Thursday, November 1, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, someone involved in the 2011 negotiations between the White House and Nouri to keep US troops in Iraq speaks, Nouri moves towards the majority-government, Jalal Talabani feels betrayed, the alleged Israeli spying devices on the US supplied F-16s continue to be covered by the Iraqi press, Tareq al-Hashemi gets a second death sentence, and more.
One young Baghdad woman has ambitious plans for Iraqi women's rights – and she has started a Facebook campaign to back them. She already has 10,000 online supporters. NIQASH asks Ruqaya Abdul-Ali how this will translate to action/
She's not even 20 years old but Baghdadi university student Ruqaya Abdul-Ali has started a wildly successful Facebook campaign. It is called "Revolution Against Patriarchal Society" and it's only three months old – and already Abdul-Ali has got almost 10,000 supporters involved.
Abdul-Ali says she aims to educate Iraqi women about their rights, to stop sexual harassment in Iraqi society and to get some of the country's most discriminatory legislation changed. NIQASH asked her exactly how she plans to achieve those grand plans.
NIQASH: Could you tell us exactly what you mean by a "Revolution Against Patriarchal Society"?
Abdul-Ali: It is a revolution against tribal, patriarchal norms and the traditions that deprive women of their basic rights, ones that cause them to live like machines whose sole purpose is to give birth and to do household tasks. It is a revolution that will make women more aware of their rights and help them become more informed, introducing them to new ideas. The campaign is about encouraging women to read and to educate themselves.
NIQASH: Why are you doing this?
Abdul-Ali: I launched this campaign on Facebook because of the pressures being put on women as a result of the revival of tribal traditions in Iraq [following the 2003 US-led invasion that ended former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime]. There are also increasing levels of violence, discrimination and verbal and sexual harassment.
The phenomenon of early and underage marriage also seems to be becoming more widespread and this prevents women from getting an education, not to mention the societal impact this has on divorced and widowed women.
And I used Facebook because I wanted to remind Iraqi women of their rights. Many women both inside and outside Iraq have joined the Facebook page and that number has almost reached 10,000. Many of them are human rights activists.
Iraqi women suffer in a multitude of ways as a result not limited to the hardships involved of war turning your nation into a country of widows and orphans. In 2005, Ghali Hassan (Global Research) explained how Iraqi women were being robbed of their rights:
Prior to the arrival of U.S. forces, Iraqi women were free to go wherever they wish and wear whatever they like. The 1970 Iraqi constitution, gave Iraqi women equity and liberty unmatched in the Muslim World. Since the U.S. invasion, Iraqi women's rights have fallen to the lowest level in Iraq's history. Under the new U.S.-crafted constitution, which will be put to referendum on the 15 October while the bloodbath mounts each day, women's rights will be oppressed and the role of women in Iraqi society will be curtailed and relegated to the caring for "children and the elderly".
Immediately after the invasion, the U.S. embarked on cultivating friendships with religious groups and clerics. The aim was the complete destruction of nationalist movements, including women's rights movements, and replacing them with expatriate religious fanatics and criminals piggybacked from Iran, the U.S. and Britain. In the mean time the U.S. moved to liquidate any Iraqi opposition or dissent to the Occupation.
Iraqi women were not helped by the exiles the US government put in charge of Iraq or by the unrest the US government encouraged in an attempt to intimidate, silence and control the people. No one has been more damaging than Nouri al-Maliki. This can be seen by women in his Cabinet. In his first term as Prime Minister, Nawal al-Samarraie served as Minister of Women's Affairs. February 6, 2009, she was in the news when she resigned because her ministry was not properly funded (a meager monthly budget of $7,500 a month was slashed to $1,400) and she states, "I reached to the point that I will never be able to help the women." That was very embarrassing for Nouri. So naturally the New York Times worked overtime to ignore it. (See Third Estate Sunday Review's "NYT goes tabloid.") NPR's Corey Flintoff covered it for Morning Edition (link has text and audio).
