Tuesday, December 30, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the refugee crisis gets serious attention, the Green Zone comes under fire, "Awakening" Council members are still not under Iraqi control, warnings of Kurdish and Arab conflict come from the puppet government in Baghdad, and more.
As noted yesterday, the refugee crisis is covered today. The largest global refugee crisis remains Iraq with over four million internal and external refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees places the number of refugees at over 4.7 million with 2.7 million being internal refugees and notes, "In 2006, Iraqis became the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe." The List Project notes, "The Iraq refugee crisis is now among the fastest growing refugee crises in the world. 15% of Iraq's population is in flight, either displaced internally or forced to flee across international borders to neighboring countries."
Matthew Hay Brown (Baltimore Sun) reported on Najim Abid Hajwal Sunday, an Iraqi refugee who moved with "his wife and their seven children" to Jordan due to violence and threats and he thought they'd be in Jordan for a few "weeks. That was four years ago." The Hajwal family remins in Jordan and Najim explains, "Every day, I'm waiting for things to improve, but I don't see it. I feel as if, in one moment, I lost everything." The bulk of the externally displaced Iraqi refugees have settled in either Jordan or Syria where they "are blamed for crowding schools, straining hospitals and health clinics and driving up the costs of housing, fuel, food and other basics. With pressure building on Iraq to support its citizens abroad, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is offering cash payments for refugees to return. Iraqi embassies in Syria and Egypt have organized flights and bus rides home. They have found few takers." That began the first installment of a three-part series by Matthew Hay Brown. He also explores the US response which we'll note in moment.
The UNHCR has also termed it the "largest population movement since 1948 in the Middle East." That factoid is noted by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) which released a report on Iraq's internal refugees yesterday entitled "Challenges of forced displacement within Iraq" (here for HTML, here for PDF).
* 4.3 million is the number of Iraqis IDMC classifies as "forcibly displaced, internally or in other countries"
* 2.8 million is the number of Iraqis who are internally displaced according to IDMC
* Both numbers come with a cautionary note due to continued security issues and "fluctuation in the displacement situation"
* The bulk of those internally displaced (60%) are said to have come from Baghdad
* The bulk of the internally displaced are Shi'ia Arab (58%)
* Sunni Arabs make up the next largest category of the internally displaced (30%) followed by "Shabaks, Christians Assyrians, Chaldeans, Amernians, Faeeli Kurds, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandeans"
* At least 1.5 million Iraqi refugees are estimated to be residing in Syria currently with another 500,000 estimated in Jordan.
Since the start of the illegal war, the report notes that displacement has resulted from military operations and from sectarian violence. On the former, the report reminds, "During the first months of the invasion, thousands of people were displaced by air strikes and urban warfare in Anbar, Thi'Qar, Basra and Baghdad. Across the country, small numbers of people living in areas considered strategically important were forcibly displaced by US led coalition forces". Later years of the illegal war result in other regions being targeted as well. On sectarian violence, the report explains, "In 2006, 80 per cent of sectarian violence occurred within a 55-kilometre radius of Baghdad (UNSC, 11 December 2006). There was already evicendence during 2005 of growing numbers fleeing Baghdad's mixed neighbourhoods to places where their community predominated". The report notes:
The MNF-I and ISF have conducted large-scale counter-insurgency operations in Basra, in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, Amarah, Baquba, Diyala, and Mosul. These operations, particularly in Basra and Baghdad, were marked by heavy fighting in densely populated urban areas, curfews, roadblocks and access difficulties for humanitarian agencies (IRN, 30 March 2008). Military operations and ongoing violence in heavily populated civilian areas have featured a lack of respect for the principles of proportionality and distinction, they have put civilians at risk and in certain instances led to mass displacement. In April and May 2008 operations against the Madhi militia in Sadr City led to the temporary displacement of approximately 4,700 families (IOM, June 2008).
Furthermore, there continues to be prolonged and multiple displacement due to insecurity, lack of adequate housing, and access to basic services and employment opportunities. The evolving situation has also entailed risks of new patterns of displacement emerging such as displacement of returnees or secondary displacement of occupants of private and public properties. IDPs in private and public properties increasingly face secondary displacement through evictions (IOM, October 2008). Sometimes these evictions orders only affect a small group of families, in other cases such as in the former military camp of Taji in Baghdad close to 1,000 IDP families (estimated 7,000 individuals) are under threat of eviction (IDP WG, 27 June 2008).
