Obama in Iraq

Monday, 21 July 2008 16:22 By Juan Cole, Informed Comment | name.

Obama in Iraq
Barack Obama. (Illustration: Paul Giambarba / t r u t h o u t)

    Der Spiegel proves al-Maliki story correct; series of bombings hit Baghdad.

    Senator Barack Obama is in Iraq for consultations with American military commanders and Iraqi leaders. Despite all the talk about Iraq being "calm," I'd like to point out that the month just before the last visit Barack Obama made to Iraq (he went in January, 2006), there were 537 civilian and ISF [Iraqi Security Force] Iraqi casualties. In June of this year, 2008, there were 554, according to AP. These are official statistics gathered passively that probably only capture about 10 percent of the true toll.

    That is, the Iraqi death toll is actually still worse now than the last time Obama was in Iraq! (See the bombings and shootings listed below for Sunday). The hype around last year's troop escalation obscures a simple fact: that Obama formed his views about the need for the US to leave Iraq at a time when its security situation was very similar to what it is now! Why a return to the bad situation in late 2005 and early 2006 should be greeted by the GOP as the veritable coming of the Messiah is beyond me. You have people like Joe Lieberman saying silly things like if it weren't for the troop escalation, Obama wouldn't be able to visit Iraq. Uh, he visited it before the troop escalation, just fine.

    The troop escalation, which actually allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the country, has largely been pushed as propaganda by the White House and the AEI. Here's an example of how their propaganda works. As is usual with news it does not like, the Bush administration attempted to muddy the waters this weekend regarding the interview of PM Nuri al-Maliki with Der Spiegel in which he expressed approval of Barack Obama's plan to get US troops out of Iraq within 16 months of next January. Al-Maliki told Der Spiegel in response to a question about how long US troops would be in his country:


"Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

    Der Spiegel: Is this an endorsement for the US presidential election in November? Does Obama, who has no military background, ultimately have a better understanding of Iraq than war hero John McCain?

    Maliki: Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want."

    Ali al-Dabbagh, who is usually described as al-Maliki's spokesman but actually seems to work for the CENTCOM or Pentagon Middle East Command, was trotted out to make vague statements about Der Spiegel's having mistranslated or misinterpreted what al-Maliki said. This denial was issued through CENTCOM! When the original demand came from al-Maliki for a timetable for US withdrawal, it was al-Dabbagh who reinterpreted it as a "time horizon." Al-Dabbagh was contradicted by National Security Counsellor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, who seems actually closer in this thinking to al-Maliki. My guess is that al-Dabbagh has been recruited by some agency in Washington, DC, to explain away al-Maliki's statements whenever they contradict Bush's.

    Der Spiegel stood by its story. The text of Der Spiegel's statement is here. It turns out that the translator involved works for al-Maliki, not for Der Spiegel, and so presumably knew what the prime minister's words meant in Arabic. And for the piece de resistance, it turns out that Der Spiegel has an audiotape of the Arabic of the interview, which they leaked to The New York Times. Sabrina Tavernise and Jeff Zeleny write:


'"But the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki's office, not the magazine ... The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki's comments by The Times: "Obama's remarks that - if he takes office - in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq." He continued: "Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq."'

    But you see, it does not matter that al-Maliki actually said what he said. It does not matter that Der Spiegel can prove it. All that matters is that the Goebbelses around Bush and Cheney have managed to muddy the waters and produce doubt, taking the hard edge off the interview. Even AFP, the usually skeptical French wire service, asserted that al-Maliki had "denied" the accuracy of the Der Spiegel interview! Of course, al-Maliki has done no such thing. CENTCOM ventriloquising al-Dabbagh engaged in the denial, and a very vague one at that.

    That is the way propaganda works, to obscure the truth and ensure it can be denied. Some wingnut even tried to pressure me to retract the little sentence I had written on the affair yesterday, on the grounds of "al-Dabbagh's" mendacious and ridiculous assertions. Our information system is so corrupt and easily manipulated that even a clumsy ploy can obscure the truth and bully the journalists.

    Aljazeera International reports on the conflict between Obama and McCain on a timetable for US troop withdrawals from Iraq.

    Over the weekend, the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front rejoined the al-Maliki government. It had left last summer over accusations that al-Maliki ignored Sunni sensitivities, refused to speak to his vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, coddled Shiite militias that ethnically cleansed Sunnis, and kept tens of thousands of Sunnis in prison without charges or due process. As Xinhua notes, al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party, one of three components of the Iraqi Accord Front coalition of Sunni parties, will face great competition in the provincial elections from the US-created Awakening Councils, which are paid and armed by the US military.

    Speaking of this fall's provincial elections, the country's elections commission announced Sunday that they might have to be postponed, given that Parliament has still not passed the enabling legislation. The election law is mired in debates over the mixed province of Kirkuk in the north, and whether it should hold provincial elections along with the other provinces. The province is claimed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, which wants to annex it, even though the Turkmen and Arab populations do not want to join semi-autonomous Kurdistan (where the state schools are no longer Arabophone).

    Al-Zaman, writing in Arabic, says that the new date has been set as December 22. It is official: The provincial elections in Iraq will not occur in time to affect the US presidential race. E.g., if the Sadrists sweep to power in many Shiite provinces, that could have been a factor in the US polls. Not going to happen.

    A new airport, funded in important part by Iran has opened at the Shiite holy city of Najaf. It will likely bring millions of pilgrims from Iran, Pakistan, India and elsewhere to the shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. American authorities worried about Iranians in Iraq may as well just lay back; with millions going in and out, tracking them is going to be rather difficult.

Last modified on Monday, 21 July 2008 21:03