Tuesday, September 10, 2013


"The National Security State: Why it's Important to Understand the Nature of the Beast" (Jay Stanley, ACLU):

In two recent posts I argued that it is useful to think of the national security establishment as a thoughtless organism prone to certain predictable behaviors such as self-preservation, expansion, and secrecy. But what are the policy implications, exactly, of that way of conceptualizing things?
To begin with, if policymakers and the public have a sophisticated understanding of what I called the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” nature of any agencies we create or maintain, we’re more likely to put in place the right kinds of tight controls and limits to ensure that the agency doesn’t run amok. We’ll be more likely to anticipate the areas in which the agency will likely seek to expand its authorities, to exaggerate problems, to try poaching the domains of adjoining agencies, to escape oversight through secrecy, and so forth—and to craft laws and policies to counteract those tendencies.
Many people with long experience in Washington already understand these dynamics at one level or another—but many other people are very naïve about them. If an agency says there’s a “missile gap” with the Soviets, or warns about imminent “cyber-terrorism” leading to blood on the streets, or pushes for judges to be cut out of the equation when surveillance orders are generated, it does not occur to many people that these claims may reflect the natural tendency of government agencies to seek expanded powers, domains, and budgets. Many people, when they feel warm and fuzzy about a president, therefore feel warm and fuzzy about all the agencies that, they think, are under that president’s control—and when they hate and distrust a president, they likewise hate and distrust the agencies.
So a good understanding of the nature of the beast will help introduce a healthy skepticism towards many of the claims that government agencies make, and an understanding that they are bigger than the personalities of any of their leaders.

We should always be suspicious.  We should always make our leaders prove their claims and, if they can't, we should shut them down.

We have that power in a democracy.

We are encouraged to believe we are powerless and unimportant.

That's why I say piss on Barack.

I don't worship presidents, they work for us.  They usually do an awful job.  But whatever.

I am not going to ever be someone buying plates with the face of a president on it.

Presidential worship is carefully tended by the media to grow a sense of powerlessness and complacency.

We are not powerless and we do not have to be complacent.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Tuesday, September 10, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the insurance industry feels they've found an untapped market: Life insurance for Iraqis!, Jalal Talabani's continued absence from Iraq prompts more discussions, a rumor pops up regarding US approval for Nouri to serve a third term as prime minister, Camp Ashraf continues to suffer -- where is Richard Cohen's outrage!!!!,  John Kerry's bluster on Syria gets called, and more. 

Richard Cohen is a Washington Post columnist.  He's come under intense criticism this year, more so than at any other time.  It could actually be a great thing.  Columnists are supposed to generate controversy, ideas are supposed to be provocative.  The criticism also allows Cohen to take a look at how he presents himself in his writing and decide whether he's mispresenting or whether he thinks people are misunderstanding what he's stating.  Most of all, the constant dogpile means that he is eagerly read by his harshest critics in the hopes that they can catch something to criticize him for. All of that spells success if you respond to it correctly.

I'm not one of Richard's harshest critics.  I know him and I like him and I will forever applaud his work on the illegal government spying of the seventies.  But his column showing up all over the place this week (here for San Jose Mercury News, here for Real Clear Politics to cite only two) is dead wrong.  "Where's the moral outrage?" the headline asks.

Uh, don't know, Richard?  Is the 'moral' outrage aimed at a same-sex couple attempting to adopt?  Or maybe it's aimed at an unwed, pregnant woman?  Who knows where the 'moral' outrage is and who really gives a f**k?  How about we talk ethical and leave 'morality' to the cowards who are unable to debate ethics?  Once again,  from the classic comedy sketch (about the quiz show scandal) . . .

Mike Nichols: It's a moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes!

Mike Nichols: A moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes! Yes! Yes! It is a moral issue.  

Mike Nichols:  A moral issue.

Elaine May:  And to me that's always so much more interesting than a real issue

Truly, let's talk about something that actually matters.

Richard is outraged by the deaths in Syria.  I don't doubt that.  And he's worked himself up over it to write a column whose sincerity I don't question.

