Friday, April 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the census may take place this year (or not), the US Congress hears about issues effecting the Guard and the Reserve, Iraqi refugees continue to travel to Syria (and continue to be denied entry to the US), and more.
In Iraq, a census was supposed to have taken place in 2007. It has not. Nor in 2008, nor in 2009. It's now supposed to take place in October of this year. However, if it's delayed, it wouldn't be shocking and would, in fact, continue the pattern. Swathmore College's War News Radio featured a report last week on the Iraqi census that was taped in November of last year:
Gabriel Ramirez: Nuha Yousef is the executive director of the census in Iraq. She has been working on the Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology for 34 years and has helped conduct three censuses.
Nuha Yousef: In 1977, 1987 and 1997 -- in those three censuses, I was working in the Census Operation Room.
Gabriel Ramirez: Yousef says that Iraq has traditionally conducted a census every ten years. She took part in organizing the census for 2007 but things didn't go as planned.
Nuha Yousef: We started preparing for the 2007 census in 2006. But the security situation was the obstacle to holding a census in 2007 and it was postponed until 2009. So the security situation was the reason for canceling the 2007 census.
Gabriel Ramirez: In 2009, it seemed as if Iraq was ready to undergo a census. But in August, only two months before the census was to take place, Ali Baban, the Minister of Planning, made an announcement.
Ali Baban: We are fully ready to conduct the census technically and we have completed all the requirements. But we have also listened to some of the fears and reservations expressed by Iraqi constituents, especially in the cities of Kirkuk and Nineveh due to political reasons and relations between the known ethnic groups. These objections and reservations might drive us to reconsider doing the census and postponing it to another time.
Gabriel Ramirez: Two weeks after the minister made this announcement, the Kurdistan Regional Government released an official statement. The statement criticized Baghdad for postponing the census based on politically motivated reasons related to the federal budget law and Kirkuk Province. Liam Anderson, a senior honorary research fellow at the Center for Ethno Political Research Studies at the University of Exner, tells us why some Arabs and Turkmen in the city are threatened by the census.
Liam Anderson: What they claim is that all of these Kurds that have come back in are not legitimately former residents of Kirkuk and so, if you hold a census, and you come up with a figure of 500,000 Kurds for the Kurds in Kirkuk, Turkmen and Arabs would say that's a false figure. So from that point of view, if you count the actual number of Kurds right now and you end up with something like a majority, then that sort of legitimizes Kurds and the Arab and the Turkmen don't want that fact established.
Gabriel Ramirez: Youssef, the executive director of the census, notes that Kirkuk is a contentious issue. But she says that there's more to the story. She points out that the problem comes from an overlap of authority.
Nuha Yousef: Currently, there are overlapping local governments between the provinces -- mainly between the Kurdish provinces and other provinces -- like Nineveh Salah ad-Din and Diyala Province. There is interference between the local governments. So it is not acceptable for a local government to be counted as part of a Kurdish province and again be counted as part of other non-Kurdish provinces. There are areas under dispute between the provinces.
Gabriel Ramirez: Regardless of the political controversies, the census is a necessary administrative tool for the Iraqi government. Youssef explains.
Nuha Yousef: The census provides a massive data base concerning population and housing. That includes all the social, economic, educational and immigration issues. In addition to housing and utilities -- such as water, electricity, telephones and other services including the environment in addition to religion and nationality.
Gabriel Ramirez: She also adds that the upcoming 2010 census is especially important because it will be the first post-war census conducted in Iraq
Nuha Yousef: There has been a big dramatic change in the Iraqi social structure. Only the census can tell us the size of the change in this social structure and the changing demographics. During the former regime there was a campaign of forced migration in both southern and northern provinces. The population movement has now changed and the people have returned to their home provinces so this has changed things socially. The census will provide us with a new database in regard to the changes in the social structure.
Gabriel Ramirez: Although the census has already been postponed twice, Youssef is optimistic about the 2010 census.
Nuha Yousef: The census is now due to be held in October of 2010. We were fully prepared to do the census this year  but I think any postponement will be in the interest of doing a good census. What I am most interested in is covering every part of the country without repetition or excluding any administrative unit. So I think the postponement will be for the interest of the work.
Gabriel Ramirez: Youssef realizes that the census can and has been used for political purposes. But for her, conducting the census is a civil service. For War News Radio, I'm Gabriel Ramirez.
