Friday, August 14, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military releases some suicide data, journalist protest in Iraq, Iraqi women get some press attention, and more.
Starting with US military suicides which are increasing by the DoD's own figures. The June figures for the army were released July 9th and they were "no confirmed suicides and nine potential suicides." Yesterday, the Defense Department released the July figures and noted that "four of the nine potential suicides [for June] have been confirmed and five remain under investigation." For July they are investigating eight possible suicides. They also state, "There have been 96 reported active-duty Army suicides during the period Jan. 1, 2009 - July 31, 2009. Of these, 62 have been confirmed, and 34 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 79 suicides among active-duty soldiers. During July 2009, among reserve component soldiers not an active duty, there were four potential suicides. During the period Jan. 1, 2009 -- July 31, 2009, among that same group, there have been 17 confirmed suicides and 28 potential suicides; the potential suicides are currently under investigation to determine the manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 32 suicides among reserve soldiers not on active duty."
Independent journalist Dahr Jamail (at CounterCurrents) observes, "Soldiers are returning from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan destroyed mentally, spiritually, and psychologically, to a general population that is, mostly, willfully ignorant of the occupations and the soldiers participating in them. Troops face a Department of Veterans Affairs that is either unwilling or unable to help them with their physical and psychological wounds and they are left to fend for themselves. It is a perfect storm of denial, neglect, violence, rage, suffering, and death." Dahr's latest book was released last month month and is The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. July 31st on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, a caller, Pamela, phoned to discuss a family member in the service who took his own life:
Yes. Good morning, how are you? Thank you for taking my call. I am responding to a comment I heard earlier and it really just like shot me in my heart. And the comment was that the suicide rates [in the US military] are skyrocketing and how this has to be addressed. And I literally like I said stopped dead in my tracks. I . . . lost my brother in service due to suicide. He was home on a leave and, uh, about to be, pardon me, to go back and to serve and, uh, was, uh -- the difficulty in getting the mental health services I believe that he needed -- I mean he was married with two children -- was most, most difficult and delayed and a long wait and this and that. And then the unfathomable happened and, uh, when I, uh, at times decided to share how he died rather than just say he died in the war and I would say he died by suicide the remark I would hear unfortunately was, "Oh my goodness, he didn't die a hero then." And-and I continually hear this and I guess I want to make a statement that how someone dies, um, should not be -- that -- that is not a definition of how they lived their lives. And here was a good man who gave and did so much for the community and yet because of how he died -- which you know is a mental illness health related, etc. etc. -- he is now being defined as -- not -- as a zero. And not being defined. And I think you know this-this suicide issue is getting way out of control and for every person that dies by suicide there are at least six to ten people that are horribly effected as well to the point where their mental health also, uh, you know, begins to fall apart and the whole mental health, how to get help, starts all over again. And I should say that the support groups for those that lose a loved one by suicide are now separated from regular grief groups and while attending one and sharing how my loved one died, people were going around the room, people said to me, "Oh my God, why is she here?" I've been asked to leave meetings because -- grief support meetings -- because of how my brother died and I don't think that's fair or correct or right and, um, so the issue goes far beyond the pain of losing a loved one and is extremely complicated. And, um, I wanted to share all that. And if ever anybody hears of someone that dies of a suicide please just say "I'm sorry for your loss" and ask about the person. And don't say anything cruel or unkind because, again, how one lives their entire life for 38 years should not be defined by a, you know, a irrational moment that effects -- that became a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
A caller named Mary also explained some of the stressors she sees (she's married to a service member) on that program (and there's transcripts of both calls in the July 31st snapshot). Moving to today's broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show. The second hour found Diane discussing the international news with Aljazaeera's Abderrahim Foukara, CNN's Elise Labott and McClatchy Newspapers' Warren P. Strobel. We'll come in on the Iran section where Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal -- the three American citizens being held by Iran -- come up.
Diane Rehm: And Elise what is the fate of the Newsweek journalist who strayed apparently into Iran?
Elise Labott: Well you have a couple of detainees. You have a Newsweek journalist, Maziar Bahari, whose been working in Iran, who's been licensed by the Iranian government to work and whose coverage frankly of the regime hasn't been all that critical and he's been caught up in this post-election crisis. He's-he's one of forty -- more than forty journalists that are being tried as part of hundreds of opposition leaders -- some of the most well respected people of the country like Shirin Ebadi, noted Nobel laureate. And there's been a large campaign by Newsweek to-to free him. And then you have three American hikers --
Diane Rehm: Hikers. Right.
