Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Persecution of journalists and Christians, Little Nouri's Iraq

Iraqi journalist Sardasht Osman was kidnapped from his college campus and murdered. His corpse was discovered May 6th. Demonstrations have been held to protest the murder. Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports, "Now his death is underscoring the limits of free expression and igniting angry debate about what issues could cost journalists their lives. Many question whether true democracy can take hold in this corner of Iraq that has been spared much of the violence and instability that has plagued the rest of the country over the past seven years, allowing it to be considered a haven for business and investments." Wamith al-Kassab (MidEast Youth) writes:

Sardasht Osman wrote over two years under the pseudonym Sardo Zardasht the Kurdish website, is well known for its satirical articles about the two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK ). Sardasht also wrote for Hawlati, a popular newspaper with its headquarters in Sulaimaniya, in the south of Kurdistan.
He drew the attention of the situation of the poor people and Kurdish youth who cannot find jobs other in security forces through the rolling parties. He translated the anger of young Kurdish citizen in a sarcasm of his dream to marry Barazani’s daughter.
He was abducted in front of the university he attended a few days after his poem’s publication, and his body was found handcuffed and shot dead on a roadside four days later.
I will not talk about human rights or freedom of speech, because many people like this young man died in Iraq and received death threats for saying words against holy men or political leaders. Both groups would not be in such power if not for America to come and get ride of Saddam so they can "enjoy" freedom of choice and expression. Both groups, the religious and politicians, were refugees and in exile and fighting Saddam for his tyranny and for preventing any man to speak against him or his policies and beliefs.
Today it is funny to know they will kill you if you speak or make fun or express disapproval of them. Why the victim became a punisher? I do not know.

The Committee to Protect Journalists notes an open letter to the KRG:

As journalists who have covered Iraqi Kurdistan for many years, we are writing to express our concern over the apparent deterioration in the right of Kurdish journalists to report and comment freely and in particular about the recent murder of twenty-three-year-old journalist Zardasht Othman. The Kurdistan Regional Government condemned the killing and stated, "This is a heinous crime and a crime designed to undermine the security of the region and to attack the life and liberty of the people. The relevant security forces are closely investigating this case and are doing their utmost to bring the perpetrators to justice." We echo the condemnation of the Kurdistan Regional Government. However, given the credible allegations of security force involvement in Mr. Othman's kidnapping on 4 May and his brutal murder immediately afterwards, we respectfully request that an independent investigation be empowered. Mr. Othman, as you know, was handcuffed, tortured and shot dead, before his family were told to collect his body from the outskirts of Mosul. We further request a public commitment from the Kurdistan Regional Government to Articles V and VI of the Kurdish Press Law of 2008 calling for severe punishment of anyone, including the security forces, who attacks members of the press.
The murder of Mr. Othman, a university student who had written critically of the leadership and published biting satires of a kind that are tolerated by leaders in other democracies, is only the latest in a series of assaults on independent journalism in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last year, Kurdish journalist Soran Mama Hama was murdered in front of his house in Kirkuk after he had written articles that offended government officials. On 20 April 2010, regional security forces attacked at least sixteen Kurdish journalists reporting student demonstrations in Suleimania. Some were beaten severely by police, and others had their cameras taken and their photographs destroyed. On 28 April, police interrogated the editor of the respected journal Hawlati, Kamal Rauf, for five hours after he published information on the absence of public services in a Kurdish village. Another editor, Fuad Sadiq, lost his job for criticizing Prime Minister Barham Salih. Hakim Qubadi Jali Zada, a Kurdish jurist and poet, was dismissed as a judge in Suleimania for writing an article in the newspaper Hawal that disparaged aspects of the judicial system. Despite these and other assaults on Kurdish journalists, no one has been apprehended or charged in a court of law. The effect of the government's inaction has been to intimidate Kurdish journalists, many of whom rightly fear for their lives.
During the Kurdish struggle against the Iraqi dictatorship, when Kurds suffered savage repression and attempted genocide, the maxim was that the "Kurds had no friends but the mountains." The truth was that the Kurds had friends in the free press, many of whose members risked their lives to cover Iraqi government crimes against the people. Dana Adams Schmidt of the New York Times in 1963, Peter Sturken of ABC News in 1975, Gwynne Roberts after the massacre at Hallabja and many others raised the alarm to an outside world that would otherwise have been ignorant of the crimes committed against the Kurds. We were always grateful for the protection that the Pesh Merga afforded us on hazardous missions in northern Iraq. All of us who send you this letter have covered your country at great personal risk going back to the revolts against the Iraqi dictatorship by the father of the Kurdish national movement, Mulla Mustafa Barzani. Some of our colleagues, including Gad Gross and Kaveh Golestani, died to bring the news of the Kurds' suffering to the world. On many occasions, when you were in hiding in the mountains or in exile, both of you told us of your intention to end the abuses of freedom, including the suppression of the press, in your country. We who write to you today do so as friends rather than opponents, as correspondents who believed your words when you were seeking power and as journalists who respectfully remind you of your past commitment to your people's liberty. This liberty includes the right to expose corruption and, yes, to satirise national leaders.
Kurdish journalism has an honorable tradition dating to the first Kurdish-language newspaper, Kurdistan, in Cairo in 1898. In solidarity with our Kurdish colleagues and as friends of the Kurds, we urge you not to imitate the oppressive policies of the regime your people struggled against for so long.