The report notes that the United Nations "and the humanitarian community continue to report human rights abuses against civilians by militias, criminal gangs, and security and military forces". The Iraqis turned into refugees are often forced to relocate in "areas where public services are limited, overstretched or non-existent" which only further adds to the problems for the refugees. They also lack adequate shelter and access to needed food. The problems with food access also includes the issue of ration cards which are issued to a family for a location and which, once they become displaced, requires red-tape to have the registrations transferred. The report notes, "While most provincial authorities allow IDPs to enter, various restrictions bar them from registering on security, economic and demographic grounds. These restrictions limit their capacity to rent or purchase property and access essential basic services and specific welfare assistance to IDPS".
One section of the report zooms in on women and children and we'll note it in full:
Women and children represent over 70 per cent of the displaced population (IOM, January 2008). Thousands of women and childred have been killed, maimed or injured; a large number of children have lost one or both parents, while the violence has left a notably high number of widows (US SR, April 2008). Female heads of household, women and children show the highest indicators of socio-economic vulnerability amongst the displaced. Attaining employment has been even more difficult for women and widows, especially in increasingly conservative areas (IDP WG, 27 June 2008); a significant number of women have no sources of income (IDP WP, November 2008).
Economic hardship has taken its toll on displaced children. Reports note that children are increasingly forced to work to support themselves or their families. Internally displaced children live in substandard conditions, without proper access to education and health care services, and there is a lack of support available to children whith disabilities or suffering from trauma. Absenteeism from schools among IDP children is reportedly high due to financial difficulties and problems accessing and registering in schools. Schools also lack sufficient resources and staff to accommodate the influx of children, while IDPs in the north encounter difficulties finding Arabic-language schools (IDP WG, March 2008 and November 2008).
Sexual and gender-based violence, including against children, has been widespread. This has involved discrimination, intimidation, beatings, mutiliations and "honour killings" (UNAMI, March 2008). Among the displaced, early marriages, domestic violence and also prostitution, including of children, has been reported (IDP WG, June 2008; IDP WG, March 2008). Displaced women living in camp or camp-like situations are more likely to be exposed to sexual assault and abductions (IOM, 11 January 2008). The lack of access of children and pregnant women to primary health and nutritional support has led to increased morbidity as well as child and maternal mortality for displaced and non-displaced alike. Among the displaced, there has been a reported rise in the incidence of unattended births and miscarriages (IOM, 11 January 2008). The mental health of conflict victims including IDPs, and especially women and children, represents another major issue. In 2007, 70 per cent of displaced mothers consulted by IMC reported that their children suffered from psychosocial distress (IOM, 30 June 2008; IMC, January 2007).
The report notes that some 184,000 people are said to have returned to their homes as of September 2008 (167,000 IDPs, 17,000 EDPs); however, "these figures nevertheless represent less than six per cent of all IDPs in Iraq." The report reminds that both the United States government and the Iraqi government have insisted refugees should return home and that this is not what the international humanitarian community urges. "In contrast," the report explains, "members of the humanitarian community remain acutely concerned about the apparent manipulation for political purposes of the questions of returns of IDPs and refugees (NCCI, January 2008). The United Nations, including UNHCR, and NGOs have repeatedly warned of the dangers of premature return and the disastrous consequences for both the displaced and for the stability of Iraq (UNHCR, September 2008; RI, July 2008). Failure of the government to take heed of these warnings will affect sustainability of returns, and put at risk the fragile gains acquired to date. UNHCR does not encourage returns to Iraq at the moment, due to the fragile security situation, though they do provide some assistance including cash grants to those voluntarily returning (UNHCR, 23 September 2008)."
The report addresses secondary occupation which does include a refugees home being occupied by someone else. A program offers squatters on private property the US equivalent of $250 a month for half a year to assist in finding another home. Secondary occupation also includes the squatters who have taken over abandoned public properties. The report notes that al-Maliki's government is moving towards more evictions with "the highest reported cases of evictions" being in Baghdad and Basra.
Iraqis fleeing their country do not just go to Syria or Jordan. Some have settled in other areas such as Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Europe. On Lebanon, Crosswalk notes:
The Chicago Tribune reports that Iraqi Christians with enough means are fleeing to Lebanon, preferring the longer journey for the greater freedom at the end. Lebanon's population is 40 percent Christian - much greater than Syria or Turkey, where many Iraqi refugees go. Rev. Joseph Malkoum in Beirut says the number of refugees is only increasing. "There was a period when we felt the numbers were going down, but after the recent troubles in Mosul the movement is picking up again," said Malkoum, who holds a special mass every Sunday for Iraqi Chaldeans. "Five years from now there won't be any Christians left in Iraq. It's happening quietly but also very quickly," said retired Gen. Michel Kasdano, a researcher and spokesman at the Chaldean Archbishopric.
