Friday, April 22, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the White House confirms talks are going on with Iraq re: US troops, protests continue in Iraq and continue to be largely ignored by the US media, and more.
Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) report, "In Iraq, top U.S. military officials believe that leaving a sizeable force beyond this year could bolster Iraqi stability and serve as a check on Iran, the major American nemesis in the region, officials said. U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have echoed the concern that if the U.S. pulls out completely, Iran could extend its influence." The two note that the talks have been regarding ten thousand US forces remaining in Iraq and that a big sticking point appears to be concern that US forces remaining on the ground past December 31, 2011 may feed into the discontent already gripping the region. The reporters note, "Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in recent months, demanding better basic services and an end to government corruption. Baghdad responded last week by imposing a ban on protests on the streets of the capital." Al Mada reports that Nouri al-Maliki insisted on Iraqi television that it's a "no" to a new security agreement (or an extension). Nouri's good about making those statements in public . . . and privately doing just the opposite. This may or may not be another example of that. Christopher Islam (CBS News) reports that Adm Mike Mullen stated today that if US forces are to remain beyond December 31, 2011, then the US will need to be planning "soon, very soon" and, Islam adds, "One senior Iraqi politician told CBS News that the Iraqi Security Forces are simply not ready to assume responsibility for security and that, in addition to the problems addressed by Mullen, they lacked sufficient command and control, surveillance and electronic counter-measures that have been instrumental in reducing the violence in the country during the past four years." Though some early reports today -- after Barnes and Entous' exclusive report -- insisted that there were no talks taking place on this issue, the White House confirmed that talks were underway. Nicholas Johnston (Bloomberg News) reports, "The U.S. is discussing with Iraq whether some U.S. troops will remain in the country to assist with security even though no requests for assistance have been made, White House press secretary Jay Carney said." Carney is quoted stated, "We are also in negotiations, discussions with the Iraqis about what their security needs are and will be in the future." Meanwhile Anne Johnson (WRAL) reports that next month Fort Bragg's 83nd Airborne Division deploys members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq.
Al Ahrar was joined by a large contingent of supporters from all of Baghdad's districts including the Thawra and in The Tahrir, Baghdad they were singing and chanting "from Baghdad to Mosul". Tahrir was sad as well as wonderful - sad and tragic - a mother with three missing lovely young men crying her eyes and heart out - a sister ...with five missing brothers who was lucky enough to have located one of her brothers in one of the prisons through the Rafidain Satellite Station - young men - young industrialists - it was awful - exhausting - they just want to get rid of the occupation and Maliki and his gang. They are no longer interested in electricity or food or employment - gthey just want him out and they want their men and women out of the secret prisons - a third and a fourth - all mothers and sisters - terrible..... terrible..... Listen to them - My God! when is this hell going to end for Iraqis?????
DPA reports, "Iraqi police and military forces fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds of people in a northern Iraqi city who gathered Friday to protest against the US presence in the country, witnesses said." In addition, they note that protesters were out in Baghdad including women carrying photos of their loved ones who've disappeared into the Iraqi 'justice' system. Dar Addustour reports on the protest in Baghdad today and banners calling for the release of detainees, improved public services, an end to corruption and an end to the US occupation of Iraq. Today Human Rights Watch issued an alert about the ongoing crackdown on protesters in Iraq and this is the section on Baghdad:
Iraqi security forces in Baghdad are detaining and abusing activists in connection with protests against the chronic lack of basic services and perceived widespread corruption. On April 8, security forces in a vehicle with markings from the 43rd Brigade of the Army's 11th Division, arrested Nabil at the end of a peaceful protest at Tahrir Square. He was immediately transferred to other security forces in civilian clothing, and held for a week.
Released on April 15, Nabil, an organizer of the February 25 Group - one of several groups planning demonstrations in the capital - told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten repeatedly while his hands were held behind his back with plastic zip-ties, and often while blindfolded. He said his captors also used a stun gun on his arms, chest, and back.
"I heard them giving orders to shock us and hit us only below the neck, so there wouldn't be any marks. They shocked me and hit me on the arms and back and chest," he said. "I got a cut on my head that was bleeding, and one of the guards yelled at another who caused it. 'Why did you make him bleed? He is a son of a bitch and will make a scandal for us. Do not leave any marks. Hit him in places where there will be no marks.'"
Nabil said his captors went through his cell phone and told him, "We know all these numbers, and we are watching and listening to all your calls.'"
Nabil had previously been arrested on March 22, and Human Rights Watch witnessed signs of physical abuse immediately after his release from that detention. Human Rights Watch sent inquiries about Nabil's arrest and others to the offices of the prime minister and security officials but has received no response from authorities.
On April 13, security forces entered the adjoining offices of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), where the February 25 Group has held meetings in Baghdad. The security forces arrested one of the group's members, Firas Ali, who has peacefully participated in several of the Tahrir Square demonstrations.
A protester detained in early April for taking part in demonstrations at Tahrir Square told Human Rights Watch upon his release that he saw Ali inside a prison in Baghdad's Old Muthanna Airport. The witness said Ali was being held with more than two dozen protesters, 20 of whom were detained on the day of the April 15 demonstration.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about Haydar Shihab Ahmad, also from the February 25 Group, who has been missing since April 1, just after taking part in that day's demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Members of his family told Human Rights Watch that they have made several inquiries at prisons in Baghdad in unsuccessful attempts to locate him, and have received no official reply about whether he has been detained.
"Iraqi authorities need to release any peaceful protester held incommunicado and without charge, and account for those it is charging with a criminal offense," Stork said.
Iraqi authorities have taken several steps to eliminate protests in the capital from public view. On April 13, officials issued new regulations barring street protests and allowing them only at three soccer stadiums.
"We have specified Al-Shaab, Kashafa and Zawraa stadiums as permitted sites for demonstrations in Baghdad instead of Ferdus or Tahrir squares," Baghdad's security spokesman, Major General Qassim Atta, said at a news conference televised by the state broadcaster, Iraqiyya TV. "Many shop owners and street vendors have called us and complained to us because demonstrations have affected their work and the movement of traffic."
In late February, 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 Tahrir Square. During nationwide February 25 protests, security forces killed at least 12 protesters across the country and injured more than 100. On that day, Human Rights Watch observed Baghdad security forces beating unarmed journalists and protesters, smashing cameras, and confiscating memory cards.
Kurdish leaders, facing popular protest against corrupt and undemocratic government in Iraqi Kurdistan, on Wednesday turned to Baghdad for help in quelling demonstrations that have rocked the Kurdish capital of Sulaymaniyah. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq and also head of the old-line Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is said to have requested help from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; a source in Sulaymaniyah said that Talabani depends on a 3,000-man "security force" that is largely Arab. The Sulaymaniyah source said that when Talabani appeared there Monday in an effort to calm demonstrators, protesters began chanting: "Mu-bar-ak, Mu-bar-ak," in a reference to the deposed Egyptian president. Talabani's colleague in the PUK, Burham Salih, this week reportedly offered to resign as president of Iraqi Kurdistan to halt the protests. "There have been mafia-style practices used against the free media in the region," said Salih's letter in an unusually blunt criticism of the Kurdish leadership, according to Agence France-Presse. The AFP said 95 people were wounded in clashes between police and security forces in Sulaymaniyah Sunday and Monday, and seven more on Tuesday.
Mohideen Mifthah (AFP via Sri Lanka Sunday Times) notes that the "near-daily demonstrations" in the region are contributing to the creation of a new image for the KRG. Mifthah also notes, "A poll conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute in December offered hints for the causes behind the anger in Sulaimaniyah. Some 62% of respondents in Sulaimaniyah said Kurdish MPs were not listening to their needs, and 35% said the economic situation in Kurdistan was either 'somewhat bad' or 'very bad,' both of which were the highest in the region." Frank Smyth (Committee to Protect Journalism) observes:
[. . .] in recent months more than 150 Iraqi Kurdish journalists have been injured or attacked, according to the local Metro Center to Defend Journalists. One journalist was murdered three years ago in Kirkuk after uncovering evidence of government corruption. But most of the journalists who find themselves more recently under siege have been covering violent clashes between the Kurdish security forces and protestors in Sulaymaniyah.
This rise in attacks against the press was the backdrop for the conference, aptly named "Safety for Press is Safety for All" and held Thursday in the Kurdish capital of Arbil. Sponsored by the non-governmental Independent Media Centre for Kurdistan, the conference brought together dozens of journalists, along with Iraqi Kurdish government officials such as the minister of culture and a number of mid-level police and security force commanders. I was asked to give a global perspective on how the situation for the press here compares with other parts of the world before we began discussing the issues along with possible solutions.
One thing that united everyone in the room and that unites almost everyone in Iraqi Kurdistan is the Kurdish-speaking population's long struggle for autonomy. The pesh merga or "those who die together" armed militias continue to dominate Kurdistan today after having fought for decades as guerrilla groups against various Iraqi governments based in Baghdad. Among the movement's most revered events is the "intifada" or attempted "shaking off" of Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991 after the Gulf War. Thousands were killed and far more became refugees after the attempted overthrow failed.
In the afternoon of April 18 in Arbil, the Kurdistan capital, dozens of armed men in civilian clothes attacked students from the Kurdistan region's largest university, Salahadin, as they tried to hold a demonstration. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the assailants also attacked journalists and at least one member of parliament.
A third-year Salahadin student told Human Rights Watch that a large group of organized assailants wearing civilian clothes attacked the protesters with brute force.
"We chanted 'freedom, freedom,' and then security forces came and abolished the demonstration," the student said. "They were hitting people by knives and sticks ... and arrested 23 protesters."
The assailants beat Muhamad Kyani, a member of the Iraqi national parliament for the opposition party Goran (Change) List, and his bodyguard while they were walking away from the demonstration. "There was no violence from us, nothing happened from our side to incite them," Kyani told Human Rights Watch. "I was on my way to the car when the Asayish [the official security agency for the Kurdistan region] threw me to the ground and started to kick and beat me." Kyani had two black eyes and other minor injuries from the beating. "They just wanted to intimidate and insult me and those with me," he said. "During the beating they swore at us and called me a traitor."
Reporters without Borders documented attacks on at least 10 journalists covering the April 18 protest. The group said assailants also detained numerous journalists, including Awara Hamid of the newspaper Rozhnam, Bahman Omer of Civil Magazine, Hajar Anwar, bureau chief of the Kurdistan News Network, and Mariwan Mala Hassan, a KNN reporter, as well as two of the station's cameramen.
Shwan Sidiq of Civil Magazine was hospitalized after the assailants broke his hand. "My hand is broken, my head still hurts," he told Human Rights Watch. "What I saw was what in 1988 Saddam Hussein did against me and my family."
Security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the two ruling parties there, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have used repressive measures against journalists since the start of the protests in Iraq on February 17. The local press freedom group Metro Center has documented more than 150 cases of attacks and harassment of Kurdish journalists since February 17. In March, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 journalists covering the protests in Kurdistan.
"Time and again we found that security forces and their proxies violate journalists' freedom of expression through death threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, harassment, and by confiscating and vandalizing their equipment," Stork said.
In Sulaimaniya, daily clashes since April 17 have injured more than 100 protesters, journalists, and security forces. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on April 17 security forces fired live ammunition into the air to clear protesters blocking a road, while others shot into the crowd indiscriminately, wounding at least seven demonstrators.
"Police and security forces used everything to attack us," one protester told Human Rights Watch. "They opened fire, threw stones, used sticks and their Kalashnikovs to keep us from demonstrating."
Protest organizers told Human Rights Watch that on April 18, security forces violently seized control of Sara Square, the center of daily protests in Sulaimaniya since February 17, and demolished the protesters' podium. Security forces have fanned out across the city and have refused to allow protesters back to the site - renamed Azadi (Freedom) Square by demonstrators - resulting in clashes on April 18 and 19.
There is an obvious "blackout" in mainstream media and press on the freedom movement and revolution in Iraq. Even AlJazeera is shying away from giving true coverage of the events. Help break this scandelous silence . Support our sisters and brothers who are risking their lives for a truly free Iraq. Spread the word... Iraqis want to be free of the US imported and Iranian fostered "Democracy".
Lamya Källnerwhere are the media? there is not one news channel wicht reports abut that.. wehre is the world..
