Tuesday, January 3, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the political crisis continues, Jalal Talabani is called a "terrorist" by State of Law, Moqtada al-Sadr reportedly will not attend a national conference, the Iranian government expresses displeasure over the MEK, and more.
"Recently the media has been filled with announcements that the war in Iraq has finally ended. But in a war fought not only by enlisted foot soldiers, but also largely by corporations, mercenaries, and drones, what constitutes an end?" asks Iraq War Veterans Against the War's Joyce Wagner:
Although it is an important and significant milestone, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq does not necessarily signify an end to occupation. The US footprint is still heavy in the form of corporate contractors who employ indentured servants (under the euphemism "third country nationals") and mercenaries without oversight, accountability, or transparency. The Iraqi resistance movement is preparing for what it calls, "the second face of the occupation." According to a statement released by Uday al-Zaidi, this includes structures imposed by the US such as the sectarian government and its divisive constitution. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, families have been destroyed, displaced, and forced into refugee status all over the world. We support self-determination for the people of Iraq, and continue to work toward our goal of making reparation with the people who have been so deeply affected by this war and its aftermath. [. . .]
Meanwhile, over 4,000 American service members have been killed, and many more are living with physical disabilities and invisible wounds, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and Major Depressive Disorder. Troops are living with undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries, many of which go undetected for months or even years. Instead of being treated when they return, many service members receive orders to deploy to Afghanistan, even though a part of them remains at war in Iraq. If this nation wants to honor its veterans, we need them to honor our right to heal.
And, of course, some who might be thought to be returning will remain to guard the embassy and train on weapons and, in addition, many have instead been repostured (Pentagon's term) into surrounding countries with the plan that they can dart back into Iraq should the White House determine that this is needed. Ted Koppel established that fact with a report last month on Rock Center with Brian Williams(NBC):
Ted Koppel: This is the man who might actually have to deal with that nightmare, Lt Gen Robert Caslan. General, how are you going to get 1320 people out of there? I mean if you've 24 hours notice that something like this was going to happen, you're telling me the Iraqi government would evacuate immediately? Would get them all out of there?
Lt Gen Robert Caslan: I would argue that we do have, in theater, whether it's in Kuwait or elsewhere in theater, that we fall under the central command, Centcom, and I feel confident that Centcom has the necessary assets to take whatever measures they need to to counter that attack.
In Iraq currently, Rebecca Santana (AP) reports that some Sunnis are exiting mixed neighborhoods out of fear. Why? The political crisis has frightened them. It started with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordering questionable arrests of Sunnis -- over 500 of them. He insisted they were "terrorists" and "Ba'athists." More recently, after a trip to DC and photo ops with Barack Obama, Nouri began going after Iraqi politicians. Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi went to the KRG on business and, the day after he arrived, Nouri al-Maliki has an arrest warrant sworn out on him. Nouri accuses him of being a terrorist. He currently remains in the KRG, a house guest of President Jalal Talabani. Along with targeting the vice president, Nouri is demanding that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his duties. Nouri heads the political slate State of Law which came in second in the 2010 elections. Iraqiya, headed by Ayad Allawi, came in first. al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq are both members of Iraqiya. The editorial board of the Louisville Courier Journal (via the Leaf Chronicle) covers the political crisis:
For starters, the timing supports fears that Mr. al-Maliki is moving to purge the government of meaningful Sunni participation. In addition to seeking Mr. al-Hashemi's arrest, Mr. al-Maliki asked the parliament for a no-confidence vote against another prominent Sunni leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a deputy prime minister. Mr. al-Maliki also threatened to exclude Iraqiya, the main Sunni party, from participation in the unity government. Meanwhile, hundreds of former members of the Baath Party, through which Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq as leader of the Sunni minority, have been arrested in recent weeks, and Sunni officials' compounds in Baghdad have been surrounded by Mr. al-Maliki's security forces. All in all, the situation reeks of Shiite vengeance against Sunnis and strongly suggests that Mr. al-Maliki intends to become a new Iraqi dictator.