Yours sincerely,

Geraldine Brooks

Gérard Chaliand

Charles Glass

Yves Harté

Cécile Hennion

David Hirst

Jim Hoagland

Marc Kravetz

Chris Kutschera

Quil Lawrence

François-Xavier Lovat

David McDowall

Edward Mortimer

Fabrice Moussus

Jim Muir

Jonathan Randal

Hazhir Teimourian

Martin Woollacott

Meanwhile Iraq held Parliamentary elections March 7th. McClatchy Newspapers provides a primer on what took place and where things stand. From that, we'll note the following:

Q: Have the major players changed since election day?

A: Not much. The main blocs are still Allawi's Iraqiya, a mixed-sect ticket with broad Sunni support; Maliki's State of Law, mostly from his conservative Shiite Dawa Party; the Iraqi National Alliance, the main religious Shiite grouping of Iranian-backed parties, including politicians loyal to militant cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
The two main Kurdish parties ran on a single ticket as the Kurdistan Alliance. An upstart Kurdish opposition party, Gorran, won some seats, as well.

Q: One of the first snags was an attempt to disqualify some winning candidates by accusing them of ties to the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Did they lose their seats?

A: There were several rounds of de-Baathification, the controversial process of rooting out former Baathists and barring them from public service. Former exile and Bush administration ally Ahmad Chalabi and his deputy Ali al Lami, who both ran in the elections, oversaw the purges.
Hundreds of candidates were eliminated, but an Iraqi court Monday ruled in favor of nine victorious candidates whose cases were in dispute. Those candidates are expected to take their seats in the next parliament.

Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) quotes the US Assistant Sec of State Jeffrey D. Feltman stating, "Iraqi leaders now are spending a lot of time debating who gets to go first trying to form a government. I would argue it's more important to be talking about what the programs of the new government are going to be." Others would argue that who it is will determine what the programs are. Sami Moubayed (Asia Times)provides an overview of the process thus far and includes this on the coalition of Iraqi National Alliance and al-Maliki's State Of Law, "Both the INA and Maliki's team are Shi'ites, and both have a desire to create a mini-theocracy in Baghdad modeled after the government in Tehran. Both have scores to settle with the Sunni community for having produced Saddam Hussein, whom they fought for decades until his downfall in 2003. The new coalition is closely affiliated with Iran, which bankrolled their activities and offered them sanctuary during Saddam's three decades of power. United States ambassador Christopher Hill called the alliance a 'Shi'ite mega party'." What a proud contribution for Hill and -- like so much he's done in Baghdad -- one that will fly over the heads of everyone he's interacting with.

Little Nouri wants to continue as prime minister. Each day is another wave of talking points and spin from Little Nouri as he attempts to convince someone -- anyone! -- that he's brought safety to Iraq and can continue to do so. Hence the World Cup 'confessions' (we're ignoring that crap and the US military doesn't buy it either, FYI). Today Caroline Alexander and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report Little Nouri's insisting that 2010 will be the year he ends inflitration of the security forces! Apparently the last four year-plus were just a dress rehearsal for Little Nouri but if he's allowed to continue as prime minister, he will absolutely, positively continue making loud statements . . . if not providing action.

Turning to the topic of the persecution of Iraqi Christians, AINA reports:

The recent bombings in mosul of school buses carrying Assyrian university students have prompted three Dutch MPs to submit written questions to the Dutch Parliament concerning the Assyrians of Iraq. Pieter Omtzigt, member of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party, Voordewind (Christian Unity party) and Van der Staaij (SGP) submitted four questions to the minister of foreign affairs about the bomb attacks on buses in Mosul, Iraq:

1. have you learnt about the bomb attacks on a number of busses with Christian students in the Iraq city of Mosul, in which people were killed and wounded
2. This is the newest attack in a long series in Mosul. Minorities, like Christians, flee from Iraq in large numbers. Which international action will you take for a larger international presence and better international control on the protection of minorities?
3. Are you willing to take the initiative to organize a round table about the protection of minorities in Iraq and the prevention of people fleeing? Are you willing to organize that together with other countries like Iraq?
4. Are you prepared to take the initiative in the UN to better protect religious minorities?

In the US, US House Rep Betty McCollumn's office has issued the following:

For Immediate Release: May 18, 2010
Maria Reppas (McCollum), 202.225.6631
Erin Bzymek (Pallone), 202.225.4671
Maureen Shanahan (Schiff), 202. 225.4176

Washington, DC - Representatives Betty McCollum (MN-04), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Adam Schiff (CA-29), and Tim Walz (MN-01) spearheaded a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging action to ensure the well-being of Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees in Jordan and Syria. The letter, which 16 other Members of Congress have signed, urgently requests U.S. assistance to help resettle Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees to Armenia. Additional resources from the United States will allow Armenia to reach more Iraqi Armenian Christians with essential resources as well as the opportunity to begin a new life in a safe and secure environment.
According to a recent press release from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iraqi refugees, both inside and outside of the country, are facing deteriorating conditions while international concern is slowly declining. The attacks on Iraqi Christian refugees, in particular, are a constant source of insecurity. UNHCR works to protect and relocate refuges, while helping them restart their lives in safer areas. Two years ago, UNHCR-Armenia helped several large groups of refugees resettle in Armenia.
The Armenian government already made a generous commitment to UNHCR. This includes the offer of all Iraqi Armenian refugees the opportunity for citizenship, participation in UNHCR's Iraqi resettlement program, and resources to help refugees rebuild their lives. Armenia has effectively delivered on these commitments over the past two years.
"It is in the interest of the U.S. that Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees be provided the opportunity to start a new life in safety and peace," said Representative McCollum, who traveled to Syria and met with Iraqi refugees in 2006. "The Armenian government's offer to receive refugees is very generous, and I believe the U.S. should provide the humanitarian support necessary to ensure their successful relocation and integration into Armenian society."
"Life for these refugees is difficult and the assistance provided by UNHCR provides relief that is critical to these families," said Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06). "With the commitment of the government of Armenia and the success that past funds have yielded in settling refugees in Armenia it is important for us to continue and increase the funds being allocated to Armenia. I urge our continued financial support and continued involvement in this pursuit."
"Conditions for Iraqi Armenian Christian refugees are becoming increasingly desperate at the same time that international support for the vulnerable population is dwindling," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). "We urge the Obama Administration to commit additional funds to UNHCR to sustain the momentum we have built to help these refugees resettle and rebuild their lives in Armenia, providing a cost-effective and regional solution for families who might otherwise seek resettlement within our borders."

Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing yesterday left five people injured, a Falluja roadside bombing yesterday claimed the life of 1 police officer and today there was an armed clash in Basra.

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. And they're also now focusing on Big Oil:

Senate Republicans are once again putting special interests ahead of the American people by protecting Big Oil polluters. Attempts to block the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act send a clear message: Senate Republicans are on the side of Big Oil companies.

As the oil spill continues, the Gulf Coast ’s fishermen, tourist industries, and small businesses are incurring millions of dollars worth of damage every day. Cleanup costs have already reached $450 million and will continue to climb. Unfortunately, the total economic impact will dwarf the initial cleanup cost – Louisiana ’s fishing industry could lose over $2 billion and the Florida tourism industry another $3 billion.

Despite the billion-dollar costs associated with the spill, Big Oil companies enjoy the protection of a $75 million dollar cap on liability. Unless the cap is increased, these companies, earning profits in excess of $24 billion in the first quarter of 2010, will only have to pay for a fraction of the overall economic impact of this preventable disaster. That is why Senate Democrats have brought forward legislation that would ensure Big Oil companies pay for their own mistakes by raising the liability cap for offshore oil well spills from $75 million to $10 billion.

Blindly trusting Big Oil to take full responsibility, Senate Republicans have blocked this legislation and left hard-working American families at risk of paying for the economic damage caused by oil spills. Have Republicans forgotten about Big Oil’s miserable track record in similar disasters?

We'll note this video on the above topic featuring Senator Robert Menendez.

The following community sites -- and -- updated this morning and last night:

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends