Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Iraq's LGBT community still under attack, the SOFA vote moved back to January

Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, substantiates the claim that Iraqi government is tacitly encouraging the violence by ignoring the victims and overlooking the perpetuators. "It’s true," he says, " that the government has been unable to restrain violence in the past, particularly during the virtual civil war of 2004-2007--but it has a vested interest in denying widespread violence directed at any group is returning in the supposedly ’stabilized’ Iraq."
In early April, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, in response to questions from the Western media and from Western embassies in Baghdad, acknowledged that gays were being killed, but claimed that is was all the consequence of familial, or tribal, violence.
"It was a pro forma acknowledgement," says Long. Long believes the acknowledgement was primarily meant to distract attention from the organized nature of the killings and the involvement of the militias.
As recently as two weeks ago ABC news reported, in conjunction with the murder of the two young, gay men in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, that an unnamed Iraqi military source linked the killings to tribal violence and not militias. They quoted their source as saying that the men who were killed were "sexual deviants," saying that their tribes killed them to restore "family honor."
"Unfortunately," says Long, "much of the Western press, as well as LGBT activists in the US and Europe, have bought the Ministry's version and have stopped asking systematic questions about the militia's involvement or even the government's own role."

The above is from Seth Michael Donsky's "Life Only Gets Worse for LGBT Iraqis :: Part 2" (Boston's The Edge) and you can click here for part one. The US government remains silent. Barack Obama managed to leave out the topic in the big speech that was the centerpiece of Barry O Goes To Cairo. The US State Dept has alternated lying and silence when 'dealing' with the issue. It is disgusting. And it's really sad how little attention the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community is receiving. We'll return to this topic at the end of the entry.

In this morning's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin offers "Iraq Moves Ahead With Vote on U.S. Security Pact" and that's the problem with print, her article's already out of date. Alsumaria reports, "Cabinet spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh announced that the government plans to conduct a referendum on the security pact signed between Baghdad and Washington in parallel with general elections." Rubin's report rests on the vote taking place in July. The vote has been pushed back to January. (Presuming general elections are held in January. They were supposed to be held in December but got pushed back to January. Who knows if they'll be pushed back again?)

Rubin's covering the Status Of Forces Agreement. The Iraqi Parliament voted on it Thanksgiving Day in 2008. 149 members of Parliament voted for the treaty. There are 275 members of Parliament. The treaty then went to the country's Presidency Council for the vote. The SOFA passed in the Parliament due to many members going AWOL and due to those present insisting on a national referendum to give the Iraqi people a voice on the issue. That referendum was supposed to take place next month. Rubin reports:

But senior lawmakers appeared to think that a change in the date was unlikely. Under current law, the referendum would be held on July 30. In order to change the date, the cabinet would have to submit a new draft law on the timing of the vote to Parliament, which would then have to move it through the lengthy parliamentary process for considering legislation.
"The date was an essential part of the security agreement," said Ali Adeeb, a member of the Dawa Party, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The Parliament speaker, Ayad al-Sammaraie, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, held the same view. "No one can say they don't want a referendum, it is a law," Mr. Sammaraie said in a recent interview.

Rubin refers to how a vote against the SOFA would mean that a year from now the US would be forced out of Iraq. She's referring to Article 30 The Period for which the Agreement is Effective, paragraph three: "This Agreement shall terminate one year after a Party provides written notification to the other Party to that effect." The parties are the US and Iraq. The 'binding' contract was never binding ( "This Agreement shall be amended only with the official agrement of the Parties in writing and in accordance with the constitutional proceudures in effect in both countries."). Only the first year could be seen as such and even then it could be altered in terms of details. 2009 was only binding in that it would cover 2009 (meaning that even if the Iraqi government declared January 2, 2009 "We are breaking this agreement!" they would be bound to it for one year). As Rubin notes there is hostility to US forces. She offers that only the Kurds might vote strongly in favor of the SOFA -- and that this expectation might result in increasing Arabic objection to the SOFA.

In other news, pay attention McClatchy, Perry Bacon Jr. (Washington Post) shows you how to cover the supplemental in "Left, Right Press Obama on War Funds". From the article:

House Democrats are looking to strip the bill of a provision, backed by the Senate, that would sidestep the Freedom of Information Act and bar the release of photos showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama angered some critics on the left last month when he reversed a decision to release the photos.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the authors of the photo ban, said yesterday he would look to block the bill in the Senate if the ban was not included.

