Thursday, February 10, 2011

Iraqi politics, Iraqi Christians

Alsumaria TV reports protests took place in Babel Province today with one protest calling for the release of prisoners and another calling out the continued lack of public services. Dar Addustour reports the the Council of the Bar Association issued a call for a Baghdad demonstration calling for corruption to be prosecuted, for the Constitution to be followed and sufficient electricity in all the schools. Al Rafidayn reports that five provinces saw protests yesterday as the people demanded reliable public services and an end to government corruption. Noting the Babylon Province protest, the paper quotes Amer Jabk (Federation of Industrialists in Babylon president) stating that the provincial government has not provided any of the services the province needs, that basic services have deteriorated and that heavy rains have not only seen streets closed but entire neighborhoods sinking.

Dar Addustour reports that Iraqiya is objecting that Nouri al-Maliki has refused a list of their slate's candidates for the post of Minister of the Defense. Meanwhile Al Mada notes that Ayad Allawi (head of Iraqiya) expressed optimism yesterday over his meet up with Nouri which will be mediated by KRG President Massoud Barzani. Another meeting did not take place. The Speaker of Parliament, Osama Nujafi, attempted to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani but was rebuffed yesterday. Dar Addustour reports that al-Sistani has spoken with Nujafi by phone and expressed regret over the failure for the two to meet in person. Alsumaria TV adds, "Al Nujaifi met with another religious authority Sheikh Isaac Al Fayad and affirmed that he will visit Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani in the future."

October 31st kicked off the latest wave of targeting Christians in Iraq with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Catholic Culture reports that Iraq's Ministry of Tourism has announced Pope Benedict XVI may visit Iraq, specifically make a pilgrimage to Ur. Meanwhile Simon Roughneen (National Catholic Register) reports:

Al Qaeda in Iraq has targeted the country’s fast-disappearing Christian population, describing them as “legitimate targets” and causing unknown hundreds of thousands to flee in recent years. Out of an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million Christians during the Hussein era, now less than half are thought to remain in the country.
Since an Oct. 31 attack on Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church, thousands more Iraqi Christians have run to Turkey. Exact figures are unknown, but Chaldean Church records show more than 600 arrivals in December 2010 alone, which exceeds the total arrivals for all of 2009.
The Oct. 31 attack began when Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda took Sunday worshipers hostage. As police moved in, 58 people, including two priests, were killed. According to accounts of the carnage, a young child was killed when one of the attackers blew himself up inside the church. Over 100 more were wounded.
The latest arrivals are seeking asylum in Turkey and applying for formal refugee status in the hope of transfer to third countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia. According to Father Gabriel, a Turkish Chaldean priest from the east of that country and now on sabbatical from his parish in Brussels to assist refugees in Istanbul, the resettlement process takes about two years.

Some of the injured in the October 31st assault found medical treatment and asylum in France. Jim Bitterman (CNN) reports, "They are part of a group of nearly 60 brought here in early November after a bloody massacre at their church in Baghdad. In that attack, believed to have been carried out by al Quaeda, 56 people died, including two auxiliary priests, and more than 70 were injured -- among them the parish priest of Our Lady of Salvation, Father Raphael Kuteimi." The following open letter was sent to US President Barack Obama last week:

February 2, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear President Obama;

We are writing you regarding a grave situation that requires the immediate attention of your Administration. It concerns the genocide of peaceful Christians in Iraq and the fear that, if the United States does not get involved, the public expression of Christianity may be extinguished in that country. Those public expressions of faith include the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac traditions. We cannot afford to see the beautiful mosaic of Iraq, which consists of different indigenous groups, to be destroyed.

Mr. President, according to the Iraqi Census in 1987 there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Although it is hard to get accurate figures, it is believed that since the United States military intervention in 2003 that number now stands at around 400,000. Sadly, this number continues to decline daily.

Many Christians who have lived in Iraq for centuries are now facing an uncertain future filled with violence, fear and suffering. Many have had to flee the country and are living as refugees throughout the Middle East. With their homes and businesses gone, these peaceful Christians live in poverty and abandonment.

Those who choose to stay in Iraq live in constant fear of violence and persecution. The entire world was stunned on October 31 of last year when extremists stormed Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and killed 68 prayerful worshippers. Among the dead were young children and priests.

The Associated Press reported that public Christmas celebrations in Iraq were canceled just this past year amidst rising concerns of violent retaliation from terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. A well known Iraqi Archbishop said, “Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaeda. We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of Christians is bleak.”

