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Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Ellen Mitchell (THE HILL) reports another US soldier has died in Iraq, "Cpl. Todd McGurn of Riverside, Calif., died Nov. 25 in Baghdad 'as a result of a non-combat related incident,' the Pentagon statement read. McGurn was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas."
This is the fourth death of a US service member in Iraq since October 1st. Alex, Missildine, Houghton Brown, Lee Smith and now Todd McGurn have all died serving in iraq.
And the deaths have received very little attention from the media.
On the topic of US troops in Iraq, Luiz Martinez (ABC NEWS) reports:
Thousands more American troops are serving in Iraq and Syria than has been previously acknowledged by the Pentagon, a new report finds.
According to the Defense Manpower Data Center's quarterly report from September, there were 1,720 American troops in Syria -- three times as many as the 503 troops in Syria that U.S. military spokesmen have told reporters. The Pentagon's personnel agency issues quarterly reports about how many American troops are serving in individual states and overseas countries.
The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Department of Defense tally of 5,262.
And tensions continue to increase in Iraq. Jane Arraf (NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED) looks at Kirkuk:
ARRAF: Hawre is a barber in one of Kirkuk's Kurdish neighborhoods. I don't use his full name because I met him when he was working at a polling station in September as Kurds voted for independence. He was so happy then.
HAWRE: Then my happiness go away because something happened and military of Iraq, they attack us.
ARRAF: And he's angry at the U.S. for allowing Iraqi forces to attack Kurdish fighters using American tanks.
HAWRE: Now I swear to God if I be president of Kurdistan, I go to Russia and make deal with them and buy United States because they don't do anything.
ARRAF: Hawre says now Kurds close their shop early at night and they stay in their neighborhoods. Like other Kurds here, though, he says holding the independence referendum was the right thing to do. He believes someday Kurds will have Kirkuk back again.
The grabbing of Kirkuk took place after the bulk of the Islamic State had been run out of Iraq. Hayder al-Abadi, prime minister of Iraq, had been planning it for some time.
ALJAZEERA speaks with Kurdish political analyst Kifah Mahmoud about what has taken place since September 25th when over 92% of Kurds turned out at the polls to vote for Kurdish independence. Excerpt:
Al Jazeera: Given the recent backlash - both locally and internationally - do you think that it was too soon to hold a referendum on Kurdish secession?
Mahmoud: Quite the contrary. In fact, I think we were very much delayed in our decision to carry out a referendum on secession. Personally, I had been advocating and fighting for this step since the United States toppled [late Iraqi] President Saddam Hussein's regime back in 2003.
This step should have been taken directly after April 2003, instead of having gone to Baghdad to negotiate. We're still paying the price for opting to negotiate.
Al Jazeera: What are the main challenges facing the Kurdish region now that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been retaken by the central government?
Mahmoud: Kirkuk will not be gone forever. For more than four decades, Saddam Hussein's government and his predecessors tried to change the city's demographics, but it was reclaimed by the Kurds in a matter of four hours.
Among our biggest challenges at the moment is Baghdad's lack of faith in the power of dialogue, and its inclination to deal with the Kurdish question through military force. This has been the case with previous governments as well, but they fell, and we remained.
Kirkuk is an issue that was supposed to have been settled long ago.
Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution (approved in 2005) argues for a census and referendum. More to the point, it states that this must take place by the end of 2007.
Bully Boy Bush installed Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in the spring of 2006.
2007 came to a close with Nouri refusing to implement Article 140 as the Constitution dictated. After he lost the 2010 election, Nouri agreed to implement Article 140 in exchange for a second term (these and other agreements were made in the US brokered Erbil Agreement).
Of course, after being named to a second term, he then refused to implement it.
Hayder al-Abadi, installed by Barack in the summer of 2014, played dumb about Article 140 until June of this year when he suddenly announced he would be looking into it -- thereby signaling that he was planning to move on Kirkuk.
Kirkuk is oil rich and both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Baghdad-based central government claim it. The RAND Corporation was noting that this was an explosive issue and one that needed to be decided -- noting this while Bully Boy Bush still occupied the White House. It was kick the can for every US administration.
Long time Middle East observer Peter W. Galbraith contributed "Why the Kurds are paying for Trump's gift to Iran" for THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS earlier this month:
The Trump administration, which had been careful to keep the PMF out of ISIS-held Mosul, did nothing to stop these two Iranian-backed terrorists from using American weapons to attack an American ally. But for the action of US soldiers in the area, they would almost certainly have killed another American citizen. After the PMF takeover of Kirkuk, the Pentagon attempted ineffectually to hide its embarrassment by calling the Kurdish-Iraqi fighting a “misunderstanding.” The administration’s complaisant attitude to the Iranian-led action was even more puzzling since it followed Donald Trump’s decision three days earlier to decertify the Iran nuclear deal—justified as a response to Iran’s malign activities in the region, including in Iraq.
Pique toward the Kurds partially explains the administration’s indifference. In February, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, Masoud Barzani, wrote a letter to President Trump announcing his intention to hold an independence referendum and explaining the reasons for it. On June 7, the KRG set the date for vote as September 25. The only US reaction came from a State Department spokesman who said the timing was inopportune and mischaracterized the vote as non-binding. (The referendum was binding on the KRG but, as Barzani explained, the Kurds would allow up to two years for negotiations with Baghdad on the divorce before actually declaring independence.)
The Kurds were then caught by surprise when, just two weeks before the vote, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the special presidential envoy to Iraq, Brett McGurk, launched a full-scale diplomatic effort to get the Kurds to postpone it. Even that initiative was bungled: a US-sponsored UN Security Council statement directly contradicted private promises made to the Kurds. It was also too late.
Along with former foreign ministers from France and Croatia, I traveled to polling places in various parts of Kurdistan on referendum day. The enthusiasm was palpable. Women came to vote dressed as if they were going to a wedding and many brought their children—usually dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes and carrying Kurdistan flags—so that the children could later say that they were there when their country was born. More than one voter told me that their people had waited for this moment for a century, recalling Sykes-Picot, the Anglo-French secret agreement of 1916 that carved up the region and ultimately led to the Kurds’ involuntary inclusion in the new state of Iraq . There is no doubt that the referendum, which took place without a single violent incident, reflected the long-held desire of almost every Iraqi Kurd for independence. In an election with a strong 72 percent turnout, the people of Kurdistan voted by 93 percent for independence.
Even had he wanted to, it would have been impossible for Masoud Barzani to cancel the referendum days before it took place. But Barzani had no desire to cancel the vote. Already, after ISIS had conquered Mosul and most Iraq’s Sunni areas in June 2014, he was on the verge of declaring independence. As he told me at the time, “Iraq no longer exists. We have a thousand-kilometer border with Daesh [the Islamic State] and thirty kilometers with Iraq.”
When US Secretary of State John Kerry visited in Erbil in July 2014, he asked Barzani to postpone the referendum until the defeat of ISIS. Barzani agreed. Having done as they were asked in 2014, the Kurdish leaders felt that the Americans should respect their decision to go ahead now that ISIS was largely defeated. But Tillerson and McGurk had a new request—to postpone until after the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for the spring of 2018.
The American motives were transparent. The US strategy in Iraq is built around Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. US diplomats see Abadi as a moderate who reversed the sectarian policies of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. Today, Maliki is blamed for so alienating the Sunnis that he had made possible the rise of ISIS in western Iraq. What is forgotten is that Maliki, too, was once our man in Baghdad, in effect handpicked to be prime minister by Bush’s ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
In order for Abadi to prevail against his more extreme Shiite rivals, US diplomats calculated he needed the votes of the Kurdish parliamentarians who hold about a fifth of the seats in the Iraqi parliament. The Kurds, however, were never persuaded that Abadi was much different from his predecessor; indeed, he is a member of the same Shiite religious party that is headed by Maliki. Moreover, Abadi failed to restore Kurdistan’s constitutionally-mandated share of the Iraqi budget, which Maliki had cut. He also successfully blocked the US from supplying the peshmerga with sophisticated weapons like the Abrams tank, even when the Kurds were the only ground force stopping ISIS from taking the entire north of Iraq. To explain why he could not accept the American request to postpone, Barzani told me: “Iraq is not what was on offer in 2003. Iraq is a theocratic, autocratic state. The intention is clear. The faces are different [from Saddam’s time] but the goal is the same. As long as we wait, they get stronger and we get weaker.”
At least 11 are dead and twenty-six injured from a Monday night Baghdad bombing in a shopping area. Yesterday, there was a drive-by shooting (on motorcycles) in broad daylight in Baghdad. How long before the reports start noting bodies dumped in the streets again?
That's where things stood before the battle with ISIS took up all the attention.
The following community sites -- plus Jody Watley, Cindy Sheehan, BLACK AGENDA REPORT, Tavis Smiley, DISSIDENT VOICE and THE PACIFICA EVENING NEWS -- updated: