Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 18, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the refugee crisis continues, Iraq confirms they have received Guantanamo prisoners, the UN examines the unemployment rate, the State Dept denies speaking with Jordan or Turkey about air space or land in the case of a draw down in the near future, and more.
Heaven save the world from the idiot Patrick Cockburn. You'd think with that family, the members would have long ago reached the beyond-disgrace stage but Paddy keeps upping the ante.  Most recently in his latest I'm-Crazy-Ass-Cockburn-Column (no link to trash or insanity) where he praises an increase in prices for real estate in a section of Baghdad.  A traditionally ritzy section of Baghdad -- not far from the country clubs.  But Paddy can't tell you that and it's a real come-down from his deranged high when, near the end, he has to start mentioning hos it might not be good news.  But, what the heck, the Iraq War is over.
It's not?  Don't tell Crazy Ass Cockburn who informs readers the illegal war is over ("Boom time Baghdad"): "Mr Hadithi says that this is explained primarily by the end of the war."  The Iraq War is not over.  There hasn't even been the limited drawdown yet.  But Patrick Cockburn is an idiot and a crazed one at this point.  That entire family has become a menace to society.  You've got Laura-The-Self-Loathing-Lesbian intoning, "Embrace the homophobia," Nutty Alex rubbing his crotch while moaning "Mena! Mena!" and offering crazed theories on Vince Foster. . .  We could go on and on because pretty much the whole family is nuts and if Andrew's managed to keep it together thus far (which he has) it's got to be just a matter of time before he goes bug-eyed nuts like the rest of them.
As Patrick declares the illegal war over and minimizes the economic plight of Iraqis, he also invents a mass return of refugees.  We've already had The Myth of the Great Return and it being disproven but Paddy's damn sure that his name means something (it doesn't) that he thinks he can say it's so and no one will argue.  Reality argues with crazy men, reality always argues with them.  Refugees International has started a new campaign to ask that Barack Obama, US president, not forget about the Iraqi refugees.  They note:
Five years into the US military intervention in Iraq, the country is dealing with one of the largest humanitarian and displacement crises in the world.  Millions of Iraqis have fled their homes -- either for safer locations within Iraq, or to other countries in the region -- and are living in increasingly desperate circumstances.  Failure to address the needs of Iraqis will have dramatic impacts on security inside Iraq.   
Refugees International has observed extreme vulnerabilities among the approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan and other neighbors of Iraq, as well as the 2.7 million internally displaced persons within Iraq.  Most are unable to access their food rations and are often unemployed; they live in squalid conditions, have run out of resources and find it extremely difficult to access essential services.  
The Governmnet of Iraq has access to large sums of money, but it lacks both the capacity and the political will to use its resources to address humanitarian needs.  Due to this failure, militias of all denominations are filling the vacuum and playing a major role in providing social services in the neighborhoods and towns they control in Iraq.  Not only do these Shiite and Sunni militias now have a qausi-monopoly in the large-scale delivery of food, oil, electricity and money, but an increasing number of civilians are joining their ranks -- including displaced Iraqis.  
Some Iraqis who have tried to return home have found their homes occupied or destroyed, the likelihood of violence still high, a collapse of social services, and neighborhoods divided into homogenous, sectarian areas.  While Refugees International hopes that Iraqis will be able to return to their homes in the future, the necessary conditions for returns to take place in safety and dignity do not exist.  Returns must not be encouraged until the violence subsides and people can receive adequate assistance and protection. 
Actions Needed        
The U.S. must craft a new policy to:          
1. Assist Iraqi refugees.   
2. Ensure a safe, voluntary return home when possible.   
3. Pressure Iraq to meet its responsibilities to its own people.   
4. Increase resettlement for those who can't go home.   
Read more about our 
comprhensive plan here.
Saturday Justin Martin (News & Observer) reported from Amman, Jordan and noted, "My country's claim of liberating Iraq means nothing without the liberation of those the campaign violently expelled from their country.  The basic math is that around 2.2 million Iraqi refugees have been forced from their country since 2003, according to the United Nations, and the United States has admitted just over 16,000 according to a Baltimore Sun report in December.  This is about seven admited refugees per 1,000.  The majority of the remaining 2 million-plus refugees are scraping by in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where the savings of many have been exhausted and unreplinished, since many can't find legal employment in these countries."  And as IRIN noted at the end of last month, in Syria some refugees are forced to sell food rations in order to make rent. George Baghdadi (CBS News) notes US Senator Ben Cardin is leading a US delegation in Damascus and that they intend "to visit the United Nations High Commission for Refugees facility in Damascus to assess the situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria."  The most well known Iraqi refugee to go to Syria is Riverbend (Baghdad Burning) who moved their with her family in 2007.
In January, William Dalrymple (New York Review of Books) noted "the wreckage of Iraq" included the "over two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population".  And proving just how the al-Maliki government refuses to help the people of Iraq,  Press TV reports that Iraq's Deputy Minister of Refugees and Displaced Persons, Asghar al-Moussawi is scapegoating those attempting to assist Iraqi Christians by insisting, "To encourage a group of any particular faith to leave the country is against international law, and causes more harm than benefit to those people."  Really?  Want to talk about Baghdad's decimated Jewish community?  Didn't think so.  Just because al-Moussawi has the gift of speech doesn't mean he needs to utilize it but when he does it only reminds everyone of how ineffective al-Maliki was during the attacks on Christians in Mosul last fall and how the puppet government has repeatedly ignored the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations in insisting it was 'safe' for refugees to return to Iraq.  Paul Isaac (International Herald Tribune) writes a plea on behalf of Assyrians in Iraq:
Since 2003, over 40 churches have been bombed by Islamic militants. Numerous priests have been murdered, including the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, killed last year shortly after he reminded extremists that the Christians of Iraq predate Islam.
Knowing that Assyrians lack militias or regional backers, terrorist groups understand that for every bomb and slain priest many Christians will flee their homes. And to this end, the militants have been dreadfully successful: While representing only 3 percent of the population, Assyrian Christians comprise over 20 percent of its refugees. Perhaps half of the pre-war Christian community has fled, in what one Iraqi bishop has dubbed a "campaign of liquidation."
While some have touted the success of the "surge" in reducing violence, the targeting of Assyrians has not diminished.
He calls on the US to do more* and notes that whether Barack started the Iraq War or not doesn't matter, it's Barack's war now.  (*"More" is being generous.  And the Feb. 11th snapshot noted the Assyrian community's open letter to Barack and vice president Joe Biden.) 

