Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 13, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, fear motivates many, Sunnis continue to be targeted, an Iraqi priest bucks the Pope, and much more.

Today, Chris Hayes (MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes) noted, "France's lower house of Parliament voted 488 to one to extend French airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.  488 to one.  I recognize those kinds of margins -- the sort of margin the PATRIOT Act passed by and the authorization for the use of military force to invade Afghanistan."

Chris Hayes was grouping fear based decisions (and argued in the program that the answer needed now is not more violence but more thought and examination).  Of the fear, Al Jazeera America notes:

The vote came one week after the most deadly attacks on civilians in France in decades. On Jan. 8, Ahmed Coulibaly, a man claiming allegiance to ISIL, killed a policewoman and then took several hostages at a kosher grocery store near Paris. Coulibaly and four hostages were killed during a raid by police. That attack was linked to one conducted on Jan. 7 by Said and Cherif Kouachi, two brothers whom Coulibaly had known for years, who killed 12 people at a newspaper office and claimed that they were affiliated with Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.

Chris Hayes is far from the only one calling out blind fear.  At Brookings, Daniel L. Byman and Jeremy Shapiro also try to slow the race to fear:

Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated. Previous cases and information emerging from Syria suggest several mitigating effects that may reduce—but hardly eliminate—the potential terrorist threat from foreign fighters who have gone to Syria. Those mitigating factors include:
• Many die, blowing themselves up in suicide attacks or perishing quickly in firefights with opposing forces.
• Many never return home, but continue fighting in the conflict zone or at the next battle for jihad.
• Many of the foreign fighters quickly become disillusioned, and a number even return to their home country without engaging in further violence.
• Others are arrested or disrupted by intelligence services. Indeed, becoming a foreign fighter—particularly with today’s heavy use of social media—makes a terrorist far more likely to come to the attention of security services.

The danger posed by returning foreign fighters is real, but American and European security services have tools that they can successfully deploy to mitigate the threat. These tools will have to be adapted to the new context in Syria and Iraq, but they will remain useful and effective.

If people were a little more level headed, maybe they'd question US President Barack Obama's so-called 'plan' for Iraq?

Al Arabiya News notes US Senator John McCain told CNN that the US needed to provide Iraq with "more boots on the ground" and "I mean intelligence. I mean forward air controllers. I mean trainers. I mean more air assets. I mean across the board an increase."

Well that's a thought.  There should be others.

Like, before any other moves are made, how about looking at what's happening?

Barack said back in June that the crises in Iraq required a political solution.

But the White House has done damn little to encourage any political solutions.

They have allowed Iraq to grow ever closer to Iran.  What does that mean?

Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) explains one meaning:

The Iranian strategy has resurrected Iraq's Shiite militias and deployed them effectively against IS on some front lines, those same militia contributed to tens of thousands of deaths at the peak of Iraq’s sectarian battles from 2006-2008.
Officials of Iraq’s Sunni minority say human rights abuses by the Shiite militias are as rampant now as they were 5 years ago. And they grate at the number of banners strung up with Iranian revolutionary slogans – against Israel, for example, or to support religious pilgrims – along with images of Iran’s previous and current supreme leaders, Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.

This picks up on the report Amnesty International issued in November:

Shi’a militias, supported and armed by the government of Iraq, have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these war crimes, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.
Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq provides harrowing details of sectarian attacks carried out by increasingly powerful Shi’a militias in Baghdad, Samarra and Kirkuk, apparently in revenge for attacks by the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of deliberate execution-style killings.
“By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart. Iraqi government support for militia rule must end now,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.
The fate of many of those abducted by Shi'a militias weeks and months ago remains unknown. Some captives were killed even after their families had paid ransoms of $80,000 and more to secure their release. 

That same month, Human Rights Watch's Tirana Hassan reported on the Shi'ite militias for Foreign Policy:

The Khorasani Brigade is a relatively recent addition to the network of Shiite militias in Iraq -- and despite a similar sounding name, has no connection to the Khorasan Group, the alleged al Qaeda-affiliated organization that was the target of U.S. airstrikes in Syria in September. The Khorasani Brigade is just one of dozens of similar militias that are essentially running their own show in parts of the country. These Shiite militias are supplied with weapons and equipment from the central government in Baghdad, which is now being assisted by a U.S.-led military alliance in its fight against the Islamic State.
These militias' actions will only exacerbate Iraq's existing sectarian tensions. The country is no stranger to sectarian violence: Its Shiite population suffered for decades under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein, and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 the country spiraled into a cycle of revenge violence, culminating in a bloody civil war in 2006 and 2007. Many accused the largely autocratic rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of fueling sectarian flames.
While the Iraqi central government has virtually no formal authority over the militias, who act as a law unto themselves, some key politicians in Baghdad have strong alliances to individual militias. In October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban -- a prominent member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group that controls one of the largest and most infamous militias -- as interior minister. 