The United States, which instigated the illegal war, has been far from welcoming. It has allotted very few slots for Iraqi immigrants and, despite that, until this fiscal year, it never met the meager quotas set. You can see [PDF format warning] the discrepancy by studying the UNHCR chart on the number of Iraqis they help apply to the US each month compared to the number of Iraqis accepted. Last week, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (Morning Edition) reported on NPR's Iraqi staffers who are applying for refugee status in the US including Ali Hamdani who will be moving to Syria while he waits to hear if the US will accept him. Since the start of the Iraq War, Hamdani has been "a translator for NPR, the New York Times and Times of London . . . But by training he is a medical doctor. . . . He hopes to get his medical specialization after he arrives in America." Hamdani explains, "Going to the State is a dream for everyone, but for an Iraqi person who's been trhough all of this I think it's not just a dream . . . it's just life. It's a chance to have a proper life, a real life."
Possibly, if granted refugee status, Hamadi's story will turn out differently than that of Muhammad Shumri. Matthew Hay Brown concluded his Baltimore Sun series today with a look at refugees who made it to the US. Dr. Shumri, "48-year-old physician," and once "a high ranking official in the Iraqi Ministry of Health" who moved to the US. He explains, "I thought, 'I am a doctor, they know me, I work with them, I can get a job, they will help me. I didn't think I would have the same job. But maybe I would take a job as a physician or teach at a university. I ws shocked when I got here." Why was he shocked? Because like other Iraqi professionals, he's found that the US "bureaucracy . . . doesn't recognize their credentials." Dr. Shumri is now "a medical interpreter at Johns Hopkins Hospital" which does not pay enough to cover his living expenses. [C.I. note, all the more appalling when you consider that Johns Hopkins cheerleaded this illegal war. They'd prefer to pretend otherwise today but they actively encouraged their neocon staff to whore out the facility by cheerleading the impending war and continuing to do so in its early days. They were especially popular guests on PBS' NewsHour where they could advocate for destruction and killing as 'medical professionals'.] Dr. Zena Jalal worked at a Baghdad hospital. Here? Hay Brown explains, "A general practitioner in Iraq, Jalal is taking classes at Baltimore City Community College so she can work as a pharmacy technician while she studies for her licensing exam. Her 29-year-old sister, Sausan, a biologist, has found a job as a cashier, their widowed mother is not working." The mother was an attorney in Iraq and her deceased "husband was a cardiologist." May Jalal tells Hay Brown, "We used to live rich. We find it difficult to live in this situation."
In the second part of the series, Matthew Hay Brown quoted Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) explaining that the US was not doing enough despite claims (from the US State Dept) that they are: "The United States is responsible for this mess, frankly. It certainly was responsible for allowing the chaos that enveloped Iraq. It should therefore bear the responsibilities." The State Dept's James Foley offered excuses to Hay Brown.
In fairness, I'll note that Foley is new to the program, in fairness, and that he came on board right as the US was again missing the admittance target for the last fiscal year. The only year he's overseen was the 2008 fiscal year and the US did meet its target for admissions. In February, US House Reps John Dingell and Alcee Hastings sent a letter to US Secretary of State and Anger Condi Rice: "While we commend you for your appointment of Ambassador James Foley as Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues, we remain concerned that not enough attention and resources have been focused on the situation deemed by many the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the world. Most disconcerting is the fact that our government does not appear to have a long-term strategy to address this crisis." Dingell and Hastings can look at Matthew Hay Brown's three-part series and ask, "Was our letter even read?" The same problems remain.
The Baltimore Sun sketches out the process Iraqis go through in attempting to be admitted to the US. Yesterday Matthew Hay Brown reported on Tina Raad who was working "with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad" until her family became concerned she was being targeted for collaboration. Tina Raad made it to the US and is the coordinator for the List Project To Resettle Iraqi Allies. The List Project explains:
The List Project's mission is to help these Iraqi allies get to the United States and build a life once they arrive. In this section, you can explore the genesis of the crisis, its key players and statistics, statements from leaders on both sides of the aisle, historical precedents for major resettlement action, Iraqis explaining their situation in their own words and other frequently asked questions. The List Project also maintains a growing library of important documents relating to the crisis and a news page/blog with daily updates about the crisis and the Project.
