Monday, July 30, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqis compete in the Olympics, KRG President Massoud Barzani gives a major speech, violence continues in Iraq, peace advocate Cindy Sheehan has been named a running mate on a presidential ticket, and more.
Starting with the Summer Olympics. They're taking place in London and the official website is here. The NBC website for the Olympics is here and cluttered and poorly put together. If you're looking for anything other than video (live or otherwise) go to the London site which is easier to navigate and more pleasing to the eye. Apparently NBC spent so much on the rights to the Olympics, they didn't have any money left to design a solid website.
Iraq has sent 8 athletes to the Summer Olympics in London. Dana Abdul Razak competed in the 2008 Olympics and this go round will run the 100 meter race. The other seven are attending for the first time: Adnan Taess Akkar (800 meter race), Noor Amer al-Ameri (shooting), Mohanad Ahmed Dheyaa al-Azzawi (swimming), Safaa al-Jumaili (weightlifting), Rand al-Mashhadani (archery), Ali Nadhim Salman Salman (wrestling) and Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed (boxing).
Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed boxed yesterday. Click here for a Reuters photo of his match with South Africa's Siphiwe Lusizi (photo taken by Murad Sezer). Scott Christ (Bad Left Hook) reports, "Siphiwe Lusizi (South Africa) def. Ahmed Abdulkareem Ahmed (Iraq), 17-13: Decent fight, and an admirable effort from Ahmed. He gave it all he had, but Lusizi was better than him. A lot of these fights are really as simple as that. One guy is just better than the other guy in these early stages." The official Olympics site notes that the first time Iraq ever competed in the Olympics were in the 1948 Olympics. And that was also the last time, until this year, that the Summer Olympics were held in London. Back then, Iraq sent an "11-man team" for basketball, L. Hasso for the 400 meter run and Ali Salman ran in the 100 meter and the 200 meter in addition to playing on the basketball team.
The second photo in the Toronto Sun's "Photos of the Week" is by Suhaib Salem (Reuters) and of Rand al-Mashhadani from Friday's ranking round for women's individual archery.
After the awful opening musical numbers (see Ann's "6 men, 1 woman"), you might think some in London might show some humility. That's not the case. Alsumaria reports that the Telegraph of London has declared that Algeria and Iraq have the worst national anthems. The unsigned article in the Telegraph of London, ranks what they call the ten worst anthems -- Iraq comes in at number seven:
Iraq's national song, "My Homeland," comes from a poem written by Ibrahim Touquan, a Palestinian poet, in 1934. Reinstated in 2004 after a previous anthem reminded residents too much of Saddam Hussein's regime, the lyrics are rousing but the jaunty melody underplays the seriousness of the message.
In actual Olympic news, AFP reports Noor Amer al-Ameri, competing in the shooting competition for Iraq, was prevented from taking her equpiment on the flight from Baghdad to Dubai, "Emirati authorities later gave the green light for the pistol to be transported to Dubai by plane on Wednesday, and pledged that it would arrive safely in London." Al Mada notes Noor competed Sunday and came in 46 out of 55, that she was born in Karbala in 1994 and attends Baghdad University. In the article, an Iraqi official -- Minister for Youth and Sports Jasim Mohammed Jaafar -- blathers on about how, five to ten years from now, Iraq will have heroes who compete. That's really insulting. Dana Abdul Razak, for example, has been shot at while training. The eight who made it are making history. Instead of Iraqi officials making insulting remarks about those competing, they might want to take a hard look at themselves and where they put the emphasis. It wasn't on training. People shouldn't have to leave their home country to train but that happened. As is usual in Iraq, a lot of over 40 men were made officials -- some who look they should be forced to retire -- and they made themselves the focus. I'm referring to Iraq's official Olympic Committee. Go to the website and prepare to be insulted. I thought three weeks ago (wrongly), that this website would provide bios of the athletes and photos. Wrong. Even now, with the Olympics underway, when you go to the photo exhibit what you get are a bunch of bald and balding old men, sitting around, congratulating themselves. If anyone visits the site, it's to see the athletes, not the officials. That they couldn't grasp that goes a long way towards explaining where the problem is. It's not with the athletes competing, it's with the egos of the officials. And many, like Jasim Moahmmed Jaafar have on claim to sports (engineer) and are only serving on the Committee because they are exiles like Nouri (Jaafar was an exile from 1981 to 2003).
All 8 who made it to the Olympics have much to be proud of. And maybe if the officials ever do their job, Iraq will be able to compete in a lot more events? But don't trash the eight who made it to the Olympics. They overcame a great deal to be there.
