Wednesday, December 17, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, Gordon Brown captures headlines, justice in Iraq remains a joke, the State Dept appears to publicly being doing everything they can to ensure the creation of a martyr, and more.
Muntathar al Zaidi is the journalist who threw his shoes at the Bully Boy of the United States on Sunday and has been imprisoned since. Jenan Hussein and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report on today's actions in support of Muntathar which included, "Students raised their shoes and threw rocks at American soldiers, who reportedly opened fire above the crowd. Protesters said that indirect fire wounded one student, Zaid Salih. U.S. forces haven't confirmed the account." Demonstrations have been taking place throughout Iraq since Monday demanding the release of the journalist and they continued today when, AP reported this morning, Muntadar was expected to see his case taken to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq today where it would be determined whether or not futher judicial review is needed, with some calling for him to be charged "with insulting a foreign leader, a charge that carries a maximum of 2 years imprisonment or a small fine."
Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed (New York Times) explained that "Iraqi criminal lawyers not involved in the case say there are several possible charges he could face, including initiating an aggressive act against the head of a foreign state on an official visit, with a potential punishment of seven years in prison. A less severe charge, insulting the leader of a foreign nation, carries a sentence of up to two years in prison or a fine of 200 Iraqi dinars, about 17 cents. A third possible crime, simple aggression, is punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine." Catherine Philp (Times of London) reports on a new development, "The brother of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who secured his place in infamy with his outburst at the President's press conference in Baghdad, claimed that the Shia journalist had been so badly beaten in custody that police were unable to produce him in court.
Mr al-Zeidi's family were told that a court hearing had been held in his jail cell instead and that they would not be allowed to see him for at least another eight days." Dargham al-Zeidi is quoted stating, "That means my brother was severely beaten and they fear that his appearance could trigger anger at the court." BBC quotes Muntadhar's brother Uday al-Zeidi stating, "We waited until 10 in the morning but Muntadar did not show up. Upon inquiring as to his whereabouts, we were told that the interrogating judge had gone to see him, something that contradicts the measures followed in all international laws in general."
While Dana Perino, speaking for the White House Tuesday, has made clear the White House's position ("So we hold no hard feelings about it, and we've really moved on"), the US State Dept continues to appear caught off guard. Monday spokesperson Robert Wood declared, "I mean, look at how President Bush was received overall by Prime Minister Maliki and others in the Iraqi government. I think it says a lot." Today, Wood continued to spin when asked if the US was taking a position on the case, "That's -- look -- this all happened in the context of Iraq's democracy and that will be a decision for the Iraqis as to whether or not this person is charged. . . . But look, Iraq's a democracy, these type of things happen in a democracy and that's all I can say about it." Challenged that he was avoiding the issue, Wood responded, "I'm not ducking anything. It's an Iraqi matter so it should be left to the Iraqis to deal with." Wood is ducking everything including skirting the issue of anyone facing the Iraqi judicial system. On Monday Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Representative to Iraq was sounding alarms regarding the Iraqi judicial system. Kim Gamel (AP) reported, "Concern is currently focused on the beleaguered Iraqi judicial system, with the United Nations warning in a recent human rights report about overcrowding and 'grave human rights violations' of detainees in Iraqi custody." Also this week Human Rights Watch issued a report on Iraq's Central Crimal Court - the court Muntadar went before today. Reuters noted of the report, "They also received ineffectual legal counsel and judges frequently relied on testimony from secret informants or confessions likely to have been extracted under torture or duress, the New York-based group said in a report. Impartial administration of justice for all Iraqis was supposed to be a hallmark of the country's break with the abuses of the Saddam Hussein era and help heal sectarian divides after years of horrific violence, it said."
The Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond noted the growing cry to relase Muntadar including "A Sunni lawmaker, Noureldeen Hiyali, held a news conference to defend Zaidi, saying the reporter had cracked after more than five years of war as seen through the close-up angle of a reporter." Jenan Hussein and Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) offer, "Zaidi's employer, the Baghdadiya satellite channel, hasn't criticized its reporter. To the contrary, it's resisted a call for an apology to the government and called for Zaidi's unconditional release." CBS and AP note international actions today included: "In Pakistan, demonstrators held a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. Consulate in Lahore on Wednesday, carrying photographs of al-Zeidi and hand-painted signs saying things like 'Hush, Hush Bush. We Hate You.' And on a road in Karachi, a man painted "10" inside a large outline of a foot, with an arrow pointing to 'BUSH' --- a reference to Bush's joke about the shoe's size. At a small rally outside the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, the head of a civil servant union displayed a pair of shoes he said he intends to send to al-Zeidi as a show of support." In Iraq, Catherine Philp (Times of London) explains, "Anger at Mr al-Zeidi's treatment erupted none the less, hijacking a legislative session in Parliament, provoking stand-up rows and prompting the resignation of the assembly's notoriously hot-tempered Speaker." She then quotes Mahmoud al-Mashhadani stating, "I have no honour leading this parliament and I announce my resignation." Al Jazeera observes that Muntadhar was one of several issues causing the uproar: "Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Iraq's parliament speaker, has threatened to resign following house arguments concerning the presence of foreign troops and the imprisonment of a local journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush."
Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) offers this evaluation, "Still, al-Zaidi may have done Bush a favor. In an ABC News interview the next day, the President conceded for the first time that al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, adding, "So what?" In another news cycle, this admission would have dominated the headlines: that after the debunking of Bush's original excuse for war--Saddam's weapons of mass destruction--his argument that Iraq was a crucial nexus in the global war on terrorism also held no water. Thanks to al-Zaidi, nobody heard the other shoe drop." And while that puts the Bully Boy into perspective, Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) explains that the folk hero journalist may be sparking a movement as the non-stop closing of a bridge in Baghdad is not merely tolerated today:
Around 12:30 p.m. several vehicles loaded with Iraqi soldiers accompanying two or three buses stopped in mid square and tried to close it (like every day) but drivers refused to obey. We are tired of closed roads.
The horns of tens of cars were loud. Angry drivers yelled at soldiers. Not even when the soldiers brandished their rifles at the cars would the drivers stop. There were shots in the air, but the vehicles continued on. The military saw, for the first time I think, mass anger for blocking roads.
I have been in this square almost every day for the last four years, on the way to one official function or another, and nothing like this has ever happened. This time, the soldiers were forced to park their vehicles in a way that allowed civilian cars to pass.
Which brings us back to Robert Wood and his remarks on behalf of the State Dept. The US State Dept has repeatedly demonstrated it grasps very little. That is how Moqtada al-Sadr found renewed status in February of this year. If the State Dept wants to risk the transformation of a folk hero into a martyr, then they should continue to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.
In other news, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in Baghdad today and he and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki issued the following joint-statement: "The role played by the UK combat forces is drawing to a close. These forces will have completed their tasks in the first half of 2009 and will then leave Iraq." Brown expects the British 'military operations' to conclude in May and for British troops to 'leave' in July. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) explains, "When Brown became prime minister in 2007, he made it clear that he planned to greatly reduce the number of British troops in Iraq. His initial plan, to bring the number down to about 2,500 by the end of last year and to withdraw completely by the end of 2008, stalled after an Iraqi army offensive prompted major clashes with Shiite Muslim militias last spring in the southern city of Basra, where the British contingent is based." Mark Deen and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) remind, "The U.K. and the U.S. stood alone in the invasion against the objections of France, China and Russia, damaging the popularity of government on both sides of the Atlantic and leading to the resignation of Blair in 2007." The illegal war drove Tony Blair out of office and ushered in Gordon Brown with the hopes that he would heed British public opinion and end the country's involvement in the Iraq War. That still has not happened and today's announcement does not promise to pull all British troops from Iraq.
