Tuesday, November 2, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq buries Sunday's dead today as Baghdad's slammed with multiple bombings, the political stalemate continues, Nouri al-Maliki makes like Randy Travis singing "It's Just A Matter Of Time" as he insists he will be crowned Iraq's next prime minister, Nouri cracks down on the press yet again, Congress has NO plans to outlaw Don't Ask, Don't Tell (read the actual bill the House passed) cand more.
Sammy Ketz (AFP) reports, "Fear could not stop hundreds of grieving Christians from packing a Baghdad church on Tuesday to mourn two priests [23-year-old Wassim Sabih and 32-year-old Saadallah Boutros] and dozens of others killed during a hostage drama by Al-Qaeda gunmen that ended in a bloodbath." Alsumaria TV reports today that the Iraq's Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Mikhael, fears Sunday's assault on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church will result in even more Christians leaving the country. The concern is expressed as CNN reports the death toll has now risen to 58. Jane Arraf and Sahar Issa (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) note the the total number of wounded stands at seventy-five and that "Church leaders blamed inadequate security by the Iraqi government for the deadliest attack in Baghdad since before March elections. [. . .] The Iraqi federal police and Army have been deployed outside churches during Sunday mass since a series of coordinated attacks on churches more than two years ago. On Sunday though, witnesses said there was no military or police vehicles deployed outside the church during the service." Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) speaks to survivors and reports survivor Bassam Sami says the assailants entered the church and began killing people: "They were well trained. They didn't say anything. It was like someone had cut out their tongues." Martin Chulov (Guardian) quotes another survivor, Ghassan Salah, declaring the assailants stated, "All of youare infidels. We are here to avenge the burning of the Qur'ans and the jailing of Muslim women in Egypt." Reality website summarizes a BBC News report: "Throughout Monday, mourners carried coffins from the church, loading them onto vehicles bound for the morgue ahead of funerals on Tuesday. Raed Hadi, who tied the coffin of his cousin to the roof of a car, said the raid had resulted in a 'massacre'. "We Christians don't have enough protection,' he said. 'What shall I do now? Leave and ask for asylum?'" Anthony Shadid (New York Times) notes, "Iraq was once a remarkable melange of beliefs, customs and traditions; the killings on Sunday drew another border in a nation defined more by war, occupation and deprivation. Identities have hardened; diversity has faded. Nearly all of Iraq's Jews left long ago, many harassed by a xenophobic government. Iraq's Christians have dwindled; once numbering anywhere between 800,000 and 1.4 million at least half are thought to have emigrtaed since 2003, their leaders say." Possibly due to the large number of reported dead and wounded, the US military is maintaining they had a tiny role in the whole thing. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quoted a US military spokesperson insisting, "The U.S. only provided UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) support with video imagery. As always we have advisers with the ISF (Iraqi security forces) command teams." However, Kelly McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reported Monday, "Witnesses said they saw American troops taking part in the raid. American officials would only confrim to us that they provided aerial surveillance. Under a security agreement between Iraq and the U.S., Americans can only provide such support if they're asked to do so by Iraqi commanders. But, that said, American Special Forces, who number about 5,000 here in Iraq, have more flexible rules of engagement."
BBC offers survivor Dr. Thanaa Nassir's account which includes:
The terrorists came into the church, closed the door and took us hostage. I was terrified. There were five or six of them - I do not know exactly because we were all on the floor and could not lift up our heads. They brought in a bomb. I was lying on the floor and every now and then there would be an explosion or gunshots over our heads, over the lights, over the fixtures, over the Crucifix, over the Madonna, everywhere. After that, they started to say "Allahu akbar" [Arabic for God is great], and they blew themselves up.
I heard shots and then explosions. I hurried back home as soon as possible. One of my daughters has a Christian friend whom she feared would be at the church. She rang her mobile and the friend answered in hysterics - she was actually being held hostage at the time. My daughter went to pieces at this point. There was not much we could do. We knew the army would be on the way after the explosions. We got in touch with the young lady's family to let them know. By midnight we heard that she had survived, but was in hospital with shrapnel injury. Her mother had also been held hostage and was also safe. But another of my daughters has just now returned home from a funeral. Her friend's father was not so lucky - he died in the attack. As a Muslim I am totally devastated and disgusted about what has happened. This is not what Islam is about. The church is one of the biggest in Baghdad. Christians come from all over the city to worship there. It must be devastating for the community.
The defense minister has called the operation to end the church hostage crisis in Baghdad "quick and successful." "Successful" evidently has a different meaning for him than it does for rest of humanity.
