Thursday, January 08, 2009

'Holy' day for some (others excluded, others campaigning)

In this morning's New York Times, Sam Dagher's "Tight Security Across Iraq On a Holy Day for Shiites" never really recovers from its opening:

Millions of Iraqi Shiites celebrated one of the most emotional occasions in their religious calendar Wednesday, accompanied by stringent security measures that included a ban on women entering the area around one of the Baghdad's holiest shrines by fear of suicide bombings

No, technically there are no dates "in" a calendar ("on" -- it might be an "emotional occasion" in their religious practice but it is "on" a calendar) but how do you open with that first half of the sentence about millions and then move to the second half?

It's a bit like picking up a 1952 paper and reading something along the lines of:

Yonkers celebrated downtown, spilling out of Sulzberger's Pub, following Rocky Marciano's defeating Joe Walcott to take the world heavyweight championship. Those at Sulzberger's Pub, which remains segregated, say it was sometimes difficult to hear the match on the radio due to the cheers and groaning.

Right there, the "which remains segregated," you know that, no, "Yonkers" did not celebrate. Some in Yonkers did. Some did not. By the same token, the banning of women is not an aside.

This is not a minor issue. This is a pilgrimage and people have traveled across Iraq -- men, women, children -- to take part in it -- from inside Iraq and from outside. To ban women because a tiny number of suicide bombers have been women? We covered this in Tuesday's snapshot and, you'll notice, no one wants to offer hard facts. That's because (a) the woman bomber on Sunday was . . . a man and (b) female suicide bombers (even allowing the ones who may or may not have known they had bombs -- remember all the "They were mental patients!" stories?) are a very small number of the overall suicide bombers. There have been many, many more male bombers (a friend at M-NF says on the phone right now that over four-fifths of the suicide bombers are "easily male"). But men aren't banned. Only women.

Though Dagher's article never recovers from the opening, it's not as bad as it could be. He could have done like the so-called independent paper in England that picked up a story that may or may not be true but is doubted because it was so heavily pushed. Only one outlet picked it up. (And, no, I'm not referring to the Independent of London. They are Gaza non-stop. The only Iraq article "they" have run in days was on the US Embassy opening and that was a Reuters article.)

We'll probably pick out something from Dagher's piece to note in the snapshot later today but it's very disappointing that the press continues to treat this as a minor issue when it is an attack on women's rights. All the male suicide bombers in Iraq and men were never banned from anything. Reporters are supposed to provide perspective. No reporters -- at any outlet -- have done that regarding the latest attack on women's rights.

BBC did an awful job last night:

Correspondents describe the ban as an extraordinary step, driven by deep concerns over security.
The security forces in Iraq lack female members, allowing women to go unsearched and thus able to penetrate security cordons, says the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Baghdad.

If they "lack female members," this goes to the discrimination the US institutionalized before it began the handover of the "Awakening" Councils (a handover that's still ongoing): Paying women 20% less than males for doing the same job. Apparently the BBC correspondents have never heard of "Daughters of Iraq," only "Sons of Iraq" (those are additional names for "Awakening" Councils).

Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that, Holy day or not, "Iraq's ruling Shiite Muslim parties used" it to advance their own campaigns with poster war ongoing "from Baghdad to the southern city of Karbala" in anticipation of the January 31st provincial elections in "14 of the country's 18 provinces." Fadel notes that a number state they will not vote for "their sects or their ethnicity" due to no progress on the ground in terms of basic services. Fadel judges the race in "the Shiite south" to be chiefly between Nouri al-Maliki's United Iraqi Alliance-Islamic Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. From Fadel's article:

On Ashura, the anniversary of [Iman] Hussein's death 1,400 years ago, Maliki fell back to appealing to the religious identity of the majority of Iraqis. Just outside Kadhimiyah, the northern holy Shiite district of Baghdad, where two Shiite imams, or leaders, are buried, pilgrims walked by banners that praised Hussein, and between the images of him were astutely placed campaign banners.
"The messenger of God said: Whoever considers me as his liege (master) then Ali is his liege. I pray to God to uphold those who support him and to let down those who let him down," one banner said, speaking of another of Muhammad's relatives. It was signed in the name of Maliki's party and the party's ballot number, 302.
"Unfortunately it seems that when all is told it is Shiite support Shiite," said Widad Hamid, a Sunni retired high school teacher, reacting to the banner. "I was really going to vote for him."
Other contenders whose posters covered the walls included Ibrahim al Jaafari — a former prime minister and former member of Maliki's party -- who leads a party called the National Reform Trend, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- which is calling itself the Martyrs of the Mihrab (which means "places of worship") -- and the Independents.
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- which controls most of the provincial councils in southern Iraq and promotes a federal state with strong provinces and a weak central government -- claims to be blessed by Hussein.

