Tuesday, September 22, 2009. Chaos and violence, a refugee camp in France is ripped apart, an Iraqi refugee in the US sues a school district for an assault on her son, a US soldier is charged with two counts of murder for alleged actions in Iraq, Iraq wants to shirk its debts and more.
A US soldier serving in Iraq was charged with two counts of murder. He's accused of murdering a contractor. A number of contractors have been murdered so we'll drop back to the Spetember 14th snapshot: "Meanwhile, AP reported yesterday that KBR contractor Lucas Vinson was shot dead on Camp Speicher (US base in Iraq) and a US soldier stands accused of the shooting. Tim Cocks and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) added the unnamed US soldier has been arrested in the shooting." Gregg K. Kakesako (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) reports Spc Beyshee O. Velez, 31-years-old, has been charged with "two counts of murder, three counts of assault, and one count of fleeing" in the death of Lucas Vinson
Turning to asylum seekers. Last Tuesday, Muntadhar al-Zeidi was released from Iraq prison. December 14th, Bully Boy Bush (still occupying the White House at that time) held a press conference in Baghdad with Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and US-installed thug, where they lied and smiled and signed the treaties Bush pushed through (Strategic Framework Agreement and the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement.). Muntadhar was a journalist attending the press conference. He hurled two shoes at Bush while denouncing him ("This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss you dog!" and "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.") World Radio Switzerland reports he wants to move to Switzerland and that he spoke of being tortured. RIA Novosti quotes him stating, "I do want to move to Switzerland, because this is a neutral country which did not support the occupation of Iraq."
al-Zeidi has celebrity and, therefore, he'll find it much easier to be granted refugee status than many other refugees. Ice News reports, "The Danish immigration minister has made an about turn on her policy of accepting Iraqi refugees under the United Nations agreement. Just eight weeks ago Immigration Minister Birthe Ronn Hornbech announced that Denmark would be accepting a quota of refugees from the Arabic nation." Hanna Hoshan (Al Arabiya) reports on Iraqi refugees in Syria who are concerned by the tensions between the governments of Syria and Iraq and fearful they may be deported as a result. Meanwhile Iraq and Afghanistan refugees seeking sanctuary in France have been assaulted. Iran's Press TV reports French riot police raidied refugee camp Calais beginning at dawn today, and that police carried "flamethrowers, stun guns and tear gas". Jerome Taylor and Robert Verkaik (Independent of London) note the French government has been under pressure from the United Kingdom to 'address' the issue and quotes UK Home Secretary Minist Alan Johnston stating the news "delighted" him and "Both countries [England and France] are committed to helping individuals who are geunine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach." Delighted? China's Xinhua reports, "According to witnesses, most of the migrants, mainly Afghans including many minors, watched police destroy their shelters, while some held up placards protesting the action. . . . Many [paperless]* . . . immigrants from war-torn Afghanistan and some Arab countries head to France as a transit point, from where they try to enter England but, with entry into Britain becoming more difficult, the number of migrants stuck in Calais has increased, as has their shabby tent city." BBC News has a photo essay. Some press reports state that there were as many as one police officer involved in the raid for every immigrant -- looking at the photos it appears that there may have been two police officers for every immigrant. Nicolas Garriga (AP -- report has photos that are not in the BBC essay) reports, "Scores of police sealed camp exists about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and, amid angry denunciations from humanitarian groups present, extracted the immigrants from the crowd one by one, lined them up and led them to buses. Numerous immigrants were seen sobbing or quietly shedding tears. They were later taken away to special centers for processing." Angelique Chrisafis and Haroon Siddique (Guardian -- link has text and video of the bulldozers tearing the camp apart) quote human rights activists Sandy Buchan (Refugee Action) and Sylvie Copyans (Salam). Buchan states, "They should never have been allowed to rot there like this. It's appalling neglect and has allowed false expectation to be built." Copyans states, "It's exactly like when they closed Sangatte. They are saying no immigrants in Calais, they can't stay here. But if they are made to leave they will just go to another squat. It's more and more difficult every day." She's referring to the Red Cross camp in Calais that was torn apart in 2002. As many as 278 immigrants were arrested today. As theBelfast Telegraph observes, "Hundreds of Afghan and Iraqi migrants living in squalid conditions on the outskirts of Calais fled their tarpaulin homes yesterday in a bid to avoid being rounded up by armed police in an anticipated raid today." Angelique Chrisafis (Guardian) speaks to a few who made it out and are now sleeping on the street in Paris. Jon Snow (UK Channel 4) observes, "These are the human consequences of the allied adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the moral obligation upon those who have participated in these 'wars of choice' for taking in the huddled masses who have fled their activities?"
