Wednesday, September 12, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the diplomatic corps experiences some deaths, illiteracy remains a concern in Iraq, Congress ponders what lessons were learned from Iraq, the Defense Dept has over 7,000 contractors in Iraq, and more.
It has not been a smooth time for members of the diplomatic corps. All Iraq News notes Taha shukr Mahmoud Ismail has died of a heart attack. That's all the article notes except to say he was born in 1940. I'm told he was born in 1947 (and that he died Saturday). What follows is the other information I was told. He had been Iraq's Ambassador to Chile. He was born in Mosul in 1947, spoke three languages (Arabic, English and German) earned his degree at the University of Baghdad, first joined the diplomatic corps in 1975 and previously served as Ambassadors to Nigeria and Venezuela. Taha shuker Mahmoud Alabass is survived by his wife and their five children.
Heavily armed militants assaulted the compound and set fire to our buildings. American and Libyan security personnel battled the attackers together. Four Americans were killed. They included Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information management officer, and our Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. We are still making next of kin notifications for the other two individuals.
This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world. We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence, and we send our prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues of those we've lost.
All over the world, every day, America's diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world, that these aspirations are worth striving and sacrificing for. Alongside our men and women in uniform, they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation.
In the lobby of this building, the State Department, the names of those who have fallen in the line of duty are inscribed in marble. Our hearts break over each one. And now, because of this tragedy, we have new heroes to honor and more friends to mourn.
Chris Stevens fell in love with the Middle East as a young Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in Morocco. He joined the Foreign Service, learned languages, won friends for America in distant places, and made other people's hopes his own.
In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition. He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building our relationships with Libya's revolutionaries. He risked his life to stop a tyrant, then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya. The world needs more Chris Stevenses. I spoke with his sister, Ann, this morning, and told her that he will be remembered as a hero by many nations.
Sean Smith was an Air Force veteran. He spent 10 years as an information management officer in the State Department, he was posted at The Hague, and was in Libya on a brief temporary assignment. He was a husband to his wife Heather, with whom I spoke this morning. He was a father to two young children, Samantha and Nathan. They will grow up being proud of the service their father gave to our country, service that took him from Pretoria to Baghdad, and finally to Benghazi.
The mission that drew Chris and Sean and their colleagues to Libya is both noble and necessary, and we and the people of Libya honor their memory by carrying it forward. This is not easy. Today, many Americans are asking – indeed, I asked myself – how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.
But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scarred by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris' body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.
The speech is worth reading or viewing in full. We don't have room because we also have to cover a Congressional hearing today. One part of it we do need to emphasize:
Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear – there is no justification for this, none. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith. And as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.
I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
The attacks were also noted this morning by US House Rep Buck McKeon who is also the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. At the start of this morning's hearing, Chair McKeon observed, "This morning, we're reminded once more of what a dangerous world we live in and the risk many Americans take to serve our country abroad. My thoughts and prayers together with those of the members of the Committee are with the families of the loved ones of those that we've lost in Libya."
With that noted, McKeon then moved on to the point of the hearing: Is anyone learning?
The short answer is: No, no one is.
The hearing was about the financial costs of war and the oversight needed to ensure that
the money is spent appropriately and as intended. The Defense Dept has largely washed its hand of Iraq and the State Dept now is the department spending billions of US tax dollars on Iraq. This has thrown Congress which appears unsure of exactly how to examine the work done in Iraq -- instead of a turf war, it's more of a hot potato with no one wanting to touch it. But the Defense Dept continues to spend huge sums in Afghanistan and it is thought and hoped that somehow the Iraq War and the ten years already in Afghanistan at least provided some lessons in how to improve the financial aspects of warfare. We're talking contracting, as DoD's Assistant Secretary on Logistics and Material Readiness Alan F. Estevez made clear in his remarks.
It's good that there was some clarity somewhere in his remarks. Pacific Command and the Japanese tsunami? No one is really interested when you're supposed to be talking about money spent on warfare. In fact, not only are they not interested but the Committee appeared to collectively eye roll as they pondered whether or not the tsunami was brought up because that's the only thing DoD can point to with pride when it comes to spending?
Estevez and Brig Gen Craig Crenshaw turned in a joint-written statement. They delivered individual statements orally to the Committee. Crenshaw stated that they had addressed past mistakes in their joint-statement. It would be good if they had done that. The Congressional Research Service's Moshe Schwartz would testify that experts were stating, "DoD must change the way it thinks about contracting." But there was nothing that indicated it had or that it was trying to.