Turning to Iraq, CNN reported this morning, "Muntadhir Al-Zaidi was due to go on trial Wednesday, but the Criminal Court postponed it pending an appeal filed by his lawyers with the Federal Court of Appeal, a spoekseman for the Supreme Judicial Council, Abdul Sattar Bayrakdar, said. . . . Al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at Bush two weeks ago during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad." Al Jazeera adds, "His lawyer, Dhiya al-Saadi, lodged a request for the trial to be cancelled on the grounds that court action would breach al-Zaidi's constitutional right to freedom of expression." al-Saadi is quoted stating, "Our appeal is based on the fact that Zaidi simply expressed his rejection of the occupation and the policy of repression against Iraqis. Zaidi's action falls within the framework of freedom of expression." AGI declares that the Central Criminal Court is for terrorism cases and that al-Zaidi's attorneys are attempting to have the case moved to another court. Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond) quote Muntader's brother Thigram al-Zaidi stating, "They wanted to have his trial . . . before the New Year and Bush's last day in the White House. That is what those politicians wanted. Thank God the judge was neutral." Deborah Haynes (Times of London) offers this perspective, "Thousands of people have rallied across Iraq to call for Mr Zaidi's release, while his shoe-throwing antics generated much praise across the Arab world. The incident even inspired several online shoe games. Speaking to The Times today, Mr al-Zaidi's family said that they were proud of his action, which has turned his brother, Maithm al-Zaid, a 28-year-old law student, into a mini celebrity in Baghdad."
Today, Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, the Green Zone came under fire. This as KUNA notes the US military plans a ceremony on Thursday to "handover . . . the International Zone (Green Zone) to the Iraqi authroities." Yesterday's snapshot noted, "Over the weekend Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on the plans to turn Diyala Province over to Iraqis on January 1st where the big news was that despite the November 1st headlines of Baghdad taking over the 'Awakening' Councils, approximately half the members are still under US control." Today the US military announces January 1st Iraq "will take over control of the Sons of Iraq from Coalition forces in four key provinces across the country -- including Diyala, one of the most diverse provinces, where al-Qaeda in Iraq once terrorized and intimidated local residents. In all, 76 percent of the nation's SoI members will be under Iraqi government responsibility by New Year's Day." Considering that the spin at the start of November was that the handover was taking place then, maybe it still not have taken place is not 'progress'? And if the stated prediction comes true, that means all these months later, 24% will still not be under Iraqi control.
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an Ayadhiyah "suicide car bomber" who took his/her own life and left four police officers wounded.
Hussien Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul today (and one shot dead yesterday). Reuters notes 1 "civilian" shot dead in Mosul and 1 "ribal leader" shot dead in Jalawla.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Provincial elections in Iraq (in most of Iraq) are currently scheduled for January 31st. Today the United Nations announced, "A new United Nations-supported blog site just launced in Baghdad is the latest initiative to engage voters in the nascent democracy and motivate them to go to the polls on 31 January 2009 during the country's provincial elections. The blog, called 'Vote for Iraq', was launched with the support of the UN-led International Election Assistance Team (IEAT)." Elections -- if they take place -- will be closely watched for signals of power shifts. AFP reports that Barham Saleh (Deputy Prime Minister) is sounding alarms of a coming "Arab-Kurdish conflict": "There are vicisous and dangerous attempts to convert the political and economic problems in Baghdad on a number of issues to an Arab-Kurdish conflict." Saleh is a Kurd.
Meanwhile Deng Shasha (Xinhau) reports that Hussein al-Shahristani, Minister of Oil, declared today that a "second licensing round" will take place tomorrow on "ten oil fields". al-Shahristani was speaking on Iraqia TV and declared there would be a December 31st press conference in which he would announce the spoils of war now up for grabs. Gulf Times states, "Iraq has invited international oil companies which haven't been qualified yet by the country's oil ministry to take part in tomorrow's announcement of the second round of tenders to develop its vast oil and gas fields, a senior ministry official has said."
While the tag sales continues, Iraq's assets are currently safe from seizure by foreign creditors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released "Foreign Minister's Statement in Security Council on Ending the Mandate of the Multinational Forces" yesterday:
The UN Security Council voted unanimously for adopting a resolution to take Iraq out of Chapter VII and to terminate the mandate of the multinational forces in Iraq. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari gave a speech in the Council and stated that Iraq has laid the foundations for stability and democracy since 2003.
