Monday, March 09, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, March 9, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death over the weekend, Iraqi women get some media attention, Turkey and the US increase their ties, Gen Ray Odierno speaks to Martha Raddatz (ABC News) about how the US could remain in Iraq past 2011, and more.
Today wowOwow notes Dr. Nawal al-Samaari who was the Women's Affairs minister when wowOwow noted her earlier and they quote her statements to AFP yesterday in an interview explaining her resignation, "I was convinced that I could improve conditions for women, but I ran into a wall . . . the occupation, terrorism, the economy collapsing . . . all that produced an army of widows, an increase in the number of divorcees, unmarried women, women beggars.  Society is falling apart and me, I was a minister in a ministry without means, without power, without offices outside Baghdad. Women's issue are not a priority for the government.  But if women were helped, I think that half of the societal problems would be resolved."  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that al-Samaarie (another spelling the press is using) still intends to withdraw her resignation and intends to do so tomorrow, explaining "the new situation" includes "pledges for funds and support from international aid organizations.  She also said more than 50 Iraqi women have offered to volunteer to implement the ministry's plans."   Her AFP interview yesterday took place on International Women's Day. 
Firyal, a 24-year-old widow with a young son, lost her husband when Shi'ite 'authorities' stopped him at a checkpoint in 2006.  Her father tried to intervene but had a gun pointed at him.  Since her husband's corpse was never found, she receives no pension from the al-Maliki government that likes to brag so about their 'deep concern' ('concern' translates to approximately $1 a day for widows).  20-year-old Zainab also can't collect the meager widow's pension because her husband was kidnapped back in 2006, "I went to the government office to register, hoping that I could get monthly salary but they didn't allow me to because my husband is neither dead or alive, sick or disabled.  He was kidnapped and is considered 'missing' and there is no law addressing this.  So all I can do is continue with my work [as a domestic cleaner and servant] so I can try to buy milk for my son because it is the most important thing, and also so I can buy some food for my extended family so they can eat lunch and dinner.  Sometimes we have only bread and tea to eat for dinner.  I can withstand anything, but the children can't." Bushara is a Shi'ite who lost her home when graffitti appeared on it advising "Shiites in the neighbourhood to get out" so she, her husband and their daughter immediately fled and they have had no help from the government despite filling out multiple applications with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.  41-year-old Nour is a widow living "with 20 people in cramped quarters in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City" who explains, "Our drinking water is drawn by a pump which at the same time draws sewage water which we disinfect with chlorien tablets that we buy at the pharmacy. . . People in the area who can't afford the tablets have fallen ill with many serious diseases like cholera, typhoid, intestinal infections and renal infections, especially in the summer."   These are some of the Iraqi women sharing their stories in a new report by Oxfam Internationl. "In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talka bout their greatest concerns and challenges" is a survey of 1,700 Iraqi women -- approximately 60% of whom say that security is their first concern, the next grouping (55%) explain that they have been direct or indirect victims of violence since the US invasion began and the same percentage states "they were displaced at least once since 2003."  Other findings included almost "25% of women had no daily access to drinking women & half of those who did have daily access to water said it was not potable; 69% said access to water was worse or the same as it was in 2006 & 2007" and "40% of women with children reported that their sons and daughters were not attending school."  On the latter issue, "30% of those with children said they could not reach school without security threats." We'll note this section of the 19-page report:
In early 2009, reports of improved security in Iraq, and even a return to 'normality,' began appearing in the media.  Similar reports of diminished suicide bombs and other violent indiscriminate attacks emerged at the time of the initial data collection last year.  However insecurity remains in many provinces including Baghdad, Kirkuk and Nineveh where small-scale attacks, assassination and kidnappings continue.  Women in particular are less safe now than at any other time during the conflict or in the years before.
Beyond security, the overwhelming concern women voiced was extreme difficulty accessing basic servics such as clean water, electricity and adequate shelter despite billions of US dollars that have been spent in the effort to rehabilitate damaged or destroyed infrastructure.  Availability of essentials such as water, sanitation and health care is far below national averages.  Both the Iraqi organization and researcher that carried out the survey and analyzed its findings corroborated that the overall cchallenges facing women and the Iraqi population as a whole remained the same in early 2009 as they did in the second half of 2008 when the date presented in this paper was collected. 
