Tag Archives: Iraq

Terminology: ISIS vs. ISIL–Everything You Always Wanted to Know and Much, Much More

The esteemed Dr. Justice has an excellent post about the term ISIS vs. the term ISIL–two different translations for the same name of the organization in Iraq.

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Click this messy-looking link to read to your heart’s content: http://worldofdrjustice.blogspot.com/2014/06/isil-vs-isis.html

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This is an issue because ignoramuses keep staying stupid stuff, as ignoramuses will do. Here’s overpaid bobblehead Chuck Todd: http://www.mediaite.com/tv/chuck-todd-knows-why-obama-prefers-isil-to-isis/

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Iraq Defeats Egypt – Arab Cup

Congrats, Lions of Mesopotamia! 2-1 over Egypt’s Pharoahs. June 27th 2012.

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In Arab Sport Today

Yesterday the Gulf Cup soccer/football tournament opened in Aden, Yemen. The UAE and Iraq tied 0-0 in the first bout.

Meanwhile, in China, Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum of the UAE won a silver medal in individual showjumping. For people who like to bark about how badly women are treated in the Arab world, I’ll add that she was competing against men. Wearing tight pants, to boot.

Riding Kalaska De Semily, the 1998-born stallion, she jumped two clear rounds with no penalty points. She challenged the Saudi Arabian riders Prince Khalid Abdul Aziz Al Eid and Ramzi Hamad Al Duhaimi in the jump-offs to decide the final medallists.

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Checking in on the Iraq War, Thanks to Wikileaks

Remember how successful the surge supposedly was? The surge started in early 2007. And the new leak of documents through Wikileaks (NY Times article here) show us this other piece of information, that jibes with what we heard a while back (but also after the fact) that it was ethnic cleansing rather than “the surge” that worked.

But it was systematic sectarian cleansing that drove the killing to its most frenzied point, making December 2006 the worst month of the war, according to the reports, with about 3,800 civilians killed, roughly equal to the past seven years of murders in New York City. A total of about 1,300 police officers, insurgents and coalition soldiers were also killed in that month.

From a 2008 story:

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.” The night-light signature in four other large Iraqi cities — Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit and Karbala — held steady or increased between the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2007, the UCLA team found. None of these cities were targets of the surge. Baghdad’s decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during the same period.’

Back to today’s NY Times story:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

But it does seem to suggest numbers that are roughly in line with those compiled by several sources, including Iraq Body Count, an organization that tracked civilian deaths using press reports, a method the Bush administration repeatedly derided as unreliable and producing inflated numbers. In all, the five-year archive lists more than 100,000 dead from 2004 to 2009, though some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures.

According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter.

One of the most infamous episodes of killings by American soldiers, the shootings of at least 15 Iraqi civilians, including women and children in the western city of Haditha, is misrepresented in the archives. The report stated that the civilians were killed by militants in a bomb attack, the same false version of the episode that was given to the news media.

Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The sad thing is how the Iraq war has fallen out of the news in the United States.

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Iraq is Such a Disappointment to Us

Not to spend too much time on this NYTimes article about how the Iraqis are letting us down by being too dead, disabled, or abroad to run the cool factories and hospitals we built for them just ’cause we’re nice like that. Most of the people who read this blog probably already read that article and commented on it on a bigger blog. So here are just a few choice bits:

BAGHDAD — In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people.

The projects run the gamut — from a cutting-edge, $270 million water treatment plant in Nasiriya that works at a fraction of its intended capacity because it is too sophisticated for Iraqi workers to operate, to a farmers’ market that farmers cannot decide how to share, to a large American hospital closed immediately after it was handed over to Iraq because the government was unable to supply it with equipment, a medical staff or electricity.

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said his watchdog agency had “regularly raised concerns about the potential waste of U.S. taxpayer money resulting from reconstruction projects that were poorly planned, badly transferred, or insufficiently sustained by the Iraqi government.”

The blame is shared, officials said. While Iraq has often been guilty of poor management, American authorities have repeatedly failed to ask Iraqis what sort of projects they needed and have not followed up with adequate training.

And whether or not the American-built health centers and power plants are ever used as intended, the American companies that won the lion’s share of rebuilding contracts from the federal government have been paid.

Exactly. They got paid, defense industry folks got rich, that’s what we went into Iraq for. Done and done.

Despite the $53 billion spent by the United States, many Iraqis have criticized the rebuilding effort as wasteful. Ali Ghalib Baban, Iraq’s minister of planning, said it had not had a discernible impact. “Maybe they spent it,” he said, “but Iraq doesn’t feel it.”

Iraqis, for whom bombed-out buildings are an unremarkable part of urban existence, also say they have seen little evidence of rebuilding.

“Where is the reconstruction?” asked Sahar Kadhum, a resident of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. “The city is sleeping on hills of garbage.”

Indeed, despite the billions in American funds, more than 40 percent of Iraqis still lack access to clean water, according to the Iraqi government. Ninety percent of Iraq’s 180 hospitals do not have basic medical and surgical supplies, according to the aid organization Oxfam. Iraqis also have disproportionately high rates of infant mortality, cerebral palsy and cancer.

