Tuesday, August 27, 2013. Chaos and violence continue, the Baghdad court continues to do Nouri’s bidding, Nouri tries to stop the ongoing protest movement, rumors circulate about the health of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the US government pounds the war drums against Syria, Barack continues spying, and much more.
The drums of war grow ever louder as US officials (and some of the press) lust for war on Syria. As Peter Hart (FAIR) observes, “There is still no firm public evidence that would tie these specific attacks to the Assad government. But all around the U.S. media the signs are clear that war is on the way.” IPS analyst Phyllis Bennis appeared this morning on KPFA’s Up Front with Guest Host Philip Maldari to address various issues including the allegations that a chemical attack took place last week in Syria.
Phyllis Bennis: The poisoning of these people who died would be a horrific crime. We don’t know for sure it was a chemical weapon, we certainly don’t know who did it. But it is a terrible crime and should be investigated. It shouldn’t be answered with military strikes which are not going to make it better for anybody. It’s not going to bring the war to a quicker close. It’s not going to protect any civilians in Syria. It’s not going to make anything better, it’s going to make everything worse — further instability, further engagement of the US in an illegal war. That’s the other aspect here. We’re already hearing, it’s quite ironic that while we’re hearing this incredibly aggressive talk from Secretary [of State John] Kerry and from other administration officials who are basically saying, you know, “We’re about to go in” without quite saying those words, the front page of the New York Times admits that — in fact the Washington Post as well — admits that the administration still is missing major pieces of information. The key one being: Who did it and was it a chemical weapon at all? So that needs to be figured out before The idea that they’re preparing for a military response and actually calling for the UN weapons inspectors to be withdrawn, saying that they’re there too late, it’s too little, they won’t be able to tell — when the inspectors themselves, who I would think know far better than Secretary Kerry, for instance, are saying, ‘Yes, of course we can still find out,’ They want to continue doing their work, they don’t want to be withdrawn. And until we know that, there’s no way to talk seriously about a response of any kind. Then when you get to the legal part, the third of these three things that the administration is claiming it needs — One, the assessment of what was the actual role of the Syrian government, if anything? Two, what’s the position of US allies and members of Congress? And three, where does international law fit in? Number three becomes very important because international law in this is actually pretty clear — unlike a lot of international law which is about as clear as mud. The question of when is the use force legal is pretty clear because it’s really limited. There’s only two ways a country can use force and have it be legal. The first, and nobody’s making this claim, is immediate self-defense. The United States is not threatened by Syria. We are hearing that they may ask Turkey and Jordan to claim self-defense and then the US would go to their aid as indirect supporting self-defense, which is a really cockamamie idea. But the bottom line is there’s no self-defense argument here for the United States. The other way is if the [UN] Security Council agrees and we all know the Security Council is not going to agree. So they’re talking about using the model they used in 1999 in Kosovo when they just said, ‘Well, we’ll never get a UN Security Council agreement so we’ll just ask the NATO high command for permission instead.’ And, what a surprise, NATO said yes. It’s like the hammer and the nail. If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Philip Maldari: Well they’re talking about a coalition of the willing — and the willing are Britain, France, possibly, uh-uh, Turkey, of course, and-and Jordan. But then the Arab League —
Those countries together, no matter how many countries together, and the Arab League, or the African Union, or NATO don’t have the legal right to decide on the use of military force. Only the UN Security Council has that right. So if they do it with any of these other forces — a coalition of the willing — it is, I mean, even the New York Times in its editorial today said that going around the UN Security Council, the Kosovo model that they cite would, in their words, “provide legitimacy, if not strict legal justification.” In other words, it’s illegal. You know, they can try to justify it all they want, but it’s illegal.
Today, Nathan Gardels (Christian Science Monitor) interviews former chief United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix. Excerpt regarding weapons inspectors.
Gardels: An echo of Iraq under President Bush?
Blix: In a way, yes. Then, too, the Americans and their allies asked for inspections for mass destruction weapons. Then, too, they said, “forget it, we have enough evidence on our own to act. We are the world police. Our publics are demanding immediate action!”
I do not go along with the statement by the US that “it is too late” for Syria now to cooperate. That is a poor excuse for taking military action.
Only last March, the West was satisfied with inspections concerning the use of chemical weapons. Why can’t they wait again now? In one month when you have accurate tissue samples we will know for sure exactly which kind of chemical weapons have been used and who possesses such weapons.