Deaths are sad, wherever they take place.  Syria's in the midst of a civil war.  Deaths take place in a civil war, as any student of history knows.  Deaths take place in revolutions as well.  The American Revolution was very bloody, for example.  These are facts.

Cohen writes:

What perplexes me is how the calls for Congress to rebuff President Obama are empty of moral outrage. The civil war in Syria has cost more than 110,000 lives. It has produced a humanitarian calamity -- well over 2 million refugees. Bashar al-Assad has massacred his own people by conventional means and is accused of using poison gas several times, most recently on Aug. 21, when his military murdered 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.

Again, let's leave 'morality' out of it.  Refugees?  The Iraqi refugee crisis had/has a higher number and as the BBC -- and only the BBC -- has recently reported, violence returning to 2008 levels in today's Iraq means that, yet again, Iraqis are fleeing the country in large numbers.

What has Bashar al-Assad done or not done?  I have no idea.  Nor does Richard Cohen.  But if they are "his own people," I guess he can feed them or kill them or whatever.

"His own people"?  Do you get how insulting that is, that mind-set?  It's truly imperialism at its worst.   And that's what harms Cohen and his column.

He's outraged.  That's a feeling, we can talk about it, we can process it.  But he has a feeling and he wants to act on it.

Somewhere along the way, a very smart man has lost his toolbox.  All Cohen has is killing.  That is now his answer to everything.  Something must be done?  Kill!  Kill!  Kill!

He's like a 'sexy vixen' in a Roger Corman film.

Cohen is smart enough to grasp -- if he'd take a breath -- that there are many ways to respond.

Cohen writes, "We should all be ashamed.  The inescapable truth is that the world needs a policeman. The inescapable truth is that only the U.S. can play cop."

If that's all he has to offer, he needs to consider a serious vacation because the well's gone dry and it's time to refill.  More importantly, he needs to shake off the tension because he is consumed with fear.

We need peace makers, we need diplomats.  If America has a gun problem (I'll leave that to others to decide, I do not support changes to the Second Amendment), why wouldn't it?  The government constantly threatens at the barrel of a gun and this is treated as normal, people like Richard Cohen will even applaud it.  So why wouldn't many citizens in the country model the behavior in their own lives?  When your government acts like a bully and gets applauded for it, it sends a message.

So those who treat the threats of violence as normal really shouldn't be surprised as the society in the same country grows even more violent.

Cohen wants to provide a service?  Try breaking with a culture that embraces violence.

Also stop attacking the American people (left, right, center, apolitical) for 'not caring.'  As donations and volunteer work in Haiti demonstrate, there is no lack of humanitarian concern among Americans.  But Cohen and others don't want to measure that as "humanitarian" -- that which truly is humanitarian -- and that's what's so disturbing.

Bombing is not humanitarian.  Bombing is war.  If you want to advocate for it, do it honestly.  Stop being so chicken s**t that you try to pretend you're being a humanitarian.

If you don't believe diplomacy can work, if you don't believe peace talks could be productive, that's fine, state your opinion on that.  But don't ignore humanitarian means while insisting that bombing a people is "humanitarian."  It's war.

There's also a lack of honesty when what US President Barack Obama might order on Syria is 'discussed.'  Tom Hayden (Beyond Chron) speaks bluntly about what is possible:

Secretary of State John Kerry even already has suggested a role for American ground forces in his Senate testimony, for example in the case of chaos or a takeover by Syrian militants in a vacuum. This was purely "hypothetical" Kerry said, under sharp questioning. Then in his classic way, Kerry retracted his retraction, sort of, by saying that there would be no boots on the ground during "the civil war" phase of the conflict. This statement left open the possibility of American ground troops if and when the Assad regime begins disintegrating. At that point, does anyone seriously believe there would be another Congressional debate?
The parallel with Iraq is crystal clear. That earlier war was based on false information about "weapons of mass destruction" in the terrifying hands of Saddam Hussein. In an interview, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the war's architects, said that the non-existent weapons were the best argument for mobilizing public opinion and a reluctant Congress. In this war, there seems to be no question that a sarin-type gas attack killed one thousand people, although a UN investigation is incomplete and there are questions about who exactly ordered the attack. That major difference aside, the eerie parallel with Iraq is that the chemical weapons attack is a pretext for expanding the American war in Syria on a much broader basis than is acknowledged.
The American public deserves a full explanation for what we are expected to support.

