Wednesday, May 2, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the targeted include a church, journalsits also remain targeted in 'liberated' and 'democratic' Iraq, State of Law suddenly finds that the Erbil Agreement is legal, NPR and PBS schill for the drone wars, and more.
Mosaic News (Link TV, link is text and video) picks up Al-Alam's report: "Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi said that the deployment of US F-22 figher jets to the United Arab Emirates is 'a harmful move' that undermines the region's security. The US said the deployment was a normal adjustment of US forces in the region, following their withdrawal from Iraq. As part of its continuing efforts to dominate the Persian Gulf region, the US announced the deploymnet of F-22 fighter hets in the UAE. US officials confirmed that the fighters were deployed in the UAE's al-Dhafra Air Based." Meanwhile the Wilkes Journal-Patriot reports 181 members of the the National Guard's 875th Engineer Company will be deployed to Kuwait over the "summer for a nine-month assignment."
Today, Alsumaria reports the Christian Church Saint Khanana, in Dohuk Province, was vandelized and some items stolen. This is the latest in a series of attacks on religious minorities in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War in 2003. Monday, Aid to the Church in Need reported, "Luis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, has joined with fifty representatives of Sunni Islam, Arab tribal leaders and local government representatives in speaking out against violence and terror. On the Archbishop's initiative, they signed a document entitled 'Let us build bridges for peace', which was released on the 26.4.2012. The signatories pledge to live together in peace in Kirkuk, which is an object of contention between Kurds and the central government in Baghdad. In a meeting with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Sako explained his most recent action to promote on-going dialogue by saying, 'We Christians have a mission of peace and reconciliation that extends to all people, not just Christians'."
Last March, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released their 2012 Annual report [PDF format warning, click here] and Iraq made it (again) onto the list of "countries of particular concern. The section on Iraq opens with:
The Iraqi government continues to tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. In the past year, religious sites and worshippers were targeted in violent attacks, often with impunity, and businesses viewed as "un-Islamic" were vandalized. The most deadly such attacks during this period were against Shi'a pilgrims. While the Iraqi government has made welcome efforts to increase security, it continues to fall short in investigating attacks and bringing perpetrators to justice. It also took actions against political rivals in late 2011 that escalated Sunni-Shi'a sectarian tensions. Large percentages of the country's smallest religious minorities -- which include Chaldo-Assyrian and other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, and Yazidis -- have fled the country in recent years, threatening these ancient communities' very existence in Iraq; the diminished numbers that remain face official discrimination, marginalization, and neglect, particularly in areas of northern Iraq over which the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) dispute control. Religious freedom abuses of women and individuals who do not conform to strict interpretations of religious norms also remain a concern.
Along with attacks on pilgrims and churches, the report notes attacks on businesses operated by Christian and Yazidi persons such as "liquor stores, restaurants, and hair salones." Violence and the targeting of religious minorities have caused many to leave. The report notes:
Half or more of the pre-2003 Iraqi Christian community is believed to have left the country. In 2003, there were to be 800,000 to 1.4 million Chaldean Catholics, Assyrian Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East members, Syriac Catholics and Orthodox, Armenian Catholics and Orthodox, Protestants, and Evengelicals in Iraq. Today, community leaders estimate the number of Christians to be around 500,000. Other communities also have experienced declines. The Sabean Mandaeans report that almost 90 percent of their small community either has fled Iraq or has been killed, leaving some 3,500 to 5,000 Mandaeans in the country, as compared to 50,000 to 60,000 in 2003. The Yazidi community reportedly now numbers approximately 500,000 down from about 700,000 in 2005. The Baha'i faith, which is estimated to have only 2,000 adherents in Iraq, remains banned under a 1970 law, and Iraq's ancient and once large Jewish community now numbers fewer than 10, who essentially live in hiding.
Whether they leave their homes for other areas of Iraq or leaves their homes and leave Iraq, the targeting of religious minorities has added to the huge refugee problem that the Iraq War created. The report notes that 1.5 million Iraqis remain internally displaced and that, of the population outside Iraq, Sunnis make up approximately 57% even though "they are approximately 35 percent of Iraq's total population."