It may be that this was a botched operation. Or it may be that there was never going to be any other outcome to the siege other than extreme bloodshed. The militants who took over the church were clearly in a murderous state of mind from the start. All the indications are that they started killing before the police attacked. Had the latter not moved in when they did, the militants might have slaughtered all the hostages. The statement from Al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for the attack and threatening to exterminate all Iraqi Christians suggests that the church was the principal target, not the stock exchange, the first building they attacked.
In normally accepted parlance, 52 deaths -- 46 of them hostages, the rest police -- is anything but successful. It is a disaster. For the minister to use such language says he is living in a fantasy world.
As Baghdad was burying the dead, a new wave of bombings slammed the capital. BBC News notes, "The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad said the funerals for the victims of Sunday's attack had only just been carried out as the explosions went off." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes an unnamed official with the Ministry of the Interior stating, "We don't know what's happening right now. There are so many explosions and so many reports we're overwhelmed." Ali Almashakheel (ABC News) reports that "10 blasts ripped through several Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least 62 and injuring more than 180 people." Kate Sullivan (Sky News Online) also counts at least 62 dead but notes a police source is stating the death toll "could pass 100" and that over 300 were injured in the bombings. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports the death toll has climberd to 76. Rebecca Santana (AP) quotes 26-year-old Hussein al-Saiedi, "They murdered us today and on Sunday, they killed our brother, the Christians." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) counts "14 explosions. Ten were car bombs, three were roadside bombs, and another was what's called a sticky bomb: a device that's placed on an object, many times a vehicle." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "Tonight's bombs all detonated within 90 minutes of each other. Hospitals were appealing for blood donors, and the city's main A&E centres were reporting large numbers of casualties amid chaotic scenes." Jack Healy (New York Times) quotes eyewitness Mustafa Mohammed Saleh stating, "I tried to escape, but there was chaos. You see what happens: The most secure part of Baghdad, they hit. Tension is in the air." Maher Abbas tells Xinhua, "I was walking in Baghdad's western Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliyah when four mortar rounds landed on a market, killing and wounding many people. I heard the security forces forced the shops to close for safety, as more attacks may take place."
Much is at stake in the never-ending negotiations to form Iraq's government, but perhaps nothing more important than the future of its security forces. In the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion, these have become more effective and professional and appear capable of taming what remains of the insurgency. But what they seem to possess in capacity they lack in cohesion. A symptom of Iraq's fractured polity and deep ethno-sectarian divides, the army and police remain overly fragmented, their loyalties uncertain, their capacity to withstand a prolonged and more intensive power struggle at the top unclear. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken worrying steps to assert authority over the security apparatus, notably by creating new bodies accountable to none but himself. A vital task confronting the nation's political leaders is to reach agreement on an accountable, non-political security apparatus subject to effective oversight. A priority for the new cabinet and parliament will be to implement the decision. And a core responsibility facing the international community is to use all its tools to encourage this to happen. Iraq's security forces are the outcome of a seven-year, U.S.-led effort, which began after it comprehensively uprooted and dismantled remnants of the previous regime. This start-from-scratch approach entailed heavy costs. It left a dangerous security vacuum, produced a large constituency of demoralised, unemployed former soldiers, and fuelled the insurgency. The corollary -- a hurried attempt to rebuild forces through rapid recruitment, often without sufficient regard to background or qualifications -- brought its own share of problems. Iraq's increasingly fractured, ethno-sectarian post-2003 politics likewise coloured recruitment and promotions. Facing a spiralling insurgency, the U.S. felt it had no choice but to emphasise speed above much else; today, some one in seven Iraqi adult males is under arms. And so, even as they have gained strength in numbers and materiel, the army, police and other security agencies remain burdened by this legacy of expediency.
There is no legitimate government in Iraq, not even a puppet government with the appearance of legitimacy. The US government endusred that would be the case when they rejected calls for a caretaker government to be put in place while the election results were sorted out. Instead, they insisted that keeping Nouri al-Maliki on as prime minister -- while he launched attacks on opponents using his post as prime minister -- was 'fair' and 'reasonable.' Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) quote Iraqi Hamid Ahmed al-Azawi stating, "There is no government. If the Americans leave tomorrow, we will assemble a team of 500 armed men to topple the Green Zone. How much longer are the Americans going to protect them?"
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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 -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and twenty-six days and still counting.
John Drake (A Take On Iraq) notes it is now 34 weeks since elections were held. Hoshyar Zebari is the country's Foreign Minister and Rudaw interviews him. Excerpt:
RUDAW:The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) seems to prefer Maliki's State of Law and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is trying to make sure that Iraqiya is included in the new government. Can you tell us where does the Kurdish position exactly stand now?
Zebari: There are now two ways to form a government. The Parliament way , after the [Iraqi] Federal Court issued a verdict for the parliament to convene in two weeks time. This way is going towards imposing a solution based on a majority voting. Even a government is not created; the speaker of parliament can at least be elected. The president can also be elected to appoint a candidate to form a government. The other way is an initiative made by His Excellency President of the Kurdistan Region [Massoud Barzani] calling on all wining lists and coalitions to meet altogether. Obviously, they have not met thus far and the meetings have all been bilateral 8 months after the elections. A possible government has to be nationally inclusive. Everybody should be part of the government. The initiative has two phases. The first phase is about allowing wise leaders of each coalition to meet with others to find common grounds. Clearly, each party or coalition has its own demands. They should be matched in order to come up with a common thing. Whatever is subject to disputes shall be put aside. The issue of posts and this sort of things will be left for the next phase. There should be a leading meeting where all the leaders sit together and decide about a government. Both of these ways have started and kept going along each other. If these two ways match, they would be helpful to each other. It means that they are not two different ways.
Alsumaria TV reports today that Al Fadhila Party has announced it will back Nouri. Of course, with Al Fahila Party there is generally the announcement followed by an announcement that the previous announcement should be discarded. (As was most recently demonstrated in September when they announced they had left the National Coalition only to turn around and issue a statement denying they had left the National Coalition.) Equally true is that the group holds 6 seats in Parliament -- should it stay with Nouri, it gets him closer, it does not get him to 163. The Dinar Trade reports that Nouri has declared it a foregone conclusion that he will be prime minister.
On Monday, the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission accused al-Baghdadiya television of having a link to the church kidnappers and ordered the station to close, state television reported. Iraqi security forces surrounded the bureau of al-Baghdadiya TV in Baghdad. Two of the station's employees were detained, according to a statement posted on the al-Baghdadiya TV website. It said the two employees had received a call from the church kidnappers demanding the release of female prisoners in Egypt in return for the hostages' freedom. The demand was later broadcast on al-Baghdadiya TV. The station, which which is an Iraqi-owned, Egypt-based network, subsequently reported that its employees had been released. Daily News World adds:
Al-Baghdadia, the TV station in Baghdad that said it was contacted by gunmen during Sunday's church hostage drama, has been taken off air. It stopped transmitting shortly after its building was taken over, reportedly by a large number of government troops. The station says its director and another employee have been charged with terrorism-related offences. [. . .] Al-Baghdadia – an independent station based in Egypt – says its public hotline number was phoned by the gunmen who requested it broadcast the news that they wanted to negotiate. As the station was being taken over, it broadcast pictures of security forces surrounding the building, before the screen went blank. Transmission then resumed from al-Baghdadia's Cairo studio. The station says its office in Basra has also been taken over by security forces. It has called a sit-in at the building and appealed to local and foreign media to attend in soldidarity.
Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday's decision by the Iraqi authorities to close the Baghdad, Kerbala and Basra bureaux of Cairo-based satellite TV station Al-Baghdadia in connection with its coverage of the previous day's hostage-taking in a Baghdad church, which ended in a bloodbath.
Two of the station's employees, producer Haidar Salam and video editor Mohammed Al-Johair, were arrested under article 1/2/4 of the anti-terrorism law. Al-Johair was released today, after being held overnight, but Salam is still being held in an unknown location, Reporters Without Borders has learned from Al-Baghdadia representatives in Egypt.
On Monday, security forces sealed the station's Baghdad and Basra offices. No one was allowed to enter the buildings, according to Al-Baghdadia bureau chief in Cairo, Abdelhamid al-Saih. The Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a media regulatory body, issued a statement on its website announcing the decision to shut Al-Baghdadia's offices.
Al-Saih told CPJ that the shutdown was illegal since there was no judicial order, just an order from the CMC. He said he believed the authorities were using the broadcast as a smokescreen for the real reason why they wanted to shut down Al-Baghdadia. "We have received complaints before from the CMC regarding a TV program called 'Al-Baghdadia wa al-nas' (Al-Bagdadia and the People) in which we interview Iraqi citizens on-air and give them the opportunity to voice their criticism of the government and officials," he said. Ziad al-Ajili, director of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a local press freedom organization, told CPJ that he also thought there were other reasons behind the closure, including the same critical program.
"We are concerned by the closure of Al-Baghdadia TV and demand that the CMC explain under what authority it has stormed the station's offices and censored it," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on the authorities to allow the station to resume its operations immediately."
The CMC said in its statement that the attackers had "contacted the station and selected it to be the exclusive platform for their inhumane practices with the purpose of disrupting Iraq's national unity and to inflame religious discord." The statement said the station's broadcast of demands "amounts to incitement to violence" and that Al-Baghdadia's coverage was not objective, creating a threat to the military operation by providing attackers with information about ongoing operations to rescue the hostages.
In February, CPJ described the CMC's regulations as falling "well short of international standards for freedom of expression." CPJ also noted the inadequacy of the regulations' vague definition of incitement to violence, stating that such broad and unspecified standards are used by authoritarian governments to silence critical coverage.
Turning to the United States, sometimes a headline does say it all: "Obama Wins, DADT Back In Place Permanently." Carlos Santoscoy's article (for On Top Magazine) covers the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handing "the Obama administration on Monday . . . a permanent hold on a trial judge's order to stop enforcing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the 1993 law that bans gay and bisexual troops from serving openly" and that "Monday's order means that the law that has ended the military careers of more than 13,000 gay, lesbian or bisexual service members will remain in effect for the months -- possibly years -- it could take to decide an appeal." Bob Egelko (San Francisco Chronicle) explains, "The 2-1 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco extends a temporary stay that the court granted Oct. 20 after a federal judge declare the law unconstitutional." BMAZ (Empty Wheel, Firedoglake) notes the recent Barack And Five Bloggers On A Match meet up and how Barack refused to refer to DADT as unconstitutional or offer anything meaningful on the topic but continued to whine that he must have 60 votes in the Senate and tells the bloggers to chat with "all those Log Cabin Republicans:"
Asked to describe his plan to pass critical legislation he has long promised one of his core constituencies, this is the pathetic drivel Barack Obama comes up with? The President of the United States and leader of the entire Democratic Party pleads powerlessness to accomplish the goal, but demands the Log Cabin Republicans go forth and deliver him intransigent GOP Senators on a golden platter? Seriously, that is his plan? Perhaps Mr. Obama has mistaken the LCRs for the NRA or something, but if there is any entity with less sway over the entrenched and gilded GOP Senate leadership than Obama, it is the Log Cabin Republicans. Absurd and lame is too kind of a description for such tripe. I honestly don't know what is worse, that this is Obama;s response or that he has the politically incompetence to state it on the record.
Barack Obama campaigned for the US presidency promising to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. People familiar with the long struggle are often confused because when Ellen Tauscher was in Congress, she put forward a bill three times that would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Ellen Tauscher left Congress in 2009 and became the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.
[. . .]
Due to the fact that Tauscher worked hard on the issue, a lot of people assumed that it was still the same bill. And those who didn't? We're talking about a 1028 page bill. There ought to be a law against that. Page 184 is where Section 536 ("Department Of Defense Policy Concerning Homosexuality In The Armed Forces") begins.
If you read over it (PDF format warning, click here), you'll learn some reality.
What the Congress put forward was not the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and outlawing discrimination. All they'd do is overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
But that's what we all want, right?
If you're historically ignorant, you probably think so. If you know the history of how Don't Ask, Don't Tell comes about, you know the courts were advancing LGBT rights -- including for service members -- when the military imposed their ban on gay service members. This was the ban that Bill Clinton wanted to overturn but, as president, he faced open rebellion (it wasn't at all hidden) from the likes of War Criminal Colin Powell and others. So Don't Ask, Don't Tell was the compromise pushed through. It was supposed to prevent the military from asking (witch hunts) and supposed to mean that if service members stayed in the closet, they could continue serving.
Judge Viriginia Phillips ruled on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the White House has appealed her decision. She found that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was unconstitutional. She then went further and issued an injunction barring all discharges under DADT while her ruling was on appeal. The White House also appealed that and won. They can continue to discharge under DADT while they await their chance to appeal Phillips' verdict.
[. . .]
Phillips did what Barack promised on the campaign trail. But Barack and the Congress are not trying to live up to that. What Phillips did was to repeal DADT and to rule it unconstitutional. There were a number of lies about why Barack 'had to' appeal but the one the administration fell back on whispering was that if they didn't appeal, it was a verdict. From a lower court! And they needed to follow their plan to get rid of it because otherwise a future president could again impose it!
That really didn't make sense because Judge Phillips' ruling didn't prevent Congress from passing the bill currently before them.
So it never made sense and that was because it was a lie.
The White House isn't happy with Judge Phillips for doing what Barack promised because that's not what was ever going to be delivered.
Instead, DADT gets repealed and then? Discrimination can continue or not. Congress isn't weighing in on that. With Ellen's bill -- all three times it was introduced -- Congress was weighing in and declaring the discrimination illegal. Not now.
The current bill repeals DADT but allows the Pentagon to decide what should happen.
Should the bill pass in the next two years, the Pentagon may want to go along with Barack (or may not) and might institute a policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
In other words, it could happen. It's conceivable.
But by watering down Ellen's bill, by refusing to call the discrimination out, what the Congress and Barack are doing is allowing DADT to return in the future.
By not passing a law declaring the discrimination illegal, there's nothing to prevent DADT being reinstated under the next president.
At some point in the near future, Nancy Pelosi and others need to explain how declaring Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be discrimination was removed from this bill that has been introduced repeatedly. After they explain how, they need to explain why.