Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 9, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Blackwater remains in the news, IOM sounds alarms regarding migrants, the US military refuses to release a journalist, so many of Barack's buddies are in trouble, and more. 
Starting with Blackwater.  Yesterday five mercenaries for Blackwater Worldwide surrendered themselves to authorities as a result of grand jury indictments for the September 17, 2007 slaughter that resulted in at least 17 Iraqis being killed in Baghdad.   CBS and AP (link has text and video) ask Iraqis for their reactions to the news.  Mohammed Latif states, "I think it is a move in the right direction to make the security company employees realize that they are no longer above the law and they should stop behaving like cowboys on the streets of Baghdad."  Rasim Hussein offers, "This indictment is not enough because there are still dozens of criminal security company employees on the loose in Iraq."  Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) also reports on Iraqi reaction to the news and quotes Hosham Abdel Kader stating, "It's about time they pay for their crimes.  I recoil, I freeze when I see those mercenaries on the street."  US Attorney General Jeffrey Taylor declared yesterday that "we are duty-bound to hold them accountable, as no one is above the law, even when our country is engaged in war."  The Dallas Morning News uses that statement to editorialize, "Iraqis have waited far too long to hear these words from the U.S. government.  Nevertheless, Iraqi government should cautions its people not to have high expectations. Security contractors at the time of the shooting fell under no clear legal authority.  Since they were operating on foreign territory, U.S. law did not necessarily apply to them." The San Francisco Chronicle notes, "The incident became a flash point in many different ways. It proved to be a fantastic recruiting tool for insurgents. It enraged the Iraqi government, which lobbied unsuccessfully for the right to try the guards in Iraq. . . . And here in the United States, the case sparked discussion of why the war depended so much on private firms in the first place. One guard - perhaps sensing the scope of the reaction to the incident - already has pleaded guilty to killing at least one Iraqi, in exchange for a reduced sentence. The other five are facing 35 counts and at least 30 years."
Meanwhile Mike Doyle (McClatchy Newspapers) explores the primary (evolving) law that would apply and notes, "The Blackwater contract was with the State Department. The five indicted Blackwater guards were part of a Tactical Response Team called Raven 23; the killings in question occurred when Raven 23 responded to the detonation of an improvised explosive device near another Blackwater team guarding, apparently, a State Department employee. Who was this employee, and what was his or her function? Would protecting, say, an agricultural attache amount to 'supporting the mission' of the Pentagon?" Pamela Manson (Salt Lake Tribune) reports that the attorneys for the five are publicly maintaining that there is no case and that all "will be cleared."  Dan Slater (Wall St. Journal) argues a recent case holds the key to the fate of the five, "Remember Jose Luis Nazario? He was the former Marine who was charged, under the MEJA, with voluntary manslaughter for allegedly killing unarmed Iraqis. In August, a jury in Riverside, Calif., acquitted Nazario. As today's WSJ report about Blackwater notes, prosecutors in the Nazario case faced jury skepticism. After the not-guilty verdict, jurors hugged Nazario and said they didn't feel they 'had any business' judging combat conduct."  A great deal will ride on the testimony of Jeremy P. Ridgeway who copped a plea bargain.  Ginger Thompson and James Risen (New York Times) report he "described how he and the other guards used automatic rifles and grenade launchers to fire on cars, houses, a traffic officer and a girls' school." Ridgeway, Josh Meyer (Los Angeles Times) notes, was "the turret gunner in the last vehicle had a panoramic view, has provided invormation that strongly indictes the shootings were unprovoked, authroities said."  At the International Herald Tribune, Ginger Thompson explains, "Ridgeway said in the court documents unsealed Monday that the episode in Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, started when the guards opened fire on a white Kia sedan 'that posed no threat to the convoy'."
How does photo-journalist Ibrahim Jassam pose any threat?  Answer: He doesn't.  But he's imprisoned by the US military in Iraq. The December 1st snapshot noted that the the Central Criminal Court of Iraq ruled Ibrahim must be freed.   But Reuters reports this morning that the US military is refusing to release Ibrahim and stating they will continue holidng "him into 2009".

