Friday, September 14, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, protests continue against the US in the Middle East, rumors abound about Tareq al-Hashemi, Senator Patty Murray weighs in on sequestration, and much more.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: We are closely watching what is happening in Yemen and elsewhere, and we certainly hope and expect that there will be steps taken to avoid violence and prevent the escalation of protests into violence.
I also want to take a moment to address the video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries. Let me state very clearly -- and I hope it is obvious -- that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. And as you know, we are home to people of all religions, many of whom came to this country seeking the right to exercise their own religion, including, of course, millions of Muslims. And we have the greatest respect for people of faith.
To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage. But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence. We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms, and we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.
Violence, we believe, has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam, like other religions, respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it is a violation of that fundamental dignity to wage attacks on innocents. As long as there are those who are willing to shed blood and take innocent life in the name of religion, the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace. It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These are places whose very purpose is peaceful: to promote better understanding across countries and cultures. All governments have a responsibility to protect those spaces and people, because to attack an embassy is to attack the idea that we can work together to build understanding and a better future.
Now, I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day. Now, I would note that in today's world with today's technologies, that is impossible. But even if it were possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our Constitution and our law, and we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.
There are, of course, different views around the world about the outer limits of free speech and free expression, but there should be no debate about the simple proposition that violence in response to speech is not acceptable. We all -- whether we are leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders -- must draw the line at violence. And any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line.
Protests have taken place around the region all week including today. Reem Abdellatif, Ned Parker, Laura King, Hashmat Baktash, Alex Rodriguez, Emily Alpert and staff in Beirut and Khartoum (Los Angeles Times) report, "Infuriated protesters in Tunisia stormed the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tunis, and tore down the American flag, state media reported. Security forces fired warning shots and tear gas to try to scatter the crowd, the official Tunisian News Agency reported. Black smoke was seen rising around the embassy compound amid reports that an American school nearby had been set on fire. In Sudan, hundreds of riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used batons to prevent a wall of hundreds of protesters reaching the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Khartoum, but a grop managed to break through, breach the wall of the embassy and raise a black Islamic flag."
Protests took place in Iraq today as well. All Iraq News reports a protest was held today in Samarra following morning prayers and that protests also took place today in Wasit, Najaf, Missan and Basra. All Iraq News notes that the Najaf protest saw the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Ammar al-Hakim's political group) read out a statement denouncing the video and insisting it did serious harm to Muhammed. AFP reports:
In Karbala, Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai, the representative in the city of top Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said during his Friday sermon that "these repeated abuses could threaten peaceful life, especially among (religiously) mixed peoples."
He also condemned violence in response to the film, which portrays the Prophet Mohammed and Islam in a negative light, and sparked deadly fury in Libya, where four Americans including the ambassador were killed on Tuesday in a mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
In Sunni-majority Ramadi, west of Baghdad, hundreds of people demonstrated against the film.
Hamid al-Fahdawi, one of the protest organisers, told AFP that demonstrators want the Iraqi government to dismiss the US ambassador and cut economic ties with the US.
When compiling a list of demands, it's probably a good idea to leave unicorns and other myths off the list. There is no US Ambassador to Iraq currently. The most recent, James Jeffrey, left Iraq months ago.
Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) quotes Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking about the possibility that Barack's latest nominee might be placed on hold after his confirmation hearing:
Make no mistake: Our embassy in Baghdad is one of our most important and what happens there is key to our bilateral relationship and our work in the Middle East. By all accounts, Steve Beecroft is a highly capable career Foreign Service officer who has ambassadorial experience, and it is in America's best interest to get him on the ground as quickly as possible.
If the concern is over the empty post of US Ambassador to Iraq, well the administration should have done a better job vetting and never nominated Brett McGurk. Married and sleeping with another married person in Iraq while working for the US government in Iraq? It doesn't matter that he married Gina Chon eventually (after both their divorces -- it does matter that she allowed him to vet her copy, which is why her paper fired her), it matters that he had a reputation for disrespecting marriage in Iraq which meant that any Iraqi woman visiting the US embassy was going to be suspect which really matters in a country that practices so-called 'honor' killings. They never should have nominated him. His prior behavior in Iraq would have made his appointment an insult to the host country.
There should be an ambassador to Iraq. But no one forced the White House to nominate the insulting Brett McGurk and no one forced the White House to wait so long to name a new nominee after McGurk's name was withdrawn. I remember the Attorney General nominations of 1993. That was rough and Republicans were determined to defeat the nominees. Plural. Bill Clinton nominated Zoe Baird for the post. Her nomination was derailed and she withdrew her name January 22, 1993. Clinton goes on to announce a new nominee: Kimba Wood. Kimba Wood withdraws her name February 5, 1993. Clinton then nominated Janet Reno who was confirmed March 11, 1993 on a 98 to zero vote in the Senate. January 20, 1993, Bill Clinton was sworn in as President of the United States. March 11th, Reno -- his third nominee -- was confirmed as Attorney General. That's moving quickly.