The raid comes a day after the European Union met to discuss the refugee issue. Deutsche Well reports that yesterday in Brussels, "The meeting was chaired by Sweden's Migration Minister Tobias Billstroem, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency. On Monday ahead of the talks, Billstroem stressed that resettling refugees in the European Union can be a crucial step in fighting [undocumented]* immigration. If a refugee stranded in Jordan had the chance to enter the EU [with proper papers]*, there would be no need for him to secretly cross the Mediterranean, Billstroem said. Jordan is for many migrants the starting point to illegally enter the EU in Cyprus." ("*" indicates that we're not using a term. We will some undocumented immigrants, we will say paperless, that's it.)
While Europe shames itself, the US can't puff its chest with pride. Tim Hull (Courthouse News Service) reports Amna al Qaisi is suing Tuscon Unified School District over a November assault by other students on her 13-year-old son whose targeting with abuse and threats had been witnessed by "teachers, monitors, administrations and the school nurse" prior to the assault but nothing was done. Everyday Christian provides a list of 16 things aid groups tell Iraqi refugees coming to the US ("You may be a victim of a hate crime" does not make the list). Peter Elliott (Everyday Christian) notes there are approximately 2 million Iraqi external refugees and, "The State Department has designated 10 aid organizations as administrators of resettlement efforts -- not just Iraqis -- four of which have overtly Christian ties in World Relief, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service." Meanwhile Mike Giglio (Houston Press) reports that efforts by the YMCA International and their refugee director Dario Lipovac have resulted in Nahlah Qasim Radhi receiving a termporary (six month) visa to the US. Her son, Marwan Hamza, was a translator for the US military and was granted asylum. A car accident has left him in a coma. Mandy Kao (Titan Managemetn Corporation) has donated an apartment to Nahlah Qasim Radhi for the six month stay.
Along with Iraq's external refugees, there is also the internal refugee crisis. The NGO Pax Christi issued a statement on their delegation's visit to Iraq where they met with "Patriarch Cardinal Emanuel Delly, Bishop Rabban Al-Kass, Chaldean Bishop of Amadya-Shamkan and Erbil, Bishop Louis Sako, Chaldean Bishop of Kirkuk, Bishop Georges Casmoussa, Syriac Bishop of Mosul and Qaraqosh, Father NageebMikhail, OP, the Chaldean Seminary in Erbil and many other religious leaders and representatives of civil society groups in the north of Iraq," and spent time in Kirkuk, Mosul, Erbil and Dohuk:
The delegation encountered many good examples of work for peace. The extraordinary efforts among religious leaders in the oil city of Kirkuk made it possible for them to visit Sunni and Shiite mosques and to interact with Muslim leaders. In Dohuk they learned about the program of Bishop Rabban's coeducational, interreligious International School which brings together Muslims, Christians, Yezidie and Turkman to provide a base of human values and an introduction to human rights.
They learned from the Dominican sisters of Mosul about their commitment to peace education at a primary level and met dedicated health care professionals in Kirkuk who serve Muslims and Christians alike. In Erbil the delegation met with Iraqi Non-Violence group LaOnf, an Iraqi nongovernmental organization building a network on nonviolence. Pax Christi's organizational commitment to reconciliation and nonviolence made these and other similar efforts particularly interesting to the delegation, which also experienced enormous tensions in the country. There were two major bombings while they were there and they encountered among people they visited a great fear of being kidnapped. Of the areas the delegation was able to visit, the level of security in the Kurdish provinces in the north of the country was much better than in the so-called disputed provinces, Mosul and Kirkuk. But even in the Kurdish provinces, the sense of long-term physical and economic security was lacking and UN representatives described human rights violations, particularly against political prisoners and women. 100,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in the same area.
