Wednesday, December 3, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, press freedom becomes a bigger joke in Iraq, as does the judicial system when a judge is caught bragging about just how biased he is, KBR imprisons workers, and more.
Picking up from yesterday's snapshot, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released their thirteenth "Human Rights Report" with this one covering January 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008 [PDF format warning, click here]. One of their recommendations for the Iraqi government was: "Issue on a regular basis mortality data compiled by the Ministry of Health, based on informaction received from all governorates and statistics kept at the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, together with details of the methodology used to calculate the figures." Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) notes, "Until April 2007, the reports also included mortality rates based on number provided by government ministries, hospitals and medical officials. But after the January 2007 U.N. report came out and estimated that 34,452 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence in 2006, the Iraqi government refused to give out the numbers anymore. It had put the 2006 death toll at 12,357. As The Times wrote at the time, the official and unofficial reasons given by the government for withholding numbers varied. Publicly, Iraq's government said it did not have the organizational capabilities to ensure accurate counting of war victims. But privately, U.N. officials at the time said the Iraqis were worried that the large numbers would tarnish the country's image, so they decided to withhold information." China's Xinhau zooms in on this quote from the report: "The targeted killings of journalists, educators, medical doctors, judges and lawyers has continued, as did criminal abductions for ransom." The Press Trust of India quotes this statement from the report, "Grave human rights violations that are less widely reported [than general security], and the elimination of which requires long-term political commitment, remain unaddressed." UPI explains, "In addition to recommendations for the Iraqi government, the report recommended the multinational security forces investigate promptly and impartially credible allegations of unlawful killings by military personnel, and take appropriate action against those found to have exercised indiscriminate or excessive force. It also called on the international forces to consider implementing basic due process guarantees to improve prisoners' access to counsel and grant human rights monitors access to detention facilities."
Picking up with the remainder of the thirty page report (we noted the first sixteen pages yesterday), the report notes that there are more than 2.8 million internally displaced people in the country and that approximately an eighth of them "were living in public buildings and under the threat of eviction." But the number of the internally displaced may be decreasing and, if so, one reason may be that it is "increasingly difficult to move within Iraq as well as to neighbouring countries given the more retrictive entry policies". It notes that the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iraq remain under US military protection in Camp ashraf (Diyala Province) and that the camp has been attacked plus "the Government of Iraq issued a statement declaring the PMOI a terrorist organization calling for their expulsion" (June 17, 2008) despite the United Nations position that the PMOI should be "protected from focible deporation, expulsion or repatriation".
The report notes the total number of prisoners in Iraq is 50,595 ("detainees, security internees and sentenced prisoners"), that February's General Amnesty Law has still not gone into effect, that the number detained by Iraq's central government (exclude Kuridsh section of Iraq) was higher than it was in the last six months of 2007 and that reports of prisoner abuse continue to come in. The report then moves to prisoners held by the US military and notes that the US insists due process does not apply and that the United Nations believes Geneva provides for all prisoners to have the right to know why they were arrested, "to be brough promptly before a judge if held on a criminal charge, and to challenge the lawfulness of their detention." [As noted elsewhere in the report -- and in yesterday's snapshot -- the UN is also still attempting to get monitors into US prisons in Iraq.] With regards to the Kudistan region, the KRG continues to hold a number of people on "vague accusations" for great lengths of time, those suspected of "terror-related incidents" are tortured ("violent treatment amounting to torture during investigations"). Four people were sentenced to death from the start of the year through March in the Kurdistan region and 34 people "are on deathrow in Erbil Central Prison as of June 2008" and the UN is calling for a stay of executions due to "the impossibly of avoiding execution of the innocent and absence of proof of deterrence effect of the penalty". The report ends listing various ways in which UNAMI provides support in Iraq.
We skipped pages 17 through 19 at the top to deal with them here. That section beings by noting religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq as well as others in vulenerable groups. In the first six months of the year, there have been "17 reports of attacks and kidnappings against Chaldo-Assyrians (Christians) throughout Iraq" with the bulk in Mosul. Shabaks had nine reported attacks and the bulk of them were also in Mosul. Five Yezidis were killed in the first six months of this year. Over 80% of the Mandean community have fled the country (10,000 to Syria, 3,000 to Jordan and the rest to Yemen and Egypt). [5,000 have moved into the Kurdistan region for shelter.]
Now we're emphasizing the sections on journalists and freedom of expression. UNAMI's report notes: "Journalists and media workers remain one of the most vulnerable professional groups throughout Iraq being subjected to threats, targeted violence, kidnappings and assassination." The report then moves to the Kurdistan region:
UNAMI continued to receive reports of intimidation and/or arrests of media professionals in the Kurdistan region, in particular those who had reported on issues of public interest. Officials have also filed several criminal defamation complaints against journalists. During the same period of time, KRG human rights authorities have declared to work at imprvoing the situation of journalists.