Among the targeted groups have been women and those who are seen as 'different' for any number of reasons. The report notes:
In the past year, human rights groups continued to express concern about violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and honor killings, throughout Iraq, including in the KRG region, as well as about pressure on women and secular Iraqis to comply with conservative Islamic norms, particularly relating to dress and public behavior. In recent years, women and girls have suffered religiously-motivated violence and abuses, including killings, abductions, forced conversions, restrictions on movement, forced marriages, and other violence including rape. Individuals considered to have violated extremists' interpretations of Islamic teachings, including politically-active females, have been targeted by Sunni and Shi'a extremists alike.
In a positive development, the KRG region enacted a law in June making family violence a crime, subject to imprisonment and/or fines, and establishing a special court for such cases; the law's coverage includes abuse of women and children, female circumcision, forced or child marriage, nonconsensual divorce, the offering of women to settle family feuds, and female suicide if caused by a family member.
In late February and early March 2012, reports emerged of numerous killings and threats targeting young people perceived as homosexual or who dressed in the so-called "emo" goth style, particularly in Baghdad. The number killed reportedly ranged from six to more than 40. Preceding the violence, the Iraqi Interior Ministry posted a statement on its Web site in mid-February that it was "launch[ing] a campaign to stem the 'Emo,'" whom it called "Satan worshippers," although after the killings were widely reported, the Ministry claimed that the statement was misunderstood. Many obvservers attributed the attacks and threats to Shi'a militias. However, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the killings as terrorism and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia was suspected in past attacks on homosexuals, denied involvement. According to Iraq press reports, Al-Sadr called emo youth "unnatural" but said they should be dealt with through legal means. The U.S. embassy reportedly raised its concerns with the Iraqi government.
Good for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom for including the targeting of Iraqi youth. That story was breaking when the report was being written and they still managed to include it -- putting it far, far ahead of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy refusing to use the term "gay" when speaking to the Security Council to update them on Iraq.
Jane Arraf: For the Yazidi, this is the start of year 6,762. They come from mountain villages, from towns and cities in Iraq, Syria and Turkey -- and from Europe -- to celebrate the New Year. Yazidis believe in the same God as Muslims, Christians and Jews but they believe they were the first people God created. Along with Babylonian rituals and elements of other religions, they worship the sun.
Yazidi woman: We light this rope to bring good. And anyone who lights a flame here, goodness will come to him.
Jane Arraf: It's a closed religion and misunderstood.
Baba Sheikh Kerto Haji Ismael: Twenty years ago, there were no satellite channels and no mixing with other people. That's why people can have some suspicion about others. Since the Yazidis were a small religious minority, that's why they face misunderstandings. Now things are more clear.
Jane Arraf: Images like this [a snake stretched across the outside wall of a temple] are part of the reason other Iraqis are suspicious of the Yazidi. A snake is believe to have saved the prophet Noah. Inside this cave is a sacred spring. Nearby is the tomb of Shayk Adi [ibn Musafir al-Umawi] a 12th century Suffi saint who reformed the Yazidi religion. As dusk approaches, they light the flames that are a central part of their faith. This isn't just the New Year, they believe it marks the creation of the world including the four elements. For Yazidis, the most important of those is fire. On New Year's Day, the Yazidi faithful -- along with Kuridsh Muslim and Christian leaders -- pay their respects to the Prince of the Yazidis [Mir Tahsin Ali]. Like the Kurds, the Yazidi were pressured to declare themselves Arab under Saddam Hussein. 150 of their villages were taken. In the last 30 years, up to half the Yazidi community has left for Europe where there are fears the religion won't survive.
Prince Mir Tahsin Ali: The older people won't leave the religion but we fear for the new generation when the sons and daughters go to new European schools, our customs will become different.
Jane Arraf: By most estimates, there are fewer than a million Yazidi in the world. It's a small religion, sturggling to survive in a modern world while keeping ancient traditions alive. Jane Araff, Lalish, northern Iraq.
Hurriyet Daily News observes, "From Somalia to Syria, the Philippines to Mexico, and Iraq to Pakistan, journalists are being targeted for death in record numbers, and in brutal ways. In fact, this year is shaping up to be the most lethal for journalists since the International Press Institute (IPI) began keeping count 15 years ago." The attack on the journalist comes as a new report on the attack on journalism in Iraq is released. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory has released the report covering the last twelve months and they've found an increase in violence and restrictions and attempted restrictions on journalists. They note an American journalist was arrested and helf for five days without any legal justification while Iraqi journalists were detained in various ways and also attacked and kidnapped by armed groups. At least 3 journalists were killed in the 12 months and at least 31 were beaten -- usually by military and security forces who were sometimes in civilian clothes. 65 journalists were arrested.
It's a very bleak picture. In addition there are various bills proposed that supposedly 'protect' journalists but actually erode the rights of journalists. The Ministry of the Interior's spokesperson Adnan al-Asadi declared that journalism can be "a threat to domestic security" and that journalsits shouldn't report on any arrests or killings without the express permission of the Ministry of the Interior. (Clearly, Retuers must agree with that policy since they abolished their daily Factbox that used to cover violence in Iraq.)
The three journalists who died in the 12 months were: Hadi al-Mahdi who was killed by a gunshot to the head while in his Baghdad home, Kameran Salah al-Din who was killed by a sticky bomb attached to his car (in Tikrit) and Salim Alwan who was killed by a bombing in Diwaniya.
AFP notes the report states. "JFO has documented a noticeable increase in the rate of violence against journalists/media workers and restrictions imposed on their work."Multiple bills are being introduced by the government, which threaten to severely limit freedom of the press, general freedom of expression and Internet use."
Freedom of expression in journalism doesn't mean creative fiction. In the US where journalists are supposed to have the right to practice their trade without restrictions, some self-censor and some just tell outright lies. V. Noah Gimbel (Foriegn Policy In Focus) notes how the Newseum willfully distorts reality and insults a journalist who died covering the Iraq War in the process:
I was looking for updates on the case of slain Spanish cameraman José Couso, murdered by U.S. troops in Baghdad in 2003 as part of a coordinated attack on the independent media, when I came upon a so-called memorial to Couso on the Newseum's webpage. I wrote a comprehensive piece on the Couso case last year, and a follow-up piece when the indictments against the soldiers responsible were re-issued last fall. Far from memorializing Couso, the Newseum article repeats de-bunked falsehoods that even the army had backtracked on in 2003.
Gimbel goes on to explain how the Newseum distorts Couso's death.
Moving on to the political crisis, we'll return to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2012 Annual report [PDF format warning, click here] to get another perspective on the political crisis:
As reflected in pervious USCIRF reports, in past years many serious sectarian abuses were attributed to actors from the Shi'a-dominated Ministries of Interior and Defense and armed Shi'a groups with ties to the Iraqi government or elements within it. Since 2007, such sectarian violence has diminished markedly. Nevertheless, sectarianism within the government remains a concern. For example, there continue to be reports of torture and other abuses, some allegedly along sectarian lines, in detention facilities, including secret prisons run by the Prime Minister's special counterterrorism forces. The Shi'a-led government's slow pace of integrating Sunni Sons of Iraq members into the security forces or government jobs, as well as its attempts to bar certain politicians, mostly Sunnis, from participation in the political process for alleged Baathist ties, also have caused tensions. According to nationwide polling conducted in Iraq in October 2011, 75% of Sunnis feel that their sect is treated unfairly by the government and 60% feel their sect is treated unfairly by society.
Sunni-Shi'a political tensions escalated in 2011. Throughout the year, the Prime Minister failed to implement aspects of the November 2010 power-sharing agreement that finally allowed a government to be formed after the March 2010 elections, including by continuing to run both the Defense and Interior Ministries and taking no steps to create the new national strategic council that was supposed to be led by his main rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of the Iraqiya bloc. (Iraqiya is a cross-sectarian bloc supported by many Sunnis, which won two more parliamentary seats than al-Maliki's bloc in the 2010 election.) In the fall, the government arrested hundreds of individuals, including many prominent Sunnis, for alleged Baathism, prompting the provincial governments of several Sunni or mixed governorates to attempt to seek greater autonomy from Baghdad. In December, just after the last U.S. troops left the country, the Prime Minister announced an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, for alleged terrorism, and sought a no-confidence vote against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minsiter, Saleh al-Mutlaq, both of the Iraqiya bloc. The government also arrested members of al-Hashimi's staff. Al-Hashimi, who denied the charges and called them politically movtivated, left Baghdad for the KRG region, and Iraqiya began a boycott of parliament and the cabinet. Meanwhile, terrorist groups exacerbated the situation, perpetrating multiple mass-casualty attacks against mainly Shi'a targets in December and January, including the attacks against Shi'a pilgrims and the Shi'a funeral procession referenced above. As of February 29, 2012, al-Hashimi was still in Erbil, al-Mutlaq remained in his position, Iraqiya had returned to parliament and the cabinet, and negotiations to convene a conference of all the political blocs to resolve the crisis were ongoing.
