Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 29, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, a British inquiry hears about abuse of Iraqis by British troops, the IMF gets closer to Iraq, Ehren Watada gears up for Friday's planned discharge and more.
Today in England, the inquiry into the death of Iraqi Baha Mousa (while in British custody) heard from two witnesses. Baha died September 16, 2003, after being beaten so badly that he had at least 93 injuries.  His father gave testimony to the inquiry last Wednesday and stated he believed his son had been killed because he (the father, Daoud Salim Mousa al-Maliki) saw British soldiers breaking into a safe and stealing money, "I believe that my son may have been treated worse than other people because I had made a complaint to Lieutenant Mike that money was being stolen from the hotel safe."  D007, an Iraqi also taken into British custody September 14, 2003 testified for the bulk of the day. He explained his ordeal which started when he was driving a Ministry of Education car, with permission from the Ministry, and was car-jacked. 
Gerald Elias: Yes. As you were getting to the Ministry, you tell the Inquiry in your statement that something happened.  Just tell us briefly what happened please.
D007: As I contacted Mr C006 and I told him that I had dropped the director of the municipality and some of the Ministry of Oil's staff.  He asked me to go with the car to the parking lot of the Ministry, which was close to the Ministry, and when I was close to the Ministry I faced that accident. 
Gerald Elias: What did you see when you were close to the Ministry?
D007: I saw a car alongside my car that I had been driving and they attacked me at gunpoint.  Instead of going to the Ministry, I then went very fast towards the street ahead of me.  I got to a crossing in Basra and after that crossing I saw a big truck so I had to wait.  I had to stop.
Gerald Elias: What happened then?
D007: In the meantime, they were alongside myself.  They got off their car.  One of them came to me with a Kalashnikov and put it at my head -- pointed it at my head -- and he ordered me to remain where I was, not to drive on.  Two people got into the back seat of my car.  The person who had me at gunpoint, next to me, he got into my car in the passenger seat. 
Gerald Elias: Just pause there if you will.  So there were now three people in the car, two in the back and one in the passenger seat.  Is that what you are saying?
D007: Correct.
Gerald Elias: Did you see how many of them had guns?
D007: Yes, they had guns.
Gerald Elias: Each of them had a gun?
D007: Yes, yes, each had a gun.
Gerald Elias: Were they carrying the guns or were the guns slung around their necks or what?
D007: They were hand-carried and the ammunition was on their chests.
Gerald Elias: Hand-carried; the ammunition was on their chests.  Do you mean the ammunition was on their chests because it was looped around their necks or what?
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: So, as you told us, you decided to drive faster and not to obey the orders of the armed men in the car.  Is that it?
D007: Correct.
Gerald Elias: You took the opportunity to drive the car into a collision because you told the Inquiry that you thought that was the best way for you to escape; is that right?
D007: Correct.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: So when you crashed the car it stopped, did it?
D007: That is correct and I ran away from the car. 
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: I think it's right, isn't it, that shortly after British soldiers arrived on the scene where the crash had occurred?
D007: Yes, they got there.
Gerald Elias:  British soldiers went to examine the car that you had been driving, didn't they?
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: It wasn't only the guns that they left in the car, was it? I am just going to tell you what else the soldiers found when they searched the car.  These items were found either on the back seats or in the footwell behind the driver's seat, we are told.  They found the three rifles; they found eight magazines containing, I think, 240 rounds each; they found one radio antenna, as well as some paperwork, documents, which I will come to in a minute.  Had all those things been in the car before these men had come into the car or do you say they brought those things as well?
D007: What I know is that the papers were car papers --
Gerald Elias: Leave aside the papers for the moment.  What about the eight magazines of ammunition?  Do you say the men had left those as well?
D007: Yes. Yes.
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: Did the attitude of the soldiers change at any time at the police station?
D007: As we got to the police station, one of the soldiers -- the British Council -- the British troops -- he was make a contact.  The policeman asked me what had happened and I explained to him.  The officer understood English to some extent, so he went on explaining to one of the British soldiers and instantly the treatment changed, the treatment of the British soldiers changed and violence by the British troops started. 
Gerald Elias: You say violence started.  What was done to you?
D007: They immediately pulled me from behind my collar, took me to British Army vehicle.  They got me there and the cars moved.  I didn't know where we were going.  On the road --
Gerald Elias: Just listen to my questions, if you will.  When you left the police station, you say you were dragged by your collar to a vehicle.  Was that to a Land Rover?
D007: Yes, it was a Land Rover, and which was close to the centre we were going, which would do, and that was close.
Gerald Elias: Are you sure it was a Land Rover, not a different army vehicle?
D007: I am sure because usually this car would be patrolling the province of Basra.
Gerald Elias: When you were taken to the Land Rover, were you restrained in any way?
D007: At the incident as it happened, I was tied up.
Gerald Elias: In what way were you tied up?
D007: With a plastic band and my hands were tied forward. 
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: I want to ask you about that journey in the Land Rover: were you ill-treated in any way on that journey to the detention centre?
D007: I was getting some kicks from the soldiers who were in the back of the vehicle. 
Gerald Elias: How many soldiers were in the Land Rover travelling with you?
D007: Two or three.
Gerald Elias: Where were you kicked?  To which part of your body?
D007: My right thigh and my left thigh. 
[. . .]
Gerald Elias: All right.  Now I want to ask you about arriving at the detention centre where you were then kept until the Tuesday.  This was the Sunday.  You didn't know where you were going, did you, with the soldiers?
D007: I didn't know.  I didn't know.
Gerald Elias: When you arrived at the detention centre --
D007: then I knew where I was.
Gerald Elias: You recognized the place, did you?
D007: In the beginning that place was well known in Basra.
Gerald Elias: What did you know it as?
D007: I knew it belonged to the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Gerald Elias: Were you taken from the Land Rover when you arrived there?
D007: Until we got to the place where I had been put, they didn't get me right into the room immediately.
Gerald Elias: But they took you to a building, did they?
D007: Correct.
[. . .]
D007: When I got into the right-hand-side room, I saw people hooded.  Part of those persons were on the right-hand side wall and the others were on the opposite side.
Gerald Elias: Were all the men that you saw hooded?
D007: Yes, all were hooded.
Gerald Elias: Can you remember how many men in total there were in that room hooded?
D007: Between five to six persons.
Gerald Elias: Five or six people.  Apart from their heads being hooded, were they restrained in any other way that you see?
D007: I saw them restricted, tied up.
Gerald Elias: What in particular tied up?
D007: With a plastic band.
Gerald Elias: You are indicating your hands together.  The wrists were tied with a band, were they?
D007: Yes, yes. [. . .] They were exhausted.  Their condition was pitiful.  In the beginning anybody would come in and see them, he would instantly recognise that they had been tortured. 
Gerald Elias: I want a little bit more help, please, about that.  Were any of them making any noise?
D007: It was moaning as a result of torture. 
Gerald Elias: It was moaning.
D007: Yes.
He is hooded.  His hood was removed only for meals and water (and a British soldier removed it once to give him a cigarette). 
D007: They continued to beat me.
Gerald Elias: In what way did they beat you?
D007: On the right-hand side of my body at the kidney and then the right-hand side of my thigh -- on my right thigh.  Then, with shoes on my head, they asked me to stand with my hands forward like this. [. . .] The blows were very hard and strong.
Gerald Elias: Do you know, for example, whether you were punched or kicked or hit with some object or don't you know?
D007: Kicks and with a device or a tool.
Gerald Elias: How soon after you were hooded did this beating start?
D007: After a short time.
And on his second night (Monday -- still not at Camp Bucca) he recalled, "Before my hood was lifted off my head, I was still receiving so many kicks -- so many beatings.  One of the British soldiers strangled me -- that took around an hour or 20 minutes -- and then they left me. [. . .] His hands were -- thumbs, fingers, in my mouth, and the rest of his hands or palms around my neck with pressure.  The second time he lifted my hood up to the middle of my face, to abvoe my eyes, and he also strangled me the same way." During the nearly 48 hours in custody (all before Camp Bucca), British soldiers refused to allow him to sleep, allowed him only one bathroom break, offered food only once.  To keep him awake, he was beaten, "No sleep" was shouted in his ear and water was poured over his hood.  It was at this detention center that Baha was killed.  The witnesses were there at the same time.  While he was still in detention (before being moved to Camp Bucca), the car was claimed by the Ministry of Education (the car he had wrecked) and they verified that D007 had permission.  Yet D007 was not released.  Another witness offering testimony today was brought in at the same time and an owner of the hotel Baha worked at (Baha was at his job when he was hauled off). He is known as D006 and he verified seeing D007 beaten and discussed the beatings he and his adult son received.
