Monday, October 31, 2011

Iraqi Christians

A year ago, Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was assaulted. Aidan Clay (International Christian Concern) reports:

Today marks the anniversary of last year's four-hour siege on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad that ended with al-Qaida linked militants massacring 58 worshippers. The attack was the worst against Iraqi Christians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and enticed many of the already dwindling Christian population in Baghdad to leave the city permanently.
"We've had enough now. Leaving Iraq has become a must," Jamal Habo Korges, a Christian mechanic and father of three, told the United Nation's humanitarian news outlet IRIN. "We've been suffering since 2003 and we can't take it anymore. The latest carnage is the final warning."
Father Douglas al-Bazi, who was kidnapped and tortured four years earlier, told The Christian Science Monitor after the attack that his Chaldean parish in Baghdad had dwindled from 2,500 families in the 1990s to less than 300.
"Of course I cannot ask anyone to stay," he said. "Everyone tells me 'Father, I am sorry - I will leave.' I tell them, 'Don't be sorry, okay? No one is pushing you to die, what's the benefit of dying?'"
Iraq's Christian population prior to 2003 was estimated at one million or more. Today, fewer than 400,000 remain. Those who leave either become internally displaced - most toing to the less violent Kurdish north - or flee the country altogether.

**Lebanon's** Daily Star adds:

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai leaves for Iraq Monday to head a Mass at the Our Lady of Salvation church on the occasion of the first anniversary of an attack that left 58 people dead.
The delegation, scheduled to leave Beirut airport shortly before midday Monday, includes Bishop Camille Zaidan and Environment Minister Nazem al-Khoury, on behalf of President Michel Sleiman.
[. . .]
Rai is expected to hold talks with a number of Iraqi officials before his return home Wednesday evening.

[** C.I. note: Corrected to Lebanon's Daily Star, not Pakistan's. That was my error. My apologies for my mistake.]
In the year since the attack, Nouri al-Maliki's accomplished nothing to help Iraq's Christian population. Not at all surprising when the official government response in the week after the attack was to turn around and attack France which offered medical care to the wounded. France opened the door and took the wounded in, airlifted them in at no cost to Iraq, provided them with medical treatment at no cost to anyone and the response to that humanitarian gesture was for Nouri's government to condemn France's kindness.

In the Kurdistan Regional Government, where many Iraqi Christians have resettled, you have efforts between the KRG and various religious bodies to build churches -- a Baptist Church, a Catholic Church, etc. The KRG has been much more responsive to the issue of religious persecution than has Iraq.

Where did Iraq's Christian population go? Over 1.5 million before the start of the war, down to less than 500,000 today. Internally, it shifted from throughout Iraq to the KRG. But many more elected to leave the country becoming part of Iraq's refugee population -- the largest refugee population in the region since 1948. If you think the US has opened the doors, you may be remembering campaign promises from Barack. Those promises were long ago set aside and no one in the press appears to care. There were target goals for admitting Iraqis to this country. They are fiscal year targets. October 1st the new fiscal year started. No one pressed the White House or State Dept for those figures (they haven't been pressed since the fall of 2009). No one notes that they don't meet the established numbers.

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The Projection Message" went up last night. On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) -- topics explored include Occupy Wall Street with activist Justin Norman of Occupy Des Moines and Guantanamo with CCR attorney Pardiss Kebraiei.

Closing with the topic of burn pits. Burn pits have resulted in many service members and contractors being exposed to chemicals and toxins that have seriously harmed their bodies. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held hearings on this issue when Byron Dorgan was the Chair of the DPC. Click here to go to the hearing archives page. A registry is something that Leroy and Rosita Lopez-Torres are now working on. It should be noted that were it not for US Senator Jim Webb, the nation would already have such a registery. In October 21, 2009, then-Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explaining the bill for a registry he was sponsoring, advocating for it.

I am here today to testify about a tragedy that took place in 2003 on the outskirts of Basra in Iraq. I am here on behalf of Lt Col James Gentry and the brave men and women who served under his command in the First Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard. I spoke with Lt Col Gentry by phone just this last week. Unfortunately, he is at home with his wife, Luanne, waging a vliant fight against terminal cancer. The Lt Col was a healthy man when he left for Iraq. Today, he is fighting for his life. Tragically, many of his men are facing their own bleak prognosis as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate, one of the most lethal carcinogens in existence. The chemical is used as an anti-corrosive for pipes. It was strewn all over the water treatment facility guarded by the 152nd Infantry. More than 600 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed. One Indiana Guardsman has already died from lung disease and the Army has classified it as a service-related death. Dozens of the others have come forward with a range of serious-respiratory symptoms. [. . .] Mr. Chairman, today I would like to tell this Committee about S1779. It is legislation that I have written to ensure that we provide full and timely medical care to soldiers exposed to hazardous chemicals during wartime military service like those on the outskirts of Basra. The Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation that has already been co-sponsored by Senators Lugar, Dorgan, Rockefeller, Byrd, Wyden and Merkley. With a CBO score of just $10 million, it is a bill with a modest cost but a critical objective: To enusre that we do right by America's soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals while defending our country. This bill is modeled after similar legislation that Congress approved in 1978 following the Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam conflict.

An important bill but one that never got out of Committee. Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits and contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook. It's a personal issue, Capt Leroy Torres was exposed to the burn pit on Balad Airbase. They note that a member of Congress is working on the issue.

From: The Honorable W. Todd Akin
Dear Colleague;
Please sign on to be an original cosponsor to legislation that is important to our veterans.  Numerous veterans have suffered serious health problems after exposure to open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. This legislation will establish a registry, similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry.  This is the first step toward providing better care for veterans who have been affected by open burn pits.
This legislation is already supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Veterans (AMVETS) and the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN).  And the issue of burn pits was recently reported on in the October 24th edition of USA Today (which can be found here)
This bill will also be introduced in a bipartisan/bicameral fashion with companion legislation being introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
This bill is scheduled to be introduced on November 3rd, so please contact my office soon to become an original cosponsor.
W. Todd Akin
Member of Congress


Rep. W. Todd Akin

Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011

Department of Veterans Affairs

Based on recent accounts of health maladies of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and a possible link to toxic fumes released in open burn pits it has become necessary to voluntarily track and account for these individuals. 
This registry will ensure that members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while serving overseas can be better informed regarding exposure and possible effects. This legislation
is modeled after legislation that created the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry.
As drafted, the purpose of the
Burn Pit Registry  (bill text found here) is to:
• Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who
may have been exposed during their military service;
• Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
• Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the
• Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
In order to ensure that the Veterans Administration conducts the registry in the most effective manner, the legislation:
• Requires an assessment and report to Congress by an independent
scientific organization;
• This report contains an assessment of the effectiveness of the Secretary
of the VA to collect and maintain information as well as recommendations
to improve the collection and maintenance of this information;
• The report will also include recommendations regarding the most effective
means of addressing medical needs due to exposure;
• This report will be due to Congress no later than 18 months after the date
which the registry is established.
• CBO states that this registry would cost $2 million over 5 years
We learned from this country's issues with Agent Orange that the need to get
ahead of this issue is of paramount importance. 
The establishment of a burn pit registry will help the VA determine not only to what extent the ramifications of burn pits may have on service members but can also be of great use in information dissemination. 
If you have any questions please contact Rep. Akin's office at 5-2561 and speak
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