Christians and other minority groups continue to feel threatened in Iraq and to leave the country. This fact is of deep concern to many people the delegation met, who believe that reconciliation is the way forward and that the loss to Iraq of the Christian community, which was established there in the second century, would be a grea ttragedy. At the same time, the delegation was told that the conflict in Iraq is political rather than religious, with violence erupting over the balance of power. Minority groups are faced with the choices to join the struggle for power, to remain neutral or to work for a society where everybody has a place. Finally, they heard from many people about the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure during the first Gulf War that had still not been repaired and about the impact of the long-lasting harsh sanctions that punished ordinary people. They were told that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed security and created many new problems for the Iraqi people. The delegation agrees with the Iraqi non-violence network that "refuses occupation and war as a way to build democracy and establish rule of law, even when it is presented as the only possible option."
Last week the International Organization for Migration released it's six month profile on the 1.6 million internal Iraqi refugees in the 18 provinces and find the three needs remain: shelter, food and employment. On the last need, unemployment is highest for refugees in Kirkuk (99%) and 'lowest' in Baghdad and Diyala (60% and 58%). The high unemployment rate has resulted in many refugee children setting aside school in attempts to raise money "through begging, petty trade or doing the odd job." They note women head one-in-ten internal refugee families. The report also states, "Water too is emerging as growing issue." [As the central government in Baghdad continues to beg Turkey for more and more water (Turkey stands accused by its neighbors of using dams to divert the natural flow of the rivers), water is a pressing issue in Iraq.] Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) observes, "According to IOMs interviews, most of the IDPs say that they would like to return to their place of origin. But few have, which is suggestive of the tenuous and patchy nature of security improvements. Despite some legislative and Prime Ministerial initiatives, little still appears to have been done to deal with the likely consequences of such returns, which could re-mix the communities separated by the sectarian cleansing of 2006-07 and create a tidal wave of competing property and reparation claims."
I visited my mother's grave yesterday and learned that her tombstone was destroyed by a missile two years ago in one of the clashes between the militias and the US troops. "Not even the dead are spared from the bombings in Iraq," I thought to myself. But at least my mother is not witnessing the pain many Iraqi women are witnessing as they try to find space for themselves in the "new Iraq."
Few of the women of my mother's generation -- a generation of educated women who have worked in all different sectors of the country -- are still holding on. They are few -- many professional women who were doctors, professors and journalists were assassinated in the past seven years as part of what I believe is a larger, strategic approach by extremist militias to "cleanse" Iraqi society of its intellectual and professional elite. Those who have survived the killings and the temptation to leave the country in search of a safer place to live have either retreated within the home or taken advantage of quotas that have opened opportunities for women to become members of the Iraqi parliament.
Today in Iraq, women have no one unified reality. At the same time as many women increase participation in the political sector -- Iraq's Parliament and local councils are required to have 25 percent female representation -- thousands more are experiencing brutal hardship and extreme poverty. There are now more destitute women in Iraq than ever before -- estimates of the number of war widows range from one to three million. These and other socially and economically marginalized women are vulnerable and at high risk of trafficking, organized and forced prostitution, polygamy, domestic violence, and being recruited as suicide bombers, something that the society is still trying to process and understand. In a single day's journey around Baghdad, one can see all these many and conflicting realities of Iraqi women -- that was my day today.
"So Iraq is as important as ever," US House Rep Bill Delahunt said Thursday as he chaired the US House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, "albiet, it may be forgotten by some." Wally, Kat, Ava and I attended the hearing and due to so little Iraq coverage in Western media today, we'll drop back to it today. Congressional Research Service's Ken Katzman was among those appearing before the subcomittee. He didn't read his opening statement, he summarized it and we'll note this section.
Ken Katzman: In general, Iraq's political system can be characterized by peaceful competiton rather than violence; however, sectarainsim and ethnic and factional infighting continue to simmer and many Iraqi views and positions are colored by efforts to outflank, outmanuever and constrain rival factions. These tendencies will only grow in the run-up to the January 16, 2010 national elections in Iraq which may also concurrently include a vote, a referendum, on the US-Iraq agreement subject to --that that would have to be approved by the National Assembly to have the referendum -- that decision has not been taken yet. Compounding the factional tensions is the perception that Prime Minister Maliki is in a strong position politically. This is largely a result of the strong showing of his Dawa Party in the January 31, 2009 provincial elections. His showing in those elections was in turn a product of his benefitting from an improved security situation, his positions in favor of strong central government as opposed to local tendencies or regionalism, and his March 2008 move against Shi'ite militias who were virtually controlling Basra and Um Qasr port. Although Maliki's colalition was the clear winner in these elections, the subsequent efforts to form prvoincial administrations demonstrated that he still needs to bargain with rival factions including that of the radical, young, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is studying Islamic theology in Iran with the intention of trying to improve his standing in the clerical heirarchy. Possibly as a result of his strengthened position, Maliki is seen by rivals as increasingly authoritarian. He is widely assesed by US and Iraqi experts as attempting to gain control of the security services and build new security organs loyal to him personally rather than to institutions. Some have accused him of purging security officials he perceives as insufficeintly loyal. He has also reportedly been using security forces to intimidate opponents including in Diyala Province. For example. 4,000 Special Operations commandos, part of the Iraqi security forces -- the official forces of Iraq, report to Maliki's office of the commander in chief and not to the Defense or Interior Ministries. Some of Maliki's opponents and critics say these political tactics mimic the steps taken by Saddam Hussein when he was rising to power to centralize his rule.
It should have reminded the Subcommittee members of when US Ambassador Chris Hill appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee and always seemed confused (a natural state for Hill, granted) when asked of rumors that Nouri was attempting to consolidate his power. Committee Chair Howard Berman, for example, received a non-response.
Chair Howard Berman: According to Ken Pollack, in the most recent of the National Interest , over the past year, and I quote, "Malaki has been deploying more of Iraq's nascent military power to the north and goading the army into regular provocations with the Kurdish militia," the pesh merga. My questions are: Is Pollack's assertio accurate? And a little more detail -- you touched on this, but what are the prospects that there will be a serious outbreak of hostillities between Arabs and Kurds? Are growing Kurdish-Arab tensions the biggest threat to Iraqis stability?
Hill responded in his usual rambling form, randomly strung together words that a generous person would count as 21 run-on sentences.
Chair Howard Berman: Let me interject --
Chris Hill: Yeah?
Chair Howard Berman: -- only because I only have about 20 seconds left .
Chris Hill: Yeah?
Chair Howard Berman: But is this assertion regarding purposeful deployments in the nature of provocations by the Iraqi army to the north?
Chris Hill: Yeah. I haven't read Dr. Pollack's article.
Yeah? That's how a US Ambassador speaks to Congress? Yeah? So Chris Hill -- in the best Condi Rice fashion -- played Beat The Clock, stringing together nonsensical words, stammers and "uh"s to keep the clock ticking down about an article he never read. He could inform he'd had a 36 hour sleepover in the Kurdistan region but he intentionally and repeatedly avoided all questions -- from Democrats and Republicans (Ranking Member Dan Rohrabacher attempted to follow up on Berman's question and got the same run around) -- about Nouri attempting to increase his own power. US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee is asking him about Nouri's power-grab in relation to Camp Ashraf and, yet again, he stalls and never can supply her with an answer. She even has to explain the basics to him, that regardless of whether Nouri is in control or the US is in control, the State Dept lodges objections to human rights abuses at the very least.
Related, Alsumaria reports that representatives from Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara met in New York today -- Turkey in the position of counselor -- over the increased tensions between Syria and Iraq. And they note that Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President will speak to the United Nations about that. Of course, he will speak about other things as well. And that was underscored in the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday as US reps spoke of the need to get Iraq back to its pre-Gulf War status in terms of agreements and laws and commerce. That's part of the two agreements signed by the US as well. That's, in fact, among the reasons why Bush didn't want to renew the United Nations mandate nor did Nouri. Nouri wouldn't be in charge of as much money as he is now without the 'occupation' of Iraq 'ending.' People have yet to grasp what the security agreements actually did and why Nouri and Bush wanted them. But, in fairness, the Thursday hearing wasn't covered by the press, now was it? Talabani is expected to call for an end to the $25 billion in reparations Iraq owes Kuwait. The 'thinking' is that, "Saddam did it! Not Iraq!!!! Saddam's gone!!!!" It's amazing, considering how reparations effect so many countries -- including the US where there are calls for reparations to be made for slavery -- that the notion that one leader died so there is no longer an obligation to make reparations goes unchallenged. But it does, day after day, week after week, with no comment or objection. And were Iraq still under the UN mandate for the occupation, it wouldn't have a shot at getting the reparations cancelled. Among the many reasons Nouri didn't want to renew the UN mandate.
On the tensions between Syria and Iraq, AP reports Nouri's created "a backlash over a bitter fight he picked with Syria" -- a backlash within the Iraqi government. Nouri insists that Ba'athist in Syria (a secular group) teamed up with al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (a fundamentalist group) to carry ou the bombings of Bloody Wednesday aka Black Wednesday on August 19th. Nouri has been fortunate in that the Western press has largely been happy to spin for him and indicate that he's requesting two people be turned over. But it's not just the US, here's Robert Fisk (Independent of London) reporting earlier this month, "Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, demands an international tribunal because Syria won't hand over a couple of Iraqi Baathists whom he blames for the suicide bombing deaths of at least 100 civilians in Baghdad." A couple? Nouri's asking Syria to hand over 179 people. And because of the August 19th bombings? No. Nouri was demanding those 179 people be turned over to Iraq in his face-to-face August 18th meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A day before the bombings. Nouri's been very lucky, very lucky, that the Western press has been so eager to run with his morsels and refused to explore the public reality. (Most of which was reported in the Arab press well before the bombs of August 19th began exploding.) AFP also reports on Talabani's intention to call for an investigation. (Left unstated is that Talabani's trip to the US is only in part due to the UN, he's also having medical treatment while he's here.) As Talabani gears up for his US trip, Iyad Al Samarraie, Speaker of Parliament, is visiting France. Alsumaria reports his trip is "to promote bilateral releations and cooperations between both countries' parliaments." Meanwhile Iran's Fars News Agency reports that Yasin al-Mamouri who heads Iraq's Red Crescent Society began his visit to Iran yesterday. The Tehran Times adds, "Al-Mamouri is scheduled to inspect Iran's Red Crescent Society's different organizations and sectors in his one-week travel." Iran continues to hold US citizens Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd. The three were visiting in Iraq and hiking in northern Iraq when they allegedly crossed into Iran July 31st. They have been prisoners ever since. Kiersten Throndsen (KBCI CBS 2 -- link has text and video) reports on efforts by family members to have the three released.
Meanwhile, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, the Kurdistan Regional Government published a letter they sent to Oslo's DNO International (oil company) objecting to "the recent misleading and incomplete publications by the Oslo Stock Exchange ('OSO') in relation to its internal arguments and disputes with DNO." The KRG feels it was caught in the crossfire "between DNO and OSE" and that the KRG Minister was targeted in the battle with "misleading information." The letter notes these decisions by the KRG:
1) Suspend all DNO's operation and its involvement in the Kurdistan Region with immediate effect, and appoint the other PSC [Production Sharing Contract] Contractor Entities to manage the day to day operations instead. All oil exports will cease and DNO shall not be entitled to any economic interest in the PSCs during the suspension period.
2) The suspension period shall be for a maxium period of 6 weeks, and during which DNO must find ways to remedy, and to our full satisfaction, the damage done to KRG reputation, and once and for all to sort its internal problems with OSE and any other disputes that they may have with any other third parties with respect to any claims related to the PSCs ("Claims").
