Monday, April 13, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, the 5 US soldiers killed in Iraq Friday return to the US, Nouri goes after the press, Iraq's LGBT community remains targeted, Barack's half-brother makes the news, and more.
Today the US military announced: "A Coalition forces Soldier died of injuries sustained during an explosively formed projectile attack on a convoy five kilomenters south of Karbalah, Iraq April 13 at approximately 7:40 a.m. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the department of Defense. The incident is currently under investigtion." Yesterday the US military announced: "One U.S. Coalition Soldier died of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated in Salah-ad Din Province, April 12. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." The total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war is 4273. Friday 5 US soldiers were announced dead. Cindy Sheehan (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox) observed, "Today five US soldiers were killed in Iraq and we won't ever know for sure how many Iraqis were killed. The families of the US soldiers will never have a 'normal' Easter again. All of their days will be filled with pain and longing, but holidays, birthdays and other anniversaries will be especially hard. My heart is breaking for the awful and pointless spiral of grief that these families are just embarking upon. Some may not yet know that it was their son, father, brother, uncle, or friend that was murdered today. I saw the report of Casey's death on the news at least five hours before the Army notified us." (Cindy's guest on the audio Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox this week are James Martinez discussing the finacial crisis, housing and more and Annie Garrison on the Blue Angels use of San Francisco to boost recruitment. That episode is posted online already.) It was Good Friday in 2004 when Cindy and her family met her son Casey Sheehan at the airport for the last time. Sunday the 5 US soldiers killed on Friday arrived at Dover Air Force Base. Jeff Montgomery (Delaware's News Journal) observes, "It was the heaviest loss of American lives in Iraq in 13 months, and the largest number of casualties returned to America in full sight of the public since the Defense Department opened the process to news coverage last week, after a 18-year blackout."
The Defense Dept identified the five as: "Staff Sgt. Gary L. Woods Jr., 24, of Lebanon Junction, Ky., Staff Sgt. Bryan E. Hall, 32, of Elk Grove, Calif., Sgt. Edward W. Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis, Mo., Cpl. Jason G. Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa, and PV2 Bryce E. Gautier, 22, of Cypress, Calif." Sheryl Edelen (Courier-Journal) reports on Gary L. Woods Jr., "Woods' father, Gary Woods St., said that his son, who went by his middle name, Lee, was a talented musician who sang and played the trombone, drums, piano and guitar while a student at Bullitt Central High School. He was also a member of the school's football team. But after finding satisifation in ROTC classes, his son entered the military after high school, he said." Bob White (Lebanon Junction News Enterprise) adds, "Woods is surived by his parents, siblings and a wife, Christie, his father said." Tony Bizjak (Sacramento Bee) reports on Bryan Edward Hall, "Hall, 32, had served in the military for 14 years and had been deployed in Iraq since September. . . . Hall had received three Army commendation medals, according to military records, as well as several Army achievement, good conduct and war on terrorism medals." Dave Marquis (Sacramento's News10.net) quotes Debbie Lords, who is a neighbor of the Bryan Edward Hall's parents, stating, "I don't know what I'm thinking. I just really feel for John and Betty right now. It was their oldest son, their oldest child." Paul Hampel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) reports on Edward Forrest Jr., "Forrest was based at Fort Carson in Colorado and lived near the base with his wife and two sons, ages 2 and one month. Forrest was a 2003 graduate of Rockwood Summit High School. He was on his third tour of duty in Iraq." His sister Melissa Forrest-Pliner tells Hampel, "I asked him not to re-enlist. I told him I didn't want him to be a hero. I just wanted him to be my brother." South County Times adds, "In high school, Sgt. Forrest, known as 'Eddie,' was a long distance runner on the track team, and was also on the wrestling team" and quotes his coach Rolland Garrison stating, "He was a very enthusiastic member of the track and field program here at Rockwood Summit. He was a very good kid with a great smile." Molly Hottle (Des Monies Register) reports on Jason Graham Pautsch, "David Pautsch was informed of his son's death Friday night, just 12 hours after the two had spoken on the phone. 