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GAO Report Now Available: Iraqi Gov't Meets 3 of 18 Benchmarks

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 2:16 PM PDT

The GAO report on the Iraqi government is out (background here). Key results: At the end of August, the Iraqi government had met three, had partially met four, and had not met 11 of 18 legislative, security, and economic benchmarks.

Benchmarks met:

  • Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan.
  • Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.
  • Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

Benchmarks partially met:

  • Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.
  • Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.
  • Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ''the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.''
  • Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.

Benchmarks not met:

  • Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.
  • Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Ba'athification.
  • Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner.
  • Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.
  • Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.
  • Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq.
  • Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S. commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.
  • Ensuring that the Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law.
  • Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.
  • Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces' units capable of operating independently.
  • Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces.

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Preview New Sigur Ros Documentary

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 2:06 PM PDT

Iceland is pretty
While Boing Boing might call me inhuman for this, I'm annoyed by Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros. I can't explain it: I'm a huge fan of abstract, soundscape-y music, from The Cocteau Twins to Godspeed You Black Emperor! Plus, I've been fascinated with Iceland in general since hearing about that town that beat the volcano when I was a kid. For a while, I really tried to like Sigur Ros (pronounced "See-hur Roce," with the lightest of trills on the final "r" in "Sigur"), since everyone I know likes them. One night a few years back I attended their show at the Warfield here in San Francisco, and after a while found myself feeling annoyed and uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out why, until it hit me: I just don't like this music. The willfully obscure vocals and odd instrumentation masked treacly melodies and hackneyed emotional builds, like a Hallmark card foisted on an unsuspecting hipster public. Finally, after one too many falsetto "ya-yooee-yoos" from lead singer Jon Birgisson, I walked out.

So I'm a skeptic when it comes to Heima, the new film the band is producing that features live performances at different venues across Iceland. However, the trailer is breathtaking, at least visually (a still is pictured above). The band are featured in odd locations, including in front of a small town church, in the middle of a field, and what appears to be an abandoned factory, often with small audiences of what looks like regular Icelandic families; these performances are intercut with stunning shots of Iceland's stark natural beauty. Heima will hit your local multiplex (or, uh, not) when it's released this fall along with a compilation album from the band. Will I be converted? Or do I even deserve to see it after expressing such blasphemy?

Watch the trailer here.

Talking Surge (and Jogging) with General Petraeus

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 12:44 PM PDT

Spencer Ackerman got to join General David Petraeus on his morning exercise routine recently, and the results give us some clue as to what Petraeus will say before Congress next week.

"There are some encouraging signs," [Petraeus] said cautiously. "It's still pretty early, but sectarian violence and murders are down [in Baghdad], and that's hugely important. It's about [stopping] sectarian violence." He qualified his statement. "There are still, obviously, huge car bombs, since al-Qaeda is trying to reignite sectarian violence."

So the results of the surge are a decidedly mixed bag. The security is getting mildly better (very much in question) but the politics of Iraq have not improved. In fact, they're worse than they were a year ago. We may be winning on some of the details, but we're still losing on the big picture. Why continue the occupation?

Politics in the country was moving slowly, [Petraeus] conceded, but he was impressed with the performance of the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. I wasn't exactly sure what the connection was. Could a competent Army really convince Sunnis to accept minority status, or stop Shiites from hoarding power? But nothing is a non sequitur to Petraeus. Instead, the strategy he describes is one where each small contingency exerts an ephemeral but real influence on every seemingly unrelated aspect of the war.

It appears the surge meant something very different to General Petraeus than it did to the rest of America. To everyone here stateside, the surge in troops was a temporary effort to give Iraqi politicians the space and stability they needed to achieve some kind of reconciliation. To Petraeus, it was a chance to implement his strategy and re-fight the war.

And you know what's funny? Inklings of this were reported in February. I spotted a Newsweek story by Michael Hirsh and wrote a blog entitled "Petraeus is Engaged in a Giant 'Do-Over'" on 02/23/07. Maybe we should have all raised a bigger fuss.

Winehouse Shows Up For Mercury Prize Ceremony

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 12:44 PM PDT

Winehouse
Gigwise is reporting that troubled singer Amy Winehouse has arrived at the Grosvenor Hotel in London for the Mercury Music Prize ceremony, set to begin in just a few hours. Her arrival is fueling speculation that she is tapped to win the award, given out for best British album of the year. Her appearance was far from assured; in fact, NME reported a few hours ago that Winehouse would be pulling out of the ceremony, only to pull the story and instead post an article about the singer's arrival and soundcheck.

As we noted earlier, Winehouse's personal issues and alleged drug use caused London bookies to knock down her odds at winning the annual prize; she had been considered the front-runner. While newcomer Bat For Lashes' haunting Fur and Gold is now the current favorite at 7/4 odds, rumors are apparently circulating that Winehouse, who flew into the UK just yesterday, changed plans to be at the ceremony in anticipation of a win.

NME writers are, understandably, pulling for so-called "Nu Ravers" The Klaxons, and solo electronic artist Maps remains a dark horse with his dreamy album We Can Create. 21-year-old singer Jamie T is also considered a strong contender, with oddsmakers placing him just behind Bat For Lashes. Personally, I highly enjoy Winehouse, The Klaxons, Maps, and fellow-nominees Arctic Monkeys, but Bat For Lashes is my fave too, if only for the trick-riding bunnies in her video.

That clip and some other nominees' videos after the jump; stay tuned to the Riff where we'll post the winner when it's announced.

Weird Weather Watch: Another Category 5 Hurricane

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 11:50 AM PDT

A few weeks ago, as Dean approached Mexico, I wrote that just 30 hurricanes have attained Category 5 status since record-keeping began in 1886. Twelve of those occurred since 1980; 7 since 2000.

Make that 31 total, and 8 since 2000: Hurricane Felix hit Central America with a vengeance this morning. It was the first time two Category 5 storms have made landfall in a single season.

More than 14,000 people were evacuated.

Bush: "I Cry a Lot"

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 10:32 AM PDT

There's been a bunch of interesting stuff coming out of a new book on the Bush presidency by Robert Draper entitled "Dead Certain." But Draper, a former writer for Texas Monthly, scored nothing more interesting than Bush's claim that he cries a lot:

"I've got God's shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count as president."

Characteristically tortured grammar aside... what? I've always assumed that Bush's bumbling (in Iraq particularly, but elsewhere too) was borne out of an unthinking machismo that left no room for doubt or dissent. But if the president really is as reflective and contemplative as he claims (which I don't buy) how to explain his errors? Maybe instead of being arrogant and inhumane, Bush is just incompetent?

Who knows. I don't believe this crying claim any more than Karl Rove's claim that Bush read 94 books last year.

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Led Zeppelin Reunion Gig For Real?

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 9:53 AM PDT

Zep
Reunion fever continues this week, as fans debate whether the legendary English rockers will come back together for a performance this fall. Tickets for a supposed Zeppelin show at the O2 Arena (housed in the former Millenium Dome in London) are being advertised by Premier Entertainments, but the band have offered no confirmation, and promoter Harvey Goldsmith says he's concerned people are being "fleeced." He released a statement saying that there are "at least four events being advertised which I suspect either don't exist or where no tickets are on sale or indeed dates finalized." The vague language is giving fans hope that the remaining members of Led Zeppelin, who disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, will perform together for the first time since a gig at Atlantic Records' 40th birthday celebrations in 1988. The tickets from Premier Entertainments have no official date apparently advertised the show's date as November 26th and come packaged with hotel accommodations, prices starting at £269. That's $541 at current exchange rates. You know, you could see Wolfmother 15 times for that kind of money.

Iraq Debate Opens in Washington

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 9:40 AM PDT

The long-awaited Iraq debate has arrived. Prepare to be bombarded with official opinion on all sides. Over the next two weeks, there will be no fewer than 12 congressional hearings assessing the state of things in America's fifty-first state.

This week, Congress will review two new reports. The first, by the GAO, will look at Iraq's progress on political and security benchmarks; the second, by Marine General James Jones, will examine the training and capabilities of Iraqi security forces. The forecast is gloomy in each case. The reports will prepare the rhetorical battlefield for next week's main event: the testimony of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus on the effects of the 'surge.'

