Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi women devise their own road map for the future, a Syrian official allegedly defects to Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi says billions of funds are missing, a court charges a man with fraud (if it was fraud, a lot of Iraqis died due to the man's intent to deceive), and more.
Today Alsumaria reports that Iraq's Football Association has just announced that they will be creating the first women's football league in Iraq. That's an advance for Iraqi women. June 22nd, Women's Campaign International released [PDF format warning] "Iraqi Future Search," a report on the state of Iraqi women. WCI notes:
Despite Iraqi women's increasing political, social, and economic participation, barriers to full gender equality still remain. Numerous reports have detailed the problems facing women's equality in Iraq, but their recommendations have often languished due to the enormity of the problem or lack of stakeholder buy in.
Women's Campaign International (WCI) has taken a different approach -- bringing seemingly disparate stakeholders from around the region to spend two days debating, brainstorming, and visioning a better future for Iraqi women. WCI's ALWANE Coalition two-day Future Search fostered a spirit of collabortion and understanding, empowering participants to work together to develop a common vision, identify objectives, and map out strategies and concrete action steps that will advance women's leadership and participation in every sector of Iraqi society.
From the report, we're noting the following:

On the second day, the Iraqi delegation outlined a more in-depth depiction of the trajectory of women's rights in the past 100 years of Iraq's history.
Participants listed noteworthy dates, highlighting a number of regional and national firsts for women, including: the first internationally recognized woman reporter, activist, poet, singer author, and film star, the graduation of the first women doctors, engineers, architects and lawyers, the appointment of the first woman Minister, officer, and Parliament Committee head, the first women to win internationally acclaimed prizes in journalism, architecture and writing, and the first woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Other historical moments captured included the beginning of the first women's movement, the publication of the first women's magazine, the drafting and passion of the personal status law, citizenship law and other constitutional amendments regarding women's rights and freedoms, the signing of CEDAW and other international conventions which advance and protect women's rights, and most recently the drafting of a comprehensive national strategy for eradicating gender based violence.
In this process, Iraq stood out as having some of the most laudable achievements in the advancement of women's rights in the region, but also having undergone some of the sharpest declines due to a turbulent past troubled with conflict, sectarianism, invasion and instability. In revisting the past, participants were better equipped to understand the present reality of women's rights in Iraq and more fully prepared to make informed decisions about the future.
We need to include that because, repeatedly, non-Iraqis feel the need to act as though they've discovered or given some great gift to Iraqi women in the last few years when the reality is the Iraq War destroyed so much for Iraqi women.
From the past that they can take so much pride in the Iraqi women who came before, they moved to the present.
* Decrease in women's presence and participation in media, journalism, and sports
* Decline in levels of health
* Decline in economic level of widows and orphans
* Decline in social rights
* Decline in scientific successes for women
* Decline in women's political participation
* Decline in leadership positions for women
* Increase in unemployment among young women
* Continued practice of customs and traditions harmful to women
* Lack of legislation advocating for women
* Low participation of women in executive and judicial branches
* Decline in women's freedom
* Decline in number of educated girls
* Decrease in the number of women Ministers from 27 to 1
Only one woman in the Cabinet. And let's not pretend Iraqi women were silent when this development took place. From the December 23, 2010 snapshot:
Tuesday, Nouri al-Maliki managed to put away the political stalemate thanks to a lot of Scotch -- tape to hold the deal together and booze to keep your eyes so crossed you don't question how someone can claim to have formed a Cabinet when they've left over ten positions to be filled at a later date. One group speaking out is women. Bushra Juhi and Qassmi Abdul-Zahra (AP) report, "Iraq's female lawmakers are furious that only one member of the country's new Cabinet is a woman and are demanding better representation in a government that otherwise has been praised by the international community for bringing together the country's religious sects and political parties." As noted Tuesday, though represenation in Parliament is addressed in Iraq's Constitution, there is nothing to address women serving in the Cabinet. Aseel Kami (Reuters) notes one of the most damning aspects of Nouri's chosen men -- a man is heaing the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Iraqiya's spokesperson Maysoon Damluji states, "There are really good women who could do well . . . they cannot be neglected and marginalized." Al-Amal's Hanaa Edwar states, "They call it a national (power) sharing government. So where is the sharing? Do they want to take us back to the era of the harem? Do they want to take us back to the dark ages, when women were used only for pleasure."
And of course the only woman is the one who's publicly declared war on women's rights and then, when the uproar kicked off, tried to backpedal it. That's not novel. That's not the unique part. Here's the unique part, she thought she could get away with it. That goes to how much damage the illegal war has done.
Iraqi women have not had the luxury to sit still during the illegal war. They've had to take to the streets to fight for their rights. They've done that repeatedly. They did while the Constitution was being drawn up. They show incredible strength repeatedly. They take to the streets in demostrations against corruption, against the 'disappearing' of so many Iraqis who just 'vanish' into the 'legal' system, against the lack of jobs, against attacks on journalists and activists and they are always ready to stand up for themselves. Dropping back to February 11th of this year:

Al Mada notes a group of women demonstrated in Iraq on Baghdad's Mutanabi Street -- a large number of women from the picture -- to salute Iraq women and the pioneering Iraqi women of the 20th century feminist movement. The women noted the widespread discrimination against women (illegal under the country's Constitution). Dr. Buthaina Sharif made remarks about how the rights of women are a cause for all men and women to share. Dr. Sharif saluted Paulina Hassoun who, in 1923, edited Iraq's first feminist magazine Layla ("On the way to the revival of the Iraqi woman"). She spoke to Iraq's long history of social progress in the 20th century and decried the violence aimed at so many women today. (The UN estimates that one out of five Iraqi women is a victim of domestic violence.) Those demonstrating had passed a list of recommendations.

1) The Constitution must be followed.
2) The government needs to establish a fund for women -- women who are widows and women whose husbands have left them.
3) Public assistance for the education of girls to prevent them from being forced to drop out.
4) Subsidies for young families which would encourage marriage and building families.
5) Better housing for women and priority on housing lists.
6) Training sessions should be opened to women and job creation should keep their qualifications in mind.
7) Double the amount guaranteed by the ration card.
8) Efforts to discredit women by sullying their names with false rumors should result in prosecution in court.
9) Freedom and unity is for all and that includes women.
10) Restore normal life by providing potable water (safe to drink) and electricity.
11) create a Higher National Committee of women and men from different backgrounds and ages

Nora Khaled Mahmoud and Mahmoud Raouf file a follow up piece for Al Mada
on the demonstration noting thatit included intellectuals and activists and could said to have been prompted by the Minster for Women's recent remarks that men and women were not equal and her insistance upon dictating how women dress. The note Iraqi women spoke of women's history being a continuum of two experiences: Injustice and triumph. Women face injustice and they triumph over it. They declared that democracy is traveling around the world and that Iraq must be a good model for it. They noted that, throughout the women's movement in Iraq, women and men have taken part in the struggle for equality and that, as early as the 20s and 30s, Iraqi clerics joined in the demands for equality for all. Women, they insisted, must not lose their freedom and that this is even more clear when they hear the Minister for Women publicly declaring she does not believe in equality. While that's her opinion, the women state, that's not the opinion of alll women and it's not the opinion of the Constitution. Journalist and feminist Nermin Mufti declared that civil liberties and personal freedoms are declining in Iraq and that the Minister for Women should represent the interests of Iraqi women and seek to claim the rights guaranteed to women, not rob them of their rights little by little.
For the future, they outlined goals in a variety of areas: political sector, economic sector, cultural sector, legal sector and social sector. From the last category, we'll note the following goals:
* Draft and promote legislation that eliminates and prohibits harmful customs and traditions.
* Promote society's understanding of the distinctions between religion and certain harmful customs and practices, such as nahwa.
* Draft and promote legislation that prohibits child marriage.
* Draft and promote legislation that prohibits the compulsory wearing of the hijab.
* Promote societal support of women in political leadership roles, so they can attain equal representation without the need of a quota.
* Address the challenges facing women in marginalized and rural communities.
* Eliminate gender stereotypes that prevent women from fully attaining personal and professional goals.
* Establish a society that respects individuals for their qualifications and value rather than their gender.
The report notes:
Though participants reflected diversity in backgrounds, positions and expertise, the Future Search concluded with a unified sense of commitment towards promoting and advancing women's rights and leadership in Iraqi society. All participants have returned to their repective responsibilities with concrete objectives and action steps towards achieving the commitments made here. Iraq's future is not fixed or predictable, but this Future Search, engaging Iraq's current and future generation of leaders, sparked a renewed spirit of collaboration and steadfastness to a cause that cuts across all levels and sectors of society.
To conclude the Future Search process, each participant in attendance signed an Agenda for Action, and included a personal message of inspiration and commitment reflecting their personal connection to the advancement of women's rights and leadership in Iraq.
And many great signed statements from various Iraqi women follow but one of the best is unsigned. Anonymous wrote, "A woman should be fair, and she does not forget the suffering of her sisters when she is in a decision-making position." Another statement worth noting is from the Baghdad Provincial Council's Dr. Sabah Abdul Rasool Abdulreeda who put her statement in the form of a prose poem:
I led the revolution
I was at the front lines
I am not a shame
I am a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter of the generous people
If you are proud that you are males
Then I have pride in my gender a thousand times more.
Moving from poem to song . . .
Beat down in the market, stoned to death in the plaza
Raped on the hillside under the gun from LA to Gaza
A house made of cardboard living close to the rail
Somebody's mama, somebody's daughter
Somebody's jail
And I feel the witch in my veins
I feel the mother in my shoe
I feel the scream in my soul
The blood as I sing the ancient blue
They burned in the millions
I still smell the fire in my grandma's hair
The war against women rages on
Beware of the fairytale
Somebody's mama, somebody's daughter
Somebody's jail
-- "Somebody's Jail," written by Holly Near, first appears on her Show Up
I'm still marveling over the fact that a brand and corporation -- using a female to front it -- could pimp the lie that the Iraq War brought advances for Iraqi women and that Iraqi women were playing sports for the first time (click here for my gripe on that). I would hope that it's very clear that I do not think, "Oh, those poor Iraqi women. If only they could have it like us here in America where everything is perfect." It's not perfect for women in the US. If I felt that way, I wouldn't note that women can't afford Gina Chon's decision to sleep with her source who happens to be a government official. Ava and I wouldn't have spent the time noting that Bill Moyers return to public television just means another male host on PBS who can't provide an equal number of women (less than one-third of the guests on his first 20 shows were women). We wouldn't have teamed with Ann for the study of Fresh Air which found that in 2010 only 18.54% of Terry Gross' guests were women. Ava and I wouldn't write pieces like "TV: A week of hating women" if women in the US had achieved equality. Equality's far from achived -- or even legally recognized, the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass -- and the huge set back the Iraq War and the US government's decisions brought to women's rights in Iraq? I firmly believe that American woman, at any time, could suffer the same setback and have to start all over and fight the way the brave women of Iraq are doing now. And that's obviously not some rare thought on my part. That's the operating principal behind the review Ava and I wrote of the (bad) TV show Jericho and that piece has remained hugely popular -- according to Jim, it's still in the top ten most read of all the things Ava and I have written for Third. Obviously, it speaks to something (besides the need to call out bad TV). Any other week, I'd assume this was known but after this week starting with a corporation and brand thinking they could lie and claim that Iraqi women had not had sports until the Iraq War provided them with so much -- after that huge lie, I want to be really clear on that. Women struggle all over the world.
"From LA to Gaza," Holly Near is so right. And that's why Anonymous's point is so important, a woman "does not forget the suffering of her sisters when she is in a decision-making position." Still on Iraqi women, Farah Ali (IWPR) reports her organization [The Institute for War & Peace Reporting] staged a four-day seminar last month (as part of "an 18-month long initiative") offering "training in marketing and photography" for 14 Iraqi women. Al Mada notes women in Iraqi media here.
The violence of the ongoing Iraq War has turned the nation into what's called 'a country of widows and orphans.'  Margaret Griffis ( counts 13 dead and thirty-eight injured on Tuesday alone.  Sky News (link is video and text) reports that a Baghdad bus bombing has claimed 3 lives and left over 14 injured late yesterday. (And that bus bombing wasn't noted in yesterday's snapshot or in Griffis' Tuesday count -- the news of it came out today).   Alsumaria notes that 3 shops belonging to Sahwa members were bombed around Tikrit today. In other violence, All Iraqi News notes that the presidency of Iraq has ratified executions for 25 people.
On violence, few in the current administration have been so wrong so often about Iraq since the start of 2009 as Antony Blinken has been.  Dropping back to June 19th:
Tony Blinken gets hit hard today.  Tony's been with Joe Biden forever and a day and currently serves as the Vice President's advisor on national security.  So Tony's been around long enough to know that Operation Happy Talk never ends well.  Each time an administration tries to launch a wave, they quickly capsize as reality knocks them upside the head.

Ned Parker wrote "
The Iraq We Left Behind" for the Council on Foreign Relations' Foreign Affairs magazine.  Blinken's poorly named "Morning In Mesopotamia" went online this morning.  (Poorly named?  "Mourning in Mesopotamia" after all the attacks on pilgrims in the last seven days.)

In his piece, Blinken argues Ned Parker "glossed over, or ignored altogether, the clear, measurable progress Iraq has made in the few short years since it lurched to the brink of sectarian war."  In the snapshot today -- barring other breaking news dominating -- we may spend several paragraphs refuting that.

But this morning, we'll just laugh at the claim of "progess" from a staffer for Vice President Biden.  Because it's published the same morning that Iran's
Fars News Agency is reporting:

"Nuri al-Maliki did not allowed US Vice-President Joe Biden to visit Iraq," an informed source in the Iraqi prime minister's information bureau told FNA in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Noting that Biden was scheduled to visit Baghdad in coming days to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss the recent differences and the political standoff between different parties and factions in the country, he added that Maliki informed Biden via the US embassy in Baghdad that Iraq is not ready to host him.
The source said the Iraqi embassy in the US has also conveyed a similar message from Maliki to the White House and State Department's officials.
Earlier reports by a website affiliated to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq said that the cancellation of Biden's visit by Maliki was ordered after it was revealed that the US vice-president is due to visit Erbil and meet President of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani.
When the US Vice President's visit is cancelled by Nouri, that kind of refutes Tony's article.  Again, reality will always crash into and overwhelm a wave of Operation Happy Talk.  It's happened over and over since 2003.
Today, Blinken's made known his displeasure with Tim Arango's "U.S. Antagonist in Iraq Takes a Political Gamble"  which appeared on page four of the New York Times' main section yesterday.  He writes the Times a letter.  His article, he writes, wasn't insisting that violence wasn't a problem in Iraq, it was just that Iraq has so much more to point to than just violence.  Blinken writes as if he's unaware of the ongoing political crisis which caused the ongoing political stalemate.  Worse, he wants to insist that deaths don't matter, it's how many "security incidents" take place.  Attacks matter, not how many die.  How many die? He's not concerned.  We're back to the Bush administration and the claim that the US doesn't do body counts, apparently.  Blinken writes, "The casualty numbers that the article cites likely reflect not a change in the terrorists' capability, or that of the security forces working to stop them, but rather the opportunistic targeting of innocent civilians [. . .]" And that's enough of his nonsense.  You can be sure that if the death tolls were lower than the "security incidents" toll, Blinken would be using that as the point of reference.  (For any wondering, we've always emphasized the number dead and wounded, we've not concerned ourselves with how many incidents it did or didn't take to produce those numbers.)
Still on violence, but bringing in the British.  There is nothing more ridiculous on film than footage of the Iraq police officers holding a wand and basically stomping their feet (looking like their running in place) with the belief -- because they were told this -- that this will allow that 'magic' wand to determine whether or not a bomb is on board a car or person.  This has long been called out and, in 2010, became an international issue.  Dropping back to the January 22, 2010 snapshot:
Whether they can trust Barack or not, it appears they can't trust 'bomb detectors.' Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight -- link has text and video) reports that England has placed an export ban on the ADE-651 'bomb detector' -- a device that's cleaned Iraq's coffers of $85 million so far. Steven Morris (Guardian) follows up noting that, "The managing director [Jim McCormick] of a British company that has been selling bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq was arrested on suspicion of fraud today."
Today Meirion Jones and Caroline Hawley (BBC Newsnight) report that McCormcik "who sold a bomb-detecting device to 20 countries, including Iraq, has been charged with fraud, Avaon and Somerset police said." ITV quotes from Avon and Somerset Police's official statement: "The decision to charge James McCormick follows consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service's Central Fraud Group.  This charging decision follows a complex-30 month international investigation led by Avon and Somerset Police."
We share deep concerns over the worsening plight of all Syrian people as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate.  We are united in our condemnation of all violence in the country, including the increasing acts of terrorism.  We reiterate our call for the Syrian
regime to meet its commitments to the full implementation of the six-point plan drawn up by Kofi Annan and the League of Arab States.
Today BBC News reports, "Syria's ambassador to Iraq says he has now defected to the opposition.  Nawaf Fares is the first senior Syrian diplomat to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad."  Reuters notes, "There has been no comment from Damascus or Baghdad and the White House said it was unable to confirm the defection, news of which broke just before mediator Kofi Annan briefed the UN Security Council on his faltering diplomatic effort to craft a political solution to the crisis." Holly Yan, Amir Ahmed and Laura Smith-Spark (CNN) quote former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who's the UN's envoy on the Syrian issue, "The [UN Security] council is now discussing what the next step should be and what action they should take.  We should hear something from then in the next few days."

It's doubtful Syria will be able to mask or distract from Iraq's ongoing political crisis in Iraq couldn't be more convoluted, Dar Addustour reports Ahmed Chalabi is charging billions are missing from the national budget. Al Rafidayn notes he has what he claims is a detailed, three page report documenting the disappearance. The document is said to be damning for Nouri al-Maliki -- whether that's because Nouri should have known what allegedly was taking place because he was prime minister or whether Nouri is allegedly personally implicated isn't clear at this point. It is said to demonstrate how Nouir's Council of Ministers weakend bills that would have provided needed oversight into the way ministries handled money.  Still on the issue of corruption, Alsumaria reports that Parliament's Integrity Committee has issued a three-year prsion sentence for Ahmed al-Barak who had been over property disputes. Dar Addustour adds that the Chair of the Committee, Bahaa al-Araji, also announced an arrest warrant had been issued for a former police chief of Karbala (Major General Raed Shakir).  In addition, All Iraqi News reports that Parliament's Services Committee has issued a recommendation that three Ministers be removed from their posts for failure to spend 75% of their allocated budgets.  As for personal finances?  Al Mada reports the Integrity Commission is bothered by the continued lack of self-disclosure on the part of many officials.  Only 82% of Cabinet Ministers are in compliance with the disclosure laws.  And if you're wondering what US taxdollars do in Iraq, they launch rumors -- as the article notes -- of personal wealth among the politicians.  Al Mada reports that people are talking about a report the US Embassy in Bagdhad supposedly has on the personal wealth of various Iraqi politicians.

Nouri al-Maliki was named prime minister-designate in November 2010.  Per the Constitution, he had 30 days to name a Cabinet.  This is confusing to some in the press.  The 30-day deadline? That's the full Cabinet. There's no point in a deadline if it's not the full Cabinet.  Nouri failed to do that but -- due to the Erbil Agreement and an ineffective Iraqi president -- Nouri was moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister as December 2010 was coming to a close.  Nouri has never nominated people to head the security ministries.  All this time later, they still remain vacant.  All Iraqi News reports that tribal leaders from Anbar, Maysan, Najaf and Nineveh provinces met in Baghdad today and they called on the government to fill those vacancies.  Specifically, they want Saadoun al-Dulaymi to be the Minister of Defense.  Nouri has tagged him "acting defense minister."  There is no such post and the tribal leaders are aware of that.  Unless Nouri nominates someone whom the Parliament votes to confirm, there is no Minister.  Once and if they are confirmed, the person is a Minister and they can be independent because Nouri can't fire them by himself.  Parliament has to vote the Minister out of office.  The creation of 'acting' ministers allows Nouri to control those posts because people in them have to do as he instructs or he removes them.  They have not been confirmed by Parliament so they have no protection and they are not ministers.

Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi met with the United Kingdom's new Ambassador to Iraq, Paul Simon Collins, and the two discussed a number of issues.  All Iraqi News reports that along with discussing ways to strengthen ties between their two countries, the two discussed the need for some stability in Iraq.

Kitabat reports that the National Alliance is rushing to prepare a paper -- 'by' the Reform Committee -- which will, they hope, circumvent a call to withdraw confidence in Nouri.  Supposedly the National Alliance is attempting to work in many points from the Erbil Agreement. Al Mada notes that the Commitee is planning to send a delegation to the KRG in the hopes of garnering support for their paper.  The Reform Committee has had little serious analysis in the press.  One noteable exception would be  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) who addresses some of the issues:

Firstly, there are problems that have to do with agreements between the feuding political blocs about which positions certain high ranking politicians would fill; this included discussion of the vacant seats in certain important ministries, that al-Maliki was occupying in the interim.
Another involved the powers of the federal court and yet another had to do with relations between the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi Cabinet, or executive branch; relations were strained with Parliament and ministers often coming to different conclusions. And finally there was the problem of how to balance the demands of the Iraqi Constitution with all of the above.
Despite what appear to be good intentions, there is no doubt that al-Maliki's opponents do not trust him any more than they did before. There has been plenty of press coverage and public relations work on al-Maliki's behalf but the parties who wanted to oust him don't think he is serious about the alleged reforms.
"This call for reform is nothing more than a political manoeuvre and an attempt to gain more time," Hani Ashour, an adviser to the opposition Iraqiya coalition, told NIQASH. The essence of the current political crisis is the fact that al-Maliki has not honoured the Erbil agreement, under which he formed this government."
The so-called Erbil agreement was formulated in Erbil to end a nine month dispute over who should run the government following disputed 2010 elections. It gave al-Maliki the right to form a government if he met certain conditions and gave his electoral opponents certain high powered jobs; basically it was a power sharing deal.
The fact that al-Maliki has done almost nothing to honour that deal doesn't give his opponents much faith that he will change now.

Al Rafidayn reports that National Dialogue Front head and Iraqiya member, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq states that Iraqiya and the Kurdistan Alliance are moving forward with their plans to question Nouri before Parliament.  al-Mutlaq is quoted stating his amazement over the sensation in some quarters over this since Iraq is a constitutional democracy and questioning is detailed in the Constitution. He also again denied rumors that he has replaced Ayad Allawi as head of Iraqiya.  All Iraqi News noted yesterday that a deputy for Iraqiya also confirmed that they are putting together questions and moving towards questioning Nouri before the Parliament.