Thursday, May 13, 2010

Continued persecution of Iraqi journalists and Christians

It would be just another tragedy if it had taken place anywhere else in Iraq, but the killing of Zardasht Osman, a 23-year-old Kurdish freelance journalist and university student who was kidnapped, tortured and then found dead with bullet wounds has shocked the comparatively stable Kurdistan region of Iraq, where the authorities now have much explaining to do.
Osman, writing anonymously but later revealing his identity, had been critical of the authorities and the patronage and corruption that plague Kurdistan. He pushed the boundaries of freedom in the region by publishing a number of inflammatory articles, insulting senior officials of the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP); and crossed the red line of local taboo by writing of his desire to marry President Massoud Barzani's daughter: a no-go area for any sane Kurd.

The above is the opening to Ranj Alaaldin's "Death of Kurdish journalist must be explained" (Guardian) about the kidnapping and murder of Iraqi journalist Sardasht Osman whose corpse was discovered last Thursday. Demonstrations have been held to protest the murder and Mihemed Eli Zalla (Hawler Tribune) reports that protests were staged yesterday as well in Sulaimania with demonstrators chanting, "We all are other Sardashts. We are not afraid of dath. Dr. Kamal Kirkuki, who killed Sardasht!" Kamal Kirkuki is the Speaker of the Krudistan Parliament. Yahya Barzani (AP) adds, "There have been nearly a dozen demonstrations over the past week in Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region calling for his killers to be brought to justice."

Journalists aren't the only group targeted in Iraq. Among the many groups persecuted are Iraq's religious minorities. Saif Tawfiq (Reuters) reports:

Wailing with grief and rage, Iraqi Christians this week buried the teenage victim of a bombing and lamented again their vulnerability in the complex stew of Iraq's sectarian warfare and Arab-Kurd disputes.
Thousands turned out for the funeral of Sandy Shibib, 19, a first-year biology student at Mosul University, who died on Tuesday from head wounds caused by shrapnel when bombers struck buses carrying Christian students in northern Iraq on May 2.
"As students, we were heading to university, not to a battlefield. We carried no weapons. Nevertheless, we were targeted," said Maha Tuma, a schoolmate of Shibib.

Spero News notes that the Council of the Christian Church Leaders of Iraq issued the following:

1. We, the heads of Christian churches gathered at the College of St. Ephraim in Qaraqosh, express our deep pain in facing this tragedy that has affected our children the Christian students at Mosul University, and we express our full solidarity with them. This attack is one painful episode in a series targeting Christians, especially painful since these students were defenseless. They are the hope for the future of Iraq, and as a group they have nothing to do with politics.

2. These sad events, affecting the everyday lives of peaceful citizens in all components of the Iraqi people, require a serious review and the concerted efforts of all government officials and political parties in order to give priority to the public interest and the security of citizens. Thus we urgently reiterate our call to expedite the formation of a government of national unity that will work to ensure law, security and safety; any delay will have a negative impact reflecting negatively on the lives of citizens and the task of nation-building. We also call upon the concerned authorities in the province of Nineveh, and especially the members of the parliament from the Hadbaa and Nineveh coalitions, to embrace dialogue and consensus for the benefit of their province and its inhabitants.

3. Given the increasingly large number of university students in the district of Hamdaniya and its neighbourhood (in the centre of the district of Qaraqosh alone there are more than 1300 students), we ask the central government to open a public university in the area to accommodate the students in a safer environment.

4. Further to the incident targeting the buses of the university students on the morning of 2 May 2010, which caused serious physical and psychological damage to a large number of them and which makes it impossible for them to finish their studies and to take their final exams within the campus of the University of Mosul, we demand a solution that will guarantee that they will take their exams in a safe place in the centre of Hamdaniya. It is unjust to let them forfeit the current academic year.

5. In conclusion, we deeply thank all official bodies and persons who have contributed to transfer the injured to health centres, and those who donated blood and covered the costs of the treatment, both from within and outside the country. We also thank all the official bodies, including religious, social and subsidiary agencies, who have shown solidarity with us in this great tribulation.

