US pushes ahead with arms deal to Iraq
Deal including $11bn worth of advanced fighter jets and tanks comes with Iraqi mired in worsening political crisis.
Last Modified: 29 Dec 2011 14:17, Al Jazeera
|The United States is pushing ahead with a weapons deal with Iraq despite the near breakdown of the coalition government.
Reports suggest the deal is worth nearly $11bn and includes advanced fighter jets and tanks. The sale comes despite warnings that the country may be falling deeper into sectarian strife after an arrest warrant was issues for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.
Alexandre Vautravers, editor of Swiss Military Review, told Al Jazeera the United States has no interest in having a military or power vacuum in Iraq.
“The types of weapons which have been sold, F16s, M1 Abrams tanks, these vehicles, these aircrafts, have been designed 20 or 30 years ago,” Vautravers said.
He continued: “It is all extremely relative when you consider this arms deal sale worth about $11bn and you compare this to the $60bn deals with much more advanced aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia recently.”
According to Vautravers, the US accounts for about 56 per cent of all of the arms sales to the Middle East.
“If the US did not sell weapons to Iraq, the weapons would still materialise, perhaps from Russia or China, or perhaps from Iran,” he said.
Deadly Iraq war ends with exit of last U.S. troops – CNN.com
By Moni Basu , CNN
(CNN) — Early Sunday, as the sun ascended to the winter sky, the very last American convoy made its way down the main highway that connects Iraq and Kuwait.
The military called it its final “tactical road march.” A series of 110 heavily armored, hulking trucks and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles carrying about 500 soldiers streamed slowly but steadily out of the combat zone.
A few minutes before 8 a.m., the metal gate behind the last MRAP closed. With it came to an end a deadly and divisive war that lasted almost nine years, its enormous cost calculated in blood and billions.
Some rushed to touch the gate, forever a symbol now of an emotional, landmark day. Some cheered with the Army’s ultimate expression of affirmation: “Hooah!”
“It’s hard to put words to it right now,” said Lt. Col. Jack Vantress.
“It’s a feeling of elation,” he said, “to see what we’ve accomplished in the last eight-and-a-half years and then to be part of the last movement out of Iraq.”
Once, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were in Iraq, the main highway was better known as Main Supply Route Tampa and soldiers trekked north towards Baghdad and beyond, never knowing what danger lurked on their path.
On this monumental day, the Texas-based 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division’s main concern was how to avoid a traffic jam on their final journey in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Gaumer, 37, was on this road in August 2003. It was his first time at war. He was frightened.
There was not a lot of traffic at that time, he recalled. He remembered a lot of cheering by Iraqis, even though the situation was tense.
Sunday morning, the air was decidedly different.
“It’s pretty historic,” he said about the drive south, hoping he will not ever have to come back through this unforgiving terrain again.
Once there were bases sprinkled in the desolate desert between Nasiriya and Basra, American soldiers hidden from view behind walls of giant mesh Hesco bags filled with dirt and sand to stave off incoming fire.
On this day, the roads, the bases were in Iraqi hands, the sands in the bags returned to the earth.
Once, almost nine years ago in March 2003, U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers had thundered north, with the drive and determination needed to decapitate a dictator.
On this day, heading south towards Khabari border crossing, the soldiers took stock of their sacrifice.
In another war, there had been little joy or even emotion as final jet transports lifted Americans from Vietnamese soil.
Sunday saw the end of the largest troop drawdown for the United States since Vietnam.
Those men and women who fought in Iraq may not feel they are leaving behind an unfinished war or returning home to a nation as deeply scarred as it was after years of Vietnam.
But many crossed the border harboring mixed feelings and doubt about the future of Iraq.
“The biggest thing about going home is just that it’s home,” Gaumer said. “It’s civilization as I know it — the Western world, not sand and dust and the occasional rain here and there.”
