In Iraq, Hawija has become a hot spot. Friday's snapshot included, "Iraqi Spring MC also reports that activists at the Hawija sit-in were targeted by Nouri's forces and three were injured. National Iraqi News Agency adds that in addition to the three injured, 1 of the protestors was shot dead." Nouri's forces are out of control in Hawija and people are appalled. National Iraqi News Agency reported yesterday that Hawija has been occupied by Nouri's forces since Friday. Today they are still preventing aid from entering the are where the sit-in has been taking place. Tribal elders are calling for the judiciary to insist the forces leave. Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports that this is being seen as an effort by the Commander-in-Chief and armed forces, which is leading people to ask why the national military is even in Kirkuk? Local politicians are noting this is how you set up a military state (not a democracy).
Members of the national Parliament are also weighing in. National Iraqi News Agency reports that members of Parliament were prevented today from entering and providing aid to the protestors. Sunday, All Iraq News quoted Iraqiya MP Wisal Saleem declaring, "The Government is adopting injustice and oppression as if we are in an occupied land rather than in a country that granted us the freedom of expression. End the military siege imposed on Hawija and let the medial and food supply be brought inside the district. This is the duty of the Government rather than a gift from it." And All Iraq News also quoted Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi calling for the military siege of Hawija to end and for the security forces to leave the people alone. Today they report that Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi has "sent a delegation [. . .] to inspect the situation of the citizens in Hawija" and he is calling for the rights of the demonstrators to be respected. National Iraqi News Agency adds that Allawi's calling for the UN to intervene. All Iraq News notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has declared that "preventing the entry of food and drinks to Hawija is inhumane and completely unacceptable" and that the United Nations needs to step in to protect the protesters from the security forces. Alsumaria notes he met with the special envoy of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today and stressed that inhumanity of refusing to allow humanitarian aid in to those participating in the sit-in despite harassment by Nouri's security forces. Tomorrow, protesters around Iraq are protesting under "Hands Off Hawija."
The protests long ago reached the 100 day mark and have been going on since December 21st. Fang Yang (Xinhua) notes, "The Iraqi Sunni minority held a day of civil disobedience on Monday, protesting the discrimination against their community by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad." Layla Anwar (Arab Woman Blues) has summarized the protesters demands as follows:
- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.
Despite the fact that they are ongoing and that they attract so many people, the western press has repeatedly ignored the protests. Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports on them today as does Kamal Naama (Reuters).
Every time I note the lack of coverage from the western press, we get an e-mail. Yes, Voice of America in its many forms has covered the protests. They've actually covered them almost every day. But Voice of America is not supposed to be for US news consumers -- that's why its forbidden from broadcasting in the US (some Americans listen to it on short wave radios -- you can also find it online). Why is it prevented? Because it's seen as propaganda and, when the US Congress had a spine, they were opposed to citizens of a democracy being given propaganda as news. We do not knowingly highlight Voice of America here. Knowingly? There's an Iraqi version of Voice of America that we noted two years ago until a friend at the State Dept informed me it was a Voice of America outlet.
In fairness to Voice of America, they do some real reporting. I know because they're always sending it to the public e-mail account. And it's great that people in Europe, for example, can learn about the protests from them. But that wall exists for a reason and I support that wall.
Hawija is only one location for today's protests. Iraqi Spring MC notes that protesters in Baquba called a general strike as did protesters in Ramadi. Those wishing to protest in Samarra are facing Nouri's forces which are attempting to block them from gathering. Hundreds are demonstrating in Amiriya. All Iraq News quotes the spokesperson for the Samarra protestors, Najeh al-Mizan, explaining, "The response of Samarra people to the general strike call was great since all kinds of life just stopped in the city when all the governmental institutions were closed as well as the schools, colleges, markets and all other institutions." In addition, "shop owners and the students of the University of Mosul started a general strike." Al Mada adds that Anbar Province and Salahuddin Province are also seeing general strikes and Abdul Razzaq al-Shammari, spokesperson for Ramadi protestors, says this is a new phase, an escalation, as a result of earlier attempts by the activists not having led the government to respond to their demands. Dar Addustour notes that the Anbar protests led to the closing of all government offices except security and hospitals and 90% of the stores in Mosul were closed. Kamal Naama (Reuters) quotes Mosul shop owner Manhal Makki stating, "We decided to take action today to show solidarity with the protesters. The government should consider our rightful demands."
