Monday, August 04, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, August 4, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Sunni forces seize three towns, the Yazidis and Christians remain targeted, the State Dept ignores religious minorities (even when asked of them), and much more.

For nearly a month now, the Israeli government has ordered an attack on Gaza.  The government's actions have led other governments to criticize -- including the US where State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki has stated, "The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons." Mick Krever (CNN -- link is text and video) notes Israel's Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz spoke with Christiane Amanpour for her CNN program and responded to criticism by some governments with the following,  "Sometimes I feel there is some hypocrisy in the criticism. Maybe [the] United States, Britain, France, and NATO forces can teach us from their experience how to minimize collateral damage -- for example, in their experience in Belgrade; their experience in Iraq; in Fallujah in Iraq; or in Afghanistan."

No, there was no minimizing of collateral damage in Falluja.  You can even argue that the November 2004 assault on Falluja -- using conventional weapons as well as chemical ones -- was all about expanding collateral damage as much as possible. There was no concern for safety.  Young boys, for example, were judged to be 'fighters' -- merely because they were male -- and not allowed to leave the city, forced to remain for the assault.

Pointing to the US' crimes and culpability does not mitigate those of the Israeli government but they do expose hypocrisy on the part of the US government.

And they expose stupidity.

Stupidity on the part of Yuval Steinitz.

He tells Amanpour, "This idea that if they are launching rockets from civilian neighborhoods or nearby, unfortunately, some schools or hospitals, then we cannot or should not defend ourselves? You know, what alternative to we have?"

The alternative you have is to not attack schools or hospitals or other places where civilians are.

Doing so to kill an element that may or may not be gathered among the civilians?

That's Collective Punishment and it's a War Crime -- it's a War Crime that no one in the Israeli government should be confused over.

But the stupidity here is the Collective Stupidity when it comes to Iraq.

Since the first of January of this year, Nouri has been using Collective Punishment, he's been bombing the residential neighborhoods of Falluja -- killing and wounding civilians.

These are War Crimes.

If Steinitz wants to object that the Israeli government is being wrongly criticized, he shouldn't be reaching back to 2004 or the past.  He should simply note that for 8 months now, Iraq's chief thug and hopefully outgoing prime minister has been killing civilians, committing War Crimes, and the White House, England's Prime Minister, etc., have all refused to demand Nouri stop these War Crimes.

Bombing hospitals?  Nouri's bombed Falluja General as well as Falluja's teaching hospital.

If you've not noticed in the last ten years, I do prefer precision from news outlets.  I try to be sensitive to all religions and especially to religious minorities.  But I am troubled by headlines claiming "thousands" of Yazidis were just slaughtered.


Thousands are being targeted and threatened.

But were thousands slaughtered?

If so, the body of your article should have backed that up at some point with a number.

If you didn't, your article's suspect.  And if you're claiming 'thousands slaughtered' in anticipation of thousands being killed, don't expect to be believed if/when thousands are killed since you've already stated that it happened.

Rudaw has numbers.  They say there are approximately 300,000 Yazidis in Iraq today with "thousands" having fled due to the violence and the refugee population of "Yezidi Kurds and [. . .] Assyrian and Chaldean Christians" have seen the deaths of 20 children from hunger while many of the elderly population have "collapsed from exhaustion in the summer heat."

What we do know is that the Yazidis in northern Iraq were threatened yesterday when three towns fell to fighters/rebels/militants/et al.  Adam Chandler (The Wire) noted Sunni fighters "swept across northern Iraq over the weekend, reportedly defeating Kurdish forces for the first time, and was rumored to have captured a vital dam near Mosul." Alan Duke (CNN) explained, "ISIS took control of Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam on Iraq's Tigris River, which provides power to the city of Mosul about 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the south, the commander of the Peshmerga Kurdish fighters who had been defending the facility said Sunday."  Reuters added that the fighters seized three towns in the Kurdistan Region including Zumar.  Fu Peng (Xinhua) reports the town of Sinjar was among the three seized:

The majority of the town of Sinjar are from the Yazidi minority, which is primarily an ethnic Kurd. The religion of Yazidis incorporates elements of many faiths, as a result of some of their beliefs and the mystery surrounding their religion, many Muslims and non-Muslims have considered Yazidis as infidels. This has led to violent attacks by extremist Islamist groups against the minority.
There are about 600,000 Yazidis remaining in Iraq with roughly 80 percent of them living in the towns of Sinjar and Bashika in Nineveh province.