3) If within this suspension period, DNO satisifes KRG's requirements; all its PSC rights will be reinstated with our continuous support to its operations. However, if DNO fails to remedy the damages caused and fails to remove any other Claims the KRG may consider termination of DNO's involvement in the Kurdistan Region with or without compensation. Any compensation, if offered, will factor in the magnitude of the damages caused to the KRG.
Marianne Stigset and Meera Bhatia (Bloomberg News) report, "The exchange disclosed that the Kurdish authority acted as a middleman in a transaction of 43 million shares of DNO in October last year. DNO had sought to keep the authorities' role undisclosed after a probe discovered contacts between Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami and DNO Chief Executive Officer Helge Eide. DNO is delivering 45,000 barrels a day from its Tawke field through a pipeline to Ceyhan, Turkey. It owns 55 percent of the field, which has reserves of 150 million to 370 million barrels. Other companies in the region are Heritage Oil Plc, which is combining with Turkey's Genel Energy International Ltd. and Addax, bought by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec. Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. also explores in the area." Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reveals that the source of tension began when KRG Minister of Natural Resources Ashti "Hawrami was annoyed by a document released Friday by the Oslo Stock Exchange that showed him involved in the sale of DNO's shares to Genel Enerji in October 2008. The document named him holder for the U.K. nominee account into which 175.50 million kronor ($30.04 million), or 4.8%, of the Oslo-listed oil exploration company's shares were sold and where Genel Enerji was the beneficiary." AP's Sinan Salaheddin adds, "Oslo-based DNO was the first independent Western oil company to secure an oil deal in post-Saddam Iraq, signing a production sharing contract with the Kurds in June 2004 to develop the Tawke field. DNO also has stakes in two other oil fields in the region, which are both still at the exploration level." Spencer Swartz (Wall St. Journal) reports, "DNO scrambled Tuesday for a response to the situation" and quotes the company's CEO Helge Eide stating, "Our main priority is now to seek dialogue with the [Kurdish government] as soon as possible and try to bring clarity to the situation and what is needed to find a solution."
In other resource news, Muhanad Mohammed, Tim Cocks and David Stamp (Reuters) explain $85 million contracts for the installation of gas turbines have been awarded by the Baghdad government to Iraq's URUK Engineering Services (for a Taji power plant) and Canada's SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (for a Hilla power plant).
As Barack continues pushing what Trina, Ava and I have dubbed ObamaBigBusinessCare, PBS Special Report: Health Care Reform airs this Thursday on most PBS stations. It is a 90 minute special (that should start at 9:00 p.m. EST on most PBS stations) which is pools the talents of NOW on PBS, Tavis Smiley and Nightly Business Report. Tonight on HDNet World Report, Tamara Banks reports from Iraq in a documentary entitled Iraq: Inside the Transition which begins airing at nine p.m. EST. Independent reporter David Bacon knows a country's greatest natural resource is always the people. In "A Factory Like A City" (Political Affairs), he combines text and photos to tell the story:
Last month Toyota announced it would close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California, after General Motors annnounced it was withdrawing from the partnership under which the plant has operated for over two decades. The plant employs 4500 workers directly, and the jobs of another 30,000 throughout northern California are dependent on its continued operation. Taking families into account, the threatened closure will eliminate the income of over 100,000 people. People have spent their lives in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, probably more time with the compressed-air tools at their workstations than with their families at home. The plant is like a city, thousands of jobs and thousands of people working in a complicated dance where each one's contribution makes possible that of the next person down the line. And like a city, it supports the people who work in it.
At a US House Veterans Subcommittee hearing today, US House Rep Debbie Halvorson declared, "We need to make sure that we truly do care and don't just give it lip service." Agreed. We'll cover the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot and other veterans and service member related issues. (If the hearing gets no press, I'll go through my notes. If it gets press, we'll probably just highlight various outlets. The hearing was on the VA and prescription drugs, by the way.)