Marriage Vows in Iraq

Two soldiers take Iraqi brides. I needed to publish some good news.

OK. With all the bloodshed going on today in Iraq, I needed to take a break and point out this story about two GIs who met and married two Iraqi women. The newlyweds met while the women were acting as interpreters for the occupation forces.
I’m sure there are legitimate concerns about combat troops marrying while in theater and all that, but damn… Just for a moment, let’s enjoy a little good news.
I really, really wish the couples well and all the best of luck. Lord knows they’ll need it.

Assassination in Najaf

The assassination today of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of an Iran-backed group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), in Najaf is the latest nightmare of violence in Iraq.

Unfortunately on deadline today and unable to give a full accounting or analysis on a news-heavy day. Daily Kos has an item on the attack.
Initial response based on NPR: This is very, very bad (obviously). Twenty 75 More than 90 people dead and at least 140 wounded. The most holy shrine to Shi’a Islam is damaged [UPDATE but not too badly, apparently.] Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a key Shi’a cleric and head of the SCIRI, is dead. Shi’ites in Najaf seem to be blaming remnants of Saddam’s security forces for the attack. (Which seems plausible.)
Hakim’s death could shatter the Iraqi Governing Council, on which Hakim’s brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, sits. It could set off a power struggle among the Shi’ites with the moderates — now possibly led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (who isn’t even that moderate, frankly) — and the hard-liners, led by firebrand 22-year-old Moqtada Sadr.
If it turns out that Sunnis were behind this, expect riots and clashes in Baghdad.
Iran will be watching this very closely as well. Hakim was their guy in Iraq and it’s unclear now what will happen.
Tin-foil hat theory of my own: Al Qa’ida operatives, who are Sunni, did this in a bid to spark a civil war, which would embroil U.S. troops and tie them down when they might be needed in South Korea, Indonesia, Afghanistan, etc. The attack also aims to show the Arab world that American troops aren’t up to providing security and can be put on the defensive. This will embolden _jihadis_ and give other nations yet another reason to withhold additional troops. All this means America will likely remain pretty much on its own in Iraq and her ability to respond to threats around the world will be negatively impacted. Instead of flypaper for terrorists, Iraq is a tarbaby for America.
This could be the equivalent of the assassination of the Archuduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked World War I — although on national scale, rather than a global one. The probability of civil war — with American troops caught in the middle — just spiked.

Talk about efficiency…

To the troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, you might get only one more combat medal for the rest of your time in service! But it’s not the good news you might expect.

OK. In the “Now _That’s_ Efficient!” category, this article from _Army Times_ points out that the Pentagon “has no plans for campaign-specific medals for the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the nation’s most protracted conflicts since Korea and Vietnam.”
Military duty in Antarctica, Kosovo and the 1991 Gulf War was deemed medal-worthy. _[Antarctica? — Ed.]_ But instead of specific theater ribbons, which is a military tradition going back over a century, Afghanistan and Iraq — and presumably future conflicts — will instead be folded into the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. The GWOT is expected to go on for many years, according to President Bush, meaning this may be the last combat medal some of America’s armed forces may receive.

In addition, veterans of these 21st-century wars may receive each medal only once. In theory — and in current practice — troops could spend years fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and elsewhere and end up with a single medal that doesn’t reflect their specific duty history or even the fact that they deployed multiple times in the global war on terrorism.
The Pentagon isn’t saying much about its rationale for the decision. Defense officials feel “these two medals will provide appropriate recognition for our service members participating in the Global War on Terrorism, whether that be in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere,” said Air Force Maj. Sandra Burr, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Indeed. Look, I didn’t serve, but my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother and best friend did, and I think a single GWOT medal is a pretty piss-poor recognition of service to one’s country. Why would they do such a thing? Some twisted sense of efficiency?
In a word, politics.
By not awarding a specific medal for Iraq, the Bush White House gets to fold that war into the GWOT and point to it as a central campaign instead of the diversion it is. If they get away with this, _any_ conflict in the future will be part of the GWOT and, thus, justified.
This is part and parcel for a White House and political party that, let’s face it, talks up the troops on one hand and tries to cut danger pay on the other. That lauds first responders such as firefighters and cops, but leaves them underfunded. Everything is politics to these guys, and it’s shameful.
The men and women who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve better. Everyone reading this knows I oppose(d) the Iraq war, but why is it that a lefty peacenik like myself seems to get more pissed off about the treatment of the troops than groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, both of whom gave warm welcomes to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney recently?
Instead of getting the recognition they deserve for fighting the biggest wars since Vietnam (which has the Vietnam Service Medal as well as several recognized campaigns,) American troops — and aircraft carriers — are props for the current White House. They deserve better.

