Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 15, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, rumors of US troops on the ground in Anbar for combat, the State Dept only supports Iraq's religious groups that take up arms, that ought to make for a fun meet-up when Pope Francis visits the White House next week, and much more.

Let's start by playing That's Disturbing!  Today, at the alleged US State Dept, John Kirby moderated a press briefing.

QUESTION: John, there was a delegation of Shabak religious community leaders to Washington and they met with State Department leaders. I was wondering whether you have a readout of that.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, there are some meetings today, actually. So as part of an effort to strengthen our partnership with Iraq and to engage communities across Iraq, including those who have joined the fight against ISIL, the State Department welcomed the visit of a group of leaders from Iraq’s Shabak community Washington. The group is meeting today with Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Larry Bartlett and had a working-level meeting with representatives from the Department’s Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and Near East Asia Affairs Bureaus last week. So there were meetings last week; there are meetings today.
In these meetings, State Department officials expressed our condolences for the suffering that minorities, including the Shabak community, have endured at the hands of ISIL; discussed how to enhance cooperation in the fight against ISIL; and described our contributions to meeting the desperate humanitarian needs of refugees and those displaced by the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: Yesterday I met with some of them, and they said they had one specific demand for the State Department, which was they want to have their own all-Shabak member security unit, force, to protect them, like the Kurds have, the Sunnis. They’re trying to have one. Is the United States supportive of this kind of force that is – that all of its members are, like, really belong to one community?

MR KIRBY: I’ve not heard that request before. What we are supportive of, and have been very clear about this, is an inclusive, representative Iraq which includes an inclusive, representative Iraqi Security Force that is well-coordinated and integrated across all the sectors of Iraqi society. That’s what Prime Minister Abadi has committed himself to and has instituted policies to effect that, and that’s what we’d like to see continue.

Religious minorities are under attack in Iraq but, please note, they're only of interest to the US State Dept if and when they can join in the fight against the Islamic State.

Take that, Quakers! And any other pacifist religion or denomination.

The United States is no longer interested in your plight, nor willing to meet a delegation representing you, unless you vow to take up arms.

By this standard, turn the other cheek Jesus Christ would not be ushered in to visit the sleazy US State Dept.

This refusal to meet with anyone unless they take up arms goes a long, long way towards explaining how nuns have repeatedly been ignored by the John Kerry State Dept.

for persecuted Christians in .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Yes, pray for the Iraqi Christians -- especially as long as John Kerry heads that US State Dept because they will need those prayers.

There's no effort to improve their lives or stop their suffering.

Not while John's around.

Alleged good Catholic John Kerry is far too busy with photo ops to attend the suffering of the Iraqi Christians.

He'll gladly blather on about his religion but when it comes to walking the talk, he's no where to be found.

The John Kerry State Dept was supposed to mean so much and it instead means so damn little.

There's the shame and scandal of Hillary Clinton -- which John should have washed his hands of but instead has acted as a co-conspirator.

There's the inability to accomplish anything diplomatically (the Iran deal came from the White House and its roots pre-date John joining the administration).  There's the increased militarization of the State Dept.  There's the dereliction of duty with regards to Iraq.

And 'good Catholic' John can't even get his house in order enough to address the suffering of Iraq's religious minorities (unless they want to take up arms!).

He's 71 and he's already had a bout with prostate cancer.  I'm not sure how many years he thinks he has left.

But apparently John's under no pressure to come to terms with what his life will have actually meant or how little he will have accomplished.

While John Kerry embarrasses himself and shames himself, Lara Logan (CBS News) reports on the realities for Iraqi Christians today:

And nothing is sacred. ISIS blew up this mosque just over a month after taking here -- it's a site holy to both Christians and Muslims because the Old Testament prophet Jonah was said to be buried inside.
Just like the Nazis marked the property of Jews, Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It's the Arabic letter N - for Nasara - an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax or face the sword.
Issah Al Qurain is one of tens of thousands who had to make that choice. He was at home with his family in the Christian village where he'd lived all his life, when ISIS fighters came looking for him. He told us the fighters first took all his money - then his wife and children.

Lara Logan: They were telling you convert, convert, convert?

Issah Al Qurain (translated): Yes, convert. In the beginning, I refused. I told them I was Christian and I had my religion and they had their religion. But they told me, if you don't convert, we will kill you and take your wife and children.

He agreed and was taken to Mosul to convert where he was reunited with his family. Soon, ISIS fighters were asking about his young daughter, and he told us that frightened him more than anything.
Issah Al Qurain (translated): They said to me that in Islam, the Sharia says, girls that are 10 years old should get married. As soon as they left, my wife and I shut the door. We looked at each other and she started to cry and pray. We were so scared they were going to take our daughter from us.
They escaped in the back of a taxi. Issah says they talked their way through three ISIS checkpoints and traveled for over four hours on back roads to Erbil where, like Archbishop Sharaf, they now live as refugees.

Next week, the Pope visits the United States.  Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama during the visit (September 22nd - September 27th).

It should make for an interesting visit with many awkward silences.

Pope: And what are you doing to aid Iraqi Christians?

Barack:  Uh, would you like one of our lapel pins?  . . . .  Hey, have you ever seen our White House paper weights?

Barbara Boland (Washington Examiner) reports:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a resolution Thursday to recognize the Christian genocide taking place in Iraq and Syria, in hopes that the resolution will force the Obama administration to act.

"Christianity in the Middle East is shattered," Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said Thursday at an event introducing the measure. "The ancient faith tradition lies beaten, broken and dying. Yet Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State's barbarous onslaught. This is genocide."
[. . .]
"Christians are in trouble throughout the Middle East and northern Africa -- I hope this administration dials up concern for Christians ... I don't know what the administration thought, that things couldn't get worse or whatever," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. "There's a growing segment of our society that doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for the importance of the Christian community and the role it plays."
"The United States should be aggressively protecting these Christians regardless of what the cause of the instability is," continued Poe. "But they should be protected even more because part of that instability was caused by decisions made by the United States."

US House Rep Fortenberry's office issued the following last week:

Sep 10, 2015
Press Release
Washington, D.C. – Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Jeff Denham (R-CA) today announced the introduction of a bipartisan resolution (H. Con. Res. 75) denouncing the genocide being perpetrated against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
“Christianity in the Middle East is shattered,” said Fortenberry, co-chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus. “The ancient faith tradition lies beaten, broken, and dying. Yet Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide. The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands.”
Fortenberry and Eshoo serve as co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus. 

And here's the press release US House Rep Anna Eshoo's office issued:

September 10th, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) today announced the introduction of a bipartisan resolution (H. Con. Res. 75) denouncing the genocide being perpetrated against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
“Christianity in the Middle East is shattered,” said Fortenberry, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus. “The ancient faith tradition lies beaten, broken, and dying. Yet Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide. The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands.”
“The dictionary defines genocide as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation,” said Eshoo, Co-Chair of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus. “Today these words are a reality as we witness the systematic extermination of religious minorities in the Middle East. The barbaric acts by ISIS, including torture and murder, and the displacement of millions of Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka’e, Kurds and Shi’a, must be stopped. The United States should provide humanitarian aid, protection, and faster refugee processing for these most vulnerable communities, but an official statement of the Congress of the United States must be made to label these atrocities carried out against Christians and other religious minorities for what they are…genocide.”
“We are witness to some of the most brutal attacks on the sacred and fundamental right of religious freedom in recent history,” said Franks, Co-Chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. “The Islamic State continues its campaign of terror against Yezidis, Christians, and other religious communities. Today, I stand with my colleagues to call on the United States Congress to condemn these attacks as genocide. This Administration can no longer remain conspicuously silent on the plight of religious minorities caught in the wake of the Islamic State. It is imperative that the Administration develops a comprehensive strategy to defeat the Islamic State and ensure these ancient faith communities have the protection needed to deter future acts of genocide and radicalization in the lands they have inhabited for millennia.”
“Last year, the world watched in horror as ISIS initiated a political and religious insurrection in the name of establishing a caliphate across Iraq and Syria,” said Vargus, Co-Chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. “Since the fall of Mosul, thousands of religious minorities—including Christians, Yezidis and Turkmen— have packed their belongings and fled to neighboring communities. Many thousands have been murdered or abducted, and an unknown number of women and girls have been sexually assaulted and forced into marriage. We must not mince words, today a genocide is being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in their historic homelands throughout the greater Middle East. These crimes against humanity must be properly acknowledged in order for the global community to appropriately respond to these infringements on religious freedom.”
09.10.15 Genocide Resolution
# # #

Let's hope John Kerry remembers, during the Pope's visit, that as a Catholic, he can ask for absolution and forgiveness.

And that he needs to.

He's far from the only one at fault.  While US lawmakers press for recognition of the ongoing War Crimes, a question might be: Why do they have to?

You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies
-- "The Last Time I Saw Richard," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Blue album.

The Last Time I Saw Barack?

Barack is president.  On his 2008 campaign site, it was clearly stated:

Preventing Humanitarian Crisis

Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that America has both a moral obligation and a responsibility for security that demands we confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis -- more than five million Iraqis are refugees or are displaced inside their own country. Obama and Biden will form an international working group to address this crisis. They will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary. Obama and Biden will also work with Iraqi authorities and the international community to hold accountable the perpetrators of potential war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. They will reserve the right to intervene militarily, with our international partners, to suppress potential genocidal violence within Iraq.

Words have always come so easy for Barack.

Action and follow up?

Not so easy.

Had he kept his word in 2008, US lawmakers wouldn't have to be attempting to pass a resolution today.

Back to the press briefing.

QUESTION: John, can you share with us any of the current status – some say imminence – of the battle for the liberation of Ramadi, where there are some 10,000 Iraqi forces assembled? They have American trainers with them and so on, and in fact, there has been increased reconnaissance flights over the area. Is there anything that you can share with us about this?

MR KIRBY: No, Said. As you know, I really try to stick – stay away from talking about military matters from this podium. I’d really – I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak to something like that.