Where is the world media? Not Al Jazeera of course. This week, the network gave us a lovely -- and I mean that with all the sarcasm I can muster -- report on the rowing team which can only row in Baghdad but that was kind of glossed over, wasn't it? But Al Jazeera isn't interested in the Iraqi protests. That comes from a British friend with the network. He told me Inside Iraq was about to be killed -- and it was -- because Nouri didn't care for it. Nouri was far from the only one complaining. His opinion mattered though -- for the same reason that the protests are down played. Al Jazeera wanted back into Iraq. So when Nouri complained, the decision was made to kill the program. Jasim al-Azzawi was not on vacation during the weeks after the decision was made when guest hosts filled in. If he were on vacation, he wouldn't have been writing all of those columns in the Arab media (a number of which we highlighted here in real time). The network was 'kind' enough to allow Jasim to return for the last episode of his show. And then Nouri got the only program Al Jazeera needed to air cancelled. Does anyone really believe the "America, what a freak show!" program (if you watch Al Jazeera, you know the one I'm talking about) is needed? Hell no. That program's a joke turning blips on the radar in the US into 'major trends'. And don't you find it strange that when Jasim's show was killed, with all the events going on in Iraq, only Riz managed to show any interest and not any sustained interest.
It's because the network suits made the deal to get Al Jazeera back in Iraq. Al Jazeera had a troubled time in Iraq and was almost thrown out in April 2003. It managed to hand onto its Baghdad office until August 7, 2004 at which point, then-prime minister Ayad Allawi announced in a press conference that the Baghdad office was being closed because 'an independent commission' had monitored the coverage from Al Jazeera and found bias and coverage that would 'incite.' (Hoshyar Zebari, the country's Foreign Minister since 2006 and it's interim foreign minister before that, began calling for its closure publicly in the summer of 2004.)
After six years of dialogue and many concessions on the part of Al Jazeera, last March Al Jazeera was finally again allowed to reopen the Baghdad bureau. And I'm not critizing the correspondents. I'm talking about the deal made by the executives. CNN correspondents, for example, weren't happy before the start of the illegal war with the deal CNN crafted to have a Baghdad office. And, of course, after the war started, Eason Jordan confessed from the op-ed pages of the New York Times in a column entitled "The News We Kept To Oursevles." That April 11, 2003 piece opened: "Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard -- awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff." So, Jordan wrote, they couldn't report on torture and targeted murders -- although he did call King Hussein of Jordan to warn him his life was in danger. If you were royalty, you got a warning. Sadly, lower down the rung you got no warning and you got no coverage. He concluded with, "I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely."
And Eason is right. Today any story about Hussein's corruption or torture or any other crimes can be freely discussed by the media. However, Iraqis wanting to discuss what they're experiencing under Nouri al-Maliki or Massoud Barzani are finding they can talk all they want but the western media isn't going to cover it. Maybe in twenty years, after another illegal war, a new Eason will emerge? Or maybe we should say "a new Mohammed Jassem al-Ali"? That was the Al Jazeera chief executive, a few may remember, who had to step down from his post in May of 2003 when rumors -- coming from Ahmed Chalabi -- tied three Al Jazeera correspondents with the role of spinning for Saddam Hussein's government as official Al Jazeera policy under the orders of Mohammed Jassem al-Ali. Al Jazeera denied the rumors. But they did force al-Ali's resignation. Kim Sengupta filed an even handed report on the entire matter for the Independent of London. The NewsHour (PBS) devoted a segment to the controversy that followed Eason Jordan's column confessions and Franklin Foer offered, "Well it was certainly startling to hear Eason Jordan's admission that CNN had sat on some pretty major stories, stories of torture, murder, assassination plots, but I argued that this was merely symptomatic of a larger problem that western media has in covering dictatorships. In a place like Iraq in order to get your cameras in central locales, in order to get your reporters on the ground, you need to make incredible compromises to the government. You need to subject yourself to constant surveillance by government minders who . . . you need to negotiate with the information ministry to even obtain permission to shoot your camera at a specific angle." Or as George Michael once put it, much more succinctly and much more rhythmically, "There's little things you hide, and little things that you show, sometimes you think you're going to get it but you don't and that's just the way it goes."
Thug Nouri never tires of power-grabs. Al Mada reports Nazem Ferman Al Abboudi is out and Mohssen Rissan is in as the head of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal. Nouri fired Abboudi. At issue is said to be 50 Land Cruisers which were purchased for twice the sticker price.
In today's violence, Reuters notes a burnt corpse was discovered in Kirkuk and that late yesterday a Ramadi roadside bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers with two more injured. Aswat al-Iraq reports a Sahwa shot dead another Sahwa late yesterday in Kirkuk and an 11-year-old boy was kidnapped in Kirkuk yesterday.
