Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, October 24, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, tensions continue between Turkey and northern Iraq (and Turkey initiates violence), Iraqi refugees continue suffering, McClatchy Newspapers is honored, and more.
Starting with war resisters.  Judge Benjamin Settle has extended Ehren Watada's stay.  Watada  is the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  His reasons for that are because the war is illegal.  He attempted to work through this matter with the military but when it became obvious they were stringing him along he made the decision to go public -- and went public in June 2006.  In February 2006, Judge Toilet (aka John Head) presided over a rigged hearing that was supposed to pass for a court-martial despite the fact that Watada was not allowed to explain why he'd chosen to do what he did -- refuse to deploy.  Judge Toilet tried real hard to rig the perfect frame up and when it didn't go the way he wanted, Judge Toilet flushed the court-martial, declaring a mistrial over defense objection and despite the fact that double-jeopardy had attached.  Judge Toilet immediately scheduled a court-martial for March and then someone tutored Toilet a little on the law.  The court-martial was supposed to begin the first week of this month; however, federal judge Settle issued a stay through October 26th.  On Friday, Settle extended the stay through November 9th.  Mike Barber (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) noted on Friday, "Seattle decided he had jurisdiction to hear arguments that Watada would be subject to double jeopardy, since his first trial in February ended in a mistrial, over his objections, after testimony had been heard by a panel of officers."  The panel was the jury -- Watada wisely decided to go with a jury for the court-martial and not allow a judge (in this case Judge Toilet) to make the ruling. 
Meanwhile on the subject of war resisters in Canada, Free Speech Radio News noted yesterday, "Canada has, in the past, been a destination for conscientious objectors to US wars. But some anti-war activists have found out from experience that Canada is using the FBI's National Crime Information Center database to stop war resisters at the border."  Brad McCall was the first to go public with the new system and how he was handcuffed while attempting to enter Canada September 19th of this year.  He was followed by others making reporting similar incidents at the border.  A number of actions are ongoing regarding US war resisters in Canada.  Citizens of Canada can sign the War Resisters Support Campaign petition as well as refer to this action page of the War Resisters Support Campaign.  In the United States, Courage to Resist has a letter you can sign to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Diane Finley and Stephane Dion of the Liberal Party.  If you click here you can sign electronically.  If you need a physical copy, you can go to "Supporting War Resisters" and print up a scan of the letter.
Tonight the War Resisters Support Campaign has an event, Michelle Mason's breakthrough documentary . Breaking Ranks will be screened at the University of Toronto's Claude Bissell Building from six to eight p.m. followed by a question and answer session with war resisters.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Carla Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.
The National Lawyers Guild's convention begins shortly: The Military Law Task Force and the Center on Conscience & War are sponsoring a Continuing Legal Education seminar -- Representing Conscientious Objectors in Habeas Corpus Proceedings -- as part of the National Lawyers Guild National Convention in Washington, D.C.  The half-day seminar will be held on Thursday, November 1st, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the convention site, the Holiday Inn on the Hill in D.C.  This is a must-attend seminar, with excelent speakers and a wealth of information.  The seminar will be moderated by the Military Law Task Force's co-chair Kathleen Gilberd and scheduled speakers are NYC Bar Association's Committee on Military Affairs and Justice's Deborah Karpatkin, the Center on Conscience & War's J.E. McNeil, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee's Peter Goldberger, Louis Font who has represented Camilo Mejia, Dr. Mary Hanna and others, and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objector's James Feldman.  The fee is $60 for attorneys; $25 for non-profit attorneys, students and legal workers; and you can also enquire about scholarships or reduced fees.  The convention itself will run from October 31st through November 4th and it's full circle on the 70th anniversary of NLG since they "began in Washington, D.C." where "the founding convention took place in the District at the height of the New Deal in 1937,  Activist, progressive lawyers, tired of butting heads with the reactionary white male lawyers then comprising the American Bar Association, formed the nucleus of the Guild." 
Turning to Iraq and starting with the refugee crisis which Prensa Latina reports the United Nations says is increasing "due to the border conflict with Turkey" with refugees already constituting 4.7 million Iraqis -- 2.3 million displaced internally, 2.4 million displaced externally.  Among the externally displaced is Riverbend and her family who have settled in Syria. Riverbend (Baghdad Burning) reports, "By the time we had reentered the Syrian border and were headed back to the cab ready to take us into Kameshli, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were refugees.  I read about refugees on the Internet daily. . .  in the newspapers . .  . hear about them on TV.  I heard about the estimated 1.5 million plus Iraqi refugees in Syria and shake my head, never really considering myself or my family as one of them.  After all, refugees are people who sleep in tents and have no potable water or plumbing, right?  Refugees carry their belongins in bags instead of suitcases and they don't have cell phones or Internet acess, right?  Grasping my passport in my hand like my life depended on it, with two extra months in Syria stamped inside, it hit me how wrong I was.  We were all refugees.  I was suddenly a number.  No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee.  A refugee is someone who isn't really welcome in any country -- including their own . . . especially their own.  . . . The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative -- a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, 'We're Abu Mohammed's house -- across from you -- mama says if you need anything, just ask -- this is our number.  Abu Dalia's family lives upstairs, this is their number.  We're all Iraqi too . . .  Welcome to the building.'  I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003."  Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees spokesperson Ron Redmond spoke to the press declaring that Syria continues to receive refugees but "in much smaller numbers than before" due to the new visa regulations Syria has imposed (obtain visa in Baghdad -- the Syrian embassy is located in a very violent neighborhood -- etc.) and that the UN estimates northern Iraq to now be "home to over 800,000 internally displaced Iraqis."  Peter Apps (Reuters) notes that more violence in northern Iraq "could further increase the number of people fleeing their homes and cut off one of the remaining ways out for refugees desperate to leave Iraq, aid workers say."  The tensions between the regions go far back.  In yesterday's press briefing, US State Department flack Sean McCormack declared of the tensions, "It's not something that was invented over the past four years.  But we now have an opportunity with an Iraqi Government that has an interest in playing a positive role in the region, an opportunity to arrive at a solution."  Now the US State Department thinks there is "an opportunity" to address the situation?  and what were they thinking in 2004?  The War Comes Home's Aaron Glantz reported on the situation for Pacifica in April of 2004 noting a meet up in DC between the Turkish government and the US government when then US Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers stated, "This is an issue the coalition forces inside Iraq take very seriously.  Let me assure you that there is very close collaboration with Turkey and that they [the PKK] will be dealt with appropriately." 
James Denselow (Guardian of London) notes that Syria closing its borders to Iraqis (some groups are exceptions to the closing -- academics, merchants, etc.)  and explains, "The Syrian decision, that of a poor country unable to accomodate a population increase of 10%, will intensify the humanitarian catastrophe, news of which is smothered by high-profile acts of violence as well as the ebb and flow of international politcs over the presence of foreign troops in the country.  The stress of Iraqi refugees on the infrastructure and social fabric of Damascus has cost the Syrian state over [500 million British pounds] in the past four years. Some commentators suggest that the lack of US assistance in caring for these Iraqis displaced as a result of their actions is part of a wider policy to weaken a traditional enemy -- Syria.  Most media coverage of the Iraqi-Syrian relationship is focused on the flow of foreign fighters from Syria rather than refugees to Syria."
And when the money runs out?  AP reported over the weekend that many return to "death row" meaning Iraqi -- in the case of Iman Faleh's family, east Baghdad -- with "a Syrian immigration official" offering the estimate "that up to 1,500 Iraqis are returning to Iraq each day."  As Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via Post-Bulletin) noted last month, "Syria and Jordan can't handle the more than 2 million Iraqis now crammed into their small countries.  These refugees have no jobs, their children can't go to school, and many are running out of savings, leading some to turn to begging and prostitution."  (Note that Jordan is attempting to provide free school for all Iraqi refugees while NPR's Morning Edition reported last week that the cost of education in Syria -- which many parents cannot afford -- means "a generation of Iraqi kids may go uneducated.")  In May of this year, Katherine Zdepf (New York Times) noted the reality of the number of Iraqi females forced into prostitution when they become refugees in other countries such as the main subject of Zdepf's report, Umm Hiba, sixteen-years-old, working "at a nightclub along a highway known for prositution."  AP reports today on female refugees in Syria, "This club in northwest Damascus is at the heart of one of the most troubling aspects of the Iraqi refugee crisis -- Irawi women and girls who are turning to prostitution to survive in countries that have taken them in, but prevent them or their families from working at most other jobs.  No reliable figures exist on the number of Iraqi prostitutes in Syria, Jordan or elsewhere in the Middle East.  The problem is only beginning to get attention in a region where sex outside of marriage is rarely even discussed.  But the increase in the number of Iraqi women seen in recent months in clubs and on the streets of Damascus, Amman and other cities suggest the problem is growing as thousands of Iraqis flee their homeland."  Meanwhile Lee Sustar (US Socialist Worker) observes, "As grim as the plight of Iraqi refugees has become, the displaced who remain in Iraq often fare worse.  Numbering more than 2 million, according to the International Organization for Migration, these 'internally displaced persons,' or IDPs, have either crammed in with relatives or friends, or live in camps and shantytowns on the edge of Baghdad and other cities. . . . The only major non-governmental organization providing aid to IDPs is the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), which released a report in September detailing the scale of the problem."  Sustar quotes Raed Jarrar noting, "There is a displacement crisis in Sudan, but many specialist say the number is exaggerated.  But the official number is less than half the numbers of Iraqis who have been displaced.  Unfortunately, we don't see big coalitions in the United States and Israel calling themselves Save Iraq like Save Darfur."
