Friday, February 25, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqis take to the streets with their demands, protesters are shot at and attacked, one governor resigns another is pressured to, the US stands on the sidelines, and much more.
For weeks, protests were planned for today in Iraq. This was done publicly, not hidden away. Along with using Facebook, organizers and planned participants gave interviews to the press. Clerics publicly supported the protests at the start of the month. Nouri al-Maliki then began making weak, generic statements of support which seemed to be empty lip service forced by the actions of the clerics. Last Sunday, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani issued a statement of support for the protesters. Wednesday, things suddenly changed as Moqtada al-Sadr leaves Iran and shows back up in Iraq. He's had no interest in Iraq since his brief layover in January but suddenly he's back and insisting that the protests must stop. al-Sistani also says the protests need to stop. Nouri al-Maliki makes clear that he was just mouthing empty words as he now declares that the protests must stop and starts resorting to fear mongering by again trotting out his claims that Ba'athists, from outside the country, are behind the protests and that the protests will tear Iraq apart.
It wasn't just words. Alsumaria TV reports that attempts to stop the protests included curfews that immediatley went into effect in Samarra, Nineveh and Sulaimaniah. Al Mada quotes Nouri's desparate plea last night where he labeled the protests subversive and insisted that intellecturals, writers and civil society organizations, workers and peasants, doctors, institutions and scientists, teachers, engineers and everyone must not participate in the demonstration Friday, they must drop their objectives because the terrorists are using this event to advance their own interests. He continued that there was a "legitimate need" for basic services and reforms but this was trumped by "compelling evidence" that terrorists were behind the demonstrations in order to return Iraq to its "former Ba'ath era of black days and mass graves and chemical weapons and lack of freedoms."
No where in his speech claiming to understand the protesters did Nouri mention or acknowledge that Iraq's had one prime minister since 2006: himself. And that under his leadership for years now, basic services haven't been provided. He's lied. In 2009, trying to get votes for his candidates in provincial elections, he claimed basic services were just around the corner. He'd show up in towns with a large 'block' of ice to provide them fresh (temporary) drinking water and swear that their own safe water would flow shortly but he got the votes he wanted and discarded his promise. He did that over and over. The demands the Iraqis are making are not new demands that just surfaced in the last 48 hours. Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) points out:
Libya-like scenario playing out in "liberated" Iraq: the country is a powder
keg waiting to go off.
Occupied Iraq where the war continues and gears up for its eight year mark next month. Occupied Iraq where billions in oil revenues flow into the government each year, where the population isn't even half a million, is barely over a quarter million, and yet the last eight years have seen an increase in poverty, an increase in an unemployment, destruction of infrastructure and basic services and much, much more. The government can't even provide safe drinking water. Iraqis had it before the start of the war. Now many are required to boil water before drinking it. Or there are those little purification tablets the UN passes out in order to mitigate the annual fall cholera outbreaks. The rivers are polluted -- which makes them unsafe for drinking as well -- as are the streets and basic sanitation is a problem. Basic electricity even more so as generators have had to become household items as common as stoves. The disabled, the widows and the orphans are largely left to fend for themselves with little help other than that provided by NGOs.
In this environment Moqtada al-Sadr waded in -- presumably doing the bidding of the government of Iran, the country he's made his home for how many years now? -- and declared that protests must cease immediately and that, instead, he'd hold another one of his wonderful (inept) referendums. The New York Times hailed Moqtada (wrongly) as second in influence in Iraq only to Nouri. What was going to happen?
Al Rafidayn reports Baghdad saw thousands congregate at Tahrir Square with the army and the police surrounding the area. Activist Lina Ali, who stood holding flowers while protesting in Tahrir Square, explains that electricity and potable water are not available. Al Mada adds comments from various people -- including some Iraqis -- about how the internet has changed things and offers, as one example, that Saudis twenty years ago didn't learn that Iraq had invaded Kuwait until three days after due to a media blackout; however, now the information travels. Ahmad Ezzeddine, Microsoft's director in Iraq, is quoted (from an interview with Alsumaria TV) stating that at one point Iraq's internet was a series of network connected to Dubai, England or Germany but today it is far greater and it's not as simple to block or censor. Iraq also now has over 45 satellite channels.
Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) notes military helicopters flew over Baghdad -- he doesn't note whose military: "As well as criticizing the demonstrators, the government has strictly limited freedom of movement across the capital in an attempt to curb Friday's protests. There has been an increase in military helicopter traffic and heightened security at checkpoints in the capital on Friday. In Baghdad's commercial district of Karrada, police and army officials are stopping and questioning pedestrians." Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) explains Baghdad "was virtually locked down" last night with a curfew imposed: "Near midnight Thursday, a red banner flashed across state television broadcasts announcing the curfew, a draconian measure more often deployed to deal with insurgent attacks." BBC News reports, "Soldiers blocked every road leading into Baghdad to try to stop protesters from carrying out their planned day of rage, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in the Iraqi capital. No vehicles were allowed into the city centre and thousands of riot police took up position in and around Baghdad Tahrir Square." Realizing at the last minute that the protesters weren't going to just drop the demonstration,Al Mada reports, the Baghdad Security Committee issued a desperate order that the protesters would not be allowed to carry "anti-government" banners. Despite this, Jane Arraf reported for Aljazeera that protesteros chanted "No to unemployment" and "No to the liar al-Maliki."
Alice Fordham and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report, "In Baghdad, witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Many people were beaten and chased through the streets. No deaths were reported in the Iraqi capital." AFP adds, "A journalist said security forces had used a water cannon and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowd. An interior ministry official said 15 people were wounded." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "Despite government attempts to portray the demonstration as politically motivated, many of the young men who raged against Mr. Maliki had much more basic reasons, complaining of a lack of jobs and public services and of the perception that in a country listed as among the world's most corrupt, officials are stealing the wealth." She quotes protester Oday Kareem stating, "I'm a laborer. I work one day and stay at home for a month. [. . .] He [Nouri al-Maliki] said people will do beter than they did under Saddam Hussein -- where is it?" For All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers filed a report which included:
But many of the protesters here calling Maliki a liar were young, unemployed men. They called for jobs, better electricity an end to corruption. They
repeated a word they'd heard in other protests around the region: peaceful, peaceful. But then one group toppled concrete blast walls blocking a bridge
to the fortifide Green Zone where Iraqi officials live and work. Riot police responded, protesters began throwing rocks. Okay, we're just beyond the
outskirts of what's going on but it's turned very violent, The sound you hear is people banging on corrugated steel as they are throwing rocks and clashing
According to eyewitnesses, at least three protesters were shot dead by police during the standoff. Despite television footage to the contrary, the Baghdad Operation Command and Baghdad Police Department have denied that any protestors were killed or injured.
Multiple issues had helped bring out the protesters. Among the banners on display at Baghdad's Tahrir Square were, "Maliki has become just like Saddam," "We want the government to get rid of corruption and punish the corrupt," and "What happened to all the billions in oil revenue?" Many consider the lack of electricity, clean water and sanitation an insult for a nation known to have some of the world's largest proven petroleum reserves. As unemployed Baghdad resident Mohammed Khuadier al-Hamadani, 49, says, "There is no power, water , basic services, good infrastructure, food rations or jobs in a wealthy oil country like Iraq. This is unjust. They must stop this oppression. I want my share from oil just like the Gulf States. You know the Emir of Kuwait gave his citizens [profits and food rations]. Why can't we be just like them and have a prosperous life?"
Aswat Al Iraq reports that security forces shot 16 protesters in Falluja who were 'storming' the local government compound. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports over 1,000 demonstrated in Tikrit and they "stoned the government building and clashed with the guards demanding resgination of the provincial governor [Salahudin Province] and the provincial council members, who are blamed by the protestors of being behind the deterioration of public services and corruption. Also in the province, angry protesters attacked the city council of Sulaiman-Pek and set fire to the building after clashes with the security forces. Seven people were injured, a local security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." At NPR's The Two-Way, Bill Chappell notes this from Kelly McEvers, "The most violent protests were in the northern city of Mosul where demonstrators tried to burn the regional government headquarters demanding jobs and better services. Guards opened fire." The Guardian offers, "Anger over corruption and abysmal basic services erupted in a 'Day of Rage', with the most serious clashes in Mosul and Hawija, in the north, and Basra in the south. At least six people were killed – three in Mosul and three in Hawija – and 75 injured in clashes with security services as protesters tried to attack government buildings." Mosul is in Ninewah Province. Aswat Al Iraq reports that there were 5 deaths in Mosul with fifteen people injured and quote an unnamed security source stating, "The injuries were the result of shooting, shrapnel and stun bombs." Aswat Al Iraq adds that the Ninewa Provincial headquarters were set on fire. Al Rafidayn is reporting that Nouri al-Maliki has called on Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi to persuade his brother, Ethel Nujafi, to resign as governor of Ninewah and, citing an unnamed source, says Nouri fears the anger is building in Ninewah but that Nujafi is standing by his relative and has accused Nouri of being behind the protesters who stormed the government buildings and set them on fire..
