Wednesday, March 23, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, displacement continues in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr tries to angle Ahmed Chalabi into a cabinet post, Iraqi children are born with birth defects in numbers higher than the normal average, and more.
Today the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre released [PDF format warning] "Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2010." Across the globe, the number of displaced person grew to 27.5 million ("the highest in a decade"). Iraq joins Columbia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somolia and Sudan as one of the five countries with "over a million people identified as IDPs" -- Internally displaced Persons -- and "over half the world IDPs" are in those five countries. Of the five, Iraq ranks third on the largest internally displaced populations scale with approximately 2.8 million people in Iraq. The graph on page 16 of the report shows a steady climb in the number of IDPs in Iraq throughout the decade with 2008 being a high point, 2009 a slight dip and 2010 returning to the same level as 2008. Approximately 9% of Iraq's population (in country) is IDP which translates as approximately one Iraqi in every ten is internally displaced.
Page 25 features a photo of an Iraqi male missing a portion of his left leg who, along with others, now lives "in a garbage dump in the neighbourhood of Al-Mushraf" in Mosul as a result of being an IDP who has had to flee his home as a result of violence. Page 78 deals specifically with Iraq. From page 78:
By 2010, people from the same sectarian or religious group had been concentrated into the same locations as IDPs fled to areas where their group was dominant. About half of the total number came from the ethnically diverse governorates of Baghdad and Diyala. As a result the country was more ethnically and religiously homogenous than at any time in Iraq's modern history. Iraqi society remained deeply divided along sectarian lines, with many minority groups facing particular threats, including Christians of various denominations, Fae'eli Kurds, Yazidis, Palestinian refugees, and Sunni and Shi'a Muslims where they were in the minority.
Tensions remained high in 2010 yet increasingly confined to the disputed areas of the ethnically diverse northern governorates of Kirkuk and Ninewa. While the security situation in Baghdad remained fragile, it had improved tos ome extent because the major political parties had renounced violence to jockey for political influence. The only identified pattern of new displacement in 2010 was that of Christians from Baghdad and Mosul: following threats and targeted bombings, an undetermined number were displaced to the three northern governorates under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Internally displaced children and women were particularly at risk, and faced widespread gender-based violence and labour exploitation. In a country that gives women fewer opportunities than men, internally displaced women and families headed by women had significantly greater needs than other displaced people in the same area.
Many of the vulnerabilities faced by IDPs were shared by non-displaced groups who all suffered from high rates of unemployment, limited access to basic food rations and clean water, and a declining standard of living. However, IDPs faced the additional challenge of the constant threat of eviction as most displaced families were living in rented or privately-owned houses, in collective settlements, or in public buildings.
The report notes that the number of returnees (of IDPs -- not returnees from outside the country) dropped in 2010 and those who did return largely returned to either Baghdad or Diyala. (Yes, we noted this reality back in 2010 when fools like Thomas E. Ricks' online spouse couldn't get it correct.) Kelley B. Vlahos explores the realities of what's been done to the land and future of Iraq in "Children of War" (American Conservative). Scott Horton discussed the article with her on Antiwar Radio. Excerpt:
Scott Horton: This is a very hard hitting piece there in the American Conservative magazine which is the flagship magazine of the anti-war right in this country and often times it's worth reading in depth but this article was really great and especially timely since it's now the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And primarily this article is concerned with the pollution of various kinds and the disastorous effects that this pollution has had for the people of Iraq. So that, I think as you even say in the piece, "Even though the American people would prefer to just pretend the Iraq War is ancient history or something, it's still going on for the people there." Can you tell us a little bit about the consequences and maybe some of the likely causes that we're talking about here?
Kelley B. Vlahos: Sure. I mean I -- I basically would call this if you're going to look at something that crystalized the US invasion of Iraq, I would say this is the greatest, you know, singular example of the tragedy of our invasion of Iraq -- if not the thirty year relationship we've had, the US has had with Iraq. This was a very difficult piece to write. But just to drill down a bit, basically it talks about the impact of, like you said, the pollution -- the impact of 30 years, really of war in Iraq beginning with the Iran and Iraq war in which we supplied monetarily and with weapons Saddam Hussein in the Iraq war and against Iran in which thousands and thousands of pounds of munitions were dropped, tanks and chemical weapons. Then you fast forward to the Persian Gulf War, another anniversary that was reached this week, the end of the Persian Gulf War 1991in which, again, we used heavy artillery and tanks notably with depleted uranium that still sits out in the deserts of Iraq. And then the more recent US invasion of Iraq and the last 8 years. So the impact of that on the landscape of Iraq has been devestating. And the greatest example we have right now is the increase of birth defects in places like Falluja, for example, and Basra which were very, very heavily hit -- both in this war, specifically Falluja, and in the Persian Gulf War, Basra. And what they're finding in a recent study that I -- that I mention in the piece, in Falluja they, scientists, have determined a 15% incident rate of birth defects among babies born in their General Hospital in 2010. And to sort of bring this into perspective, you know, an estimated 3% of every live birth in the US is effected -- is effected by birth defects and 6% worldwide. So we're talking a huge, auspicious number here. We're talking birth defects --
Scott Horton: Well hold on a second, Kelley. I was going to say if -- if people have young kids riding along in the back of the minivan right now, you might want to turn it to music before Kelley starts describing some of the birth defects we're talking about being found at the Falluja General Hospital.
Kelley B. Vlahos: Oh, yeah. I mean, as a mother, this is a particular difficult story for me to do because every time that I went to do research, Googling "birth defects Falluja" I would indiscriminately get photographs of these babies that were born and we're talking everything from congenital heart defects to what you would call skeletal malformations which could be pieces of the skull missing, missing eyes, missing limbs, additional limbs where there shouldn't be limbs, babies who are just lying there lifeless and limp because their heads are three, four times the size they should be. Things that you don't even want to see or ever hope to see, that will give you nightmares at night. And there are pictures and pictures and examples upon examples on the internet that, you know, I think most of us would probably -- not ignore, but never see unless we were investigating it ourselves. And this is sad because the evidence is there and we have basically, like you said earlier, have decided that the war is over but this is occuring. And they're looking for help and their own government isn't giving them help and we certainly aren't doing it. Now what are the causes? This is -- this is the big investigation that's going on. There's been -- There's many theories. One being that depleted uranium that I had mentioned earlier. Our depleted uranium basically is -- is a dense heavy metal that is used in both an armored plating on our tanks as well as in our munitions. Now the extent of how much we've used in this war is pretty much a secret because the military knows it's controversial. It's been controversial since the Persian Gulf War when it was used and our own soldiers were being exposed to it in friendly fire fights with tank battles. And they came home and complained of all sorts of illnesses but also birth defects in the babies that their wives were having. There had been many studies and many surveys done but the Department of Defense -- surprise, surprise -- has denied that depleted uranium has anything to do with incidents, increased incidents, of cancer birth defects among our soldiers so you can imagine that they don't want anything to do with anything that's happened among Iraqis. But anyway, so the use of depleted uranium is controversial but they're still using. The Air Force uses it, the Army, the Marines. And in places like Falluja which had been unbelievably pounded by US air power during 2004 and 2005 if you can remember, this was a big hot bed of Sunni resistance. They were the ones that hung the Blackwater contractors off the bridge, the Sunnis in Falluja. And so the Marines went in there and basically tried to basically restore order there, to take it out of control of the insurgents' hands. They managed to do that. They put -- They put the security in the hands of local uh-uh Fallujans and left and then they had to come back after George Bush -- the minute George Bush was re-elected in 2004. He -- He started another air campaign. So we're basically talking about large areas of the city just leveled. We're talking about GPS guided bombs just like plucking buildings out, plucking insurgents out. You know strafing going on. I mean, just -- you can imagine. Looking at pictures of Falluja today, it's a wasteland. But they managed to "pacify" them in the end. But anyway, so what's left there? And we can only imagine. So the babies that are being born today are, like I said, 15% of them in 2010 were being born with these birth defects. Is it the depleted uranium? Is it the fact that there's no sewage or clean water in Falluja? All sorts of -- I mean, the burning of the trash on the forward operating base, a little bit about that in the article. So we basically destroyed the ecology of Iraq. But we need to find out exactly what's causing the birth defects and also the high levels of cancer among Fallujans as well as the people in Basra which I mentioned earlier was also heavily hit too. The studies are there but they need the help not only to bring it to light and to do something about it. And we are-are so far ignoring the plight of these people. For all obvious reasons. It is -- It is an embarrassment and a humiliation. And it is anathema to everything we were told: we went into Iraq to save and to liberate these people.