On the ongoing tensions between northern Iraq and Turkey, the (US) Socialist Worker offers historical perspective, "For decades, world powers have denied an independent state to the Kurdish people, whose population spans northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, eastern Syria and western Iran.  The U.S. is merely the most powerful country to cynically manipulate Kurdish national aspirations.  It supports Kurdish 'autonomy' in northern Iraq while opposing the PKK in Turkey.  The US has placed the PKK on its list of terrorist organizations, but hasn't taken concrete steps to curb its activities. Since 1991 -- when the U.S. turned on its former ally Saddam Hussein and began nearly two decades of military and economic warfare on Iraq -- leaders of the Kurdish national movement have collaborated with U.S. imperialism in Iraq.  This has meant a tense balancing act with Turkey, which has regularly threatened -- and several times carried out -- military action against PKK bases in northern Iraq.  Now Turkey is threatening an escalation of the conflict."  Staying with historical for a moment, the BBC sidebar Pam O'Toole's BBC report, Reuters' "Factbox: Who Are the PKK?" and NPR's All Things Considered on Monday (link goes to Aliza Marcus) all explain that the PKK dates back to the 70s -- not the 80s as too many 'experts' repeatedly and mistaknely toss around.  As Mark MacKinnon (Canada's Globe & Mail) reported this morning, "Debate in this country yesterday was not about whether to invade northern Iraq, but over how big and how deep such an incursion should be. Funerals held yesterday for the dozen dead soldiers turned into emotional political rallies, as tens of thousands of mourners waved the national flag and chanted for action against not only the PKK, but the Kurdistan Regional Government that administers the north of Iraq, and its President, Massoud Barzani.  Many Turks believe that Mr. Barzani, who has thick ties to the PKK dating back to his days as a guerrilla leader fighting for Kurdish independence from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has been providing support and bases to the group.  'People are calling for something to be done about Barzani also,' said Ihsan Bal, a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization. 'Every day he's on the television saying he cannot do anything against the PKK, and that the PKK is not a terrorist organization. Now people want to see him punished also'."  And Oxford Analytica via Forbes explained, "Barzani's peshmerga militia cooperated with Turkish forces seeking to destroy the PKK in the Kurdish 'safe haven' after Saddam Hussein's 1991 defeat in Kuwait.  At that time it was Jalal Talabani, now president of Iraq, who gave shelter to the PKK in the area away from the Turkish frontier controlled by his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.  The real reason Barzani will not act against the PKK today is that Turkey opposes his ambition to incorporate Kirkuk and its oilfields into the KRG area. Barzani's support thus comes at a price Turkey is not willing to pay. Turkish attempts to circumvent Barzani have been hampered by the refusal of the last Turkish president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, to invite Talabani to Ankara in his current capacity--or to deal directly with the KRG."  Which is why Talabani's long silence on the issue furthered suspicions.  His support for the PKK is not new though many outlets -- big and small -- sure have a problem telling their news consumers those basic facts.  Mark Bentley and Ali Berat Meric (Bloomberg News) reported this morning that Turkey has already begun their attack with Turkey air craft sent on bombing missions "in northern Iraq" as well as having "sent troops into Iraq to hunt down the PKK".  CNN noted the violence/assault as well and they also noted puppet of the occupation, Nouri al-Maliki, pledging to "shut down PKK offices in the north of the country".  Though BBC and CBS & AP noted this yesterday (see yesterday's snapshot), amazingly most outlets haven't said a word.  It did come up in yesterday's US State Dept briefing.
Question: Let's go back to Iraq and the Kurds for a second.  Maliki's office just said they're going to shut down all the PKK offices in Iraq.  Is this something that you guys were looking for -- asked or suggested, or otherwise welcome?
Sean McCormack: Yesh, well, I don't want to get into what specific suggestions or ideas we might have had or what might have been generated by the Iraqi side of the Turkey side.  It's a start.  But as I have said, what needs to happen is that the Iraqis, acting on their own accord and in cooperation with the Turks as well as us, need to act to prevent further terrorist attacks.  That's an immediate issue.  What needs to happen over the medium to long term is that the PKK is dismantled and eliminated as a terrorist organization operating from Iraqi soil.  Also, I thought I saw some comments from the Iraqi side making this -- indicating that they understood that that's the task before them.  So there's this -- I understand there's this commitment to shut down offices.  Okay.  But what you need to see are actual outputs from inputes that the Iraqi Government might make.  The outputs are that you need to stop terrorist attacks, there need to be prevention of terrorist attacks, and you need to get to the root cause here, and that is stop the -- stop this terrorist organization from operating on Iraqi soil.