Good for Graham. The photo ban is nonsense. But good for Graham that he states he's willing to block the war funding bill. Hopefully many will feel that way for a variety of reasons. Cut off the funding and the illegal war will have to start winding down. Not close immediately because the lie has always been that the Congress had to pass the supplemental requests (all Bush's until this one by Barack) or US troops would be stranded! No. There is money in the pipeline. And Graham knows that. (I know Graham. He is a nice person. We don't agree on many political issues. I have called him out here when covering Senate hearings he was present for.) The Senate could block funding for three months and money would still be in the pipeline. But the Congress has repeatedly lied that to not vote for each supplemental was to put the troops at risk. The Republicans lied and said that. The Dems lied and said that's why they were 'forced' into voting for it.

The supplementals has very little to do with the troops. The supplementals go to new weapons and a host of other things. (Which is why, despite all the billions spent, the body armor was still not there for so many US troops. Supplementals don't cover the needs of the troops.)

Graham is threatening to block the bill. Please note that Democrats could have done that at any point throughout the last years. Mike Gravel made that point repeatedly. He knew what he was speaking of. Graham's reasons for threatening the block aren't peace reasons. I'm not attempting to portray them as if they were. But when Gravel repeatedly attempted to make these points about ways to stop the funding, he was either ignored or it was stated this wasn't practical and oh-my-what-would-people-think-if-we-did-that, etc. Dems could have stopped the Iraq War. They chose not to. If Graham follows through on his threat, it could prove very embarrassing for the Democratic Party as they publicly whine that the war funding must continue. Not only would that put them on record as owning the illegal war (the same illegal war they've used to drum up votes in one election cycle after the other), it would also demonstrate that all the we-don't-have-the-power excuses they've offered over and over were lies. The Iraq War could have been stopped long ago. Both political parties made the decision not to stop it.

Meanwhile Alsumaria reports on allegations that the US is preventing corruption investigations in Iraq: "Head of the integrity commission Rahim Al Ugaili criticized US authorities for not assisting in the investigations of probable corruption by US officials and companies in the wake of 2003. Al Ugaili considered that US officials and contractors’ immunity from Iraqi law has prevented the commission from investigating into the spending of Iraqi funds by the coalition power. He added that Iraq is cooperating with the US inspector in exchanging intelligence; yet, the cooperation is unilateral Iraqi wise."

Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central went to Iraq. We noted Campbell Robertson's report on Monday -- noted the feeling of the US troops stationed there that the US has forgotten the Iraq War and forgotten them. David Zurawik's "Colbert in Iraq: We only cover the amusing parts of war" (Baltimore Sun) covers the issue of Colbert's comedy:

As I watched Stephen Colbert's first show from Iraq Monday night, here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head and found their way onto a notepad:
We in the media don't cover the real war any more, but we will cover this fake news talkshow host going to Iraq like it's the second coming. Is this more of us amusing ourselves to death? Exhibit A: Newsweek doing a cover on Colbert When was the last cover written by a full time Newsweek staffer in Iraq about the real war?
With the golf club and all the jokes about being a coward in his opening monologue, Colbert's offering a post-post-post modern take on Bob Hope. But most of the jokes do not have a real point of view, because this gung-ho makebelieve character Colbert plays lacks a moral or emotional center. Are we ironic-izing (through a post-modern humor that is 99 percent irnony) ourselves into a kind of emotional death in which we can no longer feel the horror of war?
[. . .]
I am concerned about turning the palace of a former ruler who we conquered, captured and handed over for execution (no matter how odious he might have been) into what is essentially a comedy club on a cable TV channel. It seems arrogant and at odds with the kind of care we took with buildings and cultures in Europe after World War II. And in that case, we had stopped a real monster who had transgressed practically every border in the western world.
I am also concerened about President Barack Obama getting involved with the faux show and taping a message to Colbert and Odierno that was played on the show. In the message, Obama ordered Odierno to cut Colbert's hair. Does the president's involvement in the shtick not undercut the life and death seriousness of war? And is there any latenight show the president doesn't have time for?