'He believed n what he was doing,' David Pautsch said. 'This is what he wanted to do'." Nicole Murphy (WAQD, link has text and video) spoke with David Pautsch who explained the call he received, "'On behalf of the Secretary of the Army I just want to let you know, give our condolences and notify you that your son was killed in Mosul." Pautsch continues, "You're stunned and you're shocked and you find it hard to believe that it could actually be happening but then it seeps and that's when the emotions hit." Pautsch goes on to explain that he believes his son was protecting the US from the "terrorists" in Iraq and he also shares, "I'm thrilled for Jason that he's in heaven." Eugene W. Fields (Orange County Register) reports on Bryce E. Gautier, "Gauier, a medic, joined the Army in January of 2008 and had been in Iraq since January of this year, according to Army documents. He received the National Defense Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Gautier graduated in 2005 from Rancho Alamitos High in Garden Grove, according to school district spokesman Alan Trudell." Tom Roeder and Maria St. Louis-Sanchez (Colorado Springs Gazette) note Gauier's MySpace page and add, "His sense of humor is evident from a posting on the site, which Gautier last updated three days before his death. 'Winners make the rules, losers just follow them,' Gautier wrote. 'In the Army now.' Gautier's brother, Even, left a simple eulogy on his Web page: 'My brother Bryce was one of the American soldiers killed in the suicide bombing in Iraq this morning. I love you bro. I will miss you'."
In 'liberated' Iraq, gays and lesbians continue to be targeted for death. The Denver Post editorialized on the topic yesterday and opened with:
The U.S. State Department must not stand idly by if the Iraqi government fails to protect basic human rights, even if the persecution stems from traditional cultural or religious beliefs.
We applaud Colorado Congressman Jared Polis for his efforts last week to shine the spotlight on the killings of homosexuals in Iraq, and to press the State Department to demand accountability from the Iraqi government.
The first openly gay man to be elected to the House, Polis has been investigating the treatment of gays in Iraq for several months, according to The Post's Michael Riley. His research led to the discovery of a transgender Iraqi man who told the congressman he had been arrested, beaten and raped by security forces with Iraq's Ministry of Interior.
Human-rights groups have passed information to Polis that claims another man was beaten into confessing he belonged to a gay-rights group and that the man had been sentenced to execution by an Iraqi court.
US House Rep Polis has made his letter to Patricia A. Butenis (Charge d'Affaires ad interim of the US State Dept) [PDF formart warning] here:
Dear Ms. Butenis:
Over the past week, I have become aware of egregious human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis being carried out by Iraqi government officials from the Ministry of the Interior called "Magaweer al-Dakhilya."
The information I received was derived from two separate testimonials of gay and transgender Iraqi men that were detained, tortured and sentenced to death for being members of an allegedly forbidden organization in Iraq called Iraqi LGBT. One of these invidividuals was able to escape, while the other was subsequently executed by Iraqi Ministry of Interior Security Forces.
While I do not know if these executions are being sanctioned at the highest levels of the Iraqi government, it is nonetheless distrubing that government officials and state-funded security forces are involved in the torturing and execution of LGBT Iraqis.
Even more disturbing was that the United States government appears to be largely unaware that the executions of gay and transgender Iraqis have been able to occur in Iraq given the enormous American presence. After reaching out to State Department officials in Washington, I was disappointed by their unwillingness to seriously consider these allegations and examine the evidence given to our office by international human rights watchdog organizations.
I urge you to use every channel at your disposal to properly and promptly invetigate these grave human rights violations. Please know that I will continue to monitor this situation and hope to be of assistance in this investigation."
At his Congressional website, Polis is quoted stating, "The United States should not tolerate human rights violations of nay kind, especially by a government that Americans spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year supporting. Hopefully my trip and letters to US and Iraqi officials will help bring international attention and investigation to this terrible situation and bring an end to any such offenses."
Last week, we noted the US State Dept and the United Nations have been silent on these and other attacks on the LGBT community in Iraq. The issue gets some attention today. BBC News explains Amnesty International states Nouri al-Maliki's government "must do more to protect" the LGBT community 'in the wak of a reported spate of killings of gay young men" and that they are pressing for "urgent and concerted action." Nigel Morris (Independent of London) explains that no arrests have been made in the recent murders -- he says six, it was seven -- and quotes Ali Hili stating, "Since mid-December we've been getting lots of reports about mass arrests and raids on houses, cafes, barbers shops." Mass arrests? It sounds like round-ups and those were common in Hilter's Germany where the LGBT community was targeted along with the Jewish community. (Iraq's Jewish community has been so targeted and so under assault that it barely exists at present.) Hili continues, "Most of the people who are arrested are found dead, with signs of torture and burns. We believe a war has been launched by the Iraqi Government and its establishment against gay people." As noted in the April 8th snapshot, the United Nations Secretary General issues statements all the time, condemning attacks in Iraq, but there has never been a statement from him on condemning the assaults on Iraq's LGBT community. And since the number reported continues to be in error, we'll drop back to the April 6th snapshot to again note:
In other violence noted over the weekend, Wisam Mohammed and Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reported Saturday that gays are being targeted in Baghdad, with four corpses discovered March 25th and 2 gay men murdered Thursday 'after clerics urged a crackdown'." Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported the two were first "disowned" (by their homophobic and hateful families) and "The shootings came after a tribal meeting was held and the members decided to go after the victims." Tawfeeq reports the other were also disowned (and gives the date of their deaths as March 26th) and states a cafe in Sadr City was torched when it was said to be an LGBT hangout in Baghdad. The Dallas Morning News wrote a brief on the topic and UPI summarized Tawfeeq's report. AFP reported Sunday that the two corpses discovered Thursday "had pieces of paper attached on which was written the word 'Pervert" and that the two men were aged sixteen and eighteen and had also had "their arms and legs broken". In addition, AFP reports another man presumed to be gay was found on Friday -- which would bring the toll to seven -- and this follows Sheikh Jassem al-Muatairi's 'inspiring' sermon denouncing "new private practices by some men who dress like women, who are effeminate. I call on families to prevent their children from following such a lifestyle."
Seven. Not six. Tomorrow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meets and among the items on the agenda are a motion "Condemning the persecution and murders of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Iraqi Citizens": "Resolution calling on the US Department of State to use all diplomatic channels to work with the Iraqi Government to stop the persecution of Iraqi Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) citizens and immediately stop the murders of Iraqi LGBT citizens." If that takes place (and it should), the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be the first governing body elected by any group of people to condemn the killings and assaults.
Lee Woodruff is the author of Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress. wowOwow has an excerpt of the book which is out next week:
When my husband was blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq, shattering my world, it was my sisters who stepped into the void, along with some of my dearest girlfriends. They began the business of filling my shoes while I sat by an ICU bed, praying for signs of life. They lined up food deliveries, kept the curious from the door, organized rides for our kids and paid our bills. They understood the business of ministering.
"This sucks," my one sister said. "You guys don't deserve this." She knew she could tell it like it was. There was no room for sugarcoating, and I didn't want any sunshine blowing up my backside. The reality was grim.
Months later, it was my turn in the hospital, when doctors found a potentially cancerous tumor lurking in my abdomen. I turned to my other sister. "I want to be you," I said simply as I lay in my bed with the catheter, too weak to move.
Lee Woodruff's husband is ABC News' Bob Woodruff who was reporting from Iraq when he and Doug Vogt were injured in a roadside bombing January 29, 2006. The Bob Woodruff Foundation focuses on the physical and psychological wounds of war. While Bob Woodruff survived, Reporters Without Borders counts 223 journalists as having died in the Iraq War. (They actually break that does to media assistants -- we don't. The 'assistants' have long been doing reporting -- as would happen in any war zone but is especially true of the Iraq War.) The two most recent journalists known to have been killed in Iraq are Haidar Hashim Suhail and Suhaib Adnan of Al-Baghdadia TV who were killed March 10th in an Anbar Province bombing. So many reporters, Iraq and foreign, have been wounded and given their lives attempting to report from that country and it's not at all appreciated by thug-meister Nouri al-Maliki. Alsumaria reports:
The Iraqi Government decision to detain back prisoners released by US Forces is subject to a political and security hassle. Baghdad Operations spokesman Brigadier Qassem Ata affirmed that the Command has ordered checkpoints to arrest all freed detainees recently released by US Forces.
