Wednesday, November 9, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi women weren't helped by the illegal war, Nouri wants Ba'athists and 'Ba'athists' to repent in writing, US Senator Patty Murray takes to the Senate floor to discuss employment and veterans, and more.
One of 2010's important books was Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which examines Sunnis who relocated to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, most as part of Iraq's refugee population -- a population created by the Iraq War and so huge that it became the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948. People forced to flee their homes rarely arrive in a new area on strong footing. Most refugees have to play catch up for basic items that didn't make the journey, for cash that is usually finite and dwindling. In such circumstances and in countries where they are legally forbidden to work, a black market economy develops. For women, black market employment has historically included prostitution. In Syria, Deborah Amos met a number of women engaged in the sex trade:
Another woman said her name was Abeer. "My husband tried to smuggle the kids to Sweden, but they got caught and are back in Baghdad," she told me. She had divorced her husband when he set off for Sweden. She had agreed to the separation for the sake of her two children. Now, she lived with her sister, and worried about her kids. She sent her club earnings home for them. But why had she come to Damascus, I asked; what had driven her to come here in the first place?" "I was a journalist," she said. In 2007, she was hired by a television station based in Baghdad. She worked as a correspondent until the day her mother found a ltter that had been thrown into the family farden: "Leave in 28 hours or we will kill you." Syria was the only open border. While I was pondering Abeer's choices, she clicked her cellphone shut, took one last look at her mirror image, and moved toward [the] door. "Have a good night," she said knowingly, one businesswoman to another, as she made her way into the dark nightclub.
I could see why this was Um Nour's favorite club. The system of cost-and-rewards favored women who wanted some control over their work. It was a freelance market. We had walked in through the front door for "free," while the male patrons paid a steep cover charge and even more for the alcohol and snacks delivered to the table. Um Nour explained that women paid the Syrian men at the door at the end of the night -- but only if they left with a man.
Iraq has a long historical connection to prostitution. The Whore of Babylon is a character in the Bible's Book of Revelations, the symbol of all things evil. The world's oldest profession was first recorded in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C. The code of Hammurabi, the ancient world's first fixed laws for a metropolis, acknowledged prostitution and gave prostitutes some inheritance rights.
How much choice a woman selling sex for money is debatable -- even when we're not looking at a refugee population. But the women in that section of Amos' book are women who have reached their decisions apparently without being forced into by another person. Many Iraqi women are not so fortunate and are forced into prostitution. Today, Hajer Nailis (WeNews) reports:
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, as many as 5,000 women and girls have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, with most ending up in Syria, according to a preliminary report released today by the London-based Social Change Through Education in the Middle East. Jordan is the second-ranking destination for trafficked girls and women, according to the Nov. 9 report. These two bordering countries have maintained a relatively liberal policy of granting visas to refugees while also subjecting them to labor restrictions. That combination, the report finds, puts girls and women at high risk of seeking money through prostitution and also being prostituted by families and organized networks. "Both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have failed to address the problem of sex trafficking," the report finds, also noting that the Iraqi constitution prohibits the trafficking of women and children, as well as the sex trade and slavery.
Professional traffickers target young girls and women whilst they are still inside the Iraqi borders. These traffickers, very often women, target young girls who have left their families (for reasons of fear of violence, abuse, forced marriage or the threat of honour crimes) typically in places such as public transportations in larger cities. Kidnapped, the girls may be kept for a period of time while negotiations on their prices are undertaken, before they are sold on.
In other cases, male solicitors are recruited by trafficking gangs. These men are used to lure vulnerable young girls, eventually persuading them to elope whereby; again, they will be sold for sexual servitude. Some taxi drivers, too, are used as recruiters to lure girls with the false pretence of help, whereas women who are already involved in the sex industry are used as intermediaries who again pretend to offer assistance, offering to bring the girls to shelters when, in fact, they bring them to brothels.
We noted Syria via Deborah Amos' excellent book so let's also include the paper's discussion of the three levels of prostitution being practiced in Syria.
The first level [prostitution on the individual level] refers to a girl or woman who has made the decision to engage in prostitution and without the knowledge of her family. In reality, this decision is often one arrived at as a consequence of being forced by poverty and circumstance. Whilst the well-being and safety of these girls is absolutely important, SCEME's research and campaigning focuses on the subsequent, and often interconnected, two levels which relate to the forced sexual servitude of girls and women; the levels of family and organized networks.
The second level [prostitution on the family level] refers to those forced in work with the knowledge and active involvement of family members; these family members are most often male. This type of prostitution is also called "secret prostitution" and is most frequently reported in the Jaramana area of Damascus.
Complexly interwoven with trafficking and forced prostitution we also report that Iraqi girls are increasingly finding themselves in mut'a marriages. As the Karama Movement in the Arab Region has uncovered, on Fridays young girls are married off at price and on the following Sunday the couple is divorced. Research suggests that rates at which these mut'a marriages are carried out intensifies in the summer when male tourists visit Syria from the Gulf. Some of these tourists arrive looking to pay dowries to the families or pimps of these girls in exchange for brief marriages for the purposes of sexual exploitation for the duration of their visit. These so called 'summer-marriages' in which the girls and their husbands live together temporarily of course also provide none of the legal rights associated with marriage, such as alimony and inheritance, making vulnerable both the women involved and their resulting children. Although this particular kind of marriage is not explicitly called prostitution, it is in effect sexual exploitation, often forced, as means of either securing livelihood, or generating profit.
The third level [prostitution on the level of organized networks] involves organized networks and criminal gans which offer women and young girls for sale to people in the local community, tourists, as well as night clubs and casinos. Traffickers played an important role in opening such nightclubs in collaboration with brokers in Syria, relying on the selling of the bodies of female Iraqis. Clubs such as Al Nigma and Al Manara in the suburbs of Damascus are frequented both by local Syrians and tourists from the Gulf and beyond.
You want to pretend you're talking about war and women and peace -- you want to pretend your five-part series focuses at all on women? Then how about you note Iraq? You can't because it won't allow you to bulls**t the way PBS and the US government wants. (BS that also, it should be noted, avoids peace activists while putting "Peace" in the title of the program.) Check out the stories. The series is about how the US government helped. In some cases, well after the fact, but always it helped. And including the reality that the US-led war on Iraq destroyed women's rights in Iraq doesn't allow us to all feel so happy and pleased with ourselves. It's nothing but junk and garbage on supposed 'education TV.' PBS is lying as badly as Barack when he speaks of 'success' in Iraq.
The lies that you tell
Will leave you alone
They'll keep you down
They'll catch you and trip you up
Keep you hangin' around
-- "Love You By Heart," written by Carly Simon, Jacob Brackman and Libby Titus, first appears on Carly's Spy album
Meanwhile, Iraq seems to be moving toward a more conservative society, and this has affected the role of women in politics. Only one woman serves as a cabinet member in the new Iraqi government, as the minister for women's affairs. In the two previous governments, women held from four to six positions.
And in parliament, many of the women are relatives of party members. The New York Times reported this week that only 5 of 86 female parliamentarians got their seats because they won them. The rest were placed there by party leaders to meet the 25 percent quota.
The women MPs are often locked out of party strategy sessions. But some of them don't mind, in part because they don't believe they have the necessary experience (as if democracy is somehow newer to Iraqi women than it is to Iraqi men).
Women's organisations have also documented Islamist violence to women, including acid thrown into faces, even targeted killings. In 2003 many women in Basra reported that they were forced to wear a headscarf or restrict their movements because men began to harass or shout at them.
Women of all ages are now forced to comply with dress codes and be careful when they go out. Suad, a former accountant and mother of four, lives in a neighbourhood of Baghdad that used to be mixed before sectarian killings in 2005 and 2006. She told me: "I resisted for a long time, but last year I started wearing the hijab, after I was threatened by several Islamist militants in front of my house. They are terrorising the whole neighbourhood, behaving as if they were in charge. And they are actually controlling the area. No one dares to challenge them. A few months ago they distributed leaflets around the area warning people to obey them and demanding that women should stay at home."
The threat of Islamist militias now goes beyond dress codes and calls for gender segregation at university. Despite, indeed partlybecauseof the US and British rhetoric about liberation and rights, women have been pushed into the background and into their homes. Women with a public profile (doctors, academics, lawyers, NGO activists, politicians) are threatened and targeted for assassination. There are also criminal gangs who worsen the climate of fear by kidnapping women for ransom, sexual abuse or sale into prostitution outside Iraq.
It isn't a surprise that many of the women I interviewed remember the past nostalgically.
"The status of women here is linked to the general situation," Maha Sabria, professor of political science at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad tells IPS. "The violation of women's rights was part of the violation of the rights of all Iraqis." But, she said, "women bear a double burden under occupation because we have lost a lot of freedom because of it. [. . .] Sabria tells IPS that the abduction of women "did not exist prior to the occupation. We find that women lost their right to learn and their right to a free and normal life, so Iraqi women are struggling with oppression and denial of all their rights, more than ever before." Yanar Mohammed believes the constitution neither protects women nor ensures their basic rights. She blames the United States for abdicating its responsibility to help develop a pluralistic democracy in Iraq.
Iraq doesn't get much reporting from the US mainstream media but it does get a lot of opinion pieces -- though calling them "opinion pieces" might be overstating since most people can back up their opinions with facts and the bulk of the gas baggery reads like one long feelings check with maybe a little "highs and lows" of the day tossed in.
So we get nonsense like "Who lost the war?" and "Is leaving responsible?" and "Is the US leaving Iraq in a responsible manner?" and a host of other garbage.
The Iraq War was a failure. In fact, "failure" is probably too weak. If I attempt to give a speech and am struck with a panic attack resulting in an inability to speak, I have failed at my speech. If my speech makes life worse for people, results in their deaths and more, my speech is much worse than a "failure." I'd call it criminal.
And the illegal Iraq War is criminal. Last week (see yesterday's snapshot), I had to sit through the idiotic Senate Foreign Relations Subcomittee hearing where everyone pretended they gave a damn about women in the Middle East and of course they all avoided Iraq because we can't be honest and discuss how we screwed up the lives and rights of Iraqi women. Better to just disappear it.
But Republican or Democrat, what did all the senators give lip service to? That women's rights were indicators and measurements of how much freedom a society had.
So someone explain why in all the pontificating of the last three or four weeks by various men with column inches to fill on Iraq, no one wants to address Iraqi women?
The Iraq War is a criminal failure. If you happen to believe it was a big success and you're not referring to the theft of Iraqi oil, what are your measurements? And if you think the US should continue to stay in Iraq (as some Republicans in Congress want and as Barack will ensure thanks to the militarization of diplomacy) what are you measuring with?
The Iraq War has destroyed the rights of women. We're not just talking about the women and girls who have to live through the ongoing war. That's bad enough. We're talking about robbing women of rights, removing legal rights, overturning them. That is what the Iraq War "accomplished."
And that is what the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee didn't want to deal with last week, what the five-part PBS mini-series works overtime to ignore and what US gas bags in newspapers across the country refuse to pontificate on.
Iraq is a youthful population (thanks to the sanctions and the illegal war). It is also known as a country of "widows and orphans." That's another "accomplishment" of the Iraq War that no one wants to note right now -- might harsh the buzz apparently. Aseel Kami (Reuters -- of course it wouldn't be a foreign outlet) reports on the issue, noting Gasid al-Zaidi (Minister of Women's Affairs) "estimates there may be 2 million women breadwinners in Iraq, most of them widows of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the sectarian conflict that followed, the first Gulf war or the 1980s Iran-Iraq war" while Relief International adds up approximately 10% of the female population when counting widows and the International Committee of the Red Cross also finds the number to be well over one million. Widows had a monthly stipend from the government before the US invaded and now the program is no more. The program that some would argue replaced it is for widows of war victims and requires jumping through many hoops (and as NPR has reported, often it requires knowing an official who will help push the paperwork through). Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR's All Things Considered -- link has text and audio) observed in October of 2008, "In Iraq, poor widows and divorcees are often discarded by their families-in-law, leaving them vulnerable with no way to support themselves. In this camp, some like Alia beg. Others become prostitutes. These caravans provide roofs over the women's heads, but little else. They are made of metal, and in the hot Iraqi sun, they act like ovens. " In 2009, Timothy Williams (New York Times) would note little improvement and that "the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food [. . .] In large cities like Baghdad, the presence of war widows is difficult to ignore. Cloaked in black abayas, they wade through columns of cars idling at security checkpoints, asking for money or food. They wait in line outside mosques for free blankets, or sift through mounds of garbage piled along the street. Some live with their children in public parks or inside gas station restrooms."
Reflecting on Iraq today in general, Ahmed Kadhum Fahad (Global Arab Network) observes, "The question now is whether Iraqi politicians are prepared for this new phase of self-reliance or not. For this transition to happen smoothly and efficiently, Iraqi political parties need to set aside their divisions and work together to forge a functioning government and economy." A functioning government would require a Constitution that was followed but Nouri doesn't follow the Constitution. Al Rafidayn reportsthat he's now demanding former Ba'athists and "Ba'athists" apologize -- apparently for whatever haunted Chicken Nouri in all those years he hid outside the country. AFP adds that he wants them to publicly repent and sign documents. And with his past record, these documents, if signed, will be used to lock you away if you try to run for public office or do anything he perceives as a threat to his own continued glorification.
Last week, Salahuddin Province's council took a vote on the issue of becoming a semi-autonomous region. It is a position that was popular with the bulk of the residents of the province. An e-mail asked why we hadn't been noting the objection from citizens? Saturday, there were two wire reports of "tens of protesters" turning out in Salahuddin to protest a move towards semi-autonomy. We had some real issues to note and "tens" isn't one. We ignored the protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday. Baghdad isn't in Salahuddin Province. What Salahuddin Province should now be voting on (per the Constitution, a referendum should be held in the province) is similar to what Joe Biden proposed for Iraq as a whole. We opposed then-Senator Joe Biden's plan on the grounds that this wasn't a decision to be made by a foreign country. By the same token what a province does or does not do -- if they are following the Constitution -- isn't the say of Baghdad protesters. (You can click here for an Al Sabaah report noting the demonstrators.) The Constitution left the issue up to individual provinces. That's where the decision should remain. (Though Nouri is attempting to hijack the issue and turn it over to his Cabinet.) Aswat al-Iraq reports: Aswat al-Iraq: Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said on Wednesday that "every piece of Iraq's territories must be under control by the Central Govenment, warning against the announcement of federations and regions, because the current time is not suitable for such decisions." "Iraq's unity is a red line, we won't bargain upon," Maliki said in a speech during reception of leaders of intellectuals of southern Iraq's Karbala city, screened by Iraq's semi-official al-Iraqiya TV Satellite Station, adding that "every part of Iraq's territories must be under control by the Central Government."
Joining with Nouri in opposing the Iraqi Constitution is Moqtada al-Sadr. Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq's Sadr Movement warned on Wednesday against demands to establish regions without borders demarcation and while many disputed regions are still not settled. The movement accused neighroing countries of seeking Iraq's partition."
Hussein Ali Hachem became the latest Iraqi official targeted for assassination. Aswat al-Iraq reports that the Mayor of Mosul's home was attacked and his guards and the attackers exchanged gunfire.
Meanwhile US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey provided an apology to some Shi'ites. For what? We just don't know and that's in part beause what should have been a report has instead been turned into a "memo." What are we talking about? Tim Arango's "Iraqi Shiite Anger at U.S. Remains Strong" (New York Times). In it, Arango reveals that US Ambassador to Iraq has offered select Shi'ites an apology for George H.W. Bush's actions (specifically, Shi'ites rising up in 1991 against the rule of Saddam Hussein and believing that Bush and the US military would protect them). What did he say? The White House tells Arango that he was not speaking on behalf of the US government. That's a cute interpretation. He wouldn't be in Iraq if he weren't representing the US government. Iraqis he made the remarks most likely believe that, him being an ambassador, he was speaking on behalf of his government. Not only has the White House distanced themselves from his remarks but what he said can't be discussed because Jeffrey refuses to take questions on the topic.
Barack's administration, many will recall, got a reputation among conservatives for scraping and bowing to foreign leaders (helped out by Barack's not-ready-from-day-one ignorance that US presidents are representatives of the American people who overthrew a monarchy and as such the people do not bow and their representative does not bow before foreign 'nobles'). The White House distancing itself from Jeffrey's remarks may have something to do with wanting to avoid another controversy over that -- especially as election season has already started for Campaign Obama --or it may be something more.
Regardless, James Jeffrey is a paid servant of the American people. He is stationed in Iraq to represent the United States, not himself. That's not his private property he resides in, that's US tax payer property. The notion that his remarks can cause an uproar and he can declare that he's not going to talk about what he said goes to a general lack of accountability from the government.
(For those wondering how the remarks went over, according to Arango's report, not very well. No good will was built and it only led to conversations along the lines of 'Iraq would have had an Arab Spring in 1991 and our country would never have been destroyed by the war.')
The remarks Jeffrey made may have been solid ones. For people to know that, we'd have to know the remarks. And just because the White House is distancing itself doesn't mean that Jeffrey didn't have administration approval for the remarks he made. At this point, no one knows but why an ambassador would feel the need to convey an apology (personal or on behalf of the government) but then suddenly grow reticent is very puzzling.
US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today on the Senate floor, she spoke about veterans issues including the Hire Heroes Act she has championed. You can stream the speech here ("Senator Murray begins speakin gat 5:40:31") and below are her remarks in full:
"Mr. President, I've come to the floor today to discuss the VOW to Hire Heroes Act -- an amendment to put our nation's veterans back to work -- that we will be voting on tomorrow -- on the eve of Veterans Day.
"The real meaning of Veterans Day is to remind ourselves to take care of service-connected veterans and their families. This amendment does that.
"Now, Mr. President, we all realize that this chamber has had its share of disagreements and discord lately.
"It's no secret that we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now.
"But this is one issue we should never be divided on.
"I've served on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for over 16 years and I can tell you that veterans have never been a partisan issue.
"We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve.
"And we all need to keep it.
"That's why I've been so pleased to work to put this amendment together in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner.
"This amendment brings all ideas to the table: Republican and Democratic, House and Senate, those from the President and from members of Congress.
"And it uses all those ideas to address one of the most daunting and immediate problems facing our nation's veterans: finding work.
"Mr. President, on this Veterans Day -- after almost ten years of war -- nearly one million American veterans will be unemployed.
"It's a crisis they face with nearly 13 million other Americans - but for our veterans many of the barriers to employment are unique.
"That's because for those who have worn our nation's uniform - and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away: The road home isn't always smooth. The red tape is often long. And the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy.
''Too often today our veterans are being left behind by their peers who didn't make the same sacrifices for their nation at a critical time in their lives.
"Too often they don't realize the skills they possess and their value in the workplace.
"And too often our veterans are not finding open doors to new opportunities in their communities. "But as those who know the character and experiences of our veterans understand well, this shouldn't be the case.
"Our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the economy of the 21st century.
"And that's why two years ago I began an effort -- to find out why -- despite all the talent and drive I know our veterans possess -- this problem persists.
"To get to the crux of this problem I knew I had to hear first-hand from those veterans struggling to find work.
"So I crisscrossed my home state of Washington and in communities large and small, at worker retraining programs, in VA facilities, and in veterans' halls.
"I sat down with veterans to talk about the roadblocks they face.
"What I heard was heartbreaking and frustrating.
"I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war.
"I heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds and can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance.
"I spoke with veterans who said that many employers had trouble understanding the vernacular they used to describe their experiences in an interview or on a resume.
"I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to transition those skills into the workplace.
"The problems were sometimes complicated and sometimes simple.
"Most importantly though -- they were preventable.
"But the more I relayed the concerns of our state's unemployed veterans to federal government officials for answers, the more I realized there were none.
"It became clear that for too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with skills to protect our nation - only to ignore them once they leave the military.
"For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.
"That's why in May of this year, as Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I introduced a bipartisan veterans employment bill to ease the transition from the battlefield to the working world.
"It's a bill that allows our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their service, while also ensuring the American people capitalize on the investment we have made in them.
"For the first time, it requires broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military's Transition Assistance Program.
"It allows service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in government.
"And it requires the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector in order to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications they need.
"All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.
"And today they are being combined with other great ideas in this comprehensive amendment.
"Including an idea championed by my House counterpart, Chairman Miller, that will ease the employment struggles of our older veterans by providing them with additional education benefits so that they can train for high-demand jobs.
"And an idea that's been championed by President Obama, Senator Baucus, and many others that provides a tax credit for employers that hire veterans.
"Mr. President, with this amendment we are taking a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military.
"And for many of us, particularly those who grew up with the Vietnam War -- we are also taking steps to avoid the mistakes of the past -- mistakes we stand perilously close to repeating.
"You know, each day we read about skyrocketing suicide statistics, substance abuse problems, and even rising homelessness among the post-9/11 generation of veterans.
"And while there are many factors that contribute to these challenges --
"The failure to give our veterans the self-confidence, financial security, and dignity that a job provides often plays a crucial role.
"So on this Veterans Day we need to redouble our efforts to avoid the mistakes that have cost our veterans dearly -- and that have weighed on the collective conscience of this nation.
"We must do that by passing this amendment -- but also by looking back on a time when we stepped up to meet the promise we made to our veterans.
"Mr. President, as I've probably mentioned on the floor here before, my father was a veteran of World War II.
"But what I don't always talk about is the fact that when he came home from war -- he came home to opportunity.
"First to college -- then to a job.
"A job that gave him pride.
"A job that helped him and my mother raise seven children -- who've gone on to support families of their own.
"This is the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for our nation's veterans.
"This is the responsibility we have on our shoulders.
"It doesn't end on the battlefield.
"It doesn't end after the parades on Friday.
"In fact, it doesn't end.
"I urge my colleagues to put aside our differences.
"To come together.
"And to meet the challenge of putting our veterans to work.