The minister expressed the gratitude of the Iraqi Government to the members of the Security Council for the continued support for Iraq and its people, adding that Iraq has taken advanced steps in the process of national reconciliation, security and stability in the country.
The new resolution No. 1859 contains the protection of the Development Fund for Iraq and other Iraqi funds and stresses Iraq's obligations under Security Council resolutions.
That wasn't the only statement the ministry released. In protest of the current slaughter in Gaza, the Ministry released "Foreign Ministry Condemns Israeli Brutal Aggression on Palestinians:"
The Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Iraq condemns the Israeli brutal attack against Palestinians that caused many civilian casualties. The act of the Israeli authorities is incompatible with basic international human law and human rights.
The Foreign Ministry calls for the United Nations, Arab League, other organizations and the International and Human institutes to stop this aggression. We call for the Palestinian parties to join forces with all good people in the world to protect the rights and interests of the Palestinians and enable them to practice their legal rights according to International Law.
And, as Betty noted last night, wowOwow was among the few to pick up on the Washington Post's Amit R. Paley and Andrea Bruce exploration of female mutiliation in Iraq. Andrea Bruce's photos are here and Amit R. Paley's text report is here. From wowOwow's "Female Circumcision Rampant in Kurdistan, Women's Groups Don't Know Why:"
The group Stop FGM in Kurdistan notes that in 2005, cutting rates of at least 60 percent were reported in some areas of the region.
"The practice has a tremendous cost: Many girls bleed to death or die of infection. Most are traumatized. Those who survive can suffer adverse health effects during marriage and pregnancy. Women and girls are enclosed by a wall of silence," according to Stop FGM. "Experts agree that a strict taboo prevents them from speaking about their experiences -- which is all the same a main factor for the continuance of the practice."
The Kurdish parliament won't outlaw the practice -- even though this region is considered more progressive than the rest of Iraq. But one female lawmaker and doctor last month told AFP that parliament was preparing to outlaw female circumcision. The government is expected to debate the bills in the new year.
In non-Iraq news, John Walsh (CounterPunch) explores the recent US election and observes:
The great fear among the Naderites was that without the help of the GPUS, Nader could not get on the ballot in a sufficient number of states since the GPUS already had ballot access in many places due to the work of many at the grass roots (this author included) . So how did the election work out? The statistics are quite revealing. Starting from scratch and raising money as he went, Nader got on the ballot in 45 states plus DC. McKinney using the Green "infrastructure" got on the ballot in only 32 states, less than Barr for the Libertarians (45 states) or Baldwin and the Constitutionalists (37 states). Nader did better on his own with his own activist following than did the Greens. In fact he got on the ballot in more states than he did in 2000 when he was the GPUS nominee. If one looks at fundraising the contrast is just as stark, with Nader raising $4,496,180 and McKinney a skimpy $240,130 which is not even sufficient for a decent Congressional campaign. And the popular vote among third party candidates was: 736,804 for Nader, 524,524 for Barr, 196,461 for Baldwin and 161,195 for McKinney. These numbers alone are testimony to the abject failure of the GPUS as an electoral force.
But the behavior of the GPUS toward McKinney was downright insulting. The insult to McKinney came in two ways. First of all, DemoGreens went over to Obama, giving Cynthia a pat on the head as they went. A good example is Green guru Ted Glick who proclaimed that, although he "supported" McKinney, he hoped Obama would win and was contributing to the Obama campaign, said dollar contribution being a first for him. What kind of party i turns on its own candidate? But the insult came in another way. Cynthia McKinney took many extraordinarily courageous positions in Congress over the years. She was an outstanding leader there on issues of peace and justice. But this record was always secondary in the campaign that the GPUS ran. She was first and foremost a black woman candidate running with another minority female candidate. Now that in itself is a very good thing, although Obama upstaged them with this kind of Identity Politics. But what about McKinney's other achievements? Most notably she is the first major Democratic politician and the first Congressperson to jump ship on the Democrat Party. Of course the DemoGreens wanted no such cutting edge claim to a GPUS campaign. So the GPUS was happy to see the color of McKinney's skin as more important than the content of her character! This is the road down which "gonadal politics" leads us. (It is also hard to comprehend why Ralph Nader, gets no credit from the Gonadal Politicians for being an Arab American, perhaps the group suffering most discrimination these days.)
Today Martha and Shirley covered books for the year and the community choices were "Janis Ian's Society's Child: My Autobiography. It can be purchased at Amazon where it's currently selling for $16.98 ($26.95 list price). . . . David Bacon's Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press)" and Paul Street's Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.