Saturday, August 02, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Friday, August 1, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Ahmed Chalabi becomes the focus of rumors, Iraqi Christians continue to be persecuted, and much more.

Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted.  Bishop Suriel, the Bishop of Melbourne - Coptic Orthodox Church, Tweeted:

Mosul, the cradle of Christianity in Iraq since the first centuries, is now purged of its entire Christian population. The ruthless and purposeful savagery of the attacks by the fundamentalist Muslim terrorist organization The Islamic State (IS) formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is truly inconceivable. Yet, most world leaders remain silent in the face of the murder of innocent children and horrific beheadings of civilians. We question why the media has not highlighted the unprecedented systematic eradication of the city’s entire Christian population. We also question why the Australian government have yet to comment and condemn this gross deprivation of human rights.

There is only silence.

Silence, that sends a resounding message of indifference to the murders of innocent lives at the hands of extremist Muslim groups. Silence, which attributes lesser value to the lives of Christians in the Middle East. Silence, that surrenders to the power of radicalism and the inhumane brutality of groups such as IS.

The silence has included the White House which waited until yesterday to have an official meet with representatives of Iraqi Christians.

We've been noting the White House needed to get active for some time.

Now it's becoming an issue with US House Rep Trent Franks releasing the following statement.

For those who are not helped by streaming video, here's the transcript of what's being said.

US House Rep Trent Franks:  Mr. President, last month, 55 colleagues of mine and myself sent you and Secretary Kerry a letter asking that you actively prioritize security and humanitarian support for the Christian community in Iraq.  We specifically warned you of the dangers and brutality of the terrorist group ISIS who are now rampaging across Iraq and terrorizing the vulnerable Christian population.  In the letter, we specifically pointed out that "parts of Syria and Iraq that have previously fallen under the rule of ISIS have witnessed summary executions, beheadings and even crucifixions."  And that "absent immediate action, we will most certainly witness an annihilation of a faith community from the lands they've inhabited for centuries."  Tragically, Mr. President, you simply ignored us again -- as you've done so many times before.  And now ISIS, the group you once likened to a junior varsity basketball team, is beheading its way across Iraq and has declared that there will be "nothing for the Christians but the sword" if they do not convert.  Mr. President, last week, ISIS torched an 1800-year-old church in Mosul and deliberately and insidiously destroyed the historic tomb of Jonah.  Last Sunday, for the first time in 1600 years, there was no mass in Mosul.  The head of Iraq's Christian community said, "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians."  And now images of ISIS' beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture and mass execution are all over the internet and social media.  Just yesterday, I met with a group of NGOs based in Iraq who told me that ISIS recently beheaded 6 Christians and then proceeded to play soccer with their decapitated heads.  Mr. President, ISIS's targeting of Christians has been systematic and horrifying and Iraq's Christians in the area are now nearly extinct.  It can rightly be called "targeted religious cleansing."  And, sir, it is a crime against humanity.  And yet, Mr. President, we have not heard a single word from you -- even as a literal Christian genocide is taking place at this very moment, you have not uttered even one syllable about what your administration is doing or planning to do to relieve or protect these persecuted Christians in Iraq.  So now speaking with you and pleading with you directly, sir, I once again repeat the words we wrote in our letter to you a month ago: "We urge you and your administration to urgently and actively engage with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to prioritize additional security support for these particularly vulnerable populations and provide emergency humanitarian assistance to those effected communities.  Absent immediate action, we will most certainly witness the annihilation of ancient faith community from the lands they've inhabited for centuries.  Mr. President, if you continue to ignore this Christian genocide in Iraq, history will record that it was you who idly stood on the sidelines and knowingly let it happen.

We have repeatedly noted the perception issue.

Maybe we should have spelled it out for the hard headed ones in denial?

Barack can't lose religious support in the US and have any chance of accomplishing anything in his second term.

He's had a religious problem throughout his national career.

He claimed Jeremiah Wright as an inspiration.  Then when Wright's sermons got a little bit of examination, Barack began to walk away and he (and Michelle) flat out attacked Wright on national television in response to Wright's remarks that Barack was just a typical politician.

Prior to Wright, Barack appears to have had no real encounters with a church.

Certainly, after becoming President, he failed to attend a church regularly.

Some of Barack's supporters state and write publicly that Barack doesn't really believe in God.

