Monday, June 14, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq's MPs take oaths and do roll call (and little else), Nouri's vanity continues to be a sticky point in his most recent alliance, the weekend sees an assault on a Baghdad bank robbery, the US State Dept issues a report on human trafficking, and more.
Today Iraq's semi-newly elected Parliament convened. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports, "Two men, both of them seated in the parliament's first row, loomed over the session: Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister whose coalition won a narrow plurality in the new assembly. Neither man has budged in insisting that he should be the one to head the next government." March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the two still lack four seats necessary (or so it is thought) to form the government. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "More than three months after the election and a manual recount of more than 2 million ballots, there is still no agreement between political leaders as to who actually won. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular coalition maintains that the two-seat lead he won in the election entitles him to head a government while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new Shiite alliance formed after the poll argues that its greater number of seats gives it that right."
Nayla Razzouk and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports that the "majority of lawmakers [. . .] took the oath in the two official lanagues, Arabic and Kurdish, before the elder lawmaker, Fuad Massum, closed the session. Iraq's constitution stipulates that the house elect a speaker, two deputy speakers and a new president, who asks the leader of the largest bloc to name a new prime minister." Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) adds the MPs were "dressed in Western suits, tribal robes and clerics' turbans". Anne Barker (Australia's ABC News) notes, "After the national anthem, a recitation from the Koran and the oath of allegiance, the acting speaker declared the session still open but suspended indefinitely." Reuters explains that Fouad Masoum is a Kurd and "one of the chamber's oldest members and picked to open the session." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) quotes Massoum stating, ""The voters who risked their lives and the lives of their families to cast their votes are looking forward to us speeding up the process of government formation and then being completely dedicated to serving the public and providing their security and stability ...needs." Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) adds, "Legislator Fouad Masum opened the session at about 11:15 a.m. ( 0815 GMT) [. . .] About 20 minutes later, Masum adjourned the session until further notice to give the political blocs more time to agree on a new speaker and his two deputies." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) observes, "Given the deadlock, the brevity of the session was expected. It was recessed until an unspecified date, possibly when a broader agreement on a coalition is reached. The most optimistic prediction for a deal was a week; the more pessimistic said months." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) adds, "The deeper issues of the nation were apparent in the short session. The followers of fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who strongly opposes the U.S. military role in Iraq, threatened to walk out in the days before Monday's session to protest the presence of U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill." Fadel goes on to quote Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, and note that he is "a Kurdish member of the new parliament." Apparently with him, Nouri and assorted others present today, the issue of the Constitution barring members of Parliament from holding "an executive post in the government" has been ignored. Shadid noted it might be months, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes Sadr bloc member Baha al-Araji stating, "We need time to sort it out. We have two We need time to sort it out," says Baha al-Araji, a senior member of the Sadr bloc. "We have two problems – one inside the new bloc and the other with Iraqiya and the Kurds -- I think we need at least two months to settle that." Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc makes up the most seats in the Iraqi National Alliance followed by Ammar al-Hakim's bloc. Sami Moubayed (Gulf News) explains al-Hakim also has trust issues when it comes to Nouri and that he "was visibly angry with Al Maliki's insistence that no one but he was entitled to the Iraqi premiership" and quotes him stating, "I speak to the politicians and tell them: Come down from your ivory tower and [do away] with your personal ambitions!" Saturday, Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) reported that the Council of Ministers' office was the location of a meeting between Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki whose political slates came in first and second respectively in the March elections. No major issues are thought to have been resolved in the meeting. The National Newspaper explains, "Saturday's much-anticipated meeting between the head of the Iraqiya bloc, Iyad Allawi, and the incumbent prime minister Nuri al Maliki, who leads the State of Law faction, has yielded no tangible outcome." Meanwhile Spencer Swartz (Wall St. Journal) explains that Barham Salih, Kurdish Prime Minister, is holding out for "written guarantees from Iraq's main political leaders that key Kurdish issues, such as the region's right to oversee its oil resources, will be protected before it backs a new Iraqi government". Damiem McElroy (Telegraph of London) quotes Salih stating, "It cannot be the Kurds and Shia going it alone and a protracted struggle would not be good for Iraq. The country's needs an inclusive and competent that address the stagnation of the economy, the mismanagement of the oil revenues and failure to restore electricity supplies and other services to the people." Meanwhile the always oblivious (and stoned?) US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill held a press conference in Baghdad. Alsumaria TV gets praise for enduring the yawnfest and reporting that (no surprise), "US ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said he is optimistic over the dialogue between the Iraqi political parties which aim at forming a new government."
Today on Morning Edition (NPR), Steve Inskeep noted that over 65% of the MPs "are newcomers" as he introduced Lourdes Garcia-Navarro's latest report from Iraq. In this one, she's interviewing former MP's who paint a picture of immense corruption. Mithal al-Alousi states that neighboring countries have bought off MPs with bribes. Former MP Wathab Shaker adds that the corruption was widespread, "Unfortunately, a big number of them built houses outside Iraq. Politicians would use their influence to push certain deals through. The proof is that there has been so much money spent on reconstruction in Iraq, but where are the buildings, the hospitals, the schools, the electricity, the water? We could be the richest country in the world, but our people are digging through the trash." Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) notes, "Only 64 of the 325 representatives served in the previous parliament."
From law makers to law breaking, Oliver August (Times of London) reports:
An investigation by The Times in five Iraqi provinces has found that hazardous material from US bases is being dumped locally rather than sent back to America, in clear breach of Pentagon rules.
North and west of Baghdad, engine oil is leaking from 55-gallon drums into dusty ground, open acid canisters sit within easy reach of children, and discarded batteries lie close to irrigated farmland. A 2009 Pentagon document shown to The Times by a private contractor working with US soldiers mentions "an estimated 11 million pounds [5,000 tonnes] of hazardous waste" produced by American troops.
Sean Alfano (New York Daily News) and UPI picked up on August's report. August files an update noting that the paper's report (his report, but he credits the paper) has led to the US military announcing there will be an investigation into how hazardous material was disposed with prosecution looming for anyone found guilty: "Three American generals faced a barrage of questions on environmental damage at a press conference called to explain the closure of US bases during the troop withdrawal that started last January and will end in December 2011."
A bank was attacked Sunday. Yesterday Martin Chulov (Guardian) reported, "Militants wearing Iraqi military uniforms stormed Baghdad's Central Bank today after using a suicide bomber and at least four other bombs to blast their way into one of the city's most heavily-fortified buildings." Counting 15 dead and "dozens wounded," Suadad al-Salhy and Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) explained, "The attack occurred as bank employees were leaving work, sending a thick plume of smoke over Baghdad after the bank's generator was set ablaze." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) provided more specifics of the scene of the attack, "The scene itself was reminiscent of the strife that the country experienced during the worst sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, when Iraq teetered on the edge of anarachy. In the pandemonium, bystanders, employees and shoppers ran for cover. Witnesses said many were killed or wounded in the crossfire between attackers and the police. For hours, ambulances ferried the wounded from the neighborhood." Liz Sly and Nadeem Hamid (Los Angeles Times) counted 24 dead and add, "According to Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, spokesman for security forces in Baghdad, no apparent attempt was made to steal money, but several floors of the building were set ablaze after the gunmen entered." Before Sly and Hamid filed, Jinan Hussein and Leila Fadel (Washington Post) were already noting, "Despite his assertion, it was unclear whether al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible or whether the robbery was simply a criminal attack. The Central Bank houses sensitive documents." Today Kim Gamel (AP) notes the increased death toll from Sunday's Baghdad bank attack (bombs and gunfire): at least 26 dead.
Turning to violence reported today. Daren Butler and Mark Heinrich (Reuters) note overnight clashes on or near the border Iraq shares with Turkey resulted in the death of 1 Turkish soldier with an additional four injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul market bombing claimed 1 life and left twenty-seven injured (the bomb was in a wheel barrow). AFP reports that a Baghdad bombing claimed the life of 1 police colonel and 1 police officer with three more injured and a Diyala Province bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sawha and the man's wife. Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq." Nouri has pulled the Diyala Province Sahwa's right to carry firearms.
