Thursday, May 5, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Hilla is slammed with a suicide bombing, Baghdad's cultural scene gets some good news, Iraqi activists gear up for tomorrow, news emerges of more money wasted by Nouri al-Maliki's government, fingers are pointed at US official Paul Bremer over missing money in Iraq, US Senator Patty Murray leads on providing veterans with a Cost-of-Living Adjustment, and more.
Protest continue in Iraq. Among the speakers in Ramadi's Tahrir Square yesterday was a young boy (link has video). And they are gearing up for tomorrow's day of resistance. Leave Iraq notes that Sunday saw protesters turn out across the country with hundreds in Baghdad alone demanding improvements in their wages and work environment and among those protesting were scientists and academics. Sunday was May Day, International Labor Day, and Aswat al-Iraq reported the Communist Party held a demonstration in Baghdad's Liberation Square which was attended by "hundreds of workers" and that they "carried placards, demanding their legitimate rights, the abolishment of the expression 'employees' for workers and the issuance of laws that organize their work and vocational life." US Labor Against The War issued the following [PDF format warning] statement:
To: Our Sisters and Brothers in the Iraqi Labor Movement
Re: May Day -- Labor's Day for International Working Class Solidarity
Dear Sisters, Brothers, Comrades in struggle:
We join with you today in our common battle for worker rights and basic disgnity for working people everywhere.
We salute the bravery and resolute action of the Iraqi working class as it seeks a democratic Iraq, free from all foreign intervention and control, free from repression and with full rights for workers as guaranteed by international labor standards.
We in US Labor Against the War, whose 190 affiliates represent over five million U.S. workers, stand with you and pledge our continuing support fo ryour work and a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq by all foreign troops and governments and restoration of full national sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
We are moved by the fact that all who visit the memorial to the 1886 labor martyrs at Haymarket Square in Chicago, whose massaacre led to the declaration of May 1 as the international day of worker solidarity, see a meesae of greeting and solidarity from the Iraqi labor movement inscribed there in 2007 during an historic visit tot he united States by representatives of the Iraqi labor movement.
And we commemorate with you that day of intense class struggle, we stand in solidarity with you in the continuing class conflict that threatens the lives and livelihoods of working people in our two countries.
Long live the Iraqi labor movement.
Long live solidarity between our peoples.
U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)
Co-convenors: Kathy Black, Gene Bruskin, Bob Muehlenkamp, Brooks Sunkett, Nancy Wohlforth and Michael Zweig
National Coordinator: Michael Eisenscher
National Organizer: Tom Gogan
Administrative Coordinator: Adrienne Nicosia
Coalition Thorpchaabat notes tomorrow's protests with an invitation for Friday stability to continue the Iraqi youth uprising and Iraqi revolution, to continue the spirit of change and to support the ongoing protests in Ramadi's Tahrir Square and in Mosul. Mosul is where Iraqi forces under the command of Mahdi Sabih al-Gharawi have attacked peaceful demonstrators and where the govenor of the province, Athil al-Nujaifi has joined the protesters. al-Nujaifi is the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament. Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) offered his take on the events last month:
The subtext of the drama is as follows. The local councils complains that the newly appointed police chief is "not from the governorate." (He comes from Shiite-majority Wasit.) Moreover, if one looks back at Gharawi's past career at the interior ministry, it becomes clear that he was frequently accused of acts of torture and association with Shiite death squads during the dark days of sectarian violence in 2006. Against that backdrop, his appointment to Nineveh in the current climate comes across as particularly provocative.
Additionally, the legal procedures seem to have been subverted in this appointment too. It is unclear how Gharawi even became a candidate, since the provincial powers law of 2008 specifies a procedure in which the governor is to come up with 5 candidates, the governorate council limits the field to three and then the ministry in Bagdhad selects one. Today, the head of the security committee in Nineveh indicates that they have not been involved in selecting three suitable candidates so far.
Of course, the ministry of interior -- which appears to have orchestrated these developments so far -- is currently under the control of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who technically remains the deputy minister of interior.
While they represent the people of Iraq and are the people of Iraq, there have also been protests or 'protests' organized and ordered by the Iranian-based Moqtada al-Sadr. Alsumaria TV notes that he's called a rally for May 23rd. The Economist notes of Moqtada:
For their part, the Americans are still nervous about Mr Sadr's increasing cosiness with Iran. His Mahdi Army used to flaunt nationalist credentials in an effort not to be viewed as being in Iran's pocket. But during Mr Sadr's time in Iran, where he has been studying in the holy city of Qom, he renewed his friendship with the mullahs. The deal he struck last year to keep Mr Maliki in power may have been brokered by them. And Mr Sadr, like the Iranian authorities, has vociferously backed Bahrain's Shia opposition. On the other hand, Sadrists in Baghdad said that they backed the Green Movement in Iran, which rebelled against the regime there in 2009.
Mr Sadr was once derided as "Ayatollah Atari", a nickname denoting his love of computer games. He was also widely regarded as a thug, albeit one who performed astutely in the violent game of Iraqi politics. But he has still not revealed his latest goals and allegiances. After two years in exile, Mr Sadr has made only two high-profile appearances in Iraq to address his followers. A spokesman said he was testing to see whether Mr Maliki or the Americans would arrest him. But Mr Sadr has recently spent more time in Iraq, mainly in the Shia's holy city of Najaf. As the Americans draw down their numbers, his supporters may see a lot more of him.
Today in Iraq, a police compound is attacked. CNN reports that a Hilla police headquarters was targeted by a suicide car bomber who took his own life and that of "at least 21 officers" with sixty more people left injured. Australia's Herald Sun quotes security official Haidar al Zazour stating, "The suicide bomber took advantage of the police station's guards changing shifts to attack. He managed to drive through the main gate and blew up his vehicle four meters [12 feet] inside the station's perimeter." AGI News notes, "A list of the victims has been posted inside the city's largest hospital." AP explains, "A witness at the scene said the blast knocked down the concrete ceiling covering a parking lot where many police cars were located." Along with damaging the police headquarters and leaving a six foot crater, AFP notes, "Several nearby houses and shops were also seriously damaged, an AFP journalist said." BBC News observes, "Hilla is a mainly Shia city and has in the past come under attack by Sunni militants." Mo Hong'e (Xinhua) updates with, ""Our latest reports put the toll from the suicide car bombing in the city of Hillah at 25 and 75 wounded," the source from Hillah police told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) quotes Kathum Majed Toma ("head of Babil's provincial council") stating, "The central government is responsible for this explosion. We requested many times for them to provide us with sonar devices to detect explosives and for them to hire more security forces so we can secure our province but they did not reply." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Other council members also blamed the national government and made clear the province had been on alert since the announcement of Bin Laden's death." Habib al-Zubaidi (Reuters) notes a Hilla hospital source for the death toll of 25 and the wounded count of 83.
In addition, Reuters notes a Mussayab roadside bombing, a Tuz Khurmato roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left four injured and, dropping back to last night, a Mosul doll bombing which injured three people. Aswat al-Iraq notes that Lt Brig Moayed Khalil Abdul-Aziz of the Ministry of Defense was assassinated today in Baghdad. And as the violence continues, Aswat al-Iraq reports, the Surpeme Iraqi Islamic Council's Ammar al-Hakim expresses his disapproval of the continued inability to fill the security positions, "The delay of the said issue has become unjustified with the presence of efficient candidates for those posts, who had been nominated by some political blocs." And while al-Hakim is dismayed by Nouri's continued inability to name those positions, equally true is that the clock is ticking for Nouri on his own self-appointed deadline. Alsumaria TV notes there are only 33 days left in Nouri's "100 days" to change. In the face of continued protests and unable to stop them via curfews, demonizations or assault, Nouri proposed that he would have corruption licked in 100 days. It would be a new government, one without corruption. Alsumaria offers three positions known to be taken. The National Alliance is backing a vote of no confidence for Nouri while Iraqiya wants "wider reform" and th Kudistan Alliance sees it all as talk to motivate Cabinet ministers to get focused on the issue.
Still on the security issue, Al Mada notes Iraqi Maj Gen Hamid al-Maliki -- Army Air Staff, stating that Iraq can't protect its air space or defend itself from an external threat and this leads quickly to speculation that the US has deliberately delayed providing military aircraft to Iraq in order to extend its stay. (If that is the plan, it was the plan before the SOFA was written. Go back to DoD reports as early as 2007 and you will see that the problem with Iraq's air force was noted as was the long time lag it would take to provide aircraft and training.) In other security news, Dar Addustour reports that allegedly Solomon Yousef, chief security advisor in Salahuddin Province, has been arrested in a raid on his home by forces Nouri sent in from Baghdad.