US Major Neal Fisher is quoted stating that the court order means when Ibrahim is released, "he will be able to out-process without having to go through the courts as other detainees in his threat classification will have to do." Fisher sees no conflict in that and his earlier statement to Reuters that, "Though we appreciate the decision of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in the Jassam case, their decision does not negate the intelligence information that currently lists him as a threat to Iraq security and stability." Golly Major Neil, if the US has 'evidence' and 'reason' to hold Ibrahim then surely it would be 'dangerous' to out-process him automatically at some point in 2009, right? All these oodles and oodles of info would need to be turned over to an Iraqi court, right? That is the argument for not releasing him after all: 'The Iraqi court doesn't know what we know.'

But if you make that argument (and mean it), you don't turn around and say, 'When we're done with him, we'll follow the court's order and release him quicker than other prisoners who will still need to go before a court.'  You can't have it both ways. Either the US knows information justifying Ibrahim being held or it doesn't. If it does, then surely such information would not just need to be turned over to an Iraqi court, it would also require a new trial.  The fact that Major Neal doesn't see it that way goes to how weak the US case against Ibrahim is. David Schlesing (News Editor-in-Chief at Reuters) is quoted stating, "I am disappointed he has not been released in accordance with the court order."
Turning to the issue of Iraqi women, we'll start with women in general.  Women's eNews runs a really bad article that they make even worse by attempting to put one over on their readers.  Nadira Artyk's "Muslim Feminists Confront a World of Obstacles" has a dateline of 12-9-08 and it avoids ever noting dates for the conference.  That conference took place in October. It ran from October 24 through October 27.  Click here for better coverage from the BBC.  Instead of rushing to post it, Women's eNews should have taken a moment to think, "Hmmm?  Who is ignored in this article?"  Or are they unaware that Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban was at the conference?  Seems like Nadira -- two months after the conference -- should have included something on that, right? Shaaban spoke on the conference's opening day and considering her position with regards to Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria and considering the employment (I'm referring to prostitution) that so many female refugees have to resort to, one would think there was something of a little more value than the grand standing moments of Nadira's friends.  Isabel S. Murray (Dartmouth Free Press) reported on the same conference (in October, she reported) and stated the Qur'an forbids polygamy.  A good time to note that polygamy remains an issue in Iraq.  This from MADRE:
We demand the repeal of polygamous marriages and all other discriminatory laws against women in Kurdistan.  
On October 27, 2008, legislation allowing polygamous marriages was passed in a parliamentary session in Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan. This legislation is part of a constitutional draft proposing to replace the old family status law, in use since 1958.  It was changed partially, under Saddam Hussein, to subjugate women's rights further.  
After the fall of Saddam's regime in 2003, a new constitution was written and passed in Iraq. This constitution was solely based on Islamic Sharia Law and openly stated its support for gender apartheid against women.  We clearly see that the proposed constitution for the Kurdish region is no better than the Iraqi one.  In fact, it is just a smaller version. 
The current family status law was reactionary enough -- being purely based on discrimination against women and their treatment in society as second class citizens--but now the Kurdish Regional Government wants to change it further, and not for the better.
Women in Kurdistan have been subjected to all kinds of violence and discrimination throughout their history. Under Saddam's regime, they endured all kinds of hardship, torture and abuse.  They have fared no better under the current Kurdish rule.  "Honour killings", female genital mutilation, forced marriages, bullying women to commit suicide and the denial of civil and individual rights have been the main characteristics for almost the past two decades.  
The approval of this current legislation will assist in the oppression of women and lead to a huge increase in violence against women.  This is a historical mistake. We hold the Kurdish parliament and its government responsible for the violations of women's rights in this region, due to these discriminatory laws.     
Therefore, we call upon every concerned organisation and individual to support us in this campaign to repeal this law.  We also call for unconditional equal rights, freedom and equality for women in Kurdistan to be enshrined in law.  
Yours Truly,   

 - Yanar Mohammed: President of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Iraq

 - Houzan Mahmoud: Representative of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, UK  

 - Vivian Stromberg: MADRE, USA  

 - Maria Hagberg: President of Network Against Honour Crimes, Sweden     

 - Rega Svensson: Head of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Sweden   

