Friday, December 19, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, Thursday's arrests for a 'coup' appear even more questionable, a journalist's injuries are finally noted, and more.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released their first report since May 2007 this week. As they note in their Tuesday press release, they are calling for Iraq to "be designated as a 'country of particular concern' (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), in light of the ongoing, severe abuses of religious freedom and the Iraqi government's toleration of these abuses, particularly abuses against Iraq's smallest, most vulnerable religious minorities. . . . The situation is especially dire for Iraq's smallest religious minorities, including ChaldoAssyrian and other Christians, Sabean Mandeans, and Yazidis." Yazidis were the most recently known to be targeted with a late Sunday night, early Monday morning home invasion in a village outside of Mosul that saw 7 members of the same family shot dead. Mosul and the immediate surrounding area have especially been active with acts of violence aimed at religious minorities since this summer. The report is entitled "Iraq Report - 2008" and it is not in PDF format (and it displays as a single page). The report notes, "Like Mandaens, Yazidis as a community are particularly vulnerable to annihilation because one can only be born into the Yazidi religion." The report notes flyers posted around Mosul in 2004 promising "divine awards awaited those who killed Yazidis". On Iraqi Christians, the report notes, "The most recent attacks took place in the northern city of Mosul in late September/early October 2008, when at lest 14 Christians were killed and many more report they were threatened, spurring some 13,000 individuals to flee to villages east and north of the city and an estimated 400 families to flee to Syria. The United Nations has estimated that this number is half of the current Christian population in Mosul. 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. At the time of this writing, the attackers had not been identified, and Chrisian leaders had called for an international investigation." They also note the half of returnees in November when 2 young Christian girls were killed and their mother wounded. The Mandaeans are estimated to number between 3,500 to 5,000 in Iraq currently after following "almost 90 percent reportedly having either fled the country or been killed". Mandaen women have been kidnapped, raped, forced into marriage with non-Mandeans and "forced to wear the hijab" while Manaean "boys have been kidnapped and forcibly circumcised, a sin in the Mandean religion." The Baha'i population is noted briefly and said to number approximately 2,000 while the Jewish population is said to have fallen to ten -- ten who must "live essentially in hiding." Previous reports and press reports in past years has noted a concentration in Baghdad and, as the numbers fell due to deaths (from violent attacks) and due to fleeing the country, the small number remaining were said to be elderly. The report makes no mention of the age of the ten.
The report notes:
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.
The commission states there are 2 million external Iraqi refugees and 2.8 million internal refugees. On external refugees, the report explains:
Between November 2007 and May 2008, the Commission traveled to Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Sweden to meet with Iraqi asylum-seekers, refugees, and IDPs. These vulnerable and traumatized individuals provided accounts of kidnapping, rape, murder, torture, and threats to themselves, their families, or their community. While the vast majority of interviewees could not identify the perpetrators, they suspected various militias and extremist groups of committing these acts, and often provided specific identifying details.
Non-Muslim minority refugees told the Commission that they were targeted because they do not conform to orthodox Muslim religious practices and/or because, as non-Muslims, they are perceived to be working for the U.S.-led coalition forces. Members of these communities recounted how they, as well as other members of their families and communities, had suffered violent attacks, including murder, torture, rape, abductions for ransom or forced conversion, and the destruction or seizure of property, particularly businesses such as liquor stores or hair salons deemed un-Islamic. They also reported being forced to pay a protection tax and having been forced to flee their homes in fear after receiving threats to "convert, leave, or die." In addition, they told of their places of worship being bombed and forced to close and their religious leaders being kidnapped and/or killed.
Sunni and Shi'a Muslim refugees told of receiving death threats, of family members being killed, of kidnappings, of their houses being burned down, and of forced displacements. Some refugees reported being targeted because of jobs held by them or their relatives, either connected to the U.S. government or to the Ba'athist regime. Other refugees spoke of being targeted because they were part of a mixed Muslim marriage or because their family was Sunni in a predominately Shi'a neighborhood or vice versa. Many stated that the sectarian identities of their relatives and friends were either not known or not important before 2003, and several spoke of their families including both Sunnis and Shi'as and of the diverse nature of neighborhoods before the sectarian violence. One refugee woman told the Commission that, after her son was kidnapped and returned to her, she received a phone call from a government official who knew the exact details of the kidnapping and who told her that her entire family should leave Iraq. When they got their visas to go to Syria, their passports were stamped "no return." Because of this incident, she alleged to the Commission that the government must have been involved in the violence directed at her family.