John Kerry . . . As a White House friend said to me today, "You know Joe's loving this.  For once, he's not the [administration] buffoon."

No, John holds that title.  We have warned here repeatedly that Barack needed to stop being such a little wimp and take control of his own message instead of attempting to hide behind others.  We've noted how bad it makes Barack look on the world stage when John Kerry's acting as 'president' and not Secretary of State.

As we noted yesterday, Kerry declared, "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week -- turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it) but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."  He was speaking off the cuff, acting like he was the policy setter.

Now it's bit him in the butt as the government of Russia has grabbed it and run with it.  Of course they would grab it.  They were already mocking Kerry and calling him a liar because, well, he lied.  So, of course, they were looking for more to score with.   And they ran with John's adlibs.

Late Monday, the Russian government announced they'd be happy to help with such an arrangement (securing any chemical weapons Syria may have) and, as the AP reports, the White House immediately tried to distance themselves from Kerry's words until they were forced to go along.

Reuters notes, "Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from U.S. military strikes but serious differences emerged between Russia and the United States that could obstruct a U.N. resolution to seal a deal."  Russia's issue is they want a pledge of no attack on Syria from the US government.  That's actually a smart demand considering the way the US government forced UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq to start the Iraq War and then repeatedly lied that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein wouldn't let the inspectors do their work.

Kerry went before the House Armed Services Committee today and insisted:

If we don't answer Assad today, we will irreparably damage a century-old standard that has protected American troops in war. So to every one of your constituents, if they were to say to you, "Why did you vote for this even though we said we don't want to go to war?" Because you want to protect American troops, because you want to protect America's prohibition and the world's prohibition against these weapons.

 There's no need to protect American troops from those alleged weapons.  American troops aren't in Syria.  Keep them out of Syria -- which does not border the United States -- and it shouldn't be an issue.

John Kerry continued babbling:

The stability of this region is also in our direct security interest. Our allies, our friends in Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, are, all of them, just a strong wind away from being injured themselves or potentially from a purposeful attack. Failure to act now will make this already volatile neighborhood even more combustible, and it will almost certainly pave the way for a more serious challenge in the future. And you can just ask our friends in Israel or elsewhere. In Israel, they can't get enough gas masks. And there's a reason that the Prime Minister has said this matters, this decision matters. It's called Iran. Iran looms out there with its potential – with its nuclear program and the challenge we have been facing. And that moment is coming closer in terms of a decision. They're watching what we do here. They're watching what you do and whether or not this means something.

The government of Israel preaches and teaches fear, another reason they're in such trouble today.  As for 'allies,'  where's Iraq in that sentence.  They share a longer border with Syria than does any other neighboring country.

But to pimp Iraq might require Kerry -- or Cohen -- note what Nouri's done to the Ashraf community most recently.  James Morrison (Washington Times) noted yesterday:

Iranian opposition leaders and their U.S. and European supporters are urging President Obama to draw a “red line” in Iraq — a week after gunmen killed 52 Iranian dissidents at a refugee camp north of Baghdad.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, called on Secretary of State John F. Kerry to cut U.S. aid to Iraq’s government, which is strongly influenced by Iran.
Struan Stevenson, leader of the European Parliament’s committee on Iraq, denounced the “inaction” of the U.S., U.N. and European Union after the Sept. 1 attack on Camp Ashraf, where gunmen believed to be Iraqi soldiers killed the unarmed Iranian exiles.
“Silence in relation to such murderous activity is shameful and an encouragement for further atrocities,” said Mr. Stevenson, a Conservative Party member from Scotland.
Opposition leaders also said that U.S. prestige is at risk in Iraq as much as in Syria, noting that all of the victims carried U.S. government-issued cards identifying them as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.

