Thursday, July 02, 2009

'Toys will melt in cars. That is the heat.'

The problem is this government needs to gain the confidence of the people. It needs to give them something that they can hold onto. It needs to look at their very difficult lives. They didn't have electricity when the -- you know, outside this building, if I walk out now, it is so hot, toys will melt in cars. To just to give you an idea, toys will melt in cars. That is the heat. And people don't have electricity. After six years, they don't have water in their homes.
I spoke to a person yesterday in Beya'a neighborhood, when we were touring the city for reactions. And she said, "How can I be happy with sovereignty, if sovereignty has not brought me enough water to bathe, I can't wash my clothes, if I don't have electricity so I can sleep at night? What kind of sovereignty is this?"

The above is McClatchy Newspapers' Sahar Issa speaking on Democracy Now! yesterday for the segment "How Can We Have Sovereignty When We Don’t Have Electricity or Water to Bathe? Iraqi Reporter on US Troop Pullback." Sahar Issa is one of the Iraqi correspondents McClatchy has covering the war. She and other Iraqi correspondent's blog at the paper chain's Inside Iraq. Saturday Sam Dagher and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported that, following two huge bombings last week involving motorcycles, Nouri al-Maliki had banned motorcycles from Baghdad streets. Yesterday an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy explained what that means on the ground where communication is poor and the police are corrupt:

Sami hadn't heard of this decision. There was no great effort made to inform people of this decision.
So out he went, happy to bypass all the poor car drivers waiting in long queues at checkpoints. Then a traffic police patrol arrested him with his son in the Karrada neighborhood.
It turns out he wasn't the only one arrested. A lot of people had hit the streets with their motorbikes. They didn't know either.
Sami spent more than two hours trying to convince the officers that he hadn’t heard of the ban. Finally, the top-ranking officer came in and asked his men "Did they grease your palm?" ... "No, not yet" the policeman answered with a smile.
Sami paid the wages from his job as a bribe to save his motorcycle. And his family went to bed without supper because the police took all his money..
As usual, it is the poor Iraqis who pay the cost for the on-the-spur-of-the-minute decisions made by the Iraqi government. Innocent Iraqis are the quiet victims of corrupt officials.

In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Josh Drobnyk's "Iraq war veteran will lead effort to reverse 'don't ask, don't tell'" (Los Angeles Times) but we'll return to it to note this:

With Murphy, 35, the Democratic leadership has an aggressive two-term lawmaker who in 2006 was the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress. A former prosecutor and West Point professor, Murphy was a captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
He said he anticipated a struggle to rally enough support to bring the bill to the floor. "This is going to take months and months, but change is going to happen."
The legislation's prospects are similarly uncertain in the Senate, where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from a brain tumor, is expected to take the lead.
Opponents are readying their own fight, arguing that gays' open service would hurt national security.

It goes on to quote hag, you know who we mean. Monday's snapshot noted Senator Roland Burris' commitment to work with Kennedy on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. While that's wonderful that Burris has shown the courage to step up on this issue, Kennedy's not only suffering from a tumor, he's also got his hands on the health care. Burris needs a senior senator to work with and it's past time someone stepped up to the plate. This can't wait for Ted Kennedy to finish working on health care, it needs to be addressed now.

Iraq War veteran Anthony Woods is running for Congress, he was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Kel Munger (Sacramento News & Review) spoke with him (and I've added their names before they speak to make it easier to follow):

Kel Munger: So you were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Did they ask or did you tell?

Anthony Woods: I told. I reached the point where I had fully accepted who I was, and the more I thought about it, the more I understood that it was not right at all to lie about who I was. I was on the honor committee at West Point. I was raised with regular American values and taught that it's not right to lie in any context. As I started to think about it more and more, it baffled me that we had a policy in place that was the law of the land that required every member of the GLBT community who served to lie.

Kel Munger: There's something fundamentally wrong with that, especially in our country. It's unacceptable.

Anthony Woods: That compelled me to be honest with my commander. And because of the law, she was required -- whether she wanted to or not -- to launch an investigation into my background to confirm the truth of the matter. I had to provide her with lists of names of people who knew me and knew I was gay. After a six-month investigation, I was honorably discharged. I was asked to repay the tuition that the Army had paid for at West Point, which was about $35,000.

Kel Munger: How many years had you given the military? You'd already done two tours in Iraq, right?

Anthony Woods: When I was discharged, I'd served just a little over five years. After grad school, I was going to do five more years.

[. . .]