Despite being almost completely unaccountable to any official ministry, the Shiite militias have been tasked by the government with a key role in the war against the Islamic State. Yet what we saw in Yengija laid bare the costs of relying on these groups. Beyond the main road, an entire neighborhood of two-story homes was razed and flattened, with concrete slab roofs heaped atop piles of rubble. Personal belongings, children's toys, and furniture peeked out from under the debris, a poignant reminder of the Sunni Arab families who, until recently, had lived there. All these families had fled in August when the militia started battling the Islamic State fighters in the surrounding area.

So Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Christian Science Monitor know the current government run by new prime minister Haider al-Abadi is allowing Shi'ites to target and kill Sunnis but the White House doesn't?

The White House is just completely unaware of what's going on?

There are people being injured and being killed, targeted, and the White House just keeps backing Haider al-Abadi and looking the other way.

Seems to me Barack did that before, didn't he?

Oh, yeah, with Nouri al-Maliki.

He looked the other way repeatedly.

How'd that work out again?

It took Iraq to the precipice.

Where's the political solution?

It won't be found among the Sunni politicians being targeted by the 'new' government of Iraq.

BRussells Tribunal notes the following:

Mr Al-Zaidi was arrested by Iraqi security forces at 18.00 hrs., on Friday January 9th in Al-Shatrah city in southern Iraq. Uday Al-Zaidi is internationally renowned for his courageous and outspoken advocacy against the sectarian cleansing in Iraq which began with the onset of the “divide and rule” policy of the US-UK invasion, continued under the occupation, their Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and now under his replacement of August 2014, Haider Al-Abadi.
The urgency and gravity of the situation cannot be over-stressed, especially as it has been learned that the Iraqi authorities refuse to disclose Mr Al-Zaidi’s whereabouts thus, in contravention of all international legal norms, he is denied access to legal representation.
In an interview with Al Jazeera (15th December 2014) he described graphically, at length, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the government’s brutal systematic sectarian edicts.
Afterwards he said that he was “expecting” anything as a result. Warned to take extreme care in his movements, he determined to attend the funeral of a friend and was arrested.
His witness to Iraq’s ongoing tragedy has been tireless and international. On 19 March 2013 he received the BRussells Resistance Award.
In May 2011, invited by the Madrid-based Spanish Campaign Against the Occupation and for the Sovereignty of Iraq, talking at venues in a number of cities he showed visuals, the reality of:  “…  killing of children, raping of women and men, secret prisons, daily humiliations”, of families assassinated by U.S bombs over eight grinding years. “An image is worth a thousand words. These images show what the occupation has done for us”, he said.
“Since 2003, there have been a million deaths and four million orphans …  Iraq is a wealthy country. But its people, us, have to dig in the garbage to try and survive.”
He also called for an end to the corruption under Prime Minister al-Maliki – and returned to Iraq.

In January that year in Iraq he addressed the dishonour of the Iraqi people manifested by a government: “ … representing their groups, militias and parties, and their masters abroad.” He talked of the “defilements” of Iraq in ever deepening crisis” and “tyranny.”
Nouri Al-Maliki is now Vice President of Iraq.
 Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President of the Arab Lawyers Association and Vice President of the Geneva International Centre for Justice states starkly of Mr Al-Zaidi’s detention:
“This is a very serious matter. They will slaughter him.”
Representation to the Iraqi government at the highest level is incumbent on all those to whom humanity and human rights is utmost priority. No time can be wasted. Rivers of blood have bled, literally, from Iraqi feet and bodies, from Abu Ghraib to the innumerable secret prisons. Delay will near certainly be death.

It is also incumbent upon the UN and all other relevant international organizations that pressure be brought on the Iraqi Authorities for Mr Al-Zaidi’s immediate release. Prime Minister Al-Abadi’s personal responsibility for Mr Al-Zaidi’s safety is paramount. His release could be a turning point for Iraq.  Any other outcome a further slide into the abyss, with human rights and international law counting for even less than their woeful international post-invasion standing.


Dirk Adriaensens
Member BRussells Tribunal Executive Committee

No one asks the White House about these types of issue.

It's just not done.

And it wasn't done in Nouri's second term.

Which goes a long way towards explaining why Barack thought he could get away with backing Nouri for so long.

There's no effort to build a political solution in Iraq.

Did Barack get distracted?

Or did he never really give a damn about Iraq becoming a cohesive and unified country?

Today, the outgoing US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke to troops at Whiteman Air Force Base:

Q: Good morning, sir. My name's Sergeant Hooper. I'm with the 495th Fighter Group.

SEC. HAGEL: Where are you from?

Q: I'm originally from Pleasant Hill, Missouri.
My question today has to do with the campaign, the continued fight against ISIL. Do you foresee the campaign going from an air campaign to possibly putting more boots on the ground?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. It's a good question.
I start in answering your question this way. What's going on in Iraq, in Syria, but if you take the larger sweep of the Middle East and North Africa, it's complicated for many reasons.

  The people in those areas, let's take Iraq, because that is a functioning government. They are going to have to sort this out. We can help them. We are helping them. We will help them. We've got a coalition of over sixty countries that are fighting ISIL and helping those governments and those countries and those people fight ISIL. Our physical presence in Iraq, as you all know, is very limited: to training, to equipping, to assisting.

No, I'm sorry, it's not limited "to training, to equipping, to assisting."

Among other things, the presence also backs and provides cover for another prime minister who is overseeing the slaughter Sunnis.

Meanwhile, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) reports 105 dead across Iraq from violence and 61 more injured.

Turning to the topic of Christian refugees (a number of whom are also Sunnis), a benefit concert will take place at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Paris in Tempe, Arizona:

"I Am Here" mass and concert

Sunday, January 25 at 4:30pm

Music Director Kim Scoggin and the OLMC Music Ministry presents the "I Am Here" mass and concert, Sunday, January 25th. Mass at 4:30pm, concert immediately following. Guests include Tom Booth, Ike Ndolo, Joyce Coronel, Fr. Felix Shabi, and special guest Suzy Vulcana (from American Idol). A free will offering will be taken. Proceeds from the concert to benefit the persecuted Chaldean Christians in Iraq.
Fr. Felix Shabi, a native of Iraq and corbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Arizona, will celebrate 4:30pm mass on Sunday, January 25. The OLMC CD release concert will follow the mass. The plight of the persecuted Chaldean Catholics by ISIS will be explained by Joyce Coronel.
Proceeds from the concert will go directly to Iraq to help the persecuted Catholic faithful. This will be an evening full of praise, worship and gratitude for our rich Catholic faith!
The OLMC CD "I Am" will be on sale for $15.00. Cash, Check, Debit and Credit Cards accepted.

The Catholic Sun reports on how the planned concert came about:

Kim Scoggin, music director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, decided to do something about it. She’s planned a Jan. 25 concert at the parish featuring well-known Catholic musicians Tom Booth, Ike Ndolo and the OLMC choir. Proceeds from the concert will go toward assisting the Chaldean Catholics who remain in Irbil.
Scoggin said she was listening to Immaculate Heart Radio when she heard Patrick Madrid interview Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo about the situation. Bishop Jammo leads the St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Diocese headquartered in El Cajon, Calif. Scoggin had already decided she wanted to take action to help the displaced Christians, but the bishop’s words galvanized her.

The Iraqi Christian Relief Council notes "approximately one million Assyrian Christians have been forced to become refugees inside and outside of Iraq" since the start of the illegal war.  Christian Caryl (Foreign Policy) offers one million Iraqis "lived in Iraq at the start of the war, [but] only about 250,000 remain in the country today."

This has gone out throughout the never ending Iraq War.  For those who wrongly think it's a recent development, journalist and former Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams offered a history lesson at the Washington Post last September:

No, it is because, for Christians in Iraq, the past three months have been the climax of 11 years of hell. We Americans have short memories (that goes for you, too, in the “Bush Was Right” crowd), but it’s worth noting that Christians began having serious problems within a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Sometimes it was the work of al-Qaeda, sometimes Sunni insurgents pining for the return of Sunni control of Iraq. Sometimes it was Shiite militias fighting the Sunnis but finding time to persecute Christians.

First came assaults on stores that sold alcohol. Then, in August 2004, bombs were placed outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul. Eleven people died. Two more churches were bombed in November, and Christians began to flee to Kurdistan, Jordan and Syria. Since then, at least 60 churches in the country have been bombed. The latest was in Baghdad on Christmas Day last year.

The Christian refugees include people like Father Noel Gorgis who is now with St. Peters Chaldean Church in El Cajon, California.  Iraq's Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako has insisted that Father Noel -- and other Iraqi priests who have left Iraq -- must return to Iraq.   KUSI explains, "Last week, Pope Francis agreed with Father Noel and said he and other priests do not need to comply with Sako's order."

The structure of the Catholic Church means that Pope Francis' decree should have settled the matter and ended the dispute; however, Tony Perry (Los Angeles Times) reports that Sako is not respecting either the decree or the authority of the Pope and has declared, "We have been there for 2,000 years.  We have a mission and a role, and if a future exists for the Chaldean Church, it is not in the diaspora but in Iraq.  If all the families leave, and even the priests, the entire history and Chaldean Christian patrimony will vanish."  Perry notes that there are 14 Chaldean priests currently seeking refuge in the US.

the los angeles times