If that's true, there's nothing wrong with that.  Unless, of course, you go around insisting you do believe and you are a Christian.

Barack already has one religious problem -- what's going on in Gaza and how to respond without antagonizing certain elements of the US electorate.  He has another emerging religious problem that no one wants to talk about or acknowledge.

Barack is the deporter in chief.  That is registering in Catholic communities -- both due to the fact that a large number of Latinos and Latinas deported are Catholic and also because the Catholic faith has always had a strong activist wing. Barack is taking a hit there.

And now he's unable to decry the persecution of Christians.

He has stated he is a Christian, he has stated he was baptized and much more.

His failure to provide leadership on this issue hurts him.

Christians who care deeply about this issue, for example,  are left to wonder if Barack lied about his own faith?  Or if he just doesn't care about what happens to Iraqi Christians?

That's the thing about silence -- if you create it or foster it, others will rush in to fill the silence with something, anything.

And not everyone's been silent in the US.  Members of Congress have spoken out.  In fact, Tuesday, US House Rep Anna Eshoo's office issued the following.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) released the following statement after the House and Senate passed her bipartisan legislation to create a special envoy at the State Department to focus on the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. Co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the bill now awaits the President’s signature.

“Today the world is bearing witness to the persecution and eradication of religious minorities in some of the most imperiled regions on earth,” said Eshoo. “Christians in the Middle East and South Central Asia are being tortured, killed and live in fear simply because of their religion. The stories are countless, and the response has been meager.”

“With enactment of this legislation, America is appropriately stepping up its response and will be more capable in providing aid to religious minorities. A special envoy at the State Department will focus on the freedom and survival of religious minorities. Time is running out and this critical problem deserves to be treated as a high priority,” Eshoo concluded.

While some emphasize the silence, others play the numbers in their own coverage.  Gwynee Dyer (London Free Press) explains, "There were still about 60,000 Christians in Mosul when the United States and its sidekicks invaded Iraq 11 years ago. By last year, it was down to 30,000. Only two months after the arrival of the ISIS extremists, there are none. Most have fled to Kurdistan with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They are not going back, and if they can they will leave the Middle East entirely."  All Christians have not left Mosul.

We've noted that a number have had no choice but to remain and are in hiding.

I've also a missed a point of the hiding in plain sight.  My apologies for that.  Voice of the Martyrs explains, "There is another group of Christians in northern Iraq too: those that were born into Muslim families but have consciously made the choice to reject Islam and follow Jesus. It is important to understand that these believers do NOT have a choice to pay a tax and save their lives. These converts are, in the eyes of IS, apostates. If IS fighters learned of their faith, they would give these believers two choices: return to Islam or be killed."

Yael Rein (San Diego Jewish World) notes, "The United Nations Security Council condemned the persecution of minorities in Iraq."

Peter Jesserer-Smith (National Catholic Register) explains:

For the past two months, the Register has brought you the stories of the Iraqi Christians’ desperate condition at the hands of the militants of the Islamic State. They are a sea of refugees robbed of everything, begging the world to let them survive. They haven’t just lost their property and homes — they have been robbed of their identity, their culture, and their history.  

He goes on to note the August 6th Global Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq and that's a good time for us to note Aid to the Church in Need's announcement on the Global Day of Prayer for Peace:

Aug. 6, 2014--Feast of the Transfiguration
“Please stop, I ask you with all my heart, it’s time to stop. Stop, please.” Inspired by these words of Pope Francis (June 27, 2014), the international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, united with His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq, appeals to all persons of good will to join in a Global Day of Prayer for Peace to be held on August 6, 2014—the Feast of the Transfiguration.Chaldean Cross

The feast of Transfiguration marks the moment when Jesus, on Mount Tabor, appears to three of his disciples in a state of glory, shortly before His ultimate trial on Calvary. This feast holds out a sign of hope for humanity: it is a source of courage when obstacles appear impossible to surmount; a sign that light is stronger than darkness; and testimony that death can turn into life.

Meant to be observed in churches and homes across the country, this Global Day of Prayer in the midst of so much suffering in Iraq—particularly for the ancient Christian community of Mosul—tells the world at large that US Christians have not forgotten and abandoned their suffering brothers and sisters.

Patriarch Sako has personally composed the Prayer for Peace:

The plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.

Glory be to you forever.