The report notes, "As compared with 2007, 40% felt their security situation was worsening in 2008, 38% said it was improving and the remainder said it had not changes; as compared with 2006; 43% said it was worse, 34% said it was better & 22% said it had not changed."   Oxfam calls for a dramatic increase in investments from donor countries to rebuild Iraq's "basic and social services sectors" and notes "The women of Iraq have been caught in the grip of a silent emergency for the past six years."  Reporting on Oxfam's study, Mike Sergeant (BBC News) zooms in on one widow, Nadia Hussein who lost her husband, three brothers, saw her home torched -- while she was pregnant and she miscarried, attempted to see help from her extended family only to be beaten and abused by a nephew and now considers home a women's center in Baghdad. Sergeant observes of these Iraqi war widows, "Almost everywhere you go in Baghdad, you can see them begging at traffic lights and outside mosques - dressed from head to toe in black."  The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes, "One in five married Iraqi women has been a victim of physical domestic violence, while one in three has been subject to emotional violence. Of the women victims of physical domestic violence, 14% were subject to violence during pregnancy." And the UN "calls for both commitment and effective practical measures to protect and promote rights of Iraqi women. Years of violence, internal conflict and wars have slowed progress towards equality for Iraqi women, and compromised their fundamental rights to education, healthcare, work and full political participation."  Sunday Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) tied it in with another study on the general population.  That other study -- done by WHO and the Iraqi government -- is nonsense.  We're not interested in it.  Rubin notes of Oxfan's study, it found "more than three-quarters of all widows were not receiving pensions, and a third of the women surveyed had three hours or less electricity per day."  [The other study was addressed Saturday and Sunday.] 
Nadje Al-Ali is the co-author (with Nicola Pratt) of What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq. At Dissident Voice, Rose Aguilar shares her interview with Nadje.  Aguilar is a host of KALW's Your Call (Aguilar spoke with Nadje and Dahr Jamail last month, click here for audio).  From the interview:
Rose Aguilar: March 20 marks the six-year anniversary of the invasion. When you look back at this occupation, what comes to mind?
Nadje Al-Ali: The death toll. That's the first thing that comes to mind. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. You have hundreds of thousands of widows. Iraq has become a nation of widows. Sixty-five percent of the population is women. You have some areas of Iraq where about 70 percent are female-headed households and there is no functioning state, so women are forced to beg. Some are forced into prostitution. Some get $100 a month to survive.
RA: What else is new about today's situation?        
NA: We've never seen a situation where women were told to stay at home or forced to follow a dress code or told not to drive, which is happening in certain parts of Iraq. This is a totally new phenomenon. Last year in Basra, 133 women were killed by various Islamist groups for allegedly not being Islamic enough. This is not to say that things were wonderful under the previous regime, but one of the things that has been disturbing for me is the fact that some of the women and men I've talked to who suffered under the previous regime and under sanctions and wars, say it was better then than it is now.          
Also, what I think is forgotten is the humanitarian crisis. Six years afterwards, people still don't have electricity. They need generators if they want electricity. Seventy percent of Iraqis don't have access to clean water. Eighty percent don't have access to sewage. The hospitals are in very bad shape. We haven't seen any reconstruction, really.
Iraq women are the canaries in the coalmine which is why it was always so important for the US government to ignore them and for their lapdogs in the press to do the same.  Reporting on them, reporting what was happening to them, meant telling even a little bit of truth about the illegal war and that could not be allowed.  John F. Burns and Dexy Filkins managed to avoid women in one report after another filed for the New York Times until the Go-Go Boys finally left the Green Zone and the country.  Sabrina Tavernise, Ellen Knickmeyer and others (including many men, such as Damien Cave) were able to find Iraqi women and to tell their stories or include their thougths in their reports.  But all this time later what does it really matter?  Who bothers to cover Iraqi women.  Friday's snapshot  noted Amnesty International's new report [PDF format warning] entitled "Trapped By Violence: Women In Iraq."  There have been many reports.  And look at those who cashed in on the illegal war, who made their movies about it, who wrote their books about it and who lost interest.  At some of their sites you might find, for example, a sexist comic featuring a doll turning 50.  A doll.  It's not a funny comic and, more to the point, these men never cover the Mattel doll anymore than they cover real women. But they can waste our time with their limp ravings over Barack, they just can't ever note the realities for Iraqi women.  It's disgusting.  And the problem is with our society.  The problems with the US society allowed the White House to rank priorities and to be sure that women would fall to the bottom in Iraq.  The priorities in the US allow so many 'brave' voices to avoid the issue of Iraqi women day after day damn day.  It's not important to them, you understand.  But they've got time to share a sexist comic about a doll. [Click here for Bob Somerby on how much space has been wasted addressing the doll.  In fairness to some wasting it, if they played with the doll, they are no worse than those distracting us with sports columns outside the sports pages.]  Oxfam released their report yesterday, Amnesty released their report last week, yesterday was International Women's Day.  Now go check the very-beyond-middle-aged boiz and see what they're writing about.  Iraqi women have been under attack non-stop since the start of the illegal war.  The fact that there remains so little coverage of it in the US does not go to the very serious problems Iraq currently has -- it goes to the serious societal problems in the US which encourage and allow 'brave' voices to find diversions and distractions to 'cover.'
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, "Put simply, we have much less hope of addressing the complex challenges we face in this new century without the full participation of women. . . . Women still comprise the majority of the world's poor, unfed, and unschooled.  Hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth every year.  They are subjected to rape as a tactic of war and exploited by traffickers globally in a billion dollar criminal business.  Laws are still on the books denying women the right to own property, access credit, or make their own choices within their marriage.  And honor killings, maiming, female genital mutilation, and other violent and degrading practices that target women are tolerated in too many places today.  Like all people, women deserve to live free from violence and fear.  To create peaceful, thriving communities, women must be equal partners.  That means making key resources available to women as well as men, including the chance to work for fair wages and have access to credit; to vote, petition their governments and run for office; to know they can get healthcare when they need it, including family planning; and to send their children to school -- their sons and their daughters.  Women also have a crucial role to play in establishing peace worldwide.  In regions torn apart by war, it is often the women who find ways to reach across differences and discover common ground as mothers, caretakers, and grassroots advocates.  One need only look to Northern Ireland, Rwanda, the Balkans, and parts of Central America to see the impact of women working in their communities to bridge divides in areas of sectarian conflict.  This week, as we celebrate the accomplishments and the untapped potential of women around the world, we must remind ourselves that ensuring the rights of women and girls is not only a matter of justice.  It is a matter of enhancing global peace, progress, and prosperity for generations to come.  When women are afforded their basic rights, they flourish.  And so do their children, families, communities, and nations."
Last week, the US State Dept honored various women with their International Women of Courage Awards and we'll note Suaad Allami: "A prominent lawyer, Suaad Allami fights against the erosion of women's rights and defends the most disadvantaged. She founded the NGO Women for Progress and the Sadr City Women's Center, which offers free medical care, literacy education, vocational training, and legislative advocacy. She has accepted a Humphrey Fellowship from the State Department for academic year 2009-2010." Among the obstacles Iraqi women face are the thugs the US installed.  Liz Sly (Chicago Tribune) reported on one such thug, Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, Saturday and quoted him 'explaining', "We are the sons of the province, and we are ready to run the province." Shakey Risha, a Mafia don put on the US payroll, is most infamous recently for threatening mass violence in Al Anbar Province if his political party was not made the winners of the provincial election there.  Sly quotes Khamis Ahmeda Abtan (of Iraqi Islamic Party) stating, "People think the results were made up -- a deal with the government in Baghdad and also the Americans to satisify Abu Risha.  Anbar is going to be ruled acrodding to emotions and according to affiliations of tribes.  We're already seeing it.  People are saying, 'We're of X tribe, so we've got to have X job.' I don't think this is good for the security of the province."
Secretary of State Clinton was in Turkey over the weekend.  As noted in the February 18th snapshot, US State Dept spokesperson Gordon Duguid denied any knowledge that Turkey or Jordan was being asked to to assist with any draw down or withdrawal, not even with equipment issues.   But Reuters explained last week, "Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan signalled on Wednesday Turkey would allow the US military to use its bases and ports to withdraw troops from Iraq after US President Barack Obama pledged a 2010 drawdown. The United States has not formally asked to use Turkish airbases and ports and Turkey would have to consider what kind of equipment was being transported, the routes to be used and other issues before approving any such request, Babacan told reporters before departing for a NATO meeting in Brussels." Saturday Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) reported on Clinton's trip to Turkey, the officials she met with and observed, "The Obama administration needs Turkey to help stabilize Iraq and to mediate in Middle East conflicts involving countries and groups with limited or broken diplomatic ties with the U.S., such as Syria and Iran.  Turkey, which aspires to European Union membership, also forms a vital oil and gas corridor."  Saturday Clinton and Turish Foreign Minister Ali Babacn issued a joint statement where they noted "the strong bonds of alliance, solidarity and strategi partnership" between their two countries, "announced the stablishment of 'Young Turkey/Young America: A New Relationship for a New Age" to increase communication and ties between young people of each country and, in terms of Iraq, "They also welcome Turkey's deeping relations with the Government of Iraq as evidenced by high level visits as well as trilateral meetings to discuss cooperation against the PKK."  Yigal Schleifer (Christian Science Monitor) notes the diplomatic mission had many items on the agenda "including the possible use of Turkish soil for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq".  Meanwhile  Alsumaria reports that the Turkish military is whispering about a reported deal between Baghdad and Ankara which will allow Turkey to train the Iraqi Army. Reportedly the deal was addressed on Wednesday and will be signed by President Abdula Gul when he visits Baghdad at the end of this month.  Tim Reid and Michael Evans (Times of London) note that US President Barack Obama is now scheduled to visit Turkey in the coming weeks.
Saturday the US military made the latest announcement: "A U.S. Coalition forces Soldier died from injuries sustained following an attack on a patrol in the Salah Ad Din province of northern Iraq March 7. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense."  This brought the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4256.
Other violence reported over the weekend included Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reported 8 mass graves containing at least 25 corpses were discovered in Diyala Province.  Yesterday a bomber killed himself outside Baghdad's police academy on Palestine Street and also killed at least 30 others with at least sixty-one left injured. Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) reports the bomber utilized a motorcycle and that, December 1st, the same police academy was bombed (fifteen people died then).  BBC notes it's the deadliest attack in a month and, "Reports suggest the bomber detonated a belt of explosives as he crashed his motorbike into a line of people waiting at the side entrance to the training centre. Most of the dead were police recruits, while others were serving officers and civilians."  Marc Santora (New York Times) reports that the nearby Oil Ministry had 100 workers outside protesting when the bombing took place (they were protesting wages still unpaid) and that one of the paper's employees was on "a minibus that happened to be passing the Oil Ministry.  The bus shook, and the driver tried to change direction.  The smell of spent explosives filled the air."  He quotes the woman explaining, "Then the police began shooting randomly.  There was gunfire all around. . . . First I saw one truck with two people lying in the back, and then a second with four or five.  They were just lying there.  Their hands were hanging limp over the tailgate, as if they were no longer conscious."   Greg Miller and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) quote: eye witness Haidar Nouri stating, "Wheil we were standing there, I heard someone scream, 'Stop! Stop!' Then I heard two shots and I felt something throw the crowd down.  I felt nothing after that. [Then]I found myself in the hospital. I saw some of my fellow recruits lost their hands and others their legs.  The hospital halls are crowded with the wounded.  I hoped to serve my country when I got this job and that God would bless me with money, but this is what I got."   Turning to some of today's reported violence.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing on "the head of the Haj committee's car, Seid Jafar alMusawi" which wounded him and his son, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left two people injured, and, dropping back to last night, a Salahuddin Province roadside bombing that left four police officers injured.  Reuters notes a Tikrit roadside bombing last night targeting the Governor of Salahudin Province which left five of his bodyguards injured.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 "Awakening" Council members shot dead in Baghdad, 2 police officers shot dead in Mosul "and one civilian was injured," three people wounded in an attack outside Mousl University, and 1 person shot dead in another Mosul attack.
Meanwhile Lara Jakes (AP) reported the US military is stating 12,000 US troops will leave Iraq by September. Is this the approximately 10,000 that will leave in all of 2009? Or is this 12,000 part of the constant resupply efforts in Iraq -- where some are rotated out and some are rotated in?  Marc Santora (New York Times) reports Maj Gen David G. Perkins is the person stating the reduction (already announced) is happening and Santora says that there are currently 140,000 US troops in Iraq. 140,000?  That's not what's been reported. There are thought to be 146,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq and the White House has been pushing the press to use 142,000 as the figure since Barack's Little Big Nothing Speech at Camp Lejune. Before that speech, ten days before, Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller (Los Angeles Times) reported: "There are about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq." That's February 18th. The White House is pleased as punch that the domestic press immediately fell into line and began using 142,000. It's unclear whether the White House pushed or the US military decided on its own to begin using 140,000.  Meanwhile Martha Raddatz and Luis Martinez (ABC News) report the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno is stating " that continuing the fight against insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul might lead to U.S. troops remaining in the city past a June 30, 2009 deadline for all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities, but only if the Iraqi government made such a request."  In an exclusive interview to be broadcast on ABC World News Tonight this evening, Odierno explains to Raddatz that the 12,000 US troops ("combat troops and enablers")

RADDATZ: I mean, the national elections.

ODIERNO: I'm sorry. The national elections are scheduled right now for December, they could go as late as January.

RADDATZ: So, if you didn't bring out another brigade in the fall, you'd have at least 80,000 troops to move out of here from January or February through August?

ODIERNO: Yeah, I'd say about 70,000. We'd probably be at about 120,000 at that time down to 50,000 by August. But, I think we have a good plan in place to do that. And I think, again, I feel very comfortable that the window of risk is between October and February-March of 2010. And that will allow us then to do a more detailed and quick withdrawal of forces out of Iraq, because I think we will have gone through the toughest part and we'll be in a real stable stage that will enable us to do that very quickly.

RADDATZ: And would the plan be 10,000 a month, stagger it?

We'll note the section discussing the US remaining in Iraq past 2011:

RADDATZ: And you believe we will be completely out of here by 2011?

ODIERNO: We will. We have signed an agreement that says we will be and I think we're on track to do that.

RADDATZ: But that could change? If the Iraqis want it to change?

ODIERNO: It's their decision. It's a decision that they have to make. But I don't see them making that decision right now.

RADDATZ: But would you still say it's conditions-based, until then?

ODIERNO: No, I think it's based on an Iraqi assessment. Again, if we stayed ... Again, our plan is to be out of here by December, 2011. That's the agreement we signed and we will meet those requirements. What, if the government of Iraq asks us, if they ask us to stay, want to renegotiate, then we'll go through renegotiation and we'll decide at that time what that means.

RADDATZ: I guess I look at other places and I look at Bosnia where we were for ten years and they weren't even shooting at each other then, and in terms of stability, being out by 2011 seems pretty rapid.

ODIERNO: Well, again, I think that's a judgment that will have to be made later on.

 Far from the first time Odierno has made statements about the US presence being extended.  (And he's got a stronger grip on the Status Of Forces Agreement than the bulk of the press has had.)  So this is a good time to note this from IVAW's Dustin Alan Parks' "I am the anti-war movement:"
You call those who refuse to fight absent    
Those who have the courage to resist are not absent
They're knocking on your door right now           
Begging to be heard and exercise their rights        
But you refuse to allow entry to opposition                 
Which is fine because I have this message:                     
I found a back door...            
I opened my mind and used it as a key      
So now I am here and you can't ignore me             
This month groups such as The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War -- are taking part in an action. Iraq Veterans Against the War explains:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st
As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution,
click here.)
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.
For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or