We pray to God to give comfort to the martyrs and a quick recovery to the wounded and to protect our country from all harm, and to restore to us the gift of peace and stability.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Archbishop Avak Assadourian, Head of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iraq, Secretary General of the Council of Christian Church Leaders of Iraq (CCCLI)

Archbishop George Qas-Moussa, the Archbishop of Mosul and its region for the Syrian Catholic Church, Assistant Secretary-General CCCLI

Archbishop Louis Sako, Archbishop of Kirkuk for the Chaldean Church

Bishop Athanasius Matta Mtoka, Archbishop of Baghdad for the Syrian Catholic Church

Archbishop Mor Gregorios Saliba Shamoun, Archbishop of Mosul for the Syrian Orthodox Church

Bishop Thomas Georgis, representative of the Patriarchate of the Ancient Church of the East

Bishop Isaac Kames, representative of the Patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East

Father Najib Moussa, Dominican representative of the Latin Church in Iraq

Over at OpEd News, David Swanson gets creative with history and the truth yet again. It's not going to work that way, Swanson. Not anymore than you're e-mailing Rebecca with those I-love-your-website e-mails and then forwarding around her honest replies to your nosy snooping. You're a joke and you refuse to rise above the level of joke. No, "we" did not vote for Barack Obama. Many of us voted for Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader, many of us in the peace movement were not taken by the liars like yourself who pimped Barack like there was no tomorrow. No, David Swanson.

Some in the peace movement used their vote strategically and voted for McCain (following a policy that Izzy Stone recommended in the 50s but wasn't it funny how the Panhandle Media -- while pimping that bad book on Stone -- couldn't tell anyone about that part of I.F. Stone's history?). You whored and you pimped, David. You have to live with that and the movement can't afford to let you back in on a pass. You either get honest or you've got nothing to offer anyone.

You were an idiot and a fool and until you can't admit that, don't presume to speak for the peace movement. You're just another whore for the Democratic Party. There is nothing independent about you. You distract and deflect and the proof of that is that you've never called for a challenger to run against John Conyers (aka I-Hope-I-Get-Prison-Visits-To-See-My-Crooked-Wife). Conyers played like you like a fool and you never held him accountable. Even now, you avoid calling the coward out.

You're just a Democratic apologist. Until you can get honest, you have nothing to say to the peace movement. You hijacked it to push electoral politics and, no surprise, you didn't have the education or the background to know what the hell you were talking about. You savaged Hillary Clinton with lies and sexism because you couldn't do an honest take down of her. You lied for Barack and, like so many others (Kevin Zeese, for example) you then wanted out sympathy because you were too damn pathetic to tell the truth that you knew. What did Zeese say in that ridiculous e-mail? That he was being as outspoken as he could -- this is summer of 2008 -- because people really liked Barack.

Oh, poor baby. I was on campuses calling Bush out when he was beloved. Don't whine to me about how hard truth telling is. Don't expect sympathy from me. And as with Bush, it's been the same group of us carving out the space on the left where Barack could be criticized while all the rest of you whored and wanted to whine in e-mails about how if you told the truth about Barack, people might not like you. Boo-hoo. Boo-hoo. Truth telling isn't pretty and it's not easy. It is, however, required. If you're unable to do it -- when it matters, not after the fact -- then you've got nothing to offer anyone (something your bad writing indicated long ago).

A real writer is Jon Lee Anderson. Joel Simon (Committee to Protect Journalists) has posted a speech Anderson gave at the Courage Forum and we'll note the following on Iraq:

“A couple of years ago, in Baghdad, I met a man named Ali. He had embarked on a killing spree to avenge his brother who had been murdered by militiamen of his own sect a few months earlier. Ali had vowed before God to kill 10 men for each of his dead brother’s fingers.

“Ali told me that he would not stop until he had killed 100 men, whether members of the militia responsible, or if not, their brothers and fathers. At that point he had killed 20. From each of his victims, he informed me, he sliced off a piece of their bodies—a hand, a toe, an eyeball, an Adam’s apple—and took it to his mother, who then travelled to the gravesite of her son, Ali’s brother, and buried the pieces in the soil next to him.

“Ali’s mother confirmed the story. She told me that as she buried the pieces she spoke to her dead son and told him the name of the latest man’s life taken by Ali to avenge his death. Ali said to me that ever since he had begun his revenge killings he no longer felt any fear, and he felt closer to God. God, Ali told me, approved of what he was doing because the men he was killing were evil and did not deserve to live.

“What made Ali’s story so disturbing was that he was also a secret collaborator of the American military forces in Iraq. He called in targets against the militiamen in his neighborhood for the American troops to raid and capture.

“Ali’s blood vengeance -- endorsed by and participated in by his mother -- came out of old, deep-seated tribal traditions of honor that predate their religion, Islam, but which has become suffused with it. The Americans who paid him had no understanding of Iraq’s culture. And that was the terrifying truth: They were colluding with a serial killer in order to end a war, and who knew what the effects of that would be? They didn’t, and we still don’t. Like a mutating gene, human history keeps moving on, accumulating its own DNA which continues to show up in what we do and how we behave.