About 75,000 children in Iraq are now living in camps or shelters, having lost their homes due to the war or been forced to evacuate because of threats of violence. Hundreds of kids have been injured, or even died, from war-related violence. Many, many others have lost family members to the war. One twelve-year-old girl was shot repeatedly by US soldiers who burs into her home. The soldiers shot and killed the girl's uncle and injured her aunt. They even killed all of the family's chickens before they left, to lessen the family's chance of survival.
Violence never ceased in Iraq but it's been on an upswing for awhile now. Alsumaria TV notes, "Some Iraqis attribute violence outbreak to rows among political parties while others blame the Parliament which suspended its sessions and delayed the nomination of security ministers. Political analysts in their turn believe Iraq insecurity is due to the delay in security ministers nomination which is getting more and more complicated on account of political parties competition."
Reuters reports a Ramadi roadside bombing injured two police officers, a Mussayab roadside bombing injured two police offiers, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left seven other people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of a driver for the Ministry of Electricity and left two people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured, a Kirkuk bombing injured two people and, as fire fighters arrived on the scene, a second bombing left five of them injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and a Mosul grenade attack injured on person.
Reuters reports 1 "official in the Municipalities Ministry" was shot dead in Baghdad, a Mosul attack left two police officers injured, and, dropping back to Tuesday for both of these, Iraqi Army Maj Ahmed Obeidi was shot in Baghdad and died after arriving at the hospital and a Mosul police officer was shot dead not far from his home.
Dr. George was director of research for the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage when United States troops and their allies invaded Iraq. He fought through blocked bridges, explosions and troops to repor to the museum in the chaotic days afterward, finding he could not persuade American troops to protect it because no order had been issued to do so.
An estimated 15,000 artifacts were stolen, less than a tenth the initial guesses. Working with Col. Matthew Bogdanos of the Marines to investigate the thefts, they recovered half the stolen [. . .] artifacts, partly by granting looters amnesty.
In the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, he fought his way through the chaos to report to the museum, but found that he could not persuade American troops to protect it by moving their tanks across the entrance because they had not been ordered to do so. It was a question about the looting that prompted American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's laconic observation "Stuff happens". Or as General Tommy Franks of Central Command said at a pre-war briefing when the subject of securing cultural sites came up, "I don't have time for this ----ing bulls**!"
More significantly, as the conference was breaking up, Channel 4 News managed to set up a satellite phone link in Baghdad to my old friend Donny George, the director of research at the Iraq Department of Antiquities, and I was able to speak with him directly. I was the first person outside Iraq he had been able to speak to.
Donny was distraught. Looters and vandals had been rampaging unchecked through the museum for two days. Although there was nobody in the building at that time, it was still unguarded and therefore vulnerable. He asked me to pass this information on, and he urged me to come to Baghdad as soon as possible to see what could be done to help.
As soon as it was known that Donny wanted me to go to Baghdad, a number of journalists offered to facilitate my trip. I joined forces with the BBC team and on April 22 flew out to Amman, where we picked up our "protection officers" (a euphemism for hired guns) and drove in a convoy along the desert road to Baghdad.
Once across the Iraqi border we were confronted by stark reminders of the recent war: military convoys, burnt-out vehicles and bombed bridges. Nothing, however, prepared me for the changed appearance of Baghdad. On the outskirts of the city we could see blackened buildings, some with smoke still rising from them. The streets were more or less deserted, and there was an unreal calm and quiet, punctuated by the periodic sound of gunfire, showing that there was still some resistance to the coalition occupation. We made straight for the museum, and our vehicles were allowed through the locked gates.
Donny, Dr Jabr Ismail, the director of the Department of Antiquities, and Dr Nawalla al-Mutawalli, the director of the Iraq Museum, all came out to greet me. It was agreed that we should sleep on the ground on the colonnade. In the morning we were able to start our inspection of the museum. It was a heartbreaking sight. I already knew that, in the build-up to the war, the curators had moved most of the objects from the galleries to a "secret store" in the bowels of the Earth beneath the museum. However, they had left behind all those objects that, for one reason or another, were difficult to move or were simply overlooked, and it was these objects that had been stolen or vandalised. Many of the glass showcases were also smashed, so in some places there was a thick carpet of broken glass on the floor. In addition, every one of the 120 offices in the building had been broken into, usually by smashing a hole in the door.