When is a reporter not a reporter?

Journalist Paul Moran, killed in northern Iraq on March 23, 2003, had more to his story than was initially reported.

I just started reading Weapons of Mass Deception, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, of the Center for Media & Democracy. For those who don’t know who these guys are, they’re two of the few watchdogs of the PR industry, and their latest book looks at the PR campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American people and the world. Through meticulous documentation and witty verbiage, Stauber and Rampton — unlike Ann Coulter — document instance after instance in which the drive to oust Saddam Hussein was packaged, marketed and sold. With no return policy.
I’m still early into the book, but in the second chapter, I came across a startling revelation.
moran_boat2.jpgWho remembers Paul Moran, a television cameraman on assignment for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in northern Iraq? He was killed March 22, 2003 by a suicide car bomb at a PUK checkpoint by an alleged member of Ansar al-Islam.
It seems there may have been more to Moran than meets the eye. In addition to his work as a cameraman, he was also “a self-described crusader for the Kurdish people in northern Iraq.” He helped an Iraqi scientist and his family defect. And most important, as the obituary in his hometown paper, the Adelaide Advertiser, notes, he was also involved in work for the Rendon Group, an American public relations firm.
Who is the Rendon Group? Stauber and Rampton reveal that in October 2001, the Pentagon awarded the Rendon Group a $397,000 contract “to handle PR aspects of the U.S. military strike in Afghanistan.” They further write that in February 2002, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was using the Rendon Group to help it with the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). You remember that office, don’t you? It was the the office the DoD hastily — and noisily — disbanded after the _Times_ reported that it would provide foreign reporters with “news items, possibly even false ones.” The Office was met with outrage by journalistic organizations around the world.
Why the outrage? Because it would have endangered journalists by tainting them with Pentagon disinformation; it would have undermined the fledgling media in other countries; because it was almost a foregone conclusion that the American media would have picked up a false story intended for the foreign press; and because it’s just damn undemocratic.
Rendon’s contract wasn’t cancelled, however, the authors say. “Let me just say that we have a confidentiality/nondisclosure agreement in place” with the DoD, said company spokeswoman Jeanne Sklarz.
Getting back to Moran, the _Advertiser_ points out that “Company founder John Rendon flew from the US to attend Mr Moran’s funeral in Adelaide.”
“A close friend, Rob Buchan, said the presence of Mr Rendon — an adviser to the US National Security Council — illustrated the regard in which Mr. Moran was held in U.S. political circles, including the Congress.”
Oh, and another, minor, point that Stauber and Rampton point out: In 1992, the Rendon Group helped organize the Iraqi National Congress. The PR firm, in fact, came up with the name and channeled $12 million in CIA funds to the group between 1992 and 1996. In October 1992, John Rendon chose one of his protégés, Ahmed Chalabi, to head the group.
Just to be clear: Paul Moran, a “journalist” who was killed in northern Iraq was working for the same people who helped found the INC _and_ an office of disinformation that was “disbanded” but apparently kept contracts going long enough to hire Moran and get him into northern Iraq — more than a year after the Office was officially shuttered.
My point is not to disparage Moran or to somehow insinuate he deserved to die. I’m not at all. But I have to admit that I cast a very skeptical glance at his connections to Rendon and his activism for the Kurds — so much that PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih said in a letter that a statue would be erected in Moran’s honor. I have to wonder why a serious journalistic organization such as the Australian Broadcasting Corp. would hire someone with ties to _any_ PR firm, much less one with such tight ties to the U.S. government and the war effort. (Interestingly, the ABC story on Moran makes no mention of his involvement with Rendon.)
I have to wonder why the founder of the Rendon Group would come to a freelancer’s funeral — in the middle of a war, no less. But most of all, if Moran was working for Rendon Group at the time of his death, as John Rendon’s visit strongly suggests, does that mean the suspicions held by many in the blogosphere that the OSI was never shut down at all were right? And if that’s true, who else in the field might be working for that “disbanded” Office of Strategic Influence?
*UPDATE:* Hm. Found this transcript from the DoD dated Nov. 18, 2002. It was made while Rumsfeld was en route to Chile for a hemisphere defense meeting. The section that pertains to this issue reads thusly:

And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And “oh my goodness gracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.” I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.
That was intended to be done by that office is being done by that office, NOT by that office in other ways.

Now, that certainly _sounds_ like Rumsfeld just admitted that the OSI was still alive in function if not in its old office. And it means Moran was likely _not_ acting as a journalist when he died, but in some other function. I don’t know what it was, but if he was presenting himself as a journalist while working in some other capacity, he was endangering every other journalist in Iraq. This was — and is — a central argument to making it illegal for the CIA to recruit journalists as spies. Terry Anderson, former Beirut bureau chief for the Associated Press, was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years because Islamic militants falsely accused him of being a spy.
This cynical use of journalists is wrong. Journalists, when they’re doing their job, are not only agents of their readers, wriggling their way into situations like Iraq where their readers can’t or won’t go, but they’re also agents of the body politic when they demand answers of the policy makers. Truth matters. Lying to a journalist or using journalists as spies or disinformation conduits is wrong and it subverts democracy because it clogs the media outlets — the circulatory system of the body politic — with crap.
But journalists aren’t off the hook either. Moran should not have worked for Rendon and ABC at the same time. He should have chosen whether to be a Rendon employee and a Kurdish activist or a journalist. The ABC should not have hired him, frankly. At the very least, the broadcaster should have made his ties to Rendon Group public so his viewers could make up their own mind as to his credibility. Journalists should flatly refuse to accept money or work for any group that could lead sources to suspect the reporter is not what he or she seems. It’s one thing for a reporter and a CIA bureau chief to swap information — that happens all the time and it’s probably not so bad. It’s quite another to be on the CIA’s or the Pentagon’s payroll.

Security Report

Iraq Today’s Security Bulletin shows how bad things are around Baghdad.

Well, this is pretty bleak. Iraq Today, Baghdad’s independent, English-language newspaper, publishes a Security Bulletin that doesn’t paint an encouraging picture:

CMCC [Civil-Military Coordination Center] cites Adhamiyah, Rusafa, Thowra, al-Muthanna, Shaab, Hurriyah, Shuahla and the area around Saddam International airport as uncertain or hostile areas.
Carjacking is rife in the capital. Do not walk around the streets with bags or mobile/satellite phones.
The curfew in Baghdad begins at 11pm and ends at 4am.
Iraq’s highways are considered dangerous. Highway 10 between Baghdad and the Jordanian border is especially hazardous, particularly around the Ramadi area. Armed bandits operate this route, using fast cars to stop large convoys of vehicles. Highway 8, between Baghdad and Hillah is also considered a no go route by humanitarian organisations. Highway 1, between Baghdad and Qasim is also very dangerous.
Police are present on the streets of the capital but they are Out-gunned and outnumbered.

Jeeze. Good to know. Especially about Highway 10. I took that highway when I left Baghdad in late April, but didn’t have any problems. We ran it during the day, and there were a number of places where earthen embankments had been set up forcing the taxi to follow a tight “S” path verrrrrrry slowly — in other words, it would have been great for an ambush. Luckily, nothing happened. When J., my friend who left a week or so before me, took that route, however, he mentioned that his driver stopped to chat with a man on the side of the road wearing a black face mask and carrying an AK-47. Nice.