Last Friday, the US State Dept announced,  "The State Department has appointed a Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement, Jonathan Winer, to oversee our efforts to help resettle the residents of Camp Hurriya to safe, permanent, and secure locations outside of Iraq, in addition to those countries, such as Albania, that have admirably assisted the United Nations in this important humanitarian mission."

Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were  welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks.  The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one.  As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Those weren't the last attacks.  They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept.  (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.)   In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  So the US has an obligation to protect the residents.  3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf.  They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part.  A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday.   That was the second attack this year alone.   February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah.  Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."

Cohen and Kerry and so many others have 'moral' outrage and want to make comparisons to Hitler's assault on the Jews.  If anyone's living in concentration camps it's the Ashraf community.  Kerry also doesn't seem to care that Iraq is a neighbor of Syria who has made it very clear that a US military strike on Syria will not help them.

On Iraq,  Ziad al Sinjary, Raheem Salman, Isabel Coles and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) report, "Iraq closed the international airport in its second largest city Mosul on Tuesday, grounding all flights without giving any explanation, air industry and security sources said."  Mosul is the capital of Nineveh Province.  Alsumaria notes it is Iraq's third largest airport and quotes Haider Mohammed Ali (Director of the Mosul International Airport) declaring it will be closed for at least four days.  In this morning's news headlines, Cameron Jones (KPFA) noted this "effects flights to and from Jordan, the United Arab Emeritus and, Turkey as well as daily internal flights to and from the capital.  Reuters notes that the governor of the province is opposed to the move."  Various reasons have been given for the closure (including terrorism and maintenance).  Sunday,  Alsumaria reported that Nineveh Province Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi (also sometimes spelled Ethyl al-Nujaifi), who just won a second term as governor this summer, has an arrest warrant out for him for 'integrity' crimes.  If the warrant does exist and Nouri executes it (if it exists, he's the one who initiated it), expect the various crises in Iraq -- especially the political crisis -- to intensify even more.

If a warrant is executed against the immensely popular Governor of Nineveh (again, just re-elected to a second term this summer), look for the protests to intensify, look for rebels to feel Sunnis are being further attacked (therefore the rebels will up their attacks) and look for the already inflamed tensions to soar ever higher.

For many, the targeting of Tareq al-Hashemi is what really underscores how Nouri has rejected a power-sharing governmnet.  Tareq al-Hashemi is a Sunni and a member of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 elections (Nouri's State of Law came in second). Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi were also vice presidents from 2006 to 2010. In December 2011, after multiple photo-ops with US President Barack Obama, Nouri returned to Iraq and quickly ordered the homes of his political rivals circled by tanks -- a detail the US press 'forgot' to report for at least 24 hours (most estimates are 48 hours). The bulk of US forces had left Iraq when Nouri made his move (a detail international observers stressed). He began calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq to be stripped of his office. Like al-Hashemi, al-Mutlaq is also Sunni and also a member of Iraqiya. 

Sunday December 18, 2011, Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, along with bodyguards, attempted to leave out of Baghdad International Airport for the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government -- three semi-autonomous provinces in Iraq). Nouri's forces pulled all off the plane and detained them for approximately an hour before allowing some bodyguards and al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq to reboard. The next day, December 19th, Nouri issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi whom he charged with 'terrorism.'  From the December 19, 2012 snapshot:

CNN reported this afternoon that an arrest warrant had been issued for Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi by the Judicial Commitee with the charge of terrorism.  Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) terms it a "poltical crisis" and states, "The government says this has nothing to do with the US withdrawal, that this has nothing to do with the prime minister consolidating his grip on power.  However, members of al-Iraqiya bloc, which Hashimis is a member of, say 'No, [Maliki] is trying to be a dictator." 

al-Hashemi, who did not 'flee' to the KRG, remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani while Nouri screamed for Tareq to handed over.  When Talabani folded, KRG Pre. He went there on business and could have been stopped if Nouri wanted to stop him. A day after he arrived, an arrest warrant was issued and he elected to remain in the KRG. He has been the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Tareq noted he could not receive a fair trial since Nouri controls the Baghdad judiciary.