“Ali’s story is extreme, maybe, but is not an isolated case. Revenge is a concept that, to a greater or lesser degree, is universal. Revenge is one of the keys to understanding war itself. Once the killing starts, it becomes very difficult to stop, for every drop of blood that is shed demands another to avenge it. When President Bush declared the “War on Terror” after 9/11 and then invaded Iraq, it would seem that he unwittingly opened Pandora’s Box to further war, which continues unabated.

the Senate Democratic Policy Committee continues to highlight the economy and finances in a number of videos this month. Click here to be taken to the DPC video page. Senator Byron Dorgan is the Chair of the DPC and we'll note his video.

Yesterday, the DPC issued "Whose Side Are They On: Republican Carve-Out for Special Interest Would Hurt Consumers:"

Senate Republicans have once again declared their support for special interests and Wall Street banks, all at the expense of the American consumer. Senator Brownback has brought forward an amendment to carve-out auto dealer financing from consumer protection rules written by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This amendment would hurt America ’s families, our military, our community banks and credit unions, and our responsible auto dealers, all of whom would be left vulnerable to the predatory practices of Wall Street and the minority of dealer-lenders who sell unfair auto loans with hidden fees.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Levels the Playing Field for Consumers, Community Banks and Credit Unions on Auto Financing

To ensure that consumers are protected, Senate Democrats have brought forward a plan to create a level playing field and empower consumers to shop effectively for the best financing available. The Consumer Bureau established under the Restoring American Financial Stability Act would defend the responsible lenders and crack down on the greedy practices that hurt hard-working American families. The Bureau, which would not place any new burdens on auto dealers, would give Americans the tools they need to comparison shop for the best prices and the best loans. Greater transparency would increase competition and innovation that benefit borrowers, not take advantage of them through hidden costs and traps. Regardless of where a consumer gets a loan, this bill ensures that they are protected from unfair, deceptive, or abusive lending practices.

Exempting Auto Dealers Gives Big Wall Street Banks an Advantage Over Responsible Dealers and Hurts Community Banks and Credit Unions

Exempting dealers means exempting Wall Street and putting community banks and credit unions at a disadvantage. Wall Street makes auto loans through dealers – and it often pays these dealers more to arrange loans with higher interest rates than borrowers qualify for. This encourages some dealers to increase rates and pack loans with expensive and unnecessary add-ons, while using deceptive tactics to make customers think they’re getting a good deal.

The proposed amendment is so broad that irresponsible dealers funded by Wall Street could even sell expensive payday loans, auto title loans or tax refund loans without being subject to any of the Bureau’s rules for such products. This is because the proposed amendment would exempt dealers from all rules except those governing mortgages. Such lending would further tarnish the image of the auto dealer industry.

Free from regulation, Wall Street will continue to push dealers to offer the bad loans. And unregulated payday lending by some dealers will subsidize price wars harmful to responsible dealers – who stick to just selling and financing cars.

Too Many Members of Our Military Have Been Caught Up in Bad Loans, Threatening Military Readiness

Military families have been a target of unscrupulous lenders. With their first steady paycheck in hand, recently enlisted service members often face their first chance to be lured into easy credit offers. Many experienced military families have also fallen victim to these unfair practices, while struggling with daily expenses such as child care and medical bills in the face of deployments and frequent moves.

In a recent letter to the Treasury Department, Undersecretary of Defense Clifford Stanley outlined the severity of the issue: “personal financial readiness of our troops and families equates to mission readiness.” He reported that 72 percent of financial counselors surveyed had counseled service members on auto abuses in the past six months.

Military families deserve a consumer agency that will crack down on abusive auto lending practices. While Republicans would like to preserve the status quo, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act would address:

· Wrong incentives: Like mortgage brokers, auto dealer-lenders are paid more to sell loans with higher rates and fees than borrowers qualify for. This gives dealers a perverse incentive to charge higher rates.

· Bait and switch financing: Sometimes a dealer-lender sends the buyer home with a “purchased” car and calls a few days or weeks later to say that the financing “fell through.” The borrower then is trapped into paying a higher interest rate.

· “Packing” loans: Dealers also receive commissions to sell expensive add-ons to the loans, such as extended warranties. Dealer-lenders frequently obscure the cost of add-ons, which can be thousands of dollars, by emphasizing that they only moderately increase the monthly loan payment.[1]

· Discriminatory lending: Among consumers who obtain dealer financing, African Americans are almost twice as likely as whites to pay dealer mark-ups (54.6% of blacks versus 30.6% of whites),[2] and African Americans are 70% more likely than white men to finance at the dealer rather than a bank or a credit union.[3]

[1] Delvin Davis & Joshua M. Frank, Center for Responsible Lending, “Car Trouble: Predatory Auto Loans Burden NC Consumers,” April 2009.

[2] Mark A. Cohen, “Imperfect Competition in Auto Lending: Subjective Markup, Racial Disparity, and Class Action Litigation,” December 2006.

[3] Ian Ayres, “Discrimination in Consummated Car Purchases,” 2005, available at

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