Friday, March 27, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Friday, March 27, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the largest refugee crisis in the world continues, Odierno raises a concern regarding Kirkuk, KBR's back in hot water, and more. 
War Hawk and Professional Liar Andrew White shows up today at the Telegraph of London to remind that some collars are dirty -- extremely dirty.  He tosses around various 'facts' but after getting caught out lying in a public hearing about the number of Jews in Iraq (he claimed they were all gone when he knew that was a lie -- what he didn't know was that reporters were present, he threw a fit when he learned out his 'testimony' was on the public record) we'll ignore any claims he make that don't have to do with his own self-serving and fat ass: "I am a minority here in saying that the war had to happen and Saddam had to be removed, but I was here in Iraq before the last war.  I saw the fear and debauchery of the regime.  I still do not denounce the war, but what happened afterwards was worse than terrible.  It was awful for all but particularly for those groups who are small in number.  I do not call them minorities because they themselves object to that term.  It does not mater if they are Mandeans, Yazidees, Turkman, Fali Kurds or Christians -- they have all suffered, been marginalised and forgotten by the masses."  You'd think that in so short a passage, White could be quoted without lying but that's underestimating him.  He uses the term "minorities" all the time to describe them.  He did so at speaking before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in July of 2007. He did so throughout 2008 and did so promoting that bad book that the entire world avoided.  (To read his blog post in full is to assume he spends every day in Iraq.  That's not true.  He has a wife and kids and stays with them regularly . . . in England.)  It's really cute that he wants to claim the illegal war was worth it while noting explaining publicly how much it was worth . . . to him personally.  Not just from his blood-money soaked books but the US Defense Department gave him their own version of Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes last year and he cashed it, he banked it.  All that money -- all that US tax payer money -- funneled to his own personal Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East and where's the improvement?  Where's the advance for Iraqi Christians?  There is none. 
Things are worse now for Iraqi Chrisitans than they were last year.  Every year they get worse but Andrew White got a pay day and that's what really matters . . . to him.  And anyone who knows even a little about the culture in Iraq would have grasped White wasn't just an outsider, he was an outsider who could never bridge the gap with larger Iraqi culture.  It went far beyond him being a Christian.  But despite all the anthropologists like Monty McFate the DoD puts on their payroll (or maybe because of those idiots) no one ever grasped that reality.  Andrew White can't speak to Iraqis.  And that includes but is not limited to the fact that he can't speak Arabic or Aramaic.  He speaks English. And the US Defense Department decided to throw away tax payer money on him?  That's insane.  It's equally insane that as late as 2008, the government was giving money to someone who advocated for the Iraq War in the lead up and made predictions that never came to pass (easy, brief war).  Andrew White is a menace to the planet and his vanity organization has never accomplished a damn thing.  He tries to present himself as speaking for all of Iraq's Christian minorities and the reality is that he doesn't.  The Catholic Church speaks for more of Iraqi Christian population and White can't speak for them either, he's Church of England -- created so Henry V could get a divorce. All of the Christian churches in Iraq (in 2003 and in today) and only one church (Baghdad's St. George's Church) was Anglican.  No, White never represented or spoke for most Iraqi Christians or other religious minorities.  DPA reported last night, "In the second such killing in as many days, police on Thursday said they had found the body of another member of the minority Yezidi sect murdered near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Police said the man had been shot in the head and in the chest, and that his body was found in the Bashiqa district east of Mosul".  Again, no change, no improvement.
Sahar S. Gabriel  is one of the Iraqis employed by the New York Times and she noted this week (at the paper's Baghdad Bureau Blog), in contrast to Andy White, "We didn't like him [Saddam] much but he protected the Christians in Iraq, though we did not know to what extent.  We didn't know what kind of evils were waiting for us when he wasn't ruling.  Not that I am saying in any way that we want him back or that he was our savior. Before 2003 we never really heard of the Islamist movements which became so powerful later.  We weren't aware that there were people who would target Christians.  I had never even heard of the Sadr family.  I had never heard of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, the Badr Brigades."  This video by Beirut, Lebanon's Chaldean Church traces the attacks on Iraqi Christians and starts the timeline with a demand that the cross on St. John the Baptist Church in Baghdad and other demands as well as removals, followed by bombings.  At some point, the US will have to answer for what happened.  The US decided to push the Shi'ite thugs -- the ones Sahar S. Gabriel's explaining she had never heard of -- and promote them.  Thugs were easier to pay off and wink-wink 'keep the peace'.  What laws may prevent you from doing, thugs will gladly carry out.  There were techoncrats, secularists, academics, etc. in Iraq.  It was not the fundamentalist nation-state it's becoming.  But the US backed the fundamentalists and you either left the country or you went along (at least publicly) with the thugs.  That's the story of the illegal war and occupation and while a large number of people may think it can be denied the reality is it cannot.  It cannot be buried or hidden because Christians around the world will not allow it to be.  That's the fact that the Bully Boy Bush White House wasn't aware of, didn't grasp.  Watch the video, see (yet again) the comparisons of what's happening to Iraqi Christians to what was done to Christians in earlier times.  Grasp that this is a very personal issue and that demands for answers will come.  Long after this falls out of the headlines, long after the illegal war is over, Iraqi Christians will still be entering other countries and they will be telling their stories.  The US (under Carter -- yes, St. Jimmy -- and Reagan) thought they could get away with some of the worst human rights crimes in Latin America.  And they might have.  But the stories were and are told.  And though the US media looked the other way or outright supported these assaults in real time, the realities are known today.  And those stories reached the wider audience via the refugees and the church groups.  Despite the fact that Bully Boy Bush courted and won some support from US Christians for his illegal war at the onset (there were vocal Chrisian leaders and churches in the US against the planned Iraq War), it is this same community, this same network that will spend the next decades getting the reality out on the slaughters the US invasion brought about.
The video features (you can also click here if you have any problems with the first link) an Iraqi family telling their story.  The mother worked for their church and the father ran a liquor store.  Those were the family's 'crimes.'  And for that, their daughter was raped, tortured and killed.
Viviane's mother: They used to go to school together [her two daughters].  On that day her sister was sick and returned at nine from school, but Viviane stayed there.  She usually returns at one p.m.  She didn't show up, so I started to worry. I said maybe she stopped at her friends who live nearby.  So I went to them and asked why didn't Viviane come back home? They said "there was a black Opel, which blocked our way, as we were getting back from school, with four gunmen in it.  Two of them stepped out and grabbed Viviane threatening us with their machine guns and ordering us to go directly home.  Then they left with Viviane, kidnapped."  I heard all that and started beating myself. I returned home and notified my parents and my father-in-law.  We waited for a phone call to find out what they wanted.  At seven p.m. they called and I asked them whether they wanted money or anything else.  They answered, "No, we don't want money.  We want to break your heart because we consider her father a traitor."  And he hung up. My brother tried to dial back their number but they didn't answer.  Five, six days passed by.  On the seventh day at six a.m. some young men from the neighborhood came by screaming.  They said, "There is a dead girl thrown in the square and we fear she might be your daughter." Everyone in the area knew that our daughter was kidnapped.  We all went there running.  We saw her.  They had covered her with a bed sheet.  Her chest was all burnt.  Her face disfigured.  She was disfigured, raped many times and tortured.  She had been bleeding to death.  We made the arrangements for the funeral and buried her in our village.
If you're able to stream, the video has captioning.  You'll be able to watch the way discussing the brutal assault on Viviane still pains the family.  Viviane's sister explains, "I want to study and become like all other children. Not like what I am doing now: go to work from early morning till late at night.  And we see nothing but humilitation.  This one shouts at you from here, another one from there . . . why? We have no hope in this life.  We want nothing but go to school."  Viviane's mother adds, "We are destroyed.  We are destroyed.  We are finished.  One would describe this as a slow death.  We came here to die slowly.  Die a little bit each day."  That's only one
Iraqi man: My brother-in-law was killed.  He owned a liquor store.  They caught him for 18 days and asked for a ransom of fifty-thousand dollars.  His brother bargained with them to make it thirty. He went on April 6, the day of my wedding, to give them the money.  At nine o'clock, they took the money and killed him. We thought they would release him.  We waited 2, 3 days but after two weeks we found him killed, shot nine times. He was married and had seven children.  I used to work with him in the liquor store.  The Mahdi Army came every month to threaten me.  I couldn't take it and I left after four month.  They used to send me a message each month: a bullet in an envelope asking me to surrender and become Muslim otherwise they would kill me and my family
Genevieve Pollock (Zenit) interviews missionaries Diane and Hank McCormick who are in Northern Iraq.  Hank explains, "Thousands of Catholics have arrived in Northern Iraq over the past three years.  In a two-moth period, more than 10,000 families were displaced from Mosul alone, and resettled in the Dioceses of Alquoch.  Catholics have experienced forced immigration twice in their lives.  Early in the Saddam regime they were forcibly moved from their Kurdish villages and relocated to Baghdad and Mosul.  Over the 30 years of the regime, those families made Baghdad or Mosul their home.  With the collapse of the regime, and the civil violence that followed, Catholic families became victims of religious persecution and financial extortion.  They were murdered, kidnapped, and threatened with their lives."    The McCormicks intend to stay in Iraq for the near future:

Q: You are planning to live in Iraq for the next few years to help the Church. Why?
Hank: The present population has survived decades of terror and violence under Saddam, a war with Iran, two Gulf wars, an international embargo, and the ensuing chaos that followed the fall of Saddam's regime. Today, amidst 28 million Muslim Iraqis there stand no more than 700,000 Iraqi Christians -- of whom almost 70% are Catholics. They have begun to rebuild their communities. They have begun to piece back together their lives in a new era of hope. We will be honored and blessed to contribute in any way possible to help the Catholics in Iraq preserve their traditions and their presence in their homeland. Iraq is a great place. There are great religious sites and archeological sites to visit, and there is much to do. Iraqis are friendly and welcoming. We would like to help promote economic opportunity, create bridges between the Eastern Churches and the Church in the West, and participate in Christian-Islamic dialogue.
Q: How can the international Catholic community help the Church in Northern Iraq? What can motivate them to do this?                  
Diane: Bishops and priests from the Catholic Church in the United States and other countries can travel to Northern Iraq to see the situation first hand, and then share that knowledge. Delegations from England and France have already visited, and Germany has made arrangements to go. Catholic businessmen, investors, and economic experts can tour the area, and make recommendations on development and economic opportunities.    
Parishes around the world can participate in the Adopt-a-Parish program. This program will connect Catholic parishes inside Iraq with Catholic parishes in the rest of the world.
AFP reports on Armenian Christians in Iraq and notes, "Their main church in Central Baghdad's Tehran Square holds documents as old as 1636.  At least 45 Aermenians have been killed in the post-Saddam years of rampant inusrgency, sectarian warfare and often unbridled crime, while another 32 people have been kidnapped for ransom, two of whom are still missing."  Armenian Christians in Iraq are estimated to number 12,000. In the US,
Dolores Fox Ciardelli (California's Danville Weekly) reports on Sister Diana Momeka, a Dominican nun from Baghdad, speaking to Catholics at Work, "Americans see stories of towns returning to normal, markets opening and people shopping for their daily groceries but the sense of everyday angst, uncertainty and fear are not seen in the stories." From Fox Ciardelli's article:
"In the late '90s to 2003 everyone said there would be war," she recalled. "Then on March 29, I was sleeping and the blast of bombing started."           
"We were happy that freedom would come," she said, "but we did not know the consequences."            
She was attending the University of Mosul and every day she would see bodies on the road. "They could not pick up the bodies or they'd get killed," she explained.     
Kidnapping also became prevalent. One of her brothers, a mechanic, was sitting in front of his shop and three men came and shot him with 30 bullets.           
"A neighbor said they shot him because he was a Christian. The men had tried to convert him to Islam," she said. "He left four teenagers and a wife, 39. The oldest was 15, and they started to work."           
She also lost four cousins, some killed by terrorists, others by U.S. soldiers.         
"One cousin was kidnapped for 40 days, and U.S. soldiers released him," she said. "They found him in the mud, half dead."           
She also fears because education, which was good before 2003 and cost nothing, has been interrupted. "It's very dangerous," she said. "If you don't have an education, you will be miserable."             
Sister Diana has been living in the United States for three years and relishes each day free from fear.                
"In Iraq, when people leave in the morning they don't know if they will come back," she said. "People see their children dying and they don't have medicine. You go to a hospital and there are no doctors."               
She told stories of a priest being kidnapped, a Christian woman raped in front of her husband and him being set free to tell the tale. She told about Islamic terrorists making Christians leave their homes.             
"They say, 'You have three choices. You can get killed, convert to Islam, or leave without anything,'" she said. "The people close to me left with nothing."
Last week, Germany accepted a small number (122) of Iraqi refugees from Syria.  This AP story has photos of their airport arrival. Der Spiegel estimates the 122 were 60% Christian, 15% Muslim and 15% Mandaen.   (That only adds up to 90% -- address your questions to Der Spiegel.) Der Spiegel notes:
The refugees include people like Rita, who once owned a hair salon but had to give it up after receiving death threats. She lived a life of fear until, like many other Christians, she fled the country with her family. Now she has nothing to return to -- her house has been occupied and her neighborhood has been "ethnically cleansed."         
Rita's father was kidnapped because he is a Christian. His wife searched for him for one month and then fled to Syria. Police freed him after eight weeks, but it took him nine months to find out where his family had gone.         
Indeed, many of the Iraqi refugees survived horrible events and are traumatized. Sixteen-year-old Muhanad, for example, was kidnapped on his way to school at the age of 14. His kidnappers held him captive until his parents were able to raise $10,000 in ransom by selling jewellery and getting help from other family members. They took the money and dumped the boy in the street with two broken legs. "I cried for two weeks, but now everything is okay, " he says. Muhanad's family belongs to a Mandaean minority group, which like Christians and Yazidis, became the target of terrorism early on.        
His family used to be well off -- they had two cars and his father, an engineer, sometimes worked for German companies. But the threat of terror grew. After US soldiers searched his family's house, masked men arrived and accused them of being informants. Fleeing the country was unavoidable. All the family now has as a momento of their past lives is an envelop full of family photographs.           
Last month, Ann Jones offered "Iraq's Invisible Refugees" (The Nation) about Iraq's refugee crisis which has resulted in over two million external refugees:
On May 6, 2007, two men in black visited the Baghdad house Imad shared with his parents and younger sister. It stood in a mixed neighborhood where, for as long as Imad can remember, Sunni and Shiite Muslim families lived side by side with Christian and Sabaean Mandaean families like his own. The visitors invited Imad's father to the neighborhood mosque to become a Muslim. If he failed to do so within three days, they said, he would be killed.           
The family stayed indoors for five days, not knowing even if the visitors and the mosque were Sunni or Shiite. Such things had never mattered before. Then Imad's father, daring to carry on with life, went with his daughter to the market to buy food. Three masked men were waiting for him in a car. He told the girl to run. She heard the shots that killed her father. After the funeral, Imad left for Syria to find refuge. The family, including Imad's older brother, his wife and two young children, reunited in Damascus within days.
With over four million (some estimates are six million) internal and external refugees, Iraq is the global refugee crisis.  At Wednesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Chris Hill for Ambassador to Iraq, chair John Kerry listed six issues the next US Ambassador to Iraq would have to focus on.  From that list, "Fifth, addressing refugees and internally displaced persons.  Millions of Iraqis -- perhaps as many as one in six -- have been forced to flee.  The unwillingness or inability of the vast majority to return to their homes is an indicator of Iraq's continuing instability and a potential source of future conflict.  Iraqi's religious and ethnic minorities are particularly at risk.  This is a problem that will only grow worse if it is not addressed."  Despite Kerry raising that issue and despite Senator Bob Casey Jr. also raising it later in the hearing, it wasn't a deep concern on the part of Chris Hill as evidenced by his disinterest in discussing the issue. 
Bob Casey noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Iraqi refugees this Tuesday and noted the "enormous numbers" and that it was "very important that we focus on" the refugee crisis.  Hill tossed out a brief, mealy statement and had more to say about his son serving in Iraq (in Defense Intelligence). And then wanted to joke that he hoped he hadn't revealed anything top secret.  In his prepared remarks (which he read word for word to the Committee despite being asked to summarize them), he mentions refugees once, in a subordinate clause of a sentence.  [Once in five typed page -- click here for PDF version of letter.]  This week Government Accountability Office's study entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight" which notes:
Despite security improvements, UNHCR has reported that conditions are not yet suitable for the safe return of Iraqi refugees, and most refugees that do return are settling in areas controlled by their particular sect.  According to the Department of State (State), the United States has recognized the need to take the lead in mitigating the effects of this humanitarian crisis.  As the administration further defines its plan for Iraq, it will need to consider how best to support the Iraqi government and the international community in addressing the needs of Iraqis displaced within Iraq, as well as those who have fled to neighboring countries.
[. . .]
The U.S. government and UNHCR face challenges offering lasting solutions for Iraqi refugees.  According to UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution, but conditions in Iraq are not yet suitable for Iraqis to return.  The Iraqi government has cited improvements in security and offered financial incentives to returning families, but there is no clear trend on the number of Iraqis returning to or leaveing Iraq.  Difficulties renewing visas, lack of funds, and limited access to employment and public services affect Iraqis' decisions to stay in or return to Iraq.  Another solution is resettlement in the host countries, though Jordan and Syria consider Iraqi refugees "guests" who should return to Iraq once the security situation improves.  Resettlement to a third country is another option, according to State.  The U.S. government has made progress resettling Iraqis under its U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  In 2007, the United States admitted 1,608 Iraqi refugees but did not achieve State's expectation of admitting 2,000 to 3,000 refugees; however, the U.S. government surpassed its fiscal year 2008 goal of 12,000 witht he admission of 13,823 Iraqi refugees.  According to UNHCR, as of September 30, 2008, other countries resettled 5,852 Iraqi refugees in calendar years 2007 through 2008.   
A related issue for Congress to consider is the plight of Palestinian Iraqis who have been living mostly uner very harsh conditions, in three refugee camps in Syria and Iraq for about 3 years.  As of December 31, 2008, about 2,540 refugees remained in these camps.  About 446 camp refugees were resettled in 2007 and 2008, mostly in Chile and Europe.  According to UNHCR, during the fall of 2008, Australia, Canada, the United States, and several European countries expressed interest in resettling these refugees.
On the last category, Nicholas Keung (Toronto Star) reports that Canada has set no refugee spots aside for the Iraqi Palestinians, "Canadian refugee advocates claim Ottawa has excluded Palestinian refugees in camps at the Syria-Iraq border from its government-assisted resettlement program for displaced asylum seekers."  And we'll end the refugee discussion today by returning to Sahar S. Gabriel.  The US accepts far too few Iraqi refugees and has yet to show any 'change' on that with the new administration.  The target goals (reached only once by the previous administration) need to be raised and the process needs to be streamlined.  Gabriel has been accepted and she writes at Baghdad Bureau of some of her hopes for what she'll find in the United States:
I have always wanted to study in an American university. Somewhere I don't have to beg and grovel to check a book out, or where you can't go to the library because it doesn't have electricity.               
I want to go to a place where your university semantics instructor doesn't start telling you - as mine did in Baghdad - that Darwin must have been mad, and a blasphemer, for thinking that we were descended from apes.        
We are Christians, we too have a verse in our Bible saying that God made us in his image. But as a scholar you have to have a place where you allow such doubts. This wasn't even her subject, but she had to have her two cents worth.       
I remember I turned to my friend, because I had an exclamation mark all over my face. But she was nodding approval. I felt like an alien. I am definitely not in my place. My friend wasn't into religion so much that she would agree on religious grounds. Maybe she was agreeing because everyone else was. I wanted very much to say something, but I couldn't. I was the instructor's best student and I didn't want to lose that. Anyway I wouldn't voice such thoughts anywhere in Iraq, because you learn to keep quiet, to keep those things to yourself.
It's a Friday, not much violence gets reported on Fridays.  Reuters notes three events from Thursday which were only reported today: a Mosul grenade attack which injured a father and son, a Samarra bombing which injured four employees of the electricity ministry and that Abdul-Kareem Juma was shot dead in Jalawla and his son was injured in the shooting as well.
Yesterday's Baghdad car bombing has really exposed Iraqi anger in Baghdad.  See Anthony Shadid's "After Bombing, Iraqi Police Face Local Ire" (Washington Post) where the police whine about the reaction of Iraqi citizens and Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explains, "The bombing rattled public confidence in government efforts to promote an atmosphere of business as usual, with three world leaders visiting Baghdad this week.  The blast, which also wounded more than 45 people, called into question just how safe Baghdad is these days."  Campbell Robertson (New York Times) notes the anger (and he was quoted on that in yesterday's snapshot) but also reports today that the provincial elections -- held January 31st in 14 of Iraqi's 18 provinces -- are finally ratified and that the provinces will get the results Sunday.  On those elections, Larry Kaplow (Newsweek) offers an 'analysis' of Iraq's political situation currently -- we're back to provincial elections -- and he has some strong points and some incredibly weak ones. Weak? Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in provincial elections so therefore he was not a "winner." His party didn't do amazingly well, but he wasn't even a candidate. At some point, American writers are going to have to learn the names -- and how to spell them -- of politicians in other countries but that day's apparently not arrived yet. He notes tensions from "Kurdish leaders" and they do exist but he appears to draw some line from provincial elections to these tensions and that's not accurate. More to the point, the Kurdistan Regional Government DID NOT hold provincial elections January 31st. They're due to hold them in May. And, no, Nouri is not expected to be a 'winner' because he's not on the ticket but his party is also not expected to do well. Here's where Kaplow mixes insight and ignorance most generously:

Though their numbers in the provincial councils are now lower, the Kurds, ISCI and the Iraqi Islamic Party are still formidable in the parliament (which is not up for election until January) and are supposedly discussing ways to curb Maliki's burgeoning power. One way would be to hold a no-confidence vote that could turn Maliki into a weakened, caretaker prime minister. But that could also backfire, allowing Maliki to blame his opponents for the government's failure to provide services, like electricity and water.               
The parliament could also try to invoke more of its powers to examine and investigate the prime minister's offices. It already cut his budget. Any of this could be alarming to American officials, since it could cause paralysis and friction as U.S. troops begin to pull out.           
To keep his momentum, Maliki has clearly been seeking to broaden his alliances. After using government forces last spring to pound into submission illegal militias led by renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, he has been reaching out to Sadrist politicians in parliament, negotiating top ministry positions he could offer to their partisans.              

To keep his momentum? No. That is a complete misunderstanding of the Parliamentary system and the parties participating and appears to confuse provincial results with the Parliament. Provincial elections (in 14 of 18 provinces) were the equivalent of electing, in Colorado, people to the state Congress, your state legislature. Parliament is the equivalent of the US Congress. The two are not related. There is a similarity in that -- as with Parliament -- provincial councils will be ruled by coalitions. That's because it's a multi-party system and coalitions are necessary to claim a 'majority.' al-Maliki's had to have coalitions since the US installed him -- coalitions in Parliament.

Kaplow wants to argue that deals can be made at the provincial council level that will result in Parliamentary support. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December (though they may or may not take place then). No one but a political idiot of an incumbent in Parliament is going to go along with some deal crafted for the provincial council. It's like your own state legislature telling you that s/he will get your US senator to do something -- it's a promise that can be legitimately made. At any time. But especially not when Parliamentary elections are months away and (see earlier points above) the Iraqi people have been repeatedly told 'security' is here and it's not. They have the anger of the voters to deal with, they don't have time for horse-trading done at a local level with no real benefits to them. (And no member of a provincial council can promise that Parliament will agree not to move to a no-confidence vote on Nouri. S/he has no vote in Parliament. You can't promise a vote that's not your own.
Though public support for the Kurds continues in the US government, it has been noticed that the support is now most vocal from the Congress and not the administration -- surprising considering both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's statements regarding the Kurds role in Iraq ("crucial" role) when the two were serving in the US Senate.  This week saw strong statements of support from US Senator Russ Feingold, among others.  NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) interviewed Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, "In an exclusive interview with NPR, Gen. Ray Odierno says a brewing dispute in the oil-rich north could lead to renewed instability if left unresolved."  As noted in Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots, Chris Hill showed zero grasp of the Kirkuk situation.