The Patriarch also said: “Let us unite our voices and hearts before the Lord of peace. May the light of Tabor fill the hearts of all suffering people with consolation and hope. May the message of Tabor, through our prayers, inspire the leaders of Iraq to sacrifice personal interests for the common good and welfare.”

Please click here and join ACN's candle vigil for Iraq.

Meanwhile, Professor Margaret Blunden takes issue with the Financial Times of London's editorial "Christians at the mercy of jihadis" feeling that  they have slighted the Kurdish Regional Government -- "a refuge for some 10,000 Iraqi Christian families escaping violence."  On that topic, All Iraq News notes KRG President Massoud Barzani declared today that the Kurdistan Region was the host to over 1.2 million refugees. 

And, no, that's not the biggest rumor.  Friday's biggest rumor was that Ahmed Chalabi would be Iraq's next prime minister.  True or false, it's all over Arabic social media.  What is known is that Nouri's being called out by.  Raheem Salmam (Reuters) reports

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his security officials are to blame for the rise of Sunni Muslim insurgents who have seized parts of Iraq, the country's foreign minister said.
The comments by Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, are likely to worsen relations between Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government and the Kurds, complicating efforts to form a power-sharing government capable of countering Islamic State militants.

Baghdad, 1 August 2014 – According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of at least 1,737 Iraqis were killed and another 1,978 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence in July*.
The number of civilians killed was 1,186 (including 106 civilian police), while the number of civilians injured was 1,511 (including 177 civilian police).  A further 551 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, including Peshmerga and SWAT, were killed and 467 were injured (not including casualties from Anbar operation).
"I am concerned about the rising number of casualties in Iraq, particularly among the civilian population.  Children and women are most vulnerable.  All sides should ensure that civilians are protected and that international humanitarian law is respected”, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov said.
“Despite the continuing fighting, politicians have shown that they can work together in choosing the new President and the new Speaker of the Council of Representative.  It is time that they move forward on the creation of a new government that can address the root causes of violence in Iraq and ensure equitable development for all communities”, Mr. Mladenov added.
Anbar excluded, Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate with 1,035 civilian casualties (415 killed, 620 injured), followed by Salahadin (305 killed, 289 injured), Ninewa (209 killed, 270 injured), Kirkuk (68 killed, 127 injured), Babil (77 killed, 72 injured) and Diyala (71 killed, 66 injured).
*CAVEATS: Data do not take into account casualties of the current IA operation in Anbar, for which we report at the bottom the figures received by our sources.
UNAMI recorded a minimum 400 security incidents in different parts of Iraq.  Among these incidents, are included 62 incidents by air attack caused a minimum of 823 casualties killed and injured.  30 incidents caused by vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) and suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIED), which caused a minimum of 535 casualties killed and injured.  78 incidents using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused a minimum of 322 civilian casualties killed and injured.  67 incidents with small arms fire (SAF) caused a minimum of 141 casualties killed and injured.
Operations in Anbar
Due to official holidays of Eid-ul-Fitr, UNAMI was not able to obtain casualty figures from Ramadi and other areas of Anbar.  UNAMI was only able to obtain the figures for Fallujah from the General Hospital of Fallujah; the total civilian casualties in Fallujah up to 30 July inclusive were 132 killed and 421 injured.  UNAMI will publish the figures for Ramadi as soon as they are available. 
Kurdish Region stands out for the relative calm it offers to Assyrian, Arab and Kurdish Christians.

It's an undercount.  Margaret Griffis ( notes, " has determined that at least 5,698 people were killed and 2,018 more were wounded during the month of July."

It would be great if UNAMI would track the number of civilians killed by Nouri each month but they can't even include Anbar Province in their count.

Nouri's War Crimes continue.  NINA notes a man and a woman were killed by Nouri's bombing of residential neighborhoods in Falluja -- fourteen more people ("including four children") were left injured.  He's been bombing homes in Falluja since the start of the year.  Now he's begun expanding his targets.  NINA notes a Mosul aerial bombing left 4 women and 1 child dead and seven people were left injured in Kirkuk from Nouri's targeting civilians.

NINA notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing left one police member injured, 2 more Kirkuk bombs left three people injured, the Operations Command of the Island and the Desert declared that they killed 53 suspects in Haditha, . . .  Margaret Griffis ( counts 266 dead today with another and 18 injured.