A census focused only within the Iraqi borders will not take into account the huge number of external refugees. War News Radio this week reports, among other things, on Iraqi refugees in the US. The bulk of the refugees remain in Iraq's neighboring countries -- such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Carolien Roelants (NRC Handelsblad) reports on Iraqi refugees in Syria such as Burud who lost one foot and one hand in a Baghdad bombing and, as soon as she recovered, she went to Syria and became "one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who have been living in Syria for years. Most of them do not live in refugee camps but have found a place amongst the Syrians. About 163,000 refugees are currently registered with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, but it is estimated that an additional 400,000 to 800,000 have not." Violence has not vanished in Iraq but the height of the violence is thought to have been 2006 and 2007 and Roelants reports that those who fled to Syria during that do not plan to return and, in addition, Syria is still getting Iraqi refugees on a daily basis, "Ever day, some 20 to 30 families, 150 a week, still check in here [UNHCR]. Approximately 60 percent are fresh from Iraq." At the start of the week, Catholic News Service reported Iraqi women in Damascus made a point to speak with North American Catholic leaders who were in Syria to tour the Melkite Catholic Church The women wanted to know, "What can be done for Christians who are being uprooted from Iraq?" Monsignor Robert Stern replied, "I think the most important thing we can do, first of all, is to be here and to see you and to let you know that you are in our hearts. We are not politicians. Even though we live in Western countries, we cannot control the policies of the countries or the United Nations." Later in the conversation, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan stated, "But many people in America don't even know there are Christians in Iraq or Syria. We bishops know that, and we try our best to help. But what we must do after having our hearts touched by you is remind our people that they have brother and sister Christians in Iraq and Syria."
Very few of the refugees have made it to the US. James Denselow (Guardian) notes, "During his election campaign he promised $2bn to expand services available to Iraqi refugees and in last August he appointed Samantha Power (who during the election campaign famously described Hilary Clinton as a monster) as senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, responsible for 'co-ordinating the efforts of the many parts of the US government on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)'. However, delivering on this has been delayed somewhat, especially now that the American administration has postponed 'until further notice' the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Damascus, following recent information about trucks bearing advanced weaponry that passed from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon." Meribah Knight (Chicago News Cooperative for the New York Times) observes, "Iraqi refugees, according to the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement, went from zero to 1,298 from 2006 to 2009, making Chicago home to the second-largest Iraqi population in the country after Detroit." The refugee population is composed of the targeted. For example, Christians are a small minority in Iraq; however, they make up a significant number of the refugee population. Religious minorities are in the refugee population. Women are targeted, they also figure highly in the refugee population. And Iraq's gay community is targeted leading many men and women to attempt to be granted refugee status. David Taffet (Dallas Voice) offers an update on two gay males who did make it to the US:
The story of Yousif Ali and Nawfal Muhamed first appeared in Dallas Voice when they were here for the Creating Change conference.
Since the article appeared, the Houston GLBT Community Center and a gay Muslim support group have been helping them navigate the U.S. system and get services normally provided to refugees. The problem has been Catholic Charities, the organization that provides many of the federally funded refugee services, that has been unresponsive to the two gay men.
Now, the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church has taken them under their wing to make sure they have enough money for food and other necessities. They have set up a fund to help them. Mark and Becky Edmiston-Lange, the church's ministers, have kicked the fund off with a donation from their discretionary fund.
Any who would like to donate can send checks or money orders to Emerson UU Church, 1900 Bering Dr., Houston, Texas 77057.
Another targeted population is the press. Bram Vermeulen (NRC Handelsblad) reports on the editor-in-chief of Alhurra TV, Fallah al-Dahabi:
He has decorated the walls with pictures of his TV appearances, he purchased a microwave and a fitness machine, he has a barbecue on the balcony and a flat-screen television no other guest at the hotel has. But it is still a hotel room, a refuge with room service. Home is somewhere else.
This chief editor and his station were supposed to become the face of freedom and democracy in the Arab world after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Alhurra, 'the Free One', had to become a station where everything could be said, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without commercial interruptions. The US government set it up in 2004 and has since invested 500 million dollars of taxpayers' money. It hoped to create the Arab equivalent of Radio Free Europe, the anti-communist station that broadcast information across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. But Alhurra has proved no match for giants like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Less than 2 percent of viewers watch it occasionally. Most deem it too pro-Western, too biased and unreliable. In Iraq, the channel and its chief editor have become targets for blind hatred.
Monday, Human Rights Watch released the following on press freedoms (or the lack of them ) in Iraq:
The Iraqi government should suspend media regulations that impose tight restrictions on the country's broadcast media and revise them to comply with international standards, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to the official Communication and Media Commission (CMC).
The Commission began enforcing the regulations ahead of the March 7, 2010, parliamentary elections ostensibly to silence broadcasters who encourage sectarian violence, but the regulations are vague and susceptible to abuse. The regulations should be revised to define in detail all restrictions on and give meaningful guidance to broadcasters by clearly delineating their responsibilities, Human Rights Watch said. While the government can prohibit and punish speech that constitutes direct incitement of violence, the broad and vague wording of the regulations, such as prohibiting "incitement of sectarianism," falls short of international norms governing freedom of expression. "These broadcast regulations are a real setback for media freedom in Iraq," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These restrictions open the door to politically motivated discrimination in the regulation and licensing of broadcasters." Over the months leading to the parliamentary elections, the government restricted freedom of expression in a number of ways. It clamped down on scrutiny of public officials, denied media accreditation to journalists, and sued media outlets that criticized government officials. In addition, police and security forces have harassed, arrested, and assaulted numerous journalists.
The regulations appear to give the CMC unfettered power to halt broadcast transmissions, close offices, seize equipment, revoke licenses, and levy fines on broadcasters. The rules empower the agency to cancel licenses even after the first minor violation of the licensing terms. In its letter, Human Rights Watch asked the agency to ensure that punishments are proportionate to the offense, increasing only in step with the severity and repetition of offenses. The rules should also give license applicants a clear and expeditious path to appeal denied applications.
Human Rights Watch also urged the agency to stop requiring broadcasters to provide it with a list of employees, as this poses an unacceptable security threat to media workers. Iraqi journalists already operate in an extraordinarily unsafe environment. Since 2003, at least 141 journalists have died in Iraq, some in politically motivated murders. Muaid al-Lami, head of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate, has been the subject of two assassination attempts, including one last month. Journalists in Iraq who wish to stay anonymous should be able to do so, Human Rights Watch said.
"Not only do the regulations give this agency enormous power to shut down broadcasters for minor and first-time transgressions, but they place the lives of Iraqi journalists at greater risk," Stork said. "The Media Commission should suspend the regulations until it fixes them."
While the press is curtailed, attempts at the tag sale on Iraq's assets continue unfettered. Dow Jones reports the country's Ministry of Oil is no longer looking for "recoverable five-year soft loans" but instead "signature bonuses." Hey, maybe like a certain actor who priced himself out of any worthy part, they could start demanding $500,000 just to consider an offer? Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Christie and Keiron Henderson (Reuters) note that the signature bonuses are being cut and provide the example of how $300 million was supposed to be the fees paid by "Italy's Eni and its partners Occidental Petroleum Corp and South Korea's KOGAS" has been dropped to $100 million. AP notes that the Ministry of Oil plans to allow bidding on three natural gas fields. The fields have not yet been identified but they are expected to be later this year. Tamsin Carlisle (UAE's National Newspaper) adds, "Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) are favoured bidders, said Sabah Abdul Kadhim, the head of the oil ministry's petroleum contracts and licensing directorate." Along with the favored, the Ministry Oil plans to pick the remaining bidders (for a total of 15) "from the 44 that qualified to bid in Iraq's first two post-war auctions of oil and gas licences last year." And Russel Gold (Wall St. Journal) notes that Paris-based Schlumberg Ltd is currently beefing up its staff with the intent of stationing 300 employees in Iraq by this summer and twice that amount by December 2010. War is big business which is why countries wage it -- even over the objections of its citizens.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which injured one person and a Tuz Khurmato sticky bombing which left six people injured.
Reuters notes 1 person shot dead in Baghdad and 1 'suspect' killed in Mosul by Iraqi forces.
Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered in Baaj.
"The attacks on September 11, 2001 set in motion the sustained increased use and heavier reliance on the reserves with over 761,000 reservists and guardsman mobilized to date, one third of whom have been activated two times or more," declared US House Rep Susan David yesterday. "The Department of Defense and the services have begun a transformation of the Guard and Reserve to an operational force with greater strategic capability and depth. This includes an equipping strategy to ensure the reserve components have the same equipment as their respective active component and an effective force management strategy to ensure the reserves are not over utilized. In response to the continued reliance on the reserves, Congress took some key steps to address the concerns that emerged. First it established the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves to provide a comprehensive independent assessment of the Guard and Reserves and its potential future roles. Secondly, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, Congress: (1) elevated the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the grade of 4-star general, (2) made the National Gurad Bureau a joint organization and (3) required specific actions with regards to equipping the Guard and Reserves. Congress also mandated the establishment of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to assist Guard and Reserve members and their families' transition back to their communities after deployment."