As the political battle is joined in Washington, Mother Jones will be there. Check the MoJoBlog for our coverage. A list of events already on the schedule:

Tuesday, September 4, 2007, 2pm: Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds an open hearing on the GAO report assessing the political and military progress in Iraq.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007, 10am: House Armed Services Committee holds an open hearing on the GAO report.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007, 2pm: House Foreign Affairs Committee holds an open hearing on the GAO report.
Thursday, September 6, 2007, 9am: Joint House Armed Services/Foreign Affairs Committee holds an open hearing on "Beyond the September Reports: What's Next for Iraq?"
Thursday, September 6, 2007, 10am: Senate Armed Services Committee holds an open hearing on Marine General James Jones report on training and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.
Thursday, September 6, 2007, 2:30pm: House Armed Services Committee holds an open hearing on report from Marine General James Jones with testimony from General Jones.
Thursday, September 6, 2007, 2:30pm: Senate Intelligence Committee holds a CLOSED hearing on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
Friday, September 7, 2007, 9am: Senate Armed Services Committee holds an open hearing on the GAO report.
Monday, September 10, 2007, 12:30pm: Joint House Armed Services/Foreign Affairs Committees holds an open hearing with U.S. Armed Forces Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker on their report assessing the situation in Iraq.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007, Time TBD: Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds an open hearing with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their report on Iraq.
September 12, 2007, Time TBD: Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace.

John Edwards Has a Happy Labor Day

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 9:07 AM PDT

Yesterday, John Edwards picked up the endorsements of two unions, the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America. It's a big moment for Edwards because labor, which was supposed to be a major source of support for his campaign, has been leery of supporting him. Happy with all the Democratic candidates in the '08 field, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., for example, will likely not endorse anyone.

The steelworkers union represents 1.2 million workers and retirees, making it the nation's largest private sector industrial union. Those kind of numbers are essential to Edwards' Iowa-heavy campaign strategy. One-third of Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa came from union households in 2004.

(H/T Swampland)

An Unlikely Bush White House Antagonist

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 7:30 AM PDT

Jack Goldsmith is an unlikely Bush White House antagonist. The conservative former University of Chicago legal scholar argued with John Yoo for the U.S. to exempt itself from international law and treaties, including those dealing with war crimes. So no one was surprised when in 2003 he was appointed to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the department's chief legal policy shop. But when Goldmsith got inside, he got a good look at how nuts -- and from a legal perspective, intellectually bankrupt -- it all was. From a forthcoming New York Times magazine profile of Goldsmith:

Several hours after Goldsmith was sworn in, on Oct. 6, 2003, he recalls that he received a phone call from Gonzales: the White House needed to know as soon as possible whether the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes protections that explicitly cover civilians in war zones like Iraq, also covered insurgents and terrorists. After several days of study, Goldsmith agreed with lawyers in several other federal agencies, who had concluded that the convention applied to all Iraqi civilians, including terrorists and insurgents. In a meeting with Ashcroft, Goldsmith explained his analysis, which Ashcroft accepted. Later, Goldsmith drove from the Justice Department to the White House for a meeting with Gonzales and Addington. Goldsmith remembers his deputy Patrick Philbin turning to him in the car and saying: "They're going to be really mad. They're not going to understand our decision. They've never been told no." (Philbin declined to discuss the conversation.)
In his book, Goldsmith describes Addington as the "biggest presence in the room — a large man with large glasses and an imposing salt-and-pepper beard" who was "known throughout the bureaucracy as the best-informed, savviest and most conservative lawyer in the administration, someone who spoke for and acted with the full backing of the powerful vice president, and someone who crushed bureaucratic opponents." When Goldsmith presented his analysis of the Geneva Conventions at the White House, Addington, according to Goldsmith, became livid. "The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections," Addington replied angrily, according to Goldsmith. "You cannot question his decision." (Addington declined to comment on this and other details concerning him in this article.)
Goldsmith then explained that he agreed with the president's determination that detainees from Al Qaeda and the Taliban weren't protected under the Third Geneva Convention, which concerns the treatment of prisoners of war, but that different protections were at issue with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns civilians. Addington, Goldsmith says, was not persuaded. (Goldsmith told me that he has checked his recollections of this and other meetings with at least one other participant or with someone to whom he described the meetings soon after.)
Months later, when Goldsmith tried to question another presidential decision, Addington expressed his views even more pointedly. "If you rule that way," Addington exclaimed in disgust, Goldsmith recalls, "the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands."

Goldsmith describes Addington's judgment as "crazy" if well meaning. Presumably lots of fodder in Goldsmith's soon to be released book, The Terror Presidency, for upcoming Congressional hearings.