Question: Is this something that you guys will be able to follow up on, to actually go and see if the PKK is still operating in a shop front in wherever?
Which McCormack sidestepped.  And it came up in the White House briefing today.
Question: Dana, Prime Minister Maliki said he's going to close the PKK offices in Iraq.  Prime Minister Maliki made the same promise in September of last year.  Why should Turkey trust Prime Minister Maliki on this?
Dana Perino: I did look into that, Olvier, and we can understand why the Turks would be skeptical, because that pledge was made.  It does need to be fulfilled.  We'll be talking to the Iraqis about that as well.
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a south Baghdad bombing claimed 4 lives (twenty-five wounded), a west Baghdad bombing left three people injured, a Baghdad mortar attack injured two people and a Khalis mortar attack claimed 3 lives (with twenty-five wounded). 
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Gunmen broke in a house killing a father with his two sons in Zaghanya village north of Baquba city around 6 pm."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 6 corpses discovered in Baghdad.
Today the US military announced: "One MNC-I Soldier was killed and five Soldiers were wounded today during combat operations near the city of Bayji."  And they announced: "One Coalition Forces Soldier died of wounds as a result of injuries from a mine explosion while conducting operations in Salah ad Din Oct. 24."
Turning to news of Blackwater USA.  AP reports that Richard Griffin has resigned from the US State Dept where his position is Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security ("is" -- resigns on November 1st).  The National Journal notes, "Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, effectively employs the private guards hired to protect U.S. diplomatic employees in Iraq."
Yesterday, McClatchy Newspapers reports, "Six Iraqi women who've worked in the Knight Ridder and McClatchy Baghdad bureau received the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award Tuesday."  And noting ABC News' Bob Woodruff's introduction of Shatha al Awsy, Zaineb Obeid, Huda Ahmed, Ban Adil Sarhan, Alaa Majeed and Sahar Issa, "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends, and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.  All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bulletproof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret."  The New York Times reproduces excerpts of Sahar Issa's speech  -- speaking for all six women -- in an editorial today, "To be a journalist in violence-ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken.  Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat. Every interview we conduct may be our last.  So much is happening in Iraq.  So much that is questionable.  So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know."  Iraqi correspondents contribute to McClatchy Newspapers articles via bylines, via end credits, via background, etc.  Inside Iraq is the newspaper chain's blog that is run by their Iraqi correspondents.
Turning to the environment.  In the White House press briefing yesterday, Elaine Quijano asked White House flack Dana Perino, "Back on the wildfires for a moment.  Senator Barbara Boxer, this morning in a hearing, suggested that they're limited in the amount of National Guard equipment available to them in California because of the commitments in Iraq.  Specifically she said, 'Right now we are down 50 percent in terms of our National Guard equipment because they're all in Iraq.  The equipment -- half of the equipment, so we really will need help.'  Do you have a response to that?"  No, Perino didn't.   But along with equipment, questions also exist regarding numbers.  At a Defense Department briefing yesterday, Paul McHale dismissed questions about "the Marines out at Twentynine Palms actually going to the firefighting lines" stating, "I can tell you unequivocally that the ongoing warfighting activities in CENTCOM had no negative effect at all with regard to our ability to provide sufficient forces to assist civilian authorities in fighting the wildfires.  You made reference to the Marines at Twentynine Palms.  We have 550 Marines -- basically, a Marine battalion -- prepares to fight fires if and when . . . "  Actually, a Marine battalion can go up to 1,000.  500 is the bare minimum for a battalion.  Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Peter Aylward had to be repeatedly pinned on the issue of training before finally responding "Yes, ma'am.  Okay."  Sunday on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelly did a report on the increasing fires in the western United States.  Speaking with fire fighters, Pelley stated, "You know, there are a lot of people who don't believe in climate change" to which fire fighter Tom Boatner (chief of fire operations for the federal government) replied, "You won't find them on the fire line in the American West anymore.  Cause we've had climate change beat into us over the last ten or fifteen years.  We know what we're seeing, and we're dealing with a period of climate, in terms of termperature and humidity and drought that's different than anything people have seen in our lifetimes."  This week on PBS'  NOW with David Brancaccio (Fridays most markets, check local listings), they will take a look at global warming and ask "Can Evangelicals and scientists find common ground?"  NOW journeys to Alaska to find out and record the environmental changes.  On their website they have posted an essay by Dr. Eric Chivian, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist, and Rev. Richard Cizik. And completely unrelated (but that force this paragraph in really didn't work, did it) Lisa Pease wonders "Why Is the CIA Suppressing JKF Files?" at Consortium News.

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