Files, papers, index cards, photographs, films and computer software had all been swept off the shelves and onto the floor. It seemed that the intention had been to start bonfires, but fortunately this did not happen. All the safes in the building had been broken open. It was also clear that the intruders had broken into the storerooms, but at this stage nobody had been inside to assess the extent of the losses. There has been much speculation as to whether the looting that took place was spontaneous or organised -- and who, precisely, was behind it. Theories have ranged from the involvement of Ba'athist loyalists, determined to cause maximum civilian unrest, to the connivance of international antique-dealers, requesting items to be stolen to order. Five years on, these questions remain unanswered. The whereabouts of looted material is also hotly disputed. There is clearly a black market in Iraqi antiquities, but where the pieces have ended up is not yet known.
George was the first Iraqi Christian to rise to the top of the country's archaeological establishment, but his faith made him a target during worsening sectarian violence. To get to work he would use three different cars (to keep any assassins off his trail), varying his route and never leaving at the same time two days in a row. Several colleagues lost their lives.
The situation took a turn for the worse when, in 2005, a member of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Shiite political faction was appointed minister of tourism and antiquities. George claimed that the new appointee and his acolytes were only interested in preserving art from the country's Islamic history and not from earlier periods, making his job impossible. The final straw was when his 17-year-old son received an envelope containing a bullet and a message that accused the youth of "cursing Islam, teasing Muslim girls" and having a father who was helping the Americans. In 2006 he fled Iraq for good.
CONAN: Give us an example, if you would. Is there a piece that is of particular significance that--or at least significance to you?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, at the beginning, you see, we lost some very, very important masterpieces, like the Warka vase, like the mask of the lady from Warka, but these came back. But now one of the most important pieces that is still missing is the headless statue, half-natural-size, of the Sumerian King Natum(ph), which--we still don't have it. And, by the way, this piece is inscribed on the back shoulder, and it could be one of the rare examples, the first examples, of this mentioning the word 'king' in the history of mankind. So this is -- I mean, every single piece has its own significance.
CONAN: We're talking with Donny George, director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. You mentioned Sumer; this was an early, maybe the earliest, human civilization...
Mr. GEORGE: That's right.
CONAN: ...speaking a language that appears to have no relation to any language anywhere else.
Mr. GEORGE: That's right. Yeah.
CONAN: This is a great mystery and--but these were the people who first invented the hydrographic civilization that we emerged from.
Mr. GEORGE: That's right. I mean, modern scholars believe that the Sumerians are the descendants of the first people coming to Mesopotamia. Those were the people coming from the Neolithic period. Those were the people who started the villages. Those were the people who actually, with the villages, started the animal domestication and agriculture and a lot of -- villages planning and, you know -- but then, in about 4,500 BC, we learn that these are Sumerians. We don't have the writing then, but in about 3,200 BC we started having the writing, the inscription that they themselves invented at the beginning. It was a kind of pictographic. And, you see, this is the greatness of the people: Out of nothing, they invent something, something very important, something that can exchange ideas and can accumulate ideas between generations and generations. That was the writing. Now we have it here.
The statue he spoke of in 2005 was of the Sumerian King Entemena and other Mesopotamian artifacts noting King Entemena include a silver tripod dedicated to him which is housed in the Louvre. Last September, Barbara Surk (AP) reported on a number of stolen artifcats which had been recovered and that included the "4,400-year-old statue of a Sumerican King" noting, "The most prominent [recovered artificat] was the statue of a Sumerian king discovered in the 1920s at the ancient city of UR in southern Iraq. [. . .] The FBI listed its theft among the world's top 10 art crimes. Experts say the statue, carved from black diorite with cuneiform inscriptions along the back and the shoulders, is the oldest known representation of an Iraqi monarch. Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security located the statue in the United States in May 2006 and handed it over to Iraqi diplomats in Washington two months later."
AFP reported that, March 16th, a tribute was held for George at Baghdad Museum and quoted Deputy Culture Minister Jaber al-Jaber stating, "Donny George was a symbol of this country. With these candles we say goodbye with tears in our eyes."