"War forced them to leave their country, now a number of Iraqi refugees in Europe are being forced to return," declared Mike Hanna last week on Inside Story (Al Jazeera). He was noting the forced deportations from England, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Mike Hanna: The Iraqi diaspora is one of the largest in modern times. The UN has described it as a humanitarian crisis. To date, more than 4.5 million Iraqis have been uprooted. While 2.5 million of them are internally displaced, over 2 million found refuge abroad. Out of that, only some hundred-thousand submitted asylum claims within the EU and most of them have been unsuccessful. Germany has close to 40,000 Iraqi refugees. Sweden is home to another 40,000 according to the government. 460 Iraqis have been deported in the last two years while over 4,000 have returned voluntarily after being denied asylum. The Netherlands has more than 15,000 Iraqi refugees. But the government has tightened its policy after public opinion became increasingly opposed to integration.
The shameful forced deportations take place as the US State Dept issues a new report, "Trafficking in Persons Report 2010." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explains the report:
I am pleased to celebrate and reflect upon the last decade of progress identifying and fighting the phenomenon of modern slavery. Ten years ago, the United Nations negotiated the international standards against trafficking in persons and the United States enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Since then, the international community has witnessed tangible progress in the effort to end the scourge of trafficking in persons. More victims have been protected, more cases have been successfully prosecuted, and more instances of this human rights abuse have been prevented.
Countries that once denied the existence of human trafficking now work to identify victims and help them overcome the trauma of modern slavery, as well as hold responsible those who enslave others. Although progress has undoubtedly been made against this global phenomenon, there is more work to do. This annual assessment is an opportunity to diagnose the world's efforts to implement the "3P" paradigm of prevention, protection, and prosecution. Based on lessons learned, we must work together with civil society, the corporate sector, and across governments through the "fourth P" -- partnership -- toward a world in which every man, woman, and child is safe from the hands of traffickers and can realize their God-given potential.
The 10th annual Trafficking in Persons Report outlines the continuing challenges across the globe, including in the United States. The Report, for the first time, includes a ranking of the United States based on the same standards to which we hold other countries. The United States takes its first-ever ranking not as a reprieve but as a responsibility to strengthen global efforts against modern slavery, including those within America. This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it.
The section of the report on Iraq includes:
Some Iraqi boys from poor families are subjected to forced street begging and other nonconsensual labor exploitation and forced commercial sexual exploitation. Some women from Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines who migrated to the area under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) experienced conditions of involuntary domestic servitude after being recruited with offers of different jobs. An Iraqi official revealed networks of women have been involved in the trafficking and sale of male and female children for the purposes of forced prostitution. There were reports some Iraqi boys were trafficked internally for the purpose of organ donation; Baghdad hospitals did not question the "voluntary" donation because often the father of the boy was present. There have been isolated cases of Iraqi border forces intercepting older men and young girls attempting to travel together out of Iraq using fake documents; NGOs contend these are cases of trafficking. Anecdotal evidence and media reports suggested some trafficking victims were taken from orphanages and other charitable institutions by employees of these organizations.
The Government of Iraq does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so in spite of resource and capability constraints. The Iraqi government continued to move its draft anti-trafficking bill through its legislative structures. Because the determination that Iraq is making significant efforts is based on indications of a commitment to take additional future steps over the next year, particularly the passage of the anti-trafficking law, Iraq is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show progress over the last year in punishing trafficking offenses using existing laws, identifying and protecting victims of trafficking, or preventing trafficking from occurring.
The report finds that the Iraqi government has made little-to-no progress on enforcing anti-trafficking. While not listing punishments for the crime, the Constitution makes clear that human trafficking is not allowed. A bill is winding its way through the process. The report finds that the victims of human trafficking are not being provided with needed services and that males and females forced into sexual slavery will most likely themselves be punished in courts due to the fact that "coercion is not recognized in Iraqi courts as a legal defense for engaging in an unlawful act". In addition, when the Iraqi government has known of forced labor, they've failed to assist the victims and have instead deported them back to their countries of origin such as with 14 Ugandan women.
