Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 13, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the refugee crisis continues and efforts to illuminate it by the under-informed do not help, the plight of Iraqi Christians receives some attention (leading to jealousy among the most petty), some in the press are still not getting the SOFA and more.
Starting out with refugees. Tuesday on NPR's All Things Considered (link has audio and text), Kelly McEvers noted Rasul whose grandfather purchased the family home in Baghdad approximately 40 years before -- a home that Rasul and the family had to all but abandon when a family member was kidnapped (later found dead).  Now they're in danger of losing the family home because it's not safe for them to live in it.  McEvers explained, "This is the dilemma of hundreds of thousands of Baghdad families who were forced to flee during the sectarian war.  The value of the old house is going down, but rents are going up.  That means the family's worth is disappearing.  Pollster and sociologist Ahmed Qassim says more than half of the city's displaced families once identified themselves as upper or middle class. But 82 percent of a recent sampling of displaced Baghdadis said they were barely making ends meet.  Qassim says one portion of Baghdad's middle is withering away, while another one -- the newly formed political class -- is taking its place."
The Iraq War created a refugee crisis -- internally and externally.  A clod by the name of Nicholas Seeley has been popping up in a number of publications of late, the Christian Science Monitor last week.  We're not interested in his creative fiction.  For those who don't know, Seeley, like far too many, has a price.  Slide your bills in his g-string and watch the potato head dance.  After the appearane in Wilson's Quarterly, none of his reports on Jordan should be running in news sections.  For those who don't read Wilson's Quarterly (consider yourself blessed and to be in the majority of the population), his article is used to argues that poor Bully Boy Bush was attacked by lying Democrats who were part of the inflation of a non-existant refugee crisis.
Little Nicky arrived in the MidEast some time ago, full of himself, if lacking in knowledge.  As a general rule, a 'writer' who tells me that he ate at a Thai establishment where a Coldplay concert was on the television reminding him of America is one I puzzle over because Coldplay is, of course, a British band.  Facts is hard for Nicky regardless of the topic.  He's going around with claims that money's been wasted in Jordan -- US tax payer money.  If true, he's the last one to make the case because he's not only a poor writer, he's a bad one.
First off, is money has been wasted why are you boring me with USAID (US Agency for International Development)?  Only a know nothing on this topic would go there.  Truly, if you're qualified remotely to speak on this, let alone write about it, you damn well know that the US money flowing into Jordan has primarily gone through the US State Dept's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.  Do you have figures on that, Little Nicky?  No, you don't because from your bad writing, you've obviously never heard of them.  Could money have been wasted?  If it wasn't wasted it would be a first.  Could a lot of money have been wasted?  Possibly but we'd need someone who knows a thing or two about how US aid flows into foreign countries. 
Little Nicky's trying to rewrite the refugee crisis (and save poor put-upon Bully Boy Bush) with his revisionary tactics.  If Jordan's Iraq population was wrong, others would be calling out.  Jordan's population has gone down somewhat (as has Syria's and Lebanon's) but that's due in part to the refugees leaving for other countries (and tiny sliver returning to Iraq).  Equally true, the population is most often based on the registration figures -- Iraqi refugees who register with the United Nations.  Not all register (many feel that register documents them making it easier for them to be forced out a country). Jordan, however, did a census.  They did that with Fafo which is seen as a legitimate organization.  Kristin Dalen, Marianne Daehlen, Jon Pedersen, Age A. Tiltnes and Akram Atallah were the Fafo researchers on that project and you can click here to review their work. As with any such survey, there will be detractors but the sampling method utilized is standard in the social sciences.  (Among the detractors are a group that insists the government of Jordan used their influence to increase the numbers.  Their influence, the rumors go, was in paying.  However, most of the detractors are unaware that the census was sponsored by more than just the government of Jordan.  See the foreword for a listing of all the funders.)  The "study concludes that there are between 450,000 - 500,000 Iraqi residents in Jordan as of May 2007."
Depending upon the outlet he's publishing in, Little Nicky's feelings towards FAFO shift and change indicating we might need to ask Nicholas Seeley, "Which of your personalities are we speaking to?"  Someone needs to ask the Christian Science Monitor if it's their job to waive through any freelance work submitted without a fact check?
Little Nicky types (for the Monitor), "A 2007 survey found only 161,000 Iraqis in Jordan, a fraction of whom appeared to be poor or persecuted. Other data have backed up the low estimate of the survey [. . .]" He's blathering on about the stud we're already discussing and he clearly has no grounding in the social sciences.  He swipes the figure of 161,000 from page 7 of the report: "The sample survey conducted by the Norwegian research Institute of Fafo in cooperation with the Department of Statistics (DoS) estimated Iraqis at 161,000."  Little Nicky doesn't understand methodology but someone at the Christian Science Monitor damn sure should have. He's fudging the figures and ignoring the model.  He's an idiot and shouldn't be allowed to publish on any population model until he gets an advanced degree in that area.
When you don't understand projection models, when you fail to grasp the basics on who does and who does not register, when sampling is beyond your limited abilities, you don't need to be offering guesses about the number of refugees in any country.  And when you repeatedly demonstrate that you're lost in nearly every other area no outlet should allow you to explore any area other than that Lizzie McGuire movie you love so much.
He has no idea whether funding was wasted or not because he also has no idea of the needs which, yes, did include improving the schools in Jordan.  Unlike some host countries, Jordan admitted Iraqi children to their country's schools. When Nouri was making his promises -- that he never kept -- in his first term to use some of the profits from the Iraqi oil to send money to the neighboring countries hardest hit by the refugee crisis, that money would have gone into infrastructure as well (repeating, Nouri didn't keep his promise -- which is the default position for Nouri al-Maliki).  One day after running Little Nicky's garbage, the Christian Science Monitor ran a piece by Tarek Fouda who did have a grasp on realities in Syria.
