Sunday, December 21, 2008

And the war drags on . . .

In peaceful times, the cool mountain air and breathtaking views afforded by the ancient monastery of Mar Matti provided a congenial day trip for the local people. Clinging to the upper slopes of a steep escarpment, its ancient stone walls echoed to the hushed tones of Aramaic hymns and the Orthodox mass.
But the tranquil life of Mar Matti's black-robed monks has been shattered by the arrival of hundreds of Christians fleeing a campaign of persecution in Mosul, just 20 miles away.
Their homes raided, their priests attacked and their relatives murdered, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have become the latest victims of violence in the city, once the most cosmopolitan in Iraq.
"First they came against the Kurds, then against the Yazidis and now they have come for the Christians," said Jalal Mansour, 43, a former marble worker who fled to Mar Matti with his family after they were threatened by gunmen. "My uncle, an old man, was killed just because of his faith."

So opens Angus McDowall's "Iraqi Christians flee gunmen for sanctuary of monastery" (Telegraph of London) which Polly highlighted. Last week (see Friday's snapshot), the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report (their first since May 2007) entitled "Iraq Report - 2008." It noted the dangers for various religious minorites throughout Iraq and that included Mosul where over 13,000 Christians fled this fall as a result of murders, attacks and threats: "Those who met with displaced Christians were told that Christians had received threatening text messages and had been approached by strangers asking to see their national indentity cards, which show religious affiliation." On that region, the report explains:

Nineveh governorate, however, especially in and around Mosul, remains one of the most dangerous and unstable parts of Iraq. Insurgent and extremist activity continues to be a significant problem there, and control of the ethnically and religiously mixed area is disputed between the KRG and the central Iraqi government. While violence overall in Iraq decreased in 2007 and 2008, the Mosul area remains what U.S. and Iraqi officials call the insurgents' and extremists' last urban stronghold, with continuing high levels of violence.D Increased security operations by U.S. and Iraqi forces have led to some decrease in the violence in and around Mosul, but the area remains very dangerous, as evidenced by the October attacks on Christian residents, which killed at least 14 Christians and spurred the flight of 13,000 from Mosul to surrounding areas. According to the September 2008 U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress, "[d]uring the past few years, Mosul has been a strategic stronghold for [al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)], which also needs Mosul for its facilitation of foreign fighters. The current sustained security posture, however, continues to keep AQI off balance and unable to effectively receive support from internal or external sources, though AQI remains lethal and dangerous."D According to the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, from April 1 to July 1, 2008, there were 1,041 reported attacks in Nineveh governorate and from July 1 to September 30, 2008, there were 924 attacks, still a significant number.

This situation has been exacerbated by Arab-Kurdish tensions over control of Mosul and other disputed areas in Nineveh governorate. The dispute stems from Kurdish claims and efforts to annex territories-including parts of the governorates of Kirkuk (Tamim), Nineveh, Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Waset-into the KRG, on the basis of the belief that these areas historically belong to Kurdistan. During the Saddam Hussein era, Kurds and other non-Arabs were expelled from these areas under his policy of "Arabization." Since 2003, Kurdish peshmerga and political parties have moved into these territories, effectively establishing de facto control over many of the contested areas. Key to integrating the contested areas into Kurdistan is Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which calls for a census and referendum in the territories to determine their control. In this context, military or financial efforts undertaken by either Kurdish officials or Arab officials (whether in Baghdad or local) is seen by the other group as an effort to expand control over the disputed areas, leading to political disputes and deadlock.

On Friday, Judy West (Religious Intelligence) reported:

A prominent British MP, Tory Catholic MP, Edward Leigh, has called on the British Government to urgently support the establishment of a self-governing province in northern Iraq for the Assyrian Chaldean Christians and other communities living in the Nineveh Plain to jointly administer.
He stressed that this province is a key part of enhancing the security of Iraq's decimated Christian community. Such calls for a self-governing province have been spearheaded by Iraq's leading Christian political party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), who have consistently polled over 80 per cent of the votes from Iraq's Christian voters, making the ADM the democratically elected Christian political leaders of Iraq's Christians.

Meanwhile Jill Dougherty (CNN) reports on Christmas celeberation in Baghdad -- under armed guard -- that was heavily attended by Muslims. (Why was it heavily attended by Muslims? The rumor is those attending were tossed a few nickles to attend.)

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 Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4209 and tonight? 4211. Yesterday the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Coalition force Soldier died of non-combat related causes Dec. 20." And today they announced: "BAHARIA, Iraq -- A Multi-National Force -- West Marine died as the result of a non-combat related incident Dec. 20. " Just Foreign Policy's counter estimates the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war to be 1,297,997 the same as last week.

In some of the reported violence . . .


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul car bombing that claimed the life of 1 member of the Iraqi military and left four more injured. AFP states it was a "suicide bomber" and that he "approached the officer with a big smile and gave him a hug as if he was a friend, then blew himself up, police officer Hamid al-Juburi said." Reuters notes a Mosul bombing on Saturday also claimed the lives of 2 members of the Iraqi military.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports "an attorney general for the court of Hindiyah in Babil province," Hashim Rashid, was shot dead in Babil. Reuters notes a police officer was shot dead in Mosul on Saturday and that yesterday and today the US military killed 1 'suspect' in Baghdad and rounded up 25 more.

Normally we note a paper in this entry. I'm damn sick of the Caroline Kennedy Times. I find it beyond tacky and surpassing trashy that the boyfriend of a married woman uses his personal paper to promote her as a candidate for the Senate. For those who have forgotten the last 'special friend' of Arthur's who got repeated perks was Judith Miller and we all know how that worked out. There's an Iraq article we may or may not highlight in tomorrow's snapshot (not the one highlighted at Third today) but the whole thing stinks and I'm just not in the mood for that garbage. Along with tacky, the non-stop push for her by Arthur should remind many of how, in Citizen Kane, the mogul buys an opera house for the grossly untalented Susan.

New content at Third:

Truest statement of the week
A note to our readers
Editorial: The Pathetic and Shameful UPFJ
TV: Twins Anne Slowey and Gwen Ifill
The Ultimate Tina Turner Collection
An indictment of the 'New' Iraq goes unnoticed
DVD release of The Women (Ava and C.I.)
Hmmm . . .
The Princess Brat Chronicles
Carolyn Maloney works her ass off for New Yorkers
Andrew Cuomo works his ass off for New Yorkers

Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Pru notes Simon Assaf's "Afghan occupation is 'corrupt from top to bottom'" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

Kim Howells, the former foreign office minster responsible for Afghanistan, has described the occupation of the country as corrupt “from top to bottom”.
He said, “There are few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving government ministers has been challenged in any effective way by President Hamid Karzai.
“On the contrary, those individuals appear to be thriving, not least because Karzai has convinced himself that he cannot afford to sack or challenge the strongmen who, through corruption, brutality, power of arms or tribal status are capable of controlling their territories and fiefdoms.”
He warned that the British government’s recent pronouncements on the war were “daft”. “People will not accept the notion that British families should send their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to risk their lives fighting religious fanatics, tribal nationalists, corrupt warlords and heroin traffickers in one of the most godforsaken terrains on the face of the earth.
“The notion is daft, however much we may try to rationalise it by arguing that it is better to fight Al Qaida over there than over here.”
This recent change of heart by one of New Labour’s chief supporters of the occupation reflects growing unease over the Afghan war.
This week four British troops were killed in one day. Three Canadian soldiers suffered the same fate the next day, bringing to 280 the number of foreign troops killed this year.
Now the US is planning to push in 5,000 extra troops to help British soldiers drive back insurgents in the south.
This “mini-surge” comes as the US and its Nato allies are desperately attempting to open peace talks with sections of the Afghan resistance.
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