September 23, 2007
Iraqi authorities said Saturday that they have a videotape of the shootings in Nisur Square last Sunday by Blackwater security guards, which shows that they fired without provocation. The company has maintained that its personnel were responding to incoming fire. There is now talk in Baghdad of trying the guards, though a decree by US viceroy Paul Bremer may hold the US nationals harmless.
Meanwhile, charges surfaced that Blackwater employees had shipped weapons to Iraq without proper paperwork, which could be interpreted as a form of arms smuggling. The company denies the charges.
Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani wrote a letter to Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker demanding that Iranian national Farhad Aghaie be released. The US military detained him in Sulaimaniya, alleging that he is actually an Iranian intelligence officer. Talabani seems confused as to whether he is president of Iraq or a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, since he complained that the US raid injured the sovereignty of the KRG. Uh, I don't think provincial administrations have sovereignty. And, shouldn't Talabani be representing the interests in sovereignty of all the provinces?
Plus, Mam Jalal, if you are a president and have to plead with a foreign general to release your own guest from prison, you don't have any sovereignty left and haven't had for some time. You've been colonized.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari visited Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf on Saturday. Jaafari was expected to meet with representatives of the Sadr Movement later that day. Al-Hayat says that two main interpretations of the visit have been put forward. One is that Jaafari is attempting to repair the rifts in the United Iraqi Alliance, the ruling Shiite fundamentalist bloc created by Sistani in the fall of 2004. In that case he was getting Sistani's blessing for the effort and seeking his intercession with Muqtada al-Sadr, who has withdrawn his bloc from the coalition.
The second interpretation is that Jaafari is attempting to make a new bloc in parliament that would include the Sadrists, and which would undermine Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In that case he was seeking Sistani's blessing for the effort or at least ensuring that the grand ayatollah was not dead set against it.
Al-Hayat also reports on the worsening security situation in the south. It reports one member of the federal parliament as complaining about a wave of assassinations in Basra. Some 100 persons were cut down just in the past week, he alleged, including two aides to Sistani. He demanded the resignation of the Basra police chief and threatened a vote of no confidence against the minister of the interior if nothing was done to stem the killings.
Sawt al-Iraq in Arabic says that not just one but several parliamentarians are called for the resignation of Minister of the Interior Jawad al-Bulani because of the downward security spiral in the south.
The head of the parliamentary committee on security, Hadi al-Amiri, agreed about the worsening situation but said that the security forces were doing the best they could. Al-Amiri is head of the Badr Organization paramilitary, attached to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and many police and other security men in Basra were drawn from Badr. So, ironically, the head of the parliamentary security committee is also the leader of one of Iraq's best-trained Shiite militias.
Brazil is giving asylum to the Palestinian refugees whose families were expelled from their homes by the Israelis in 1948 and who had taken refuge in Iraq, but now have been forced out of Iraq, as well. (Argentina will take some, too). The Palestinians are the eternal Boat People. It would have been better for them to be able to go home than to a Portuguese speaking country half way around the world. But, well, Rio is rather better than three years in a tent in the desert, and at last they are no longer stateless. But on what will they live? It would be nice to send them some charity. If anybody knows how, please post in comments. (Brazilian Red Cross e.g.?)
At the Global Affairs group blog, Gershon Shafir reads the tea leaves on the possibility of a Hamas truce with Israel.
UN Human Rights chief Louise Arbour has expressed alarm about recent Israeli statements on depriving Gaza of humanitarian infrastructure.
At the Napoleon's Egypt Blog , the naked truth about Mamluk theft of French officers' uniforms.
Pentagon Report Gives Lie to Surge Success
An article on how the schedule for turning Iraqi provinces over to the Iraqi army and police for security purposes has slipped
to August 2008 notes of a new Pentagon report:
' The Pentagon report cited a litany of problems with the police. For
example, it said as few as 40 percent of those trained by coalition
troops in recent years are still on the job. Also, due to combat loss,
theft, attrition and poor maintenance, a "significant portion" of
U.S.-issued equipment is now unusable.'
Just to underline what is said here, 60 percent
of the policemen who got even the very minimal training on offer to them have disappeared from the force; and not much is left of the weaponry
("equipment") that the US gave the Iraqi police.
The report is here (pdf)
The report also has two graphics that should make us very
suspicious about all the declarations that the troop escalation or
'surge' has significantly reduced violence in Iraq. I cut the graphs in
half, so they show only 2006 and 2007 and relabled them, but you can
scroll down at the pdf link above to see the originals. I did not
modify them in any other way.
The first graph shows average daily casualties
(dead and wounded badly enough to go to hospital) by month in Iraq.
This graph shows that there was no significant reduction in daily casualties
in Iraq this summer. June saw a dip, mainly in civilian Iraqi
casualties; coalition and Iraqi security force casualties were as bad
as ever. Since the reduction in civilian casualties was not sustained,
it is not significant, and could just have been a fluke (a few car
bombs in markets failed to kill as many people as usual, e.g.)
Somewhere around 150 persons continued to be killed or wounded every
single day according to this chart, with a very minor daily reduction
in the hot months of the summer when it is harder to fight.
The second graph gives the number of attacks
per month. Obviously, a lot of attacks produce no casualties. Mortars land uselessly in the desert, e.g.
This graph shows that with regard to attacks May and June (when the
'surge' was well under way) were two of the most violent months ever
since the US occupation of Iraq began. The June average was 177.8, the
highest ever seen. July was more like the violent fall-winter 2006 than
it was like the slightly less violent summer.
The graph does show a reduction in attacks
for August, but what I notice is that the reduction in attacks did not
come with regard either to Iraqi civilians or Iraqi security personnel,
which seem the same height as previous months. The only significant
reduction for August was with regard to attacks on coalition forces.
(Since troop casualties do not seem to have been down very much for
August, this statistic suggests that there were fewer attacks but they
were more deadly. That is not
Pentagon is trying to give us the impression that August was a 'trend',
but statistically that is silly, since it was just one month and what
came before it was pretty horrible. The dip in attacks in August does
not seem to have come with much of a dip in casualties, in any case.
And if all that is happening is that fewer US troops are being
attacked, but similar numbers are being wounded or killed, I'm not sure
that is even significant. Since some of the attacks were on the British
in the south, changes in the way they were deployed could have had a
small impact on these statistics.
The Pentagon tells us that violence in Baghdad is back down to the
levels of summer, 2006. But whether that is true or not, the
generalization cannot be made for Iraq, by the Pentagon's own
statistics. If you do a three-month rolling average for months prior to
September, whether you look at numbers of attacks or numbers of
casualties, there has not been a significant improvement with regard to
violence in the country as a whole.