On the subject of the US State Dept, Richard Lardner (AP) reports that the Department wants its own military force to protect its embassy staff after the US military drawsdown or departs or 'departs'. Which translates as? Their wish list, Lardner reports, includes 24 Black Hawk helicpoters as well as "50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers and high-tech surveillance systems".
Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Philip Shenon (Daily Beast) reported Friday that the US government is attempting to track down WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. Mike Gogulski has started a website entitled Help Bradley Manning. Dave Lindorff (This Can't Be Happening) notes the US government's dragnet for Julian Assange:
How is it (mainstream journalists ought to be asking but aren't), that the Pentagon can unleash its vast intelligence resources to hunt down the Australian-born Assange, but cannot bring itself to devote those same resources and commitment to hunting down Osama Bin Laden, the man they claim is behind not only the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon itself, but also the resistance to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I'm not sure which is the bigger scandal here: the Pentagon's grotesque misallocation of resources, or the media's unwillingness to point it out.
There is no indication or claim by the government that Wikileaks has paid anyone anything to reveal US secrets -- in fact the government claims it isn't even interested in arresting Asange, just in "trying to convince him" not to release those cables. (Yeah, sure. I believe that like I believe the government wants fair hearings at its secret military tribunals in Guantanamo.) The secrets he has disclosed have been volunteered to Wikileaks by government and military whistleblowers, one of whom, Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning, is now under arrest in Kuwait, a US client state where there are no protections against torture. Note that even what Manning did should not be considered a crime in any just, open society. He didn't endanger US security as claimed; rather, he revealed a possible crime -- the killing of civilians by US forces -- that the government itself was covering up and refusing to investigate. (He says he tried to pursue justice within the military chain of command and was ignored, which is why he turned to Wikileaks.) The man is not criminal or traitor. He's a hero.
Friday a bombing attack on US service members resulted in the deaths of 2 US soldiers. Today US Senator Blanche Lincoln's office issued the following:
U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln today released the following statement upon learning of the passing of Specialist William C. Yauch, 23, of Batesville. Specialist Yauch died in Jalula, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
According to initial reports, Specialist Yauch died of injuries sustained when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near his patrol. He is survived by his wife of Batesville, his mother of Cave City, and his father of Saint Charles, Missouri.
"My heart goes out to the family of Specialist Yauch who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation," Lincoln said. "Along with all Arkansans, I am grateful for his service and for the service and sacrifice of all of our military service members and their families. I am committed to ensuring they have the full support that they need and deserve. Our grateful nation will not forget them when their military service is complete.
"More than 11,000 Arkansans on active duty and more than 10,000 Arkansas reservists have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. These men and women have shown tremendous courage and perseverance through the most difficult of times. As neighbors, as Arkansans, and as Americans, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to honor their service and to provide for them and their families, not only when they are in harm's way but also when they return home. It is the least we can do for those whom we owe so much."
Specialist Yauch was assigned to B Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
The other soldier killed in the attack was Sgt Israel Obryan of Newsbern, Tennessee who was twenty-four years old and on his second tour of Iraq. A friend with the DSCC gave me the heads up to Senator Lincoln's statement above. Tennessee has two Republican senators (Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander) but, for the record, their websites were checked for statements on Obryan. There were none. Tennessee' governor is a Democrat, Phil Bredesen, and his website was also checked (and his office was checked with). There was no statement at present on Obryan. If any of the three Tenn. officials issues a statement, we'll note it.
Staying with service members, Hal Bernton (Seattle Times)reports, "Seattle researchers, with the aid of sophisticated scanning technology, have found long-term changes in brain functions of Iraq veterans exposed to blast shock waves." Iraq War veteran and police officer Timothy E. Carson faces charges in the US for a January 6th bank robbery attempt. Sarah Lemagie (Minneapolis Star Tribune) reports his attorney, Andrea George, told the court Friday that Carson "was under severe stress from financial problems, a deceptive wife, a sick child and nightmares about his military service in Iraq". Hart Van Denburg (Minneapolis City Pages) adds he "was evidently hoping for a suicide-by-cop confrontation the day he robbed a bank". AP notes that Carson entered a plea of guilty back in March and that current court proceedings are over the sentencing with the prosecution wanting at least nine years prison time and George arguing for less prison time for her client (seven years) and for psychological treatment.