A few journalists UNAMI was in contact with alleged tha ton 31 January and 1 February 2008, they were arrested, harassed and ill-treated by KRG police. They also reported that their photographs and notes were confiscated whilst attempting to cover the impact of Turkey's military operations on civilians and civilian properties along the border. Photographs provided to UNAMI showed a journalist being surrounded and dragged by security forces. Local journalist associations have condemned the conduct of the KRG authorities while other journalists were also prevented from covering the military operations.
On 4 February, the Editor-in-chief of an independent newspaper, was summoned to court in Sulaimaniya to respond to a complaint filed against him by President Jalal Talabani for publishing an article on the President's personal assets. He was released on bail and his case postponed indefinitely. On 10 February, Umar Ahmed Mahmood, journalist from Hawlati newspaper, was summoned to Kalar Court, Sulaimaniya, where the Head of the KDP Office in Kalar district filed a complaint based on an article Mahmood had written about conflicting loyalties of KDP politicians. The journalist was subsequently detained for three days and released on bail. On 16 February, a journalist and blogger was arrested by Kurdish Peshmargas in Talkif District, Nineveh, and was interrogated for four days at an Asayish facility in Dohuk. He was forced to sign a ltter whereby he agreed not to "defame" KRG leaders and Christian clergymen before being released. On 16 March, a Dohuk court issued an arrest warrant against Muhamad Salih Haji, Editor-in-chief of Rasan Newspaper (licensed to the Kurdistna Islamic Union (KIU) and another KIU member, for publishing an article charging the court's decision to arrest a number of KIU members for alleged involvement in terror activities last year as politically motivated. Both were subsequently released on bail.
On 9 February, staff members of Kurdistan TV received death threats and had their equipment damaged when they tried to film an attack on a traffic policeman by a group of armed men in Erbil. The Kurdistan Journalists' Syndicate has condemned the attack and requested the Minister of Interior to investigate. On 2 March, Nabaz Goran, a journalist received a death threat in a letter sent by Halo Ibrahim Ahmad, a relative of a high-ranking Iraqi official. It was reported that although Halo Ibrahim had apologized, he subsequently reiterated his threat on Kurdistan post web-site. On 17 March, UNAMI wrote to KRG authorities requesting justifications for the arrests and complaints filed against these journnalists and urged the KRG to investigate the death threat against Nabaz Goran. Srood Mukarram Fatih, a journalist arrested a year ago by the Asayish in Erbil has yet to be charged noting that he was accused of being involved in terror activities.
The lengthy excerpt is included because the close of last month saw another journalist targeted in the Kurdistan region. Adel Hussein is the journalist and he's been convicted to six months of prison for the 'crime' of "writing an article about homosexuality". Reporters Without Border notes: "Sexual practices are part of the individual freedoms that a democratic states is supposed to promote and protect. Furthermore, Hussein did not defend homosexuality. He limited himself to describing a form of behavior from a scientific viewpoint. . . . We are astonished to learn that a press case has been tried under the criminal code. What was the point of adoptiong -- and then liberalising -- a press code in Kurdistan region if people who contribute to the news media are still be tried under more repressive laws?" The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for the immediate release of Adel -- "a doctor and a freelance journalist with the independent weekly Hawlati". CPJ's Robert Mahoney (Dept Director) states, "A judge of all people should know that ignorance of the law is no excuse. This is the second time in a month that a court in Iraqi Kurdistan has sent a journalist to prison in violation of the new press law. We call on the authorities to ensure that the new legislation is widely promulgated and enforced, and we urge the appeal court to overturn this conviction and free Adel Hussein immediately." The other reporter referred to was Shwan Dawdi whose conviction was overturned by the court of appeal. Yahya Barzanji (AP) quotes the Kurdistan Journalist Union's Zirak Kamal stating, "We will appeal this unjust verdict and we hope that Kurdistan officials intervene and solve the problem." BBC explains the Kurdish government is attempting to say that Adel "violated a public decenty law" by reporting.
While this affront to journalism and free speech is taking place, the Kurdistan Regional Government wants the international community to be outraged by actions Nouri al-Maliki is taking. Yesterday the KRG released a lengthy litany of Nouri al-Maliki's actions which they felt violated the Iraqi Constitution. AP's Hamza Hendawi reports today that Jalal Talabani (Iraq's president and a Kurd) has decided to ask the federal court to step in and prevent "al-Maliki from establishing tribal councils" in the KRG region and quotes Talabani declaring, "Nouri al-Maliki is my friend and enjoys the confidence of parliament. He is not budging and remains adamant that creating these councils is legal. We will go to the federal court to see whether this is indeed the case." The KRG fears that thugs will be brought in (as happened with the "Awakening" Councils) while the puppet government in Baghdad feels the Kurdish government has gotten highly expansionist. The attacks on Christians in Mosul and surrounding areas beginning in July also forced al-Maliki to do something to ensure safety of minority populations.
