Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Iraq: Flooding, fleeing and the suppression of women

All Iraq News reports that the next four days in Iraq are supposed to be rainy and foggy.  That is not good news for Baghdad's Sadr City.  As Joseph Muhammadwi and Mahmoud Raouf (Al Mada) report, Sadr City is suffering from flooding.  Check out Raouf's photo of the water up to the fram of a mini-van. Despite the flooding and continuing heavy rains, traffic police stand outside directing vehicles. One resident jokes that Nouri can replace the food-ration cards with free small boats.  Water, of course, does not just remain outsside in a flood.  It's gone into homes and schools and a makeshift bridge of bricks has been constructed to allow access to one school.  Dar Addustour notes that the heavy rains came over the weekend and that some roads have been closed due to the heavy flooding while the people of Baghdad notes their displeasure over the lack of public services -- proper sanitation (i.e. drainage) would alleviate a great deal of the standing water. Nouri's had six years to address Baghdad's sewer system and done nothing. Dar Addustour notes many of the cities have been hit by flooding with Kut among the worst.  The rains come as Iraqis address a possible future with less water.  Alsumaria reports that the Department of Science at Mustansiriya University hosted a symposium on water scarcity in Iraq's future. 

The three largest ethnic segments of the population in Iraq are Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.  They are not, however, the only segments.  There is the often misunderstood Yazidis whom the Western press badly misreported on in 2007.    A far better job explaining the Yazidis was done by Jane Arraf this year on Al Jazeera.

Excerpt of report above.

Jane Arraf: For the Yazidi, this is the start of year 6,762.  They come from  mountain villages, from towns and cities in Iraq, Syria and Turkey -- and from Europe -- to celebrate the New Year.  Yazidis believe in the same God as Muslims, Christians and Jews but they believe they were the first people God created.  Along with Babylonian rituals and elements of other religions, they worship the sun. 
Yazidi woman: We light this rope to bring good.  And anyone who lights a flame here, goodness will come to him.
Jane Arraf: It's a closed religion and misunderstood.
Baba Sheikh Kerto Haji Ismael: Twenty years ago, there were no satellite channels and no mixing with other people.  That's why people can have some suspicion about others. Since the Yazidis were a small religious minority, that's why they face misunderstandings.  Now things are more clear.
Jane Arraf:  Images like this [a snake stretched across the outside wall of a temple] are part of the reason other Iraqis are suspicious of the Yazidi.  A snake is believe to have saved the prophet Noah.  Inside this cave is a sacred spring. Nearby is the tomb of  Shayk Adi [ibn Musafir al-Umawi] a 12th century Suffi saint who reformed the Yazidi religion.  As dusk approaches, they light the flames that are a central part of their faith.  This isn't just the New Year, they believe it marks the creation of the world including the four elements.  For Yazidis, the most important of those is fire.  On New Year's Day, the Yazidi faithful -- along with Kuridsh Muslim and Christian leaders -- pay their respects to the Prince of the Yazidis [Mir Tahsin Ali].  Like the Kurds, the Yazidi were pressured to declare themselves Arab under Saddam Hussein.  150 of their villages were taken.  In the last 30 years, up to half the Yazidi community has left for Europe where there are fears the religion won't survive.  

In 2007, IRIN noted, "There are about 600,000 Yazidis remaining in Iraq with roughly 80 percent of them living in the towns of Bashika and Sinjar, which are under the control of the Kurdistan regional government, specialists say. Yazidis can also be found in other Kurdish cities and a small number remain in the capital, Baghdad."  Being targeted with violence has forced a number of Yazidis to leave Iraq.  Abdul Khaliq Dosky (Al Mada) reports that there is a migration of young Yazidis from Iraq to Europe as they attempt to find security, freedom, independence and money.  There are concerns that the Yazidis, out of Iraq, will feel isolated and have difficuluties as an immigrant population.

We do cover Iraqi Christians.  We do not cover known liars.  Every other year, we're forced to point out that when Andrew White offered testimony on Iraqi Jews, he lied and go angry that a reporter was going to quote him.  He insisted that his public testimony was supposed to be off the record.  Andrew White has also been a War Cheerleader before and throughout the war.  We could go on and on.  But any story based on 'facts' provided by Andrew White will always be suspect and we will not include it.  That's been the policy here for over six years now.

Another segment of the population is women.  Iraqi women have suffered throughout the long war.  Aswat al-Iraq reports Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, has come out in 'favor' of women's rights declaring, "Women should have their rights, not through the quota, but through their abilities and potentialities."  Nouri really is an ass and possibly some day, the palace he resides in will be stormed and his head will be placed on a pike for all to spit on.  If that happens, he will have brought it on himself.  Nouri doesn't like quotas -- nor does he respect them.  This is the man who finally found one woman to be a Cabinet minister in his second term after weeks and weeks of people protesting.  He increased the size of his Cabinet in his second term but women disappeared.   This happens over and over with Nouri.  In his first term, he refused to properly fund the Ministry of Women.  Things like that happen all the time because Nouri doesn't really give a damn about women's rights.

