Thursday, October 11, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

Turkey is threatening to send its troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas in a move likely to destabilise the one part of Iraq which is at peace.
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will ask parliament next week to authorise a military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan after attacks by Turkish Kurds killed more than 10 Turkish troops last Sunday. Threatening a push into Iraq would also underline Turkish anger at the US Congressional vote describing the Ottoman Turk killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
A statement from Mr Erdogan's office said: "The order has been given for every kind of measure to be taken [against the PKK] including, if needed, by a cross-border operation."
An attack into Iraqi Kurdistan by Turkey would be deeply embarrassing for the US because the five million Iraqi Kurds are the only Iraqi community which fully supports the US occupation of Iraq. US reliance on Kurdish military units was emphasised yesterday by a report that Peshmerga 34th Division is to move outside the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) area to guard roads between Kurdistan and Baghdad.

The above is from Patrick Cockburn's "Ankara incursion threatens only part of Iraq still at peace" (Independent of London), noted by Polly. On the same topic, Kendrick notes Scott Peterson's "Turkish ire may affect Iraq war" (Christian Science Monitor):

Two obsessions in Turkey may appear unrelated -- a recent surge in Kurdish militant attacks and the mass killing of Armenians nearly a century ago -- but they are swiftly combining as a strategic tipping point in US-Turkey relations that could affect American forces in Iraq.
Amid widespread calls for revenge after the killing of some 30 Turkish soldiers and civilians in two weeks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- and the failure of US and Iraqi forces to curb the attacks from bases in Iraq -- the Turkish parliament is expected next week to authorize cross-border operations into northern Iraq.
Turkish warplanes and artillery are reportedly already targeting PKK camps, but an incursion could destabilize the one area of Iraq that has been relatively peaceful since the US invasion in 2003.

Of course, the reality is the Kuristan region has never been that 'safe.' It's been a wonderful public relations hype. It's been hailed as 'the new Iraq.' It's business opportunites are trumpeted. And it has a history with the United States which is why the government looks the other way. Human rights organizations have long been documenting the problems in the northern region. But those didn't get play in the press. Which is why that nonsense of "She was stoned because she fell in love! It's just like Romeo & Juliet!" took off in the first place. Romeo dies in the play. So there's one way where it wasn't like the play. Another way is that odds were the two weren't star-crossed lovers. That sect was targeted repeatedly in the 'peaceful region' and women from it were being kidnapped and forced into marriages to wipe away the sect. The woman was apparently stoned and that's awful. But everything else layered on for 'drama' wasn't reality. The 'groom' (age never mentioned) whisked away and unable to talk to the press. Never noting where the 'lovers' met to begin with. It read like she returned to her family and she was stoned the same way rape victims are. The stoning is a crime. But turning her into a young bride in love doesn't do much for reality. (And some outlets questioned the 'detail' of marriage.) The new UN report (PDF warning) notes the 'peaceful region':

The human rights situation in the Kurdistan region remains of concern in a number of areas, including continuing incidents involving violence against women, the abuse of detainees and the prolonged detention without charge or trial of hundreds of detainees held on suspicion of terror-related offences. UNAMI is encouraged, however, by sveral measures adopted by the KRG authorities in recent months in an effort to address some of these concerns, including the review of long-standing detention practices followed by the regional authorities' security forces. UNAMI hopes that such measures, if seriously followed up, would pave the way for greater accountability for government officials suspected or known to have abused their authority.

The report notes the targeting of journalists (and the Kurdish response that 646 licenses have been given to news outlets -- and how that has nothing to do with the targeting -- arrests and detentions -- of journalists), that Assyrians and Turkoman are being persecuted, an 18% increase in violence against women ("15 deaths caused by blunt objects, 87 deaths by burning and 15 deaths by shooting for the first quarter of 2007; for the second quarter, there were 8 deaths caused by blunt objects, 108 deaths by burning and 21 deaths by shooting"), the lack of punishments for these deaths (both in arrests and -- when the rare arrest is made -- in sentnecing), arrests for other crimes which may find prisoners "held in pre-trial detention for prolonged periods, some for over three years" and a lack of access to attorneys for the pre-trial,
overcrowding in the jail cells (in one instance "25 detainees in one cell measuring 5X8 meters and about 50 detinees in a larger cell" and in another "75 detainees were squeezed into one cell measuring 5x8 meters"). That's all in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq's "Human Rights Report 1 April -- 30 June 2007" released today. (Sidebar, Philip Maldari regularly raises the issue of the Turkoman on KPFA's The Morning Show in discussions of Iraq.)

Some might want to argue that it's 'peaceful' because it doesn't have the same level of bombings and shootings that Baghdad does. Or at least the same amount reported. If that belief is being pushed, shouldn't the abuses be even more disturbing since it's a (by comparison) 'peaceful' region? Of course the truck bombings in northern Iraq one day in August that claimed hundreds (CNN reported at least 500) blew that 'it's so peaceful!' illusion out of the water (the bombings targeted the Yazidi sect). The big vote that's coming up in the region is something many are still unaware of. It's been 'peaceful region' over and over in the press.