Nouri didn't care for Nawal al-Samarraie or the needed attention she raised. Which was reflected in his second term when he tried to erase women completely. From the December 22, 2010 snapshot:
Turning to Iraq, Liz Sly and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) note, "A special gathering of the nation's parliament endorsed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a second term in office, with lawmakers then voting one by one for 31 of the eventual 42 ministers who will be in his cabinet."AFP notes that all but one is a man, Bushra Hussein Saleh being the sole woman in the Cabinet. And they quote Kurdish MP Ala Talabani stating, "We congratulate the government, whose birth required eight months, but at the same time we are very depressed when we see the number of women chosen to head the ministries. Today, democracy was decapitated by sexism. The absence of women is a mark of disdain and is contrary to several articles of the constitution. I suggest to Mr Maliki to even choose a man for the ministry of women's rights, as you do not have confidence in women." Ala Talabani is the niece of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Imran Ali (Womens Views On News) reminds, "The new constitution stipulates that a quarter of the members of parliament be women and prohibits gender discrimination." Apparently concern about representation doesn't apply to the Cabinet (and, no, Nouri's attempts at offering excuses for the huge gender imbalance do not fly).
42 posts to fill and Nouri couldn't think of a single woman? And wouldn't have if Iraqi women hadn't gotten vocal on the issue. And note that Nouri increased the Cabinet from 31 in his first term to 42. That tells you just how inclusive Nouri isn't. Also note that it was Iraqi women and they did it without any help from the United Nations which is so cowed that it refuses to stand up for women in Iraq. Nouri also oversaw the appointment of commissioners to the so-called Independent High Electoral Commission. While the United Nations tried so hard to find a rainbow in manure, the reality is that one third of the members were supposed to be women. This is a point that the UN was making as late as the summer. But when only one woman was named a commissioner, the UN decided to just pretend that didn't take place -- even when the Iraqi court ruled that, yes, a third of the commissioners should be women. Maybe if the UN had pushed for the law and for women, that would have happened. But it was much more important to the United Nations to use up all their happy face stickers that day than it was to stand up for Iraqi women.
Many: kidnapping, prostitution, sexual slavery, honour killings, stigmatising and marginalisation from wider society, as well as lack of employment and poor pay, so many different issues.
Also, women aren't the only ones who suffer at the hands of patriarchy in the country.
OWFI was the only organisation that stood up against homophobia and the murder of homosexuals in Iraq. We raised issues homosexual Iraqis face with Shi'a Islamists.
How usual is it for women to be employed? Has it become less usual as Iraqi society
moves towards Islamism?
It depends. Some places have always been deeply religious, while others are progressing towards Islamism.
If a woman finds a job, she works, but it is all about who you know. Even prostitution is now an income for some women, if they get paid at all.
Prostitution itself is illegal and we stand up for the welfare and employment and human rights of sex workers because they are victimised and dehumanised in such societies.
I met some ex-prostitutes, and they were still in danger. They sought help from many women's groups, but were turned away for moral or security reasons.
Zhala Aziz (Warvin) reports that Sunday, October 21st, a marathon was held in Hawler. (Hawler is in Erbil, a province of the Kurdistan Regional Government -- semi-autonomous area in northern Iraq.) The marathon was for breast cancer and the city's Director of Health, Qasim Ali Aziz, explained, "To raise awareness among women and protect themselves against this disease, in the memory of breast cancer, we organized a marathon between the female high schools students with the commerical high schools girls." In addition, Jim and Deb Fine (Mennonite Central Commitee Iraq) reports on how bee keeping is creating opportunites for Iraqi women living in the KRG:
In the Yezidi village of Beban we met our first woman participant, Aasimah (not her real name), whose husband was kidnapped in Baghdad in 2006. The family sold goods from the camera shop they owned to raise the $50,000 ransom the kidnappers demanded. They paid the ransom but to no avail. The kidnappers killed Aasimah's husband and Aasimah fled Baghdad with her four children to live in the safety of Beban, her family village.
Aasimah reported that she had already sold 4 kg. of honey for $50 a kg., although her five hives had been working for only three months. Aasimah, like the 25 other displaced female heads of household participating in the ZSVP project, can expect to earn some $2,000 a year in the first years of the project and could earn much more as the bees swarm and populate new hives. (On our visit we met one man who had been the beneficiary of an earlier ZSVP beekeeping project. He received five beehives in 2009. He now maintains fifty hives and sells bees as well as honey to customers in the area.)
It is almost ten years since the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The electricity keeps going off here and all throughout the country. Sami, whose family is hosting me in Najaf, remarked yesterday with no ill intent, "Maybe we could send them some of our electricity!" We had to laugh.
I read another email this morning from an Iraqi friend of Sami's whom we were unable to see in Basra. He spoke about the lack of electricity and the high humidity in Basra, where temperatures reached almost 50 degrees Centigrade last summer (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit), and this was during the fasting month of Ramadan when no water, or food, is taken from dawn to dusk. "How is it," this friend asks, "that the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into Iraq and yet there was no project for a [national] electrical power station to help cool temperatures and calm temperaments that went along with the political instability, the insecurity and the sectarian killings…?"
On violence, yesterday was the end of the month. Iraq Body Count's counts 253 reported violent deaths in Iraq for the month of October. Last month, their total was 356 which means a reduction of about 100 deaths. AFP, forgetting fairy tales are for bedtime, notes the government total for October is 136. AFP also forgets to note that there were over 550 reported mass arrests in Iraq in the month of October. Nouri's round up largely focused on Sunnis.
And not just 'terrorists.' No, Nouri brought in a new charge in the Baghdad area: prostitution. Over 180 women were arrested for prostitution in the Baghdad area alone. Two weeks ago, a reporter attempting to report on that was killed: Zia Medhi. From the October 24th snapshot:
Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory notes the investigative journalist was in Baghdad's Tahrir Square at ten a.m. Monday morning conducting meetings and interviews and she was also working on a story about prostitution and brothels in Iraq. She went to a police station to interview some of the 180 women arrested but a police officer prevented her from entering and he denied that there were any prostitutes among the arrested. He left and then moments later re-appeared telling her she could enter but without her colleagues. Zia Mehdi didn't feel comfortable with that offer and instead returned to Tahrir Square to continue her LGBT interviews. Later she was discovered dead, stabbed to death, still in her jacket that noted she was a journalist.
Approximately a fourth of the deaths from violence in October took place last weekend. The Islamic State of Iraq, as Fars News Agency reported, claimed credit for the "shootings and bombings over the Eid al-Adha holiday that killed dozens of people nationwide." July 22nd, the Islamic State of Iraq released an audio recording announcing a new campaign of violence entitled Breaking The Walls which would include prison breaks and killing "judges and investigators and their guards." Since they made their July announcement there have been minor and major attacks throughout Iraq. Ashley Fantz (CNN) reported a very important detail about the Islamic State of Iraq's announcement, "In the statement, the ISI claims that the Shiite Rafidi government have conducted a series of arrests that targeted Sunni women in order to pressure their relatives to surrender to authorities or to blackmail their relatives. Attacking during Eid was intended to deliver a message: You are not safe, even during a holiday built around peace." Yes, we're back to the issue of Nouri's government targeting Sunni women for arrests. Today, Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports on the way Sunnis are shut out:
While Iraq's Sunnis largely back Syria's rebels, the Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, fearing the establishment of a Sunni fundamentalist regime on Iraq's western flank, supports the secular Syrian regime.
Iraq's armed forces and civil administration, dismantled after the US occupation, have not been restored. The military, where most soldiers were always from the majority Shia community, has been transformed into a sectarian Shia force by Maliki.
Sunni fighters who helped the US defeat al-Qaeda and its offshoots have been denied recruitment into the armed forces, creating a wellspring of resentment in Sunni provinces that border on Syria. Youngsters are encouraged to join radical Sunni groups. Some have gone to Syria to fight against the Assad regime while others are mounting deadly attacks on Shias and Iraqi regime targets.
Nouri's most famous Sunni target in recent years has been Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.
The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around. The press rarely gets that fact correct. When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry . Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point. Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya. December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .
al-Hashemi has been in Turkey where he remains. He was there while a Baghdad court controlled by Nouri pretended to hear charges against him in a faux trial. This despite the Baghdad judges declared him guilty in February at their press conference and while one judge was stating that he had been threatened by al-Hashemi, before the trial even started, they declared al-Hashemi guilty. That press conference demonstrated that al-Hashemi was correct, he would not get a fiar trial in the Baghdad courts (he had asked that the trial be moved to the KRG or to Kirkuk). In May, the trial began. The judges have also refused to allow Vice President al-Hashemi to call President Jalal Talabani to the stand as a character witness -- in fact, they refused all the requests for character witnesses. Among other problems with the trial? The use of so-called confessions obtained via torture, the refusal to make the proceedings open and transparent (the press was kicked out during some of the trial) and the simple fact that, even after his September 9th 'conviction,' Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President of Iraq. He was never removed from his position and while he holds that position -- as he currently does -- the Constitution does not allow for him to stand trial. He can stand trial after he leaves office. He can be removed from office by the Parliament immediately and then legally stand trial. But he was never removed from office and his term has not expired so he can't legally be tried.