Adelle M. Banks (Religion News Service) observes, "Commissioners encouraged President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration to make prevention of abuse a high priority and to seek safety for all Iraqis and fair elections. They also asked the U.S. government to appoint a special envoy for human rights in Iraq and Iraqi officials to establish police units for vulnerable minority communities. They also seek changes in Iraq's constitution, which currently gives Islam a preferred status, to strengthen human rights guarantees." Tom Strode (Baptist Press) quotes the committee's chair, Felice Gaer, stating in Tuesday's press conference, "The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities." UPI notes, "The commission also condemned a decision to reduce the representation allocated to members of the minority religious community in the upcoming provincial elections scheduled for January."
Meanwhile in Iraq, Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reports, "Muslim preachers from both sides of Iraq's once-bloody Sunni-Shi'ite divide appealed to the government on Friday to release the journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. Preisdent George W. Bush." The latest voices calling for Muntadar al-Zeidi's release sound out as his injuries become less of a whispered aside and more of a centeral issue. Nico Hines (Times of London) reported early this morning that Judge Dhia al-Kinani has declared "he would find out who beat" Muntadhar and that al-Kinani "said that Mr al-Zeidi 'was beaten in the news conference and we will watch the tape and write an official letter asking for the names of those who assaulted him'." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) notes "bruises on his face and around his eyes" and, as for the alleged letter, adds: "A spokesman for al-Maliki said Thursday that the letter contained a specific pardon request. But al-Zeidi's brother Dhargham told The AP that he suspected the letter was a forgery." Timothy Williams and Atheer Kakan (New York Times) report, "The government did not release the letter, and a lawyer for the reporter said that during a conversation with him on Wednesday the reporter did not tell her about it. But the lawyer, Ahlam Allami, also said the reporter, Muntader al-Zaidi, had told her he had never meant to insult the Iraqi government or Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki when he hurled his shoes at the president during a news conference with the two leaders on Sunday." CBS and AP note, "CBS News Baghdad producer Randall Joyce says al-Zeidi has been kept completely out of the reach of his legal representation and his family since the show-throwing incident late on Sunday - a fact which typifies a deeply flawed Iraqi justice system." Wednesday saw the Iraqi Parliament end a session with the Speaker threatening/vowing to quit. Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) explains, "Parliament speaker Mahmoud al Mashhdani threatened to resign at one point during Wednesday's debate over Zaidi's status. Anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr's party pressed Zaidi's case. . . . Mashhani's colleagues refused to convene when they saw him return to parliament on Thursday, several of them said [Muhsin al] Saddon said he expects the political parties to accept Mashhdani's resignation Saturday, after which they'd appoint a new parliament leader. Others aren't so sure that Mashhdani will step down."
No one appears very sure of what happened with yesterday's arrests ordered at the Ministry of the Interior ordered by puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki. Today Interior Minister Jawad Bolani held a press conference and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) quotes him stating, "It is a big lie. The public must understand this." He was speaking of the whispers that a coup was being plotted by those arrested. Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) explain that several MPs are raising the issue that the arrests were for political reasons, specifically "an attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to demonstrate his power." They also note this basic fact, "On Thursday, senior government officials continued to provide contradictory explanations for the detentions." What is known, the reporters point out, is that:
Maliki has steadily consolidated his power this year. In March, he ordered the military to combat Shiite militias and assert government control over the southern city of Basra, a goal that Iraqi forces accomplished with help from the U.S.-led coalition. Since then, Maliki has sought to tighten his grip across the country. His brokering of a U.S-Iraq security pact that requires the American forces to withdraw by the end of 2011 has bolstered his popularity among many Iraqis.
Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) speak with MPs such as Mahmoud Othma who states of the arrests, "This reminds me of the old regime. It's confusing. First they were saying coup d'etat . . . It's not clear what is going on. I'm afraid this may have some political ends from the government, maybe from the prime minister." Campbell Robertson and Tareq Maher (New York Times) advise, "The conflicting accounts of the operation prompted an urgent question from Mr. Maliki's critics: Were the arrests politically motivated, carried out as a way for Mr. Maliki to weaken his rivals before the nationwide provincial elections planned for next month? Suspicions were fueled by reports that a counterterrorism force overseen directly by Mr. Maliki was part of the operation, though several officials denied it." Thursday's snapshot incorrectly had Tareq Maher's first name dictated (by me) as "Tariq" -- that was my mistake. My apologies. Oliver August (Times of London) refers to the events as "a sectarian turf war" and observes, "The power struggle exposed the deep sectarian faultlines in the Iraqi Government. . . . A source in the ministry and a member of the Constitution party, told The Times: 'This is a move against our party. They are trying to get all the Sunni officers out of the ministry. It's a political game, not a coup." Meanwhile Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed and Missy Ryan (Reuters) report Nineveh Province voted to delay provincial elections but that vote isn't being headed by the Electoral Commission whose deputy head Osama al-Ani states, "No one has the right to delay the provincial elections scheduled for Jan. 31 except for the prime minister . . . with the approval of parliament." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) breaks the news that all arrested have been "released without charge" according to Jawad al-Bonai.
In England, Andrew Grice (Independent of London) details "a political storm" following Prime Minister Gordon Brown's rejection of an Iraq War inquiry declaring it not "right" at the current time, "Opposition parties believe Mr Brown is keen to ensure the full investigation does not report until after the next general election, which must be held by June 2010. Although the controversial 2003 invasion was seen as 'Tony Blair's war', Mr Brown has backed it and said he would not have acted differently."
Meanwhile tensions and bombings continue on Iraq's northern border. Delphine Strauss (Financial Times of London) noted Thursday that Turkey continued air strikes on northern Iraq -- targeting the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) for the second day in a row. UPI added, "The Turkish General Staff said it bombed several positions in the Qandil Mountains belonging to the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK." Despite statements of joint-commissions -- Iraq, Turkey and the US -- being set up to address the issue of the PKK -- designated a terrorist organization by many nations including the US as well as by the European Union -- no such committee has yet to be created. Reuters observes, "Around 40,000 people have been killed in fighting between the PKK and the military since 1984, when the PKK took up arms to establish an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey." Hurriyet reported that Hoshyar Zebari (Foreign Minister) is among the Iraqi officials expected to travel to Turkey shortly and Sunni vice president Tariq al Hashimi is another but that Turkish President Abdullah Gul suffers from "an ear problem that makes flying difficult." Zebari most recently (December 16th) met with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayied Al-Nhayan, the United Arab Emirate's Foreign Minister, at the UN as part of the Ministry's continued diplomatic outreach. And while the much-touted joint-talks amongst Iraq, Turkey and the US seem stalled or forgotten, Hidir Goktas (Reuters) reports, "Kurdish leaders from Turkey and Iraq will hold a peace conference aimed at ending decades of violence by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group, the head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party said."
And tensions remain around the mercenary corporation Blackwater which is responsible for the deaths of many Iraqis -- most infamously the September 16, 2007 slaughter in Baghdad. (AP is trumpeting radio logs -- Blackwater radio logs -- 'back up' Blackwater's actions.) Luis Martinez (ABC News) observes, "The controversial security firm Blackwater may have to cease its operations in Iraq come Jan. 1, 2009. Despite four separate federal grand jury investigations of its operations, Blackwater has continued to provide security services for the U.S. State Department. . . . Numerous officials tell ABCNews.com that the State Department has approved a long-term contingency plan to hire as many as 800 security personnel to ultimately replace its private security contractors. These "Security Protection Specialists" would receive limited immunity because they would be State Department employees. They will not be considered Diplomatic Security agents because they will not have arrest powers and will not be investigators." It's a shame that the Marines are good enough to protect US Embassies but apparently not considered good enough to protect the State Dept in war zones.
Staying with violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) notes a Baghdad roadside bombing that resulted in "three policemen and three civilians" being wounded.
Reuters notes 7 "decomposing, severed heads and two decomposing bodies" were discovered in Baghdad today.