It's being callead a "withdrawal" but, "withdrawal" was when the British forces fled their base in Maysan Province with less than 24 hours notice back in August of 2007. All the British forces fled. That's a withdrawal. What's being touted currently is a conditional drawdown. If the conditions Gordon Brown outlines -- similar to the ones he outlined September 14, 2007 and, on his first visit to Iraq as Prime Minister, October 7, 2007 -- hold, then the UK will reduce their troops to approximately 300 troops which will be called "military advisers."
In light of what's being (falsely billed) as "withdrawal" today, it's worth quoting Gordon Brown's words in Baghdad on October 7, 2007:
So what we propose to do over these next few months is to move from a situation where we had a combat role to one where we have an overwatch role; where the Iraqis increasingly take over, with the 30,000 that they have, responsibility for their own security; and with us, as the British, having an overwatch so that we maintain a facility for re-intervention if necessary, but at the same time we play a greater role in training future security forces in Iraq.
Even today, he's not promising fully withdrawing and his remarks are 'conditions based.' Deborah Haynes (Times of London) marvels, "It's hard to see how the job is done in Basra when thousands of American soldiers are being rotated into the province as British troops prepare to leave. They will be training the police, mentoring the border guards and may even be required to embed with the Iraqi army, the flagship product of six years of British efforts in southern Iraq."
Corey Flintoff (NPR) notes the following nations will be departing from Iraq by December 31, 2008: the Ukraine, Czech Republic, Bularia, Denmark, Albania, Lithuania and Moldova. Actually one of those countries has withdrawn as of today. For those who are confused, SOFIA News Agency explains today that Bulgaria last unit of troops that were stationed in Iraq arrived "at the SOFIA International Airport Wednesday afternoon." That would be a withdrawal. A withdrawal is like a pregnancy in that there's no such things as "a little bit withdrawal." It either is or isn't. The Bulgarian News Network opens their coverage with: "Every last Bulgarian soldier is now withdrawn from Iraq as the plane with the last contingent touched down on Sofia Airport Wedensday." Bulgaria lost 13 soldiers in Iraq since the start of the illegal war in March 2003. This morning Bulgaria's DC Embassy confirmed that all Bulgarian forces are out of Iraq. SOFIA News Agency notes Nancy McEldowney, US Ambassador to Bulgaria, issued a statement praising Bulgarian forces which included the following: "Bulgaria has proven itself an unwavering friend and invaluable ally. The decision to join the Coalition's efforts was not an easy one and it did not come without cost. ... The United States salutes the brave men and women who serve in the Bulgarian Armed Forces and is honored to stand as a genuine friend and true partner of this fine country."
In the US the State Dept garners attention for a new report as yet officialy unreleased. The report covers the mercanaries-for-hire Blackwater Worldwide. CBS and AP explain, "The 42-page draft report by the State Department's Inspector General says the department faces 'numerous challenges' in dealing with the security situation in Iraq, including the prospect that Blackwater may be barred from the country. The department would have turn to other security arrangements to replace Blackwater, officials said." BBC explains that Blackwater "has been under intense scrutiny" since the September 16, 2007 slaughter in Baghdad resulted in the deaths of at least 17 Iraqis and that 5 "employees have now been charged in the US with manslaughter and otehr offences, but the company itself has not faced charges." Tim Reid (Times of London) adds,"If Blackwater is dropped next year, it is not clear how it will be replaced. The department relies heavily on private security guards. There are an estimated 30,000 in Iraq and Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador in Bagdhad, told Congress last year: 'There is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq'."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad "double explosion" (car bombing and roadside bombing) that claimed 18 lives and left fifty-two people wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed 2 lives and left four people injured, and, dropping back to Tuesday night, a Mosul sticky bombing that claimed 2 lives.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person was kidnapped Tuesday night in Mosul.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person was wounded in a shooting outside of Kirkuk last night.