Jonathan Chait is infamous for two things — a hairline that resembles Hitler’s mustache and being a cheerleader for the Iraq War. Today, he wants to insist Syria isn’t Iraq and insist that he supports war on Syria. Of course he supports attacking Syria — if you’d been given that hairline, you’d hate the world too and forever want to lash out.
We haven’t compared Syria and Iraq here. Until now. When Chait bellows, we blow him off. Even more so on a day State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf declares, “We are not comparing this specific case to any other time we’ve concluded that a regime may or may not, or whatever the discussion was about chemical weapons.” For Iraq, the White House claimed WMDs must be destroyed, for Syria, they claim chemical weapons. With Iraq, the White House would not allow the UN weapons inspectors to complete their work, with Syria, the White House insists the inspectors have arrived too late. In both cases, the law didn’t appear to matter nor did public opinion.
For example, Saturday, Lesley Wroughton (Reuters) reported, “Americans strongly oppose U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if reports that Syria’s government used deadly chemicals to attack civilians are confirmed, a Reuters/Ipsos poll says. Abbout 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act.” But what the citizens think in a democracy didn’t matter under Bully Boy Bush who dubbed himself “the decider.” And what citizens think doesn’t matter under Barack as State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf made clear at today’s press briefing when she was asked about the large majority of Americans opposing an attack on Syria and Harf responded, “I think the President’s been clear that he makes decisions about our national security based on what’s best for national security interests of this country, and I think it’s clear here that there are core national security interests at stake for the United States.”
Might someone educate Marie and Barack? Clearly they lack the basics of American history. “. . . to secure these rights. Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Marie and Barack should be informed that quote is from the Declaration of Independence. While Barack and his illegal spying have shredded much of the Constitution, I wasn’t aware that the Declaration of Independence had also been flushed down the toilet by the White House.
Ruth found other similarities between the war on Iraq and the desired war on Syria last night:
I do not like The New York Times. Did you see this crap “Kerry Cites Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use“?
No, he did not.
“Kerry Claims Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use” would be a truthful headline.
The New York Times is yet again selling war. Apparently, that is why it exists.
It is selling war just as it did with the Iraq War.
But do not worry because when Matt Damon makes a film about it, he will lie and blame The Wall Street Journal — as he did in The Green Zone where The New York Times’ Judith Miller was turned into a Wall Street Journal reporter.
Way to cover for the liars who caused the war, Mr. Damon. And you wonder why no one wants to pay money to see your bad movies?
They say it is always easier for a White man and I guess the above demonstrates that.
Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, had to go before the United Nations (and lie) with props including a mistranslated audio exchange and a small vial of white powder to generate the “case closed” press which led us into the Iraq War. By contrast, Secretary Kerry, a White man, just has to make a declaration.
The rush to judgment is all too familiar, as in the case of WMD and Iraq. The US track record and its new rallying cry, humanitarian intervention, is rejected by most of the world. Obama and his national-security advisers have a craving for war, whether a distorted view of patriotism or simply courting popularity with a nation careening dangerously to the Right, is a moot point. Also, war is a good distraction from a shabby record on everything from banking regulation to job creation. The Democratic party is hopeless, a profound betrayal of FDR and the New Deal.
Rowena Mason (Guardian) reports, “Diane Abbott may be forced to quit Labour‘s frontbench if Ed Miliband supports military action in Syria, as one of several MPs who are weighing up whether to support their party leaders over the anticipated intervention.” More connections and similarities? Angie Tibbs (Dissident Voice) raises questions about the ‘evidence’ (videos) John Kerry and others are citing:
If a check had been made, the real “breaking news” would be, not so much the videos but, the date on which they were uploaded, which was August 20, 2013. However, the “rebels” and their “activists” informed the media that the attack occurred on August 21, 2013! A full day AFTER the videos of the alleged massacre were published by various media. Whoops!
Only if it were carried out by the “rebels” themselves.
This is not the first time an attempt was made to portray victims of a Syrian government massacre to the world. Back on May 29, 2012 a photograph appeared in corporate-state media outlets (initially by BBC, followed by countless others, including Canada’s CBC) purporting to show the bodies of children who were supposedly awaiting burial following a massacre by the Syrian government in Houla. The photograph had been provided to the BBC by an “activist” (who else?).
At the time, the image, as it was meant to, created outrage amongst leaders in “the West”, many of whom expelled all Syrian diplomats. However, was it a photo of dead bodies from the Houla massacre? Media outlets accepted its legitimacy without question.
Another huge mistake damning corporate-state media credibility!
Because when photographer Marco di Lauro, who had taken the picture, saw it, he, in his own words, “nearly fell off his chair” in shock. It was, in fact, a photo he had taken in March, 2003 in Iraq, and it showed body bags containing skeletons that had been found in a desert south of Baghdad.