And let's not forget how he has his thugs attack protesters in 2011.  The protesters were gathering in Baghdad every Friday.  The thugs especially enjoyed attacking women. Kael Alford (NBC News) reported on Iraq women's rights activist Yanar Mohammed:

One of her main talking points is this: Iraq is a more dangerous place for women than it was before the U.S. invasion and it is getting worse. Reports by international human rights groups support her observations. According to the 2011 Iraq summary report by Human Rights Watch: “The deterioration of security has promoted a rise in tribal customs and religiously-inflected political extremism, which have had a deleterious effect on women's rights, both inside and outside the home.”
Today, in a country where women have served in Parliament since the 1960s – longer than in any other Middle Eastern country – they are increasingly targeted by militant Islamic elements for participating in government, holding jobs or violating conservative Islamic traditions, such as appearing in public without head coverings. Even secular women now wear scarves in hopes of avoiding dangerous attention.
Iraq also has seen a rise in the tribal tradition of honor killings, where women who have a love affair outside of accepted cultural or religious boundaries are slain by members of their own family. Often these women, fleeing for their lives, seek out the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which Mohammed founded in the wake of the U.S. invasion.

When I tracked down Yanar this summer, she said the situation remains dire. She is the chief editor of the newspaper “Al Mousawat,” or ”Equality,” that devotes a full page to reporting violent crimes against women, along with phone numbers for OWFI offering safety in underground shelters for women looking for an escape from violence. She also helps operate a radio station that uses  female university students as deejays.
Mohammed is still leading protests over the lot of women in Iraq, but is now surrounded by a new group of mainly young women.
When I visited the OWFI compound, not far from Firdos Square, on a Friday in July, about two dozen people -- mostly women but a few young men -- were buzzing about preparing signs, making jokes and chatting about strategy for the morning’s protest.
There was nervous energy in the air before the group ventured out to Iraq’s version of the “Arab Spring,” a weekly demonstration in Baghdad’s own Tahrir (“Freedom”) Square. Two weeks earlier state security officers who had been lurking on the fringes of the protests had moved in to teach the women a lesson.
“We heard them among themselves saying, ‘These are the whores, let’s go and get them,’” recalled Mohammed. “…We were beaten, our bodies were groped, we were humiliated … sexually harassed, and their message was to tell us that we are females who do not have the right to come in the arena of political struggle. We should feel ashamed and go back to our homes.”

And Amanda Shaw reported last year for TrustLaw:

Since the Friday Tahrir Square demonstrations began in February of this year, OWFI activists have experienced violent and sexualized attacks, intimidation and harassment preventing them from carrying out their work. There have also been reprisals against their youth allies, including detentions and kidnappings. In an interview posted on the organization’s website, OWFI President, Yanar Mohammed, cites their work in organizing the youth at Tahrir Square as being one of the main reasons why OWFI activists have been targeted.
On Friday June 10th, after the expiration of a one-hundred-day deadline, set by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki for improving basic services, demonstrators gathered because there were no noticeable changes in the provision of electricity, water, jobs, or in ending corruption. At this demonstration, four women from OWFI’s 25-member delegation were attacked, sexually assaulted and beaten by pro-government demonstrators who destroyed their banners, beat them with wooden sticks, and groped their bodies. The attack was seen by OWFI as an attempt to shame the activists in public space.
OWFI activists met in the first week of July to discuss a strategy in the face of this violence, and on July 8th, a bus full of female activists and some youth supporters returned to Tahrir Square with banners reading “Beating of Tahrir Women Increased Our Determination for Change,” and “Instead of fulfilling the promise of the hundred days, they released their thugs on us”.[10] Activists Jannat Basim, Aya Al Lami, and Yanar Mohammed were interviewed by the media and used a megaphone to announce their determination to continue challenging the authorities in spite of repression. But as the delegation left the square, pro-government supporters intimidated and physically attacked youth activists that were accompanying the OWFI delegation, surrounded their bus and attacked the activists through the doors and windows. One youth supporter was kidnapped and later released. Only when foreign journalists were called to the scene did the pro-government supporters abate.
U.S.-based women’s rights organization MADRE has described repression against OWFI as “an attempt to terrorize women who have been the catalysts for demonstrations that call for a new Iraq.” As Yanar Mohammed describes in a MADRE Interview “when the humiliation is sexual, in a society like Iraq, they know it will break the women.”

In February of this year, Yanar spoke with Rebecca Burns (In These Times):

Rebecca Burns: OWFI members have been beaten and sexually assaulted while demonstrating, just like female protesters in Egypt. Why are women targeted in this way?

Yanar Mohammed: They wanted us to feel ashamed. Our organization made sure that these demonstrations had a female face. We had our slogans, our banners, which we carried every single Friday. This was not approved by al-Maliki’s government. And in an Arab society, if a woman is shamed, she is pushed out of the public arena. They expected that we would go hide in our homes and not show our faces to anybody. The same way in which women are forced to immolate themselves or made the victim of an honor killing, they wanted to force a political dishonoring on us in order to end us politically. 