Andrew Slater (Daily Beast) offers this overview:

The Sinjar mountain area is a ring of villages and one of the few true homes for the Yezidi people. The Yezidi’s ancient faith, which combines elements of Christianity, Sufi Islam, and Zoroastrianism, is considered heretical by ISIS and puts them at great risk. Of the 300,000 who live in this district, most have left in the last 24 hours and the rest are desperately trying to find a way out with aid organizations in Iraq saying that a humanitarian disaster of epic scale is currently unfolding.

Mitchell Pothero (McClatchy Newspapers) reports today that the Islamic State continues to control Kummar and Sinjar but that the town of Wana, the third town seized, is now under Kurdish control.  Also today, National Iraqi News Agency reports:

Elements of the Islamic State blew up shrines belong to the Yazidi sect and killed 70 Yazidi after refusing to convert to Islam, witnesses say.
The witnesses told the reporter of the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that "elements of the Islamic State blew up two shrines belong to Yazidi at the bottom of Sinjar Mount and trying to also blow up another shrine at the top of Sinjar Mount after noting the people of nearby to evacuate in order to detonate it." 

Given the chance to mention the attacks on religious minorities in Iraq during today's US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki took a pass and, when pressed by a reporter, she still ignored the issue.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have anything to add to the statement from yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, though I’m happy to --

QUESTION: Well, just that there seem to be a lot of minority – religious minorities fleeing – or not seem, there are. And I’m wondering if you have any update on that, any – or any update on conversations that you all have had with the Iraqis about helping – boosting assistance to the Kurds (inaudible).

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Beecroft, of course, remains our point on the ground. Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk is working in close partnership with him, so U.S. officials from here and in Baghdad have been in contact over, of course, the last 24 to 48 hours with Iraqi officials in Baghdad and Erbil to discuss a coordinated response to the humanitarian situation you mentioned. There have been populations, including many vulnerable minorities, who have fled areas where ISIL has been attacking. That, of course, is of great concern to us and is an issue that we are closely watching and, of course, facilitating cooperation and direct assistance between Baghdad and Erbil as part of our focus.
I’m sure – you may have the statement made by the Government of Iraq and their efforts to support with air power – with airstrikes what is happening. We certainly welcome the statement made from officials in Baghdad that Iraqi security forces will provide air support to the Peshmerga as they counter this latest ISIL offensive. The Peshmerga have played a critical role in addressing this threat, and the focus of all parties needs to remain on enhancing cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil to not allow further advances. So that certainly is what we are focused on from here and in Baghdad.

Grasp that, even when directly asked, Psaki ignored the issue.

This is why the administration has such a bad reputation when it comes to Christian and Jewish issues.  Rightly or wrongly, it's felt by a number of Americans that if Muslims are attacked, the administration is on it.  But they sense a lack of respect for what the US has often seen as more traditional religions.

There's a disgrace on the Democratic side of the aisle.

It's embarrassing.

You see it over and over.

In 2012, you saw it with -- we have not used this term before -- "magic underwear" -- used to attack GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  It was an attack on him and an attack on his religion.

It was crass, insulting and, honestly, unforgivable.

You have to wonder about Democrats who ran with that as a campaign 'issue.'  More to the point, you have to wonder about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who never publicly condemned it.

We all know that Mitt's mocked religion was Mormon, right?  That the "magic underwear" being mocked is a part of Reid's religion as well since Reid is also Mormon.

But Harry Reid was so trashy, he couldn't even speak up on behalf of his religion.

How trashy.

I didn't plan to be online ten years.  Doing so means things come out.  As a general rule, Elaine and I are always on the same page.  So when she noted she didn't follow a religion, it was obvious to many that I didn't.  And when it was brought up directly, I noted it.

I don't practice any religion.  I have no use personally for any religion.

For people it benefits, great and wonderful.

And we're not going to insult or attack a religion here.  We do not use the name of any deity in vain here.  If we're quoting someone swearing, we usually do it as "G** damn."  Not because "God" is a dirty word, it isn't, but because I know it is a sensitive issue for some when a deity's name is using in vain.

We try to be respectful of religion here.

And it's a real shame that a ____ (use your favorite swear of choice) like me shows more diplomatic tact on the issue of religion than does the US State Dept.

The Yazidis are being threatened.  They deserve support and sympathy.  But Jen Psaki couldn't be bothered with the threats against the Yazidis or the Christians or any group.

This is what feeds into the bad image the administration already has, feeds it and lets it grow.  Larry Clifton (Digital Journal) offers, "The US administration is largely ignoring Iraq as it disintegrates, much as it has throughout Pres. Obama’s tenure."  Connie Cass and Jennifer Agiesta (AP) report on the latest AP-GfK poll which finds "38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of it."

Bram Janssen covers the events for AP and there are four photos with the report, the first of which includes this caption, "This image made from video taken on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 shows Iraqis people from the Yazidi community arriving in Irbil in northern Iraq after Islamic militants attacked the towns of Sinjar and Zunmar. Around 40 thousand people crossed the bridge of Shela in Fishkhabur into the Northern Kurdish Region of Iraq, after being given an ultimatum by Islamic militants to either convert to Islam, pay a security tax, leave their homes, or die."
The ultimatum is the same one given to Christians in Mosul only a few weeks ago.  It should also be noted that it's been reported religious minorities other than Christians have been the first to receive these warnings and then, after they're cleared out, a week or so later the Christians are the ones threatened.  We'll return to that topic later in the snapshot but grasp that this issue -- this issue Jen Psaki elected to ignore even when it was raised by a reporter in the briefing -- is an ongoing one and yet the State Dept apparently doesn't even have prepared remarks for it in that cheat sheet binder the spokespeople depend upon.

Along with the threatening of and killing of Yazidis,  Reuters notes that yesterday, "Islamic State fighters seized control of Iraq's biggest dam, [and] an oilfield."  The dam is a concern of some outlets with Vivian Salama and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) noting, "They could also use the dams as a weapon of war by flooding terrain downstream to slow Iraq's military or disrupt life. They have done that with a smaller dam they hold closer to Baghdad. But with the larger dams, there are limits on this tactic since it would also flood areas that the insurgents hold." Jen Psaki couldn't be bothered noting the threats and attacks on the religious minorities but she could talk about the dam today.

QUESTION: Your statement yesterday, I think it was, about – this is Iraq.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: About the gains that ISIS has been making in – against the Peshmerga. Do you have any specific concerns – and you don’t need to repeat the statement that you made yesterday, unless you really, really want to. But I’m just wondering, do you have any concerns about this dam that they seem to have taken over, and the possibility that they might use it for some kind of nefarious purpose?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we are, of course, monitoring the situation closely. We know that the dam – the Mosul Dam has been in the sights of ISIL since its offensive began in June to further threaten and terrorize the Iraqi people. While the situation is fluid, our understanding is that the Peshmerga remains – forces remain in control of the dam. Certainly, we would be concerned if that changed.

Glen Carey, Ladane Nasseri and Zaid Sabah (Bloomberg News) note, "The Mosul dam, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the city that the militants captured in June, is a major supplier of electricity and water. Germany’s Hochtief AG helped build the dam on the Tigris River in the 1980s. If it collapsed or was sabotaged, it could flood Mosul and surrounding villages."

CBC notes, "Hundreds of Iraqi Canadian Christians gathered in Toronto today calling for the government to stand up against the persecution Christians in Mosul have faced since terrorist group ISIS began its occupation on June 10.  The crowd marched around Queen’s Park Sunday afternoon."  Mike Maloney (London Community News) adds, "More than 200 people lined the sidewalk of Richmond Street alongside St. Peter’s Basilica Sunday afternoon (Aug 3) to raise awareness around the plight of Christian’s being forced to flee their homes in Northern Iraq."  Paul Hammel (World-Herald) reports today was day two of the protest in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The first day witnessed a march on the governor's mansion; however, Governor Dave Heineman refused to meet with them.  Today, US House Rep Jeff Fortenberry did meet with them in his local office. Fortenberry tells Hammel, "This is genocide against the Christians and the Yezidis who are there."