Turning to the US, Yesterday's snaphot noted Elisabeth Bumiller's reporting on Petraeus and Odierno's 'plan' for Iraq and what it means compared to Barack's alleged campaign promise (16 months for a withdrawal!). Today Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) reports on the issue and since "troops" was always just combat troops for Barack, Barnes documents a novel way to reconcile the generals and Barack:
The two plans could be squared by moving to reclassify, or "re-mission," U.S. troops still in Iraq after 16 months to change combat forces to training units or residual forces, according to military officials.
Already, military officials have reassigned combat infantry soldiers and Marines to training jobs. Combat forces still in Iraq after May 2010 would probably be needed more for training missions in any case, officials have said.
As we've long noted, the classification is meaningless and can be abused. Barnes is documenting a proposal to abuse it. Hey, if Barack declares the 149,000 US troops currently in Iraq "police" or "training" ones on January 21st, he can claim he completed his 'withdrawal' of combat troops in one day!
Staying with the president-elect, wowOwow notes "Firestorm Reactions to Obama's Pick of Anti-Gay Rev. Rick Warren Role in Inauguration" and explains that 'it's his outspoken opposition toward abortion and gay marriage that has many human-rights activists, lesbian and gay activists finding [Rick] Warren's presence at Obama's inauguration a slap in the face." At The New Agenda, Violet Socks explains:
An almost all-male Cabinet. A speechwriter who thinks sexual assault is funny. A senior advisor who's on record with his belief that innate inferiority, not discrimination, is what's keeping women back.
And now, with another twist of the knife, President-elect Obama has invited Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural.
Most of the outrage surrounding this choice focuses on Warren's opposition to gay marriage and reproductive rights. But there's something else about Warren, something the women of America might like to ponder as they watch this worthy pray aloud at our new President's swearing-in: this is a man who believes that wives should be subservient to their husbands. Marriage is not an equal partnership, in Warren's view, but a dominance hierarchy, a union between a superior and an inferior. Kind of like a boss with one employee.
As explained on Warren's Ministry Toolbox site by Beth Moore, a suitably submissive wife: "It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional."
Those wanting or preferring video can click here for CBS' The Early Show video where Harry Smith discusses the issue with David Corn and Robert Jeffries. "Excuse me, this is a serious civil rights issue in this country," Harry Smith says when Jeffries tries to turn it into a joke and good for Harry Smith. Women's Media Center chooses to go the pathetic and useless route: "Disappointed By Obama's Rick Warren Pick, But Not Discouraged." In other words, please don't break my arm and blacken my eye, just blacken my eye. Pathetic. They offer that in their "Daily News Brief" (it's nothing but a link to content outside WMC). A record number of e-mails came in today regarding the trojan at WMC. Women's Media Center not only does not get a link here, it is pulled from all community sites. If you've visited it this week, scan your computer for virus. NOW -- who has been extremely disappointing to put it mildly -- did offer "We HOPE You Will CHANGE Your Mind:"
Today, we are disheartened that one of the voices that may be privileged to be part of this historic moment is that of Rick Warren. His delivering the invocation would be an insult to all of us, women and men, who support women's right to self-determination. His presence is offensive to all of us, gay and straight, who support equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.
We understand your desire to engage people from opposing sides of many issues. But dialogue requires treating your opponents with respect. Rick Warren has compared abortion to the Holocaust and stated that he would not vote for a "Holocaust denier." He implies that those of us who support abortion rights are equivalent to Nazis.
Rick Warren worked to take away the rights of LGBT people in California by supporting Proposition 8, calling it a "moral issue that God has spoken clearly about" and stating the "homosexual marriage is one of the five issues that are not negotiable." He calls LGBT people "unnatural."
Words do matter, President-elect Obama. Words lifted you to the White House and all of us to a place where we felt included in your vision. By choosing Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration you have deeply offended progressive people who worked and voted for you in record numbers. This is not the tone we hoped you would set on this historic day - and giving a platform to a messenger of intolerance does not send a message of acceptance and change.
There are limitless opportunities for your administration to work with people who do not agree on every issue, but who nonetheless agree that we must end poverty, address climate change, and achieve human rights for all. We are deeply disappointed that you have made a different choice and hope that you will reconsider Rick Warren's inclusion in this important and historic celebration.