And at the root of that is the refusal to learn from past mistakes. You can't learn from them if you can't admit them. The refusal to acknowledge the past mistakes may be sadder than Estevez desperation for a 'win' that led to his highlighting Pacific Command's response to Japan's tsunami. A statement that on its first page of text (the actual first page was a cover sheet) quickly states, "Without dwelling on the past . . ."? That's a joint-statement that's not going to be admitting to much of anything.
So no, in the joint-written statement, Estevez and Crenshaw do not "acknowledge our past weakneesses." And this failure to do so -- this repeated failure -- may go a long way towards explaining why money continues to be wasted -- why large sums of money continue to be wasted.
Large sums of money?
Schwartz's testimony also included, "According to DoD data, from Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2011, contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan represented 52% of the total force -- averaging 190,000 contractors to 175,000 uniformed personnel. Over the last five fiscal years, DoD obligations for contracts performed just in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation ($132 billion) exceeded total contract obligations of any other US federal agency.
The Congressional Research Service had three recommendations:
1) Senior leadership must focus on articulating the importance of contract support in a sustained and consistent manner.
2) The Professional Military Education curriculum must incorporate courses on operational contract support throughout its various efforts.
3) Training exercises must incorporate contractors playing the role that they would play on the battlefield.
Those are good suggestions but let's explain why they're needed before we evaluate them. They're needed because oversight of contractors is not valued (that's the culture) and what happens is, once in the war zone, someone gets appointed to do oversight. This person hasn't been trained in oversight of contractors. These observations were made in this morning's hearing.
These observations have been made in repeated Congressional hearings, before the Commission on Wartime Contracting and elsewhere. They are not new. If you've attended even one hearing on contracting in war zones, you've heard the three suggestions in some form already.
This stuck in the same worn groove aspect was slightly touched on in the hearing when the Government Accountability Office's Tim DiNapoli noted that it was June 2010 when the GAO "called for a cultural change -- one that emphasized an awareness of contractor support throughout the department. Consistent with this message, in January 2011, the Secretary of Defense identified the need to institutionalize changes to bring about such a change."
But nothing changes. And getting answers is like pulling teeth. For example, grasp that US House Rep Susan Davis is asking basic questions and watch the witness run from these basic issues.
US House Rep Susan Davis: As you've gone through a number of these areas, I think some of it falls into a category that we might call common sense. I mean, obviously you need to plan, you need to have data, you need to have oversight. And yet I guess to someone just listening in on that, they'd say, "Well yeah." I mean what gets in the way of those good practices? And I wonder if you could talk more about the different kinds of contracting then and where that becomes a greater problem because if it's related to the war fighter and contingency operations, I would think in many cases that's a difficulty, as I think you've expressed, of planning. You don't necessarily know what your situation is going to be until you're in the middle of it. And on the other hand, if you're talking about operational, it would seem to me that that's -- there's enough standardization in that -- that you shouldn't have to go back to the drawing board every time. So can you help? What gets in the way of those different areas that we're not able to, I guess, accomplish what we really want to do?
Moshe Schwartz There are a number of issues that you raised and I think it's an excellent question. One of the challenges that has occured in Afghanistan is that there's a frequent rotation among personnel -- uniform personnel as well as contractors, as well as civilian personnel -- and so often someone who gets to theater who has never engaged in a counter-insurgency operation -- which Afghanistan has the policy now being pursued there -- it takes them a learning curve and they say, "Oh, I get it. I see what's going on. And now I'm three months from going home." And then someone else comes in who may not have had that learning curve. That definitely has an impact of the ability for continuity in some of these common sense issues. For example, contracting in war time is fundamentally different than contracting in peace time so someone who has done contracting for years and years here to build a road is thinking: Cost, schedule, performance. When they get to Afghanistan, perhaps cost, schedule and performance and perhaps, "Wait, stealing the goods. We can't take them to court. What effect is this having on the local village?" And when they start getting up to speed, as I mentioned, they start rotating back. That's one problem. A second problem is sometimes you hae personnel who, because of the rotation policy, don't have the experience in that area. When I was in Afghanistan last summer, a former helo pilot was working on contracting strategy. He had never done that before. Incredibly talented individual but it took him also some time to get up to speed. So I think that is one factor that makes a difference. I think the other factor sometimes is simply exposure to the magnitude of what one might be dealing with. For example --
US House Rep Susan Davis: I guess, so where -- Are there, because you talk about gaps in data and in that collection process, how do you mitigate these issues which are, again, they're obvious. There's a certain level of uncertainty that you can't necessarily plan for. How do -- What's the best way of getting around that, if that's the issue. The other thing, and I just wanted to see if you had some thoughts on or a sesne of what is the cost of unpreparedness and the lack of planning? Has anybody tried to quantify that? And particularly to the extent that we obviously need to do better planning and there is a cost to that as well. So where is that balance and what do we think that is? I mean is that 10% of the budget? Is that 3% of the budget? So the first one, how do you get around those issues that you mentioned that are obviously difficult to plan for?
Moshe Schwartz: Let me address just the data. Would you like me to respond to that one?
US House Rep Susan Davis: Yeah.
Moshe Schwartz: So there a couple of strategies that have been suggested that could assist. One is that what's happened often in Afghanistan is that you have somebody collecting data but they don't know how to get it into the system because, for example, the Sidney System, the system that is being used in Afghanistan, they're not familiar with it. The user interface hasn't been done in a way so that someone who isn't experienced in programming is necessarly capable of using effectively. In that area, training and education can make a substantial difference as well as [. . .]
And on and on he yammered. Want numbers? Don't ask the witnesses because despite the fact that they should have an answer to these questions, should arrive for the hearing with answers to these questions, they never provide them. Davis went over her time in the excerpt above. When Schwartz was finally done yammering, she would quickly ask if -- by hand in the air -- could anyone indicate that they had a rough idea of the cost that was being talked about? No one could.
Another point to note, we said DoD does less. DoD is not gone from Iraq. And this was briefly noted in the hearing.
US House Rep Mike Coffman: I think my first question would be how many contractors -- or is anybody aware of how many contractors we have in Iraq today
Alan Estevez: Iraq today, end of third-quarter number is about 7,300. DoD contractors.
US House Rep Mike Coffman: 7,300. And what kind of missions are they performing at this time?
Alan Estevez: They're still doing some base support, delivery of food and fuel, some private security, some security missions.
Those are not State Dept contractors, those are DoD contractors.
Let's not Estevez's title again: Assistant Secretary of Defense Logistics and Material Readiness. He is qualified to answer that question. He did answer that question.
Quickly, if US House Rep Dennis Kucinich wanted to contribute anything before he leaves Congress (he lost his primary and has no election to run in), he could chair or co-chair a hearing on what we learn from the Iraq War that deals with realities and not just dollars and cents. US House Rep Lynne Woolsey, who decided not to seek re-election, would make a good chair for such a hearing.
Turning to Iraq War veteran Bradley Manning, 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. The court-martial was supposed to begin this month has been postponed until after the election .
Michael Ratner: Last week saw a possible ray of hope on access to the documents and perhaps the transcript in the court-martial of Bradley Manning. As I'm sure you all know, the court-martial proceedings have been continuing at Fort Meade on a monthly basis. The trial date or the court-martial date is now set toward the end of February. Prior to that there's been a series of motions, two or three days on everything from classification to did the documents released through WikiLeaks cause harm, to what happened as a result of the torture of Bradley Manning in prison, etc. That is still continuing. During this period, I along with a number of other lawyers as well as a few journalists have been trying to cover the trial or at least go down there and see what's going on. It's been difficult for us because unlike in a regular trial, for some reason, even documents that are not secret are not being given to anyone outside of the lawyers who are actually on the case. So I don't get to see the documents, the Center for Constitutional Rights doesn't get to see the documents, the journalists don't get to see the documents. In other words, a lot of the documents aren't secret.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, what has the Center done to try to get ahold of these documents?
Michael Ratner: Well a couple of months ago, Heidi, we filed -- more than a couple of months ago, probably three or four months ago -- we filed a lawsuit, first with the judge -- Judge [Denise] Lind who is hearing the Bradley Manning case. The case is called Center for Constitutional Rights vs. United States of America & Col Denise Lind, military judge. Our plantiffs include the Center, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, The Nation, Glenn Greenwald, Kevin Gosztola, Chase Madar, people we've had on this show. A number of the journalists with independent papers who've been the only ones covering this. But all journalists are frustrated by the fact that they can't get the papers. Well we lost before the judge. We lost before the appeals court. Finally, in the United State Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which is the highest military court, we're getting a little bit of action. The court did order the government to respond and ask the judge to explain why she's not showing us any of the documents, what's going on here? And then finally we got something we've been trying to get happen for a long time is the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces saying that there's a First Amendment right for access to these documents and they filed for themselves as well as for 31 news media organizations. Those news media organizations included the Washington Post, the New York Times, Gannet, AP, Hearst Corporation, etc. In other words, all the big news media organizations. So hopefully that amicus brief will finally push the court to say the most important espiionage -- or the most important military court-martial in 50 years that's going on should be open to the public and the documents that are public should actually be public.
Heidi Boghosian: It's true, isn't it, that the US Supreme Court has absolutely no jurisdiction over this sort of parallel miltiary court system?
Michael Ratner: It's a tricky issue. We're going through the entire military court system. If we lose in the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces -- which I don't really expect to because it's such an outrageous proceeding that's going on, but you never know with the military -- if we lose there, we do have a possibility of applying to the Supreme Court for certiorari -- which is really saying the discretion of the court to take the case and possibly review it. Or we could conceivably start another action in a federal district court. But let's just hope that by the time that trial really rolls around in February that the public is given access to "public documents."
Heidi Boghosian: I wanted to add also you mentioned the Press Freedom Association. Did you know that the US press freedom rating dropped 27 places to number 47 this past year? I think in part we saw the police response to the Occupy movement influencing that significant drop in rating -- I mean that went down 20 places. But I would wonder if the Bradley Manning case and these related issues also impacts that drop in rating?
Michael Ratner: You know, I think, Heidi, you're part about the Occupy Wall Street issue is really a good one. As you can tell us, the number of attacks on journalists covering Occupy Wall Street -- and I don't just mean attacks on the media, I mean --
Heidi Boghosian: Physical attacks.
Michael Ratner: Physical. Destroying their cameras, pushing them around, arresting them,
Heidi Boghosian: Keeping them off the scene.
Michael Ratner: Right. New York City had to put in a whole new set of regulations and even after that, what happened?
Heidi Boghosian: The police kept doing it.
Michael Ratner: Exactly. So I think that's probably, as you said, the most significant reason.
The crackdown on protests movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalsits. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation.
We'll come back to the report later in the snapshot. Sunday, the Milford Mercury reported, "Six weeks have been set aside for the trial of the 24- year-old soldier, due to start on February 4th -- nearly three years after he was first charged." He's not been tried. He's been held all this time and now they're saying that in Feburary 2013, they'll try him. He should have been released a long time ago -- guilty or innocent. He is no threat to anyone and his detention -- before you factor in the torture and humiliation -- has been punative, it's been to punish him, to punish someone who, all this time later, has still not been found guilty. Over 500 days behind bars and never found guilty.
When they do that in other countries, the term we use is "political prisoner." It's an accurate term. Turning to another Iraq War veteran, Kimberly Rivera. Kim is from Mesquite, Texas. And I don't know if she's aware of this, but there were three high school girls at Town East Mall, Kim's hometown mall, over the weekend passing out material on her, asking people to support her before they were asked to leave by mall security. They were there handing out information for two hours on Saturday before they were asked to leave. (I've interviewed one for Friday's gina & krista round-robin, FYI and Gina and Krista have invited all three to participate in this week's roundtable.) Kim and her family went to Canada in 2007 when she could no longer continue to fight in the illegal war. Todd Aalgaard (Torontoist) has a strong profile of the mother of four war resister who is being told to leave Canada by September 20th:
"When I was there," Rivera told Torontoist, "I had seen some things. I worked at the front gate as a guard, a gate guard, so every Saturday we had this day called 'claim day.' Each Saturday was becoming increasingly difficult to perform my duty, the way I felt like I should, and it was mainly because I was seeing traumatized children, parents, and older women looking for their sons and husbands. Meanwhile, I'm letting the soldiers out of our gate on patrols and they're raiding peoples' houses. Are they getting blown up?"
Before long, these questions would become broader in scope, and profoundly more troubling. "Really, what am I doing here?" she recalls wondering. "I'm either killing an American or I'm killing or hurting an Iraqi. And/or, I'm waiting to die myself. I didn't feel like we had a mission, we didn't have anything we were accomplishing for the better, so I ultimately lost faith and heart in what I was doing. That's how I came to the conclusion that it's not right." It was a period of soul-searching and prayer that concluded, ultimately, with the realization that what she was being asked to do contravened everything from her morals to her faith. She also decided that the United States military was being careless about preventing civilian casualties.