And that possibility, Nouri as the new dictator, may be why the Speaker of Parliment spoke out this week. Al Mada reports Osama al-Nujaifi has called for the Iraqi military to promote national unity and not suppress the people, noting that human rights abuses by the military are threatening the country. He also called on the military to stay out of political disputes. Dar Addustour adds that he declared public freedoms to be among the most important accomplishments in the transformation of Iraq to a democracy. He decried the use of violence against Iraqis and the arbitrary arrests. AFP quotes al-Nujaifi stating, "We find that human rights in Iraq have suffered massive violations. Human rights have not been achieved amid the deteriorating of the political process in Iraq. It is clear the development of the nation is based on how much human rights are respected. Losing these rights is destroying democracy." Adam Schrek (AP) observes, "The televised comments by Osama al-Nujaifi, one of the country's top Sunni officials, are yet another salvo in a growing political crisis sparked when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant for the country's top Sunni politician last month." Asli Aydintasbas (Newsweek) interviews Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and quotes him stating:
The U.S. left my country with challenges beyond our capacity to solve. Maliki cannot be part of a solution. We [Sunnis] cannot reach a reconciliation with Maliki anymore. Anyone else could replace him within the Shiite national alliance. But it has to be someone who believes in rule of law, the future of [Iraqi] institutions
Another member of Iraqiay that Nouri has been targeting is Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi whom Jack Healy and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) profiled Saturday and noted that Nouri had tried to get the Cabinet to toss him out but the Cabinet had refused. al-Esawi told the New York Times, "Maliki now wants just to get rid of his partners, to build a dictatorship. He wants to consolidate power more and more. Someone else should be prime minister." The day after the comments ran, there was an attempt on al-Essawi's life. Press TV reported he was the target of a roadside bombing Sunday which left "three of Essawi's bodyguards, two officers and one soldier" wounded. Dan Morse (Washington Post) reports Essawi is calling for an investigation and Morse writes, "Essawi is widely regarded in Iraq as a moderate official. But it's no longer just Iraqiya that Nouri's State of Law is going after. Aswat al-Iraq reports:
Al-Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoon al-Damalouji expressed her astonishment and denunciation of the "irresponsible" statement made by the State of Law MP Hussein al-Asadi against President Jalal Talabani. In a statement issued by her office, received by Aswat al-Iraq, she added that "Al-Iraqiya Bloc considers these statements a new unilateral rule and attacking the partnership in decision making". She added that "the attack against al-Iraqiya Bloc will cover all other political blocs, which warns in severe deterioration in the political situation and demolishing the Iraqi state". Damalouji pointed out that Asadi accused President Talabani with "terrorism" for hosting his deputy Tariq al-Hashimi till a just trial is made.
Asked about Talabani being called a terrorist by State of Law, US State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland declared in today's press briefing, "Well, we don't think name calling is the right solution here." Way to stake out a brave position there.
It needs to be noted that Nouri al-Maliki has sued and threatened to sue others for less and yet he has not condemned the statement by a member of his bloc, he's let it linger out there, the charge that Jalal Talabani is a terrorist. Next time Nouri kicks his feet and screams in public, remember that. Or remember that it was Saturday when he was claiming people needed to be civil.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has been calling for a national conference among the political blocs. (And presumably speaking for the two dominant Kurdish parties when he did so.) Iraqiya states that they would attend if Moqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim did. Over the weekend, MP Jawad Jubouri (a member of the Sadr bloc) stated that Moqtada would not attend the conference. Yesterday Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reported that the National Alliance has two conditions for attending: (1) the conference must take place in Baghdad and (2) the issue of charges and criminal investigations will not be on the agenda. Aswat al-Iraq added that Iraqiya says it will end its boycott of Parliament and the cabinet (according to Kurdish MP Ashwaq al-Jaf) if Tareq al-Hashemi's case is transferred to Kirkuk. Alsumaria TV reports on the issue of transferring al-Hashemi's case to Kirkuk, "Higher Judicial Council of Iraq denied, on Tuesday, having approved to transfer Iraqi Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi's case to Kirkuk. Hashemi's case will remain in Baghdad, Higher Judicial Council announced noting that it will be examined by a judicial body of nine judges." As the crisis continues, Victoria Nuland declared today, " Well, Ambassador [James] Jeffrey has been in and out of Iraq throughout this period. As you know, he's been talking to all of the major Iraqi leaders. The Vice President [Joe Biden] as well made some key phone calls in the days before and after Christmas, trying to encourage Iraqis to come together and have a conversation about the issues that divide them, and we remain closely monitoring that situation. But there do seem to be a great number more important voices inside Iraq making the same points, that they need to find a forum, sit down together, and work it through."
Today Parliament was supposed to convene. Reuters reports Iraqiya maintained their boycott (al-Nujaifi was present as has been the tradition when Iraqiya boycotts or walks out -- that was the established pattern in November 2010). In additition, Reuters notes all eight Iraqiya cabinet ministers boycotted yesterday's Cabinet meeting. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports (at Inside Iraq) on a visit to an MP's office and concludes, "Even after eight years of what so called FREEDOM and even after three elections, Iraqis are still loyal to sect and race more than being loyal to Iraq and it seems that we will need more time to change the sick mentality of race and sect and move to the mentality of the country."
Jim Loney (Reuters) takes a look at various factors that may be political risks for Iraq, "The political crisis and the Exxon pact could push disputes between Baghdad and the Kurds to new heights, increasing anxiety in Iraq's disputed territories, already a potential faultline for conflict without U.S. troops to act as a buffer." Today Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) runs down possible outcomes of the crisis including:
Maliki could also face opposition within his own bloc, where some factions appeared to be using the crisis to push for a new prime minister or to negotiate for posts or other benefits. Maliki's move against Hashemi and his demand that parliament dump Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, another Sunni leader, sparked Iraq's worst political crisis in a year. The Shia leader has presented Iraqiya with a challenge to sideline Hashemi, one of its senior leaders, or lose its sway in government. Iraqiya may ultimately have to decide whether it stays together or splinters, and cracks have already appeared.
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured, a second roadside bombing injured three police officers and one bystander, the Muqdadiya home of a Sahwa was attacked "killing him and wounding his wife," a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left another injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured one peshmerga, an attack on Mosul checkpoint left two police officers and one bystander injured and another Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier.
Meanwhile AFP reports the Iraq Body Count says approximately 162,000 Iraqis were killed in the war. You can read IBC's report in full here. A Lancet study found over a million dead several years ago and Iraq Body Count has come under criticism for undercounting the dead. It is also true that, unlike Reuters, AP, et al, they actually keep track of reported deaths and don't just blindly repeat the 'official' figures from the Iraqi government (figures that have been wrong month after month -- the government undercounts the dead). Worst reaction to the results thus far? Eric Engleman (Bloomberg News) uses it to insist that "more than 114,000 civilians have died" -- they just can't handle big numbers, they will always undercount the dead.
Iran's Fars News Agency reports today, "The Iranian foreign ministry called for the rapid expulsion of the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) from neighboring Iraq, and called on the European countries which support the terrorist group to shelter its members. [. . .] Since the beginning of 2011, the Baghdad government has repeatedly assured Iranian officials and people that it is determd to expel the MKO from Iraq by the end of 2011." While Iran continues to insist the Camp Ashraf residents must be evicted, Manisha Mistry (UK's St Albans & Harpenden Review) reports, "The Bishop of St Albans has added his name to an appeal to the United Nations and other world bodies to protect 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Iraq."
So what are we talking about? Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri had announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. With the date looming, December 25th the United Nations reached an agreement with Iraq on Camp Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted:
Today, the United Nations and the Government of Iraq signed an important agreement on the temporary relocation and eventual resettlement of the more than 3,000 residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq. We commend the Government of Iraq for its work with United Nations Special Representative Ambassador Martin Kobler, and welcome this important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation at Ashraf. The UN effort has our full support. The signing of this Memorandum of Understanding represents significant progress on this issue and outlines steps necessary to achieve a peaceful and viable solution for the residents of Ashraf, including their temporary relocation to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad International Airport. At this new location, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will be able to conduct refugee status determinations for the residents of Ashraf -- a necessary first step toward resettlement to third countries. We are encouraged by the Iraqi government's willingness to commit to this plan, and expect it to fulfill all its responsibilities, especially the elements of the MOU that provide for the safety and security of Ashraf's residents. We welcome the agreement by the Government of Iraq to allow the United Nations to station monitors at this new location around the clock and to observe the move from Ashraf to this new location. In addition, officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad will visit regularly and frequently. We also welcome the Iraqi government's willingness to delay the final closure of Camp Ashraf to give this plan time for implementation. To be successful, this resettlement must also have the full support of the Camp's residents, and we urge them to work with the UN to implement this relocation. All those who want to see the people at Camp Ashraf safe and secure should work together to see that the agreed upon plan is carried out.
"I was pleased to hear that the Government of Iraq and the United Nations have signed yesterday night a Memorandum of Understanding setting out the rules applying to the transfer of the residents of Camp Ashraf to a transit location, in order for UNHCR to proceed to the verification of their status and to facilitate their repatriation or resettlement. The EU fully supports this agreement and wishes to commend the good will and constructive spirit shown by all parties involved.
I would like to praise more particularly the Special representative of the UN Secretary General Martin Kobler for his persistent efforts to arrive at this promising result. I thank also the Government of Iraq for having showed the necessary flexibility, including with the timing. We count on it to ensure that this process takes place in an orderly way, avoiding violence or coercion. The safety of the Camp residents is under its responsibility and we count on it to discourage any provocation against them as from now.
I hope that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be prepared to respect the terms of this Memorandum and I encourage them and their leadership to cooperate fully in its implementation.
They should be reassured by the terms of the MOU and the commitment of UNAMI and the United States to ensure a robust monitoring. Thanks to this, the entire International Community will be able to follow closely the whole process and the EU intends to bring its support to this whole arrangement.
UNHCR will soon be able to proceed to the interviews of Camp Ashraf residents and the verification of their status. This will greatly facilitate their repatriation to the home countries of those wishing to do so voluntarily and the resettlement of others in third countries.
The EU is prepared to help UNHCR in the fulfilment of this task and will continue to follow very closely the implementation of this agreement."
Of that agreement, British MP David Amess (Huffington Post UK) states, "Reaching this point took lots of flexibility by the Iranian opposition leader and great efforts by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU High Representative Baroness Ashton, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. These leaders have put their own credibility on the line, so it can be hoped that they will follow through." Supposedly last week saw 200 to 500 residents relocated to the former US Camp Liberty base. What did happen last week was repeat rocket attacks on Camp Ashraf. KUNA reported Friday, "The United States on Friday said it had begun monitoring and refugee processing of 3,200 Iranian dissidents residing in Iraq's Camp Ashraf after a rocket attack struck the camp."
As the president of NOW, I hear from a lot of women (and men). Many of them are outraged right now, and they're asking the same question: Can this be real -- is the White House actually caving in to the radical right on birth control?
At this moment, the answer appears to be Yes.
Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pulled rank on the FDA, overruling the agency's carefully considered decision to eliminate the discriminatory age restriction on a safe and effective form of emergency contraception. Despite the unprecedented nature of this move, President Obama backed up the secretary, adding: "As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine."
Women are all too familiar with the paternalistic call for "common sense" when it comes to female bodies. We're sick and tired of the implication that women aren't capable of exercising common sense over our reproductive lives. And let's be honest: Is a government agency really best suited to define common sense for, say, a 12-year-old who's just been raped by a family member?
The thought of a tween girl having unprotected sex and then purchasing and consuming a medication to prevent pregnancy makes many people uncomfortable. No matter how well-meaning their concern might be, it is absolutely beside the point. If that young woman doesn't want to become pregnant, that's her business. Personal opinions about birth control and societal preconceptions about young women's sexuality have no part in this private medical decision.