomacy is all about semantics, you know?  A press release does not equal an official request from the United Nations. There was an official, legal request and it arrived on Saturday with Angela Kane.  On Sunday, the Syrian government said "yes," the inspectors can go in.  And on Monday, the investigators were on the ground doing their work.  That's hardly an example of a major delay.  Now I should be clear in saying that, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Syrian regime is not responsible for these attacks.  They may well be.  But it does mean that that claim by Secretary Kerry -- which is the basis, a big part of the basis, for saying --'This proves that they are responsible and therefore we can go in and bomb Syria,' it certainly did not happen that way. 

Let's stay with the stupidity of the press.  The Atlantic (as usual) is working overtime to sell war on Syria.  Molly Ball plays dumb or is big time stupid in her piece which includes:

 Like Obama, Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia who now serves as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, strongly opposed the Iraq war. But he now strongly backs action in Syria. 

Molly Ball, get an education.  I'm not even talking about the Center for American Prissies, I'm referring to the false claim that Perriello "strongly opposed the Iraq War" and the sleight of hand Molly uses to make you think he did that while in Congress.

There is no proof that Perriello opposed the Iraq War -- strongly or weakly.  He wasn't even focused on the US at that point. He spent 2002 and 2003 a s the Special Court for Sierra Leon's International Prosecutor's Special Advisor.   The Center for American Progress insists of Perriello, "Expertise: Congress, Middle East and Africa, conflict . . ."

Stop.  He is not an expert on Congress.  He may be an expert on quickly losing public support.  In the 2008 elections, he was elected to the House of Representatives.  In the 2010 elections, he lost that seat.  He served one term (Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2011).  He was not in Congress when the Iraq War was being sold or when it started.  In the position he did have during that time, he was working for a foreign government and for the United Nations and, in that capacity, if he did have an opinion re: Iraq War, he would have been encouraged to keep it silent.

 In their bio on Perriello,  CAP forgets to note that Perriello received the endorsement of the NRA (probably since demonizing the NRA has become a Democratic Party priority of late)  and that the bachelor candidate Perriello had a campaign that couldn't stop running to the media to scare up homophobic rumors about his GOP rival in the 2008 race.

The Center for American Progress is yet another tired Democratic Party front group -- started by the man who threw "a girlish hissy fit" (words of a Democratic US House Rep) when John Conyers, Ramsey Clark and Francis A. Boyle presented the case for impeaching Bully Boy Bush and the need for it.  John Podesta is a joke.  He's a well used political prostitute and CAP is just a bordello for the Democratic Party.  We've covered this at length for many, many years. And we aren't the only ones to do so.  John Stauber's owned the topic and written of it better than anyone (and written of it much, much, much better than I have).

 On Syria, we'll give the last word to  the Center for Constitutional Rights:

August 30, 2013 – In response to signals from the Obama administration that it will pursue U.S. military intervention in Syria in the wake of attacks last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:

We strongly oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria and urge the Obama administration to support increased diplomatic measures to protect civilians in the region. A United Nations investigation into the massacre of last week is still ongoing. For whoever is deemed responsible, accountability must come by way of investigation and prosecutions under international law, not further militarism in the region.
It is a manifest lesson of this country’s recent history that U.S. military intervention in conflicts of this kind has not served human rights or humanitarian purposes, even when these are the stated goals. The U.S. and Iraq are still reeling and suffering from a decade-long illegal war that was waged on the basis of false information about weapons of mass destruction and sold to the American people as a quick military intervention. Hundreds of thousands, including many civilians and children, died as a result of that war, in which the U.S. used weapons that have been widely condemned, such as white phosphorous, napalm-class weapons and weapons containing depleted uranium. Iraq is still dealing with the catastrophic aftermath, which includes skyrocketing rates in birth defects and cancer widely attributed to the use of these weapons. The U.S. should be accounting for this harm and making reparations, not readying to engage militarily once again.
UN officials are calling for political solutions to the crisis in Syria – not additional violence. The Obama administration needs to act in concert with other countries and international legal bodies to broker a political settlement in Syria and bring an immediate cessation of violence. Diplomacy and the rule of law, including international law, must be our guideposts for acting in this situation.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR has previously challenged U.S. military action and use of force as violating U.S. and international law, including in the invasion of Grenada, in El Salvador, in Panama, for the First Gulf War, Serbia/Kosovo and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  CCR is currently representing a group of U.S. veterans of the Iraq war and two Iraqi human rights organizations seeking accountability and reparations for the war as part of the Right to Heal initiative.

From the new war they want to the one they hope Americans have forgotten . . .

Since December 21st, protests have been ongoing in Iraq.  And they continued today. Dropping back to Tuesday's snapshot:

Despite that, look for the attempted storming of Ramadi to be ignored.  Alsumaria reports that Nouri is attempting to use the court, the Ministry of the Interior and Nouri's attorney general's office to stop the protests, insisting that it's so violent in Iraq today, the protesters are in danger.  Whether in Hawija or elsewhere, the only people who have killed protesters have been Nouri's forces.  Alsumaria notes that the attempt to kill the protest is being denounced with a coalition stating Nouri is attempting to violate the Constitution which allows for peaceful demonstrations and that this is yet another attempt by Nouri to silence opposition.

Aswat al-Iraq reported Tuesday:

Iraqi Interior Ministry called the citizens not to demonstrate out of fear of security breaches that may attack them, as well as estimating the current military situation of the country.

In a statement by the ministry, copy received by Aswat al-Iraq, it added that "some youths have the intention to demonstrate on 31 August instant demanding the cancellation of parliamentary pensions and provision of political and economic reforms".

Iraqi Spring MC notes that protests continued today in Najaf, in Baghdad's Almlhanih, in Ramadi, in Falluja, in Samarra and in Jalawha

They protested despite intimidation techniques and safety warnings.  (Protesters who have been killed at protests have all been killed by Nouri's forces.)  They gathered today despite the continued mass arrests of the week.  They gathered today in the hope that they could make that better Iraq that the US government pretended to want back in 2003 when they launched an illegal war on Iraq.

NINA reports:

Preacher Sheikh Mustafa Sabri of Fri-prayers of Fallujah said in his sermon that campaign of /revenge of martyrs / is a sectarian campaign targeting Sunni areas directed by the government in Baghdad belt areas were arbitrary arrests and besiege of residential areas are massively perpetrated.
He added in his sermon addressed to thousands of worshipers who held a unified Fri-prayers east of Fallujah : " Prime Minister Nuri al - Maliki launched unprecedented arrest campaign against Sunnis.
The source also added that the campaign dubbed / martyrs revenge / is extremely a sectarian injustice campaign noting that Iraq ever witnessed a similar which began with the support of sectarian militias backed by Iran, but it created a serious impacts.

In Samarra, Sheikh Samir Fouad delivered similar remarks, ""The security breaches that followed the sectarian crackdown that targeted areas of Baghdad's belt ,is in reality targeting the people of these areas under the pretext that they represent incubator of terrorism behind them sectarian motives , as during which unjust random arrests are perpetrated so far ."  Alsumaria reports Sheikh Samir Fouad, in Samarra, decried the mass arrest campaign and stated that the many arrests of innocent people has demonstrated to the world that the claim that the campaign is just and to avenge the dead is a false claim.  The Sheikh called for the release of the innocents.  Kitabat adds there was a call in all areas of protests on the members of the Iraqi military to disobey any orders that they target their Sunni brothers and sisters and they called for an end to the killings and displacements.

  Iraqi Spring MC notes that in Najaf, they called on the government to stop trying to shut down the protests.   NINA notes "thousands" participated in the Falluja and Ramadi protests today and quotes Sheikh Mohammed Fayyad stating that today's goal "is to send once again a message to the governing in Baghdad that our demonstrations are peaceful and backed by citizens' deep conviction."  Sam Mahmoud and Ammar al-Ani (Alsumaria) note that the Ministry of the Interior has announced that they have not yet decided to institute a curfew for Saturday but they have banned all vehicles with paper plates (temporary license plates) from Baghdad for 24 hours.  In addition, Ahmed Hussein (Alsumaria) reports that the four bridges connecting the east and west of Baghdad have been closed, large concrete barriers put in place and large numbers of security forces stationed by the barriers.

Earlier today, Human Rights Watch issued a call for the Iraqi government to cease efforts to ban tomorrow's protests:

Iraqi authorities should legitimately explain why it is necessary to ban demonstrations planned for August 31, or allow them to proceed. They should ensure organizers are able to appeal any ban.
Two groups who organized concurrent demonstrations in Baghdad calling for the cancellation of parliamentarians’ pensions applied to the Interior Ministry for permits on August 21, 2013, as required by Iraqi law. On August 22, Interior Ministry officials refused to issue them permits, without providing them a reason. Organizers of both demonstrations expect them to go ahead, but told Human Rights Watch that they are concerned that Iraqi security forces will use force to block what they said would be peaceful demonstrations, and may arrest and intimidate organizers should the planned demonstrations take place.

“It’s ironic that officials suggest that using force to block peaceful demonstrations will assist Iraq’s ‘march to democracy’,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can ban demonstrations if they believe they will be violent, but here the concern seems that protests will be politically embarrassing or inconvenient.”

In a statement published on its website on August 27, the Interior Ministry said that “security challenges and traffic problems require us to delay the demonstrations” of August 31. Citing “consideration of the risks of terrorism by al-Qaeda and Ba’athists… and of weakening the authority of the state, compounded by regional agendas that seek to weaken Iraq for their own interests,” and its determination to “challenge all negative phenomena that stand in the way of the march of democracy,” the statement said security forces would “firmly confront those who disrupt the security of the country and of its citizens.”

The UN’s first special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, emphasized in a May 2012 report that states may only restrict the right to peaceful assembly where there is a “pressing social need.” The report stressed that states should not need to ban peaceful gatherings in order to fight terrorism effectively, and said “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly.” Kiai places responsibility on authorities to provide assembly organizers with “timely and fulsome reasons” for any ban, and the possibility of a swift appeal.