D006: As we entered the detenion centre, they had our hands tied up and made us stand toward the wall or by the wall.  Then they brought a hood or hoods. Then they made us stand on one leg [. . .]  Well, they were beating me all day on my head saying "No sleep, no sleep" -- always, also, hitting me on my side [. . .] they were hitting me with the torch on my head and then there was some beating with the boots.
Gerald Elias: And the beating with the boots, where were the boots
D006: My kidney area.
He and his adult son were beaten.  A doctor arrived when he collapsed (CPR was given).  He had a prior heart condition and had heart surgery before being taken into British custody.  He had not been given his medicine.  The doctor instructed that he be given medicine, attempted to have him taken to a hospital (British soldiers refused) and instead demanded he be kept unhooded and allowed to lie down.  called his treatment "a crime against humainty.  Even Israel wouldn't do such a thing.  [Ariel] Sharon is more honourable than the army that did that, the British Army that did that.  Sharon is more honourable than what the army did.  It was a crime against humanity, a crime.  What had we done?  Can I be insulted at this age?"
The inquiry continues tomorrow morning.  Yesterday the inquiry heard from D001.  BBC News reports that he testified to hearing Baha begging while being beaten: "I knew it was Baha because I had known him for a long time and could recognise his voice.  It seemed as if he wasn't that far away from me and the toher detainees.  I heard him crying out something like, 'I am very tired, I can tolerate no more, please give me five minutes.  Have mercy on me, I'm dying.  I'm about to die, help me.' Then after a while I did not hear Baha scream out any more."
The needs of the disabled aren't being heard in Iraq.  Salam Faraj (AFP) reports on the struggle of those wounded by the war to receive care and that "the legacy of disablement, rather than death, is now swinging into focus, as many families struggle to care for relatives who survived murderous attacks but were left with bebilitating, and often life-long injures."  AFP calculates the number of wounded Iraqis "to be above 133,000" and notes that's based on reports and many are wounds are never reported.
That's an at-risk community that's emerging (for the press).  Other at-risk communities include Iraqi Christians.  Sunday Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Dr. Mehasin Basheer has been released after being kidnapped from her Bartala home. AFP revealed the "Chrisitan doctor [was] abducted by an armed gang overnight from her home" in northern Iraq and quote a police officer stating, "The gang kidnapped the doctor, Mahasin Bashir, in her home late at night, as her children watched." Hammoudi says a ransom was paid. Doctors and Christians have been repeatedly targeted in Iraq and, at this point, it's not known if Dr. Basheer was targeted for either of those reasons or something else. Thursday's snapshot included, "INA reports that Dr. Sameer Gorgees Youssif was released by his kidnappers following his August 18th abduction. The explain the fifty-five year-old man is at least the fourth doctor kidnapped in Kirkuk in the last two years. His family paid $100,000 for his release. His injuries include sever pressure uclers along the right side of his body, 'open wounds around his mouth and wrists' (from being bound and gagged) and bruises all over his body." Like Dr. Basheer, Dr. Youssif is both a medical doctor and a Christian. Jareer Mohammed (Azzaman) notes the kidnapping of Dr. Basheer and that "Basheer serves in a small hospital in the Christian village of Bartella, just a few kilometers to the east of Mosul.  More attacks targeting the string of Christian villages to the east and north of Mosul have occurred recently.  Christian liquor shops are attacked and owners either kidnapped or killed.  The villages have preserved their Christian identity for centuries but the inhabitants now seriously fear for their future." John Pontifex (Aid to the Church in Need) writes:
CHRISTIANS in Iraq are beginning to flee the only place where they thought they were safe -- their ancient homelands in the Nineveh plains.           
Reports have come in from clergy in the north of the country that in the past few months, a slow but steady emigration has got under-way from the villages and towns close to Mosul city, which trace their heritage back to the earliest Christian centuries.            
It comes after warnings of another blow to the Church expected in the immediate run-up to the January 2010 general elections.            