He can't legally be tried? You'd assume that Iraqi judges would grasp that Constitutional fact and stop the trial. But that assumption would be built upon the fact that the Baghdad judiciary was independent of Nouri and that it was interested in practicing the law and not just delivering rubber stamp verdicts on Nouri's orders.
Tareq and the ridiculous criminal court in Baghdad are back in the news today. Vestnik Kavkazza has the best headline, "Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashemi to be executed twice." AP gets this right: "The verdict was the second death sentence for Tariq Al-Hashemi in less than two months, and is likely to stoke further resentment among Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims against the Shiite-led government." Press TV also notes this is Tareq's "second death sentence."
Subsequently, and despite all the fond hopes of a diverse, secular and democratic new order emerging in Iraq – remember all those earnest discussions post invasion, about whether a 'liberated' Iraq would have a loosely federal structure or a strongly centralized one? – something quite different has emerged. Namely, a virtual Shi'ite dictatorship led by Nouri al-Maliki and subservient to Iran. Instead of liberating Iraq and containing Iran, the US invasion has enabled a tyrannical client regime of Teheran to be installed in Baghdad. Nice work.
In the process of setting up his new tyranny, al-Maliki has made a joke out of those fond hopes of peaceful power sharing with Sunni legislators. Amid terrible bloodshed since 2003, many of the Sunni fighters have been killed or driven out, and Kurdish aspirations have been sidelined. However, those residual Sunni elements from Iraq - and Kurdish fighters from all over the region – have now poured into Syria to fight the Assad regime, and as the New York Times recently pointed out, Iraq is already feeling the blowback.
Nouri is moving towards a majority government which is his effort to shut out political rivals. Dar Addustour reports Nouri and Ammar al-Hakim (Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq) have been meeting and bonding over this move and that al-Hakim has declared such a move "wise." From Monday's snapshot:
Dar Addustour notes today that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani feels betrayed by this move. Talabani was supposed to be working on getting the political blocs together. Before the four-day holiday kicked off on Friday, Nouri and his State of Law political slate were singing Jalal's praises, saying he was going to fix the political stalemate. He was also saying that he wanted the National Conference (a meet-up of the political blocs to resolve the political crisis) that Jalal and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi have been calling for since December 21st. Not only does Dar Addustour report Jalal feels betrayed, they also report that he's met up with Iraqiya's al-Nujaifi and the two are discussing what their options are. Dar Addustour feels ther are three ways this can play out: a vote in Parliament to withdraw confidence from Nouri (in which case a caretaker government would be put in place until elections can be held), the majority government that Nouri wants or a Nouri's using his control of the military to seize total control of Iraq (Little Saddam would become the Hussein he always wanted to be).
Jeffrey was a key player on both the Washington and Baghdad sides of the 2011 negotiations that were meant to agree on a follow on force to extend the Bush administration's Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) after it was set to expire last December. Those negotiations ultimately failed. The White House has said the Iraqis refused to grant immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 and submit a new SOFA through their own parliament, two things the United States needed to extend the troops' mission.
Jeffrey said that he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally discussed the idea of extending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq via an executive agreement, which would not have to go through the Iraqi parliament.
"Maliki said at one point, 'Why don't we just do this as an executive agreement?'" Jeffrey said. "I didn't think he was serious, and I didn't think he had thought it through."
Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.
Yesterday's snapshot: noted that the current US Ambassador to Iraq Robert S. Beecroft had blown his credibility (claiming there were no US troops remaining in Iraq to the Iraqi press and, as All Iraq News pointed out, also claiming that there was no desire for US troops to be sent back into Iraq) and that this wasn't a good time for that to happen:
All Iraq News reports Iraqis state they have found Israeli recording devices on the F-16s the US has supplied so far. The Iraqi Air Force leadership has sent a letter objecting to the device to Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of the F-16s. Fars News Agency adds, "Iraq's air force has found out Israeli company RADA has planted information recording systems in its F-16 fighters recently purchased from the American Lockheed Martin Company."
Dar Addustour reports today that the Iraqi Air Force first sought comment from the US government and when they received no answer from the US government, about what they see as spying devices, they asked Lockheed Martin. I have no idea of whether they're spying devices or not. But at some point, someone in leadership in Iraq is going to realize that if there is one set of spying devices, there may be two or more. Someone will shortly grasp that the set discovered may have been intended to be discovered in order to conceal more important devices. That's sleight of hand -- look here, not over there. Again, this wasn't a time where the US face to Iraq should have thrown away credibility by lying that all US troops were out of Iraq and that the US government wasn't attempting to work on a new agreement with Iraq governing US troops.