Kel Munger: And what about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which is kind of where we started this conversation?

Anthony Woods: Think of all the straight soldiers who are left in the unit now who are going into battle with one less person on their side, one less resource for their unit. Look at my friend Dan Choi, for example. He's an Arab linguist, speaks Arabic fluently. Now his unit has to go to war without translator. They're less effective at doing their job and they're more at risk while they try to do it. It simply doesn't make sense to take talented, competent people who want to do their job and remove them and send everyone else off to war without them. Or we could talk about the $400 million it has cost us to implement "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That would buy a lot of body armor and a lot of armored Humvees. Instead, we’ve got a net benefit of zero.

Dan Choi is fighting for his military career. Tuesday an army board recommended he be dischared. Catherine Philip (Times of London) reports:

An Iraq war veteran has been ordered out of the US military after publicly announcing his homosexuality in a direct challenge to the army's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Lieutenant Dan Choi, who speaks fluent Arabic, outed himself in March in the military journal Army Times and on national television at the launch of Knights Out, an association representing gay and lesbian graduates of West Point military academy.
He said that his declaration was a protest against a policy that forced soldiers to lie in order to serve their country. "It's an immoral code that goes against every single thing we were ever taught at West Point with our honour code," he said.

For those keeping track, the New York Times? Still not interested in the story.

The NGO Minority Rights Group International: Peoples Under Threat has issued "Peoples Under Threat 2009" which finds Iraq ranked second (behind Somalia) with the groups at risk listed in this order: Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Turkomans, Chrisians, Mandaens, Yezidis, Shabak, Fali Kurds, Bah'is, Palestinians. Overview of the report:

Despite recent changes in US policy towards the Islamic world, the latest annual global listing of Peoples Under Threat has seen the threat level rise further for communities in Muslim countries affected by international and civil conflicts.

Every year Minority Rights Group International publishes Peoples Under Threat, identifying those groups or peoples around the world most at risk of genocide, mass killing or other systematic violent repression. 2009 is the fourth year that MRG has compiled the list, which is based on current indicators from authoritative sources (see How is Peoples Under Threat calculated?).

In the latest listing, published July 2009, minorities in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen are all assessed as under greater danger than a year ago, their governments’ involvement in regional conflicts compounding the risk of repression at home. Pakistan joins states including Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan at the top of the list, as does Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Violent extremism and identity conflicts

In both his Ankara and Cairo speeches in 2009, US President Barack Obama emphasized that ‘America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam’. He went on to seek common cause with the Islamic world: ‘The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.’ But he also expressed his determination to continue using military means to confront extremism: ‘...despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – but more than any other, they have killed Muslims.'

However, the military response to violent extremism in recent years has resulted in a new generation of identity conflicts that have placed whole communities in peril. Since 2001, when after 9/11 the US pursued the Afghanistan Taleban and the al-Qaeda unit led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, the ‘violent extremists’ to which Obama referred have proliferated. They now operate in many countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, many under the al-Qaeda label. For the civilian populations in such countries – mainly but not exclusively Muslim – the risks do not end there. In those states most affected, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia, the civilian population faces the combined threat of terrorist attacks by armed opposition groups, military operations by national armed forces or by the US or its allies and, most dangerous of all, the wider armed struggle for power that has developed based on sectarian or ethnic identities. It is this combination of factors, created and sustained by armed conflict, that makes the situation so deadly for both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities.

Communities perceived to share an identity with violent extremists, such as the Pashtun in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Sunni Arabs in Iraq, are caught between armed opposition groups and the military operations launched to defeat them. Members of smaller sects or non-Muslim minorities, such as Yezidis, Shabak or Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq, or Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, are targeted by Islamic extremists because their beliefs are considered to be un-Islamic. Historically poor or marginalized minorities with no militias to defend them, including the Bantu and Gaboye in Somalia, are particularly vulnerable where there is generalized insecurity. A state of war has also enabled governments to undertake the violent repression of other minorities, such as Baluchis in Pakistan.

Once such identity conflicts have taken hold, the cycles of community mobilization and revenge killings make them difficult to dislodge, and conflict resolution and reconciliation become messy and lengthy processes. As President Obama himself remarked in his Cairo speech, ‘It is easier to start wars than to end them’.

The top twenty

The highest five states in the Peoples Under Threat table in 2009 are unchanged in position from last year: Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Burma/Myanmar. In each of them violence against minorities of a widespread or systematic character is ongoing, as it is in a number of other states near the top of the list, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most significant risers in the top ten are Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (see Major risers in 2009).

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