Friday, April 17, 2009

Iraq's LGBT community remains targeted, US State Dept has no clue

This morning AFP is reporting that signs are going up around the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad threatening to kill a list of people alleged to be gay. The posters are put out by the Brigades of the Righteous and AFP translates the posters as stating, "We will punish you, perverts" and "We will get you, puppies" has been scrawled on some posters -- "puppies" being slang for gay males in Iraq. The Australian carries the AFP report here. These posters are going up around Sadr City. Where is the United Nations condemnation? Where is the White House, where is the US State Dept?

US Rep Polis

Chris Johnson's "Polis seeks to aid Iraqis: Says gays 'fear for their life and limb' after fact-finding trip to Baghdad" (Washington Blade) notes the only member of the US Congress to condemn the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community, US House Rep Jared Polis (photo above):

Polis, who is gay, told the Blade that he urged action from the U.S. after looking into “a round of crackdowns on the gay population in Baghdad” during a congressional fact-finding trip to the country last week.
During his investigation, Polis said he learned that Iraqi officials in the Ministry of Interior were allegedly involved in human rights violations against LGBT people. He sent a letter to Patricia Butenis, the acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq, requesting “that the State Department follow-up on these allegations and urge the Iraqi government to respect all human rights.”
[. . .]
Noel Clay, a State Department spokesperson, said U.S. officials “condemn the persecution of LGBTs in Iraq,” but he couldn’t confirm whether the violence they’re facing in Iraq is because of their sexual orientation.
Clay noted that while homosexuality is against the law in Iraq, the death penalty is not the punishment for homosexual acts.

First, note that the US State Dept should know Iraqi law. AFP -- like most press outlets -- has been unable to determine whether or not it is illegal to be gay in Iraq. The US State Dept is stating it is which apparently confirms rumors that in 2003 (under US control), Iraq outlawed same-sex relationships.

Second, Noel Clay and the State Dept can issue a statement, they issue statements all the time. They can have remarks made at the daily State Dept press briefings. When they want to do that, they may be seen as "condemning" the attacks, until then it would appear they just want favorable copy from the gay press. (The Washington Blade is considered to be one of the top two gay papers in the US.)

The US State Dept has been far less concerned at other times as Doug Ireland reported at GayCityNews:

Polis is also trying to ascertain the status of the five imprisoned Iraqi LGBT members, but a statement given by a State Department spokesman to, a gay news website, raises concerns that the US may not yet be taking the charges seriously, despite the congressman's recent visit. The site quoted John Fleming, public affairs officer for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, as pooh-poohing the notion that the five gay men facing execution were being targeted for belonging to Iraqi LGBT, saying that homosexuality "is immaterial to Iraqis." Fleming, according to Edge, stated, "Frankly, there are other issues they are concerned about like basic survival, getting food and water. It's a luxury for the average Iraqi to worry about homosexuality." This statement by Fleming, who served a year in Iraq under the Bush administration, is, of course, contradicted by the recent media reports this month by such diverse sources as the Times, Reuters, CNN, and the British dailies The Independent and The Guardian, confirming Gay City News' three years of reporting.
This State Department staffer's statement suggests rather strongly the urgent need to keep up the pressure on the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to thoroughly investigate the dangers facing gay Iraqis and act decisively to save those threatened with death.

The Edge article Ireland's referring to is Kilian Melloy's "State Dept.: Reports of Iraqi Gay Executions Completely Bogus" which ran April 2nd and included this:

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department who works at the Iraqi Desk and spent a year in the war-torn country told EDGE that the story has no merit. "Homosexuality is not a crime in Iraq," said John Fleming, the public affairs officer for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
"The individuals condemned to death in Iraq have been convicted of violent crimes, including murder, terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping."
There have been no executions of criminals since 2007, added Fleming, who also noted that any criminals now awaiting possible execution are there for crimes such as "terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping." Their sexual identity is irrelevant to the charges, he said.
"None were convicted of the ’crime’ of being homosexual," Fleming told EDGE. "In fact, it’s immaterial to Iraqis.
"Frankly, there are other issues they’re concerned about like basic survival, getting food and water. It’s a luxury for the average Iraqi to worry about homosexuality."

So now the US State Dept allegedly 'condemns' the targeting but less than two weeks ago they were denying that targeting was taking place and that it was a crime in Iraq to be gay. So which is it? And it damn well sounds like the US State Dept needs to get its act together and the US press needs to start asking these questions in the State Dept briefings and getting some answers.

In other news, Ernesto London's "Kurds, Arabs Maneuver Ahead of U.N. Report on N. Iraq" (Washington Post) reports:

Kurdish and Arab politicians in northern Iraq are preparing for a potentially long and bruising fight over disputed areas as they await the release of U.N. reports expected to propose joint administration of Kirkuk and make a case for the annexation of some districts to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Kirkuk is the oil rich disputed area that the KRG states is historically Kurdish and that the central government in Baghdad insists is not. The issue was supposed to have been put to a referendum . . . in 2007. Two years later and still nothing. The United Nations is making a proposal. The proposal is not law or binding and can be rejected by either or both sides.

Londono explains:

The tension over Kirkuk and other disputed areas, which some Iraqi and U.S. officials believe could escalate into armed conflict, prompted the U.S. military in January to increase its troop level in Kirkuk from a battalion, roughly 900 troops, to a combat brigade of about 3,200 soldiers.
"The threat of civil war remains real, and this threat should not be minimized," said W. Andrew Terrill, a national security professor at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute. "Kirkuk is often compared to Jerusalem, where different groups have exceptionally strong emotional attachments and the claims of rival groups are rarely seen as valid."

In the US,
Women's Voices, Women's Votes president Page S. Gardner notes:

I write today to proudly announce the release of WVWV's 2009 report entitled "Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote." WVWV is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that utilizes groundbreaking direct mail techniques to encourage underrepresented populations in the American electorate, particularly unmarried women, to register and to vote. By pioneering these techniques, WVWV generated more than 900,000 returned mail-in registration applications in the 2008 election cycle and sent approximately one million vote-by-mail applications to unmarried women.

Due in part to "Get Out the Vote" efforts of groups such as WVWV, 133 million Americans cast ballots in the 2008 general election, which represents the largest number of voters to ever participate in a U.S. election. This result is certainly a great accomplishment; however, WVWV strongly believes that it is time for significant reform to ensure that the remaining 79 million Americans who were eligible, but did not cast their votes, are encouraged and able to do so in future elections.

With this aim in mind, WVWV adds its voice to the growing call for election reform with the release of its Access to Democracy report, available online at . WVWV has drawn on the substantial research efforts of leading reform groups, but takes a new look at the challenges facing voters, registration groups, and state and local officials by highlighting the disproportionate effect of existing laws on under-represented populations. While young voters, African Americans, Latinos, and unmarried women are now the majority of the population, exit polls from the 2008 general election show that in the aggregate, these groups represented only 46 percent of the 2008 electorate. WVWV strongly believes that a key cause of such underrepresentation can be found in the confusing maze of election laws facing individuals, groups, and state officials in this country. WVWV's report focuses on five key areas where these laws pose the most significant obstacles and reform could yield the greatest positive results: (1) voter registration; (2) absentee voting and early voting; (3) voter identification requirements; (4) provisional ballots; and (5) voter lists.

Through our Access to Democracy report , WVWV identifies the legal roadblocks affecting access to the polls with the aim of advancing reform efforts and ultimately increasing voter participation. WVWV hopes to work with you in furthering this shared goal. If you have any questions, please let me know.

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doug ireland

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends