Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, reporters remain imprisoned in the 'free' Iraq, the UN whines about the Kurds, Robert Gates explains the US army will be expanded, and more.
Yesterday on NPR's Morning Edition, Quil Lawrence filed a story on Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Jassem:
Quil Lawrence: Ibrahim Jassam was 29-years-old when he began filming news for Reuters wire service. That was 2006 and the towns southwest of Baghdad had earned the name Triangle of Death because of the violence between Shi'ite militias and Sunni insurgents. His brother Waleed says Jassam took his work very seriously.
Waleed Jassam: When there was an explosion Ibrahim was always the first one to be in the location filming. He felt whatever was happening on the ground, he wanted to be seen on the television.
Quil Lawrence: But, as with many cases in the past, the US military apparently thought Jassam's photos looked a little too close to the action suggesting a connection to insurgents. One morning last September, a combined US and Iraqi force cordoned off Jasam's neighborhood hours before dawn. They broke down the door of the house where he lived with his parents and siblings and dragged Jassam away in his underwear, handcuffed. They brought dogs inside the house said his sister Iman as she points out Jassam's room. Iman says she tried to tell the soldiers her brother had done nothing wrong.
Iman Jassam: One of the Iraqi soldiers said, "Why are you still talking? If you only knew what we are going to do to your brother, you would be crying." These words are still echoing in my ears.
Quil Lawrence: It took months before the family got word that Jassim was in a US military prison and they eventually visited him. What they're still waiting for is any kind of criminal charge against him.
Capt Brad Kimberly: Ibrahim Jassam is still in detention because he's classified as a high security threat
Quil Lawrence: Capt Brad Kimberly is a US military spokesman. He says starting this year with the new US-Iraqi security agreement, all American arrests require an Iraqi warrant but, since Jassam was arrested last year, no warrant was needed. Kimberly said the only obligation is to transfer him sometime after December. But Kimberly offers no evidence.
Capt Brad Kimberly: Prior to the first of January, all detainees were held as wartime security threats, no legal charges were assigned.
Quil Lawrence: In fact, an Iraqi court document from last November says that, since the Americans provided no evidence or confession, Jassam should be released. Michael Christie is the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad. He says Jassam did a good job in a dangerous city.
Michael Christie: We have to assume he has been detained because of the work he was doing as a journalist. Until we see otherwise, until the evidence is declassified, he deserves the presumption of innocence.
Quil Lawrence: Iraqi journalists have been regularly detained by US forces through the course of the American occupation. Several have been killed when mistaken for insurgents. According to Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Jassam is the only one still in US custody.
Mohammed Abdel Dayem: No charges have been brough against any of the journalists. Journalists, if and when they are detained, their cases should be reviewed in a quick and timely way and they should either be charged with a recognized crime or be released.
Quil Lawrence: After a few months in a prison near Baghdad, Jassam was transferred to Camp Bucca, a massive US prison camp near the border with Kuwait. It's an eight or nine hour drive south from his home but the family was able to visit him last month. Ibrahim Jassam's sister Iman says he isn't eating enough and looks thing. She says her brother knows the Iraqi court cleared him in November and he can't understand why the Americans keep holding him for ten months now and counting. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.
From the December 1, 2008 snapshot:
In other news, Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam has been a prisoner in Iraq since Sept. 1, 2008 when US and Iraqi military forces drug him from his Mahmudiyah home. He has been held a prisoner since then at Camp Cropper. Reporters Without Borders and Journalistic Freedom Observatory have been calling for his release. Reuters reported yesterday that Iraq's Central Criminal Court has ordered that Ibrahim be released because "there was no evidence against" him; however, "There was no immediate response from the U.S. military to the ruling." Daryl Lang (Photo District News) adds, "Jassam's case resembles those of several other Iraqi photographers and cameramen working for Western news organizations, all of whom were eventually freed. And the decision comes as the U.S. is releasing thousands of security detainees and preparing to turn its much-maligned detainee system over to the Iraqi government."