When Rivera's leave came up in Feburary, 2007, a little over a year after she had enlisted, she finally had an opportunity to oppose the war. Her superiors, Rivera said, were well aware of her extreme personal conflicts over the occupation. "I had all these conflicts with my heart on that decision that I made originally, that I thought was pro-war," Rivera told us, "[and] they told me my only choice was Iraq or jail, and I kind of refused that." According to the Star, warnings from her superiors also included death as a punishment for desertion.
Ottawa (12 Sept. 2012) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has added its voice to the growing number of individuals and organizations calling for Jason Kenney, federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to stop the deportation proceedings against Iraq war resister Kimberly Rivera.
In a letter (full text below) to Kenney, National President James Clancy notes that "Canada has a proud history of providing refuge to conscientious objectors to war. Our country has been a refuge for many whose religious or political beliefs could not allow them to participate in war."
Clancy goes on to urge Kenney to "show compassion, and to respect the wishes of the majority of Canadians who want Canada to allow Iraq war resisters to stay."
The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Citizenship and Immigration Canada Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
Dear Minister Kenney,
I am writing on behalf of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) to add our voice in support of Kimberly Rivera, the former United States soldier who has been living in Canada since 2007.
I was dismayed to learn that Ms. Rivera's application to remain in Canada has been denied and that she is to leave Canada by September 20. I urge you to allow Ms. Rivera, her husband, and their four children (two of whom were born in Canada) to remain in Canada.
Canada has a proud history of providing refuge to conscientious objectors to war. Our country has been a refuge for many whose religious or political beliefs could not allow them to participate in war. These conscientious objectors include the Doukhobors, Mennonites and the more than 50,000 Americans who came to Canada during the Vietnam War. Many of these people went on to make invaluable contributions to Canadian political and social life.
Similarly to Ms. Rivera, many Vietnam-era war resisters originally had volunteered for the military. However, they came to understand the reality of what was an unjust war and decided that they could not in good conscience continue to participate. Canada accepted them then as it should accept Ms. Rivera now.
Ms. Rivera faces court martial, a felony conviction and military prison in the United States. In my opinion, a mother of four should not face prison for her refusal to participate in an immoral war. It would further add an injustice to an unjust war.
I urge you to show compassion, and to respect the wishes of the majority of Canadians who want Canada to allow Iraq War resisters to stay. Please allow Ms. Rivera and her family to remain in Canada by granting their application to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
Labor Day saw many turn out -- including Vietnam Veterans Against the War -- to show their support for Kim. Courage to Resist notes 3 ways you can show support for Kim:
Iraq War veteran turned resister facing five years in US military brig if deported
1. Hold a vigil at a Canadian consulate near you next Tuesday, September 18th, to ask the Canadian government to "Let Kimberly and all war resisters stay in Canada!". Here's a list of Canadian Government Offices in the US.
In San Francisco, join supporters at the Canadian consulate on Tuesday, September 18th from Noon to 2pm, at 580 California Street.
Since we noted Reporters Without Borders' [PDF format warning] "2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index" earlier in the snapshot, it might be worth once again noting their findings for Iraq which also fell several places down the list:
After rising in the index for several years in a row, Iraq fell 22 places this year, from 130th to 152nd (almost to the position it held in 2008, when it was 158th). There were various reasons. The first was an increase in murders of jouranlists. Hadi Al-Mahdi's murder on 8 September marked a clear turning point. Another reason was the fact that journalists are very often the target of violence by the security forces, whether at demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Baghdad or in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that had for many years offered a refuge for journalists.
The US-led invasion of 2003 brought to power the Islamic Dawa party, which was established in Iran in the 1980s and backed Iran in its war with Iraq. The fact that Dawa's core beliefs were inspired by Iranian Shia clerics did not stop the US and UK from supporting the party after Saddam Hussein's fall. In the years after the invasion, the security situation deteriorated for everyone in the country. But for sexual minorities, Iraq became hell on earth. By 2007, political and religious groups backed by militiamen launched what we believe was an organised, co-ordinated campaign to hunt, arrest, torture and kill everyone they perceived as gay. These radical groups deny sexual minorities the right to life. They target everyone who does not conform to their religious description of family.
Natalia Antelava: What's Iraq doing to protect minority groups? Ali al-Dabbagh: I think that here in Iraq we do provide all the legal and the constitutional clauses to protect the minorities compared with the region which definitely they insult and they crush all the minorities Natalia Antelava: One minority that the UN for example is very worried about are homosexuals. Ali al-Dabbagh: We should take also that the culture and the habits and the customs of the country. You can't impose, you can't copy what you believe in the West on countries that have a different culture. But there is no right for anyone to insult or to kill or to harm any such groups. But we might find that some individuals in the security forces, as they did -- as they violate the human rights with the others, they do also violate the instruction of the government and the government definitaely wants to keep silent on the people that violate that right. Natalia Antelava: So your position is that there is no additional threat in the Iraqi society today to an Iraqi who happens to be homosexual? Ali al-Dabbagh: I -- Again, I could say that we don't have that. It is not a phenomenon, homosexual is not a phenomenon like what it is in the West or in other countries. I don't know how many homosexuals in Iraq. They could declare themselves as a homosexual. We should change the whole Constitution in order to allow them to practice their homosexuality? Publicly? You can't make -- you can't -- You can't think that Iraq can change -- Neither Iraq nor -- Natalia Antelava: This is not about practicing homosexuality. This is about living their lives. Ali al-Dabbagh: They could live their lives in a normal way as long as they don't perform their homosexuality in public. Natalia Antelava: Are you saying that those gays who have run into trouble in the streets of Baghdad -- Ali al-Dabbagh: Definitely they -- Natalia Antelava: -- have brought it on themselves? Ali al-Dabbagh: Definitately they-they misbehave in a way in which they attract the attention of the others. Natalia Antelava: It is a right of Iraqi people not to have gay people walking in the streets? Ali al-Dabbagh: I didn't say this. You are saying it. I'm saying that the gays should respect the behavior and moral values of others in order to be respected. Natalia Antelava: This is a bit like telling a Black person not to be Black. Ali al-Dabbagh: Nah, that is nature -- by nature is a Black. Natalia Antelava: But you said this is by nature, so what's homosexuality? Ali al-Dabbagh: It's not by nature. It's a behavior. It's a behavior. It is not being Black. You born as a Black. But this behavior -- Let him be a homosexual in the house, in everywhere, in a protected region but also let him respect the public. Natalia Antelava: But if you say that they are protected, why hasn't a single politician stood up and said killing of gays and harassment of gays should not be -- Ali al-Dabbagh: We could ask the politicians. Ask the politicians. You need to ask them, you could do that. Values of the society is much more important than the values of a person. I don't know what we should be concerned about the values of a few people, leaving the other communities and the other minorities rights?
Nouri hasn't been able to stop the violence -- not in the six years he's been prime minister -- but he's decided to try and tackle illiteracy. All Iraq News notes Nouri has announced the start of a campaign to wipe illiteracy and quotes Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh declaring that Nouri announced the program in a Cabinet meeting earlier this month and al-Dabbagh stated that the Minister of Finance has worked with the Minister of Education to ensure that the program is properly funded. Last week, the Iraqi press was noting an official survey which estimated that 1/5 of Iraqis are illiterate. That is especially surprising when the median age is below 21-years-old. It's not at all surprising when you grasp that, following years of devastating sanctions, public institutions have struggled under the continued war. Aswat al-Iraq notes that today was Illiteracy Day and that Middle Alliance MP Mohammed Iqbal noted with regret "the presence of 6 million illiterates, despite its civilizational heritage in comparison to other countries." Iraq is land where education -- literacy, math skills, etc. -- developed early on allowing it to invent concepts that the rest of the world would later embrace (such as the concept of zero). In the last century, Iraq was known for its literay salons, its vibrant art scene, its universities and its book stores and vendors. Iraq held the record in the region for book sales, in fact, during the 20th century.
We should note again that the figure is an estimate. There's no real survey. Just like there's no census. We didn't take the UN estimate seriously -- on literacy -- but to use it now as a comparison, it had 3/4 of Iraqis being literate. The new incomplete survey has a number of 4/5. That's actually an improvement. If we put it in percent(check my math, always), the UN would have been stating for the last five or so years that 75% of Iraqis were literate and the latest 'survey' (not by the UN) states that the number is 80% -- that's an increase of five percent.