Turning to the topic of Camp Ashraf, the news in the US started earlier today with Bradley Klapper (AP) reporting on an unnamed "American diplomat" who was stating the US government was attempting to put together a plan that the Iraqi government would agree to which would allow the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization) or People's Mujahedeen to be relocated. More details emerged later in the day. Jill Cougherty (CNN) reports -- citing an unnamed "senior State Department official" -- that the US would temporarily relocate the estimated 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf to another part of Iraq away from the Iranian border. Away from Iran?
The residents of Camp Ashraf hail from Iran. They were in Iraq before the start of the Iraq War and, following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- these 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. April 4th, Iran's Fars News Agency reported 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 April 8th saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied. Thursday April 14th, the United Nations confirmed that 34 people were killed in the April 8th assault on Camp Ashraf. Barbara Grady (San Jose Mercury News) reported that the dead included journalist Asieh Rakhshani who has family in California. The assault hasn't really registered in the US. By comparison, several British MPs have expressed their outrage.
Of the proposed plan being reported on today, Andrew Quinn and Doina Chiacu (Reuters) explain, "A senior State Department official said on Thursday the plan was aimed at preventing more violence at Camp Ashraf". Iran's Press TV states the plan is being proposed in spit of the Iraqi government's "decision to close Camp Ashraf" noting that, in April, Nouri's "spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad is determined to shut down Camp Ashraf".
Despite the ongoing violence, AFP reports that Iraq concluded a well attended two week book fair in Baghdad today with over 200 publishers providing approximately 37,000 titles leading Safira Naji of the Baghdad International Book Fair to assert, "Baghdad has regained its place on the world's cultural map." In the region, Iraq is historically known as a nation of readers. Not all surprising when you realize it is considere the cradle of civilization due to being the first at so many modern efforts -- whether it's laws or the number zero or, in fact, writing (cuneiform). (Iraq has many more historical accomplishments, those are just three that spring to mind.) It's not at all surprising that the region that developed writing would also spawn avid readers.
Back in 2009, Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on the difficulties people like graduate student Maysoon Kadhim had in obtaining books in Iraq in the midst of the war and noted "an adage on books well known in the Arab world: Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Iraq reads." Reilly was reporting on that year's Baghdad book fair which was so popular "that its organizers extended the event from nine days to 15."
Let's stay with the arts for a bit more. Iraq had a thriving filming industry beginning in the forties on through the eighties. One of its most powerful films in the last ten or so years was released in 2000 and directed by Khairiya Al Mansour, The Last Painting. The film is an homage to the artist Laila Al Attar who died June 27, 1993 when the US bombed her home. The bombing was allegedly due to a threat against George H.W. Bush. No, she wasn't accused of plotting. But it killed her all the same. It also killed her husband while it left their daughter with vision in only one eye. (February 20, 1998, Democracy Now! did a segment on Laila Al Attar -- link is audio only.) In 2005, Sabrina Tavernis (New York Times) reported on Baghdad's film festival since the Iraq War began:
Some of the 58 short films being shown are whimsical animations. Others tell tales of suffering since the American invasion. But perhaps most important, the films, which are competing for prizes worth several thousand dollars, were made exclusively by Iraqis, mostly since the fall of the Hussein government.
"When you see beautiful young people starting these brave things, you feel happy," said Mufeed Jazaery, who was culture minister during Iraq's interim government last year. "Under the surface there is a lot of life and movement that you cannot see from above."
The film industry in Iraq dates back to the 1940's, and Iraqis still have fond memories of going to the cinema with their families in the 1970's and 80's. But with the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the years of privation that followed the imposition of economic sanctions, theaters went into decline, and Iraqis fell out of the habit.
The fighting in 2003 also took its toll. The cinema at the Baghdad University film school burned down in a bombing. Looters later took much of what remained of the equipment. Of Baghdad's 11 film theaters, only a couple are in operation, said Hamoudi Jassim, a professor at the College of Fine Arts who helped organize the festival.
Anwar Faruqi (AFP) notes some of the films "at this month's Documentary Film Festival in Baghdad, organised by the capital's struggling, non-governmental Independent Film and Television College to showcase student films made between 2004 and this year."
Art tells truth that sometimes even journalism -- or especially journalism -- can't get at. And journalism has enough problems in Iraq where the prime minister is hostile to it and where journalists are regularly targeted for death. In addition, Iraqi Revolution notes that Nouri al-Maliki's proposing a tax on all media -- local and foreign -- in Iraq in an effort to restrict who can and cannot report. One story Nouri no doubt wishes he could censor is that financial costs of the failed Arab Summit. It was supposed to take place in March but got postponed to this month. It's been unofficially postponed pretty much ever since. It is now officially postponed. Aswat al-Iraq reports it's been pushed back until March 2012. AFP's Prashant Rao put it this way:
Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reports that the government "spent $450 million planting palm trees along highways, re-paving roads and restoring a palace of former dictator Saddam Hussein to host a regional summit that has now been delayed to next year." While Iraqis do without the basics, the government spends $450 million on a summit that doesn't even take place.
