Thursday, December 26, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 26, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the Ashraf community is attacked again, Barack Obama 'gifts' weapons to Nouri (leaving US tax payers on the hook for his $7 million gift?), Christmas Day saw an attack on Iraq's Christian community which left nearly 40 dead, and more.

The two biggest topics in the e-mail are Joss Stone and the Ashraf community.  Starting with Joss, who is amazing.

"Drive All Night," written by Joss and Eg White, is from Joss' LP1 album which Kat reviewed here and, examing 2011's year in music, Kat found first place to be a three-way tie, "Stevie Nicks' In Your Dreams, PJ Harvey's Let England Shake and Joss Stone's LP1."  And we picked it for "The Make Out Song of 2011" at Third.  And, FYI, I know Joss and I know Dave Stewart but I'm actually plugging Joss right now because Kat intends to feature Joss in Kat's look back at 2013 in music.

Make out song?

An e-mail to the public account -- yes, we're starting the snapshot slowly -- wants to note celibacy.  It's aimed at gay men.  So I called to ask some friends, "Is this some new activist movement" since it wasn't filled with hate -- "or what?"  No, it's an effort to promote an online gay matchmaking service.  It's Gayquation whose Facebook page is here and whose Twitter feed it here.  With eHarmony's well noted homophobia, I have no problem noting a gay matchmaking online service (once, I'm not going to do it all the time).

But I won't take part in a celibacy campaign for adults.  Adults will do what they want and should.  And 30 days of celibacy sounds a lot like that very bad Josh Hartnett film 40 Days and 40 Nights.

That was an idiotic movie and I said it would be before it started filming.  Movies have to be relatable to be successful.  The film bombed in the US ($37 million box office -- a sleazy and misleading ad campaign allowed it to do very well outside the US).  I said open the film with a pissed off woman who doesn't like being his latest one night stand and, while he's sleeping, locks him in a celibacy device.  Forced celibacy would speak to many men's fears and he is kept in the device until that one night stand feels he's learned a lesson.  That's relatable as a fear.  A grown man who is sexually active -- leading a life many male ticket buyers wish they had -- deciding not to have sex for 40 days isn't relatable.  And that brings us to Gayquation's campaign. That movie took a promising actor and stripped him of his heat and Hartnett's still not recovered.  The campaign may harm your company in a similar way. You got your links, be happy and don't e-mail again.


BBC News notes, "A rocket attack has killed three members of an Iranian opposition group in Iraq, the group and its parent organisation say.  They say a number of people from the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) group were injured at Camp Liberty in Baghdad."  Camp Hurriyah, also know as Camp Liberty, is where the Ashraf community was forced to relocate.  Tonight, the US State Dept issued the following statement:

Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Washington, DC
December 26, 2013

The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s rocket attack at Camp Hurriya that has reportedly killed and injured camp residents and also injured Iraqi police officers. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims and we hope for the swift recovery of those injured.
From the moment we learned about this attack, we have been in communication with the United Nations Assistant Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and senior Iraqi officials to ensure swift and immediate treatment to the wounded. We thank both UNAMI and the Government of Iraq (GOI) for rapidly responding, including by providing ambulances and treatment to those seriously injured.
We continue to call on the GOI to take additional measures to secure the camp against further violence, including by immediately installing additional protective barriers, such as bunkers and t-walls. We also call on the GOI to continue to honor its obligations under its December 25, 2011 agreement with the UN and urge the Iraqi Government to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable for the attack.
The United States is committed to assisting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the relocation of all Camp Hurriya residents to a permanent and safe location outside of Iraq. We call on more countries to assist in responding to this urgent humanitarian situation by welcoming camp residents for relocation, as Albania has admirably done over this past year, and by contributing to the fund established by the United Nations to support their resettlement. The Department, through its Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement, Jonathan Winer, will remain actively engaged in the international effort to relocate the residents of Camp Hurriya to safe, permanent, and secure locations outside of Iraq as soon as possible.

PRN: 2013/1266

As of September, Camp Ashraf in Iraq is empty.  All remaining members of the community have been moved to Camp Hurriya (also known as Camp Liberty).  Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were  welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks.  The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one.  As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Those weren't the last attacks.  They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept.  (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.)   In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  So the US has an obligation to protect the residents.  3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf.  They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part.  A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday.   That was the second attack this year alone.   February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah.  Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."  They were attacked again September 1st.   Adam Schreck (AP) reported that the United Nations was able to confirm the deaths of 52 Ashraf residents.  In addition, 7 Ashraf residents were taken in the assault.  Last month, in response to questions from US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, the  State Dept's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Brett McGurk, stated, "The seven are not in Iraq."

Today's attack?  The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom issued the following statement today:

At 21:15 Baghdad local time on 26 December 2013, Camp Liberty was the target of dozens of missiles. This attack has taken place a matter of months after Iraqi forces massacred 52 residents at their previous home in Camp Ashraf. The shamefully weak response to that attack by the EU Governments, the US administration and the United Nations has given the Iraqi authorities the green light to continue killing at will.
In total, Iraqi assaults on the two camps have left some 115 unarmed and defenceless civilians murdered. These are Iranian dissidents to whom the US authorities guaranteed protection and who are recognised as Protected Persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Today the whereabouts of seven hostages taken by the Iraqi authorities in the 1 September 2013 attack remain unknown and the latest murders are an indication of the Iraqi authorities’ intentions in relation to Camp Liberty. It is in this Committee’s view no coincidence that such an attack occurs shortly after Nuri Al-Maliki returns from a visit to Tehran.
The British government and other member states of the United Nations must immediately condemn this latest attack. Further UNHCR must immediately recognise Camp Liberty as a refugee camp and grant all the members of the camp group refugee status. It is clear that their current recognition as persons of interest under international law is insufficient and has hindered their safe return to third party states.
Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC, Co-Chair of the Committee said:
This Committee has repeatedly warned the British Government and the United Nations that these assaults will continue until such time as an armed UN presence is stationed at Camp Liberty. Today’s deaths were avoidable had that UN presence been in operation. The British Government must today publicly show its support for an armed UN presence at Camp Liberty while calling for the immediate release of the hostages.
This attack and the uninterrupted executions happening in Iran each and every day have resulted from the international community’s weak stance towards the Iranian regime in recent months.
Unfortunately the UK Government has been weak in expressing its protests, and has done little to ensure that both Iraq and Iran understand that these attacks on unarmed people are wholly unacceptable.

Reuters notes al-Mukhtar Army militia is claiming credit for the attack, saying they "fired 20 Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds" at Camp Hurriya and quotes the group's leader Wathiq al-Batat stating, "We've asked (the government) to expel them from the country many times, but they are still here."  Yesterday, PMOI Iran posted a video of  retired US Col Wes Martin speaking December 19th about the Ashraf community, "As you've heard before -- and as everyone here knows -- there is no way an assault can come on that camp without going through Iraqi forces."

His comments especially make sense in light of today's attack.  (His full comments make even more sense but PMOI Iran has badly edited his remarks.)

They -- whomever 'they' may be (claiming credit doesn't necessarily mean someone did the act; however, the fact that the group made the assertion quickly does lend credence to the claim) -- launched 20 rockets and mortar rounds.  Where was the Iraqi military that's supposed to be guaranteeing the Ashraf community's safety?

Don't expect an answer.  There are never answers provided by Nouri al-Maliki's government.

The government that's being armed.

As noted this morning, misreporting took place by many outlets:

The Voice of Russia states, ""The United States is sending dozens of missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by al-Qaida-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria."  This is echoed by The NewsHour (PBS), "The U.S. is "quietly" sending dozens of Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq, in hopes the government can quell an al-Qaeda insurgency."  Noah Rayman (Time magazine) parrots, "The United States is supplying Iraq with arms and surveillance technology to combat al-Qaeda-backed insurgents amid worsening violence, the New York Times reported Thursday, two years after the last American combat troops left the country."  AFP runs with, "The United States is sending Iraq dozens of missiles and surveillance drones to help it combat a recent surge in al-Qaida-backed violence, the New York Times reported Thursday.  The weapons include a shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles purchased by Iraq, which Washington delivered to the country last week, the Times reported."

Fortunately, not all outlets have correspondents from the kiddie table.  Elise Labott and Tom Cohen (CNN) get it right regarding who is providing arms, "Two years after bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq, the Obama administration is sending Hellfire rockets and ScanEagle surveillance drones to help government forces fight al Qaeda affiliates growing in influence, a State Department official confirmed to CNN on Thursday."  Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) also gets it right, "The Obama administration has begun sending Hellfire missiles and surveillance drone aircraft to Iraq to help the government battle an expanding threat from local Al Qaeda-affiliated militants, U.S. officials said, the first such assistance since the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011."

Congress wasn't notified of these arms.  The Arms Export Control Act's Section 36(b) requires that the President of the United States informs Congress in writing of all defense articles sold to foreign governments before the sale goes through.  That's the law.

So was these sold or was this another 'gift' that the US taxpayer is paying for?

December 12th, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a joint-hearing on Iraq.  We covered it four days later in the December 16th snapshot

Subcommittee Chair Ted Poe: Now he wants some help once again.  He talks out of both sides of his mouth while trying to cozy up to the United States, he cozies up to the Iranians at the same time.  Prime Minister Maliki came here dragging the sack in November wanting more tax payer money.  He wanted attack helicopters and all sorts of advanced equipment.  But is that what he needs to go after al Qaeda?  Does he have other reasons for wanting that equipment?  Maliki has centralized power. alienated the Sunnis, brought back the Shi'ite hit squads.  This in part has allowed al Qaeda to return to be back in Iraq.  What Maliki needs is a new strategy to fight al Qaeda.  This includes doing a better job of reaching out to the Sunni population so that they feel that Maliki represents all Iraqis, not just one group.

And we'll note this:

Ranking Member Brad Sherman:  And he wants American weapons.  And his biggest argument is that we should give him American weapons because his enemies hate us.  The problem is, his friends hate us too.  And his friends in Tehran are more dangerous to us than his enemies in Falluja. Now Maliki's argument goes something like this: He holds office today solely as a result of various actions taken by the United States -- some of which were mistakes.  And so therefore he is our product and therefore we have to protect him and do whatever he wants.  And so therefore he is one of the good guys no matter who he allies himself with today.  The fact is, his allegiance to Tehran is only a little bit less than Assad's allegiance to Tehran.  But Maliki's government goes something like this: Since he has been the beneficiary of a series of American mistakes in the past, we have a legal duty to continue to make mistakes on his behalf in the future.  Uhm, if we're going to provide him with weapons, there ought to be at least four conditions.  The first is that he start trying to reach a compromise with at least some elements of the Sunni community.  He's taken provocative actions against Sunnis such as postponing elections in Sunni areas and forcing prominent Sunni politicians out of the government.  He shouldn't be seeking the best deal he can for the Shi'ite community, he should be seeking a peace that would benefit not only him but the United States.  And he needs to allow proper Sunni representation in his government.  Second, if he wants our weapons, he ought to pay for them. People involved in foreign policy seem to be so focused on foreign policy that whether we get paid for the weapons is a footnote.  The fact is Iraq has plenty of oil now, will have even more in the future.  They've to enough cash to pay for the weapons now and they can certainly borrow on the international markets and, at very minimum, they can agree to pay us later in cash or oil.  Third, he's got to stop Iranian flights over his air space into Syria.  He'll say, 'Well then give me an airforce.'  We don't have to.  All he has to do is authorize the Saudi, the Turkish or the American airforce to ensure that his air space is not used  by Iranian thugs transiting to so that they can destroy and kill as many innocent people and some non-innocent people in Syria.  And finally he's got to focus on the hostages of Camp Ashraf and the human rights of those in Camp Hurriyah also known as Camp Liberty.  These are international responsibilities that he has.  So if there is no penetrating analysis, the argument will be: 'We created him, he seems like a good guy, he's in trouble, therefore we give him weapons for free.'  That is the default position of our foreign policy

Congress wasn't informed.  Either Barack broke the law or Iraq is being given -- by Barack with the US taxpayers footing the bill -- these weapons. There was also no public announcement.  

Congress wasn't informed.  I have no idea why the New York Times, 'breaking' the story seems to have forgotten to contact Congress.  That's sort of a basic for a news outlet.  

Outlets run statements like this from Australia's ABC:  "'The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles and an upcoming delivery of Scan Eagles are standard [foreign military sales] cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat,' a State Department official said."

That would say this was Iraq purchasing; however, "foreign military sales" is not said in the quote by the State Dept.  The State Dept quote is, "The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles and an upcoming delivery of Scan Eagles are standard cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat."

So it may be a gift.  We'll stay with 'gift' for now.

What's Congress going to say about this 'gift'?

We know what was said this month.

Subcommittee Chair Ted Poe:  When I was in Iraq, a couple of years ago, a year and a half ago, Prime Minister, I asked him the question about the oil and how about paying for some of this nation building, military, all the things America's doing and he literally went -- was very vocal about Iraq would not pay the United States a dime for helping them liberate their country and rebuild their country.  So I think that may still be his position.

I can't imagine that Congress will be thrilled by the 'gift.'  As RT observes, "Other plans to provide Iraq with supplies have also stalled in Congress, where a bill to lease and sell the country's Apache helicopter gunships to Baghdad is languishing among concern that Maliki would use them to bully his political rivals."

UPI notes the 75 Hellfire Missiles arrived in Iraq last week and that "more are expected." Rethink Afghanistan puts the cost of a single Hellfire Missile at $58,000.  75 of them?  Check my math, but that comes to $3,750,000.  A nearly four million dollar 'gift' has been purchased with the American taxpayer dollars.  And that's not counting the drones.  There aren't specific numbers being reported regarding the drones, so we'll just note the US Air Force put the price of one system (4 drones and the reporting device) at $3.2 million in 2006.  We're now at the price tag of $7 million dollars.

Taxpayer dollars, Barack's not using the family checkbook on this gift.

Among the reasons Congress objects?

Nouri's a thug and they know it.  Many members of Congress also have an affinity for the KRG -- the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.  KRG President Massoud Barzani's repeatedly warned about the danger arming Nouri could result in.

He's not the only one concerned.  US military leaders thought, with regards to the F-16s the US will provide Iraq with next year, there was an agreement in place in June that no planes would be supplied until the Iraqi military was restructured because US military intelligence raised red flags over the appointments Nouri was making -- key positions being filled by those with links to Iran.  US military leaders were disturbed by that for a number of reasons including Iraq providing Iran with technology.  Again, the White House appeared to give their word that the F-16 transfer would be slowed down so that it did not take place until after the 2014 parliamentary elections (currently scheduled for April 30th).  US military intelligence says Nouri can't win re-election as Prime Minister, he's too unpopular.  (He didn't win re-election in 2010.  His State of Law lost to Iraqiya but the White House brokered The Erbil Agreement to go around the voters and the country's Constitution and give Nouri a second term.)

I was told this evening that the drone transfer is "outrageous."  The military officer noted the US already runs drones (US military and CIA) in Iraq and wondered why Nouri needed his own but, more to the point, why this technology was being handed over to Nouri since the same drones are used in spying on other countries? (He meant Iran.)

There are a lot of questions to ask about this 'gift.'  

The press seems so uninterested in any of them.

Turning to today's violence, Xinhua usually does the best job of the foreign outlets. Today, they do so by default since AP and Reuters have little interests in the day's violence.  However, Xinhua is off the mark with, "Four people were killed and five others wounded in separate violent attacks in Iraq on Thursday, police said."  They note 1 police officer and a relative were shot dead near Baquba, the corpse of Cleric Ali al-Timimi was discovered in Maqdadiyah, a Kut bombing left 1 person dead and four injured and a Salahrudin Province roadside bombing left a Sahwa leader injured.

That was, sadly, not all the reported violence. There were 12 more reported deaths and twenty-three more reported injured.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Falluja bombing claimed 1 life and left three more people injured, a Kut roadside bombing left Major Dhirgham Bashir dead, an Alshwertan Village bombing  left two police officers injured, a Mosul home invasion left 1 police officer and his wife dead and their son injured, 1 former military colonel was shot dead in Mosul, a Hit bombing left an Iraqi military officer and four soldiers injured, assailants "dressed in military uniforms, kidnapped four citizens in the Karim al-Haymas village in Mandali in Diyala, then killed them just 500 meters from the village," an Ishaqi bicycle bombing left 2 police members dead and three injured, 2 Tuz Khurmato bombings left 1 person dead and eight injured, and an Associate Director of a polling center in Mosul was left injured in a Mosul shooting.

All together that's 16 reported deaths and 28 reported injured.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 9300 violent deaths so far this year with 838 for the month thus far and 56 for yesterday.

Yesterday was Christmas Day.  Pope Francis delivered his holiday message which included:
Looking at the Child in the manger, our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think too of the elderly, to battered women, to the sick. Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!
Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world.
Grant peace to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.
Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.   

38 of yesterday's 56 deaths?  They took place in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.   Latin American Herald Tribune explained, "Al-Dura is a majority Sunni neighborhood that has a large Christian community and several churches."   Xinhua reported:

The deadliest attack occurred around noon when a car bomb went off near Mar Youhanna church when Christian worshippers were leaving after celebrating Christmas day in Doura district in the southern part of Baghdad, killing up to 27 people and wounding 56 others, a police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, three roadside bombs went off in a quick succession at a busy marketplace in the same predominantly Christian district, killing 11 people and wounding 14 others, along with damaging nearby shops and stalls, the source said.

December 26, 2013

"The civilized world's overwhelming silence and inaction guarantees more innocent victims in 2014,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center

At least 37 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian areas of Baghdad on 
Christmas and dozens of other injured, some by a car bomb near a church after a service.

“That these religious celebrations in Iraq turned into carnage was entirely predictable as Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists have labeled Iraqi Christians as heretics,” charged Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Center. “Indeed, Iraqi security forces were posted at churches, whose worshipers braved the threat of death to mark the holiest day on their calendar. We call on the United States and the EU to take the lead in committing to protect religious minorities wherever they dwell. The civilized world’s overwhelming silence and inaction only guarantees more innocent victims in 2014,” Cooper continued.

“While the year 2013 has seen a gradual descent into hell for an Iraq under siege by Islamists,” observed Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs. “It has meant slipping into the seventh circle for Christians, whose ranks have already been decimated by years of sustained attacks against its historic Christian communities. The world must recognize that the unfettered suppression of religious minorities in Iraq – and Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria – continues to grow. It will spill over to other countries unless the world moves to make the safeguarding of religious expression a core policy goal. The trampling of this fundamental human right devalues all of civilization – believer and atheist alike.”

Earlier this year, during a private Simon Wiesenthal Center audience with Pope Francis, Center dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier told the Pope that he has an ally in his efforts to protect persecuted religious minorities, including endangered Christian communities.

For more information, please contact the Center's Public Relations Department,
310-553-9036, join the Center on Facebook,, or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent direct to your Twitter page or mobile device.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

elise labott
the los angeles times