On the stolen artificats, there was confusion when there return was reported because they'd been returned some time ago and put in Nouri al-Maliki's custody. He apparently 'forgot' to inform others that he was holding the objects. Imagine that. Tom Zirpoli
Under Maliki's direction, the Iraqi high court recently ruled that only Maliki, not members of the Iraqi Parliament, could propose legislation. This is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's control over the Iraqi Parliament. Freedom of the press is almost dead in Iraq. Maliki has ordered his security forces to arrest journalists who are frequently subjected to beatings and torture. Newspaper offices are regularly raided and destroyed by Iraqi police. After eight years of war funded by American blood and dollars, the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has been replaced with the dictatorship of Maliki, which makes me question why we continue to place American lives on the line to defend the government of Iraq. Why are scarce American tax dollars spent to financially support this corrupt government? Why are we giving Maliki military equipment to suppress his citizens who want democracy? Why are we paying for prisons in Iraq where innocent Iraqi citizens are detained and tortured because they want democracy?
Moqtada al-Sadr is back in Iraq for a bit more and the reason is he's supposed to secure a Cabinet post for Ahmed Chalabi per the Iranian government. Chalabi angled for the spot of prime minister in the lead up to the elections by purging various candidates from the lists but it wasn't enough for Iran to back him as prime minister. So the best he can hope for now is a Cabinet post.
Dar Addustour reports that State of Law (Nouri's slate) is resistant. Al Mada reports it was the National Alliance which joined with State of Law to reject Chalabi while Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters are backing Chalabi for Minister of the Interior. Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports on Chalabi's attempts to grandstand on larger issues in an attempt to look official. Alsumaria TV notes, "The delay is submitting security ministers names is unjustifiable, State of Law Coalition members said while blaming part of the delay as well on political parties. National Alliance MPs complained in the same regard of their party's delay in agreeing on the Interior Minister candidate while Iraqiya MPs criticized internal rows that delayed security ministers' nominations, a source told Alsumaria."
When protests took hold in Baghdad, Nouri al-Malik and Moqtada al-Sadr joined forces to put up false fronts that would derail public anger. Among the measures they both pushed was 100 days. Corruption? Lack of adequate public services? Give the government 100 days and just you wait! For what? Al Mada reports part two of the 'plan,' demand 100 more days! The latest announcement is that one hundred days isn't enough so the government's going to take 200. That's over half a year. And it's been a year since elections but Nouri still doesn't have a full Cabinet.
Dar Addustour reports that the Ministry of National Reconciliation plans to hold a press conference with "Awakening" Thamer al-Tamimi to announce that he and his 200 person militia will be laying down their arms..
8 years ago today, the US Army convoy was attacked outside of Nasiriyah. Jessica Lynch as among those injured and captured. Today Lynch was at Piestewa Peak for a memorial service held for the woman Lynch has described as "my hero," Lori Piestewa who died of injuries from the attack. Diane Ryan (KSAZ - MyFoxPhoenix) filed a video report.
Diane Ryan: We are here at Piestewa Peak. It is a very moving ceremony. Eight years ago, her friends and family decided to get together and do this special sunrise ceremony and you can see behind me, it's way back in the mountain there and it's just getting under way. I have pictures of what we saw just a few minutes ago as they were getting ready. Lori, of course, a member of the Hopi Nation. She's the first Iraqi female -- war female. She was the first Native American Indian woman to die in combat for the US. Now the mountain was renamed in her honor eight years ago. She left behind two children Carla and Brandon who are taking a bigger part in the ceremony every year as they grow older. The memorial honors her service and also other soldiers as well who died in combat for the United States. Also members of Lori's 507 Maintenance Company are here as well. The first week of the Iraqi War, they were ambushed and 11 soldiers were killed including Piestewa. Lori's best friend Jessica Lynch [. . .] she is here as well. And we talked to Lori's cousin, Barbie [Wyaco] and this is what she had to say.
Barbie Wyaco: It's healing for everybody who's here. We all get to heal a little more year by year and the memories become great memories that we can continue to build off of.
Lori Piestewa was both the first US female service member to die in the Iraq War and the first Native American woman in the US military to be killed in combat. She was 23-years-old when she died.
The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they've earned under the program guidelines.
The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.
Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.
When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit. Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply. Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.
To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.