A month ago, Adder, the last U.S. base before the five-hour drive to the Kuwaiti border, housed 12,000 people. By Thursday, the day the United States formally ended its mission in Iraq with a flag-casing ceremony in Baghdad, under 1,000 people remained there.
The 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division officially transferred control of Camp Adder to the Iraqis on Friday, though it did not really change hands until the last American departed early Sunday morning.
At its height, Adder housed thousands of troops and had a large PX, fast-food outlets, coffee shops and even an Italian restaurant. Now a ghost town, the United States gave 110,000 items left at Adder to the Iraqis, a loot worth $76 million, according to the military.
In her last days working in a guard tower in Iraq, Sgt. Ashley Vorhees, 29, dreamed of seeing her three children and eating crispy chicken tacos at Rosa’s Mexican restaurant in Killeen, Texas. She also looked forward to not having to carry her gun with her to the bathroom.
Vorhees, a combat medic, spent her first tour of Iraq with her husband, also a soldier.
“When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, my mom was like ‘Does that mean that everybody is coming home now?'” Vorhees said.
“We actually had it a lot better than the people did who did the initial invasion,” she said. “We’re just thankful that we’re not getting attacked every day.”
When the war was at its worst in 2006, America had 239,000 men and women in uniform stationed in more than 500 bases sprinkled throughout Iraq. Another 135,000 contractors were working in Iraq.
The United States will still maintain a presence in Iraq: hundreds of nonmilitary personnel, including 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers, and economic, agricultural and other experts, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect Americans and another 4,500 contractors will serve in other roles.
The quiet U.S. exit, shrouded in secrecy until it occurred, closes a war that was contentious from the start and cost the nation more than $800 billion.
President Barack Obama, who had made a campaign promise to bring home American troops, reflected on a greater cost as Sunday’s exit made good on his word.
According to the defense department, 4,487 service members were killed in the war. More than 30,000 were wounded. In all, 1.5 million Americans served their nation at war.
“All of them — our troops, veterans, and their families — will always have the thanks of a grateful nation,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.
It’s impossible to know with certainty the number of Iraqis who have died in Iraq since 2003. But the independent public database Iraq Body Count has compiled reports of more than 150,000 between the invasion and October 2010, with four out of five dead being civilians.
And the question of how Iraq will fare in the months ahead, without U.S. troops, is also impossible to answer.
Even before the last soldiers had left, political crisis was erupting in Baghdad.
The powerful political bloc Iraqiya said it was suspending its participation in parliament, which would threaten Iraq’s fragile power-sharing arrangement. Iraqiya accuses Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of amassing power.
But for the last U.S. troops out, the message was clear.
Col. Doug Crissman, their commander, spent the past few weeks speaking to the soldiers in each of his companies.
He told them he was proud of his troops and they should be proud of what they had accomplished. And, he wanted his soldiers to take care of themselves back home as much as they did in Iraq.
In the months before the brigade deployed in February, it lost 13 soldiers to accidents, some because of driving under the influence of alcohol. At least one death was a suicide.
“Quite frankly we lost more soldiers in peacetime in the nine or 10 months before this brigade deployed due to accidents and risky behavior … than we lost here in combat,” Crissman said. “We want every soldier that survived this combat deployment to survive redeployment and reintegration.”
Capt. Mark Askew, 28, said he was worried about the well-being of his soldiers, many of whom have done multiple tours of Iraq and felt the stress and sting of war.
Was the loss, the grief, worth it?
For Askew, it will all depend on how Iraq’s future unfolds — whether democracy and human rights will take root, whether Iraq will be a steadfast U.S. ally.
It will depend, he said, on how Iraq shapes its own destiny.
CNN’s Ingrid Formanek reported from the Iraq-Kuwait border, Jomana Karadsheh from Baghdad and Moni Basu from Atlanta.
Read more here.
Rumsfeld Iraq ‘torture’ suit given go-ahead
A US judge has ruled that a former American military contractor who claims he was tortured in Iraq can sue former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The man’s lawyers say he was abducted by the US military and abused at a US military detention centre near Baghdad.
The government says he was suspected of helping pass information to the enemy, although he was never charged.
It is the second time that a federal judge has allowed a US citizen to sue Mr Rumsfeld over torture claims.
The man who brought the suit approved by US District Judge James Gwin is an army veteran in his 50s.
He was released from Camp Cropper detention centre in Iraq in 2006.
In 2008, he filed a suit at the US District Court in Washington claiming that Mr Rumsfeld had personally approved interrogation techniques involving torture on a case-by-case basis, the Associated Press news agency reports.
Mike Kanovitz, a lawyer for the former contractor, said it appeared his client had been held to prevent him speaking about a contact he had made with a sheikh while gathering intelligence in Iraq.
Mr Rumsfeld has been represented by the Obama administration, through the justice department.
It argues that Mr Rumsfeld cannot be sued personally for official conduct, that wartime decisions are the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president and cannot be reviewed by a judge, and that the case risks creating a threat of liability that could hamper future military decisions.
Mr Rumsfeld is appealing against a 2010 ruling by an Illinois judge who said two other former contractors held at Camp Cropper could pursue claims that they were tortured using methods approved by the former defence secretary.
By John Hanrahan
Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.
In the past two years, protests of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, killer drones, torture, nuclear weapons and other war-related issues have been carried out at nuclear weapons silos and production facilities, military bases, unmanned drone facilities, major defense contractors’ headquarters and offices, the Nevada Nuclear Test site, nuclear weapons design laboratories, military recruiting centers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, federal buildings in various states, the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and numerous other war-oriented sites across the country.
The protests don’t begin to approach the level of those during the Vietnam war or in the early years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – but that’s not a reason to ignore them. The fact is, protest is much more widespread than citizens might gauge from coverage in newspapers and television, which seldom report antiwar actions regardless of how significant or newsworthy they may be. As we briefly observed in a previous article: By ignoring antiwar protests almost totally, editors are treating opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan much as they handled the run-up to the war in Iraq: They are missing an important story and contributing to the perception that there is no visible opposition to the U.S. wars and ever-growing military budgets, even as polls show overwhelming support for early U.S. military withdrawal.
Although arrests are indicative of only a small portion of antiwar activity, a case-by-case compilation by prominent civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley shows more than 2,600 arrests nationwide for various protests on progressive issues from 2009 until late May of this year, with nearly 1,400 of them coming in antiwar-related actions‚ almost all of which stem from protests involving nonviolent civil disobedience. Quigley derived most of his information from the newsletter The Nuclear Resister , which for several years has tracked arrests of anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons activists nationwide as much as it can, given the lack of press coverage.
In the last seven months alone, there have been more than 550 documented arrests of antiwar protesters and some important court trials which, while often receiving local coverage, seldom find their way into major news organizations’ reports.
“Although we haven’t recently had the gigantic demonstrations of those Vietnam War years,” Quigley told Nieman Watchdog, “in my experience, what you have today is a lot of smaller, passionate and persistent activities going on all over the country. A lot of peaceful protests and civil disobedience. The mainstream press doesn’t cover that.” Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and associate legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Regarding the arrest figures he compiled, Quigley said they “certainly underestimate the number actually arrested” because so many of them go unreported in the press. This, he said, is in contrast to the media standard for covering overseas dissent, which is to “focus so intently on arrests of protestors in other countries.”
Some of the more noteworthy protests in the last two years have been carried out by activists from the religious-based Disarm Now Plowsharesmovement, which began in 1980 when antiwar priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six others were convicted on an array of state felony and misdemeanor charges after they hammered on nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files at the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
The pattern of the national media is to ignore courtroom trials also, regardless of their drama, leaving them to local news reports or websites.
One example: In a Tacoma, Washington federal courtroom in March, an 84-year-old Society of the Sacred Heart nun, Anne Montgomery, 82-year-old Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel, and three other activists over the age of 60 – another Jesuit priest and two women – were sentenced to jail terms. Montgomery, it should be noted, was one of the Plowshares Eight some 30 years earlier. Their sentences ranged from six to fifteen months, plus one-year supervised release. Their crime: attempting to “symbolically disarm” the Trident II missiles stored in the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific (SWFPAC) at the U.S. Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, 20 miles from Seattle.
According to their own account, the five defendants, all affiliated with Disarm Now Plowshares, at 2 A.M. on All-Souls Day in November 2009 “used bolt cutters to break through a [perimeter] chain-link fence in an area where Trident submarine nuclear warheads are stored.” They then walked almost four miles into the base and cut through one double-layered chain link fence and then another barbed wire fence and alarm wires, “ignoring a sign warning that deadly force was authorized against intruders.” They had entered a bunker area that protesters said housed “the largest nuclear weapon stockpile in the United States” – reportedly more than 2,300 warheads, or almost one-fourth of the entire U.S. arsenal. They said their action was designed “to call attention to the illegality and immorality of the existence of the first-strike Trident weapons system.” After putting up banners and scattering blood and sunflower seeds, and hammering symbolically on a road and fences, “they prayed until they were arrested,” thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hooded. They said they were then questioned by base security, the FBI and the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service).
In a joint statement after their arrests, they further explained their motivation: “As U.S. citizens we are responsible under the Nuremberg Principles for this threat of first-strike terrorism hanging over the community of nations, rich and poor.” Before their sentencing on trespassing and property destruction charges, each of the defendants spoke and‚ “focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering, and death‚” for “those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.” The judge, noting the defendants’ “lack of remorse,” called their protest “a form of anarchy” that could lead to a “breakdown in the social order.” Some 250 supporters of the group had turned out for a pre-sentencing rally featuring song and prayer.
You would think this story‚ with its angle of a nun, priests and lay people of an advanced age penetrating a high-security nuclear weapons installation, is what we used to call news. It is as least as newsworthy for the national media as, say, a congressman texting sexually suggestive pictures of himself to women, Sarah Palin’s latest gaffe, or the Canadian and U.S. travels of the newly-married duke and duchess of Cambridge. But while there were articles about the arrests in the Bremerton and Longview, Washington, newspapers, we have found no national news media coverage of this and similar significant incidents of civil disobedience or of the subsequent trial.
Here is another recent example:
This past April in a Las Vegas, Nevada, courtroom, 13 defendants from across the country – two Jesuit priests, two Franciscan priests, a nun from the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, two Catholic Worker members and six other activists – were convicted on state charges of trespassing at nearby Creech Air Force Base two years earlier. Creech is the headquarters of U.S. drone operations from which Predator and Reaper drone surveillance and attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan are remotely “piloted.” The defendants, in their own words, were arrested while kneeling in prayer and begging for an end to the drone attacks. The judge rejected their “defense of necessity” – that is, as the defendants argued, “when an inherent danger is present…immediate action must be taken, such as breaking a no-trespassing law to uphold a higher law and save life.”
Judge William Jansen, after delaying a verdict in this non-jury trial for almost eight months to take what he said was time to think about the case, ruled that no inherent danger was present, found them guilty and sentenced them to time already served. One of the defendants was much-arrested, long-time Chicago activist Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
In remarks to the court before sentencing, Kelly told about a recent three-week trip she had taken to Afghanistan where she met with victims of U.S. drone attacks. She spoke in dramatic, graphic details about what she had seen and heard and victims she had met – including a nine-year-old girl “whose arm was amputated” by a drone attack and a man whose wife and five children had been killed by the same attack and “who showed me the photos of his children’s bloodied corpses.” She added: “It’s criminal for the U.S. to spend $2 billion per week for war in Afghanistan that maims, kills and displaces innocent civilians who’ve meant us no harm.”