The other big corruption news in Iraq today? That an American stands accused of embezzling billions of dollar from Iraq. Al Mada reports that the whispers from the Finance Committee are that $8 billion disappeared due to being stolen by the US imposed Bhwana Paul Bremer. Supposedly details will emerge in the near future via a press conference. In other corruption news, Al Rafidayn reports on a study into the importation of expired/spoiled food into Iraq. The importation is being referred to as "practiced genocide." Meat and frozen foods are seen as among the worst of the spoiled food imported but other items include: tea, beans and oil. The Integriy Committee is reviewing dozens of cases that citizens have raised as a result of the risks the tainted food put the public at. They note the infamous case of the importation of 55 thousand tons of cooking oil -- which was spoiled. Some of the food and food supplies spoiled as a result of storage. Salman Kazim is an Iraqi who has enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine) and suspects it results from imported meat which was spoiled.
Amna Abdel-Aziz (Al Sabaah) reports that in the worst areas of Baghdad, mud houses are being built from mud and scraps and waste, discarded trash, which further risks exposure to disease in an area plagued by insects, rodents, stray cats and dogs. Hussein Abdul-Jabbar states he was living with his brother but the brother's home was too small for both families so he built his mud home from scraps. (We're not as stupid as NPR which, on Monday, reported 'polling' done at the barrel of a gun as honest answers. Meaning, this is what the man told the press. Did he really move his family into a mud home due to lack of space? Who knows. But that is the story he told the press. It might be true, it might be a face saving move.) Khamis Abdallah Venus states that many suffering Iraqis live in mud homes and try to maintain their dignity. He says officials are not listening to voices or coming up with solutions. Muhammad al-Shammari, the Deputy Governor of the Province, states that they are aware of the homeless issue and are constructing public housing which will provide for 5,000 families.
When that would happen isn't stated but the story is making the rounds of the Arabic media and may be in response to recent news of homes being provided for government officials. From Tuesday's snapshot:
Different topic, Alsumaria TV reports the good news: "Iraq Ministry of Housing said on Monday that the Iraqi government approved its plan to build housing units with low prices in the provinces for the employees of the ministry and the public servants." Well . . . good news if you work for the Cabinet. In a country where the people feel the government is not representing them, it is really smart to be promoting projects that benefit the government? And is this really that different from the earlier scandal where land was being given to government workers? Something that outraged many Iraqis? From the April 27th snapshot, "Al Sabaah reports that the Cabinet has put an end to employees of 'the three presidencies' (Iraq's president and two vice presidents) grabbing up residential land plots. Dar Addustour calls it a 'private ownership scheme'."
In other news, Haider al-Rubaie Filaih (Al Sabaah) reports that, at Baghad markets, there is an increase in the price of electric fans and generators as a result of the increased temperature (which will only get higher as the summer arrives and will include many over-100 degree days).
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel and, last night at Rebecca's site, Wally shared his observations of that hearing. On veterans issues, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and has just worked very hard to successfully 'encourage' (force) the VA to comply with the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 -- which needed compliance since Congress passed it thereby making it the law of the land. Today her office released the following on other legislation:
(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee introduced legislation to increase veterans' compensation through a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). The COLA increase would affect several important benefits, including veterans' disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. It is projected that over 3.5 million veterans and survivors will receive compensation benefits in Fiscal Year 2012.
"It's been two years since our veterans saw an increase in their benefits through a COLA, and those have been two difficult years," said Chairman Murray. "In a still challenging economy so many of our veterans depend upon the benefits they receive in order to meet their most basic needs, as well as those of their spouses and children. We have an obligation to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and who now deserve nothing less than the full support of a grateful nation. A COLA increase will help brings us one step closer to fulfilling our nation's promise to care for our brave veterans and their families."
The Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with a rise in the cost-of-living, should an adjustment be prompted by an increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The bill specifies that the increase would affect veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and certain related benefits.
The COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients. The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time. The COLA rate is based on the Bureau of Labor StatisticsConsumer Price Index.
A bipartisan group of Senators signed on to co-sponsor the bill including the Committee's Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as well as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Senator John Boozman (R-AR).