Cockburn's lunacy on the 'gold rush' was offensive in terms of the refugees and it's offensive in terms of realities for Iraqis -- a topic he chooses to bury.  Sunday, Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported on the United Nations' latest findings regarding economic realities for Iraqs which include "28% of males age 15 to 20 are unemployed; 17% of women have jobs; and most of the 450,000 Iraqis entering the job market this year won't find work 'without a concerted effort to boost the private sector'."   IRIN notes the report's findings that the rate of unemployment "could undermine long-term security and social stability". And Iraqis struggle while  AFP reports Nouri al-Maliki is purchasing $5.5 billion dollars worth of weapons from the US.  And while he destroys the already meager budget for the Ministry of Women's Affairs (from $7,500 a month to $1,500).  Yesterday wowOwow offered a news brief on the situation for women in Iraq and quoted Parliament's head of women's affairs Sameera al-Moussawi stating, "Women don't need a ministry to represent us.  We need effective women in every ministry of the country."
Regardless of where you stand on the issue (and it doesn't have to be one or the other -- women could and should be represented in the ministries and they could also have the Women's Ministry of Affairs) don't look for any of that mythical 'progress' in Iraq any time soon.  Not even when culture results in bitter power struggles.  Monday, Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) covered the power struggle between the Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities and the Culture Ministry as to whether or not the museum will open next Monday. The Culture Ministry's Jabir al-Jabiri is stating that the museum is not opening and his ministry is over the Ministry for Tourism and Antiquties while MfTaA's Baha al-Mayahi states yes, they are opening next Monday. Aseel Kami (Reuters) explains today that nothing's changed.  MfTaA's maintains that the museum will open Monday and Jaber al-Jaberi continues to insist that it won't and that "is the official and final position."  Kami observes, "The feud illustrates some of the challenges facing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government as it seeks to capitalise on a drop in violence and unify a country shattered by war."  And if they can't get their museum opening straight, lots of luck with prisoners.  Marc Santora (New York Times) reports that Wijdan Mikhail Salim (Human Rights Minister) confirms Iraq has received the four, Santora uses Human Rights Watch to provide the names: Hassan Abudl Said, Arkan Mohammad Ghafil al-Karim, Abbas Habid Rumi al-Naely and Ali Abdul Motalib Awayd Hassan al-Tayeea. The paper speaks with the sister of the first man (Hassan Abudl Said) and she (Nada Abdul Hadi Said) tells them she hasn't seen her brother since "1999 when he was drafted into the Iraqi Army" but began hearing from him after the Red Cross told the family in 2004 that "he was a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay."  What happens next to the four men is as big a question as when will the US ever leave Iraq?
Ross Colvin (Reuters) reported last night that an unnamed administration source has declared the decision of what Barack plans to do about "cutting troop levels in Iraq" will come "in weeks, not 'days or months'." Rebecca noted that last night. As pointed out most recently in the Feb. 6th snapshot, what to do was supposedly already settled, that campaign 'promise' which included him initiating upon being sworn in. But his Cult never holds him accountable.  At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Gordon Duguid was asked if the airspace or land of Turkey and Jordan could be used for US equipment "when the time  comes" and Duguid responded, "I am not aware of any discussions on that.  I know that the President has asked for a review from the Pentagon on just how you could draw down U.S. forces in Iraq.  I am not aware that the review has been finalized, so I would have to refer you to the Pentagon for where that stands at the moment."  From J.K.'s "Obama--War Criminal" (The Guillotine):