In what the Las Vegas Sun called “a somewhat unusual trial,” Jansen had allowed the defense to present testimony relating to their “necessity” defense from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former State Department diplomat; and the aforementioned civil liberties attorney Bill Quigley. In the end, the judge rejected their line of testimony. (In addition to the Las Vegas Sun, Kelly told Nieman Watchdog that local Nevada Public Radio had broadcast stories on the trial but there was no national coverage.) After sentencing the defendants to time served, the judge told them to “go in peace.” Jansen also urged them to use diplomacy, rather than trespassing, in their attempts to get U.S. drone warfare policy changed.
Again, here was a story with several newsworthy elements, including answers to the question of why people such as Kathy Kelly time and again take actions that will surely result in their arrests, that will surely go unpublicized in the national media, that will likely result in jail terms, and yet will not cut one dollar from the Pentagon budgets or stop even one of our country’s growing number of wars and military actions. Publicity is not what motivates these folks, yet the news media’s failure to cover their protests essentially means the press is shielding its readers and viewers from uncomfortable news that raises disturbing and profound questions about our nation’s war-making activities. While the airwaves and print press are full of jingoistic war-makers’ pronouncements, the voices of the peacemakers are shut out.
As Daniel Berrigan, now 90 and living in a Jesuit friary in New York City, observed in the summer of 2010 in an interview with author Deena Guzder for her recently-published book, Divine Rebels: “There’s resistance all the time today, but there’s no media. The media is a total sellout. You’re not going to know the earth is shaking if nobody reports it, but there are still plenty of people who are trying to read the Gospel and act as if it were true.”
Berrigan, who is also a noted poet, has repeatedly spoken out and protested against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and nuclear weapons. He was arrested – without publicity – for the several-dozenth time on Good Friday 2010. (He told Guzder that he had been arrested more times than he could count but “fewer than I should have been.”) He and a dozen or so other activists were arrested as they were reading out the names of civilians killed in the current U.S. wars as a way of dissuading tourists from going on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a floating military museum moored in the Hudson River. Berrigan and his fellow protesters view it as “a symbol of war’s destructiveness.” A Jesuit housemate of Berrigan wrote that the judge hearing the case noted that he himself had opposed the Vietnam War and had been a Berrigan supporter back then – and went on to dismiss charges against all the defendants. A good little story in and of itself.
“America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don’t remember any attacks on American soil during that period of time.” – Eric Bolling, Fox News.
A recently released Brown University report entitled “Costs of War” has received national media attention for the startling $3.7 to $4.4 trillion price tag it puts on our current wars. According to the report, this staggering dollar range is an estimate of the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars even assuming a prompt withdrawal of all U.S. forces. Any delay would cause the range to skyrocket further.
An estimated $1 trillion of this sum – about 25% of the total cost – comes just from interest accumulated by the U.S. as we inflate our national debt to finance the wars. As war spending continues to mount, congressional leaders have repeatedly stated a commitment to overall deficit reduction, yet cuts to defense in this year’s Republican-led House appropriations process have been minor scratches. Even for those who supported the initial decision to go to war, it should be obvious now that a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is at least fiscally overdue.
The Brown study enumerates additional elements of the wars’ full cost. Every year we remain combat-engaged, we continue to lose American lives. The social and economic costs to service members who are killed, left disabled or absent from their families for multiple and extended tours of duty are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions. The national opportunity cost of the wars, in terms of forgone federal investment in education, health care, energy and economic revitalization, can also be added to the overall price tag.
We cannot change the past, but we can bring our troops home now and turn the responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan over to those nations. By pursuing an orderly but swift withdrawal, we can stop the hemorrhaging of American taxpayer dollars and the tragic losses and painful injuries that too many of our military service families are facing. The time has come to face up the true costs of war and finally put an end to them.