Ramadi was the site of demonstrations as well. Iraqhurr.org notes that Radio Free Iraq's Ahmed al-Hiti (Iraqhurr.org is the website for RFI) reported that the Anbar Province city saw calls for improved basic services today and that protesters were not scared off by yesterday's suicide bombing in the town. They were, however, fired at by security forces.
The protest in Kirkuk is said to have wounded 23 police officers. Aswat al-Iraq reports 39 police officers were wounded in the Basra protest, Al Rafidayn reports Basra protesters were calling for the resignation of the governor as part of their demands. Aswat Al Iraq notes that al-Iraqiya satellite TV is now reporting that, according to MP Ismail Ghazi, Shaltagh Abboud (Governor of Basra) will resign in two days. Aljazeera reports, "While in the south, a crowd of about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Governor Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, located 550km southeast of Baghdad. They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation, saying he had done nothing to improve city services. They appeared to get their wish when Major General Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, the commander of Basra military operations, told the crowd that the governor had resigned in response to the demonstrations." Alsumaria TV reports that Sheltag Abboud has held a press conference announcing his resignation as governor.
The Iraqi authorities should order an immediate independent inquiry into each of eight killings and any unlawful use of force by security forces during demonstrations on February 25, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Dozens more were injured in crackdowns on demonstrations in several Iraqi towns and cities. Human Rights Watch observed security forces beating unarmed journalists and protesters in Baghdad, and counted at least 18 injured.
Any unlawful use of force, especially force resulting in deaths, should lead to the prosecution of those responsible, including those who gave the orders or who were otherwise responsible, Human Rights Watch said. The Iraqi authorities also should lift all unnecessary restrictions on peaceful assembly and protest.
"The Iraqi authorities need to rein in their security forces and account for every single killing," said Tom Porteous, deputy program director for Human Rights Watch. "The security forces need to use the maximum possible restraint in dealing with protesters."
In Mosul, security forces opened fire, reportedly killing at least two people and wounding 20, after demonstrators tried to force their way into a provincial council building. In the town of Hawijah, security forces shot stone-throwing protesters, killing at least three and wounding more than 12, according to news reports and a local journalist interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In Ramadi, security forces fired on about 250 demonstrators, killing one person and wounding eight. And in Tirkit, police fired on demonstrators trying to raid a government building, killing two and wounding nine.
In Baghdad, security forces severely limited demonstrations after imposing strict restrictions on vehicle travel, starting in the early morning. The ban by Baghdad Operations Command forced protesters to walk to the center of the capital for the demonstration and prevented television satellite trucks from covering the protests live. Scores of demonstrations have taken place across the country since early February, mainly focused on the chronic lack of basic services and perceived widespread corruption. Since February 16 security forces have killed more than a dozen protesters and injured more than 150 at demonstrations throughout Iraq.
Earlier this week, Iraqi police allowed dozens of assailants to beat and stab peaceful protesters in Baghdad. In the early hours of February 21, dozens of men, some wielding knives and clubs, attacked about 50 protesters who had set up two tents in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. The assailants stabbed and beat at least 20 of the protesters who were intending to camp in the square until February 25, when groups had called for national protests similar to the "Day of Anger" in Egypt. The February 21 attack came directly after the police had withdrawn from the square, and witnesses suggested the assailants were in discussion with the police before they attacked.
On June 25, 2010, in response to thousands of Iraqis who took to the streets to protest a chronic lack of government services, the interior ministry issued regulations with onerous provisions that effectively impeded Iraqis from organizing lawful protests. The regulations required organizers to get "written approval of both the minister of interior and the provincial governor" before submitting an application to the relevant police department, not less than 72 hours before a planned event. These regulations are still in effect.
Iraq's constitution guarantees "freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration."As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iraq is obligated to protect the rights to life and security of the person, and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Iraq should also abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which state that lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life, and must be exercised with restraint and proportionality. The principles also require governments to "ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law."
