Monday, August 06, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 6, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  the US brokers another agreement in Iraq, Moqtada posts a tell-all, an ancient church is discovered near Najaf, the continued targeting of Bradley Manning is put into context, and more.
At the start of the film Julia, Jane Fonda (playing Lillian Helman in a performance that won her the British Academy of Film and Televison Arts' award for Best Film Actress, the film based on a story in Hellman's Pentimento) observes:
Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.  When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines:  a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a boat is no longer on an open sea.  That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind.
Ali al-Fatli has discovered something similar in Iraq.  Kay Johnson (AP) reports that the construction of an airport in Najaf has allowed a structure to emerge.  Buried under sand for who knows how long is a church that archaeologist Ali al-Fatli tells Johnson "is the oldest sign of Christianity in Iraq" and scholars believe it to be Hira which Johnson explains "was founded around 270 A.D., grew into a major force in Mesopotamia centuries before the advent of Islam, and reputedly was a cradle of Arabic script.  Lying 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, it was lost to Iraq's southern desert for centuries after Christians were driven out of the area by Muslim rulers." 
Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the Iraq War and a population that once number millions now is less than half a million.  Open Doors USA reports:
An Open Doors contact in Baghdad emailed that, "Each hour the news [in Iraq] gets worse. The violence is unbelievable. Please pray for Iraq and the remaining Christians." A modern-day exodus of Christians is going on in Iraq. Sectarian violence has caused tens of thousands of Christians to flee since the beginning of the war. An estimated 345,000 Christians live in Iraq today; there were nearly 850,000 in 1991. Those who remain feel that the government fails to protect them from the recent wave of threats, robbery, rape, kidnapping, and church bombings. Though Northern Iraq -- an area commonly called Kurdistan -- has long been known as a safe haven for Christians, even in this region the situation for Christians has deteriorated due to Islamic extremism.
"The terror in Iraq recently is the worst in several years," continued the contact. "There have also been major Al Qaida threats to everyone, especially the Christians. After last week's violence, communication is terrible. It is not really possible to describe the devastation here in Baghdad. Over 100 have been killed. Security has been targeted…. We are used to bad problems here in Baghdad but the violence is just quite unbelievable; 12 car bombs, two suicide bombers on motor bikes. Scores of police and soldiers killed. We no longer have any security. While our people have not been killed, the injuries sustained to others are severe. There have also been new serious threats from Abu Baker Al Hussani, the head of Al Qaida in Iraq."
Catholic Online adds, "The most recent exodus began in Iraq as an indirect consequence of the Iraqi war. The exodus went into full swing after the horrendous massacre at Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Bagdad on October 31, 2010. This is the same massacre where a three-year-old child, Adam Udai, followed the terrorists around for two hours telling them to stop before they brutally murdered him. Adam joined his parents and approximately fifty other Christian martyrs that day, but his words lived on and were heard throughout the world (Adam, the Little Christian Boy Who Confronted Islamic Terrorists)."  The US State Dept breaks down religion in Iraq in a very superficial manner, "Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%; Sunni 32%-37%), Christian and others approximately 3%."  "Others" includes the decimated Jewish population.  Khaled Diab (Chronikler) speaks with Iraqi Jew Sasson Somekh:
Born in Baghdad in 1933 into a well-to-do, middle-class Jewish family, Somekh remembers summers spent swimming in and loungingby the majestic Tigris, the river along whose banks some of the first human civilisations were born. When temperatures soared and water levels dipped, a patchwork of small islets would emerge, providing ideal seclusion for family picnics, consisting primarily of fish grilled on a special covered Iraqi barbecue. "Those were the most enjoyable days of my life," he recalled wistfully.
At the time, Baghdad was a very Jewish city, with Jews – who were active in all walks of life, including commerce, the professions, politics and the arts – comprising as much as a third of the Iraqi capital's population. "When you walked down Baghdad's main street, al-Rashid, half the names on the shops and offices were Jewish," he noted.
Iraqi Jews were so enmeshed in their country's social fabric that they described themselves, and were regarded, as "Arabs", and viewed Judaism as a religion and not an ethnicity. As Somekh put it, he grew up with Arabic as his mother tongue and Arab culture as his reference point.
Another minority group would be the Yazidis.  Fryad Mohammed (AKnews and Ekurd) explains, "Mosul, capital city of Ninewa province in Iraq, near the border with Kurdistan region, lies 405 km north of Baghdad. The Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds located near Mosul. A Kurdish Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds located near Mosul. Some 350,000 Yazidis live in villages around Mosul near Kurdistan autonomous region border."   The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs notes today:
As misunderstood as Iraq is, there is perhaps no other group, and no other religion, more mysterious than the Yazidis. Simply mentioning the Yazidi faith to most Muslims in Iraq evokes an almost immediate condemnation of the "devil-worshipers in Ninawa" followed by a warning: don't trust them and don't eat their food.
An ancient blend of indigenous-Mesopotamian religion with strong Islamic, Sufi and Christian influences, Yazidism centers its worldview in the belief that after creating the world, God left its care to seven Holy Beings, the most eminent of which, and the central figure of the Yazidi faith, is called Melek Taus. Melek Taus is also central in Islam and Christianity, where the mystical Peacock Angel, as Melek Taus is depicted, was said to have refused to bow to the authority of Adam, which is the source of Islamic and Christian claims that Melek Taus becomes Satan. The Yazidis, on the other hand, believe that God first created Melek Taus in self-emulation, commanded him not to bow down to any other creature. This contradiction has fueled an age-old and inaccurate depiction of Yazidism as "devil worshipping."
As a consequence, the Yazidis have been the victims of hundreds of years of persecution and genocide, starting with the ancient Ottoman Empires and continuing well into the reign of Saddam Hussein. Their dwindling population, numbering roughly 500,000 in Iraq, is today only a fraction of its strength years ago.
While certain segments of Iraq's population decrease and dwindle, there is a new influx in the last weeks: refugees from Syria -- both Syrians and Iraqis.  Though Syria housed over a million Iraqi refugees from 2006 on, allowing for schooling and doing so without any aid from the Iraqi government -- though, of course, Nouri al-Maliki did announce that the Iraqi government would reimburse Syria and Jordan for the refugees, it never happened.  When the turmoil in Syria began resulting in refugees, Nouri announced that they could not come to Iraq.  Iraq, he said, couldn't handle the influx.  As the world's jaw hung open in disbelief and disbelief began to turn to condemnation, Nouri suddenly announced a policy switch.  Syrian refugees would be welcomed in!  But the living conditions he's provided for them have been less than hospitable -- and it's telling that he's placed then in the Sunni province of Anbar.  Omar Alsaleh (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video) reports on what awaits Syrian refugees who seek asylum in Iraq:

Omar Alsaleh:  They fled the violence in Syria, expecting a warm welcome in Iraq.  These refugees are now safe from the bombardments and the killings but they feel locked up.

Syrian refugee:  We became refugees and our country was destroyed because we demanded freedom.  But our freedom is now confisicated.  It would have been better if we had stayed in Syria.  We demand that the Iraqi government and NGOs take us out of here or takes us back to our country.  Let us die there.

Omar Alsaleh:  More than 3,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in al Kahim over the last two weeks.  They've been given shelter in 12 shcol. Aid groups, tribal shieks and residents of Anbar Province offer them food, some cash and basic needs.  But they want to be allowed to move.

That's the Baghdad-controlled Iraq.  The semi-autonomous KRG has been accepting refugees long before Nouri.  And Martin Kobler, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, has visited the camps last month.  Hoda Abdel-Hamid (Al Jazeera -- link is text and video) reports today from a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Regional Government:

Hoda Abdel-Hamid:  Rejin Hassan crossed into northern Iraq about a month ago.  She lived all of her life in Damascus but she was never considered a Syrian national.

Rejin Hassan:  We were considered foreigners but they have given us nationality so we are Syrian.  But I wish we had our region.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid:  So far Kurds have not joined the armed conflict.  They are Syrian's largest ethnic minority.  But many of them were never granted citizenship.  It's only after the uprising started that the government gave the nationality to an estimated 200,000 Kurds.  Ahmed and his family were stateless all their lives. They now hold Syrian i.d.s, but for Ahmed it's too little too late.

Ahmed:  This is a ploy by the [Bashar al-Assad] regime. They try to calm the situation down making sure we don't join the uprising. It's a game they're playing.  But in the end they will lose.

Lara Jakes (AP) notes that "at least 12,680 Iraqis" had returned in the last weeks from Syria.   RT notes, "Syrian state TV host Mohammed al-Saeed has been executed, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.  A militant Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the killing." This would be the Syrian 'rebels.' Those groups Kelly McEvers is always sobbing about on NPR while NPR pretends to be objective.  As Ava and I explained yesterday, Senator John Kerry has asked more questions of who the 'rebels' in Syria are than some in the media:

Chair John Kerry:  Well there's been as you know in the meeting in Paris and other meetings, Istanbul and elsewhere, very significant efforts to flush out who is the opposition?  I mean, do you know exactly who you would provide weapons too?

Andrew Tabler: Absolutely not.  But --

Chair John Kerry:  Don't you think we need to know that?  

Andrew Tabler: Absolutely. 

Ed Husain (Council on Foreign Relations) offers today, "The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime's superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now."  In the midst of the turmoil, millions try to live their lives in Syria and that's not helped when the 'rebels' start targeting the media.  NPR reports an attack on a television building has left at least three people dead today (that was on their hourly news update so the link just goes to NPR).  Xinhua reports on that attack here. Yesterday, Anthony Khun (NPR's All Things Considered -- link is audio and text) reported on a group of Iranians the 'rebel' Free Syrian Army was holding and claiming they were some sort of military operatives (while the government in Tehran insists that they are pilgrims).  Shashank Joshi (Telegraph of London) observes, "Foreign powers did not invent Syria's uprising, but they are certainly helping it along. In recent months Turks, Arabs and Americans have embraced the rebel cause, pumping in a thickening flow of weapons and helping to discipline the once ragtag insurgents into a force that grows more potent by the day. " 

While Syria simmers, the Baghdad-based government in Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government appear to have reached an understanding on one issue. 
According to an Al-Monitor translation of an al-Hayat article, "The Ministy of Peshmerga in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has signed a US-sponsored seven-point agreement with Baghdad, which calls for the withdrawal of Iraqi army troops that were dispatched to Zumar on the Syria-Iraq border.  In the meantime, Kurdish forces will hold a meeting in the KRG parliament building, aimed at forming a 'supreme council' for negotations with Baghdad."  Fryad Mohammed (AKnews) adds, "The general secretary of the Ministry of Peshmarga in the Kurdistan Region announced that the Ministry of Peshmarga and Iraq's Defense Ministry signed a seven-point agreement to solve the current crisis of moving troops to border areas."  Patrick Markey (Reuters) also notes the "talks involving Iraq, Kurdistan and U.S. officials."
The 'agreement' demonstrates that the Kurds are (nice take) trusting souls or fools who have been tricked yet again.  The last time the US brokered an agreement for Nouri, it was the 2010 Erbil Agreement.  For those who've forgotten how that worked out, the Kurds got screwed.
So did everyone except Nouri.  In March 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.  Nouri wanted a second term that the elections results didn't grant him.  With the backing of the White House, Nouri then behaved like a spoiled child and refused to allow things to move forward.  This was Political Stalemate I and it lasted a little over eight months. 
It ended November 10, 2010.  The US-brokered Erbil Agreement is what ended the stalemate.   Dropping back to the November 11, 2010 snapshot:
Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call." 

Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports that the airports and border crossings are becoming the latest turf wars among Iraq's various political factions.  The political stalemate continues in Iraq.  All Iraq News notes that someone has released a fuzzy (audio and video) taped meeting from last year between Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi following Allawi's meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.  Iraqiya is calling for an investigation into where the tape originated and who released it. 

The tape may end up being of little interest next to what could be Moqtada Tells AllAl Mada's covering what they dub a memoir of Moqtada al-Sadr which is a diary of the last months including his thoughts on Nouri al-Maliki (said to believe he's a dictator) and his disappointments with the National Alliance and its refusal to stand up for Iraqis against Nouri's power grab. He is said to name Ammar al-Hakim and Ibrahim al-Jaafari as two who met with him repeatedly prior to the end of April meeting in Erbil about the no-confidence vote.  Prior to that meeting, the two (al-Hakim and al-Jaafari) were on board with a no-confidence vote.  Moqtada is said to write that he knows his efforts to launch a no-confidence vote have cost him some popularity but that it was the right thing to do for Iraq. Moqtada published the memoir at his website.

An agreement on one aspect of a disagreement doesn't end the entire disagreement and problems remain between Baghdad and the KRG. -- problems, as Sri Lanka's Nation notes, and tensions. KUNA reports, "Iraqi Vice Presidential Khudayr Al-Khuzai on Monday decried what he called flagrant intervention by Turkey in the domestic affairs of Iraq."  Last week, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the KRG and, on Thursday, visited Kirkuk which outraged thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki who couldn't stop flapping his gums in yet another attempt by Nouri to show the world just how insane and unstable he is. AFP reports, "Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday defended his foreign minister's visit to the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk last week, which infuriated Baghdad."  While in Kirkuk, Davutoglu met with Turkmen and Rudaw publishes the speech he gave in full.  Excerpt:

"After 75 years I am come to Kirkuk as the first Turkish Foreign Minister," Davutoglu said. "You waited for us too long, but I promise you won't wait for us that long in the future."
The Turkmen crowd responded to the foreign minister's words by cheering, "Welcome Davutolgu,"
"Before I came here I listened to the great master [singer and poet] Abdulwahid Guzelioglu," Davutoglu continued as he repeated a line from one of his poems. "The mountain learned perseverance from me. Iron chains couldn't tie me down, but Kirkuk tied me down."
Hearing the poem, the crowd cheered, "Kirkuk is Turkmen and will remain Turkmen."
"Kirkuk is as important to us as it is to a Kirkuki singer," said the foreign minister.
"Iraq is a close friend of Turkey," he said. "Iraqi people are our brothers: Turkmen, Assyrians, Kurds and Arabs. All Iraqis are dearer to us than life. Whenever a tragedy or a sad news happens in Iraq our heart breaks. When a terrorist attack takes place in Kirkuk and our Kirkuki brothers come to harm, believe me that our hearts are set on a fire that nothing can put it out.
If you live in happiness and peace, we too in Turkey will be happy. If a thorn pricks your fingers, we in Turkey will feel your pain."

Reuters notes an overnight bombing targeting the oil pipeline between Iraq's Kirkuk and Turkey's Ceyhan has "knocked out flows and repairs are expected to take up to 10 days."  Platts adds, "The latest bombing comes as the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Province is gearing up to resume oil exports at a rate of 100,000 b/d. The KRG had said in a statement last week that it would start exports during the first week of August but there has been no word since on whether they have resumed or whether the latest development would force the resumption of exports to be postponed."
 Whether they were or were not involved, it is assumed the PKK is responsible for the attack.  The PKK is one of many Kurdish groups which supports and fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described them in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."  Anadolu Agency reports that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, has rejected Nouri's calls that cross border raids into Iraq stop and quotes Erdogan declaring, "It should be known that as long as the region remains a source of threat for Turkey we will continue staging operations wherever it is needed.  That was exactly the terms we had agreed upon with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who personally told me that he lacked the power to deal with [terrorist PKK organization] in Iraq's north." 

AFP reports that Sunday saw a raid by the PKK across the Iraq border, into Turkey on a military post which resulted in the deaths of 2 village guards, 14 PKK rebels and 6 Turkish soldiers and another five civilians, one village guard and fifteen Turkish soldiers were left injured.  RTT News adds, "Turkish military jets are currently pursuing the retreating militants and bombing their escape routes." As for the residents of the area of the attack?  Dogan News Agency reports that the people were first forced out of their homes by a 5.3-magnitude earthquake at 11:57 pm.  As they fled the area, they encountered the PKK attack forcing them to flee back towards their home and "Red Crescent teams were sent into the quake zone to assess the damage and the needs of quake victims."
In other violence, Alsumaria reports a Babel roadside bombing today has resulted in the death of 1 Iraqi soldier with anothr ten left injured.  In addition, AFP reports a Baghdad car bombing claimed 3 lives and left thirteen injured, a Khanaqin home bombing claimed 2 lives with two more left injured, Lt Col Ghanem Sabah was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 Ministry of Electricity employee was killed in Baghdad and a Baghdad roadside bombing left two government workers injured.
Moving over to the US where Bradley Manning's court-martial is scheduled to begin September 21st.  Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December.  At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial.  Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it.  Philip Fornaci (Washington Blade) offers an important column on Bradley today:
The military's treatment of Manning is undeniably a hate crime. He has been singled out for abuse — what the United Nations has characterized as "cruel and inhuman treatment" — for his alleged whistle blowing, yet the perverse sexual humiliation and degradation inflicted upon him is inextricably linked to his sexual orientation. In an attempt to "break" Manning, to get him to divulge information about Wikileaks (which he likely does not possess), the specialized torture regimen focused on isolation and sexual humiliation.
When the mainstream media cover the Manning case at all, reports tend to highlight his sexuality and paint him as unstable and weak. PBS's "Frontline" special on Manning devoted significant time to Manning's coming out struggles. Similar reports appeared in the New York Times and The Guardian. New York magazine emphasized Manning's gender identity struggles, describing him as "disturbed" and unstable. The link between Manning's sexual orientation and his alleged offenses is presented in virtually all mass media accounts as pathological. It is somehow inconceivable that Manning could have any motivation beyond psychological weakness for releasing to the world massive evidence of the U.S. military's lawlessness.
While the national LGBT advocacy organizations shamelessly shower President Obama with praise for allowing openly gay men and lesbians to enlist in the military, their complete silence on the Manning case is indefensible. This is particularly true in light of Obama's repeated endorsements of the brutal and homophobic treatment doled out to Manning. But the persecution of Manning is a "gay issue" not simply because his abuse at the hands of the military and the mass media has been decidedly and viciously homophobic. If Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage. He is a role model for how gay and lesbian service members should behave in the face of violations of the U.S. Constitution by the government entrusted with defending it.