In April, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi began a tour of the region, visiting Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He remains in Turkey. The kangaroo court in Baghdad plans to begin the trial against him tomorrow. Sinem Cengiz (Sunday Zaman) reports that even if Nouri filed a formal request for Turkey to hand al-Hashemi over, they would refuse: "The legal obligations of Turkey stemming from being a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) prohibit it from handing any person over to another country if the suspect will likely be executed."
MeanwhileAl Mada reports Nouri's State of Law is suddenly insisting that the Erbil Agreement was not illegal. Nouri used the agreement to get a second term as prime minister and then he trashed it refusing to honor the promises he'd made to get his second term. Since trashing it, Nouri and his flunkies have tried to insist the the Erbil Agreement was unconstitutiona. It wasn't. Extra-constitutional is not unconstitutional. But if you argue that it's illegal, then you're arguing that Nouri's second term is illegal. That might be behind their change of heart. Or they might be worried about Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call for the agreement to be published and the public reaction to the publication. Certainly, State of Law calling it illegal and then it being published would leave many Iraqis wondering why State of Law agreed to it if it was illegal. Regardless of the reason, State of Law has changed their position on the Erbil Agreement today.
One of the consistent demands has been that the Erbil Agreement needs to be honored. That demand has come from the Kurds, from Iraqiya and from Moqtada al-Sadr among others. By insisting that the Erbil Agreement is legal, State of Law may be attempting to encourage a leap, encourage people to conclude that since State of Law no longer disputes the legality of the agreement, they must be on the verge of implementing it. That would be a big leap to make but -- especially under pressure from the US government -- political blocs have made other large leaps that have benefitted Nouri. Should a consensus build that State of Law saying the Erbil Agreement is legal means Nouri is about to implement it, pressure to hold a national conference could vanish and that might be the goal here.
Since December 21st, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for a national conference to resolve the political crisis. Nouri has repeatedly stalled and thrown up road blocks over who would attend and even what they should call the meet-up. As March drew to a close, Talabani announced that the national conference would be held April 5th; however, that meet up ended up being called off less than 24 hours before it was to be held. Alsumaria notes Iraqiya says the issues of Saleh al-Mutlaq and Tareq al-Hashemi must be on the agenda for the national conference.
In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Committee which notes an upcoming hearing:
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Update: May 2, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Senate Hart Office Building Room 216
Hearing: Seamless Transition: Review of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System
I had just co-organized a Drone Summit over the weekend, where Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar told us heart-wrenching stories about the hundreds of innocent victims of our drone attacks. We saw horrific photos of people whose bodies were blown apart by Hellfire missiles, with only a hand or a slab of flesh remaining. We saw poor children on the receiving end of our attacks—maimed for life, with no legs, no eyes, no future. And for all these innocents, there was no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.
The U.S. government refuses to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. It deems the entire world a war zone, where it can operate at will, beyond the confines of international law.
So there I was at the Wilson Center, listening to Brennan describe our policies as ethical, "wise," and in compliance with international law. He spoke as if the only people we kill with our drone strikes are militants bent on killing Americans. "It is unfortunate that to save innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives – the lives of terrorists who seek to murder our fellow citizens." The only mention of taking innocent lives referred to Al Qaeda. "Al Qaeda's killing of innocent civilians, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its image and appeal in the eyes of Muslims around the world." This is true, but the same must be said of U.S. policies that fuel anti-American sentiments in the eyes of Muslims around the world.
"Excuse me, Mr. Brennan, will you speak out about the innocents killed by the United States in our drone strikes? What about the hundreds of innocent people we are killing with drone strikes in the Philippines, in Yemen, in Somalia? I speak out on behalf of those innocent victims. They deserve an apology from you, Mr. Brennan. How many people are you willing to sacrifice? Why are you lying to the American people and not saying how many innocents have been killed?"