Amnesty International has issued a statement as well entitled "Iraq: tomorrow's protests against MPs' pensions should be allowed to go ahead:"

Posted: 30 August 2013
Ahead of planned country-wide protests across Iraq tomorrow over Iraqi MPs’ pension payments, Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to respect and protect protesters’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Demonstrators are intending to gather in several locations in Iraq tomorrow to protest at regulations that grant Iraqi MPs high pensions - even after only a few years of service. In light of economic difficulties faced by many Iraqis, the generous parliamentary pension scheme has drawn widespread criticism.  
On 18 and 20 August organisers of the demonstration applied for permission with the Office of the Governor of Baghdad and the Ministry of Interior, respectively. Their requests were refused. Since then Iraqi authorities, including the Ministry of Interior and the General Prosecutor, have called for the demonstration in Baghdad to be postponed due to security concerns. However, protesters plan to go ahead with the demonstration.
In several provinces outside Baghdad, including Babel and Diyala, the authorities have reportedly granted permission for demonstrations to be held this weekend. Yesterday the Iraqi Bar Association held demonstrations against the MPs’ pension scheme in several of its branches, including outside its head office in Baghdad.
In general, the Iraqi authorities have appeared determined to stop large demonstrations taking place in central Baghdad since anti-government protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“People in Iraq have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence.
“Rather than preventing peaceful assemblies, the government should be taking steps to ensure people can exercise their right to protest in safety and security.
“Ongoing violence in the country must not be used as a pretext for continuing a blanket ban on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in central Baghdad or any other public spaces, anywhere in the country.”
Hundreds of people continue to be killed every month in violent attacks by armed groups across Iraq. On 28 August scores of civilians were killed in a wave of bomb attacks targeting Shi’a neighbourhoods of Baghdad.
Suppression of protests in Baghdad:
At the end of last year, tens of thousands of Iraqi opposition activists took to the streets, mainly in provinces with a Sunni majority, to demonstrate at violations of detainees’ rights. However, the authorities prevented any such protests taking place in central Baghdad.

Earlier this month (2 August) more than 100 people attempted to demonstrate against corruption and violence at Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Thirteen were arrested by security forces. Several detained protesters later reported being beaten in custody. Amnesty has seen images purporting to show bruises sustained during these beatings.

Kitabat reports the protesters continued preparations for tomorrow's demonstration today.  They are not backing down.  Iraqi Spring MC hails tomorrow as a revolt against injustice.

In today's violence, NINA reports 1 Sahwa leader was killed in Mosul by a roadside bombing which also injured "one of his bodyguards," an armed clash in Anbar left 1 rebel dead, and a Baquba bombing has left one person injuredAll Iraq News adds an armed attack in Tikrit left two Sahwa injured.  Press Association calls Tuz Khormato the site of "the deadliest attack," "Insurgents there set off a non-lethal stun bomb apparently designed to attract a crowd before detonating a real bomb that killed 12 and wounded 10, said the town's police chief, Colonel Hussein Ali Rasheed."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 862 deaths for the month thus far.  .

Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) offers some thoughts on the political groups in Iraq including the following:

On Aug. 5, 2013, Sadr decided to retire from political life, as a punishment to his supporters.
After announcing that decision, Iraqi parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi himself demanded that Sadr retract this decision.
Nevertheless, Hanan al-Fatlawi, a parliament member in Maliki's State of Law Coalition, questioned what Sadr’s retirement from political life meant, asking, “Is he a president, a prime minister or even a minister to [be able to] retire?”
This statement angered Sadr’s supporters, who considered it disrespectful of their spiritual leader. Yet the motives that pushed political and parliamentary forces to call Sadr to retract the decision to retire from political life are that the departure of Sadr would lead to a division or disagreement in his political bloc, or restore power to its military wing, the Mahdi Army.
The fact is, the political party in Iraq reflects the image of its leader. Therefore, there are conflicting speculations about the fate of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the absence of its leader and the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. For this reason also, Maliki's State Law Coalition seems committed to nominating its leader for a third term. It will inevitably be unable to agree on an alternative to Maliki. The same applies to all other parties.

Stuart Bowen Jr. was the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.  Dan Parsons (National Defense Magazine) reports on a talk he gave yesterday:

Between 2003 and 2012, the United States spent $60.6 billion on the relief and reconstruction of Iraq. During the nine-year rebuilding program, $15 million per day was spent on reconstruction.

In some cases security costs estimated at 10 percent of a project’s price tag, ended up being 25 to 30 percent of the total expenditure for some schools and hospitals and other civil infrastructure projects, he said.

“There were several healthcare clinics blown up,” said Bowen, who visited Iraq more than 30 times during the war. “There were 24 people killed building the Basra Children’s hospital. The Fallujah wastewater treatment plant saw multiple people killed and it took eight years to finish instead of two and a half. “

The United States did worse in establishing a democratic government and essential public services like health care and infrastructure building, Bowen said. He awarded basic governance a C-minus, citing the failed election of 2010 as a catalyst of the unrest that has marked the past four years of life in Iraq.

“Our strategy cannot be ‘No more Iraqs and Afghanistans.’ It has to be, 'how are we going to succeed in the next stabilization and reconstruction operation?'

jason ditz


 hannah allem

mushreq abbas