On the topic of Kirkuk, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issues the following press release:
The Special Representative of the Secretary General for Iraq (SRSG) Mr. Staffan de Mistura embarked on Tuesday, 16 December on a two-day trip to the city of Kirkuk to discuss the situation there with local leaders and representatives of the various communities. Mr. de Mistura's visit comes on the heels of the tragic bombing that killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians at a popular restaurant on 11 December.
During his visit, the SRSG is holding meetings to discuss the important work of Article 23 Committee with all relevant parties, and to stress the UN's readiness to provide it with technical assistance. He is exploring with his counterparts the ways and means through which the United Nations can augment its contribution for the reconstruction and development in Kirkuk.
During his many meetings with members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, heads of different political parties, and religious, civil society and tribal leaders Mr. de Mistura heard from his interlocutors some suggestions and ideas for increased engagement between the UN and the people of Kirkuk.
In November the United Nations was supposed to release a report regarding Kirkuk, the release of those recommendations have been put on hold until after the provincial elections scheduled for January 31st currently. (Oil rich Kirkuk will not be taking part in the elections.)
In non-Iraq news, independent journalist David Bacon latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) and it has created a stir. Laura Carlsen reviews the book at Foreign Policy in Focus:
The immediate challenge is to build a broad-based movement to pass a fair and humane reform that grants all workers and their families equal rights and protections under the law.
David Bacon's book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Immigration and Criminalizes Immigrants provides essential tools to envision and fight for this reform. For that reason, Michele Wucker's biased interpretation and portrayal of the book does this budding movement a disservice.
There are two fundamental differences of opinion between Wucker and Bacon that must come to the forefront of the debate on how to frame this reform.
The first question is the bad apples one - whether the numerous cases of employer abuse of undocumented workers and guestworkers that Bacon describes are anomalies or corporate labor strategies for reducing costs and increasing profits.
Wucker states that Bacon chronicles the misdeeds of "bad-apple employers" while giving short shrift to "employers who would hire workers with papers if the system provided a way to do so" and that Bacon's "cut-and-dried labor-good, corporate-bad message doesn't leave room for such subtleties."
The problem isn't one of subtleties - it's a question of how we analyze the real forces opposing legalization for migrant workers and what kind of strategies we build based on that. Bacon's book is devoted to documenting the structural aspects of the use of visa and undocumented workers in the United States and how that has become a major strategy for competition and profits in the age of globalization. He describes a series of corporate-led policies and practices - trade agreements that displace workers in their countries of origin, the criminalization of work, the definition of people as illegal, and the use of migrant labor to erode labor rights - that create a system of abuse. After reading the skilled combination of history, personal testimonies, statistics and logically constructed arguments, it's difficult to see this system as anything less than a widespread corporate strategy based on fundamentally unfair practices.
Immigration Myths Debunked
Bacon debunks several myths of the immigration debate that have led to dead-ends. One is that employers would hire native workers if they could. Bacon cites many statistical studies showing that the increase in migrant labor has been accompanied by an increase in unemployment among certain sectors of U.S. workers, especially black workers. The reason is not that migrants do work U.S. workers won't do. It's that employers have actively replaced organized workers and workers with exercisable rights with the more easily manipulated migrant workforce.
The same link will take you to Mary Bauer's review and Michele Wucker. Meanwhile last night's community posts explored Peanuts, Stan's "The Invisible Franklin," Mike's "Charlie Brown stinks at baseball," Rebecca's "i always identified with sally brown," Marcia's "The Outing of Charlie Brown," Betty's "Franklin and Violet," Ruth's "A Jewish perspective," Trina's "Peanuts in the Kitchen," Elaine's "Snoopy and Woodstock," and Kat's "Charles Shultz' women." Cedric's "Park Avenue Prisoner Edwin Schlossberg " and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! EDWIN SCHLOSSBERG, PRISONER OF PARK AVENUE!" (joint-post) went up this morning.