With government ministers publicly expecting a surge in violence as people prepare to go to the polls, Church leaders fear that a new security crisis could spark another mass exodus of Christians, which in some areas may mean the departure of the last remaining faithful.            
In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, leading Iraqi priest Fr Bashar Warda made clear that Christians in the Nineveh region are now beginning to feel threatened by the kind of security problems which have blighted the lives of people in so many other parts of the country.    
Speaking from northern Iraq today (Monday, 28th September), Fr Warda told the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians: "I am sad to say that the emigration of Christian families that we have seen in places like Mosul and Baghdad has now begun to affect the Nineveh area.      
"We are not seeing -- at least not yet -- a large emigration from places like Alqosh and other [Nineveh] villages but it is definitely happening."
Fr Warda said he could not give precise estimates of the number leaving the region but he said that a number of exclusively Christian villages have each been losing 30 or 40 faithful every month, sometimes more.     
The news has added significance because the many almost completely Christian villages in the region had become a refuge for faithful under threat in other parts of the region.
Mosul's become a targeted region for all.  UPI and Official Wire report that al-Qaida in Mesopotamia has "issued death threats to truck drivers attempting to deliver goods in the northern city of Mosul" according to Ninawa Province leader Ali Malih al-Zawbaie. Nada Bakri (Washington Post) observed this morning that Mosul is "a region where many insurgents are believed to have regrouped after they were driven from Baghdad and other provinces." 
Afif Sarhan (IslamOnline.net) reports on another persecuted group in Iraq, Iraqi Blacks who can trace back their history in the region to the seventh century. Ibraheem Abdel-Rassoul tells Sarhan, "After centuries since the first Black community, coming from Africa, arrived in Iraq, discrimination has been part of their daily lives, differening only in the place, or the way used to exclude them from daily social routines.  In many schools children suffer discrimination and in the beginning of a new millennium, mixed marriages are still seen with bad eyes by many members of the local socity." A number, such as Jalal Diyab, are seeking official recognition for their minority status.  Diyab explains, "Discrimination against Black people is a crime in the majority of countries worldwide but in Iraq there isn't a law that punishes such attitudes.  A law should be drafted to prohibit racism in Iraq and a quota created like the existing quota for Christians, Assyrians and other minorities in the country.  It won't end all problems but will help to build a new society without discrimination."
Another targeted and at-risk population is Iraq's external refugees.  In a surprising development, the Copenhagen Post reports that Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, is insisting that Iraqi refugees should not be forced to leave Denmark and return home.  al-Maliki also denied any agreement with the Danish government on the issue but the agreement was signed in May, as the Post notes, and the Immigration Minister states that the bilateral agreement remains in force.
Turning to some of today's reported violence.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 man, a Mosul sticky bombing claimed the life of Basheer al Jahishi ("member of Al Hadbaa the ruling bloc in" Nineveh Province), a Mosul roadside bombing left three police officers wounded and a Baladrouz sticky bombing wounded an Imam and a civilian.

Reuters notes the corpse of a man ("hanged, with the rope still around his neck") was discovered in Mosul.
Meanwhile Thursday, there was a prison break in Tikrit with sixteen prisoners escaping and, by yesterday, 6 of the 16 were said to have been captured. Saturday CNN reported 2 more escapees were captured this morning during "house-to-house searches" for a total of 8 prisoners now captured. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports three more have been captured (9 total) and that, with the latest three, all five who were on death row have been captured. Yang notes Col Mohammed Salih Jbara ("head of anti-terrorism department of Salahudin province) has been "sacked" as a result of the prison escape.