Ata told Al Hayat Newspaper that the operations command has distributed names and photos of released detainees on all checkpoints to detain them after they were involved in recent bombings in Baghdad.
He noted that keeping those detainees out of prison will deteriorate the security situation and will threaten stability after US Forces withdraw from the cities to their bases at the end of June.
Asked about the possibility of delaying US withdrawal after latest security incidents, Ata said the US military did not notify us about such intentions.
"The Times" British Newspaper expected yesterday to delay US Forces withdrawal from Iraqi volatile cities. The Newspaper quoted a US Army General as saying that insecurities in Mosul and Baaquba might force US Military to extend their military operations in those cities beyond June 30.
This topic is one that upsets Nouri al-Maliki's thug government. Robert H. Reid (AP) reports the thug government is attempting to close a TV station (Al-Sharqiya) and a newspaper (Al-Hayat) over reports that al-Maliki's thugs are arresting the prisoners as the US releases them. Reid explains Nouri's government is bothered by the press explaining that arrests of Sahwa ("Awakening" Council members, "Sons of Iraq") might have been politically motivated. Yesterday Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported on the 12 killed Saturday in the suicide bombing attack in Iskandariyah as they attempted to collect their long overdue pay checks. Rubin explores the continued attacks on the Sahwa and the tensions in the Sunni community as a result. Rubin observes that for all the speculation over the very visible attacks (including arrests), the tensions were always there between the Sahwa movement (Sunni) and the US installed government in Baghdad which is dominated by Shi'ites (and by Iraqis who willingly went into exile and only returned to Iraq after the US invaded). Rubin notes the 27-day imprisonment of Sheik Maher Sarhan Abbas who was arrested "in secret and came to light when The New York Times by chance contacted someone who had seen him in jail." While the US continues to see Abbas as someone to be trusted and while his "Shiite neighbors trusted him" as well, Nouri's foces burst into his home on March 15th, "just after midnight, heavily armed men flung deafening smoke grenades into his home in Hawr Jab, a small village on Baghdad's southern outskirts, his family said. They burst into the bedroom where Sheik Maher and his wife were watching television as their 3-year-old daughter slept in a small bed next to them." Along with Nouri's goons, US forces were present and it's suspceted that they "were probably from a Special Operations unit". The latest hypothesis among "Awakenings" is that their Sunni enemies are telling lies to the Shi'ite government which, loathing the "Awakenings," uses any excuse to arrest them. Rubin includes this:
A senior American official in Iraq was also skeptical of the motives for the arrests. "Why is the government doing this?" said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.
"Every time we said to the government, 'You have to let this guy go,' they do it, which they wouldn't if they thought he was really dangerous," the American said. "I think they have their hand in the sectarian cookie jar."
Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports on the continued tensions as well as the tensions regardding the Kurds. Of Baghdad, he notes:
Today, the city of oatmeal-colored minarets that straddles the Tigris River feels like a military base, with streets tangled by blast walls and checkpoints.
Backed by U.S. troops and advisers, Iraq's mostly Shiite national police and army control the city. They coexist uneasily with the local Sunni police force and the Sons of Iraq -- former Sunni insurgents who turned against the militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied with the U.S. military.
Neither the local police nor the Sons of Iraq are allowed to protect the shrine, which is guarded by an array of mostly Shiite units sent by the central government.
"I don't believe that any people or city feel comfortable when they have an army from outside. The traditions from their areas are different than ours," said Sheik Mudher al-Naisani, a Sunni tribal leader. "That's right, this is one country. But it is better for Iraq that each serve in their own areas."