Catholic Culture notes that Pope Benedict has taped a radio and TV special for Good Friday, to air on Vatican Radio, in which he takes questions "from listeners all around the world". BBC News adds, "Those selected to put their question include an Italian mother whose son was in a coma for many years and a young Japanese girl affected by the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami. Others reportedly putting questions include seven Christian students in Iraq and a Muslim mother from the conflict-torn Ivory Coast." Rachel Donadio (New York Times) reports, "In the television question-and-answer session on Friday, the pope urged Christians in wartorn Iraq 'to resist the temptation to emigrate, which is very understandable in the conditions they are living in'."
Yesterday's snapshot noted multiple instances of my disagreeing with Gareth Porter's take on Iraq. Cleary, (see opening paragraphs including White House confirmation), Gareth was wrong about the SOFA. In terms of Moqtada al-Sadr, we disagree. Gareth sees him as powerful and unstoppable. And I noted he does what Iran tells him to do with a long list of examples provided of Moqtada making a statement and then caving. Gareth may be right on Moqtada and I may be wrong (or we could be both be wrong). But an e-mail defending Gareth argued that if Moqtada does Iran's bidding (my assertion, not Gareth's) that would mean if US forces stayed on the ground in Iraq because of a deal Nouri made, Moqtada would go after Nouri with Iran's prompting.
I don't happen to agree with that. I feel that the US government has repeatedly used the Iranian government and the Iranian government has repeatedly used the US government. They're kind of like the Democratic and Republican parties. If the US leaves, Iran faces full on wrath. Now some Iraqis can be glad for Iran's influence. By the same token some are glad for the US influence (occupation) but when the US leaves (and it will leave at some point -- whether that's the start of 2012 or years from now), Iran will face more anger than it does currently. Both the US and Iran play their games with Iraq and benefit from one another. My opinion. (Among the benefits? Both sides repeatedly having the opportunity to bash and demonize the other. Often those speeches seem less for Iraqi audiences or even international ones and purely for domestic consumption in the US or Iran.)
Iran has counted on the shortage of Iraqi oil production as a buffer against potential sanctions on purchases of Iranian crude, says the Tehran-based analyst. Although Iraq is currently excluded from OPEC's quota system, Iranian oil officials admit they are worried that the resurgence of its historical rival will affect Tehran's standing within the organization. (Baghdad and Tehran clashed over OPEC production targets before Iran's 1979 revolution and during the 1980s, when the two countries were engaged in an eight-year war.) While Iran has increased influence in Baghdad nowadays because of the country's Shi'ite-dominated government, that is not likely to diminish Iraq's determination to rehabilitate its war-hobbled petroleum industry.
The continued rise of Iraq's production capacity could, in the wake of an oil glut and international economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic, endanger Iran's standing as OPEC's second largest oil exporter. Already Iran has lost some of its market share to Iraq, which has better technology and can offer lower prices for similar grades of crude. "Some of Iraq's customers came to us after it occupied Kuwait and again in 2003 after Saddam Hussein fell with the U.S. invasion," says an official from Iran's national oil company, speaking from Tehran on condition of anonymity. "Now, because of Iran's political situation and difficulties with sanctions, those customers are going back to Iraq."
Lastly, Mohamed ElBaradei has a new book entitled The Age of Deception which comes out on Tuesday. And a large number of people are going to be aware of the book by the former UN chief nuclear inspector because, in the book, AP reports, he offers "that Bush administration officials should face international crime investigation for the shame of a needless war."
Mount Athos Bob Simon steps back in time when he gets rare access to monks in ancient monasteries on a remote Greek peninsula who have lived a Spartan life of prayer in a tradition virtually unchanged for a thousand years. Cameras capture the monastic life, including chanting, prayers, rituals, and the priceless relics and icons from the Byzantine Empire stored on "The Holy Mountain," Mt. Athos. (This is a double-length segment.) | Watch Video
The Billionaire Eli Broad sets the standard for philanthropy. He's given away over $2 billion and plans on leaving even more to charity before he dies. But along with the billionaire's name that most projects he funds must take, his advice and oftentimes his control are usually part of the deal. Morley Safer reports. | Watch Video