As we noted earlier, if Obama chose to continue the war(s), then he would be the war criminal.        
Well, it's one month into his regime, and the Los Angeles Times reminds us that Obama has said (among a number of things) that he wanted combat troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010--so almost two years from now!--but that: "There are about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Obama has not detailed plans for reducing the force in Iraq".           
Did anybody who voted for Obama, thinking he was the "anti-war" candidate, really think he wouldn't even have announced any details of a plan to reduce troops in Iraq by the end of his first month in office? Of course, all along Obama, the lawyer, allowed himself a loophole. He would only reduce troops in Iraq if his generals told him it was OK to do so. In other words, he would do what the military told him to. Funny, because in addition to that being the same excuse Bush always used for escalating (and also losing) the wars, the command structure in the US military actually doesn't work that way. The president is the commander-in-chief of the military and it is he who orders the generals around, not the other way.              
And, has anybody ever asked--what the hell does "OK" mean anyway?
Because it wasn't "OK" for US troops to have been in Iraq one damned second. And it still isn't "OK", and it won't ever be "OK"--till they get the hell out of Iraq.
While Barack delays a decision on what to do about Iraq -- after 'promising' 'withdrawal' on the campaign trail, the violence continues. 
Ahmed Rasheed and Missy Ryan (Reuters) report the Iraqi Islamic Party's Samir Safwat was shot dead "in his car in Baghdad's Zaafariniya neighborhood" and that his wife was a provincial candidate.  Oh those peaceful elections!  Results are supposedly due tomorrow.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul raodside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, roadside bombing outside of Kirkuk claimed 1 life and left two people injured.
Also last night in Karbala, the Telegraph of London reports, 7 people died and twenty-seven were wounded when a bus and a British "armoured vehicle" collided/crashed. 
In England a mystery surrounds what was lost?  Patrick Foster (Times of London) reports a Treasury Solictor's Dept attorney left "highly sensitive documents relating to the Iraqi War . . . unguarded on a train" Monday and they are now missing.  Foster explains, "It is not yet known exactly what aspect of the Iraq War the documents relate to. Eversheds has carried out public-private partnership work for the Ministry of Defence in the past, including advising on the Combined Aerial Target Service project, which awarded a £300 million contract to provide targeting services for the military."
ETAN is calling for the US "to chart a new course:" 
February 17 - In a letter sent today on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Indonesia, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and three dozen other organizations urged her not to offer U.S. assistance to the Indonesian military (TNI) or intelligence agencies.