Thursday Februaty 16, 2012,  the 'independent' Supreme Court in Baghdad issued a finding of guilt against Tareq al-Hashemi. Was a trial held? Because Article 19 of Iraq's Constitution is very clear that the accused will be guilty until convicted in a court of law. No. There was no trial held. But members of the judiciary -- who should damn well know the Constitution -- took it upon themselves not only to form an investigative panel -- extra-judicial -- but also to hold a press conference and issue their findings. At the press conference, a judge who is a well known Sunni hater, one with prominent family members who have demonized all Sunnis as Ba'athists, one who is currently demanding that a member of Iraqiya in Parliament be stripped of his immunity so that the judge can sue him, felt the need to go to the microphone and insist he was receiving threats and this was because of Tareq al-Hashemi, that al-Hashemi was a threat to his family.

The kangaroo court tried al-Hashemi in absentia repeatedly handing down death sentences.  The fifth death sentence was handed down December 15, 2012.

Though trials in absentia are often seen as, at best, flawed, a further problem for the judiciary was that, as a sitting vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi really couldn't be put on trial.  He would have to either finish his term (it expires next year) or be removed from office (by a vote in Parliament).  He remains vice president.

That's only the most well known example.  December 20, 2012, another action took place, one that kicked off the ongoing protests which hit the 9 month mark in less than two weeks.  From the December 21st snapshot:

After morning prayers, Kitabat reports, protesters gathered in Falluja to protest the arrests and Nouri al-Maliki.  They chanted down with Nouri's brutality and, in a move that won't change their minds, found themselves descended upon by Nouri's forces who violently ended the protest.  Before that, Al Mada reports, they were chanting that terrorism and Nouri are two sides of the same coin.  Kitabat also reports that demonstrations also took place in Tikrit, Samarra, Ramdia and just outside Falluja with persons from various tribes choosing to block the road connecting Anbar Province (Falluja is the capitol of Anbar) with Baghdad.  Across Iraq, there were calls for Nouri to release the bodyguards of Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi.  Alsumaria notes demonstrators in Samarra accused Nouri of attempting to start a sectarian war.
So what happened yesterday?  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports:

Iraq's Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi said Thursday that "a militia force" raided his house, headquarters and ministry in Baghdad and kidnapped 150 people, and he holds the nation's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, responsible for their safety.  Members of the al-Essawi's staff and guards were among those kidnapped from the ministry Thursday, the finance minister said. He also said that his computers and documents were searched at his house and headquarters. He said the head of security was arrested Wednesday at a Baghdad checkpoint for unknown reasons and that now the compound has no security.

Kitabat explains that these raids took place in the Green Zone, were carried out by the Iraqi military and that Nouri, yesterday evening, was insisting he knew nothing about them.    In another report, Tawfeeq quotes al-Essawi stating, "My message to the prime minister: You are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people." BBC News adds, "Rafie al-Issawi, a prominent member of the al-Iraqiyya political bloc, said about 150 of his bodyguards and staff members had been arrested on Thursday."

If Nouri's planning to arrest Atheel al-Nujaifi, closing the Mosul airport might be part of that procedure (to prevent al-Nujaifi from seeking asylum in the KRG.

NINA notes 3 car bombings have gone off in Diyala Province.  Fars News Agency notes that the 3 Baquba bombings have claimed 10 lives and left thirty-four injured while a Latifiyah car bombing claimed 4 lives with fourteen injured.  Isabel Coles and Kevin Liffey (Reuters) quote college student Ali Kadhim stating, "A white car parked near a barber's shop inside Anbakiya market exploded. I got shrapnel in my head and my family took me to Baquba hospital." AP adds, "In Tuesday's deadliest attack, gunmen stormed a house in the town of Yusufiyah and killed six people, including two women, as they were ritually cleansing the body of a Sunni Arab man ahead of his funeral, a police officer and a doctor at a nearby hospital said."  AFP reports, "And in the northern city of Mosul, two people, including a policeman, were gunned down by militants, while three bodies were found in northern Iraq as well."  Alsumaria notes a Kirkuk suicide bomber took his own life and left four people (including one child) injured, a Taji bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and left six more injured, and a Baghdad bomb targeting a football field left 4 young people dead and sixteen more injured.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 293 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  Today's already reported deaths mean over 300 people have been killed in Iraq in the first ten days of the month.