Yesterday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued “Phone conversation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with US Secretary of State John Kerry:”
On the 25 August a phone conversation between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry was held at the initiative of the Russian party. The situation around Syria was discussed.
The Minister pointed out that the official statements we had been hearing lately from Washington, about the readiness of the United States armed forces to “interfere” with the Syrian conflict, were received by Moscow with anxiety. It seems that known circles, including those who appeal for a military intervention “bypassing the UN” more and more actively, are sincerely trying to strike through the joint efforts of Russia and the United States to convene the international conference on peaceful settlement of the crisis.
We are puzzled by the references of individual representatives of the Administration to the allegedly “proven” involvement of the Syrian government in last week’s incident in Eastern Ghouta with alleged use of chemical weapons. To that end, the Russian party appealed to refrain from a line of forceful pressure on Damascus, to remain unprovoked and to try to contribute to the creation of normal conditions for the UN mission of chemical experts, which is currently present in the country, to have the opportunity to conduct thorough, objective and unprejudiced investigations on sites. This becomes especially topical in light of the increasing evidence that the accident in Eastern Ghouta was a result of staging by the inexorable opposition for the purposes of accusing officials in Damascus.
John Kerry promised to attentively study the arguments of the Russian party.
Sergey Lavrov also drew the attention of his conversation partner to the very dangerous consequences of a possible new armed intervention for the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa, where the effect of destabilising processes, that countries like Iraq and Libya are still experiencing, is especially acute.
The Ministers agreed to continue their contacts on all aspects of the Syrian crisis in the near future.
The two spoke today as well and it did no go well. No surprise since, between the two calls, John Kerry appeared to blow off concerns expressed making statements declaring he knew a chemical weapon attack took place (when he knew no such thing) and that the attack was carried out by the Syrian government (when he knew no such thing). As Alex Lantier (Global Research) points out, “Kerry could not present a single fact, beyond his own lurid allegations, to justify the claim that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces carried out a chemical attack in Ghouta.” Among other things, Kerry declared:
What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.
Alex Lantier (WSWS) points out, “Washington has poisoned entire Iraqi cities with depleted uranium and white phosphorus.” As Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani (Al Jazeera via BRussells Tribunal) notes:
Iraq is poisoned. Thirty-five million Iraqis wake up every morning to a living nightmare of childhood cancers, adult cancers and birth defects. Familial cancers, cluster cancers and multiple cancers in the same individual have become frequent in Iraq.
Sterility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects – some never described in any medical books – are all around, in increasing numbers. Trapped in this hellish nightmare, millions of Iraqis struggle to survive, and they call for help.
At long last, public pressure and media attention to this public health catastrophe prompted a joint study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iraqi Ministry of Health to determine the prevalence of birth defects in Iraq. This study began in May-June 2012 and was completed in early October 2012.
The WHO website says that this large-scale study was conducted in Baghdad (Karkh and Rasafa), Diyala, Anbar, Sulaymaniyah, Babel, Basrah, Mosul and Thi-Qar, with 10,800 households from 18 districts and a sample size of 600 households per district.
The Independent (UK) reported that this study was due to be released in November 2012. But the report has not yet come out.
How lucky for John Kerry that the WHO report has still not emerged. Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) explained in a report last April:
During 2004, the US military carried out two massive military sieges of the city of Fallujah, using large quantities of DU ammunition, as well as white phosphorous.
“We are concerned about the future of our children being exposed to radiation and other toxic materials the US military have introduced into our environment,” Dr Haddad added.
A frequently cited epidemiological study titled Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009 involved a door-to-door survey of more than 700 Fallujah households.
The research team interviewed Fallujans about abnormally high rates of cancer and birth defects.
One of the authors of the study, Chemist Chris Busby, said that the Fallujah health crisis represented “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied”.
Dr Mozghan Savabieasfahani is an environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is the author of more than two dozen peer reviewed articles, most of which deal with the health impact of toxicants and war pollutants. Her research now focuses on war pollution and the rising epidemic of birth defects in Iraqi cities.
“After bombardment, the targeted population will often remain in the ruins of their contaminated homes, or in buildings where metal exposure will continue,” Dr Savabieasfahani told Al Jazeera.
“Our research in Fallujah indicated that the majority of families returned to their bombarded homes and lived there, or otherwise rebuilt on top of the contaminated rubble of their old homes. When possible, they also used building materials that were salvaged from the bombarded sites. Such common practices will contribute to the public’s continuous exposure to toxic metals years after the bombardment of their area has ended.”
Global Research’s Washington Blog notes the hypocrisy of Kerry’s “We condemn all use of chemical weapons” adding, “But the U.S. used chemical weapons against civilians in Iraq in 2004. Evidence here, here, here, here,here, here.”
Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count puts the number of violent deaths this month so far at 713. Violence continued today and Alsumaria reports that Duraid Abbas, the Director of Passports in Nineveh, was shot dead in Mosul, and an armed attack on a Nineveh compound for displaced Shabaks resulted in one security guard being injured. NINA reports that 1 soldier was shot dead in the village of Tabj, a Falluja armed attack left 1 police officer dead and another injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 3 lives (military captain and two soldiers), 1 internal affairs officer shot dead in al-Mohandiseen, Sheikh Barzan Bedrani (“the elder of Albobadran clans”) was shot dead to the south of Mosul, 2 Baghdad bombings claimed 5 lives and left seven people injured, the Ministry of Defense announced that during mass arrests (305) 9 suspects were killed, and Nouri’s military attempted “to storm Ramadi sit-in yard near Alibovraj bridge but [were] firmly confronted by militants today.” If they hadn’t been stopped by rebels, it most likely would have been another Hawija.
The April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from Nouri’s federal forces storming in. Alsumaria noted Kirkuk’s Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk) announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault. AFP reported the death toll eventually (as some wounded died) rose to 53 dead. UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).
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.
Alsumaria reports that the provincial council of Kirkuk today voted not to reconstitute Sahwa in their area — they state security is sufficient and that includes the local police force which includes many Turkmen. This matters because, over the weekend, Al Mada reported that the collapse in security is forcing some Baghdad officials to consider returning to a full force of Sahwas. Sahwa, “Awakenings” and “Sons Of Iraq” are some of the names. Who are they? BBC News offers a fact sheet here. Please note, despite what the BBC says, Sahwa were apparently not all Sunnis. According to Gen David Petraeus when he testified before Congress in April 2008, there were some Shi’ites as well. For example, from the April 8, 2008 snapshot:
If reconstituted, they would have to be paid. Nouri has balked at that and attempted to disband then. Though he was supposed to integrate them into Iraqi forces and into government jobs, he refused that as well. All of this and the targeting of Sahwa with assassination attempts as well as with arrests from Nouri’s forces have left them distrustful of Nouri and his government. There are some who believe this has led some Sahwa members to join the rebels, militants or even al Qaeda in Iraq. Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reported last Thursday:
As Al-Sabaah notes, the Sahwa remains active in Anbar Province (the article details some of their security operations today). Since the US military was just mentioned by Niqash, let’s note Ahmed Hussein and Muhannad Muhammad (Alsumaria) who are reporting MP Jawad Alshahyla, of the Sadr bloc and who sits on Parliament’s Integrity Committee, states that six US military bases currently exist in Iraq — the Committee has confirmed this — and that the number of so-called US “trainers” is far greater than was expected or portrayed — the Committee estimate is at least 1,000 US troops are in Iraq.
Turning to Iraq’s political situation, last December, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke. The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad’s Medical Center Hospital. Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany. He remains in Germany currently. Every few weeks someone comes along to announce, “He’s getting better!” It’s past time that Iraqis were told when Jalal was coming back and if he’s not coming back shortly, it really is time to replace him. He’s been out of the country — and not doing his job — for over eight months now. Talabani was neither protector or warrior. He repeatedly refused to stand against Nouri and waived through Nouri’s various law breaking. He appeased Nouri, at best. That humoring of Nouri is no longer present and Nouri’s attacked the Iraqi people repeatedly in the months Jalal has been out of the country. There has not even been the pretense of a check on Nouri. And things may be about to come even worse. The Iraq Times — and only the Iraq Times — is reporting on rumors and leaks coming from the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential cleric. They identify the information they are receiving as “confusing” but note that the health of al-Sistani is said to be deteriorating with some insisting he is in a coma and doctors have had to revive his heartbeat at least once. If the rumors are true, Iraq would be facing even more political unrest. Rumors also abound that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is attempting to get back into Iraqiya’s good graces. al-Mutlaq was defended by Iraqiya in 2010 when the Justice and Accountability Commission declared him a “Ba’athist” and refused to allow him to run for the Parliament. They defended him when he told CNN, in 2011, that Nouri was becoming a new Saddam Hussein. They stood with him from December 2011 to May of 2012 as Nouri, in retaliation for the CNN remarks, demanded that al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post. Their thanks for that loyalty? When Iraqiya declared a walk-out on the Cabinet this summer, al-Mutlaq refused to honor it. As Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, made publicly clear, anyone who did not walk out was no longer a member of Iraqiya.
The man who betrayed Iraqiya, the man many members saw as no different from Nouri al-Maliki, now is said to wants back in. (He most likely wants back in do to planned parliamentary elections next year. Iraqiya came in first in 2010. And Nouri and his own State of Law are increasingly unpopular.) Amjad Salah (Alsumaria) reports that Allawi’s office today denied that al-Mutlaq made a formal request to Allawi who rejected the request.
And things are tense enough as it stands. Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports, “The Supreme Federal Court said in a brief statement on its website that it had ruled unconstitutional a controversial law that limits the premier, president and the parliament speaker to two terms of office.” AFP reminds, “Maliki told AFP in a February 2011 interview, however, that he would not seek a third term in office, and said at the time that he wanted to pass a constitutional provision limiting his successors to two terms as prime minister.”
Iraqiya Slate denounced in a statement today the abolition of the law determining the tenure of three presidencies and the abolition of constitutional Article 23 by concerning the election mechanism in Kirkuk by the Federal Court.
The statement added : “Once again the Federal Court proving the serious volume of politicization of its decisions and the flagrant disregard for the Constitution which is in charge maintained by the amount of its decisions is subject to the whims of the executive branch./End.”
All Iraq News quotes Ayad Allawi stating, “The parliament endorsed the decision of limiting the terms of the three presidencies by two terms only, but there are some attempts to change this law and violate the constitution.”
Back to the United States. Anthony York (Los Angeles Times) reports Cindy Sheehan has announced she is running for governor of California and doing so on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, “Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and Velcro-strapped sandals, Sheehan criticized [Governor Jerry] Brown’s unwillingness to put a moratorium on extracting oil through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a procedure that critics say could contaminate drinking water and stimulate earthquakes. She noted Brown has received a $27,200 campaign contribution from Occidental Petroleum, the maximum allowed under state law.” Cindy Sheehan’s campaign website informs, “Cindy Sheehan is a native Californian who was raised in a California where education was excellent and other social safety nets were not as small and filled with holes so big, millions of Californians fall through while the rich and corporations keep exploiting more of this state’s wealth and resources. Sheehan majored in California History at UCLA and envisions a state that leads the world in peace, economic stability and equality, environmental sustainability and delivering high-quality public education from pre-K through university. She knows it can be done because it has been done before.” A press release noted:
I know Jerry Brown and have known him forever. I won’t be noting his campaign — unless he addresses war. We don’t generally follow state races here. That said, Cindy’s making a third party run and we will note her campaign (a) for her historical and continued importance as a voice against war and (b) third party runs need coverage. In the 2010 race, Carlos Alvarez was the Peace and Freedom’s nominee for governor and he received 0.9% of the vote (Green Party candidate Laura Wells received 1.2%; Libertarian Party candidate Dale Ogden recieved 1.5% and American Independent Chelene Nightingale received 1.7%). These numbers could be higher if the media covered all campaigns. And democracy needs variations and vibrancy, third parties and independent challengers are often the first to advance ideas that are embraced by larger political parties many years later.
Still in the US, Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) sees the US government’s non-stop bleating over Syria as an attempt at distraction:
The shouting is about taking the NSA story off the front pages for a while and drowning out the rising voices of civil libertarian protest. Edward Snowden’s revelations of a wide-ranging years-long domestic spying operation threatens Obama’s presidency. It also threatens the leadership of the two parties, who are confronted with a grassroots rebellion on both sides of the aisle and have only just barely managed to contain it. Official Washington has been shaken to its already pretty flimsy foundations by the scandal – and there’s nothing like another war to take everyone’s mind off the fact that they’re shredding the Fourth Amendment.
Alex Abdu (ACLU) notes the ACLU continues to pursue judicial remedy from the government’s illegal spying:
Last night, we filed the opening brief in our lawsuit challenging the NSA’s ongoing collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States, including the ACLU’s. We’re asking the court for a preliminary injunction ordering the government to stop collecting our data and to bar any use of the ACLU call records it already has collected.
The NSA’s program is illegal because it is not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act as the government claims, because it invades every American’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and because it forces ordinary Americans to pause every time they pick up the phone to consider whether they want the NSA to know whom they’re calling – infringing on the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
Under this unprecedented surveillance program, the NSA has built an enormous database filled with information about every American’s associations and affiliations.