While most Iraqis believe that al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents planted the bombs, many Sunni leaders here place the blame on the national police and U.S. troops who were guarding the shrine. Members of Iraq's national police force have committed some of the most horrendous sectarian crimes since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion; to this day there are widespread suspicions of infiltration by Shiite militias.
"It was a conspiracy," said Hussen, the Sunni council leader.
Are Sunnis who believe that right or wrong? It doesn't matter because they believe it. And that's a 2006 event and nothing was ever done to ease the tensions. These tensions do not go away, they do not vanish. They may get worked through by the parties involved but an outside power (the US in this case) can never impose anything because it doesn't last. The US has backed, armed and supported the Shi'ites thereby setting the stage for any bloodbaths that follow a US withdrawal. If those bloodbaths come (and they are likely), the withdrawal will not be responsible for them. The culprit will be all the years the US spent propping up a puppet government. Without the propping up, Nouri (or whomever) would have had to have made peace with the Sunnis long ago. They're too big of a population group for a leader to blow off and expect to remain in power unless the only reason the leader remains in power (as is the case with Nouri) is because a foreign government that installed him continued to prop him up. Barack's not promising withdrawal, he's promising a draw down. But at some point in the future the US will withdraw from Iraq. When that happens, any violence that follows is not because of the withdrawal, it is because of everything that came before. And, sidebar, Sudarsan Raghavan's done a wonderful job reporting in the above story; however, he's also done a wonderful job writing it -- so much so that it recalls the best of Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
In the summer of 2006, al-Maliki listed his 'plan' amidst the crackdown on Baghdad and it included attacks on the press. When the January 31st provincial elections took place in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, al-Maliki attempted to strong arm the press and force them into signing agreements which would allow them to be punished and penalized if al-Maliki was displeased. His latest attacks on the press and freedoms are nothing news and part of a thug pattern which includes yesterday's news:
In Iraq today, a committee in Parliament offered a rebuke of the police. Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports the committee was offended that the police raided an art show and seized an illustration "lampooning Iraq's prime minister." No word on whether or not he was in 'Muslim garb' and doing a fist bump. (For those who didn't catch that, it was a reference to the faux outrage over a New Yorker cartoon cover that demonstrated there's more than a little bit of Denmark in the US.)
On the topic of art, US Foreign Service Officer Aaron Snip (US State Dept's DIPNOTE) writes of rushing to pull off preparation for an important 2006 visit:
Part of my job as Public Diplomacy Officer is to share U.S. culture and values with Iraqis, but it's also to support Iraqi efforts to preserve their own culture. We asked the women to bring in examples of their work, and we hung their paintings along the walls of the meeting hall. Very few of the women had had formal art training. Painting was a hobby for all, a creative outlet for some, and an escape for others. Their artwork spanned the spectrum of their life's experiences. Some paintings were colorful and bright, while others were dark and depressing. All documented the lives of women in Muthanna.
We chatted with the women about doing a larger gallery showing. Would they be interested in holding a multi-city art exhibition if I could get the funding? They were thrilled with the idea. What began as a meeting with a stoic group of Iraqi women with canvases in hand, ended in a beehive of excitement with ideas flowing freely. Here was a demographic that seldom had the chance to speak out. Their art resonated with me deeply, and I was committed to finding a way to help these women tell their stories.
I went back to my office that evening and immediately began to work on a proposal. In no time at all, my proposal was approved (who says the Federal Government moves at a glacial pace?), and I was busy working with an NGO to purchase art supplies and canvases for each of the exhibit participants. The artists would paint submissions for an exhibit that would show in Muthanna's three largest cities, Samawa, Rumaytha, and Khider, sometime in the spring. For the artists, it would be the first time most of them had ever displayed their art publicly. One woman told us that she had painted for years, but feared no one would ever see her work. Another woman, considerably older and pointing to a young woman next to her, proclaimed, "I am here for my daughter-in-law! I told my son, 'he must support her dreams!' So I am here to make sure she has a chance!"