In Iraq conflicts continue between the KRG and the Baghdad-based central government. Last week, Rudaw reported, "On Friday the minitry of Peshmerga said that the Iraqi government had sent troops to border strip between Syria and the Kurdistan Region and that 3,000 Peshmerga fighters stationed in the area had stopped their advance. There was serious concern about armed classhes between both sides." Xinhua added, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki criticized authorities of the country's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan for preventing Iraqi army soldiers sent by Baghdad from reaching a border point with Syria located at a disputed area controlled by Kurdish forces." Al Mada noted that Jabbar Yawar, Secretary-General of the Peshmerga, states these are areas that the Peshmerga naturally patrols. Al Mada also noted that the Kurdistan Alliance states Nouri is not able to move forces into the KRG without the consent of the Kurdish Regional Government. Calling it "the most dangerous escalation and confrontation between the two sides," Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) reported from Fishkhabur on the Iraq - Syria border.
Omar al-Saleh: What the Kurdish troops did is they prevented thes troops from advancing further this way. They blocked it and they sent their own reinforcements. We even saw some artillery, mortar, rockets and we've seen heavy -- heavy weapons. And basically what the Iraqi government has said in a statement is that it's not aimed -- this move, this troops' movement -- is not aimed at the Kurdish Regional authority but it wants to prevent any infiltration or any security breaches from the borders with Syria. Now what the Kurds will tell you is the prime minister of Iraq is trying to send his troops into a disputed area.
Besides the usual turf wars universal to different security forces around the world, there iss also the fear that Nouri would use the issue of the border crossings in an attempt to install the Iraqi forces permanently in these areas. That's a valid fear. Considering other power grabs that he's made, it wouldn't be a stretch. In addition, Nouri probably has a fear of his own. It wasn't that long ago that Syrian 'rebels' seized control of the borders (July 19th). Iraq's not had any cartography or survey done of that area in some time. They have focused their concerns with regards to the border they share with Iran due to the fact that Iran insists that land Iraq considers to be Iraqi land is actually Iranian land. With Syrian President Bashar Assad, this was not a concern or pressing issue. That changed when the rebels seized up to four borders. Nouri had no concern over 'securing the borders' until the 'rebels'
The speech was a clarification of the crisis between the KRG and Baghdad and Barzani states that he was compelled to address the basics and shine a light on the problems. He argues it boils down to the fact that the Kurds have tried to live in a peaceful coexistence under the Iraqi Constitution but while some respect the rights and duties of the Constitution others disregard and dismiss the Constitution to compile a monopoly of power in their own hands. He states the disagreement between Nouri al-Maliki and himself is not personal and that Nouri was a close friend many years ago when he lived in Kurdistan [presumably this is during Nouri's exile period which also includes stays in Iran and Syria]. But since 2008 when Nouri sent the Iraqi soldiers and tanks to Khanaqin in a face-off with the Peshmerga, dialogue has been harder and harder. He notes that the Constitution's Article 140 has never been implemented. [This is the Article about disputed territories such as oil-rich Kirkuk. A census and referendum is supposed to be held. By the end of 2007. Nouri has refused, for six years now, to implement Article 140. Nouri is in violation of the Constitution. This issue, by the way, was seen by the RAND Corporation as the biggest once facing Iraq.] In addition, Baghdad is not providing the budget for the Peshmerga, nor is it working on a draft oil and gas law. He notes that the Erbil Agreement has been evaded and that a true partnership has been lost. It is as though, he states, they hvae returned to a dictatorship, following all the ignored promises. In violation of the rules and laws, he states, Nouri has attempted to grab absolute power over the administration issues, security issues, the military issues and the economic ones. This is in violation of the Constitution, he notes.
He states in his speech that the oil contracts currently in dispute [ExxonMobil and Chevron] are about issues that have been spoken of for years and that, for years, there has been talk of the oil and gas law but still no passage. The KRG will call for a special committee to review all of the government's files related to oil in the KRG and Iraq. The Kurds have been patient and waited for issues to be resolved but they have not been.
On the political crisis, he states that the failure on Nouri's part to implement past agreements and Nouri's lack of commitment to the Constitution led to the move for a withdrawal of confidence in Nouri. Barzani states he is willing to set that move aside if someone can put an end to the outstanding issues [seems to echo Moqtada al-Sadr's statement that all Nouri has to do to stop a vote of no-confidence is to return to the Erbil Agreement]. The vote can be tabled and Iraq can return to the right path that will prevent one person from amassing control and a monopoly of power. That's my translation. The speech was in Kurdish (which I don't speak or read) and the KRG translated it to Arabic. There is no English translation provided by the KRG at present.
The speech did not achieve the impact it should have, especially as the crisis escalated and Iraqi soldiers approached the Syrian border close to Kurdish territories.
As an observer, I was first of all surprised that the speech was not televised. The second surprise was that it was in Kurdish. Especially with the recent escalations of tensions, Iraqi Arab public opinion is very much against the Kurdish region. The media in Baghad has been full of pro-Maliki voices to say the least, and they are all depicting Kurds as those who want everything.
President Barzani's speech touched on many issues related to the future of Iraq as a whole, not just as pertains to the Kurds. One of the key points in talks with Baghdad has been the vision of the country's federal future. But this is not known to the Arab public.
In the absence of a strong Kurdish presence in Baghdad's media, a televised message from President Barzani in Arabic for the people of Iraq would have explained the Kurdish position to the rest of Iraq. It would have also been a strong response to Maliki's NRT interview.
President Massoud Barzani: There's no doubt that the Kurdish question has made a lot of progress. But I cannot deny that we still face a lot of challenges. I can however definitely say that the Kurds have passed the stage where their survival could be threatened. It would be impossible for us as a people to give up everything we have achieved.
Jane Arraf: There's a real crisis going on in Iraq and you warned just a few months ago that if it continues that the Kurdish region could seek its independence. Are you still prepared to follow through on that?
President Massoud Barzani: If I can make clear what exactly I said, it's this, that Iraq is facing a serious and genuine crisis and we have two kinds of problems. One is a general problem for Iraq as a whole and the other is problems between the Kurdish region and Baghdad. We've called for general reforms for the problems -- the Iraqi-wide problems and also the ones between the Kurdish region and Baghdad. I call upon the Iraqi leaders, if they are ready and willing to come talk to us. We are ready to do whatever we can to solve these problems. If the other Iraqi factions are not ready to follow us, then I will go back to the Kurdish people and ask them to decide what needs to be done. And I am still saying the same thing.
Jane Arraf: And do you feel now, considering that there really hasn't been much progress between Baghdad and Erbil, do you feel now that you will go to the Kurdish people in September and ask them in a referendum whether they want independence?
President Massoud Barzani: Frankly speaking, the current situation is not acceptable and we will not allow it to continue. Our people cannot tolerate it and I'm sure the Iraqi people will not accept it either. Certainly, at some point, I'd go back to the people but I'd first have to consult with the political parties in the region. I have to consult with Parliament. This is not a decision for me to make alone. But certainly, the moment that we feel disappointed and lose hope of solving the problems and getting out of this crisis then I will go back to the people. But before that, I have to consult with the political groups here and with Parliament.
Nouri, who has thus far refused to appear before the Parliament for questioning (he's in violation of the Constitution) has several tricks he's attempting. Al Rafidayn notes one, Nouri wants to question Barzani before the Parliament.
A 70-year-old man has been sentenced to 15 years in prsion. That's the verdict handed down by the Iraqi 'legal' system after a 'hearing' that was shorter than a US traffic court appearance to appeal a speeding ticket. Amnesty International issues the following alert:
'Grossly unfair' 15-minute court hearing in Ramze Shihab Amhed case relied on 'torture' evidence Amnesty International has condemned the trial in Iraq of a 70-year-old British man who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after a hearing that lasted only 15 minutes. Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 70-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national who has lived in the UK since 2002, was sentenced by a court in Baghdad on 20 June after being found guilty of "funding terrorist groups". Amnesty has obtained and examined court documents and believes the trial proceedings were "grossly unfair". At his trial, the ninth in a series of trials (he had been acquitted in each of the earlier ones), Mr Ahmed's lawyer was not given the opportunity to challenge the prosecution's case, or to cross-examine prosecution witnesses or call his own witnesses. The court also failed to exclude from the proceedings a "confession" of Ahmed's, despite longstanding allegations that this was extracted under torture. The court relied on information provided by a secret informant, with Ahmed's lawyer denied an opportunity to challenge this information. In addition, statements - also allegedly extracted from an individual under torture and other ill-treatment - were considered in the trial proceedings. Earlier this month UK Foreign Secretary William Hague raised Ahmed's case with his counterpart, the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, while the latter was on a trip to London. Amnesty has been running a campaign for justice for Ahmed (www.amnesty.org.uk/ramze) and over 6,000 Amnesty supporters have already contacted Mr Hague about Ahmed's plight. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: "This is deeply disturbing news. Ramze seems to have been convicted partly on the basis of a confession that was allegedly beaten out of him. "The sentence comes on the back of what has already been a living nightmare for Ramze - of secret detention, alleged torture and then a prolonged trial that was itself grossly unfair. "We need to see this dubious verdict set aside and Ramze either given a proper appeal or for him to be released and allowed to return home." In November 2009 Ahmed had travelled from the UK to Iraq in an effort to secure the release of his detained son 'Omar. However, he was himself arrested at a relative's house in the northern city of Mosul on 7 December 2009. For nearly four months he was held in a secret prison near Baghdad, during which time his whereabouts were completely unknown to his family. During this period Ahmed alleges he was tortured - including with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags - into making a false "confession" to terrorist offences. Ahmed "reappeared" in late March 2010 when he was able to make a phone call to his wife Rabiha al-Qassab - a 65-year-old former teaching assistant who lives in London - imploring her to seek help from the UK authorities. However, partly on the basis of his "confession", Ahmed was subsequently put on trial, including on various terrorism charges.