December 9, 2009, Reuters reported that US Maj Neal Fisher stated all the Iraqi court order meant was that when he is released Ibrahim "will be able to out-process without having to go through the courts as other detainees in his threat classification will have to do." Why is that? Because the court has found no reason to hold Ibrahim. So while others will go on to have their day in court, Fisher is admitting that Ibrahim's had his but the US military just doesn't want to release him. In June of this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Nouri al-Maliki and they noted Ibrahim and requested, "Press the U.S. military to respect the decision of the Iraqi courts and immediately release Ibrahim Jassam." Last September, Reporters Without Borders pointed out that over "20 journalists have been arrested in Iraq in similar circumstances since 1st January 2008, all of whom have been released after spending days or even months in custody without any charges being made against them." CPJ notes him here (note that Adel Hussein, whose profile follows, has been released and shouldn't even be on the current list of journalists imprisoned). Reporters Without Borders notes that three journalists are currently detained in Iraq, there's Ibrahim starting September 1, 2008; Mountazer al-Zaidi starting December 14, 2008 (he's the one who threw his shoes at Bully Boy Bush and Nouri's joint-press conference in December) and Jassem Mohamed who has been imprisoned since February 2009. Meanwhile, last week Reporters Without Borders declared, "Iraqi security forces working with Sahwa militias seem to be taking advantage of the withdrawal of the US forces to physically target journalists. The Iraqi authorities must do what is necessary to put a stop to this and to ensure that there are independent investigations into these two recent incidents." The first incident involved Ali Al-Juburi (Ifaq) Ahmad Omad (Biladi TV) and Karim Al-Qasimi (Al Fiha) outside Ramadi, traveling in a car clearly marked as press being pulled over by Sahwa and Iraqi police and physically attacked. The second is Haydar al_Qotbi (Radio Sawa) attacked in Baghdad by Sahwa after he displayed his press credentials ("dragged from the car and badly beated by six men").
Staying with the topic of Iraqi reporters, one year ago today, Soran Mama Hama was assassinated in Kirkuk Province. From the July 22, 2008 snapshot:
Reuters notes "an Iraqi journalist working for a Kudrish magazine" was shot dead in Kirkuk Monday and 5 people wounded in shootings in Haswa while Tirkit was the site of an attack today "on the convoy of Khalid Burhan, head of health office of Salahudding province" that left his guards wounded. The journalist was Soran Mamhama. He was 23-years-old and AP states he worked for the "magazine Leven and often covered government corruption." Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condeming the murder and stated, "We call on the Kudristan authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Hama's murder. He wrote hard-hitting articles about local politicians and security officials and had received threats from people telling him to stop his investigative reporting. The authorities should therefore give priority to the theory that he was killed because of his work." Xinhua notes Soran was shot dead outside his home and quotes Journalist Freedoms Observatory's Ziyad al-Ajili stating, "The first step to halt the assassinations against journalists is to capture those culprits." Iran's Press TV quotes Latif Satih Faraj (Kurdish Journalists Union in Kirkuk) stating, "If the government can't protect Kurdish journalists in Kirkuk, we might adviste them to withdraw from this city." Iraq's The Window reports Leveen is calling for an investigation and that "Leveen, which is an independent Kurdish magazine founded 6 years ago in Sulaimani, is known as a muckraking journal in Kurdistan and Iraq."
The Committee To Protect Journalists is calling for his murder(s) to be brought to justice, "Authorities in Kirkuk province must bring to justice those responsible for the 2008 murder of journalist Soran Mama Hama . . . the Committee to Protect Journalists said on the eve of the anniversary of the reporter's slaying. . . . Mama Hama published an article in Livin before his death about the alleged complicity of the police and security officials in prostitution rings in Kirkuk. He claimed in the article that his sources had provided him with names of 'police brigadiers, many lieutenants, colonels, and many police and security officers,' who were clients. The shooting occurred at around 9 p.m. in the dominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Shorija, a relatively safe area in Kirkuk." They note that Soran was one of 139 journalists killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
A year ago today, Nouri was gearing up for his trip to Berlin where he'd meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This as thug and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki gears up for his media stop in the US, just in time for Barry O's prime time address Wednesday night. July 25th, three provinces in Iraq hold their provincial elections and to steal attention (what little's been given) for the KRG, Nouri plans to announce an education plan that would put 10,000 Iraqis in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US for college study. Of course, that 10,000 wouldn't come anytime soon. He plans to do 500. He'll make his announcement of the program in DC Saturday morning. Ned Parker's "Maliki remakes himself ahead of elections" (Los Angeles Times) covers the region's Madonna as he prepares to embark on his Blonde Ambition tour and notes of self-promoter Nouri:
Iran has played a king-making role in Iraqi Shiite politics since 2003 because of its ties to many Shiite lawmakers, who spent years in exile across the border.
"In the period of 2006 and 2007, there were moves to remove Maliki. It was Iran who stopped it. Maliki has to remember this. They can make his life harder," said Sami Askari, a Shiite legislator and confidant of the prime minister.
Still, Askari warned that Maliki would not be hemmed in; he would set the conditions for any list of candidates he might join.
"Maliki will not accept to be marginalized. . . . Some may have ambitions to surround Maliki. I doubt they will succeed," Askari said. "Everyone understands Maliki is an asset."
Noting the visit is Jake Kurtzer (Refugees International) who stresses the ongoing Iraqi refugee crisis -- internal and external displaced persons -- and offers:
President Obama can convey this message by urging Al-Maliki to take a few basic steps. First and foremost, the Iraqi government must continue to improve its own response to the displacement crisis. Reports that the Iraqi government plans to close the IDP file at the end of this year indicate a desire on their part to gloss over this humanitarian emergency. This is unacceptable. The Iraqi government, with U.S. support, must continue to improve its legal framework for supporting returnees and must ensure that all returns are voluntary, and conducted with dignity to areas that are safe and suitable for return.
In urging Al-Maliki to take these steps, President Obama should reiterate America's commitment to meeting the basic needs of Iraq's displaced, through financial support for humanitarian agencies and through diplomatic engagement with host countries. The announcement of a potential return of an Ambassador to Syria is a welcome and overdue step that RI has been calling for since 2007. This will ensure that the U.S. can engage with the Syrian government on issues relating to the basic needs of Iraqi refugees. Finally, the President can continue to affirm the U.S.'s commitment to resettle those most vulnerable Iraqi's who will never be able to return home.
Refugees International's latest report is [PDF format warning] entitled "IRAQI REFUGEES: WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND SECURITY CRITICAL TO RETURNS" and it's covered in yesterday's snapshot.
Nouri's first stop will be the United Nations. No surprise, the UN is suddenly interested in Iraq again. The same UN that's shutting down offices and websites. (Didn't you notice? Try to visit UNHCR's Iraq page. It's gone.) Tim Cocks (Reuters) reports that an unnamed UN diplomat is swearing that the KRG needs to stop their demands on Kirkuk and just wait because, "We (all) believe that would lead to war and the U.N. has . . . told the Kurds that." And the response of the Kurds should be: Who the hell cares? The referendum on oil-rich Kirkuk was supposed to have taken place no later than December 2007. It's 2009 and they're still being told to wait? The UN claimed in the summer of 2008 they'd work on a solution. It's a year later and the solution is: Wait?