For more, you can refer to Aaron Snipe's second blog post. Meanwhile, Iraq was once a book lover's paradise. Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "The widespread looting that followed the invasion destroyed library collections across Iraq. Booksellers and publishing housing closed as violence spread, and the priorities of many Iraqis shifted from reading and learning to staying alive and finding ways out of the country. In 2007, a series of explosions ripped through Baghdad's Mutanabi Street, shutting down the book market known for decades as Iraq's most popular gathering place for intellectuals and bibliophiles. Many of its shops and cafes have only recently reopened." By the way, returning to the topic of the press, Russell Crowe is outstanding in State of Play and, while discussing the film, Mary Riddell (Telegraph of London) addresses the global problems newspapers are facing -- as opposed to the fairy tales the New York Times served up this morning. (Ben Affleck is also amazing in the film as is Robin Wright Penn. And Helen Mirren is in State of Play. Translation, Helen Mirren is wonderful as always.)
Turning to some of today's other reported violence (we started with some of today's violence) . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad grenade attack which wounded four people and they drop back to Saturday night to note a Balad sticky bombing which claimed the lives of 2 Sahwa members
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report Turkoman Abdulraham Aziz was shot dead outside his home Sunday while another person was shot dead in Mosul last night. Reuters notes 1 person shot dead in Kirkuk today and, dropping back to Sunday, a Mosul home invasion in which 1 person was shot dead.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a police captatin was kidnapped in Anbar Province Saturday and his corpse was discovered yesterday.
Yesterday the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, appeared on CNN and was interviewed by John King (link has text and video). He discussed the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement which supposedly binds the US to leave all Iraqi cities by the end of this June and to leave the country by the end of 2011. Despite that alleged 'binding' agreement, Odierno stated US troops might not leave Iraqi cities at the end of June ("If we believe that we'll need troops to maintain a presence in some of the cities, we'll recommend that, but, ultimately, it will the decision of Prime Minister Maliki"), however , "As you ask me today, I believe it's a 10 -- that we will be gone by 2011." He believes. Not "It's a 10, we will be gone in 2011." Believes. Odierno's not staking his reputation on anyone else's promise and he has always worded very carefully on this topic. Jonathan D. Salant (Bloomberg News) puts it this way, "Odierno said he expects to meet the 2011 deadline. There are 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq." Deborah Solomon (Wall St. Journal) summarizes it as follows, "The top U.S. general in Iraq said the U.S. is on track to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by August 2010 but could adjust the pace over the next 18 months depending on the stability of the country."
In other news, Abo Obama -- aka Samson Obama -- is in the news and, strangely, while everyone else with a criminal arrest record gets stuck with their birth name, reports continue to call him "Samson Obama." Considering that he gave a phony name at his arrest, maybe they should all stick to his birth name: Abo Obama. He is the half-brother of Barack and they have been photographed together and Barack has written of him. wowOwow reports, "Various news outlets report that British officials denied the U.S. president's half-brother Samson Obama a visa because he was accused of sexual assault last November. And, during that incident, Mr. Obama gave police a false name. He was not arrested or charged for that crime. His fingerprints and other data were stored in a national database and the president's estranged half-brother -- the men have not spoken in 20 years, according to the White House -- went back home to Kenya." Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Brotherly Embarrassment" covered this last night. For the record, it was sexual assault at underage girls with the youngest being a 13-year-old. He is over 40 himself. Strangely, all the reports -- and they're linked in Isaiah's comic -- somehow avoid mentioning his age. I can't remember a time when someone with an arrest record made the news and the press refused to list his age or, for that matter, his birth name. The arrest took place in November, either in the last stages of Barack's campaign or after the election -- the press won't tell us that either. In January, he was enroute to the US -- for the inauguration -- and the UK refused to let him in. No word on whether he made it into the US or not. And let me plub Kat's "Kat's Korner: The LOtUSFLOW3R Blooms ... and rocks" which is her review of Prince's new album LOtUSFLOW3R.