Friday, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office released the Human Rights and Democracy 2012 report. It's not a pretty picture. The Iraq section opens with:
Despite some progress in 2012, the human rights situation in Iraq remains difficult. However, there were some encouraging developments. The establishment in April of Iraq’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), progress on a bill to combat domestic violence, ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, agreement of an exemplary NGO law by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and growing engagement on women’s rights issues are all signs of movement in the right direction. Nevertheless, significant problems remain.
Iraq’s emerging civil society faces a number of challenges, including lack of training and expertise and the difficulties which non-governmental organisations face in obtaining registration. Iraq’s use of the death penalty increased dramatically during 2012, when 129 executions were carried out. Citizens continue to face difficulties gaining access to justice due to weak implementation of the law. Corruption remains endemic: Transparency International ranked Iraq 169 out of 176 in its 2012 Corruption Perception Index. Iraq’s diminished religious and ethnic minority communities remain vulnerable. In the Kurdistan region, several laws designed to improve the human rights situation have been passed, but the implementation of some of these laws, for example the Family Violence Bill, has been slow.
The promotion of human rights continued to be an important part of the UK’s Iraq Strategy, which was laid before Parliament in October 2012. Our priorities include supporting establishment of the ICHR, promoting women’s rights and encouraging Iraq to implement its National Action Plan for Human Rights. Progress on these was mixed. Despite commissioners being appointed in April, the ICHR is not yet fully operational. The National Strategy for Women’s Advancement is still in draft form after three years, although a number of women’s rights groups are now working steadily towards an implementation plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. On 19 December, the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) announced an implementation strategy for its National Action Plan, which was drafted in response to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review recommendations. We regularly raised human rights concerns with senior members of the government and encouraged them to take action to meet our concerns.
Our priorities for 2013 include supporting delivery of the National Action Plan. We will continue to support the UN and other partners to develop an action plan for implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Working through the EU and other partners, we will also support the development of the ICHR. We will continue to monitor the progress of legislation under consideration by the Council of Representatives, including the Freedom of Expression law and the draft Information Crimes law. We will also continue to provide training and funding for a variety of human rights projects across Iraq, with an emphasis on women’s rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
Freedom of expression Although Iraq enjoys a higher level of media freedom than many Arab countries, major problems still exist with legislation governing the media, and there is not yet a strong culture of supporting press freedom. Draft legislation currently being debated in the Council of Representatives is ambiguous and has the potential to restrict journalists’ ability to report freely.
Although the Committee for the Protection of Journalists reported a decrease in the number of journalists killed for reasons related to their profession, media professionals continued to suffer harassment and violence, and to be arrested without proper cause. We were particularly troubled by the closure on 16 December of two media outlets in Baghdad, al- Baghdadia TV and Radio al-Marhaba, and are concerned that the government’s action represents a disproportionate use of regulatory policy. The closures followed a threat in June, subsequently retracted, by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) to close 44 media organisations. These included the BBC, which the CMC claimed were operating without a licence.
The UK provided funding for a local NGO (IMCK – Independent Media Centre, Kurdistan) to run media-training sessions with former BBC World presenters for 80 MPs in Erbil.
A number of demonstrations took place across Iraq during 2012, many of which were free from interference by the government. However, Human Rights Watch reported that, in response to demonstrations marking the February anniversary of the start of weekly protests, security forces in Baghdad restricted demonstrators’ access to protest sites. In the Kurdistan region’s Sulaymaniyah province, a number of demonstrators were reported to have been harassed, beaten and arrested.
Access to justice and the rule of law There were reports throughout the year of people being arbitrarily detained and not being given access to legal counsel, and of prison conditions which do not meet international and domestic standards. Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government had carried out mass arrests during the build-up to the Arab League Summit in Baghdad in March, and had unlawfully detained people at Camp Honor prison. This is a facility which it had claimed in March last year to have closed following reports that detainees held there had been tortured. We were particularly concerned by allegations in October of sexual and physical abuse of female detainees by prison officers.
