Friday, December 31, 2010

Continued attacks on Iraqi Christians, continued birth defects in Falluja

Rawya Rageh: Houses that should have been adorned with Christmas decorations, pockmarked by violence instead. Iraqi Christians once again under attack.

Falah: If they want us to leave, we will leave. If they want us to sleep on the street, we will sleep on the street If they want us to join them and be terrorists, we will do.

Rawya Rageh: The most recent round of violence began in October when gunmen stormed this Cathedral in Baghdad, a siege that ultimately left more than 40 worshipers dead. Signs of that attack still scar the site, with no sign of letting up. Just last week, al Qaeda warned of more attacks during the holidays resulting in what the already dwindling community described as their grimmest Christmas ever. This is what Christmas Eve mass looked like at one of Baghdad's largest Churches, celebrations canceled, congregations decimated. The UN says thousands have fled to northern cities and neighboring countries. The government had promised increased security and both the Prime Minister and Church leaders have been urging Christians not to flee. But some say, it's not that simple.

Father Saad Sirop Hanna of St. Joseph's Church: Reality imposes itself on people's choices and lives. What the Church had announced is that we want our community to remain intact in this country but the reality is much more powerful. Change is minimal and slow.

Rawya Rageh: The Christian community in Iraq is now facing a difficult choice.

The above is from Rawya Rageh's video report for Al Jazeera. Yesterday Christians in Baghdad were again targeting with multiple bombings. Al Jazeera notes that some were homemade bombings, some were grenades and that 2 people died with eighteen more injured. Jacque Clement (AFP) quotes Father Yousef Thomas Mirkis ("head of the Dominican order in Iraq") stating, "It's a mess. It shows the incapability of the government to restore security. It is very difficult to understand why people attack the Christians, because we do not have any political power and we are not a threat." Bagdhad's Chalden Catholic Church's Father Saad Sirop Hanna declares that "the purpose of these attacks is to threaten the Christians and force them to flee from Iraq."

CNN quotes Kiyour Kizarab whose Baghdad home was targeted in the bombings, "I am 60 years old and I gave a lot to this country, but this tough situation is like a message asking me to leave my country. If these attacks will continue, and the government can't stop them, then I don't think we will have a future here." AP reports the two killed were 78-year-old Janet Mekha and 76-year-old Fawzi Rahim who were killed when they responded to their ringing doorbell by opening the door just as the bomb went off. Something to remember about yesterday's attacks is the climate Iraqi Christians in Baghdad (and Mosul) were already living in. Many families had stopped sending their children to school in the weeks following the October 31st attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church, thinking that their homes could provide the safety the government could not. Now their homes themselves have become targets.

Today the US State Dept issued the following statement from Acting Dept Spokesperson Mark C. Toner: "We condemn the violence against Christians carried out overnight by terrorists in Iraq. President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki, and virtually every political bloc and major religious leader in Iraq have denounced attacks on Christians and stressed the centrality of Christians in the fabric of Iraqi society. We commend the Government of Iraq for increasing its security measures to protect Christian communities since the October 31 suicide bombing attack at Our Lady of Salvation Church. We call on the Government of Iraq to redouble its efforts to protect Christians and apprehend the terrorists who are behind these acts."

Global Blogger offers "Iraq: 2010 in Review" (Global Post) which includes:

At present, it is uncertain whether that withdrawal date will actually be honored. Although the war has dialed down, civil unrest and insurgency persist. Civilians and soldiers, both American and Iraqi, are still dying every day. This enduring violence has raised important question about whether U.S. deployment could possibly continue into 2012 and beyond. At every level of the diplomatic and military hierarchy, officials from both countries fear that Iraq is not ready to secure its borders or provide adequate security against terrorist attacks or religious warfare.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – who secured another term in office after a grueling political bout in the wake of the March elections – has quietly acknowledged that his government may need a new agreement with the United States. Publicly, he has ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, stating that Iraqi security forces will be up to the task of confronting any remaining threats to national sovereignty and domestic unity. As al-Maliki told the Wall Street Journal, “The last American soldier will leave Iraq. This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” Many observers believe that al-Maliki must ultimately oppose an extension because of his political alliance with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his obligations to Tehran.

True or false, there's a feeling in DC that some of Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters can be peeled away with 'incentives' (money) provided Nouri doesn't launch another attack on them. al-Sadr's influence was seen as waning as 2007 ended and 2008 began but then Nouri attacked Basra and then Sadr section of Baghdad elevating Moqtada al-Sadr to new found heights where he appeared a leader as he issued one statement after another from outside Iraq. As always, from outside Iraq. There are no facts that demonstrated al-Sadr's supporters can be peeled away, that is a judgment call that's been made by the US government. That's DC gossip, take it for what it's worth or not.

Meanwhile Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports:

A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.
The research, which will be published next week, confirms earlier estimates revealed by the Guardian of a major, unexplained rise in cancers and chronic neural-tube, cardiac and skeletal defects in newborns. The authors found that malformations are close to 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to unprecedented levels in the first half of this year – a period that had not been surveyed in earlier reports.
The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. They follow two alarming earlier studies, one of which found a distortion in the sex ratio of newborns since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – a 15% drop in births of boys.

Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) adds
, "The research and a forthcoming report by the World Health Organisation on the same issue will renew international attention on the siege of Fallujah, condemned by anti-war activists and human rights campaigners as an excessive response to insurgent activity. Thousands of alleged insurgents and civilians are said to have been killed. White phosphorous and depleted uranium shells are known to have been used in large numbers. Depleted uranium in particular has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects."

The following community sites have updated since yesterday's snapshot:

In addition, Kat did her last album review of 2010 with "Kat's Korner: Mystic Melanie" today. She'll be doing a music in review for the year here, Ruth will be covering the year in radio, Isaiah will have a comic, Martha and Shirley will do their look at books and I'll do a year-in-review piece. Those will run between now and tomorrow (I haven't even started my piece except for some scraps/notes written on the road over the year). I'll do at least one Iraq entry tomorrow and one on Sunday -- we're on holiday schedule, Monday we return to normal schedule. And, noted above, Marcia's "2010 in Page Turners" and Rebecca's "2010 in page turners" and Ann's "10 Best DVDs of 2010" and Stan's "10 Best DVDs of 2010" are two joint-posts looking at the year in books and movies.

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