Now the 'peaceful region' may become a battlefield between Turkey and Iraq and how do you think that's going to effect life on the ground for the foreign fighters (including US) already present?

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 3809. Tonight? 3821. Just Foreign Policy's total for the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war stood at 1,080,903. Tonight? 1,084,379.

Turning to the mercenaries, Gareth notes Anne Penketh's "Blackwater faces war crimes inquiry after killings in Iraq" (Independent of London):

The American firm Blackwater USA has been served notice that it faces investigations for war crimes after 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed in a hail of bullets by its security guards in Baghdad.
The killings last month put the spotlight on the private security firms whose employees are immune from prosecution, unlike professional soldiers who are subject to courts martial. In the second such incident in less than a month, involving the Australian contractor Unity Resources Group this week, two Armenian Christian women were shot dead after their car approached a protected convoy. Their car was riddled with 40 bullets.
Ivana Vuco, the most senior UN human rights officer in Iraq, spoke yesterday about the shootings by private security guards, which have provoked outrage among Iraqis. "For us, it's a human rights issue," she said. "We will monitor the allegations of killings by security contractors and look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed."

War crimes? B-b-b-ut James Risen of the New York Times found Erik Prince so damn sexy! (Nod to Kat with the "B-b-b-ut" that she uses regularly in her reviews. Prince is the CEO of Blackwater.) Risen (and others) were all ready to make Prince the new Ollie North. So the question is can a presidential pardon absolve a War Crimes conviction? (If it could, would Henry Kissinger have to plan his travel so carefully in order to avoid countries where he could be tried for War Crimes?)

Of course, Blackwater faces other legal problems. Today the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against the mercenary company. We'll close with CCR's "Blackwater USA Sued for Firing on Iraqi Civilians, According to Legal Team for Injured Survivor and Families of Three Killed:"

Washington, D.C., Oct. 11 -- Blackwater USA, the private military contractor whose heavily armed personnel allegedly opened fire on innocent Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square in Baghdad on Sept. 16, was sued today by an injured survivor and three families of men killed in the incident, according to the legal team representing the civilians. The case was brought be the Center for Constitutional Rights and the firms of Burke O'Neil LLC and Akeel & Valentine, P.C.
Filed in Washington, D.C. federal court by Talib Mutlaq Deewan and the estates of the deceased men -- Himoud Saed Atban, Usama Fadhil Abbass, and Oday Ismail Ibraheem -- the lawsuit claims that Blackwater and its affiliated companies violated U.S. law and "created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life."
The complaint alleges that Blackwater violated the federal Alien Tort Statute in committing extrajudicial killing and war crimes, and that Blackwater should be liable for claims of assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, training and supervision.
Susan L. Burke, of Burke O'Neil LLC, stated, "This senseless slaughter was only the latest incident in a lengthy pattern of egregious misconduct by Blackwater in Iraq. At the moment of this incident, the Blackwater personnel responsible for the shooting were not protecting State Department officials. We allege that Blackwater personnel were not provoked, and that they had no legitimate reason to fire on civilians. We look forward to forcing Blackwater and Mr. Prince to tell the world under oath why this attack happened, particularly since a Blackwater guard tried to stop his colleagues from indiscriminately firing."
Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated, "Blackwater's repeated and consistent failure to act in accord with the law of war, U.S. law, and international law harms our nation and it harms Iraq. For the good of both nations, as well as for countless innocent civilians, the company cannot be allowed to continue operating extra-legally, providing mercenaries who flout all kinds of law. This lawsuit, like the ongoing U.S. and Iraqi government investigations, cannot bring back those killed at Nisoor Square but it can make Blackwater accountable for its actions."
Shereef Hadi Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, P.C., stated, "Mr. Deewan and the families of the men killed deserve to know the truth about what happened at Nisoor Square, and they deserve justice. Incidents like this one and the many others that have made their way into government reports and news accounts must end. To let the extreme and outrageous conduct alleged in this lawsuit continue only diminishes the work of the Iraqi people and the many honorable men and women in uniform who have paid such a high price in their efforts to stabilize Iraq."
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for death, physical, mental, and economic injuries, and punitive damages.
The defendants include Blackwater USA, Blackwater Security Consulting LLC, The Prince Group LLC, a holding company, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
Mr. Deewan and the estates of the dead men are represented by Susan L. Burke, William T. O'Neil, Elizabeth M. Burke, and Katherine R. Hawkins of Burke O’Neil LLC, of Philadelphia; Michael A. Ratner and Vincent Warren, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, of New York; and Shereef Hadi Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, P.C., of Birmingham, Mich.
The case is Estate of Himoud Saed Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
About CCR
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights demonstrators in the South, CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez broke the story today on Democracy Now! and you watch, listen or read "EXCLUSIVE - Family Members of Slain Iraqis Sue Blackwater USA for Deadly Baghdad Shooting" for more on it. The e-mail address for this site is