No. If you were a Kurd you wouldn't support waiting one more moment. They've waited. They've listened. It's really past time for something to be done about the situation. Iraq's Constitution has not been followed and if the United Nations wants to help, they might try actually helping instead of being the joke to every NGO and charity in Iraq right now. They made themselves that joke. They did it when they let a man WHORE out the good name of the UN to appease al-Maliki. Yeah, back when they said that host countries shouldn't consider Iraqi citizens refugees from a dangerous country. Under huge protests internally, the UN issued a statement saying that, of course, the situation in Iraq was still too dangerous for a return. But they'd already made a joke of themselves and they'd yet again proven that they will LIE for Nouri. They did last fall when they allowed their spokeswoman to lash out at Iraqi women in a press conference, to blame Iraqi women for the cholera outbreak. That's wasn't public health, it wasn't anything but take the heat off Nouri. The United Nations has played the fool for Nouri one time too damn many and their reputation is in tatters in Iraq. It's their own fault and it will require real work to build it back up. Until they do, the Kurds should tell them to butt the hell out of an issue in a supposedly soveriegn country. What's the United Nations doing butting in yet again anyway? The Kurds didn't invite them into the conversation.
Oh, Nouri invited them in. Well it's not all about Nouri and the KRG doesn't have to listen to the UN and shouldn't at this point in time. Read Tim Cocks' report and grasp that the unnamed diplomat is WHORING for Nouri. (Cocks has written an excellent report, the embarrassment is the UN diplomat.) It's all, "Bad Barzani!" from the diplomat. First off, July 25th is when the KRG holds provincial elections and presidential. It's funny how many times I've heard friends at the UN excuse Nouri's alarmist rhetoric with, "He's just trying to drum up support for the elections." Yet, Barzani faces an election on Saturday and he's not given the same benefit of the doubt? The UN has embarrassed themselves and the problem has been from day one that no one person is in charge. This group (usually on the ground in Iraq) goes off and does what it wants. The UN attempts to fix it by using an agency spokesperson from outside Iraq. But they never punish their staff in Iraq that continually causes these problems. Instead of fretting over Kirkuk, the UN should work on getting their own damn house in order. The United Nations needs to be seen as an honest broker. It gave that up due to on the ground staff repeatedly distorting to benefit Nouri al-Maliki. Those people were not disciplined (and it took forever just to get two of them removed from Iraq). Now the UN wants to tell the Kurds to wait? After it gave up the right to be seen as an honest broker?
If I were Baghdad, I'd wait. I'd wait happily. If I were the Kurds, I'd grasp that maybe a little violence will come in the already violent Iraq if I move but if I don't move the issue will continue to be postponed while the US government gets closer and closer to Nouri. I'd grasp that Nouri's violence usually leads to the US Embassy appeasing him. I'd grasp that maybe setting off my own violence might get me some of Kirkuk or Nineveh. I'd grasp that the United Nation's diplomat is trashing me to the press when Nouri is the one who has held up the Kirkuk issue. When the Iraq Constitution mandated that he commission a census and schedule a referendum before the end of 2007, when the White House benchmarks included that he resolve the issue of Kirkuk. Nouri didn't do that. But the one causing the problem is the Kurds? I'd grasp that any UN staff that turned around and trashed me to the press wasn't worth working with and I'd decide what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. Two and a half years after the Iraq Constitution mandated this issue be settled, it's still not and the United Nations wants to say "WAIT!" and blame the Kurds? And they want to be seen like they are being fair to both sides? It's nonsense. And that's demonstrated by the fact that Iran's Press TV provides perspective the UN diplomat seems not to grasp:
The Kurds say that parts of the majority Arab Nineveh belong to their ancient homeland and want them included in Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Kurds represent 16 of Nineveh's 37 seats in the parliament.
They complain that Arab Governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi has marginalized them in the provincial council since he was elected on January 31, restoring Arabs to power.
Should the problem fail to be resolved, the Kurds will be forced to split the province into two, forming their own splinter council to run the 16 administrative units, Kurdish councilor Derrman Khitari said on Sunday.
A year ago Nouri was traveling to Berlin. Once there, he'd declare, "Iraq is able to take the security situtation into its own hands. We have achived great success." Does great success mean "large bodycount"? While various US outlets couch their statements or outright deny the increase violence in Iraq, Alsumaria notes that "Iraq security is replapsing with violence" and that it's leading to crackdowns and curfews. Falluja now has a truck curfew. Reuters notes that "Ramadi has declared a state of emergency and imposed a vehicle ban after two bomb attacks on Tuesday". Today's violence?