Rebecca Burns:  How are the women who have been attacked in Tahrir Square faring today?
Yanar Mohammed:  All of them are back in the square. But we are very careful as to our whereabouts. Once we see security forces, we leave the square. We are not willing to be tortured again and again.

The war and the sanctions have turned Iraq into a land of widows and orphans.  Al Mada notes the Irvine Foundation for Women's Issues in the KRG estimates there are two million widows in Iraq and is calling for Baghdad and Erbil to ease the tensions between the two and for the government to find ways to support the widows.

The following community sites -- plus Jody Watley, The Diane Rehm Show, Pacifica Evening News, Black Agenda Radio, Chocolate City and Antiwar.com -- updated last night and this morning:

And we're going to note this throughout the week -- the first item through Wednesday, the last item through Thursday and the middle one for about two weeks more -- it's word for word from the snapshot yesterday because it's already written and I'm feeling lazy:

We talked about women and the literary canon.  One of the many women who paved the way for so many others and went on to become one of the great American songwriters is singer-songwriter Carly Simon.  She's won the Grammy (twice), she's won the Golden Globe, she's been honored with The ASCAP Founders Award, she's even won an Academy Award.  This Wednesday night, she's doing a web concert with her children Sally Taylor and Ben Taylor.  It kicks off at 8:00 PM EST, 7:00 PM Central and 5:00 PM Pacific. It is a forty minute concert.  Tickets are $20 with a portion going to the Red Cross for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Carly is notoriously stage shy.  She could make a ton of money today if she did a national tour.  She's one of the few acts that could make a ton of money.  And one reason she could haul in that money (I'm not talking a ten date tour, I'm talking across the country) is because she has toured so rarely and so many of her fans across the country haven't had the pleasure of seeing her live (though they've wanted to).  The tours have been very rare and tended to be short ones.  This is a chance -- first-come-first-serve, there are about 90 tickets left -- for you to see her regardless of your location.  The concert is Wednesday.  And Sally and Ben are their own artists.  You can hear strains of their parents in them but they are their own artists with their own unique talents so the concert should really be something.  And Ben is also the guest on NPR's Mountain Stage -- the program may have already aired today in your area but you can check it out here -- 41 minutes of audio and also a video of him performing "It Really Doesn't Matter To You."  I haven't had time to stream the concert but I do know "It Really Doesn't Matter To Me" and I think it's among his best, right up there with "Wicked Ways."
And while I'm plugging music, Janis Ian is an amazing artist, real, genuine, able to touch the heart.  A very gifted artist and a sweet woman.  A music producer friend asked me awhile back to note that Janis -- who is always on the road -- was performing in Dallas, Texas at a very intimate venue.  This was going to be the first time Janis was in Dallas in some time and, again, it was a club where every seat was supposed to be a great seat.  So we were more than happy to include it.  The same friend called to ask that we note that Janis hits Texas next month and will perform at One World Theatre in Austin on Monday, December 10th; Dosey Doe in The Woodlands on December 9th; and Saturday, December 8th, Janis will be back in Dallas at Hamon Hall.  As Ann and Nancy Wilson can tell you, if you can get Texas behind you, you can always tour.  As a state, its history hasn't been to be trendy and, if you give a good show, concert goers will show up for the career highs as well as the more mellow periods.  Janis is one of the premiere concert artists.  She is not going through the motions, she is creating a show.  She's a legend on the road and, if you're able to check her out, please do so.  Click here for her full touring schedule.  But, I'm not joking, it's known in the music industry that if you can get into the Texas circuit and give a strong show, concert goers will show up for years to come.  They really value music -- and not trends -- in Texas.  (That's also the reputation Louisiana has and why smart stage performers like Stevie Nicks always include those regions when planning a tour.)
And the friend I'm dictating this to asked if I was going to mention Ann?  I didn't know Ann Wilson had something this week. Ann and her sister Nancy are the trail blazing rockers behind Heart which has a new album Fanatic (Kat raved over it here) -- on sale for only $6.99 as an Amazon download right now, a tour and also a wonderful book Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll (Ava and I loved it).  But Thursday, November 22nd, (that's Thanksgiving Day), Ann will be performing the National Anthem, broadcast on Fox TV, at the Dallas Cowboys versus the Washington Redskins football game. The game's scheduled to start at 2:15 PM EST, 3:15 Central, 1:15 Pacifica.  Along with being on Fox TV (that's the entertainment channel that airs The Simpsons, Fringe, etc. -- I know Fox has a ton of channels), it will also be broadcast on Sirius Radio (channel 93).  So Ann sings the National Anthem.  And she's someone who can.  Many don't have the range for that song, it's a hard one to sing.  Ann's got the range and, goodness knows, the power so it should be something to see and hear.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

iraq iraq iraq iraq iraq iraq