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em.
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.
Moving over to a UK service member, Danny Fitzsimons continues to await trial in Iraq. He served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as Iraq. He returned to Iraq last fall as a British contractor, or mercenary, accused of being the shooter in a Sunday, August 9th Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. His family has explained that he suffers from PTSD and have asked that the trial be moved to England. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons (his father and step-mother) spoke to the BBC (link has video):
Liz Fitzsimons: You see, when he came out of the army because the army had always been his life, it was then at a real crossroads in his life and where some people might be able to cope, unfortunately, Daniel didn't cope well because he did enjoy army life. It was all he ever wanted, he loved it. And you come out and you live Middleton, which is where he ended up, and he couldn't find a path that suited him, he couldn't find a job although he tried very hard. And a testament to Daniel is that he joined a gym and kept himself -- Daniel likes routine. Daniel goes to the gym every day almost, I would suggest, every day, goes jogging he's a very clean young man. You know, he's not sort of gone wayward and just gone to the dogs kind of thing. And he met a girl, like you want your children to do, but then he wanted the normal life and he wanted the money that would go with a normal life. How does he do that when he can't find a job? And unfortunately becoming a security --
Eric Fitzsimons: He went back into doing security.
Liz Fitzimons: -- person in Iraq. [. . .] Oh, awful. Awful. The situation in Iraq isn't good, is it? We all know it's not good. But he would be out in convoys I believe their main job is to escort to --
Eric Fitzsimons: Oil [workers? Second word isn't clear.]
Liz Fitzsimons : Yes but they do escort people to jobs. And they do ride shotgun basically. They ride around --
Eric Fitzsimons: He's told us quite a lot of --
Liz Fitzsimons: Yeah.
Eric Fitsimons: -- tales
Liz Fitzsimons: He saw some awful things. The person in the cab next to him was blown up.
Eric Fitzsimons: Yeah.
Liz Fitzsimons: Next to him. At the same he had a bullet in his foot.
Eric Fitzsimons: Bullet in his foot, yeah, he's seen all sorts of IEDs you know, sorts of explosions at the side of the road. Loads and loads of them. And seen lots and lots of his friends killed.
In an article published today by Fleetwood Weekly News, Liz Fitzsimons states, "It's a nightmare. By August it will be virtually a year since the incident happened. We are quite worried about Danny now. It's a struggle for him. We already know that he's suffering from PTSD. He's on medication but it must be very difficult for him. The case has been adjourned so many times now but we hope on August 4 they'll actually start the trial. Even when it starts, it'll still be a long time..." He was supposed to go on trial last January. It was pushed back. Today it was pushed back again. BBC News reports the trial is now set for August 4th. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) adds that this is true barring any "further medical reports which contradict the assessment" that Danny's fit to stand trial.
Winding down, Ann notes that singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon is Terry Gross' guest on today's Fresh Air. Audio is up at the program's website. Wally asked me to note this press release Madre sent to him:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Haitian Women's Rights Activist Leaves Camp for Displaced People to Testify before the UN Human Rights Council
**Additional information will be presented at a press meeting on Tuesday, June 8 at 9:45 am, in the Library of Press Room 2, Palais des Nations (Main UN Building in Geneva, Avenue de la Paix)**
June 7, 2010- Geneva, Switzerland -Today, as the United Nations Human Rights Council gathers in Geneva, its representatives will hear testimony from Malya Villard-Appolon, a Haitian women's rights activist and MADRE partner who has lived in the camps for displaced people since the earthquake destroyed her home in January. Ms. Appolon, a leader of KOFAVIV, a Haitian grassroots women's organization, has witnessed the skyrocketing incidence of rape in the camps and the lack of a coordinated or effective response to these persistent threats.
the new york times
the washington post
the telegraph of london
the minneapolis star tribune
the minneapolis city pages
hart van denburg
fleetwood weekly news
the seattle times