"The Secretary of State's visit offers the new Obama administration a great opportunity to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Indonesia," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.

"We urge Secretary Clinton to promote a forward-looking agenda when she visits Indonesia. Any military assistance should be contingent on human rights accountability and real reform," added Miller. "Secretary Clinton should break with the failed Bush administration policy of engagement with the TNI. The U.S. should once again use military assistance as leverage to promote reform and human rights."

"The TNI looks at U.S. government actions. Statements promoting rights and reforms will be dismissed by the TNI unless U.S. assistance is suspended until genuine progress has been made," according to the letter.

The letter also urges "no resumption of assistance to or cooperation with the notorious Kopassus special forces. They remain the most egregious element of the TNI. There should also be no initiation of assistance to the military and civilian intelligence agencies (BAIS and BIN) which have long records of repressing human rights groups and other critics." BIN is linked to the murder" of Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia's leading human-rights advocate.

"An all-carrot, no-stick approach will undermine efforts to strengthen civilian control of the TNI and achieve judicial accountability for victims of human rights violations," the letter concludes.

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 and for continued restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia until there is genuine reform of its security forces. For additional background, see

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton          
Department of State         
Washington, DC        
February 17, 2009      
Dear Secretary Clinton:       
As organizations deeply concerned with human rights and justice in Indonesia and East Timor (Timor-Leste), we urge you to make human rights and reform central to your upcoming visit to Indonesia. Like you, we value a strong U.S. relationship with a democratic Indonesia. We recognize that there are a wide-range of issues of mutual concern between the two countries, among them climate change and the global economic crisis.       
If you genuinely seek to open a new chapter in U.S. relations with the world's largest Muslim majority nation, we urge you to make clear to Indonesia's leaders that respect for human rights is crucial and that security assistance must be contingent on accountability and real reform. While Indonesia's leaders may balk, its citizens will be grateful.        
For far too long the United States government has been an accomplice to human rights violations committed by the Indonesian military. In recent years, U.S. leaders often have paid lip service to human rights accountability and reform. Assistance to the Indonesian military (TNI) expanded rapidly -- despite the lack of any significant TNI reform and despite the ongoing failure to hold the TNI accountable for its past and current human rights violations. Any pretense of conditioning engagement on accountability and human rights evaporated.          
Past U.S. administrations have argued that close cooperation with the Indonesian military would spur reform by exposing TNI personnel to democratic perspectives and build respect for human rights and civilian control. However, decades of U.S. collaboration with the Indonesian military has shown no improvement coming from such association. Many U.S.-trained officers were involved in the worst violence in East Timor (Timor-Leste) and elsewhere.                   
The greatest changes occurred only when the U.S. withheld military assistance, such as foreign military financing and training such as IMET and JCET. For example, during the brief period of serious reform in the years immediately following the resignation of the dictator Suharto, when the separation of the police and military was completed, unelected military officials were removed from Parliament, and East Timor was set on its path to independence.            
Now that the U.S. is again engaged with the Indonesian military, international and domestic organizations have documented the Indonesian military's continued resistance to civilian control and oversight.   

The TNI continues to evade budget transparency and maintains its widespread impunity for crimes against humanity. The government has yet to release a long-completed inventory of TNI businesses, a crucial step towards the divestment of all military businesses by 2009 as required by law, despite the Defense Minister's repeated pledges to do so. Reportedly, assets have been stripped from many TNI-owned firms. The US State Department's annual human rights report describes TNI prostitution rings in Papua, while illegal logging and extortion of foreign and domestic firms continues there and elsewhere.  
UN, State Department and other reports describe Indonesia's human rights courts as incapable of bringing Indonesian military and police perpetrators of serious human rights violations to justice, including those involved in the Tanjung Priok massacre and  Abepura (Papua) violence. All those tried by Jakarta's ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor were acquitted. No senior officials have been convicted for the widespread crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor from 1975-1999. Officers credibly accused of serious crimes have continued uninterrupted careers. Several are leading candidates for Indonesia's highest political office this year.   
Many in Papua view special autonomy as a failure. The military and police are brutally cracking down on Papuans peacefully-expressing their wish for greater control of their land and protesting environmental degradation and deforestation. In the Maluku and Papua, protesters have received lengthy prison terms for their peaceful dissent.  
Retired senior military officials working in Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency (BIN) are suspected of planning and ordering the 2004 assassination of Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia's leading human-rights advocate. They have yet to be successfully prosecuted. The failure to resolve the high profile murder of such a prominent human rights defender puts others on the front lines in defense of fundamental human rights at even graver risk. Human rights defenders in the provinces of Papua and West Papua remain particularly exposed to threats and violence.    
The "territorial command system" positions the TNI at the village level and enables their continued involvement in business and politics. This pervasive system poses a threat to upcoming national elections. The TNI-backed fundamentalist Islamic Defenders Front has been intimidating small parties and individuals critical of the military.   
The previous administration's pursuit of the TNI as a "partner" in the fight against terrorism raises other fundamental issues. American assistance to and cooperation with the TNI ignores the reality that it is the Indonesian police and not the military that are responsible for tracking down alleged terrorists. (Your department's latest "Country Reports on Terrorism" praises civilian efforts and does not mention the TNI.)  
The previous administration pledged to carefully calibrate any security assistance to Indonesia to promote reform and human rights. There is no evidence they ever did so. We urge you to evaluate the impact of U.S. security assistance on accountability, military reform and human rights.   
The TNI looks at U.S. government actions. Statements promoting rights and reforms will be dismissed by the TNI unless U.S. assistance is suspended until genuine progress has been made. We urge you to use this leverage and restrict assistance until their substantial progress actually occurs.   
We especially urge no resumption of assistance to or cooperation with the notorious Kopassus special forces. They remain the most egregious element of the TNI. There should also be no initiation of assistance to the military and civilian intelligence agencies (BAIS and BIN) which have long records of repressing human rights groups and other critics. As noted above, BIN is linked to the murder of human rights advocate Munir.  
An all-carrot, no-stick approach will undermine efforts to strengthen civilian control of the TNI and achieve judicial accountability for victims of human rights violations.  

The full list of signers can be found at
And we're closing with   John Pilger's "Hollywood's New Censors" (Information Clearing House):

With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this and identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema's lobby correspondents, its dutiful press corps. Emitting safe snipes and sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian de Palma's 2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media does not report. He depicts the homicides and gang-rapes that are never prosecuted and are the essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the "divisive" De Palma for his "perverse tales of voyeurism and violence", did his best to taint the film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.       
In this way, the "war on terror" -- the conquest and subversion of resource rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions touch all our lives – is almost excluded from the popular cinema. Michael Moore's outstanding Fahrenheit 911 was a freak; the notoriety of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped to force its way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted the "war on terror" in Latin America, was distributed in Britain, Australia and other countries but not in the United States. "You will need to make structural and political changes," said a major New York distributor. "Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it -- he likes liberal causes -- and tame those anti-Bush sequences."     
During the cold war, Hollywood's state propaganda was unabashed. The classic 1957 dance movie, Silk Stockings, was an anti-Soviet diatribe interrupted by the fabulous footwork of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. These days, there are two types of censorship. The first is censorship by introspective dross. Betraying its long tradition of producing gems, escapist Hollywood is consumed by the corporate formula: just make 'em long and asinine and hope the hype will pay off. Ricky Gervais is his clever comic self in Ghost Town, while around him stale, formulaic characters sentimentalise the humour to death.          
These are extraordinary times. Vicious colonial wars and political, economic and environmental corruption cry out for a place on the big screen. Yet, try to name one recent film that has dealt with these, honestly and powerfully, let alone satirically.. Censorship by omission is virulent. We need another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another Dr. Strangelove. The partisans who tunnel out of their prison in Gaza, bringing in food, clothes, medicines and weapons with which to defend themselves, are no less heroic than the celluloid-honoured POWs and partisans of the 1940s. They and the rest of us deserve the respect of the greatest popular medium.