President-elect Obama, you can still select a minister who will speak to our collective vision for hope, change and the promise that we will all be part of this great country, and we urge you to do just that.
Not as weak or pathetic as WMC (silent except for tossing out a link) but not as strong as the National Organization for Women should be. It is the National Organization for Women, not the National Organization for Obama. If you want to see really pathetic, check out the types Ashley Smith and Eric Ruder (Socialist Worker) encounter at the convention of United for Piss & Injustice. UPFJ has done nothing for two years and plans to do nothing for four. They are pathetic. Leslie, I am personally ashamed of you. Of people quoted in the article, only Iraqi-American Zaineb Alani can hold their head high:
Public broadcasting notes. Yesterday Gwen Ifill participated in the online chat at the Washington Post. There's much to amuse and I'll leave it at that and carry it over to Third for Sunday. Gwen's Washington Week airs on PBS and, in most markets, airs tonight. Her guests include Washington Post's Michael Fletcher, Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook and the Bobsey Twins John Dickerson and John Harwood -- even their hairdresser can't tell them apart. NOW on PBS also begins airing tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings) and their focus is slavery in Nepal where "many families in western Nepal have been forced to sell their daughters, some as young as six, to work far from home as bonded servants in private homes. With living conditions entirely at the discretion of their employers, these girls seldom attend school and are sometimes forced into prostitution." Journalist Sarah Chayes speaks with Bill Moyers on Bill Moyers Journal which also begins airing tonight on PBS in most markets. Chayes is probably the American journalist most knowledgable of Afghanistan. The Journal's Michael Winship notes:
The amount is $904 billion -- that's how much we've spent on American military operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, since the 9/11 attacks; 50 percent more than what was spent in Vietnam, reports the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. Their study does not include the inestimable toll in human life.
Of that money, nearly 200 billion has gone to Afghanistan, where 31,000 American troops are nearly 60 percent of the NATO peacekeeping force. When he becomes President, as promised during his campaign, Barack Obama will oversee the deployment of at least another 20,000 troops there.
This has been the deadliest year for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began. Our military faces a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda, better trained, better armed, supported from sanctuaries in Pakistan. But in an op-ed piece in last Sunday's Washington Post, Sarah Chayes -- the former National Public Radio reporter who has lived in Kandahar province since shortly after 9/11 -- argued that America's and Afghanistan's biggest problem comes from within -- our continuing support of a corrupt and abusive Afghan government that's driving its people back into the arms of the fundamentalists.
Chayes, who organized a co-op of Afghan men and women making skin care products from herbs and botanicals as an alternative to the opium poppy trade, wrote, "I hear from Westerners that corruption is intrinsic to Afghan culture, that we should not hold Afghans up to our standards. I hear that Afghanistan is a tribal place, that it has never been, and can't be, governed. But that's not what I hear from Afghans."
Chayes followed up that article with an interview conducted by my colleague Bill Moyers on the latest edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. She told him that the United States and its NATO allies have had to convince themselves and public opinion in each of their countries that "this is a democratically elected representative government [in] Afghanistan in order to justify the sacrifices in money and troops. But the Afghans see it differently."
What they see instead, she said, is a restoration to power under President Hamid Karzai of the gunslinging, crooked warlords who were repudiated when the Taliban first started taking over vast parts of the country a few years after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The "appalling behavior" of officials in the current government, including rampant bribery, extortion and violence, is a serious factor in the Taliban resurgence -- it's estimated that they now have a "permanent presence" in 72 percent of the country, according to one think tank, the International Council on Security and Development.
On broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, 60 Minutes:
The former Hollywood action star-turned California governor may be facing his most formidable foe in a $40 billion state budget gap caused by the economic decline. Scott Pelley reports.
Screening The TSA
Are the hassles passengers endure at airport security checkpoints really making them safer? The Transportation Security Administration says they are, but a security adviser who has advised them says those measures are "security theater." Lesley Stahl reports. | Watch Video
Ivory is selling for nearly $1,000 a tusk, causing more elephants to be slaughtered and more orphaned babies in need of special care provided by an elephant orphanage in Kenya. Bob Simon reports.
60 Minutes, this Sunday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
the new york times
the los angeles times
julian e. barnes
the washington post
the new york times
the los angeles times