Elise Labott: Three American hikers that were hiking in northern Iraq in the Kurdish area in the mountains and it seems as if they strayed into uh, strayed into Iran and were detained by the authorities. And after a kind of week or so of no news whatsoever, the Iranians finally confirmed that they do have them, they are in custody, there's been no consular access, no visits to them at all. What US officials are saying is it's prob -- they don't think that Iran is irrational in these situations and that eventually it will probably shake out like it did in 2007 when Iran picked up these three British -- several British soldiers, held them, milked them for all they were worth and then when the costs -- international outrage and costs of them were too high, they had this ceremony and let them go. So they kind of think that after these hikers, they find out that they've satisfied themselves that they really didn't pose any risks -- the Iraqi government now is getting involved saying, 'They were really just guests of our country and they strayed in, please let them go' -- that eventually, as they did with Roxana Saberi journalist, they will let them go.
Warren P. Strobel: Yeah I think that's probably the case You did have one sort of hardline -- I think it was a member of Parliament, I hope I'm not wrong on that -- say --
Elise Labott: No, it was a member of Parliament, yeah.
Warren P. Strobel: -- that the only reason these three people could have strayed across the border is because they are part of a Western plot to keep things unhinged in Iran. But by and large, I think Elise is probably right that they will be released.
Elise Labott: They just couldn't --
Warren P. Strobel: The costs are too high.
Elise Labott: -- have done it at a worse time. I mean there should be some sort of a warning on your passport not to go into these countries.
Diane Rehm: Yes, you bet. You bet.
Abderrahim Foukara: Yes, I mean regardless of this ball being kicked back and forth between the Iranian government and the United States government as to the nature of what actually happened when those hikers went into Iranian territory, I mean in these situations you inevitably have a new card to play if you're the Iranian government when it comes to negotiations. It just puts one added step on the road to negotiations between the Iranian government and the US government instead of cutting straight to the chase and talking about pressure regarding the nuclear issue, now the US government has this extra hurdle of the three hikers to actually clear before they can talk about any other substance.
Diane Rehm: And speaking of hurdles a new wave of violence in Iraq this week, Warren Strobel?
Warren P. Strobel: Yes, indeed. I think yesterday there was two suicide bombings in the Mosul area targeted against an ethnic minority -- religious minority called the Yazzidis, 21 people killed. That's the latest on a string of these ever since US combat troops left the cities June 30th.
Diane Rehm: So since last Friday, we've had 150 people killed.
Warren P. Strobel: It's, it's a lot. And it's -- though actually, you talk to American commanders they think -- they predicted even worse once -- in other words, it's terrible, I'm not trying to minimize it in any sense of the word but there was a concern that there would be an even larger wave of violence.
Diane Rehm: So how is the Iraqi security handling this?
Warren P. Strobel: You know they -- they're doing better. You had this memo from the American colonel (Timothy Reese) that was published in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago saying the Iraqi security forces were just barely good enough and it's time for us to leave. Iraq is still very unstable and the big concern now is the fault line between the Kurdish areas and the Arab areas and the concern about a full scale ethnic conflict there which we have not seen yet, thank God, but it's a possibility.
Elise Labott: And also there-there, as Warren said, there really trying to fuel an already existing tension between the Arab and the Kurdish government in the north but also up until recently when we've seen these bombings in the north the bombing campaign has really been directed at the Shia and to -- and the bombings have just been horrific, they've been on food lines, you know, school buses, hospitals, funerals, really aimed at the Shia and trying to drag them back into a sectarian war. And the Shia by and large have been very patient. Their spiritual leaders like Grand Ayatollah Sistani have uh told them listen 'No retaliation, renounce violence' and this -- by and large they've been patient but I think people are waiting to see how long that patience will last and whether we'll see the militias come again.
It's really interesting how the media continues to congratulate the Shi'ite dominant population on not publicly going on a violence tear. I don't recall, do you, when the Iraqi Christians have been under attack -- pick any time, it never ends -- any congratulations to them for not responding with violence. What a sad media which repeatedly strokes the Shi'ites as so wonderful for not breaking the law. The same media, it should be noted, which treated the genocide as a civil war. One group controlled the Iraqi government, the Shias. One group had all the power, the Shias. But back then, 2007, it was a civil war -- they covered up for what the dominant group was doing to eradicate a minority. Now they praise that same group for 'restraint.' And what's so amazing is that Elise got close to reality for a moment and then decided to walk it back, "And also there-there, as Warren said, there really trying to fuel an already existing tension between the Arab and the Kurdish government in the north but also up until recently when we've seen these bombings in the north the bombing campaign has really been directed at the Shia". As everyone has yet again rushed to stroke and fawn over the dominant population in Iraq, no one's considered what's going on. Disputed areas erupt in violence? Disputed areas under Kurdish control?
This could very well be a Shi'ite effort to destabalize the area in order to weaken any claim the Kurds may have on the territory. We saw that before. Repeatedly. We saw it with the attacks on Iraqi Christians from the summer of 2008 through November 2008. And we saw, if we paid attention, that the ones blamed originally were the Kurdish peshmerga. The Shi'ites started a whisper campaign that the always-eager-to-please press ran with. But the peshmerga wasn't responsible for the attacks nor would it ever make sense for them to be responsible for the attacks on Iraqi Christians. It was the Shi'ites in that region with indicators that they were being fed/fueled from elsewhere in Iraq.
The Yazidis are not Shi'ite. If they were Shi'ite, they'd be part of the dominant culture and not a minority. More importantly, as per usual, the press can only see the big attacks. There have been attacks for the last two weeks. And those attacks have included attacks, again, on Iraqi Christians in that region. It's interesting how the press only seems to give a damn when the victims are Shia. It's interesting that they then pretend they give a damn because of the violence when the reality appears to be that Shia thugs controlling the government get press appeasement. Out of fear? I have no idea. I only know that Shia thugs have conducted genocide and not been called out by our allegedly free press and now when violence is being conducted in nothern Iraq against Yazidis, Iraqi Christians, Kurds and a host of others, the press can only see Shi'ite victims. It's very strange and very telling. Notice how Mayada Al Askari (Gulf News) covers the hundreds of deaths: "Kurdish villages, with mixed populations of Sunnis and Shiites, were targeted heavily. Nearly 3,000 kilogrammes of explosives went off near a small coffee shop in the forgotten village of Khazna, where poor labourers were killed." And the Shia are not monolythic. Frequently here we refer to the Shi'ite thugs (or the Sunni ones). We're referring to the government and militias. (Which are often the same thing for the Shi'ites.) And within the Shi'ite thug grouping, you have various divisions that can and do go to war with one another. A point that the Western media forgets as it renders the division it's helped to create (Shia v. Sunni) as a hard line that easily divides and which finds only one of two groupings.
Last Friday, Abderrahim Foukara hosted a discussion on the United States exiting Iraq on Aljazeera's Inside Iraq (link is video). The panelists were Thomas E. Ricks, Rend al-Rahim and Scott Carpenter. Rahim is an Iraqi and an American and she was the US ambassador to Iraq immediately after the Iraq War. Rahim was a very loyal supporter of George W. Bush and she got in some attacks on Joe Biden. Not a surprise. Rahim was among the exiles agitating for the illegal war. Long gone are the days when she could sit with Laura Bush at State of the Union addresses. Carpenter is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Abderrahim Foukara: Tom, is President Obama in a pickle now having promised that -- during his campaign -- that he would end the war and withdraw US military forces from that country at a time when, on the ground, the situation seems to be somewhat deteriorating?
Thomas E. Ricks: I think it is deteriorating. I think security will worsen throughout this year and probably into next year. The fewer American troops you have, the less influence you have. The American troops have been pulled out of the easier parts first. Later, when the troop numbers start coming down -- they really haven't come down much at all, we're really at the same level the Bush administration had for most of the last six years -- when you start pulling troops out of the difficult areas that are less secure or where Iraqi forces are considered less reliable, I think you're going to see even more violence, more of an unraveling of the security situation.
Ricks went on to note that Barack "threw out a major campaign promise," noting that Barack promised to take a brigade of troops out a month from the time he took office and "if that were the case, he would have taken out 40,000 troops already. He hasn't. So he's thrown away a major promise and he's paid no political cost for that." Of Barack's alleged 'withdrawal' plan (it's not withdrawal and it's George W. Bush's plan), Ricks it wasn't the first one he'd covered, it was "the sixth one."
What will happen in the near future in Iraq? Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) notes one development, "The 1920 Revolution Brigades issued a statement on Thursday in response to a Babylon and Beyond blog item last month about two meetings in Istanbul, Turkey, last spring between U.S. officials and a coalition of Sunni insurgent groups in Istanbul. In the group's statement Thursday, the 1920 Revolution Brigades said that it had not participated in the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance's talks with the Americans and described the previous blog post as 'mistaken'." They feel their goal is to expell the foreign forces (US) from Iraq.
Today on Aljazeera's Inside Iraq devotes the program to the status of Iraqi women. The program misidentifies Zainab Salbi's organization. She is not with Women to Women (a health organization for women). She is with Women for Women.
Zainab Salbi: I would say when it comes to the marginalized population -- and it is a huge percentage of the population -- this can be generalized. I was in other provinces, for example. Interviewing women in Karbala and Najaf and Hilla, the gist of it is what they're saying. They're saying, "America gave us freedom but took away from us security. And if we have to choose between freedom and security, we would choose security." But then the question became when I asked them about the freedom they're-they're talking about. Can you criticize Moqtada al-Sadr? Can you criticize [Abdul Aziz] al-Hakim? No. Can you criticize militia so-and-so? No. And so eventually that -- even that freedom shrank back into the old patterns of behavior. We're afraid of saying anything. So that's very much actually and not only with the marginalized population. I would say still very much among the whole population. There is still a level of fear. Both from the backgrounnd, the history of the country. Remember this is only seven years ago people were very scared of Saddam Hussein's regime but also because this is a real fact: Militias as well as governments are taking revenge and this is a fact that people are afraid of expressing their political opinions because they don't know what's going to happen to them.
Abderrahim Foukara: Well obviously a lot of people were afraid of expressing their opinions even after Saddam Hussein, to what extent do they feel marginalized today post-2003 and how does that compare with this situation prior to 2003?
Zainab Salbi: So let me ask -- answer it this way, Saddam Hussein's regime, or Saddam Hussein's time, gave and took away from Iraqi women, gave them massive campaign of illiteracy [C.I. note, she means a literacy campaign] for example, education access was very much promoted among women, promotion in the public sector as working women very much was promoted particularly in the seventies and the eighties. Took away from them the sense of security in a government controlled way in other words any woman was vulnerable to government torture or rape or whatever but it was what I call a vertical violence by the government against the population. Took away from them many other issues for example multiple marriages were encouraged by Saddam particularly the nineties. Took away from them mobility to travel the country without a companion. So it gave and it took away.
Asked what most surprised her in her visits and interviews with Iraqi women, Zainab Salbi responded, "They are very strong."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a bombing outside Falluja which claimed 1 life, a bombing outside Baquba which left three Iraqi soldiers wounded and a Mosul mortar attack which injured three police officers.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 merchant shot dead in Mosul (had "received threats by phone few days ago").
From the physical violence to attacks on the Iraqi press. Yesterday, Billie noted a story written up in the Dallas Morning News' "Update: War report" which is an AP item about the $87,000 judgment against Al-Sharqiya by Iraqi 'courts' which, the item says, was "falsely reporting that orders had been issued to arrest ex-detainees released by the United States." I haven't read the verdict -- has anyone? I know AP hasn't. And I know that's not AP's understanding of the verdict or wasn't yesterday. I think, in squashing things into news briefs, something got lost. The case was over an Iraqi official speaking on the record to the TV station for their report. They quoted him. In addition, they spoke with other officials who did not go on the record. One such official's statements were wrongly -- according to the TV station -- credited to the one who went on the record. The lawsuit was over that issue: Who made the statement with the official who went on the record stating he had not done so (the TV station admitted that) and stating his name had been defamed by the broadcast. The court was not being aske to rule on the report itself. Nor was the court in the position to. The verdict is yet another assault on journalistic freedom in Iraq. And the sum is outrageous for a country that repeatedly tries to scrap their meager rations programs for citizens and thinks a few hundred dollars given to the (small number) of returnees should be enough to tide them over for a full year. Today the International Press Institute released the following:
Just days after the Iraqi government published a draft law that appears to pave the way for government interference in the media, a 100 million Iraqi dinar (€60,000) fine levied on Wednesday against Iraqi satellite broadcaster Al-Sharqiya for "misquoting" a top military spokesperson is another ominous signal that press freedom in Iraq is deteriorating, the International Press Institute (IPI) warned on Friday.
"We again urge Iraq's judiciary and legislature to be mindful of the vital role played by media freedom while nurturing democracy," he said. "Legislation that pushes journalists into self-censorship is a step backwards, not forwards. At this stage, it appears as though the Iraq government is taking a step backwards."
Today in Baghdad, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets carrying banners and protesting. BBC has video here. Aljazeera explains they were protesting "against government censorship and intimidation" and notes a threatened law suit, "Jalal Eddin Saghir, a leader of the SIIC, has threatened to sue Ahmed Abdul-Hussein, a journalist with the state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, for suggesting that the party could have staged the robbery to raise money for national elections in January 2010." The SIIC, returning to our earlier conversation, would be "thugs." AFP notes journalist Emad al-Khafaji speaking at the demonstration, "Journalists and media workers have lost 247 of their colleagues over the past six years because of attacks and violations. The participants in this demonstration have confirmed they will not back down in the face of intimidation and threats."
British citizen Danny Fitzsimons is facing a trial in Iraq and could be sentenced to death. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He is accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. His legal defense team doesn't believe he can get a fair trial either stating today that the British military's presence in Iraq during the war means that Fitzsimons will be used as scapegoat. Haroon Siddique (Guardian) spoke with the family and reports on Danny's PTSD and reports, "His borther Michael said Fitzsimons would cray as he told of finding a child's head in Kosovo, picking up bits of his friend's brain in Iraq, and the faces of enemies he had killed in combat." Terri Judd (Independent of London) quotes Danny's father Eric stating that his son is a victim in the shooting as well, "We do feel very, very sorry for these two men and their families. But Daniel is also a victim." Liz Fitzsimons, Danny's step-mother, has made similar remarks and noted the pain those two families are going through is immense and natural and their own efforts, the Fitzsimons' efforts, are not about preventing accountability for Danny but about getting him to stand trial in a country (England) that has a working legal system as opposed to Iraq which does not.
In the US Zachary Abrahamson and Eamon Javers (Politico) report: "He may be presiding over two wars and facing a terror threat at home and abroad, but you'd hardly know it from listening to President Barack Obama speak.Obama has uttered more than a half-million words in public since taking office Jan. 20 -- and a POLITICO analysis of nearly every word in this vast public record shows that domestic topics dominate, so much so that Obama sounds more like a peacetime president than a commander in chief with more than 100,000 troops in the field." Yes, Barack has avoided Iraq in his speeches, the reporters are correct. Guess what though? The press has avoided it too. Following a March press conference, Steve Padilla (Los Angeles Times) pointed out that 13 reporters asked Barack questions and Iraq "Never came up. Isn't there a war going on?" The the New York Times' live blogged that press conference:
Helene Cooper | 9:01 p.m. I'm still slackjawed over the shocking lack of national security issues raised. This is a new world we're living in, after seven years of Al Qaeda, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard to imagine a Bush press conference focusing so singularly on the economy, but then, these are clearly different times.
Jeff Zeleny | 9:00 p.m. The second prime-time press conference for Mr. Obama is in the books. Thirteen questions, but not one about Iraq or Afghanistan. That would have been impossible to imagine during his presidential campaign. So what's the headline? "Hang on Americans, We'll Get Through This."
The Washington Post live blogged as well (Ben Pershing, Alec MacGillis, Glenn Kessler, Frank Ahrens and Michael Fletcher live blogged for the Post).
TV notes. NOW on PBS rebroadcasts a show from March of this year on what happens to your health care if you lose your job? You can go on COBRA . . . if you can afford it. (A community member writes in today's gina & krista round-robin about paying approximately $250 a month and now, to get COBRA, she'll have to pay over $750 a month -- and you have to decide in the very brief window of time.) The program examines Las Vegas where "the only public hospital" closed the doors on "cancer patients and pregnant women". On Washington Week, Gwen sits around the table with Michael Duffy (Time magazine), Janet Hook (Los Angeles Times), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Janine Zacharia (Bloomberg News). Bonnie Erbe and her guestsEleanor Holmes Norton, Melinda Henneberger, Leslie Sanchez and Sabrina Schaeffer explore population growth on this week's edition of PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, all four PBS shows begin airing tonight on many PBS stations. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
The former pro quarterback speaks in his first interview since he admitted to participating in the illegal dogfighting that resulted in a prison sentence and his suspension from the NFL. James Brown is the correspondent. | Watch Video
America's New Air Force
Increasingly, the U.S. military is relying on un-manned, often armed aircraft to track and destroy the enemy - sometimes controlled from bases thousands of miles away from the battlefront. Lara Logan reports. | Watch Video
The British rock group that has taken its place among the most popular bands in the world gives 60 Minutes a rare look inside its world that includes a candid interview with frontman Chris Martin. Steve Kroft reports. | Watch Video
60 Minutes Sunday, Aug. 16, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
the los angeles times
the washington post
michael d. shear
the new york times