I agree with all the points Zurawik's raised but he's done the work. A number of others haven't. Including Joshua Keating at Foreign Passport -- but that's an eye sore. Someone didn't know how to space and the whole thing runs together. Read it at NPR instead if you're interested. Keating is taking the attitude that others (yes, I read the e-mails and I'm just ignoring him) have. Colbert's guest editing an issue of Newsweek on Iraq. Oh the horror! Publicity stunt! Oh no. Because Newsweek is such a dignified publication? Because it regularly raises the national discourse? Newsweek is a weekly -- one we usually don't link to. (Newsweek enlisted with the CIA to destroy Jean Seberg. Newsweek, not the Los Angeles Times, put into print the lie about Seberg with Seberg's name attached to it. Joyce Haber ran a blind item. Newsweek named Jean and that was why Romain and Jean sued Newsweek and not the Los Angeles Times though, big surprise when you assist the CIA, the narrative now acts as though the Los Angeles Times destroyed Jean. LIE. That lie also allows the CIA to be exempt because it presents the attacks on Jean as only an FBI point. A Newsweek 'reporter' in France got the story from whom? That's the question you don't ask when you buy the lie that a blind item in a gossip column was where the story began and ended.) We may link to the Colbert issue.

I'm not a fan of Colbert's. His DC performance was appalling. We didn't praise it here or at Third. We don't worship him or Jon Stewart. But some of the carping online is coming from his fan base. It's real cute -- I'm not referring to Keating here, I am referring to the one everyone's e-mailing about -- that someone who had to be brow beaten into remembering the Iraq War continued and who now offers about three sentences a week on Iraq wants to whine that Colbert's trivializing the illegal war. Would that person have even written about Iraq this week were it not for Colbert's trip?

That's what Colbert's trip does. Forces the Iraq War back in people's faces. For that he does deserves credit and I really don't care for the whiners re: Newsweek. The US has approximately 140,000 troops stationed in Iraq. Iraq should be on the cover of newsweeklies at least once a month -- at least. If Colbert's trip gets on the cover, good for him. Again, I agree with Zurawik's points (and generally always do) but he's done the work (and usually does). Others who seem to have spent the last three years acting as if the Iraq War was over have a lot of nerve to criticize Colbert or express mock horror over a 'publicity stunt.'

Although the U.S. military drawdown will reduce its footprint in Iraq, America still plays a critical role as a mediator to solve problems among Iraqis. That need shows how far the war-torn country has to go in moving away from sectarian and ethnic agendas and achieving political stability.

Gina Chon's "Iraq's Sectarian Rhetoric Fuels Election Concerns" (Wall Street Journal) covers the US Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill:

Although the U.S. military drawdown will reduce its footprint in Iraq, America still plays a critical role as a mediator to solve problems among Iraqis. That need shows how far the war-torn country has to go in moving away from sectarian and ethnic agendas and achieving political stability.

You can find a transcript of the interview here:

WSJ: Were you worried at all about the level of things being said with everyone looking at Prime Minister Maliki and his win in January as the guy to beat? And he's also said some things that got people riled up when he talked about a Shiite majority and a presidential system.

Mr. Hill: You'll have good weeks and bad weeks in the life of any political systems. I think in recent weeks there has been some positive tendency. You've seen a lot of discussions now among the various political actors, the president is engaged, the prime minister is engaged, the parliament is engaged and they are engaged with each other. The heads of the various political parties in the council of Representatives have been engaged with each other. This is a process that is going to take several months to play out. The proof of it all is whether they are able to put together a successful national elections and whether those elections lead to the formation of a successful government.

WSJ: Do you think the moves lately for the speaker to meet with the prime minister and the president getting involved would have happened if you and others here hadn't gently suggested that something should be done?

Mr. Hill: We try to be very active and engaged; we try to be out there. But we're mindful that if it's going to work, it's going to work because it's the Iraqis and not the Americans who are solving things. One has to keep that in mind. And what we're seeing lately is an Iraqi process and that's one to be encouraged and is encouraging. I want to be helpful in the process, not to be involved in the process, and make sure this seedling of democracy is really able to grow. I think this could be of truly historic proportions if Iraq can emerge from these years of transition as a democratic government. It's very much in our interest to be engaged but not interfere.

It's an 'edited' version of the transcript. Let's hope that in the unexpurgated version Gina Chon found the time to ask Hill what he intends to do regarding the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community? It would be a real shame and a dangerous omission if it turned out she didn't even raise the issue.

However, if she didn't raise the issue, she wouldn't be alone in that, now would she? While the MSM has covered the issue, the so-called 'independent' media in the US has largely ignored it. June 1st, the subject was covered on KPFK's Connect the Dots with Lila Garrett and those unable to stream can refer to the June 1st snapshot. Otherwise Pacifica's ignored it. So has The Nation and the other print outlets. They appear to see it as a 'gay issue' to be covered only by the 'gay press.' Katrina vanden Heuvel, pull your skirt down a little, I believe you're homophobia's showing.

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