Turning to England where this week it was announced that a public inquiry into the Iraq War will take place after July 31st.  Only it might not be public.  And no one's sure when after July 31st it would take place -- maybe August 1, 2025?  The Times of London -- the paper that published and covered the Downing St. Memos, the Guardian didn't, the New York Times didn't -- has drawn up a series of questions they feel should be posed in the inquiry. The questions include:
Was the Government of Tony Blair determined to go to war with Iraq alongside the United States irrespective of the intelligence evidence on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme?     
There is circumstantial evidence that by the midsummer of 2002 -- several months before the publication of the WMD dossier in September -- President Bush had the implicit support of Mr Blair for an invasion              
Was the British Government locked in with the Americans to the idea of getting rid of Saddam? Was this the true goal of the invasion, supported by the UK?      
Jack Straw, as Foreign Secretary at the time, denied that regime change was the reason for the planned invasion. He said that provided the WMD were found and destroyed, there was no reason why Saddam could not continue as leader of Iraq. But there can be no doubt that Mr Bush would never have agreed, which was why US forces drove all the way to Baghdad             
How genuinely convinced was the Blair Government that Saddam had a huge stockpile of WMD and that he would order his troops to fire chemical and biological weapons at the invading forces?                   
Belief in the intelligence was sufficiently strong for Major-General Robin Brims, commander of 26,000 British combat troops, to warn his men that Saddam might turn to nonconventional warfare once they had passed a "red line" in southern Iraq
Also in the UK, Shan Ross (The Scotsman) reports that the five British citizens held hostage in Iraq since being kidnapped in May 2007 may be freed shortly, stating that "a deal has been struck".
Meanwhile, in the United States, Paul J. Weber (AP) reports that Sam Marcos commissioners are rethinking using KBR after two Iraq War veterans, Bryan Hannah and Gregory Foster, spoke out at a commissioner's court meeting against the war profiteer KBR which stands accused of intentionally exposing US troops in Iraq to carcinogenics and of doing such a poor job in their building of US facilities in Iraq that showering becomes a hazard for US service members.  On the latter point, Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein (CNN) report on the deadly showers KBR constructed which have claimed the lives of at least 18 US service members since 2003 and they quote "master electrician and the top civilian expert in an Army safety survey," Jim Childs explaining of the work KBR did, "It was horrible -- some of the worst electrical work I've ever seen." January 2, 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was killed as he showered in Iraq and his mother, Cheryl Harris, tells Robin Acton (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) that, "We're playing Russian roulette with their lives every time they step into a shower."  Cheryl Harris also points out "that 65,000 facilities still need to be inspected.  It's been 15 months and the CID (Army Criminal Investigation Division has not closed its investigation.  All I want is accountability, so these guys have a safe place to shower."  On the 65,000 facilities not inspected, AP quotes Senator Bob Casey stating, "Just imagine getting the news that they've done 25,000 facilities, but your son or daughter is in the 65,000 they haven't done."
 Turning to public TV, tonight (on most PBS stations, check local listings), NOW on PBS examines immigration. On Washington Week, Gwen sits down with NYT's Peter Baker, Slate's John Dickerson, Jeanne Cummings and Washington Post's Spencer Hsu. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Internet Is Infected
Lesley Stahl reports on computer viruses that propagate on the Internet and infect PCs, which enable their creators – often called cyber gangs – to learn the information they need to electronically rob bank accounts. | Watch Video
The African lion, already down as much as 85 percent in numbers from just 20 years ago, is now in danger of becoming extinct because people are poisoning them with a cheap American pesticide to protect their cattle herds. Bob Simon reports. | Watch Video
Steve Kroft profiles the Cleveland Cavalier's superstar, LeBron James, who at only 24, is already among an elite handful of athletes who command tens of millions a year in playing and marketing fees. | Watch Video

ADDED: Also on PBS (program begins airing tonight, check local listings for date and time in your area), The New Agenda's Amy Siskind appears on Bonnie Erbe's To The Contrary. After NOW's Kim Gandy embarrassed herself last week (as did Eleanor Holmes Norton, see "The Katrina goes to . . .") acting as a film critic (who didn't know the plot of the film she was critiquing) and pimping the concept that the only woman who should have a baby was a woman legally married to a man -- no, that's not feminism -- Amy Siskind's appearance should be a huge improvement.