Tuesday, April 12, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, stalemate continues, corruption continues -- why is the US still in Iraq?, Amnesty International releases a report that stands as an indictment against the thuggery that passes for 'democracy' in Iraq, and much, much more.
Yesterday the Defense Department issued the following, "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn. Sgt. Vorasack T. Xaysana, 30, of Westminster, Colo., died April 10 in Kirkuk, Iraq, of injuries sustained April 9 in a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Hood, Texas. For more information, the media may contact the Fort Hood public affairs at 254-287-9993 or 254-287-0106." He is the sixth US soldier to die in Iraq this month.
And for what? What is being accomplished? The Iraqi 'govermnet' remains in a state of paralysis. 2007 benchmarks were never, ever reached. Yet Robert Burns (AP) observes, "The U.S. wants to keep perhaps several thousand troops in Iraq, not to engage in combat but to guard against an unraveling of a still-fragile peace. This was made clear during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit Thursday and Friday in which he talked up the prospect of an extended U.S. stay." And should the SOFA not be extended? Tim Arango (New York Times) notes, "The State Department has worked up plans to double its size here in preparation for the scheduled military withdrawal. It intends to expand from about 8,000 civilians to more than 16,000 many of them private contractors, but Congress has not yet approved the money to pay for it." Why stay?
What justifies prolonging the illegal war? The wonderful human rights situation in Iraq? That little myth is (yet again) blown out of the water. Today Amnesty International issued the report [PDF format warning] "DAYS OF RAGE: PROTESTS AND REPRESSION IN IRAQ" which opens with the threat made to activist Fatima Ahmed February 25th to stop her from participating in that day's actions, "If you don't stop your political opposition activities we will kidnap you, rape you and videotape the rape." In February many Iraqi cities continued their 2010 protests. February 25th, the protests reached Baghdad. Every Friday since, protests have taken place in Baghdad (and across the country -- and they've been held on days other than Friday as well). The response from Nouri's government was to attack protesters, arrest them, assault journalists, impeded access to protest sites and more.
The report rightly notes that Iraqis were protesting in 2010 and that at least one person died in a June 19, 2010 protest in Basra "when police fired on astone-throwing demonstrators." This led to the resignation of the Minister of Electricity and, from the Minister of the Interior, "new regulations that make it extremely difficult to obtain official authorization to hold protest meetings or demonstrations." Though the report doesn't mention it, the resignation also came with the promise that the electricity issue would be addressed. It wasn't. (The Minister of Oil was also made the Minister of Electricity -- by Nouri. No, the Constitution does not allow Nouri to make such a move unilaterally.) The reports note that protests in 2011 built up to February 25th which was dubbed "The Day of Rage." From the report:
The various forces under the control of the authorities and political parties, including security guards, armed forces and security forces, responded from the start with excessive force, killing and injuring protesters, and with frequent arrests. The first fatalities were on 16 February in the eastern city of Kut in Wasit province, and on 17 February in Sulaimaniya in the Kurdistan region. Activists told Amnesty International that the ferocity of the crackdown following the "Days of Rage" led to a decline in the number of protests in subsequent weeks, although protests have continued.
On several occasions, however, protestors have used violence -- mainly by throwing stones at members of the security forces or public buildings, or on rare occasions by setting fire to public buildings. As a result, members of the security forces have been injured. On most such occasions, it appears that demonstrators only resorted to violence after security forces had used force against them, including sound bombs and live ammunition.
[. . .]
Amnesty International also found disturbing evidence of targeted attacks on political activists, torture and other ill-treatment of people arrested in connection with the protests, and attacks or threats against journalists, media outlets, government critics, academics and students.
Up to now, the Iraqi authorities in both Baghdad and Kurdistan region have sought to crack down on peaceful protestors. This must change. They should be cracking down on the use of excessive force and torture by their own largely unaccountable security forces, not on the right of people to peacefully protest. The Iraqi authorities should be upholding the rights to freedom of expression and peacefully assembly, including the right to protest, not trying to suppress them. It is high time to do so.
The Iraqi authorities have failed to respect their constitutional and international obligations to uphold the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
By refusing to do so the authorities in Iraq violated the Constitution's Article 38 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights' Article 21. The report notes protesters who were killed such as Mu'ataz Muwafaq Waissi and Salim Farooq. It also includes testimony from those who were tortured like activist Oday Alzaidy who was picked up by the army , transferred to another vehicle, "beaten and blindfolded," taken to another location where he was held for five days and tortured:
They came to me every day and they attacked me with beatings and gave me electric shocks. They told me to confess that I was sent by the Ba'ath party [the party led by former President Saddam Hussain, executed in December 2006]. When I denied this, they beat me even harder with batons and they shocked me with electric prods.
In the Kurdistan Region Government, the report explains "at least six people have died as a result of excessive force b the security forces during protests". As elsewhere in Iraq, KRG protesters have decried government services, corruption, the vast unemployment the lack of "respect for human rights and freedoms." The daily sit-ins in Sulaimaniay are noted (ongoing since February 17th). This is where security forces shot Rezhwan Ali in the head and the 15-year-old died. It's where teenager Surkew Zahid and 28-year-old Sherzad Taha died forllowing attacks by security forces.It's where Omed Jalal was shot dead by security forces (Jalal was not a protester, the 25-year-old was merely walking past the protest). Those are only some of the deaths which have taken place in the KRG protests. The capital has been largely free of protests and that's due to the government's clamp down on protests in Erbil by refusing to allow them access to the city's square -- even when denying access has meant the security forces violently responding to protesters. Torture of protesters has also taken place in the KRG. Sharwan Azad Faqi 'Abdallah shares:
At around 2.30pm as I had just finished a phone conversation with a friend, three men confronted me and asked me to give them the mobile. Other men arrived within seconds, including from behind, and then I received several punches on the head and different parts of the body. I fell to the ground, they kicked me for several minutes, but I managed to stand up. They put one handcuff on my right wrist and attached it to someone else's left wrist. But I managed with force to pull my arm away and the handcuff was broken. I ran away towards the Citadel but within seconds another group of security men in civilian clothes blocked my way and they started punching me and hitting me. There were now many security men surrounding me and kicking me. There was blood streaming from my nose and from left eye. My head was very painful.
They put me in a car . . . One security man told me I was one of the troublemakers. I was taken to the Asayish Gishti in Erbil. I was first asked to go to the bathroom to wash my face wash my face which was covered in blood. I was then interrogated in the evening and the person interrogating me kept asking about why I was in the park and kept accusing me of being a troublemaker. I was asked to sign a written testimony. When I said I needed to see what is on the paper he hit me hard. Then I signed the paper without reading it. I stayed there for two nights sharing a room with around 60 people. Then on the third day I was taken to a police station where I stayed for one night before I was released. I was not tortured in the Asayish Prison or in the police station."
That's but one example in the report. There are many more in the KRG who share stories and one of the most disturbing aspects -- something that sets it apart from the arrests/kidnappings of activists elsewhere in Iraq -- is how and when the forces appear. The report doesn't make this point, I am. Forces in the KRG show up as people are on the phone or have just finished a call. It would appear that beyond the physical abuse and intimidation, they're also violating privacy and monitoring phone calls.
Of the KRG, the report argues:
It appears clear that the two main political parties in the Kurdistan region have sought to mobilize their own security agencies and party militants to undermine and weaken the protest movement and are prepared to use extreme means, including excessive force, arbitrary arrests, torture and threats, to achieve their objective.
Throughout Iraq, the press has been under attack. Journalist Hadi al-Mehdi was eating lunch with collegaues (Hussam Sara'i, Ali Abdul Sada and Ali al-Mussawi) "when at least 15 soldiers stormed the [Baghdad] restaurant, beat him and his three friends with rifles and forced them into vehicles. He said that they were taken to a detention centre run by the 11th Army Division, later identified as the former building of the Defence Ministry, and interogated. He said he was frequently beaten during the interrogation, twice given electric shocks to his feet, and threatend with rape." The report also notes the attacks on journalistic institutions. Example:
Journalists covering the demonstrations have been attacked and injured by armed forces or security forces. Several have had their equipment and footage seized or destroyed and some have been detained. On 23 February in the morning, security forces raided the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad confiscating IT equipment and its archive. The organization has been campaigning for media freedom in Iraq for several years, including protesting restrictions on media coverage of recent demonstrations in Iraq.
When you read about Iraqi forces torturing people, grasp that this comes back to their trainers. As World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet observed at the Left Forum last month, on the "Why We Resist" panel, "The way these occupations are maintained and justified is by terrorizing people through this torture, abuse. We know what happened at Abu Ghraib. One of the things we're going to talk about later today in our panel on WikiLeaks is the fact that the US not only knew about but trained the Iraqi military and police in abusing detainees. And that is still going on. So this is one of the effects of the war. So these issues are really important for the occupation." Torture and abuse continue in Iraq and the pattern for them includes the training forces received.
The report concludes calling for the following:
* Guarantee and uphold the right to peaceful protest, and protect protesters from excessive force by police or violence by others.
* Conduct full, thorough and transparent investigations into the killings and attacks on protesters and the assaults and threats made against journalists and others, make the results of the investigation public and bring perpetrators to justice.
* Ensure that security forces and other law enforcement officers act at all times in full conformity with the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, by giving clear instructions that force may only beused when strictly necessary and only to the extent required for the performance of their duty, and that lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect their lives or the lives of others.
* Publicly condemn torture and other ill-treatment, and ensure that these abusive stop.
* Conduct full, thorough and transparent investigations into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and bring perpetrators to justice.
* Provide victims of human rights violations with financial compensation and other forms of reparation that are appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the circumstances of the case.
McEVERS: In his modernist sitting room, Chalabi receives petitioners like a powerful sheik. He says Iraq should serve as an example to the region.
Mr. AHMED CHALABI (Iraqi Politician): Iraq has overthrown one of the most terrible dictatorships and blood-thirsty dictators in the 20th century. Now, Iraq can claim rightfully that it has a democratic government and it has elected parliament and free elections, and there is a dialogue, a political dialogue, going on.
McEVERS: Thing is, it's not quite so simple. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein led an elite made up mostly of Sunnis. Now that he's gone, many of those in power are Shiites. Western analysts say rather than just asserting a new Iraq, Chalabi and others are pushing for a Shiite Iraq to become a major player in the so-called Shiite Crescent, which is led by Iraq's neighbor, Iran. And this, they say, is why Chalabi cares so deeply about Bahrain. The majority of people there are Shiite, but the ruling family is Sunni. Chalabi denies he's stoking sectarian flames by extending a Shiite hand to Bahrain.
Meanwhile the US military improves life for Iraqis how by staying on the ground in Iraq? Andrew Hammon, Frederik Richter and Alison Williams (Reuters) report, "Gulf Arab states have asked the Arab League to cancela summit scheduled to be held in Baghdad in May" -- this is a rescheduling. It was supposed to have taken place in March. Al Mada reports that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hoshyar Zebari, has declared holding the Arab Summitt in Baghdad (May 10th through 11th) will cost the country $450 million in US dollars. Imagine what $450 million, allocated to Iraq's infrastructure, could do for the Iraqi people. They put on the dog for the foreigners and allow most Iraqis to live below poverty and without potable water or reliable electricity. Inas Tariq (Al Mada) reports on an Iraqi bride who quickly became an Iraqi widow when her husband was killed in July 2010, leaving her alone and expecting a child. Tariq notes the continued increase in the number of women who are now heads of single-parent households and how rare it is for any of them to receive financial assistance from the government. The Committee on Labor and Social Affairs states that a great deal of corruption is taking place in programs that are supposed to be assisting these women. The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Nassar al-Rubaie, estimates that there are over 750,000 Iraqi widows. Tariq's report is troubling for a number of reasons but especially bothersome considering the United Nations silence on the targeting of gay and presumed gay men in Iraq is that the UN is stated to have predicted a list of 'misfortunes' that will plague Iraq in coming years and "homosexuality" is on the list -- a list that includes "mental illness." Is the UN being misunderstood or misquoted by Tariq? Or is that the attitude of the United Nations? Again, their past silence on the targeting makes it seem less like Tariq's mistake. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a report on Iraq which was written March 31st. Though rather lengthy and allegedly addressing the many problems facing Iraq as a civil society, the report never noted the targeting of the LGBT community. What sort of leadership is Ban Ki-moon providing?
Homophobia? Sexism? It's the groovy Moqtada al-Sadr. Iraq's fattest thug hides in Iran because he's afraid of his own country and his fellow Iraqis. But he's worshipped (wrongly) by a number in the US who see him as the 'resistance.' There is an Iraqi resistance. It is not represented by Moqtada al-Sadr and never has been. Moqtada's currently threatening to do something (it's the same tired and empty threat he's always made) that if the US doesn't leave, he's going to unleash his mob on US troops. UAE's National Newspaper reports on Moqtada but, note, they do so with a byline credited to "The National staff." Tell too much truth about Moqtada and you better go anonymous. The paper reports that graffiti is popping up around Baghdad announcing the return of Moqtada's mob:
On the buildings that line the streets and alleyways of neighbourhoods in the Shiite strongholds of north-eastern Baghdad, similarly foreboding messages admonish men against shaving their beards and women against forsaking the abaya for western clothing. Iraq's security forces quickly whitewash over the warnings, only for them to reappear elsewhere.
They appear to be a calling card of the Mahdi Army which, at the height of its influence in Baghdad after the US-led invasion of 2003, prohibited Iraqis from watching football on television on the ground that sport was against the teachings of Islam. It also operated death squads and fought US troops and Sunni militants with equal ferocity.
Again, Moqtada al-Sadr does not represent the Iraqi resistance. He is a threat to the Iraqi people, he has always been a threat to the Iraqi people.
Turning to today's violence, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports the Ministry of the Interiror's Mustafa Saeid was shot dead in Baghdad, a Falluja sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and injured two passer-bys, and a second Falluja sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer. AFP notes a Baghdad bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers, Baghdad grenade attacks claimed 2 lives and left two more people injured, a Baghdad mortar attack injured three poeple, a Baghdad home bombing (dynamite) claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi "civilian contractors for the Iraqi army" -- the two were cousins and three of their family members were left injured, and gun attacks left four people in Baghdad injured. Aswat al-Iraq notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul and 1 person was injured "when police opened fire on him accidently". Aswat al-Iraq also reports an Iskandariya bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers and left two more injured.
Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Iran's Fars News Agency reported last week that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday." Friday saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Yesterday AP's Lara Jakes reported that the Iraqi Parliament voted today to close down the camp. AP reported that last Friday, at a UN Security Council meeting, Iraq's Ambassador to the UN, Hamid al-Bayati, declared that Iraq would "not force" the residents back to Iran "but it will encourage them to go to a third country." Alsumaria TV reports today that Ali al-Dbbagh -- aka Nouri's mouth -- has declared, "The council of ministers has committed to implement an earlier decision about disganding the terrorist group People's Mujahedeen of Iran, by the end of this year at the latest, and the necessity of getting it out of Iraq." Reuters notes that the Ministry of Defense states it will investigate the allegations of an attack -- but such a claim/boat might be taken more seriously if the ministry had, for example, a minister. But the security ministries aren't important enough for Nouri to get around to naming them.
The violence hasn't stopped -- in fact, it's been on the rise for some time now. Why are US soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Eight years and counting, what has been accomplished? How much more blood and money will go into this war?
Nothing more vividly demonstrates the dissent within, and the sectarian nature of, the Iraqi government than the failure of the coalition partners to agree on the nominees for the three of the most significant cabinet posts, namely those of defense, interior, and national security. Almost four months after this government was voted into office on December 21, 2010, these three cabinet posts remain vacant because the prime minister and the leaders of the other blocs -- indeed, even al-Maliki's bloc, the National Alliance, itself -- could not agree on candidates that would get the parliament's vote of confidence. Al-Maliki was reported to have siad that he was prepared to wait a year until he was ready to submit to parliament names of candidates to his liking. As a result, al-Maliki has since been the acting minister for all three ministers.
Today Aswat al-Iraq reports that MP "Safiya al-Suheil [. . .] wondered on Tuesday about possibility of Iraq's commitment towards the Security Agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington in 2008, at a time when Iraq does not have Security Ministers." Pure happenstance, of course, Aswat al-Iraq also reports Nouri "has nominated Ibrahim al-Lamy" for Minister of the Interiror. Nouri's been in no great hurry to put together a complete Cabinet. But US troops are on the ground in Iraq. Ensuring that Nouri is not tossed aside. Why?
"The message in this and the SEC's other FCPA cases is plain -- any competitive advantage gained through corruption is a mirage," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "J&J chose profit margins over compliance with the law by acquiring a private company for the purpose of paying bribes, and using sham contracts, off-shore companies, and slush funds to cover its tracks." Cheryl J. Scarboro, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit, added, "Bribes to public doctors can have a detrimental effect on the public health care systems that potentially pay more for products procured through greed and corruption." According to the SEC's complaint filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, public doctors and administrators in Greece, Poland, and Romania who ordered or prescribed J&J products were rewarded in a variety of ways, including with cash and inappropriate travel. J&J subsidiaries, employees and agents used slush funds, sham civil contracts with doctors, and off-shore companies in the Isle of Man to carry out the bribery.
Peter Loftus and Jessica Holzer (Dow Jones Newswire) reminded, "The news is the latest black eye for J&J, which has been grappling with a series of product recalls because of manufacturing-quality lapses, as well as government investigations of its U.S. marketing practices. J&J recently agreed to heightened government oversight of manufacturing in its McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit, the source of recalls of millions of bottles of over-the-counter medicines including Tylenol since 2009."
In other corruption news, the Justice Dept announced Friday that a one-time US Baghdad Embassy employee who stole close to $250,000 had received a prison sentence: WASHINGTON -- A former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., to 42 months in prison for stealing nearly $250,000 intended for the payment of shipping and customs services for the embassy, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia. Osama Esam Saleem Ayesh, 36, was also ordered to pay $243,416 in restitution and a $5,000 fine, as well as to serve three years of supervised release following his prison term. A federal jury convicted Ayesh on two counts of theft of public money and one count of engaging in acts affecting a personal financial interest. Ayesh was arrested at Dulles International Airport on Aug. 16, 2010, and indicted on Oct. 15, 2010, on the charges for which he was convicted. Ayesh, a resident of Jordan, was hired by the Department of State as a shipping and customs supervisor at the embassy in Baghdad, who oversaw the shipments of personal property of embassy officials and personnel in Iraq. His duties required that he maintain close contact with local Iraqi companies and vendors with expertise in clearing goods through Iraqi customs. As a State Department employee, Ayesh was aware that he would be subject to the conflict of interest laws of the United States that prohibit government employees from using their position for personal profit. According to court records, Ayesh used his State Department computer to create a phony e-mail account in the name of a real Iraqi contractor and used that e-mail account to impersonate the contractor in communications with embassy procurement officials. He also established a bank account in Jordan under his wife's name to further his criminal scheme and falsified wire transfer instructions that directed U.S. government electronic funds transfers to that account. Court records and evidence at trial showed that Ayesh was personally involved in establishing and operating blanket purchase agreements for the provision of customs clearance and delivery services to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. From November 2008 to June 2010, Ayesh submitted false invoices in the name of an Iraqi contractor -- which Ayesh fabricated on blank stationery he kept in his embassy apartment -- and caused the U.S. Department of State to wire $243,416 to his wife's account in Jordan. This case was prosecuted by David Laufman of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section, who is on detail to the Department of Justice from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan of the Eastern District of Virginia. The Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs provided assistance in this matter. The case was investigated by special agents of the State Department's Office of Inspector General and the FBI's Washington Field Office.
Finally, at the Left Forum last month, Debra Sweet, director of World Can't Wait, moderated a panel on "Why We Resist" with the Center for Constitutional Rights' Pardiss Kebriaei, Iraq War resister Matthis Chiroux and journalists Eric Stoner of the War Reisisters League. This was the World Can't Wait panel and WCW posted the video of it on Friday. The plan was to note all three panelists. I've since looked at the week's schedule which includes a number of Congressional hearings. There's a chance we won't get to note all three so I'm jumping to Matthis today (we noted Pardiss Kebriaei yesterday) to make sure he's included. Time and space permitting, we will include Eric Stoner in a snapshot this week.
Matthis Chiroux: [. . .] I can't believe that I went to Afghanistan, just like you [Eric Stoner] went to Afghanistan, except I went as an occupier. Not just as an occupier. An Army journalist sent to try and help justify what was going on, to try and suggest to the world that this chicken s**t that is US imperialism is somehow chicken salad that's capable of filling the bellies of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. That's why I resist. I would like to think I would resist one way or another but I certainly have taken a very -- uh -- personal stance against all of this. If for no other reason than because I deal with such guilt from the knowledge of what he just described to all of you -- which makes me want to cry. As a 27-year-old man -- the knowledge that I am responsible for that . . . is a huge part of why I resist. . . . I'm sorry. Debra will tell you I don't usually get emotionally effected like this when I'm speaking on panels but, G** damn, nothing has changed. It's been six years and nothing has changed. The people are still suffering so badly. And just because we can't see them doesn't mean that we shouldn't be able to feel them. You know, we're supposed to be listening to Afghanistan today, just trying feeling for one second what these people must be going through. What these children -- and he's right, there are so many children in Afghanistan -- And not these little devils we see running around the streets of America treating their parents like they're their slaves. I'm talking about beautiful children who would do anything to help feed their families, who will try and sell drugs to soldiers carrying guns so that they can take home a loaf of bread to their mother. The most beautiful eyes you've ever seen. And the children of Afghanistan, I can't even describe to you how beautiful these children are even caked in mud and feces and urine, their eyes shine with such life. And to know that Americans are there pointing guns at them -- that I was there pointing guns at these children . . . To me, it is a matter of resist or die. I have felt so suicidal in my life and I have had to make the decision that either I will fight for justice or I will die for the crimes that I have committed and probably by my own hand. And it drives me crazy when I hear Americans complain about not being able to pay their f**king rents while there are millions and millions and millions of people we have made homeless in the name of security in this country. But we know it's not for security. We know what it's for. It's for empire. It's just sick.