Exacerbating the problem, Iraqi and American officials say, is that hundreds of thousands of Iraq’s professional class have fled or been killed during the war, leaving behind a population with too few doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists and the like.

Buried on the second page, of course. I’d have put it in one of the first two paragraphs, personally.

Also on the subject of health in Iraq, here’s a Guardian article on a huge rise in birth defects in Fallujah.

Doctors in Iraq’s war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants, compared to a year ago, and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.

The extraordinary rise in birth defects has crystallised over recent months as specialists working in Falluja’s over-stretched health system have started compiling detailed clinical records of all babies born.

Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems – are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.

Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.

Falluja’s frontline doctors are reluctant to draw a direct link with the fighting. They instead cite multiple factors that could be contributors.

“These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother,” said Dr Qais. “We simply don’t have the answers yet.”

I am not a doctor and have no medical training, but I don’t believe that the psychological status of the mother can cause birth defects.

Falluja was the scene of the only two setpiece battles that followed the US-led invasion. Twice in 2004, US marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting with Sunni militia groups who had aligned with former Ba’athists and Iraqi army elements.

The first battle was fought to find those responsible for the deaths of four Blackwater private security contractors working for the US. The city was bombarded heavily by American artillery and fighter jets. Controversial weaponry was used, including white phosphorus, which the US government admitted deploying.

“Setpiece battles”?

Despite fully funding the construction of the new hospital, a well-equipped facility that opened in August, Iraq’s health ministry remains largely disfunctional and unable to co-ordinate a response to the city’s pressing needs.

On the bright side (just kidding, really), our system of prisons in Iraq (specifically, sweeping up every able- and semi-able-bodied male between eleven and ninety-nine years old and dumping them in a filthy jail with no recourse to the law) has been judged such a success by military commanders that they intend to do the same thing in Afghanistan. Tehran Times article here. Entire article:

Following with the trend of trying to shoehorn the dubious Iraq War strategy onto Afghanistan, the US Army says that it intends to copy its prison strategy from Iraq in Afghanistan.

Brigadier General Quantock touted the Iraqi prison system as a great success, citing the relatively small percentage of released detainees who were re-captured.

It may come as a considerable surprise that the general considers America’s prison strategy in Iraq such an unabashed success, particularly since it wasn’t that long ago that they were scrambling to reform the disastrous system.

And in fact, the recidivism numbers cited are misleading, as one of the most common complaints was that the U.S. tactic of mass arrests had led many innocent people into the prison system simply for being near a militant attack and eventually released without ever being charged with any crimes.

Moreover, Iraq’s police have long complained that the U.S. detention system, with its brutal reputation, amounts to a series of “terrorist factories” where innocent detainees and petty criminals are radicalized.

Brig. Gen. Quantock dismissed these claims and was quick to lay the blame on Iraq’s legal system. Yet if this is a problem in Iraq and will be doubly so in Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt and lawless nations on the planet.

If you’re a fan of snotty NYTimes articles where we deride the Iraqis as being inferior to us, here’s an article for you.

The same US Army that brought you the men who stare at goats is making fun of Iraqi law enforcement for spending a lot of money on bomb detection equipment the US thinks is worthless.

The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.

The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.

Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”

Love it! The scorn! “The same principle as the Ouija board.” What does this remind me of? Oh yeah, it reminds me of the US Department of Defense’s reliance on polygraph tests!

The accuracy of polygraphic lie detection is slightly above chance. Nevertheless, State and local police departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States are devoted proponents of this unscientific and specious device.

I don’t want to quote too much of this article here, but please read it if you are interested in how US law enforcement uses voodoo science, our modern version of phrenology.

The APA is a professional organization for polygraph examiners who have complete faith in the accuracy of the test. They have their own trade journal Polygraph in which they report scientifically worthless studies and brandish anecdotes of the wonders of their trade. The majority of these members can pride themselves on completing a 6 week to 6 month post- high school training course in the art of polygraphy. They have no formal training in medicine, psychology, physiology, or behavior; the very disciplines on which the testing is based. The majority of them cater to the legal system wherein their economic livelihood depends.

Since they are primarily paid to identify guilty suspects, motivational factors may play a part in their eagerness to find the guilty suspect. (Kleinmuntz, 1987)

The polygraph examiner likens his “skill” to that of the radiologist reading a chest X-Ray or a cardiologist interpreting an EKG. (Barefoot, 1974) This analogy is not only ridiculous but, in fact, if a medical test had a similar sensitivity and specificity to that of the polygraph examination it would simply not be used in the field of medicine. They will cite the fact that the polygraph has been used in the United States for greater than 70 years as if longevity is directly related to validity. They will state that they have personally administered hundreds or thousands of these tests, and have almost never been wrong, as if total number of tests given constitutes accuracy.