This is from the report's section on women's rights and LGBTs:
Women in Iraq continue to face a number of threats, notably gender-based violence. Inadequate or unimplemented legislation remains a key challenge, with “honour” still permitted by the Iraqi penal code as a mitigating factor in crimes involving violence by men against women or children. Perpetrators of crimes involving sexual violence are exonerated if they marry their victim. Surveys indicate that 21% of women have been beaten by their husbands and that in some provinces a majority of women believe that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife under certain circumstances. More positively, the government has taken steps to address the problem of trafficking through its adoption in May of the Trafficking in Persons Law. In the Kurdistan region, the newly elected (April 2012) Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, has taken a personal interest in the promotion of women’s rights, appointing his own Special Adviser on Women’s Issues to work alongside the High Council of Women’s Affairs to implement the Family Violence Bill.
We continue to support efforts to improve the position of women in Iraqi society, working closely with the UN, EU and other international partners. Following the success of a similar project in the Kurdistan region in 2011, we are funding a police-training project in Baghdad to develop a more effective police response to incidents involving violence against women. In the Kurdistan region, we are funding a project run by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to increase the participation of female parliamentarians in the Kurdistan parliament. We also funded a project to support female journalists in 2012.
The UK supported events in the Kurdistan region to mark the international campaign of “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”. HM Consul General in Erbil was invited to speak alongside Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani at the opening of the campaign, and we published articles in several of the most widely read newspapers and news websites re- affirming the UK’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls. In contrast to 2011, when Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki publicly appealed to all government departments to strengthen legislation on domestic violence and underlined the need for more education and reform to protect women’s rights, activities in central Iraq were, disappointingly, limited to a small cultural event led by the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
Minority rights Ethnic minorities, mostly concentrated in northern Iraq, continue to report instances of discrimination as well as considerable problems in gaining proper access to employment, healthcare and education.
In 2012, there was a continued trend of sectarian violence. Minorities located in the disputed areas of northern Iraq were disproportionately affected. For example, in August at least nine people were killed and fifty injured in an attack against a Shabak mosque in Mosul. In October, several members of the Shabak community were killed and a number of others injured after homes and businesses in Mosul identified as belonging to the group were attacked. A lack of evidence of investigation by security forces into attacks has contributed to a growing mistrust by minority communities in the security forces’ ability to protect them.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights Although not illegal under Iraqi law, homosexuality is still not widely accepted in Iraq, and the situation for the homosexual community and other sexual minorities remains difficult. We were concerned by reports earlier in the year that members of the LGBT community and Iraqi followers of the “Emo” fashion culture were attacked, and in some cases murdered, for their appearance or their sexual identity (or perceived sexual identity). It is difficult to judge the accuracy of such reports or the scale of the problem. Disappointingly, and despite the evidence, the government response has been one of denial.
It's an important report and one that the US State Dept should have been able to do but hasn't for some time.
Saleh al-Mutlaq continues to court hate. All Iraq News reports that he met with Martin Kobler, the United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative, and declared that the protests result from election propaganda. Saleh gets more disgusting every day. The outrage in Iraq began building in October. It had to do with the lack of public services, the lack of employment, the vast poverty, the refusal to implement The Erbil Agreement and so much more. On public services, for example, IRIN notes today:
Long-term investments made into electricity-generation capacity in recent years have not fully borne fruit, observers say, and have not been matched by similar investments into networks for electricity transmission and distribution. “It’s like pouring water into a leaking bucket,” said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq.
According to the UN’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU) in Iraq, the electricity supply system is “particularly unreliable and serves its users only a few hours each day.”
Iraqi households receive an average of eight hours of electricity from the public network, according to the 2011 Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey, though the government promises to provide electricity 24 hours a day by the end of this year. In the 2011 IKN survey, seventy percent of respondents reported daily electricity cut-offs of more than 12 hours a day. An additional 26 percent had cut-offs of at least three hours a day. Summer temperatures in Iraq can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.