(New York) – Amnesty International today urged Iraqi authorities to commute all pending death sentences and impose a moratorium on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty after the chief of police in the Iraqi governorate of Anbar announced on Monday a Court of Cassation decision to uphold 196 death sentences in the region.
It is unclear if the sentences have been ratified by the Iraqi presidency yet.
The announcement gave no timeline for carrying out the executions but expressed a hope that it would be soon.
"After this alarming announcement, Iraqi authorities must move quickly to commute all death sentences and declare a moratorium on executions across the country," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"If the Iraqi authorities carry out these death sentences, they would nearly quadruple Iraq's already shocking execution record so far this year."
In the first half of 2012 alone, Iraq executed at least 70 people, which is already more than the figure for all of last year.
According to Amnesty International's information, in 2011 a total of at least 68 people were executed in Iraq. Around the country, hundreds of others are believed to remain on death row.
The death penalty was suspended in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 but restored in August 2004. Since then, hundreds of people have been sentenced to death and many have been executed.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty – the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – in all cases without exception, as a violation of the right to life.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever
justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
Thursday, the UN News Centre noted the UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, was also expressing his alarm and quoted him stating, "It is extremely disturbing that up to 196 individuals may be at imminent risk of execution, with a serious lack of public information on the cases. And this is in a single province of the country." They noted, "He supported the appeal, made in January 2012, by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, for the establishment of a moratorium on the death penalty." Speaking to the United Nations Security-Council earlier this month, Martin Kobler (UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq) noted:
Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes. I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition. I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007.
Staying with violence, Dar Addustour notes that the Pope has called out the attacks in Iraq last Monday which resulted in over a hundred deaths. Independent Catholic News reports that Pope Benedict XVI issued an appeal for peace in Iraq yesterday, "The Holy Father prayed, 'That this great country find once again the path toward stability, reconciliation and peace'."
Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "The Islamic State in Iraq, a Sunni militant group that describes itself as affiliated with Al Qaeda, has been seeking to reassert its presence in the cities it plagued during the height of Iraq's civil war. Local officials have long been targeted by insurgents in Iraq, and it's a problem that really never went away. How many have been murdered over the years? The number is almost certainly in the thousands, though it doesn't appear there's ever been a systematic effort to track assassinations of politicians and local government officials." The International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann writes at CNN:
It's easy to be distracted by an uptick in violence in Iraq and ignore the larger political crisis in which al Qaeda, however diminished in its capabilities, can operate with apparent impunity. Despite last week's events, violence has been at a steady level since 2008 – too high for sure to those caught up in the spasms that occur, but sufficiently low to nonetheless convey a general sense of stability – a vast improvement over the days of sectarian fighting some years ago. Spectacular attacks have punctuated a pattern of declining violent incidents, causing mass casualties even as overall casualty levels have gone down. Shia militias, which mainly targeted the U.S. presence, put their guns back under their beds after the military component of that presence came to an end late last year. Violent actors such as al Qaeda are likely to be around for some time, but without a political crisis, they could be contained. Iraqi security forces are still in the early stages of their development (after the Bush administration disposed of the former regime's army wholesale), and still exhibit clear vulnerabilities, especially in intelligence gathering and coordination that could prevent violent attacks, as well as in their explosives-detection capacity at checkpoints. (Security officers employ a piece of equipment that Western experts and journalists have referred to as a "divining rod" or "magic wand" for its inability to detect anything.) Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will be Iraq, nor its security forces. Yet by and large, these forces have been able to prevent a serious resurgence of violence.
What matters in Iraq today isn't so much its sporadic violence, however spectacular in nature, as the total absence of basic consensus over how the country should be run, as deepening discord could trigger a new round of civil war.
Still on violence, Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press) reports the UN's use of private contractors in Iraq and quotes Martin Kobler stating in an e-mail to him, "I would like to add that UNAMI is spending approximately USD 1.73 million in 2012 on static security provided by private security companies in Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait. The contract for the SAIT training, which is conducted by a private security company, is for up to USD 1,182,771.50 in 2012."
Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police college annex facility as one of the facilities. It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's currently being downsized. And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.
We've covered it already a month ago. It will wait until tomorrow. Emily Alpert gets a link because she's hard working and two friends at the paper asked for it.
Turning to the US presidential election, as we noted in "Roundtable" at Third, there was big news over the weekend. Roseanne Barr, who is making an independent run for the presidency, announced her running mate. Cindy Sheehan, probably the most famous peace advocate in this country in the last decade, is Rosanne's choice.
Roseanne earlier made a run for the Green Party presidential nomination. There's a good chance she would have won if people had known she was serious about it. (She declared at the start of her run that she was just running to garner attention for the Green Party and that she would support Jill Stein.) During her run, at some point, she decided she needed to make a real run because she obviously believes she can make a difference (whether that's in the race and in office or just in the race, I don't know). She's not alone in feeling that way. Cindy Sheehan has had supportive words for Jill Stein in the past. So has Green Party member Cat Woods. But if you check the press release announcing Cindy is Roseanne's running mate, you'll see Cat Woods is the contact person.
Jill Stein has the Green Party nomination. She also has several obstacles against her that she has placed in her own path this month. No one's to blame for that except for her as we explained in "Touring the online campaign offices." Roseanne is not her 'problem.' Roseanne is running for public office and is Jill Stein's rival, Mitt Romney's rival, Barack Obama's rival, Jerry White's rival and Gary Johnson's rival. None of them own anyone's vote. Every vote should be up for grabs and go to the person a voter feels will best represent them.
Jill Stein needs a campaign blogger. She doesn't have one. She might want to consider Ian Wilder (On The Wilder Side) who writes with passion and clarity and is supporting her campaign. Yesterday Ian noted:
It's a leap year, so CODEPink/UFPJ's* Tom Hayden must be shilling for a warmonger again. Obama has opposed any Wall Street reform, and his Homeland Security Department coordinated the shutdown of Occupy in the US just as Hayden & MoveOn helped coordinate the shutdown of the peace movement in 2008, Hayden's new article gives Obama credit for Bush's plan to shut down the Iraq war. Not surprising since Obama has followed the Bush path on so many issues, to the point of being called Bush's 3rd term. Tom Hayden totally misses the point.
David Josué firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
July 29, 2012
ROSEANNE BARR ANNOUNCES RUNNING MATE FOR PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
Roseanne Barr announced that Cindy Sheehan will be her running mate in her bid for the Peace and Freedom Party's nomination for President. Sheehan is an anti-war activist who first gained national attention for her protest camp outside then-President Bush's Texas ranch.
Barr said, "Cindy and I are the 'Throw the Bums Out' ticket and the 'Ballot Access' ticket. We want people to register in the Peace and Freedom Party so that the party can keep its ballot status in California." After the passage of the 'Top Two primary" in 2010, alternative political parties lost one of their ways of staying on the ballot. The Peace and Freedom Party needs approximately 40,000 more registrants to maintain its ballot status beyond 2014. "We also want people to start Peace and Freedom Parties in other states," added Barr.
Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who has been working closely with Barr on this campaign, commented, "Access to the ballot is a civil rights issue that needs attention across the country. If voters only have two choices, both of which represent the same interests, then we don't really have a democracy." McKinney went on to describe a higher standard of democracy, "When I was in Congress, I promoted proportional representation for legislatures. This is the only way to make our democracy representative of the people, rather than the corporate donors."
The Peace & Freedom Party nominating convention takes place on Saturday August 4th in Los Angeles. Cat Woods, an officer of the Peace & Freedom Party, echoed Barr on the party's emphasis on ballot access. She said that the party hoped to "draw attention to the ongoing erosion of alternative parties' access to the ballot and how this directly deprives voters of control of their government."
When asked whether she supported the Barr ticket, Woods added, "Our party needs to reach a wider audience with its message of socialist solutions. Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan can bring that."
Responding to charges that she could "steal votes" from Obama or "spoil the election," Barr said, "The American people are sick and tired of this 'lesser evil' garbage they get fed every election year. Both the Democrats and the Republicans do the same evils once they're in office. I'm here to tell the voters: if you want to tell the government and the two domineering parties that you're sick and tired of all their evil, register in the Peace and Freedom Party and vote for me and Cindy."
To contact the Roseanne for President campaign, contact firstname.lastname@example.org