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which left 4 dead and thrity-nine injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left thirteen injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 3 lives and left fifteen injured, a Baghdad car bombing which claimed 2 lives and left six injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing "targeting the convoy of Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed" which left three police officers and nine bystanders injured, a Ramadi suicide bomber and a car bombing -- one after the other, which claimed 3 lives and left thirteen injured and a Mussayab roadside bombing which injured five Sahwa.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi solider shot dead in Mosul.
Meanwhile Steve Levy (Wired) reports on the tech meet up in Iraq:
As the CEO of MeetUp, Scott Heiferman usually spends his days meeting with staff and brainstorming product strategy. But today the 37-year-old New Yorker, wearing a combat helmet and armored vest over a black business suit, is crammed into a battered C-130 transport plane headed for Iraq. Military and diplomatic personnel aboard are warily eyeing him and the others in his party, all similarly attired, as the C-130 begins its steep, corkscrew descent into the Baghdad airport. And Heiferman is thinking, "What am I doing here?"
No word on whether they'll be staying at the Baghdad Convention Center ("All your business in one place"), but then this isn't one of the big conferences as evidenced by the fact that Iraq's Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Labor are not promoting it. What they are promoting is the Baghdad Buusiness Expo from October 1st through 3rd, Iraq Construction Expo from October 22nd to October 24th, the Iraq Health Expo November 22 through November 24th and the Iraq Energy Expo from Decmeber 5th through December 7th. On the topic of foreign investments and business, Susan Webb (People's Weekly World) notes Iraq's Communist Party has come out against the recent oil auction (a second auction is currently planned):
* Oil is an especially strategic commodity, especially for Iraq, with oil revenues being the main source for funding the state's budget and providing for the enormous needs for reconstruction and reviving Iraq's economy. As a result, the Communist Party said, it is essential that any formula for using this national resource must ensure Iraq's national interests and its control over oil and its revenues.
* The government should give priority to its own direct national investment, re-establishing the country's National Oil Company, and utilizing Iraqi expertise. The Communist Party, whose leader Hameed Majid Mousa is himself trained as an oil economist, emphasizes that Iraq has a large pool of knowledgeable and trained oil experts who can play a big role in if their efforts are well organized and if they are provided with suitable working conditions.
* Iraq's oil sector is in desperate need of developed technologies to rehabilitate its infrastructure and oil wells, to raise production in line with Iraq's increasing needs as well as to develop its unexploited huge oil reserves with technical and economic efficiency. Considering these circumstances, Iraq may seek the help of international companies and institutions in order to make use of their experience and capabilities, but but this should be done based on conditions and controls that ensure Iraqi national interests and preserve the people's right to own the oil wealth and control its destiny.
* Iraq can use limited-term technical support and service contracts with foreign firms, but the party warns against long-term "partnership sharing agreements" (known as PSAs) that mortgage Iraq's oil and its revenues to foreign interests.
Turning to the United States. Jill Dougherty (CNN) reports Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, still in DC (he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Wednesday), is stating that Iraq can "not regain full sovereignty and independence without getting rid of" the United Nations sanctions put in place after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Meanwhile US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced yesterday:
On the recommendation of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army General George Casey, and with President Obama's strong support, today I am announcing a decision to temporarily increase the active-duty end strength of the Army by up to 22,000. That is a temporary increase from the current authorized end -- permanent end strength of 547,000 to an authorized temporary end strength of 569,000 active-duty soldiers.
I came into this job in 2006 with the belief that we did not have enough forces to properly support the extended pace of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. Shortly after taking office, and mindful of the decision to surge additional forces into Iraq, I recommended and the president and the Congress approved a permanent increase in the size of the Army of 65,000 and the Marine Corps of 27,000. At the time, it was judged that these increases would sustain the projected level of deployments and lower the stress on the force. At the same time, I directed that the Army continue to reduce the size of the nondeployable or institutional part of the force.
Elizabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports that approximately 130,000 US troops are in Iraq and that Afghanistan is expected to have 60,000. Though the expansion was the stated reason for the press conference, it quickly became clear another reason was to refute Ernesto Londono's Monday morning report "U.S. Troops in Iraq Find Little Leeway" (Washington Post). Robert Gates prattled on about no problems, no problems at all, "I received a report from General [Ray] Odierno just today that addressed this issue. And he said that the level of cooperation and collaboration with the Iraqi security forces is going much better than is being portrayed publicly and in the media. So my impression from his reporting, and just this week but over the last couple of weeks, has been that it's actually, in his view, going quite well." Gates than called on Adm Mike Mullen to back him up. He didn't have to ask twice. Insisted Mullen, "All discussions I've had with General Odierno, including one midweek last week, about this issue have been very positive." Imagine that, a Secretary of Defense insisting media reports were wrong. No, it's not uncommon but what they didn't seem to grasp is that you don't want to say that in public about Odierno. He's very hard to corral and actually feels he has to tell his truth to the press. Gates knows that. Gates really knows that. By attaching the opinions to Odierno, they make him the issue and, specifically, they make the issue: If this is true, why haven't we heard it from him? Thereby forcing them to allow Odierno access to the media at a time when they were attempting to limit that.
Friday Gates held a townhall for soldiers at Fort Drum. Walter Pincus (Washington Post) covers it and we'll note this section:
A private first class in a support battalion, scheduled to go to Iraq, asked whether, if troops don't complete their 12-month tour in that country, they will be transferred to Afghanistan before coming home. Gates said he didn't know for sure but he hopes such soldiers would be brought home "because there is a different kind of training that goes on for Afghanistan compared to Iraq." He said the units that will go to Afghanistan to bring the total to 68,000, as authorized by President Obama, had already been identified, and thus would not include those on their way to Iraq.
Gates said he hedged his answer because "there may be some specific specialties or specialized units that might be transferred" from Iraq to Afghanistan but any increase before the end of this year would not be "a lot."
An artillery sergeant asked about the likelihood that Army deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan would be shortened to nine months or even six months. Gates said that Casey, the chief of staff, "would really like to do that," noting that Marines are spending seven months deployed and seven at home, Navy personnel are alternating six-month stints, and Air Force tours are even shorter.
Rotating the Army's much larger number of troops in Iraq with a less-than-one-year deployment would create an unacceptable logistics problem, he said. He said a question he had with shorter rotations amid a counterinsurgency is "Do we cut our capability -- because we cut our experience level by the shorter tours?"
"The president relies on a list of handpicked reporters to call on at his formal news conferences -- and the fortunate few are not necessarily accredited reporters but include new age self-appointed journalists or anyone with a laptop," veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas (The Boston Channel) wrote a while back. A while back? During the Bush Administration? No, earlier this month. When Helen covered the previous administration like that, she was applauded and it seemed like Amy Goodman couldn't stop singing her praises. These days Amy sings the praises of Liar Rachel Maddow -- a TV host so stupid that, Bob Somerby explains, she has to make up things Pat Buchanan supposedly said. Grasp that. Rachel Maddow wants to do a take down on Pat Buchanan but she's so inept that she can't choose from the many, many offensive things he says on any given day, she has to make to things up. That's how stupid Rachel Maddow is, how stupid and how dishonest. It's Liar's Poker passed off as 'progressive politics' and it's why the left is in such a deep funk that it can't even rally to call out Barry O's latest cave on health care. Liar's Poker, not information you need, not news you can use, is what they're trying to shove down your throats.
Finally, at World Can't Wait, Debra Sweet posts audio of her conversation with Candace Gorman about "the lives of her two clients, still in Guantanamo, one of whom is seriously ill" and the lack of change for the prisoners at Guantanamo.