Now it's a little hard for Talabani and others to play this as they are standing up for the rule of law when they continue to target journalists and show no respect for a free press. The KRG might want to check the Iraqi Constitution they're so fond of citing these days -- it includes provisions for a free press.
The judicial system throughout Iraq is wanting and Alissa J. Rubin and Katherine Zoepf (New York Times) provide a peak at alleged impartial and unbiased judges today:
Judge Khalifa said Mr. Majid was guilty of crimes against humanity. Mr. Majid remained calm, but Mr. Ani shouted: "I welcome death if it is for Iraq, for pan-Arabism and for the Baath. Down with the American and Persian occupation!"
The judge responded, "Shut up."
In later remarks to fellow judges, Judge Khalifa was overheard saying: "All the Baathists are this way. Baathists live as Baathists and die as Baathists."
Meanwhile, Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "About 1,000 Asian men who were hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to the U.S. military have been confined for as long as three months in windowless warehouses near the Baghdad airport without money or a place to work." The contractor is KBR and Noah Shachtman (Wired) reminds that workers from India lodged a complaint against KBR in 2004 stating they had been deceived by them while 2007 found a KBR subcontractor explaining to the US Congress how Filipinos were "kidnapped to work on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad." And today the imprisoned made their displeasure known. Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reports, "Iraqi guards opened fire above the heads of 1,000 migrant workers who staged a mini-riot today in protest at their poor treatment in Baghdad and the prospect of being sent home without pay. The men, from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, will be flown to Dubai after the Kuwaiti company that hired them failed to secure enough contract work at dining facilities inside a number of US military bases across Iraq. Their passports have also been taken." Haynes goes on to reveal that the workers have been held since arriving -- this after paying $3,000 (US equivalent) for jobs that did not exist. Haynes also visited the compound and filed a report on it:
He had dreams of coming to Iraq, making his fortune and migrating to Australia. Instead Manoj Kodithuwakku, 28, a Sri Lankan, is stranded in an overcrowded hangar near a US military base with no money, no job and no way out.
Poorly dressed and desperate, he and hundreds of other men from developing countries who came looking for work are living in pitiful conditions. Yesterday The Times entered one of three pale blue hangars that house foreign workers near Baghdad airport. They are full of men who paid a small fortune to come here and have ended up forgotten and trapped.
While workers are trapped, countries continue leaving the so-called 'coalition' of the willing. Today Azerbaijani follows South Koera in ending their mission and Michael Christie (Reuters) notes, "Barely a day goes by without an end-of-mission ceremony in a dusty military camp somewhere in Iraq, with U.S., allied and Iraqi officials delivering grateful speeches to departing troops, and pinning medals on chests as military bands play." Joe Sterling (CNN) adds, "So far this year, Poland, Armenia, Mongolia, Georgia, Latvia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and South Korea have departed or begun departing Iraq. Over the next couple of weeks, Azerbaijan, Tonga, the Czech Republic, Japan, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Denmark, Moldova and Albania will be leaving, a total of more than 600 troops."
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left five more people wounded and a Baghdad mortar attack left five people wounded.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 tribal leader was shot dead in Diyala Province today.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.
Meanwhile Andrew Cockburn (CounterPunch) speaks with Winslow Wheeler (who was editor of America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress) regarding president-elect Barack Obama and Wheeler explains:
He campaigned on "Change We Can Believe in" and his transition almost immediately switched to "Continuity We Can Believe In." The people so far selected, especially Robert Gates, have a track record, and that track record is basically to keep things the way they are. Gates will do what he's told on issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. He's already made it clear that as far as managing the Pentagon is concerned he thinks he's been doing a competent job. But during his tenure things have only gotten worse. The budget's going up faster than ever before in recent history; the size of our forces is going south; the equipment continues to get older. We have a new report from the Congressional Budget Office that tracks the size of our weapons inventory and its age. This study shows that if everything goes perfectly according to Gates' plans as revealed in his Pentagon budget, our forces will continue to shrink and the equipment will continue to get older.
The one exception is Obama's plan to expand the number of combat units in the army and marine corps. That is turning out to be a question of much larger cost than people suspected. It's going to cost us somewhere in excess of a hundred billion dollars. It's very unclear therefore if that expansion is actually going to occur and the historic trend suggests that even if it does occur it will reverse itself in a few years and the additional units will be phased out. Also, if you look at previous wars such as Korea and the Indochina wars, the expansions that
occurred during those conflict were gigantic compared to the puny little 60,000
man increase that Robert Gates and Barack Obama say they want to endorse.
In other news, Music pioneer Odetta died yesterday. Her influence was wide reaching and among the many who cited her as an influence over the years were Carly Simon (Odetta's voice was the one that allowed Carly to hear herself as a singer), Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, Carolyn Hester, Janis Ian, Phoebe Snow, Holly Near, Janis Joplin and Judy Collins. The Washington Post headlines their obituary "Odetta, 77; Sang the Soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement" (Martin Weil and Adam Bernstein, wrote the obit).
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