In the face of all this death and destruction,  Julie Campbell (Live Insurance News) smells profits, "Even though there are hundreds of Iraqi people who die every month as a result of the violence that still plagues the nation, there remains a lack of awareness regarding life insurance throughout the population."  You know things are bad in Iraq when the mercenary profit motive starts getting applied.  How bad is it in Iraq?   Rabin Nader (Al-Monitor) reports:

The term “death zones” nowadays easily describes many areas of Baghdad, while in the past it only applied to specific areas.
Baghdad’s inhabitants now expect to fall victim to car bombs, even while traveling in alleyways. Bassem Hussein, 31, recounted to Al-Monitor the details of an explosion that struck the al-Qahira neighborhood of Baghdad over a week ago, when he lost his right eye and his brother was killed.
After his release from hospital, Bassem said, “We did not expect these bombings to target residential areas at such a pace. We now fear that they might kill us in our own homes.”
He added, “Even during years of sectarian war, fear of death was not this intense. At the time, we only avoided going to specific places, but now all areas have become death zones.”

Turning to Iraqi politics,  Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi Tweeted the following today:

  1. انا ضد تسييس ولا اعمل مع اي جهة تتبنى هذه السياسية او تتبنى الفكر المتطرف.
  2. I am against politicising and do not deal with any party that adopts this policy or any extreme ideology

The Tweets come as the vote on the legislation for next year's parliamentary elections has again been postponed.  All Iraq News reports that September 19th is thought to be the last day on which to vote without delaying the elections planned for early next year.  Kitabat notes rumors that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc will be making amendments to the proposal and that these amendments are seen as part of the continued conflict between Moqtada and Nouri.  Ahmed Hussein and Muhannad Muhammad (Alsumaria) report the postponement is due to the desire to switch to an open-list system.  NINA quotes Iraqiya MP Wahda al-Jumaili stating, "The delay in adopting the electoral law and its impact on the work [of] IHEC is what some political blocs want in order to postpone the parliamentary elections."  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports there is a growing belief that there is a concentrated effort on the part of some in government to prevent elections from taking place next year.

In other election news,  All Iraq News reports, "The office of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Erbil stated that two million and 803 thousand citizens are eligible to participate in the parliamentary elections in KR. "  The Kurdistan Regional Government is the semi-autonomous northern region in Iraq which is made up of Duhok Province, Erbil Province and Sulaymaniyah Province.

Iraq has 18 provinces.  Fourteen have now voted in provincial elections.  Kirkuk was not allowed to participate despite calls from the United Nations and the IHEC.  (Nouri has refused to implement Article 140 of the Constitution as ordered to do so by the Constitution of Iraq.  As a result of Nouri's failure, Kirkuk remains disputed territory -- claimed by both the KRG and the central-government out of Baghdad.)

The two major political parties in the KRG are the KDP -- led by KRG President Massoud Barazni -- and the PUK -- led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

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.

Hevidar Ahmed (Rudaw) reports:

No one is ready to talk about Jalal Talabani’s health anymore, even his private doctor, who used to update the public on the health of the man who is both Iraq’s president and the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
With the PUK heading into the September 21 parliamentary elections in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region, Talabani’s party needs him more than ever before. The 79-year-old leader has been absent from the scene ever since he suffered a stroke in December and was flown to Germany for treatment.
In an interview with Rudaw Mala Bakhtiar, politburo member of the PUK, said that even a “three seconds” video of Talabani would change the whole electoral equation in favor of the PUK.
Political parties in the Kurdistan Region understand Talabani’s situation and do not put pressure on the PUK to reveal information on their leader’s health. But this is not the case in Baghdad.
From time to time, Iraqi political leaders call for concrete information on Talabani’s health and some request personal meetings with him, which have put the PUK’s leadership and Talabani’s family in a tough situation.
The latest such request comes from Usama Nujaifi, Iraq’s parliament speaker. Yesterday, Nujaifi rekindled the issue and accused Talabani’s family of not letting him see the president.

Sunday, All Iraq News reported, Osama al-Nujaifi declared he attempted to meet with the hospitalized Jalal five months ago  (that would have been around April) but was rebuffed.  He states he has again asked for another meeting.  He further states if Jalal is unable to resume his tasks shortly, a new president needs to be named.  Monday, Dar Addustour columnist As Sheikh noted that the Constitution is very clear on what happens when the president can't perform duties but how is that determination made? (Is Jalal performing duties from the hospital in Germany?  He could be.  If he is, the Constitution would see him as in office.)  The Constitution says nothing, Sheik notes, about how long a president can be out of the country.  He reviews the rumors that Jalal has not recovered, that he is in a coma, that he has passed away, that his family is putting up a pretense that Jalal has recovered.  He ends his column with a call for clarity both in terms of the governing rules and in terms of the state of Jalal's health.

Dar Addustour is reporting Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari broached a third term for Nouri as prime minister during Zebari's visit to the US last month.  They report Zebari was told the White House is fine with a third term for Nouri and this is to be addressed further when Nouri visits the US later this month.

Last month, Al-ikhbarya News Agency reported Nouri had issued a general amnesty for all Iraqis who had deserted the military or the police.  The pardon was granted on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr.  At the start of this month, Iraq War veteran Chelsea Manning's attorney applied for a presidential pardon for the army private who informed the world of the damage counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism tactics were causing in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Manning's leaks to WikiLeaks should have resulted in strong applause but Barack Obama does not care for whistle-blowers.  I don't see the pardon happening for a number of reasons (this is my opinion, if you want to fight for a pardon for Chelsea, go ahead) including that Barack made a public declaration of the private's guilt in April 2011.  More telling to me, he's done nothing for the war resisters of the Iraq War, the one he dubbed the "dumb" war.   As Daniel Nardini (Lawndale News) reported in May on the effort by the US government to try and punish Iraq War veteran and war resister Kim Rivera and observed, "It seems that if anything, U.S. President Barack Obama is simply carrying out the same policy of former U.S. President George W. Bush -- to indict, imprison and throw away the key on as many former U.S. military Iraq War deserters as possible."  Barack's failure is more obvious as Andre Shepherd is back in the news today.

Dropping back to the April 20, 2009 snapshot:
US war resister Andre Shepherd is seeking asylum in Germany.  We last noted him in the February 6th snapshot (when  Andy Eckardt (NBC News) offered a strong report on Andre ).  Friday night, BBC World Service offered a report on him (link has text and audio):
Andre Shepherd: First of all the war on terror, I believe, was based on a fraud.  We aren't going after Osama bin Laden.  The evidence is leaning towards that we are only there to strategically position ourselves around the national resources that are there. The [German] asylum laws are set up that they should not deport a person that refuses to take part in an illegal conflict.  The UN Charter, Article 51, specifically states that armed conflict is necessary only as a means of last resort and if there is a real threat.  It's been proven that Saddam Hussein's regime was no threat to the United States -- that would mean that America is in violation of the UN Charter.
Damien McGuinness: You signed up as a soldier and signed to say that you would obey the orders given by your superior in military command.  Surely there's a responsibility there to carry out the duties which military command asks you to do.
Andre Shepherd: That is true but there's also a section in the same oath that says I have to defend the Constitution of the United States and when the United States willingly violates their own Constitution to pursue these wars, I am acting in accordance with the oath by refusing to take part in these wars because I refuse to watch the Constitution get destroyed just for the needs of a few people.  There was a conversation I had with an Iraqi that was completely irate as to what was going on in Iraq.  A lot of things that I wasn't even aware of, rendition program, the detentions of different places, Abu Ghraib, things like this. And I was completely dumbfounded as to what was going on out there because this was totally against everything that I believed in in the military.  So that's when I started doing research and that's how I got to this position today.
Damien McGuinness: Andre Shepherd has come here, to Freiburg, to take part in a podium discussion of Iraq veterans who have deserted the army because they oppose the war.  Now Germany has no troops stationed in Iraq and the majority of Germans are against the US-led invasion so he's found a lot of support here for his cause. Some worry that granting him asylum could create tensions between Germany and the US and encourage some of the other sixty-thousand [US] soldiers stationed here to desert and apply for refugee status.  According to Rudi Friedrich who runs a support group for deserters [Connection e.V] only a minority of soldiers generally opt to stay abroad.
Rudi Friedrich: In practice, most deserters decide to go back to the US and that's where their families are and they feel at home and they know the language.  But that means they either have to be punished or become conscientious objectors against war in general.   The decision to stay in another country and never return home is something which many refugees have to do it's not necessarily the case that all deserters would take this step.
Damien McGuinness: German immigration officials heard the case at the end of February and are currently examining Shepherd's eligibility for asylum.  He says the consequences of being sent back to the US would be severe.
Andre Shepherd: If I went back to America, I would definitely be court-martialed on the charges of desertion during a time of war. That is one of the most serious charges you can get in the military. Upon conviction, I would get a few months to several years in prison and I would get a dishonorable discharge.  On top of that, there's a debate  whether or not I would get a felony conviction which is the highest criminal category in the United States.  Having a tag like that would bar you from having a decent life -- you wouldn't be able to vote, you wouldn't be able to hold a high office, it's difficult to get credit, you can't do a lot of things, you would pretty much be harassed and you would have to live with the stigma of being an enemy of the state.  Especially in the age of Homeland Security, that's not something you'd really want.
Damien McGuinness:  A decision could come through any day now.  In the meantime, Shepherd is allowed to stay here in Germany but he admits the move wasn't an easy one.
Andre Shepherd:  Well desertion is not an easy thing because your home country will always think that you're a traitor.  It doesn't matter what the reason is, whether it's justified or not. Not saying everyone, because there's a lot of support in the United States for what I've done.  In terms of family life? My family is supporting me but they wish I'd took a different step because the potential of me not returning there cause a lot of emotional stress and I have to apologize to my parents for that.  As far as my colleagues?  That one is difficult because a lot of the people in the military understand the situation; however, they also deal with unit loyalty where you have to be there if not for yourself  but for the other guys in your unit.  So a lot of the guys feel let down and hurt by what I've done; however, if they understand why I did it, then I can accept that.  It's the same thing with me accepting them knowing what's going on but still going back to Iraq anyway. Because you don't know what they're facing -- if they have a family to take care of, if they desert, they just lost their meal ticket for their family.  That doesn't help them.  So there are a lot of complicated things that I deal with on a daily basis.

Steven Beardsley (Stars and Stripes) reports today, "A Munich court considering the appeal of a U.S. soldier seeking asylum in Germany after deserting his Iraq-bound unit in 2007 has forwarded the case to a European Union court in Luxembourg for clarification of EU law, according to the soldier’s attorney."  Reinhard Marx is Andre's attorney and he is quoted stating, "This had to be clarified by the European court.  And the main issue is standard of proof -- what kind of standard of proof do deserters have to establish in the European asylum system."  On Iraq War veterans, Samantha Melamed (City Paper) interviews singer-songwriter and Iraq War veteran Emily Yates after she was violently accosted by federal Park Police.  Dave Lindorff covered the arrest last week.

We didn't note it here.  Ava and I were hoping to cover it at Third and address something in the video of the arrest.  I'll note it briefly here.  The f-word (slur against gay men) is used in the video.  That's why we didn't and wouldn't link to the video or embed it here.  Sorry.  I don't tolerate homophobia.  The word is said at least twice (yelled) by someone unseen who would have to be described as a supporter of Emily Yates.  If he is a supporter of Yates, then the man is hopefully not homophobic.  Hopefully, his anger as Yates is roughly and brutally pushed around led him to shout (at least twice) the most offensive term he could think of because it was the most offensive term.  In the piece we'd talked about (Jim instead asked if we could cover Chris Hayes, which we did), we were going to explore that theme.  Instead, I'll just note that was the theme we were going to explore and that I hope that was why the term was used but, regardless of why the term was used, we would never link to or embed a video like that here.