There are also many comments from voters in the article. This is from ETAN:

Adm. Blair Poor Choice as Director of National Intelligence, Says Rights Group

Blair’s History with Indonesia and East Timor Raises Questions about Likely Nominee
Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391
Ed McWilliams, +1-703-899-5285

January 7 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) called Adm. Dennis Blair “a poor choice for intelligence director." The group urged President-elect Obama to reconsider the nomination, and make a break from past policies that have undermined human rights worldwide.

"During his years as Pacific Commander, Blair downplayed human rights concerns. He actively worked to reinstate military assistance and deepen ties with Indonesia's military despite its ongoing rights violations in East Timor and consistent record of impunity," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.

"Admiral Blair undermined U.S. policy in the months preceding the U.S.-supported and UN-sponsored referendum in East Timor in 1999," said Ed McWilliams, a senior U.S. embassy official in Jakarta at the time. "While senior State Department officials were pressing the Indonesian military to end the escalating violence and its support for militia intimidation of voters, Blair took a distinctly different line with his military counterparts. As Pacific Commander, his influence could have caused the military to rein in its militias. Instead, his virtual silence on the issue in meetings with the Indonesian generals led them and their militias to escalate their attacks on the Timorese."

"Blair's actions in 1999 demonstrated the failure of engagement to temper the Indonesian military's behavior; his actions helped to reinforce impunity for senior Indonesian officials that continues to this day,” added Miller.

"The extraordinarily brutal Indonesian retaliation against the East Timorese and the UN teams in East Timor following the Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia transpired in part because of Blair's failure to press U.S. Government concerns in meetings with the Indonesian general," said McWilliams.

In April 1999, just days after Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies carried out a brutal churchyard massacre, Adm. Blair delivered a message of 'business-as-usual' to Indonesian General Wiranto, then Commander of the Indonesian armed forces. Following East Timor's pro-independence vote, Blair sought the quickest possible restoration of military assistance, despite Indonesia's highly destructive exit from the territory.


As Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002, Blair was the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region during the final period of Indonesia’s violent occupation of East Timor. During that time he undermined the Clinton administration's belated efforts to support human rights and self-determination in the Indonesian-occupied territory and opposed congressional efforts to limit military assistance.

In April 1999, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, then the Defense Minister and the commander of Indonesian forces, just two day after dozens of refugees in a Catholic church in the town of Liquica, East Timor were hacked to death with machetes by militia members backed by the military (including Kopassus) and Brimob troops.

Instead of pressuring Wiranto to shut down the militias, Blair promised new military assistance, which the Indonesian military "took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation," according to Allan Nairn, writing in the Nation magazine. In fact just weeks later, refugees from the attack in Liquicia were again attacked and killed in the capital in Dili.

Nairn reported that a classified cable summarizing the meeting said that Admiral Blair "told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest... [Blair] expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to... selected TNI [Indonesian military] personnel on crowd control measures." Nairn writes that the last offer was "quite significant, because it would be the first new U.S. training program for the Indonesian military since 1992."

Princeton University's Bradley Simpson writes "According to top secret CIA intelligence summary issued after the [Liquica] massacre, however (and recently declassified by the author through a Freedom of Information Act request), 'Indonesian military had colluded with pro-Jakarta militia forces in events preceding the attack and were present in some numbers at the time of the killings.'"

In the bloody aftermath of East Timor's independence vote, "Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor. Given the country's history, they argued, it could have been worse," reported the Washington Post's Dana Priest.

U.S.-trained Indonesian military officers were among those allegedly involved in crimes against humanity in East Timor. "But at no point, Blair acknowledges, did he or his subordinates reach out to the Indonesian contacts trained through IMET or JCET [U.S.-funded programs] to try to stop the brewing crisis," wrote Priest. "It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET course can come into play in resolving a future crisis," he told her.

Despite Blair's repeated overtures and forgiving attitude to Indonesia's military elite, they were of no help in his post-military role as chair of the Indonesia Commission at the influential Council on Foreign Relations. In 2002, Blair headed a delegation of observers who intended to visit West Papua. The government refused to let them in, with the Foreign Minister declaring that "there is no need for them to come to Papua."

The reason was clear: West Papua has become the new focus of Indonesian military and militia brutality and outside observers are not welcome. Though Blair's dream of renewed military engagement with Indonesia has been realized under the Bush administration, the Indonesian military's human rights violations continue, as does impunity for its senior officers.

General Wiranto was indicted in February 2003 by a UN-backed court in East Timor for his command role in the 1999 violence. The attack on the Liquica church is among the crimes against humanity cited in the indictment. He is currently a leading candidate for President of Indonesia in elections to take place next year.

ETAN was formed in 1991. The U.S.-based organization advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN was a major participant in the International Federation for East Timor's (IFET) observer mission for the 1999 referendum. For more information see ETAN's web site.



ETAN welcomes your financial support. Go to to donate. Thanks.

John M. Miller
National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Skype: john.m.miller
Web site:

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