They are so convinced of the accuracy of the polygraph that they regard opponents of polygraphy as communists and do-nothing professors. (Arther, 1986) It doesn’t occur to them that someone with a Ph.D. and years of research experience, in the very subjects they ignorantly dabble in, may know something more than they do.

It is astounding that the criminal justice system has institutionalized and perpetuated a so called “technology” that lacks scientific evidence and is in fact rejected by the scientific community. It is as ludicrous as procuring the so called “love meter” machine from the amusement park which measures galvanic skin response and placing it in the courtroom. But in a backward legal system which has been known to use psychics to help with unsolved murders and has allowed the mentally retarded to serve as jurors, it is not entirely surprising.

You just have to laugh at those unsophisticated rubes in the US Department of Defense paying good money to polygraphers. As antiPolygraph.org says:

The reliability of polygraph testing for employee screening is widely disputed on scientific grounds. But many government security officials nevertheless insist on its value and utility, and the practice persists.

Significantly, the new directive tightens control over DoD agencies’ use of any “credibility assessment” technology other than the polygraph. This seems a likely reaction to the post-9/11 debacle wherein some DoD components began using Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) to interrogate prisoners. The manufacturer of this quack device, the so-called “National Institute of Truth Verification,” has admitted in court that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection,” and the company was recently the subject of an ABC News exposé. DoD eventually put an end to its use of CVSA. The new directive ensures that henceforward, DoD agencies will use only officially approved pseudoscientific techniques for “credibility assessment” purposes.

For more about what we did (wrong) in Iraq, I recommend: Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. Buy them here.

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Mister Peabody Visits the Middle East in 1953

And gives Sherman a little lesson in what the CIA has been up to since then in the region. I love it!

I never realized how talky Mister Peabody and Sherman cartoons were until now. Makes it easy to replace the original dialogue with dialogue of your own, if you’re a talented voice artist. I must have learned a lot of history from these cartoons.

Found at Just Another Blog From LA.

btw, there is some foul language, so don’t traumatize the little kiddies.

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Good or Bad News About Lawsuit Against Blackwater

Judge Tosses Lawsuits Against Blackwater, Now Xe.

Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater.

They sound like totally different, opposite stories, but they’re about the same decision, passed down Wednesday.

The entire AP article:

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday tossed out a series of lawsuits filed by alleged Iraqi victims of the contractor once known as Blackwater USA, but is allowing the plaintiffs to refile their claims.

In a 56-page ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., dismissed claims filed by 64 plaintiffs — including the estates of 19 people who died — who says Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The lawsuits also claim the company, now known as Xe, “fostered a culture of lawlessness” while it held a State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Ellis is allowing most of the plaintiffs to refile, but only if they will be able to prove that employees engaged in intentional killings and beatings. He said a pattern of recklessness or a culture of lawlessness is not enough to sustain an allegation of war crimes under the federal law that governs the issue, the Alien Tort Statute.

Xe’s lawyers had argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed under any circumstances because the allegations involve political questions that cannot be resolved by the judiciary and because private entities cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. Ellis rejected those arguments.

Both sides said they were pleased with the ruling. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Susan Burke said she will refile. She has said in previous hearings that she will be able to prove that Blackwater’s actions were intentional, not just reckless.

Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke said in a statement that “we are confident that they (plaintiffs) will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’ opinion.”

The ruling comes as a federal judge in Washington is considering what evidence to allow in a criminal prosecution of five Blackwater security guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007.

From The Nation‘s article:

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis’ lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.

“We were very pleased with the ruling,” says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater’s spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, “We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’s opinion.”

Ellis’s ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis’ lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs’ documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis’s ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.

Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company’s contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater’s argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is “unavailing,” adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that “claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes” are legitimate under the statute.

Ellis also rejected Blackwater’s argument that “conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a ‘military objective’ rather than for economic or ideological reasons.” Ellis said that under Blackwater’s logic “it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater’s] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate ‘military objective’ for committing the murders.”

“What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis’s ruling is “an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago” when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years “that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US.” Ellis’s ruling, he says, “is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law.”

Ellis rejected Burke’s allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings “require[s] state action, and none is alleged here.” Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq–or that the Iraqis’ lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts.

I’m going to guess that they would have liked this tried in Iraq for one or both of two reasons: 1) Iraqi courts might have ruled they owed a few thousand dollars per dead Iraqi, and/or 2) Iraqi courts might have ruled that Blackwater wasn’t responsible for the actions of its employees. The latter reason is why Blackwater/Xe is arguing that another lawsuit against them, brought by the widows of three American servicemen’s widows, should be held in Afghanistan.

Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater’s own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater’s claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater’s lawyers “offer no support” for this argument “in the case law or from recognized international treatises.”

One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis’ suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Sweet.

Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince “wholly owns and controls this enterprise.” They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater’s headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that “Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs.” In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.

On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.” What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.

Burke’s case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces “fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause,” the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. “[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square.” The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative “wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as ‘payback for 9/11,’ and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot,” while “several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds.”

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