In June of 2009, you gave a very powerful and moving speech in Cairo, Egypt where you discussed the future of Iraq and religious freedom. You said America has the responsibility “to help Iraq forge a better future.” You then went on to say, “Freedom of religion is central to the ability of people to live together and we must always examine the ways in which we can protect it.”

We agree with both statements. First, America has a unique responsibility in helping Iraq secure a better future for their people. Next, protecting freedom of religion is an essential element for Iraq and her future generations. This is especially true for Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities.

Mr. President, America did not spend billions of dollars in Iraq, and have our sons and daughters shed their blood, to see the public expression of Christianity extinguished in that country. Our heart also breaks for other religious minorities who cannot freely worship according to the tenants of their faith traditions.

This brings us to the purpose of the letter. In order to show support and stand in solidarity with our fellow Christians in Iraq, we planned on sending a delegation of Church and lay leaders from America to join with Iraqis in celebrating the “Rogation of the Ninevites.” The Rogation has been observed by Christians in Iraq since the birth of Christianity.

This ancient tradition finds its roots with the Prophet Jonah and the City of Nineveh located in Iraq. Jonah was called to preach to Nineveh and call the city to repentance and justice. After Jonah comes and shares the word of God with the city, they fast and pray for three days, embracing his message and turning their hearts back to God.

For centuries, Assyrians in Iraq have set aside a three day period of fasting, prayer, repentance and reflection in February of each year. This year the Rogation is February 14 -16, and American, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians in Iraq were going to fast and pray for God’s protection, guidance and blessing for that country.

We just recently heard from the Archbishops in Iraq, who said, because of terrorist threats of retaliation they could not extend an invitation for us to come and pray with them. Mr. President, the situation in Iraq has become so dangerous and violent that Christians cannot even join with their brothers and sisters in peaceful and loving prayer. This is heartbreaking.

In light of this tragic situation, we are asking for your Administration to get involved. Since we cannot observe the Rogation in Iraq in February, we are asking that we have a Rogation ceremony at the White House. This would send a powerful and inspirational message to the oppressed Christians of Iraq and affirm to the world your commitment to protecting religious freedom and liberty.

As you celebrated a special Ramadan meal at the White House for the past two years, we would hope that you would celebrate the Rogation this year. Regarding the Ramadan meal you said it “reminds us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” These same principles would be involved with the celebration of the Rogation.

Mr. President the situation in Iraq is desperate and getting worse every day. Now is the time for the United States to speak out with passion on this issue and ensure religious freedom for all in Iraq. The celebration of the Rogation would tell the world, and especially the persecuted Christian community in Iraq, that your Administration is passionately committed to protected religious freedom in the public square for everyone.

Our group would provide an Archbishop to preside over the ceremony that would include leaders of the Iraqi Christian community here in America and also from Iraq. Since time is of the essence, we hope to hear from the White House shortly. Once again, the dates are February 14-16.

Mr. President, with your demanding schedule we realize you might not be able to make the celebration, but it is of utmost importance that we have it at the White House, with Administration officials. I will leave all the contact information below so there will be no problem in reaching us quickly.

We pray daily for God’s direction and protection over you, the First Family and your Administration. Let us continue to work together for everyone to openly, and publicly worship God according the dictates of their own conscience and hearts, free from oppression and fear.

For religious freedom and justice in Iraq,

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney
Christian Defense Coalition

Juliana Taimoorazy
Founder and President
Iraqi Christian Relief Council

David William Lazar
American Mesopotamian Organization

Rev. Rob Schenck
National Clergy Council

Alicia e-mailed to ask if we could close with the exchange between Bob Filner and Stephanie Mudick yesterday? I wrongly called Stephanie Mudick "Susan" in yesterday's snapshot. My apologies and I'll note that in today's snapshot. Yes. Yesterday the US House Veterans Affairs Committee heard about JP Morgan Chase breaking the law and harassing veterans. We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot, Kat covered it in "Grading the new Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee," Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "JP Morgan Chase's song and dance" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The crooks get away with it (Ava)." Bob Filner is the Ranking Member and Alicia's House Representative. Stephanie Mudick is with JP Morgan Chase.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Uhm, how many executive vice presidents are there at Chase? Or, let me put it another way, how high are you up in the heirarchy there?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh, I am a member of Chase's Executive Committee which is fewer than a hundred employees at Chase -- at JP Morgan Chase.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: And what does the 100 people do? I mean, that's the highest policy making thing in Chase?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh, there is an Operating Committee which is a group of approximately 20 people.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: How many executive vice presidents are there?