Yle reported last week, "Finland will no longer return Iraqi asylum seekers to Baghdad. The Supreme Administrative Court has decided that Baghdad is not safe place. In Finland, asylum seekers from Baghdad are therefore entitled to residence permits on the basis of subsidiary protection."  Iraq is not safe and forced returns should not be taking place which is why the European Union has condemned the practice. Asia News notes, "The plight of Iraqi refugees immigrants in Northern Europe continues, where authorities are pressing ahead with forced returns. Britain, France, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, in different ways and forms, see this as the 'quick fix' to the drama of Iraqi asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Now the Iraqi government seems intent on finding a solution."
We're back on people who don't know what the hell they're talking about.  In this case Columbia professor Joseph Massad who can't hope for better than freebie 'publishing' at CounterPunch apparently.  Massad supposedly's writing about Christians in Egypt but instead Joseph Nasty wants you to know that "Europe and America's media chracteristically feature with much fanfare the equally horrifying violence against Iraqi Christians, as if the latter are somehow specifically and solely targeted among Iraq's sects and ethnic groups for such violence."  If no one's gotten it yet, the last thing in the world I want to ever write about (or dictate about -- these snapshots are dictated) is Christianity.  I have no interest in public conversation on that topic. But it is people like Massad that especially make it necessary that the topic is covered here because their petty hatreds bleed through the page as they tell one lie after another.  American media has not covered "with much fanfare" the attacks on Iraqi Christians.  The only "fanfare" coverage out of Iraq in the last eight months has been Moqtada al-Sadr's return.  American media doesn't cover the attacks on Iraqi Christians because American media IS NOT IN IRAQ for the most part.  The New York Times has covered it (not nearly enough), the Los Angeles Times has, the Washington Post has and McClatchy's done even less than the New York Times.  Those are the print outlets with people on the ground in Iraq.  Broadcast?  CNN is the only US TV outlet that has reporters in Iraq.  Radio that has reporters on the ground in Iraq?  That's NPR.  Attacks on Christians do get noted frequently in the hourly news brief.  But in terms of filing stories on them, actual reports, how many reports has NPR filed on this issue?  Since October 31, 2010, NPR has filed three reports.  That's it. 
Joseph Massad and people like him need to get over their petty hatred of Christianity.  It wouldn't have flown in the US in the sixties and we actually had real movements then.  In Chris Hedges new book Death Of The Liberal Class a number of movement leaders from that period speak to him about the absence of a spiritual factor (I'm using the term "factor") to the movement and how the movement has become soul-less. These are leaders who have made the social justice movements their entire lives.  Why are they seeing that?  Maybe because people like Massad can't let go of their petty jealousies and covetry even when supposedly covering a subject.  There was no reason for him to bring Iraqi Christians into the story.  But he did and revealed how jealous he was.  Three stories on NPR is not a great deal of reporting.  Not at all.  Sounds a lot like someone consumed with hatred and jealousy is speaking.
Iraqi Christians are now being targeted because they are Christians.  That was made clear in the al-Qaeda linked group that claimed credit for the October 31st attack.  You don't have to believe in Christianity or even like Christians to play fair.  But you do have to play fair.  October 31st, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked with approximately 70 people killed and approximately 70 people wounded.  An attack on a place of worship will always be news.  Attacks followed including, in November, eight to twelve bombings in Baghdad in one day injuring scores of Iraqis and killing two.  Multiple bombs in Baghdad will be news.  NPR's third story covered the exodus of Iraqi Christians from Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdish territories (and some Iraqi Christians also went outside the country).   NPR offered one story after the attack the Church, one after the bombings and one post-flight.  That's is not "much fanfare."   Your claiming that it is goes to your ignorance and your hatred and no one needs it.  There are many different aspects we have to cover in the snapshots and sometimes I don't care for a group that's at risk.  That doesn't mean I attack them.  That doesn't mean I mock them and their personal struggles. Everytime someone like Joseph Massad gets to be bitchy on this subject without being called out, you draw a line -- intentionally or not -- between the left and those who believe in Christianity and you draw a line within the left between those who are left Christians and those who are not.  It is counterproductive, it is hateful, it is bitchy and it needs to stop.  And, if no one ever told you, Joseph Massad, you have neither the body nor the sex appeal to pull off a grudge f**k.
Far from the crazy,  Daniel J. Gerstle (UN Dispatch) reported at the end of last month on Iraqi Christians how had gone to the Kurdistan Region, specifically in Erbil. He concluded, "While many governments, donors, and aid agencies have moved on from responding to crises like that of Iraq, troubles for local displaced families remain. As in the case of Ankawa, many host communities absorb the shock during the height of the crisis -- relieving the burden on governments and donors -- only to have their homes become overloaded and their pocketbooks, as well as those of their displaced guests, turn empty well after the crisis has climaxed in the media. The tragic flight of minorities from central Iraq to the north has not only been a larger crisis than anyone anticipated. It has also created a new, secondary crisis for host communities that governments, donors, and aid agencies are only beginning to figure out how to address." Reporting this week from Erbil, Hemin Baban (Rudaw) details how a "defense force" of Christians is being trained there per the Ministry of Defense and that Kirkuk's Archbishop Louis Sako calls the move a mistake. Still in the Kurdistan region, Rhodri Davies (Aljazeera) reported last week visited a Church in Ainkawa and found that it was staffed with "four guards carrying Kalashnikov rifles on the gates to the church compound."  Human Rights First issued the following release by Jesse Bernstein and Sara Faust:
As religious minorities in the Middle East continue to face rising levels of violence, the U.S. should urgently undertake a series of reforms in its resettlement program to remove unnecessary processing delays which leave Iraqi Christians and members of other vulnerable groups who choose to flee stranded in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.  As Human Rights First outlined in a recent report Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees and U.S. Resettlement, religious minorities from Iraq are one of several groups who continue to face a heightened level of systematic violence and persecution despite a decrease in overall violence in Iraq.
Christians in Iraq remain at serious risk. In coordinated attacks in late December 2010, militants left bombs on the doorsteps of Iraqi Christian homes in different parts of Baghdad, killing an elderly couple and injuring at least thirteen people. This incident follows a wave of attacks directed at religious minorities in Iraq, including an attack on a Baghdad church in which approximately 50 individuals were killed, including priests and infants.  The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR –  reported that its offices in neighboring Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are registering an increasing number of Iraqi Christians arriving for assistance and help.
The recent bombing of a Christian Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt highlights the increased hostility and targeted violence of religious minorities in the region and an overall lack of protection for Christians who are targeted and/or forced to flee their homes in the face of mounting violence.  
Despite the ongoing U.S. troop drawdown and the shift to a civilian-led operation in Iraq, many Iraqis, including religious and sexual minorities, Iraqis who are affiliated with the United States and women at risk of honor crimes, continue to face persecution and violence, circumstances that cause them to flee to different regions of Iraq or to seek refuge in countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. In 2010 alone, UNHCR registered just over 31,000 Iraqi refugees in the region. As of October 2010, a total of 195,428 Iraqi refugees are currently registered with UNHCR in the region, while an unknown number of additional refugees have not registered or let their registrations lapse. As documented through Human Rights First research in the region, lengthy delays in U.S. processing leave Iraqis slated for U.S. resettlement languishing for months -- even years -- in countries where they have limited opportunities to support their families and some -- particularly those within Iraq -- face life-threatening circumstances.
Human Rights First's report, based on independent research and interviews with Iraqi refugees as well as government officials and UN staff, offers a series of recommendations to strengthen the U.S. resettlement program, including by ensuring timely and effective processing.  Our primary recommendations to the U.S. Government include:
* Reduce unnecessary delays in the security clearance process. The National Security Council should, together with the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, improve the inter-agency security clearance procedure to enable security checks for refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis to be completed accurately and without unnecessary delays within a set time period;
* Develop and implement an emergency resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger. The Department of State should continue to work with other relevant federal agencies to develop and implement a formal and transparent resettlement procedure for refugees who face emergency or urgent circumstances;
* Remove other impediments which continue to delay the applications of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and Iraqi religious minorities. The Department of State, working with other agencies, should – in addition to addressing delays in security processing – continue to take other steps to eliminate case backlogs and address inefficiencies in the current Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processing procedures; * Provide information necessary for refugees to submit meaningful Requests for Reconsideration. The Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should implement reforms to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the resettlement process, including by revising the current Notice of Ineligibility for Resettlement to provide case-specific factual and legal reasons for denial.
Through implementing these reforms, the Obama administration will ensure its resettlement program offers safe and secure passage for religious minorities and others who face persecution and are left with no choice but to flee their home countries.
To review Human Rights First's full report, Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees
and U.S. Resettlement, click here.
To review the report's summary and key findings, click here.
To review a two page fact sheet, click here.
Meanwhile Lebanon's Daily Star reports, "A Hizubullah delegation offered 700 aid packages to displaced Iraqi Christians in Mount Lebanon during a visit Wednesday to the Archbishopric of Chaldean Assyrians."  Reuters notes that a meet-up took place in Baghdad today among Iraq's Muslim and Christian leaders (this is not the Copenhagen summit which is also going on, they plan to hold a press conference tomorrow) and quotes Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai stating, "Iraqis are one body. If the Christian part suffers, he rest of the Muslim body will respond to it.  Iraqi blood is sacred, you cannot cross a red line."  And Madison's Capital Times features a column which touches on these subjects and more by United Church of Christ Pastor Phil Haslanger.
Yesterday US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Baghdad.  This morning Aaron C. Davis' "Contours of a large and lasting American presence in Iraq starting to take shape" (Washington Post) captured reality better than any other article:
Despite Iraqi leaders' insistence that the United States meet its end-of-2011 deadline for withdrawing all troops, the contours of a large and lasting American presence here are starting to take shape.
Although a troop extension could still be negotiated, the politics of Iraq's new government make that increasingly unlikely, and the Obama administration has shown little interest in pushing the point.
Instead, planning is underway to turn over to the State Department some of the most prominent symbols of the U.S. role in the war - including several major bases and a significant portion of the Green Zone.
One outlet seems able to get it correct, Liz Sly (still Washington Post) notes Biden's visit was to discuss post-2011:

Maliki, embarking on his second term of office, publicly insists that he wants all the troops to leave on time, and the Obama administration also says it is planning to pull them out on schedule.
But Iraqi military commanders have said they would prefer at least some form of continued U.S. military presence to help deter external threats from Iraq's neighbors until Iraq has its own conventional defense capabilities.
Although Iraq's security forces have proved themselves able to sustain security gains since the formal end of American combat operations last August, they will also need help with training and logistics for several more years, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.
And then there are the ones who just can't get it right -- a theme threading through this snapshot.  John Leland (New York Times) opens with the 'news' that Joe "told officials here Thursday that the United States remained committed to the agreement that calls for all American troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year."  First, as Aaron C. Davis has already demonstrated, that's not happening.  But Joe told officials that?  Okay.  Leland was present for this? No.
What is he talking about then?  This single-sentence sixth paragraph of the article 'explains': "In a statement, Mr. Maliki said Mr. Biden assured him that the United States was 'serious about activating the strategic framework agreement,' which includes the deadline for troop withdrawal." I have no idea what Nouri said but, if he said that, he's as lost as John Leland.  The Strategic Framework Agreement was signed off on November 17, 2008. It has no withdrawal date in it. 
Go to the November 27, 2008 snapshot for the SOFA passing the Iraqi Parliament.  That's the SOFA.  That's November 27, 2008.  Not only does the Strategic Framework Agreement not contain a withdrawal date -- how could it when it is signed off on before the SOFA?  The SOFA is the Status Of Forces Agreement.  The Strategic Framework Agreement is not the same thing and if, like Leland apparently, you've never read it, you can click here.  Voice of America cannot broadcast over the US airwaves because it is a US government propaganda outlet.  Therefore, we try to avoid them but please note that Meredith Buel (Voice of America) -- working for the US government -- doesn't make the mistake that Leland did. She quotes his speech and notes, "Biden said while Iraqi security forces, trained by American soldiers, are continuing to improve, they are likely to need U.S. assistance in the future.
On that Iraq military, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, "A bit more on the issue of weight, Al-Kala'a Weekly reports that 60% of Iraq's military officers and soldiers suffer from obesity according to an unnamed officer and that the Minister of Defense will be addressing the issue. Alsumaria TV notes the assertion that the country's 'security forces have been infiltrated and intellegence has been leaked'." Those would also impact Iraq's military readiness.
On Joe Biden's speech today, Karen Travers (ABC News) reports and also offers video.
Meanwhile, Aljazeera explains, "At least two people have been killed in bomb blasts in Iraq, shortly after the US vice-president arrived in the capital for talks about the future of American troops there. Three separate explosions shook the capital, Baghdad, on Thursday, Iraqi interior ministry officials said. One person was killed and at least two others wounded in the first attack near a Shia Muslim mosque in the Karrada neighbourhood, while a roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded four others near a Sunni mosque elsewhere in central Baghdad." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "At least two people were killed and 14 wounded when four roadside bombs exploded Thursday in different neighborhoods in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said. The attacks came the same day the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived on an unannounced visit. Iraq's Interior Ministry says the attacks appeared to be by members of al Qaeda and were related to an interfaith group that was trying to quell recent attacks against Christians in Iraq."  In addition, Reuters notes a goldsmith was shot dead in Baghdad.
Lolita C. Baldor (AP) reports that a written exchange between the Pentagon's Michael Vickers and the Senate over the US military's use of cyber warfare.  "Nowhere," Baldor reports, "does the brief Senate exchange obtained by The Associated Press detail the cyber activities that were not disclosed. But cyber experts suggest they may have involved secret operations against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could possibly include other hotspots such as Yemen or Somalia."
And we'll close with Simon Basketter (Socialist Worker):

Bradley Manning, a 22-year old US army private, is being tortured by the US state.

He is accused of leaking classified documents to the Wikileaks website. Manning has been held at the US Marine jail in Quantico, Virginia, for five months—and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait.

The US is torturing Manning to get him to say that he gave secret files to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. This will make it easier to prosecute Assange for espionage.

Assange is on bail in Britain as the Swedish government attempts to extradite him on charges of rape, which he strongly denies.

There were protests in defence of him and Wikileaks outside the court in London at the end of last year.

Manning is held as a "maximum custody detainee", which is the most repressive level of US military detention.

According to his lawyer, "He is being held in intensive solitary confinement.

"For 23 out of 24 hours every day—for seven straight months—he sits completely alone in his cell.

"Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred from exercising and is restrained if he attempts to exercise.

"He's being denied a pillow or sheets for his bed and access to news reports in any form.

"He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

"If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

"He does receive one hour of 'exercise' outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk.

"Private First Class (PFC) Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

"When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards.

"His clothing is returned to him the next morning."

Manning is sleep deprived and is now taking anti-depressants.

He was arrested after allegedly confessing in an online chatroom to leaking a video of a US air raid in Iraq.


The graphic and disturbing video shows the events of 12 July 2007.

As a group of men stroll down a Baghdad street, two US army helicopters open fire, repeatedly shooting at them and gunning one down as he tries to flee.

They killed 12 people, including two journalists who worked for the Reuters news agency. Two children were wounded.

One shooter says, "Ha, ha, ha, I hit 'em." Another comments, "Look at those dead bastards."

"Nice," another responds.

Later a van comes past and Iraqis stop to try to help one of the wounded.

The helicopter opens fire again. Two children inside the van were wounded and their father was killed.

When US ground troops arrive they discover the children.

One of the crew says, "Well it's their fault for bringing kids into a battle."

The army claimed the dead were all insurgents and that they had been killed in battle.

But a supposed rocket-propelled grenade was in reality a camera lens. What the US claimed was an AK47 was in fact a camera.

This is just one example of the violence of US imperialism.

The US has committed countless atrocities during its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But getting the information out has led to Bradley Manning being jailed.

The other information Manning is accused of leaking includes a video of a 2009 US airstrike in Granai, Afghanistan, which killed as many as 140 civilians.

The US suspects he leaked a cache of nearly 100,000 field reports from Afghanistan, about 260,000 diplomatic cables and as many as half a million documents relating to the Iraq war.

Politicians globally professed gradations of outrage at the publication of the material.

Some in the US even called for Wikileaks to be treated as a terrorist organisation.

The following should be read alongside this article:

Wikileaks reveals British government trained death squad

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