 - Joe Tougas: Journalist, Human Rights Activist, USA   

 - Jennifer Kemp: Women's Rights Activist, USA    

 - Maryam Namazie: Spokesperson for Equal Rights Now, Iran       

 - Joanne Payton: International Campaign against Honour Killings     

 - Thomas Unterrainer: Nottingham 

 - Sam Azad: Socialist campaigner  

 - Ingrid Ternert: Representative of the Peace Movement, Germany 
 - Ruth Appleton: Co-ordinator Santé Refugee Mental Health Access Project  

 - Anna-Lisa: Sweden 

 - Aase Fosshaug: Sweden  
But why listen to MADRE, they are concerned with human rights and the Women's eNews' story explains to us just how 'passe' human rights is.  (Human rights is passe -- and a subthread of the conference, so is feminism -- which also gets left out of the article.) MADRE sent out the above in November.  Via Afif Sarhan (IslamOnline):
From 1994 to 2005, when Kurdistan was divided, polygamy was banned in areas ruled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) but allowed in areas run by the Kurdistan Democratic Party.   
Since the two administrations united in 2005, the issue took center stage with the provincial parliament issuing laws covering the whole region.   
In July, Amanj Khalil (Isis International) noted the struggles Kurdish women have had in even being heard:
"Why are religious clerics even on the committee?" asked Chlura Hardi, head of the independent Khatuzeen women's centre in Erbil, which advocates for women's rights.  She said the committee "has no right to impose religion on the draft law.  We have been working to separate religion from the state, but now they want us to make a commitment to religion."
Meanwhile the International Organization for Migration is calling for increased protection of migrants.  To recap, we'll note the New York Times on Sunday, "In another development, McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that about 1,000 South Asian men hired by a subcontractor for the American military had been held for months in slavelike conditions near the Baghdad International Airport. The men had paid middlemen to obtain jobs in Iraq with a Kuwait-based subcontractor to KBR that provides services to the military, McClatchy said." That's the basics of the situation and, while Adam Ashton did report on this story for McClatchy, the Times of London's Deborah Haynes has owned this story.  Today she reports on the IOM's call for greater protection and speaks with IOM's Chief of the Iraq mission Rafiq Tschannen who tells her, "I am very much worried because we have been highlighting this problem for some time."  Haynes also provides more photos of the migrants.  IOM notes:
An IOM assessment last week of a group of Bangladeshi, Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan migrants camped out near roadsides close to the airport, found nearly 60 men in a desperate situation. Some of the migrants had no shelter at all, covering themselves with whatever they could find lying around. Others were living in tents or containers but all were without running water or electricity. Food was being provided on an ad hoc basis by the US military and Iraqis living nearby.         
"We are very worried about these men who need humanitarian help. Winter is fast approaching and they cannot be left to stay out in the open like this without proper facilities," says IOM's Chief of Mission for Iraq, Rafiq Tschannen.     
All the migrants had borrowed money or sold off land, businesses or homes to pay up to USD 3,000 to middlemen to work in Iraq that would pay much greater salaries then they could ever hope to earn at home.      
Upon arrival, however, there were no jobs and for some of them, their passports were also taken away by the recruiters. Although some in the group have found other work by themselves, mainly as cleaners or doing other service labour, most of the men have now been in Iraq for four months without a job or income. 
There is a possibility that there may be more migrants in a similar plight at this site alone that IOM is unaware of, while a reported 1,000 migrants from various nationalities, predominantly South Asian and contracted by a catering company, are being kept in three warehouses in a secured area around the airport without their passports. 
During the assessment at the roadside camp last week, some of the migrants begged IOM to help them return home while others felt that they couldn't go back until they could pay off the debts they had incurred to get to Iraq. Their lack of papers puts them in a very difficult and vulnerable situation.     
Some Nepalese migrants have managed to go home either through assistance from family back home or by borrowing money from fellow Nepalese migrants with jobs in Iraq, thereby increasing their debts.   
IOM will soon be providing voluntary return and reintegration assistance to eight Nepalese migrants.  However, the Organization is urgently seeking funds to help another 11 migrants and potentially hundreds more.
Violence continues and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) offers one person was wounded in a Baghdad mortar attack yesterday and one during a "controlled detonation" bombing in Baghdad.  Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing left one woman wounded and a Mosul grenade attack injured a police officer.
Turning to US politics, the Illinois Green Party issues a statement on the arrest of Barack-pal and Governor Rod Blagojevich:
We in the Illinois Green Party are deeply troubled by the arrest of
Governor Rod Blagojevich and his chief-of-staff John Harris.  The
Governor is charged with attempting to personally profit from his
power to appoint a person to the U.S. Senate.  While we recognize that
the accused are innocent until proven guilty, we must also admit that
we are not surprised by these allegations.  We have seen a long
pattern of pay-to-play from Blagojevich, and indeed, a long pattern of
pay-to-play throughout Illinois politics for years.  The long sordid
history of corruption in Illinois must finally come to an end.
The Green Party has always stood for accountability, transparency, and
clean government through clean elections.  We reject all corporate
campaign contributions, advocate for public financing, and have long
pushed for at least caps on individual contributions, so that our
elections will no longer be pay-to-play. 
We call on the Illinois General Assembly to hold an emergency session to:
1) Develop legislation to give the people of Illinois the ability to
recall their public officials; 
2) Consider the impeachment of Governor Blagojevich;
3) Amend Illinois statute to provide for an open process for filling
this and future U.S. Senate seats, preferably through a special
election, as the process for filling the current vacancy has been
irrevocably tainted; 
4) Reform the campaign finance system, banning all corporate campaign
contributions, and installing caps on individual contributions;
5) Further reform the campaign finance system to eliminate
pay-for-play, by barring or severely limiting contributions from
political appointees, and mandating that political committees return
donations made from individuals subsequently appointed to public
office, boards, or commissions. 
These are the first steps which need to be taken to help instill
integrity, transparency, and accountability to our state government.
Phil Huckelberry 
Chair, Illinois Green Party 
Another Barack friend is in the news.  Homphobic Jeremiah Wright is back and he's making it harder for the pathetics who defended his crap earlier this year to muster a defense for him.  Andrew Herrmann (Chicago Sun-Times) reports Wright delivered a 'sermon' at Trinity where he called Elizabeth Hasselbeck a "dumb broad".  Wags are already dubbing Wright's latest crap The Sermon From The Chip On His Shouler.  The 'great intellect' of Wright that had Bill Moyers raving was on full display in Sunday's rant -- Joseph (Cannonfire) notes that Wright called out the US for bombing the Japanese "67 years to the day" Sunday -- and points out Sunday was December 7th.  (Pearl Harbor, Idiot Wright, when the Japanese bombed the US.)
Staying in World of St. Bambi, the man who assembles Barack's pretty words is making news.  (PUMAPac and The Confluence are covering this story extensively.)  Jon Favreau -- the punk, not the actor-writer-director -- posed for a photo with a Hillary carboard cut-out where he leered and grabbed the breast area while Jon's friend or male lover pretended to kiss Hillary and pour beer down her throat.  It's an offensive image and one they elected to make public via FACEBOOK.  Equally true is the photo wasn't just snapped (nor is this the only one of the two friends or lovers from the 'photo shoot'). Your first clue that a lot went on during this photo is the amused faces of those behind the two friends/lovers who are highly amused for people who can't even see what's going on.  Riverdaughter lists reasons why Jon Favreau needs to go now:
  1. Because Favreau is now the face of the Obama administration.  Everytime Obama opens his mouth, we will see Favreau and his frat boy drinking buddies acting like young macho thugs.  He is writing the words for the President of the United States.  Obama's credibility is already compromised with us.  Every time Obama pulls out the hopey-changey shtick from now on, we're going to know that it came from the mouth of Jon Favreau.  
  2. Because it means that Obama has no real understanding of the kind of discrimination and behavior that women are subjected to in public, at work or in the family. 
  3. Because Hillary Clinton is not the only one disrespected by it.  Jon might as well be groping all of our breasts.      
  4. Because the longer it sits out there, the more it looks like Obama is insensitive to the disrespect shown towards women.  We already know this but we think it is time for Obama to get with the program and shows us that he gets it and will not tolerate male adolescent fantasies of degrading powerful women.          
  5. Because dismissing groups like The New Agenda as a bunch of female whiners sends a strong message that women's priorities are inconsequential to Obama.         
  6. Because Obama stole the primary with hooligan idiots like Favreau and we want these idiots punished.