Human rights law on the right to life, including article 6 of the ICCPR, requires an effective and transparent investigation when deaths may have been caused by state officials, leading to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators of any crimes that took place.
On its main page, Kitabat features an essay noting today was the statement of the Iraqi people, that they wrote it in blood as they took to the streets to decry the betrayal of freedom, this was the statement of the people as they risked arrest and brutality frm the regime of tryants who resort to attacks on journalists, secret arrests of activists and attempts to crackdown on the people in order to circumvent the demonstrations. The mood of the people, the essay continues, was peaceful but the security was in a panic at the unarmed people in the streets, the government was on a "holy war" too silence the voice of the people. Today, the essay concludes, was the last warning to the Parliament, the political elites and the government that the people will not be silenced by repressive forces and that peace and demonstrations will continue to grow in Iraq.
Iraqis stood up today. They have stood up many times before. In the not-so-distant past, they were asked to stand up during the first Gulf War of the early 90s, when George H.W. Bush was president. Lance Selfa (ISR) reminds what took place:
On February 15 -- a month into the air war -- Saddam's government announced it would accept UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal from Kuwait. The U.S. and its lackey, Britain, dismissed Saddam's surrender. Instead, Bush called for Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam: "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam to step aside." Bush's statement communicated two points: first, that the U.S. wouldn't settle only for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and second, that the U.S. might back anyone who rose up against Saddam. The first point proved that expelling Iraq from Kuwait was a mere pretext for wider U.S. designs in the war. The second point proved a lie only weeks later, when masses of Kurds and Shiites took "matters into their own hands" and rose up against Saddam.
Saddam had essentially cried "uncle," but the U.S. wanted to mount a ground offensive anyway. In six days, U.S. and coalition ground troops swept across Kuwait and southern Iraq, forcing Iraqi troops into a full-scale retreat. In the last 40 hours of the war, before Bush called a cease-fire on February 28, U.S. and British forces mounted a relentless assault against retreating and defenseless Iraqi soldiers. The road leading from Kuwait to Basra became known as the "Highway of Death." Iraqi soldiers fled Kuwait in every possible vehicle they could get their hands on. Allied tank units cut the Iraqis off. U.S. warplanes bombed, strafed and firebombed the stranded columns for hours without resistance. In a slaughter which a U.S. pilot described as "like shooting fish in a barrel," thousands of Iraqi conscripts were killed on a 50-mile stretch of highway. So many planes filled the skies over southern Iraq that military air traffic controllers maneuvered to prevent mid-air collisions.
The "Highway of Death," and, in fact, the ground war itself, served no military purpose. Saddam had admitted defeat before the ground war began. Attacks on retreating Iraqis merely delayed the war's end. But the U.S. mounted this barbarism for one reason only: to render an example of what would happen to any government which bucked the U.S. For nearly two days, the Pentagon invented the excuse that the Iraqis were staging a "fighting retreat," a fiction which they knew was a lie. "When enemy armies are defeated, they withdraw," said Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak. "It's during this time that the true fruits of victory are achieved from combat, when the enemy is disorganized . . . If we do not exploit victory, the president should get himself some new generals."
The savagery of the U.S. war took some of the luster off Bush's victory. But nothing so revealed the callous disregard for ordinary Iraqis as U.S. complicity in Saddam's suppression of the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in the weeks following Iraq's defeat. Demobilized soldiers in the southern, predominantly Shiite sections of the country returned to their hometowns and vented their fury on all symbols of Saddam's regime. Kurdish guerrillas launched a coordinated uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the week following the Gulf War cease-fire, ordinary Iraqis stormed the regime's police headquarters, barracks and prisons. Crowds broke into underground dungeons and torture chambers, freeing political prisoners who hadn't seen daylight in decades. Masses of people lynched officials of Saddam's government. For almost two weeks, ordinary Iraqis controlled whole regions of the country and Saddam's government seemed on the verge of collapse.
Then, Saddam got a helping hand from an unlikely source -- the U.S. government. Bush had meant his call for Saddam "to step aside" as a signal of U.S. support for a military coup against him -- not a popular uprising. An uprising from below might set the wrong example for the populaces of the U.S.-allied feudal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. U.S. officials also expressed fears that successful uprisings could lead to a breakup of Iraq and the strengthening of the other Gulf bogeyman, Iran. U.S. military officials refused to meet with emissaries of the rebels. And U.S. forces stood by as Saddam's government, officially violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement, mounted a counterattack. When Saddam's forces dropped firebombs on fleeing rebels near the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala, American planes patrolled high above, surveilling the attack.