The average time between confirmation hearings and a vote is said to be ten days. That would be September 28th and that's awfully close to when senators facing re-election battles have tor return home. That was also foot dragging by the administration which should have planned it much better.
You'd assume the demands would have been hammered out in advance since today wasn't the first day of protests over the video or movie. Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:
Al Mada notes that a group of Iraqi scientists led by Khalid al-Mulla stated that the US needed to use all means necessary to stop the film and others like it. The group lumps the US into abuse by "Zionists" globally -- while wanting tolerance for their own religious beliefs. All Iraq News notes the Iraqi Parliament is calling for the US Congress to stop the film. Freedom of speech has obviously not been explained well. Alsumaria reports hundreds turned out in Kut today to protest the film. All Iraq News notes Sadrists in Karbala launched a protest as well. For the record, there were no protests reported objecting to the murders of four Americans. For the record, the scientists and the Parliament was not reported to have made any comments condemning the four deaths. AGI reports, " Hundreds of people took to the streets in Baghdad, in the suburb district of Sadr City, burning US flags. Protests jointly staged by Sunni and Shia Muslims were also reported in Iraq's southern city of Basra." You can briefly see the Baghdad protest in Danielle Nottingham's CBS report (link is video).
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN -- link is text and video) reports on yesterday's Baghdad protest: Angry protesters in the Sadr City district of northeast Baghdad carried banners, Iraqi flags and images of radical Shiite and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they railed against what they see as an insult to their faith.
"America is the enemy of the people," the demonstrators shouted Thursday morning. They also yelled out, "Yes, yes to Islam. Yes, yes to Iraq. Yes, yes to Quran" -- the latter referring to the Muslim holy book.
The attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya on Tuesday claimed the lives of four Americans. Yesterday, I spoke about two: Ambassador Chris Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith. Today, we also recognize the two security personnel who died helping protect their colleagues. Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty were both decorated military veterans who served our country with honor and distinction. Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest gratitude are with their families and friends. Our embassies could not carry on our critical work around the world without the service and sacrifice of brave people like Tyrone and Glen.
Tyrone's friends and colleagues called him "Rone," and they relied on his courage and skill, honed over two decades as a Navy SEAL. In uniform, he served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2010, he protected American diplomatic personnel in dangerous posts from Central America to the Middle East. He had the hands of a healer as well as the arm of a warrior, earning distinction as a registered nurse and certified paramedic. All our hearts go out to Tyrone's wife Dorothy and his three sons, Tyrone Jr., Hunter, and Kai, who was born just a few months ago.
We also grieve for Glen Doherty, called Bub, and his family: his father Bernard, his mother Barbara, his brother Gregory, and his sister Kathleen. Glen was also a former Navy SEAL and an experienced paramedic. And he put his life on the line many times, protecting Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots. In the end, he died the way he lived – with selfless honor and unstinting valor.
We condemn the attack that took the lives of these heroes in the strongest terms, and we are taking additional steps to safeguard American embassies, consulates, and citizens around the world. This violence should shock the conscience of people of all faiths and traditions. We appreciate the statements of support that have poured in from across the region and beyond. People of conscience and goodwill everywhere must stand together in these difficult days against violence, hate, and division.
I am enormously proud of the men and women who risk their lives every day in the service of our country and our values. They help make the United States the greatest force for peace, progress, and human dignity that the world has ever known. We honor the memory of our fallen colleagues by continuing their work and carrying on the best traditions of a bold and generous nation.
In addition, Seyhmus Cakan (Retuers) reports, "Turkish armed forces have killed 75 Kurdish militants near the border with Iran and Iraq over the past week, a provincial governor said on Friday, as a major offensive involving air strikes and several thousand ground troops intensifies." AFP adds, "The operation has been concentrated in the Semdinli district and has included nearly 5,000 ground troops backed by air power, according to the army." The Jerusalem Post notes rumors (treats it as fact) that the PKK has entered into a partnership with President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian's government and "Whatever the precise truth regarding casualty figures, the last period has been the bloodiest seen in this conflict since PKK founder and terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999. Amidst the ongoing violence and the flurry of claims and counter claims between the Turks and the PKK, a fascinating question remains: why is the PKK choosing to escalate hostilities at the present time? For the Turkish authorities, the reason is very clear: Ankara claims that the Assad regime has in recent months re-kindled its long defunct alliance with the organization. Ankara also alleges the existence of a renewed agreement between the PKK and Iran, and claims that the Iranians are actively aiding the Kurds in the latest round of attacks." The PKK is a Kurdish group that fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK 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."