She was speaking at the opening of a the Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing. Davis chairs the Subcommittee and, as they explored issues of interest to the Guard and Reserve, they received testimony from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Dennis McCarthy, Lt Gen Jack Stultz (Chief of Army Reserve), Vice Adm Dick Debbink (Chief of Naval Reserve), Lt Gen John Kelly (Commander, Marine Force Reserve), Lt Gen Charles Stenner (Chief of Air Force Reserve), Lt Gen Harry Wyatt (Director Air National Guard) and Maj Gen Raymond Carpenter (Acting Director Army National Guard). We'll note this exchange between Ranking Member Joe Wilson and Dennis McCarthy.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: [. . .] With that, another fact, Secretary McCarthy, is that it's so difficult to distinguish between Guard, Reserve, Active Duty except on the issue of retirement. And so I certainly hope that we can make some changes. In particular, current law allows a mobilized Reserve component member to earn three months credit toward retirement for every 90 days of aggregate service on active duty. Congress intended for those to be counted as active duty regardless of whether the active duty period occurred across fiscal years. But the Department has somehow implemented this that if it is across the fiscal years that it doesn't count at all. What is DoD going to do to fix this or what should we do to clarify? But there's no question that we certainly meant to disregard fiscal year.
Dennis M. McCarthy: Congressman Wilson, I'm well aware of that anomaly. I think everyone understands that it's not what either the Congress intended and it's not what -- uh -- is -- uh -- it's not the right thing to do. So it is going to take a fix. I'm not sure whether it will be a legislative or a directive fix. I suspect it will be the latter. I'm sorry -- I suspect it will be the former and that we will have to come to Congress on that. But I know that it's on the agenda to be -- to be resolved.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And I hope it will be resolved as quickly as possible. Additionally, we have a circumstance where we have mobilized Reserve component members who can earn retirement as Reservists or Guard members wounded or injured if they're placed in a Wounded Warrior Unit under the orders of the Wounded Warrior. Again, they don't receive credit for the period of time recovering from the wounds and, again, I just know my colleagues and I did not mean for that to be. So I hope that's corrected or please give us advice how we can correct it.
Dennis McCarthy: The change of a Wounded Warrior's status -- when they're mobilized, wounded and then have their status changed -- is purely a directive issue. It's something that was done a couple of years ago and I think that the result that you've described was an unintended consequence. But it's got to be fixed and I know that the people in Personnel and Readiness have that for action.
Ranking Member Joe Wilson: And I appreciate the effort because, uhm, we-we know that these troops are so dedicated, they want to be operational, they want to serve, but it's also very important for their families that there be proper protection.
We'll also note this exchange between US House Rep Joe Wilson and Carpenter:
US House Rep Walter Jones: I have -- this has been kind of an ongoing issue with a father of a National Guardsman in eastern North Carolina who was deployed on active duty, fought in Iraq and this father has met with me two or three times wanting to know why that a Guardsman who has fought for this country, active duty, called upon, that they do not qualify as an active duty Soldier or Marine with the GI Bill for educational benefits. Is this an issue that you hear quite a bit about? I think that Senator [Jim] Webb was at one time trying to put legislation in on the Senate side that would deal with this. And does this ring a bell with you?
Maj Gen Raymond Carpenter: Sir, I'm not aware of the specific case that you cite. But I do know that one of the things we hear from National Guardsmen and from states out there is the GI Bill -- what we call the new GI Bill -- applies to soldiers who deploy but does not necessarily apply to soldiers who are in a [. . .] Title 32 status. And a lot of the soldiers that I talk to see that as an inequity and so they raise that issue with us. I am not sure about the specific instance you talk about where somebody who was mobilized and deployed to the theater was not eligible for the GI Bill but if you'll give me the details, I'll certainly look into it.
The hearing addressed many other issues. Ava will continue the Walter Jones coverage at Trina's site tonight, Kat will cover a portion of Don't Ask, Don't Tell at her site and Wally's grabbing an aspect of the hearing (possibly an overview but it may be a specific testimony) at Ann's site tonight.
As noted yesterday, Binghamton, New York is getting a counter at City Hall which will count the financial costs to US tax payers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Post-Standard's editorial board explains:
Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan made a startling discovery a while back: By this September, Binghamton residents will have contributed $138.6 million to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or rather, that's their share of the debt piled up by these military engagements. And that's not counting any supplemental billions requested by President Barack Obama and approved by Congress later this year.
And they explain that people can check the costs to their own communities by visiting Cost Of War. George Basler (Press & Sun-Bulletin) reports:
The counter is being funded entirely by private contributions from the Broome County Cost of War Project, a local grassroots organization.