In the wake of all the slaughter and destruction, George Bush promised that Desert Storm would usher in a "new world order." But the new order looked quite a bit like the old order.
In Kuwait, U.S. bayonets restored to power the ruling al-Sabah family, a feudal dynasty. Bush had made much about the rights of the Kuwaiti people to determine their own destiny free from Iraqi rule. But in restoring the al-Sabahs to the throne, Bush restored a political system which allowed only 3 percent of Kuwaiti residents any political rights at all. Women still can't vote in Kuwait. As soon as the al-Sabahs returned, they launched a reign of terror against Palestinian "guest workers," whom the al-Sabahs accused of pro-Iraq sentiments. Kuwaiti police rounded up thousands. They summarily executed hundreds of them. Kuwait expelled more than 400,000 Palestinian workers -- many of whom suffered under the Iraqi occupation -- from the country. Human rights organizations denounce Kuwait's disregard for elementary human rights.
By the end of March 1991, Saddam had put down the Shiite/Kurdish rebellion. The immediate result was a humanitarian catastrophe that dwarfs even the horrible situation in Kosovo today. As many as 3 million Kurds fled into Iran and Turkey. When destroying Iraq, the coalition air forces flew one raid a minute. In the first week of the Kurds' torment in makeshift camps in the mountains, those same forces could manage only 10 flights. The total relief for Kurds that Congress approved in April 1991 amounted to about eight hours of spending on the war. When the U.S. announced Operation Provide Comfort, it used the safeguarding of Kurds to establish a military occupation of northern Iraq.
Today Iraqis stood up on their own, for themselves, without any promises of assistance from the US or any other government. This was the protest of the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people. They followed no one, they led. It was homegrown and it was the voice of the people. In what played out like a bad attempt to short-circuit the protests (most likely played out that way because that's what it was intended to be), Moqtada attempted counter-programming with himself as the tasty treat. Al Rafidayn reports Moqtada led Friday prayers at a Kufa mosque (Kufa is in Najaf). They note the religious leader Moqtada last devliered a service to the congregation in 2007. But Moqtada al-Sadr could not short-circuit the will of the people, nor could the United States or anyone else. Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) quotes International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermaan explaining, "Obama wants to convey that 'Yes, Iraq has a number of problems that need to be addressed, but the country is on the right track. You can't possibly say, 'Iraq is in a crisis, and by the way, we're leaving." McCrummen also notes that the US Embassy in Baghdad's spokesperson Aaron Snipe "played down Friday's violence, as well as the draconian measures Maliki took to stifle turnout."
The voice of the Iraqi people and their attitude towards their government may have been best expressed in Kelly McEvers' report for All Things Considered, "As one protester put it, just give us one-fourth of what you steal, we could be rich on just that."
Reuters notes a Garma home invasion resulted in the deaths of 6 family members, a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing injured two people, an attack on a Hilla checkpoint claimed the lives of 2 Sahwa members (a thrid wounded), a Kirkuk mortar attack left three police officers injured and at least 2 protesters in Hilla were killed by police and twenty-two more injured.
The real nature of the Kurdish kleptocracy is well-known to my longtimereaders, but the Kurds' public relations campaign – funded by you, the American taxpayer – has done a pretty good job, so far, of obscuring the truth. While Hitchens was having "a perfectly swell time" taking in the sights and sounds of ideological tourism in Kurdistan, Dr. Kamal Sayid Qadir, a Kurdish human rights activist, was being sentenced to 30 years in prison for "insulting" the President of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, and "defaming" the Kurdish people. His real "crime" was exposing the corruption of the Kurdish state-within-a-state. He was eventually released due to an international outcry, but what of all the other poor souls trapped in Kurdistan's notorious prisons, where torture is ubiquitous and the "legal" process is dicey, at best?
For years, the Kurdish government has been ethnicallycleansing Arabs, Turkmens, and other minorities from its territory, jailing its internal critics, enriching its friends, and aiding the terrorist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which uses Iraqi Kurdistan as a base from which to launch attacks on civilian targets in Turkey.