But in October, the ethical layer came in. A real protest has to have an outrage that people can bond over, that they can say "NO MORE" too. Without it, a protest lasts a week. In October, the media outlets began reporting that women and girls were being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers. This was followed by Parliament confirming this was taking place. Shi'ites may be the majority in Iraq, but in the prisons, Sunnis outnumber them. So Sunnis were especially outraged by the torture and rape. Then, on December 20th, Nouri went after Rafie al-Issawi, the Minister of Finance, who is a Sunni and a member of Iraqiya. He had bodyguards and staff hauled off. To many Iraqis, it played like December 2011 when Nouri targeted Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Saleh had called Nouri a "dictator" to CNN which is why he was targeted. Saleh al-Mutlaq is known for his cowardly streak. He was soon his knees begging Nouri for forgiveness. That was the end of any difficulty for Saleh.
Saturday, 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces voted in provincial elections. The real news: All Iraq News reports that the Independent High Electoral Commission announced that the participation rate was 51%. Matt Bradley (Wall St. Journal) offers this hypothesis:
Only slightly more than 50% of eligible Iraqi voters participated in provincial elections on Saturday, a far cry from the 72% turnout for the latest such elections, in 2009, according to Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission. In Iraq's capital, turnout slipped to 33%, the commission said.
Preliminary results will be announced on Wednesday, officials said.
The lower participation rate reflects growing disillusionment with a political process that U.S.-led forces spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives to help establish, voters and analysts said.
Why the turn-out is so low isn't known at this point. Bradley's making an educated guess and he can support that with earlier reporting he's done where he spoke with Iraqis who didn't plan on voting. Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) notes that Baghdad had an even lower rate of turnout: 33% and that these numbers are "identical to voter turnout in the last provincial elections four years ago." What's Bradley's offered as to the reason for the low turnout is the closest we'll get to possibilities until the count is released. Basra has two different factions at war right now. One is saying they're the winner, the other saying "no" and there's supposedly a leak in the vote count. I'm not interested. I'm not even interested in articles that say Nouri's done poorly. If State of Law did poorly, that would reflect on State of Law. To connect it to Nouri, you'd need exist interviews or something more. I detest Nouri, I argue he's very unpopular but I'm not grabbing at the reports -- even when they please me -- until the official count is released.
At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Patrick Ventrell was asked about the vote.
QUESTION: Iraqi election reaction?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Sure. Thanks for the question, Samir. We do congratulate the people of Iraq on holding provincial elections this past Saturday. In the face of security threats, millions of Iraqi citizens cast their ballots in 12 provinces across the country to choose new provincial councils. This is an important step forward for Iraq's democratic future, including preparations for its spring 2014 national elections. So it's now essential that the councils be seated, select new governors, and begin work on behalf of the Iraqi people.
All Iraq News reports that tomorrow there will be a Cabinet meeting where the issue of Anbar and Nineveh will be discussed. The two provinces where Nouri is extremely unpopular (as evidenced by non-stop protests) were barred by Nouri from participating in the elections. He gave a variety of excuses including "violence" (dropped when it was pointed out Baghdad was more violent than either province) and risk of fraud. He declared that they wouldn't vote for six months.
Under what power. He claims he has that power as commander-in-chief but the authority for running the elections is supposed to rest with the Independent High Electoral Commission which is independent of Nouri (in 2011, he attempted to take control of the commission, even the courts said no).
Saturday, the western press seemed to be in a competition to see who could repeat the most factual errors. One was that Nouri said the two provinces could vote in a month. He said no such thing. The Independent High Electoral Commission came up with that after they were too scared to stand up to him. He's not changed his position so far. That's what the Cabinet meeting's about.