Turkey is where Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has sought refuge after Nouri al-Maliki ordered him arrested for 'terrorism' in what was seen as an attack on Iraqiya (the political slate that bested Nouri's State of Law in March 2010). Sunday, Ramadan al-Fatash (DPA) explained "that a Baghdad court sentenced in absentia Iraq's vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, to death on terrorism charges. Al-Hashemi, Iraq's most senior Sunni Muslim official, has called the charges a political ploy by the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki." Lara Jakes (AP) reported, "The Baghdad courtroom was silent Sunday as the presiding judge read out the verdict convicting al-Hashemi and his son-in-law of organizing the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president's allies in terror cases. The court sentenced both men in absentia to death by hanging. They have 30 days to appeal the verdict." Sam Dagher and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall Street Journal) observed, "Many saw the verdict against Tariq al-Hashemi -- a prominent Sunni politician who has professed his innocence and has been sheltered by the Sunni Islamist-led government in Turkey since April -- coupled with Sunday's attacks as emboldening those among Iraq's Sunni minority who see violent confrontation rather than politics as the only way to regain powers lost to the Shiite majority after the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime more than nine years ago." Omar al-Jawoshy and Michael Schwirtz (New York Times) quoted Talabani stating on Monday, "It was regrettable to issue, at this particular time, a judicial decision against him while he still officially holds office." Today, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Alsumaria notes, has declared that the death sentence for Tareq al-Hashemi could negatively effect any chances of resolving the political crisis. Kholoud Ramzi (Niqash) reports a new rumor circulating regarding Iraqya:
However, pundits believe that something else every different is going on behind the scenes. They believe that the Iraqiya party has actually long since abandoned al-Hashimi.
Because of the wide variety of backgrounds of the various constituent parties, the Iraqiya bloc has been close to fracturing during its time in opposition. And, seeing al-Hashimi as a lost cause, they have decided instead to back Saleh al-Mutlaq, currently one of two Deputy Prime Ministers of Iraq.
Rather than having two of their members lose some of the most senior political jobs in the country, they have decided to back al-Mutlaq.
Al-Mutlaq, one of three deputy prime ministers, has been away from politics since the beginning of the year when he criticized al-Maliki, calling him a dictator. Al-Maliki sacked al-Mutlaq and he, in turn, boycotted Parliament. But he recently returned to work after what was described as a "historic meeting" between himself and al-Maliki.
And it is for this reason, that Iraqiya is supporting al-Hashimi with words rather than deeds.
According to media news, an Iraqi court has issued a death sentence to Sunni Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashemi and his aides. Tariq Hashemi is in Turkey these days and has said the court's decision was politically motivated. Now, the gulf is widening between the Malaki ruling party and the Sunni national alliance, which is harming the country's interests. The recent decision by the Iraqi court will further fuel sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq. After the departure of international forces, Iraq is facing worse sectarian and ethnic violence.
Talabani said that he continues to hold direct talks in the hope of arranging a comprehensive national meeting, which aims to resolve differences and to reach mutually acceptable solutions to various problems, including the issue of Al Hashemi.
Also, Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan region, feels that Al Hashemi's sentencing to death in absentia will only exacerbate the crisis that has plagued Iraq, possibly even create a bitter sectarian conflict. He called on all parties to find a wise solution to the problem and avoid the temptation of settling scores.
Today we are at a point where the Baathist spirit is flowing freely. The al-Maliki government, particularly in the past year, has employed the most ordinary Baathist strategies. The proclivities of the current regime to spread the use of pressure and violence are becoming more apparent. The human rights organizations voice their dismay about the scarcity of information relating to the identities and alleged crimes of those executed by the al-Maliki government. Iraq's Ministry of Justice has announced that in the first eight months of 2012, 96 people were executed and that an additional 196 people will be executed before the year ends. Many Iraqis claim that the numbers are actually much higher than those given in the official statements. Calling al-Maliki's totalitarian regime sectarian names would be just as wrong as al-Maliki's governing strategies. In fact, the Sunni Arabs, the Shiites, Kurds and Turkmens are all equally voicing their discontent with the al-Maliki government. The al-Maliki forces come close to violently attacking Tariq al-Hashemi one day, and turn from the edge of a violent clash with the Sadr groups the next day. We can infer only one thing from all this: that the Baathist spirit is once again flowing freely within the al-Maliki regime.
That's not widely off the mark from the opinion the editorial board of London's Guardian, shared earlier this week in "Iraq: back to the future:"
Is Nouri al-Maliki becoming Iraq's next dictator and, if he is, does anyone in Washington care? The second half of the question is easy to answer. The Pentagon wanted to keep 8,000 troops in Iraq after withdrawal. But Maliki made it clear there would be no US troops after the agreement expired on 31 December 2011. The state department also planned for an embassy up to 16,000 strong, and a CIA station 700 strong, but the Iraqi strongman made short shrift of a sizeable US civilian presence, by insisting that his office take direct responsibility for approving every US diplomatic visa. Washington could use the soft power of military supply contracts, but is unwilling to do that. Maliki is allowing Iranian overflights to resupply Assad's embattled regime in Syria. Washington still does not want to know.
In the United States, it's a presidential election year. Candidates include Barack Obama who is running for re-election as President of the US on the Democratic Party ticket, Mitt Romney who is running on the GOP ticket and Jill Stein who is running on the Green Party's presidential ticket. A real election requires real debates and real debates require inclusion. Jill Stein's campaign notes:
Spread the word far and wide! This morning, dozens of community leaders, artists, and academics -- including Tom Morello, Leah Bolger, Richard Wolff and Medea Benjamin -- and thousands more joined together to launch Occupy the CPD. Please join them at http://www.OccupytheCPD.org
The presidential debates are the first opportunity for millions of voters to see the presidential contenders themselves, not just their advertising campaigns. These debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) - a supposedly "nonpartisan" corporation which is a puppet of the national Democratic and Republican parties, and the big corporations that fund both of them. The CPD's criteria to be included in these debates are designed to exclude independent contenders who promote ideas that challenge those in power.
Barack and Mitt Romney have been traveling and very busy -- raising billions requires a lot of time. Jill Stein's been busy too but she's been busy standing with the people. Most recently, she was in Chicago where teachers are marching to their beliefs as they conduct the first strike in 25 years. Jill's campaign noted yesterday:
Earlier today, Jill Stein joined the picket lines at Amundsen and Lane Tech, two Chicago high schools. On her way from Ohio, she cancelled her morning appearances in Minnesota in order to visit Chicago teachers, parents, and students who have been engaged in a citywide strike since Monday.
The battle the teachers of the Chicago Public Schools are fighting is not one of their choosing. It is one which has been foisted on them by politicians who have been bankrolled by, and who therefore represent the interests of, the 1%.
Rahm Emanuel's war against the Chicago Teachers Union is not about wages or benefits. It is about the future of quality public education in Chicago and beyond. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, with their "Race to the Top" initiative, are seeking to destroy the influence of the teachers unions, to reroute public dollars to corporate interests, and to undermine the core fabric of public education in America.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is a staunch defender of public sector workers and for quality public education from pre-school through college. "Obama and Romney have made it clear that they think our kids don't need a quality education," says Stein. "They expect middle class people to bear the tax burden, and are not willing to make the wealthy pay a fair share, in order to fund our schools. The situation in Chicago is about whether the superrich pay their share, or whether we have underfunded schools." Stein, a Harvard-trained physician who once ran against Mitt Romney for Governor of Massachusetts, is proposing a Green New Deal for America - a four part policy strategy for moving America quickly out of crisis into a secure, sustainable future. Inspired by the New Deal programs that helped the U.S. out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Green New Deal proposes to provide similar relief and create an economy that makes communities sustainable, healthy and just. Stein grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois.
Lastly, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today her office released the following on sequestration ($1.2 billion in cuts that are supposed to kick in on the budget automatically since the Congress has been unable to make the cuts thus far -- veterans treatment and care is not supposed to be effected in the cuts per Secretary of Defense Leon Panette and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki):
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released the following statement after the Office of Management and Budget released their report on the impact of sequestration across both defense as well as non-defense spending. Murray worked with Senator McCain and others to pass the legislation calling for this report.
"This report makes it even clearer that we need to replace sequestration in a balanced
way that works for middle class families and includes both responsible spending cuts and new revenue from the wealthiest Americans.
"These bipartisan automatic cuts were put in place to give both sides a strong incentive to make a deal, and they are not going to go away simply because nobody wants them to be enacted. They are going to have to be replaced, and that replacement is going to have to be balanced.
"What Republicans aren't saying when they are yelling and screaming about these cuts is that they helped pass them into law and that they can just as easily help make them go away. But thus far they have been unwilling to face up to the reality that it will take a balanced approach to make that happen.
"I am pleased to see that true to President Obama's commitment to our nation's heroes, this report exempts veterans and military personnel accounts from cuts. After all these
men and women and their families have been asked to do for our safety and security, they should be the last to be asked to make additional sacrifices.
"Democrats are willing to compromise to get a bipartisan deal to avoid these cuts, and if Republicans are serious about avoiding sequestration, then they will stop fighting to protect the rich from paying a penny more in taxes and work with us on a balanced and