An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.
The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.
The fires are no longer burning, but the suffocating plumes of smoke they created carried as far as 40 miles downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.
An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the dumping area described it as a kind of black swampland of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger."
The above is from James Glanz' "Waste Oil Dumps Threaten Towns in Northern Iraq" in this morning's New York Times. In the article, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum notes the issue in regard to water and that's probably going to be a thought in many people's minds (especially if you read the report the Times did on the Tigris over two years ago). If you have time to read in full, this is probably the article you should make time for in the paper. (And of articles you might make time for outside of the paper, it would rank high as well -- a rarity for the Times' Iraq coverage.)
Switching to the topic of undocumented immigrants, Martha notes Spencer S. Hsu and Kari Lydersen's "Illegal Hiring Is Rarely Penalized" (Washington Post):
The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show.
Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.
And we'll use an item from last week's Democracy Now! to add some more perspective to who gets arrested and who doesn't:
2,000 Immigrants Arrested in DHS Sweep
Here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has announced more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants have been arrested in a massive crackdown that began last month. Government officials said close to half of those arrested have criminal records. Just over 800 people have already been deported.
Remember to listen, watch or read (transcripts) Democracy Now! today. The e-mail address for this site is firstname.lastname@example.org.
the new york times
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spencer s. hsu