Tipping Point

Today marks the date when the number of soldiers killed since May 1 equals the number killed prior to that date.

Mark this date. Today was the day that the number of U.S. soldiers killed since May 1 equaled the number killed prior to President George W. Bush’s U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln announcement of the end of “major combat operations.”
Two soldiers, whose identities were not revealed, died of a “non-hostile gunshot wound” and by drowning in the Euphrates, near the Hadithah Dam, west of Ar Ramadi.
[UPDATE: Another soldier died when his convoy was attacked with a bomb in the town of Hamariyah, 16 miles northwest of Baghdad.]
Their deaths brings the number of soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq since May 1 to 139. A total of 277 troops have died either in combat, friendly fire or through accidents since the war started March 20.
I don’t really have much more to add other than to express my sympathies to the soldiers’ families.

Ethnic violence in Kirkuk

Kurds and Turkomen clash in Kirkuk. Is a wide-ranging ethnic conflict many predicted soon to follow?

Three Turkomen were shot dead in ethnic violence in Kirkuk on Saturday, ending months of relative calm in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It’s unclear exactly what’s happening, but that seems to have been the cap on two days of violence in Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato to the south, with at least 10 people being killed, some of them at the hands of American troops. The Associated Press reports that in addition to police shootings, artillery or mortar fire “rocked” the city on Saturday.
While a single weekend does not an internecine conflict make, the fallout has reached Ankara, where a “mob” of about 100 Turks attacked the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan there. KurdishMedia.com reports that about 23 Turkish police officers and a number of protesters were injured in the melee.
“Kirkuk is Turkish and it will remain Turkish,” shouted the protesters. “Damn Talabani, damn the peshmerga.” (Jalal Talabani is the Secretary-General of the PUK.)
In Kirkuk, the Turkmen representative to the interim Iraqi Governing Council called for the Kirkuk police to be disarmed.
All this is happening as the Middle East Newsline reports that Turkey will contribute 10,000 troops to patrol the Sunni Triangle extending west and north of Baghdad. They will remain under Turkish command and separate from the two international divisions rumored to be en route to Iraq.
This is most alarming. I wrote, during the war, that I felt the Turkomen were crying wolf about the threat to their security in a bid to play Turkey and the United States off one another so as to reign in the Kurds when it came time to establish a government in Kirkuk.

[Salim Otrakchi, a Turkoman spokesman] said the Turkomen were especially worried about Kirkuk because the PUK had promised it would not go into the city with its forces and it did anyway.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea just to tell you that I don’t believe what anyone is telling me at face value. The Kurds, deep in their hearts, really do want an independent Kurdistan and this talk of federalism is the practical side of Kurdish nationalism. If they thought they could get away with it, they would bolt Iraq and never look back, I think. The Turkomen don’t really feel that threatened, but they see the Kurds with their new buddies, the Americans, and worry they’ll be left out of any settlement and development plans in the north. So, they’re trying to play the Turks off the Americans to keep the Kurds in check. And the Turks … Well, actually, I believe them when they say they’re worried about their security. They’re a truly paranoid bunch.

While this may be an isolated incident, as I mentioned, I could also be wrong in my original thoughts on the subject. I watched with dismay as in the days following the capture of Baghdad and Kirkuk as the Kurds drove Arabs from land they felt had been taken from them under Saddam Hussein’s Arabization program. Revenge was being taken and the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to stop it.
Well, now the U.S. has its hands full with the Sunni Triangle and the guerrilla fighters there. Most of Iraqi Kurdistan has had but a sprinkling of American troops with most of the security being provided by Kurdish forces. Perhaps long-simmering tensions are starting to boil over after a brutally hot summer.
I hope not. But — and I apologize for again referring back to myself — as I wrote on Jan. 12, 2003:

Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy — and a network of Army bases from which to project power throughout the region — I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to stike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes. No one will like that, least of all the Iraqis.

So far, it appears only the last prediction hasn’t come to pass. Let’s hope this latest incident isn’t the start of something far worse.