In economic news, Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports Iraq is claiming "sever budget crunch" as the reason why they lag in buying equipment -- military equipment.  How very telling that they're never asked why they continue to be unable to deliver basic services such as potable water.  For some strange damn reason, no one thinks it's out of bounds for "American commanders" to ask "the U.S. government to give Iraq what is known as 'dependable undertaking' status as part of Washington's Foreign Military Sales program." That would be overstepping their bounds if anyone paid attention.  Equally true is that only an idiot would grant such a status to a 'government' which is currently claiming they do not have to pay their debt to Kuwait because that was under another 'regime' that's now 'gone.'  Saddam Hussein was run out of power in March of 2003.  That's six years ago.  So in six years will another 'government' in Iraq attempt to welch on their debts as well?  That's crazy and US "commanders" have no business attempting to facilitate the sales of weapons -- not even to prop up the cash-cow that is the weapons industry in an otherwise flat economy. (US economy is what I'm referring to.)  They're not trained in economics and they're are supposed to answer to the civilian government.  It's not their job and in a real democracy that would explained a long damn time ago.  Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that Mudher Kasim, Iraq's Central Bank Advisor, declared today that the International Monetary Fund has extended "$1.8 billion to help it emerge from the global downturn."  Those hearing the ominous strains of the cello strings aren't cracking up, they just know what follows the $1.8 billion.  As repeatedly noted, the Status Of Forces Agreement that replaced the United Nations mandate ended Iraq's "ward of the state" position.  That curtailed the current regime from doing many things with their economy.  And it also protected them.  The protection is gone and the sharks are circling.
Three Americans who were in Iraq are being held by the Iranian government. CBS News' The Early Show (link has text and video) reports vigils are planned throughout the US tomorrow for Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer who have been held by the Iranian government for two months now.  The three were in Iraq, allegedly hiking in the northern region when they allegedly crossed into Iranian terrain.  They were detained near the border and then, a little over a week later, moved to Tehran.  Maggie Rodriguez interviewed Alex Fattal (brother of Josh), Laura Fattal (mother of Josh) and Nor Shourd (mother of Sarah).  Sarah's mother explained, "We worry about their day-to-day, you know, like if they're well and if they're healthy, if they're comfortable, how they're taking it mentally.  We just worry about it all the time."  Josh's mother explained, "It is very difficult.  It is a day-by-day difficult situation.  We all know Shane, Sarah and Josh are composed individuals, they're calm indviduals, and we get reassurance from that.  But of course we want to hear from them.  We want to hear their voices."  CNN reported earlier today that the Iranian government agreed to let the Swiss government send represenatives to speak to the three Americans. Stephanie Nebehay and Andrew Dobbie (Reuters) report that Siwss diplmats did visit with the three today.
In peace news, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorializes  on the announced discharge of 1st Lt Ehren Watada: "From a legal standpoint, there is no doubt that Watada won. The Army failed in its attempts to court-martial the first U.S. officer to refuse to fight the Iraq war. After a three-year legal battle, the Kalani High School graduate will leave the Army in early October, discharged under 'other than honorable conditions,' as the Army recognizes the insurmountable double jeopardy threat raised by his earlier mistrial." Ehren is the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. He is scheduled to be discharged this Friday (Ehren's pictured above with his father Bob Watada and his step-mother Rosa Sakanishi). Ehren knew the Iraq War was illegal and that put him in an ethical bind as an officer because he would be issuing orders to those serving under him. As 2005 drew to a close, he considered the various options and then made his decision not to deploy. He phoned his mother Carolyn Ho as the new year began to inform her of his decision. When he informed his superior officers of his decision, they gave the impression that they wanted to work something out -- in reality, they just wanted to attempt to keep the matter hush-hush, delay any decisions and hope that when the deployment came in June (2006), Ehren would depart with his unit. After proposing several alternatives -- including resignation as well as deploying to Afghanistan instead, Ehren went public in June 2006. His service contract ended in December 2006 but the US military kept him on to court-martial him. When that was obviously not going well, Judge John Head (aka Judge Toilet) gifted the prosecution with a mistrial over defense objection. Toilet thought that's how the law worked. The Constitution -- and US District Judge Benjamin Settle -- begged to differ. Kim Murphy (Los Angeles Times) quotes Kenneth Kagan, one of Ehren Watada's two civilian attorneys (Jim Lobsenz is the other), "I think the Army came to the conclusion that it was not going to be able to prevail in a prosecution. And I think when the new solicitor general came in, her office had a fresh look at it, and it was not bound by any of the decision that had been made previously, they saw fit to put a stop to the appellate process."
On the checks from the new GI Bill that veterans continue to wait for, we'll again note this mailed to the public account yesterday from the VA:

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting October 2, 2009. 
More information on
emergency checks.              
Information on
VA regional benefits offices.          
Independent journalist David Bacon (at Political Affairs) reports (photos and text) on the thousand plus people protesting in San Francisco to win health care benefits for hotel workers.  David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).