Turning to the United States, Kim Murphy (Los Angeles Times) reports that Sgt John Russel copped a plea for second-degree murder and told military judge Col David Conn, "I just did it out of rage, sir." Did what? Dropping back to the May 11, 2009 snapshot:
Today the US military announced a Camp Liberty shooting at 2:00 p.m. Iraq time in which five US service members were shot dead. In a second announcement, they added, "A U.S. Soldier suspected of being involved with the shootings is currently in custody." Luis Martinez and Martha Raddatz (ABC News) encourage people to watch ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson this evening for a report on the shooting. Tom Leonard (Telegraph of London) states three more US soldiers were wounded in the shooting as does CNN; however, Jenny Booth (Times of London) goes with "at least two others were wounded" and she quotes Lt Tom Garnett (military spokesperson) stating, "The shooter is a US soldier and he is in custody." CNN states the shooting took place at a clinic for US service members seeking assistance with stress. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) cites a US military official: "The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident shook up soldiers, many of whom are in their third and even fourth tours. Some broke down in tears, he said." Yochi J. Drezen (Wall St. Journal) draws the conclusion that many are drawing (and they may be right or they may be wrong) which is that it was likely fratricide, "Such crimes were more common during the Vietnam War, but have occurred only sporadically in Iraq. In 2003, Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two soldiers and wounded 14 others in a grenade attack in Kuwait; he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2006, Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez was charged with murdering two officers in a suspicious explosion in Tikrit, though he was later acquitted. And last year, an American soldier was arrested in the shooting deaths of a pair of other soldiers at a base near the Iraqi city of Iskandariya." Mark Kukis (Time magazine) grabs a piano shawl and offers this crystal vision, "In the coming days and weeks, undoubtedly, a chilling tale will trickle out of the Pentagon and Camp Liberty as more details are revealed." Timothy Williams (New York Times) goes with that as well and pretends Robert Gibbs is Barack Obama -- he's not. If the White House wants to issue a statement, they can do so. Gibbs fumbling in a press briefing when the issue is raised doesn't qualify as anything worth attributing to anyone but Gibbs. Or as Gibbs said at another point during the press conference today, "I think the president -- I haven't talked specifically with him, but my guess is . . ." In the real world, BBC adds: "The BBC's Natalia Antelava, in Baghdad, says troops at Camp Liberty had been enjoying a much more relaxed atmosphere in recent months. She says there have been few attacks on the base recently, so the timing of the shooting will make it particularly shocking to the soldiers there." The Los Angeles Times offers Liz Sly's report and an AP video on the shooting. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly stated that "our sympathies go to the families of the soldiers. But beyond that, I don't have anything to say. I'd refer you to the Pentagon."
Moving over to veterans, the VA has a budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Her office notes:
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES
CONTACT: SBC Majority Press Office
Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Washington, D.C—On Tuesday, April, 23rd, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs. At this hearing, Secretary Eric Shinseki will testify on the veterans’ program proposals in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. In addition to questioning Secretary Shinseki about the Department’s ongoing efforts to provide the care and benefits our veterans have earned, Murray will also ask Secretary Shinseki to address his recent announcement about Department plans to reduce the claims backlog by expediting the processing of benefit claims that have been pending for a year or more.
What: Hearing on The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal and Veterans’ Program Proposals with witness:
The Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
When: 10:30 AM ET, Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Where: 608 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Amaia P. Kirtland
Deputy Press Secretary
Senate Budget Committee
Finally, David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "Demands Rise On Congress To Guarantee Immigrant Rights" (TruthOut):
In San Diego, California, nine activists completed six days of a hunger strike outside the Mission Valley Hilton Hotel on April 10 -- the day demonstrations took place across the U.S. demanding immigration reform. Hunger strikers were protesting the firing of 14 of the hotel's workers, after Evolution Hospitality, the company operating the Hilton franchise, told them that it had used the government's E-Verify database to determine that they didn't have legal immigration status.
"The company says that E-Verify is making them do this, even though many of the workers have been working here for years," said Sara Garcia, a supporter and hunger striker from House of Organized Neighbors, a local community organization. "But they started firing them when the workers were organizing a union."
"I clean 16 to 18 rooms a day, and they pay me $8.65 an hour. No one can live on that," explained Leticia Nava, a fired worker. " I'm a widow with three children who depend on me. What is happening is not just. We are immigrant workers, and the only thing we're asking is to work. That's not hurting anyone."
Garcia and Nava accuse the company of using the government system for immigration enforcement in the workplace, a database called E-Verify, in order to retaliate against 14 women for their union support. But they also say that the E-Verify system is used much more extensively, to fire workers even where no union organizing is taking place.
iraqi spring mc
national iraqi news agency
all iraq news
the associated press
sameer n. yacoub
the los angeles times
the wall street journal