Fortenberry has already been working on the issue and today his office issued the following press release:

 Lincoln, NE – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) along with colleagues Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) led passage of a bipartisan resolution (H. Res. 683) late last week condemning the severe persecution that Christians and other ethnic and religious minority communities are suffering in Iraq. The resolution also calls for an international humanitarian intervention to aid these innocent civilian groups. 
“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly called ISIS, is waging an ongoing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq,” Fortenberry said. “All Christians have been expelled from Mosul, the second largest city in the country. These crimes against humanity have inspired worldwide outrage and demand a swift international humanitarian response.”
“The House of Representatives has united to speak with one voice for Iraq’s desperate refugees and suffering religious communities,” Fortenberry said. “We must stand in solidarity with members of ancient faith traditions that face annihilation in their ancestral homelands.”
A follow-up letter urging swift action in the Ninevah Plain region was sent to President Obama by Fortenberry, Eshoo, and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the House Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East.
A copy of the resolution can be found here and a copy of the letter can be found here.

Those are not the action planned by Aid for the Church in Need and others for Wednesday, August 6th.  It is an action that's part of a growing protest over the targeting and why many are expecting the August 6th action to have a healthy participation rate around the world.

Let's again 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.

Around the world includes Iraq.  Dalje notes, "Hundreds of Kurds in the northern Iraqi cities of Erbil and Sulaimaniya have protested at violence by Sunni extremists in northern Iraq against members of the Yezidi minority."  Unlike much of the rest of the world, protesters in Iraq actually risk safety when taking a public stand against the targeting.  Even those who enter Iraq to protest the targeting risk less than Iraqis who have decided to stay in Iraq.  For example, Catholic World News reports, "Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, joined by two other French bishops, made a four-day trip to Iraq to meet with some of the nation’s persecuted Christians. "

That was a brave move by the Cardinal but it's also true that after the visit, the Cardinal returns home.

The Sunni resistance is having success in seizing territory throughout Iraq.  But it is unified around one issue and it is not a monolithic group.  These are facts that too many struggle to convey or acknowledge.  Which is why Ned Parker and Suleiman al-Khalidi's report for Reuters is all the more important.  Excerpt:

The alliance between Sunni tribesmen, nationalists, old Baath regime loyalists and military veterans on one side and Islamic State on the other is based almost entirely on a mutual hatred of Maliki's Shi'ite government and a desire for an independent Sunni region.
But like most Iraqi Sunnis, Suleiman is no Islamic extremist. He helped crush an earlier incarnation of al Qaeda in Iraq. And he was disturbed recently by the news that tens of thousands of Christians were fleeing the city of Mosul after an Islamic State ultimatum that they should convert, leave or be put to the sword. The notion was an affront to Suleiman, who grew up in cosmopolitan Baghdad and has often spoken publicly of the need for tolerance.

Tim Arango (New York Times) reports Iraqi state TV carried a statement from Iraq's military spokesperson Qassim Atta "The general commander of the armed forces, Nuri al-Maliki, has issued an order to the Iraqi air forces to provide air support for the pesh merga against ISIS."  Arango notes that the statement did not seem so much hopeful (Baghdad and the KRG coming together) as it "seemed only to reflect the dire situation on the ground."

At the State Dept today, Jen Psaki tried to sell the statement as a sign of hope.

QUESTION: On Iraq, high ranking Iraqi Kurdish official said that the United States has agreed to provide arms to Peshmerga. Would you confirm or do you have anything to say about this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of that. It’s actually – our focus remains encouraging cooperation and continued coordination between the ISF and the Peshmerga forces. And again, I just spoke to the statement by the ISF today about their plans to provide air support to the Peshmerga, and we certainly support that effort.

Turning to politics . . .

"I was elected president by all the Iraqi factions.  And I would never nominate anyone for the post of prime minister without all parties’ consent and blessing." That's Iraq's recently named President, President Fouad Massoum.

What's he talking about?  Why did he say that if he's "pressured to nominate a candidate, I will not hesitate to step down"?

Rudaw explains:

Rudaw has learned that Iraq’s acting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged  Massoum to nominate him “since he represents the largest coalition in the parliament.”
The president has reportedly declined Maliki’s appeal and said he would not use his presidential powers to nominate anyone “without the clear support of all Iraqi factions.”

That comes as Press TV reports State of Law has nominated Nouri for a third term as prime minister.