Stephanie Mudick: I don't have the answer to that question, sir, I'm sorry.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: But you'll find out for me, right?

Stephanie Mudick: I will indeed.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Could you fix things if we need to ask? I mean, you're here on behalf of Chase so I assume that means you can fix things. Can you fix things? I mean, you said you weren't aware of that hotline number [a JP Morgan Chase number to deal with SCRA problems which Julia Rowles testified was just an answering machine passed off as a hotline and one that has now been disconnected for months]. Can you find it out right away? Can you call someone and say, "What's going on there?"

Stephanie Mudick: Uh, together with-with my colleagues -- There is -- I would say --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, so you can't fix things.

Stephanie Mudick (Con't): -- there are many -- Excuse me, sir. I would say that we try and fix whatever --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Okay, the Rowles testified that they didn't have any statements for a year, you hadn't cashed their last mortgage check. Can you fix that today?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: You said you were going to make them whole. They've brought up several questions. Can you fix that?

Stephanie Mudick: We are trying to fix --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't want a "we." You? Can you fix that?

Stephanie Mudick: I can, together with my colleagues causes changes to be made in our organization. Uh -- and with respect to the Rowleses -- Uh, uhm, you know,,we are trying to figure out how we can come to an agreement --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Come to an agreement because of a lawsuit. But you said you were going to make them whole. As I read your statement, your average payment to make people whole was seventy dollars. Does that make people whole who've gone through this stuff?

Stephanie Mudick: The-the median payment is $70 and-and let me explain to you how-how we get to that number.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Because you're just dealing with the amount of interest you overpaid plus some fees, that's all you're dealing with. You're not dealing with any human costs or any emotional costs or any pain and suffering as they would say. You're just dealing with the amount of interest and fees that you overcharged. Right? I mean that's what it says here [holds up Mudick's prepared statement] anyway.

Stephanie Mudick: Congressman, most of the, uh, service members who were impacted by this, uh, are-are not even aware that they overpaid. And in part that's because the amount they overpaid was not-not material to them.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: I can't believe that there's nobody else going through what the Rowles did. But, you know, I mean, you can't make the changes, you're not making them whole. Why should -- You broke the law. Your bank broke the law. Shouldn't someone go to jail for that?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: And who should? Who should? Who's responsible? Are you as the executive v.p. who was given us by the bank to answer for this? Should you go to jail?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh, we are doing a review internally in order to --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know --

Stephanie Mudick: -- figure out --

Ranking Member Bob Filner: -- who's responsible?

Stephanie Mudick: -- who's responsible for what happened.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: Are you going to tell us who? Are you going to give us a person? Or people? That are responsible?

Stephanie Mudick: Well we will certainly hold those folks who are resposible for this accountable.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: I want to know about you. You broke the law. How are we going to hold you accountable? Are we going to know who did what when?

Stephanie Mudick: Uh-uh, as a result of that -- our-our review -- we will be happy to share more information with the Committee.

Ranking Member Bob Filner: I'm sure you will. I think you'll have to probably do it in discovery [legal period in a lawsuit before trial in which the opposing sides are supposed to know what the other side knows and have access to paper work, etc.] before you're going to give it to us. It just seems to me that you all, you're not alone in this. You all have no responsibility. Everything you said was impersonal. Nobody is responsible. You said the SCRA coding 'fell off' the statement? I mean nobody took it off, nobody was responsible, it 'fell off.' Wow. Every -- You look at your testimony, everything is impersonal, everything is "we," "they." Nobody is ever responsible. And yet these people's lives have been turned upside down. Somebody or some group of people should be held responsible. And mabye then -- as the attorney said -- maybe then you'll take this seriously, if somebody went to jail, with a white collar. There's no more Mr. Morgan or Mr. Chase, I take it, but somebody should have responsibility for what's going on. You just cannot hide. As the Supreme Court tells us now, you're an individual. You're not just a corporation. Somebody has to come forward and take responsibility for this. You just cannot apologize and give back people 70 bucks and to think this is over. This is not over for them and they're still going through the thing. You heard what they're still going through. And now you can't fix it anyway. So when are they going to get their mortgage statements? Just to take one thing. You should be able to call somebody right now and say, "Get them their mortgage statements." But apparently you can't. You know, I appreciate your apology. But you've broken the law, you've ruined people's lives and people ought to take responsibility for that.

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