At Wednesday's event, Ryan said, he believes he has the authority as mayor to hang the sign.
Legal questions surrounding the sign could soon be moot. Councilman Sean Massey, D-5th District, plans to introduce a resolution at Monday's council work session to have the council support the sign. He thinks a majority of the seven-member council - all Democrats, like the mayor - will support it.
But, Massey said, he doesn't think the council has to approve the sign. He said Ryan, as mayor, has control over the physical site of city hall.
WBNG News quotes the mayor stating, "That's where all the money comes from and we need up paying all the unfunded mandates. We end up not having the money to and that's where the national priorities come in they have to change."
Turning to peace news. Last Friday's snapshot noted 12-year-old Frankie Hughes who peacefully protested the Iraq War in Senator Tom Harkin's office and was arrested for protesting. On top of that, her mother, Renee Espeland, was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) reported on it Saturday and updated it mid-week to note that the charge against Frankie's mother was dropped with Polk County Attorney John Sarcone telling Rothschild, "Looking at all the circumstances, what happened didn't need to be addressed with a criminal charge. It was never an appropriate thing to begin with. They were just wrong-spirited." Yesterday, mother and daughter appeared on Democracy Now! (link has text, audio and video):
FRANKIE HUGHES: Well, I went to -- I went to, I think -- OK, so I went to Tom Harkin's office to protest how he is funding the war. I think it was a Wednesday. And it's just -- it's not OK what he's doing. And he has a way to make -- he has a way to be a hero and just not fund it. Yet he needs a push.
AMY GOODMAN: So when you went into the office -- and I know you have to turn up and down your computer as I'm talking and then turn it off when I'm not -- as you went into the office, tell us what you did.
FRANKIE HUGHES: I just walked in the office, and then I started -- I sat down. Chris Gaunt was on the floor. After like a minute, I went up and I talked to the man that was sitting at the desk. I told him to tell Tom Harkin a couple of things, like how I want to know the real reason why we're in there, and not the fake one, and how I want to know, like --and then I asked him why he thought we were there. And he said, "Well, my opinion doesn't matter." And I said, "Well, it matters to me." And then he said, "My opinion doesn't matter," repeatedly. And I just couldn't believe that somebody would think their opinion just didn't matter.
AMY GOODMAN: Renee, were you there?
RENEE ESPELAND: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you participating in this action, as well?
RENEE ESPELAND: Well, we've been spending, either on a Wednesday or a Thursday --we have a Thursday vigil that we do in sort of downtown Des Moines, and then we go up to the federal building. And both Senator Grassley and Harkin's offices are all -- both on the seventh floor. So we've been making visits once a week since October. And so, this was just a day -- this was an extra day that we had gone, because Chris was going to be there. And yeah, we were just trying to go and kind of keep also some relationship building with the staff in the office, so that it's not, you know, just an intermittent thing, that they actually expect us and they know us and we can learn names, that kind of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Chris is.
RENEE ESPELAND: Chris Gaunt has been just -- she has just been a champ, as far as making a really heartfelt, quiet, prayerful, oftentimes silent presence repeatedly and then staying. And so when Frankie said she was on the floor, she has been doing -- like at 4:00, she's been laying on the floor and kind of turning it from a sit-in into a die-in. And, for instance, about a month ago, they decided not to just give her a federal citation, but also state charges, and they took her to jail. But our state is broke, and so we have all these furlough days. So then the next day was a furlough day, so she had to stay in jail an extra day before she could see the judge. And in Pope County, where we live, they charge jail rent. And so, they most certainly -- I mean, they charged her the jail rent on the furlough day, which was interesting. But she was there doing a die-in, and then Frankie joined her.
TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Peter Baker (NYT), Gloria Borger (CNN), John Dickerson (CBS News and Slate), and David Wessel (Wall St. Journal). And Gwen's column this week is "Debating the Debate" which is worth reading (I'm recommending it). Remember that the show podcasts in video and audio format -- and a number of people sign up for each (audio is thought to be so popular due to the fact that it downloads so much quicker). If you podcast the show, remember there is the Web Extra where Gwen and the guests weigh in on topics viewers e-mail about. And also remember that usually by Monday afternoon you can go to the show's website and stream it there (including Web Extra) as well as read the transcripts and more. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Debra Carnahan, Avis Jones-DeWeever, Sabrina Schaeffer, Tara Setmayer and Jessica Vaughan on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary to discuss the week's events. And at the website each week, there's an extra just for the web from the previous week's show and this week's it's on the announced retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
21st Century Snake Oil
60 Minutes, Sunday, April 18, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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