QUESTION: Because this battle was apparently to take place some weeks back, but now it’s been put off time and time again because the Iraqis were not ready. Is there anything new that may change the situation where this could coincide with the leaders – the world leaders meetings at the UN?

MR KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to talk about military matters, but I do want to walk you away from any notion that operational issues are being scheduled or determined by political meetings in New York or anywhere else. The coalition military leaders know how to schedule, plan, and implement, execute operations, and many of these are Iraqi-led and – Iraqi-planned and led operations. It’s their strategy, their operational plan that we are helping execute.
It can be affected by weather. It can be affected certainly by enemy actions. And it can certainly be affected by issues of readiness, whether it’s materiel readiness or personnel readiness. Any one of those or all three can affect the timing of operations and an operational schedule. Again, I’d point you to my colleagues at the Pentagon for more information about what’s going on right now on the ground.

QUESTION: My last question on this. But you can confirm that American military personnel and trainers are actually with the Iraqi units on the front line, training them?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to speak to military matters, but I do think it’s important to point out that the focus of U.S. military members has been training and helping equip and improving the battlefield competence of Iraqi Security Forces. And they’re doing that on bases designated for that purpose, that American troops are not accompanying Iraqi forces into the field. That’s never been a part of the mission. That hasn’t changed. But I’m already straying more into lanes that I’m not supposed to.

Kirby's non-denial comes as John Hall (Daily Mail) reports:

An 160-soldier strong American fighting force has arrived in Iraq in preparation for a decisive battle against Islamic State militants in the centre of the country, it has been claimed.
The battalion secretively arrived in the frontline province of Anbar, 70 miles west of the capital Baghdad, according to several local news outlets, who cited an unnamed Iraqi military official.
Although the U.S. is yet to confirm the reports, it would be the first time American group troops were deployed for combat in Iraq since forces were withdrawn in 2011. That said, several hundred U.S. soldiers are already stationed in Anbar but their work has been limited to training local groups.

A note.   David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.  We've long noted David's work here -- both on labor and immigration and the merging of the two (as they so often do).  In addition to being a strong reporter, his photos are art.

David had a photo exhibit September 12th.  I would've loved to have noted it (and feel bad that I didn't).  Reality, no matter what the western press pretends, Iraq is once again a domestic issue.  I've been speaking out against the war on Iraq since February 2003 (a month before it started).  We are seeing a demand on campus (thank you to Dona who continues to schedule all of our speaking events) that we haven't seen Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House.

Iraq is not minor on campuses these days.  The public speaking schedule is overwhelming right now. So some stuff I would've have had time for is going to go on hold and other things I would've liked to note -- David Bacon's September 12th exhibit -- I'm going to miss because there is just not time.

The US media has no idea what's going on with the horse race for the presidency.  They have no idea where the youth vote stands.  No candidate has truly connected with young America.  As it pertains to Iraq, some of that will make it into snapshots (as it has during previous election cycles).

But in terms of this space, I'm doing as best I can and, yes, I'm longing for the day when I can walk away.  This was never supposed to have lasted eleven years or been a daily aspect of my life.  As noted many times before, following Kerry's loss in 2004, this site began as part of brainstorming with other activists about what we could have done but didn't do that might have helped send Bully Boy Bush out of the White House and end the Iraq War.  (I no longer believe John Kerry would have ended it if he had been elected president.  I did believe that -- foolishly -- in 2004.)

I'm still here -- for now -- but there is an increased demand for our speaking (Kat, Wally, Ava and myself).  On Third, we're considering changing it to Third Estate Monday Review (that's not a joke).  If it changes, we'll note it here.  But for Kat, Wally, Ava and myself, we are exhausted.  And we just aren't willing to spend all hours of Sunday morning, afternoon and night on Third.  Not when we have to get on a plane first thing Monday morning, land and spend the whole day (and night) speaking.  So again, it may become Monday Review.

(What does that do?  Force everyone to be more focused because Monday's usually a busy day for everyone participating.)

If you're e-mailing about an event, you need to have the date in your subject heading.  We have far too much coming in to the public account and those working it are overwhelmed.  I have no problem including your event -- even if it's not Iraq related (though it should be) -- except when I'm dictating these snapshots, I'm pulling from the folder of the public account I go to and I don't have time to open 50 event e-mails as I dictate.  If the date of your event isn't in your heading, I'm not opening the e-mail to find out when it is.

My apologies to David Bacon because we do try to note him as much as possible.  He does important work and serious work.  He largely avoids partisan politics to cover labor and immigration and their intersection.  The world needs far less gas bags and far more David Bacons.

We're closing with this:

by David Bacon
Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association
September 7, 2015, Summer 2015 issue
All photos and text (c) David Bacon, 2015.

The Spaniards conquered the Zapotecs of the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico, almost 500 years ago, in an earth-shattering series of events. It changed everything in the lives of the conquered. So many died that many indigenous peoples came close to disappearing; some estimates hold that the indigenous population of the Americas was reduced by 90% in the two centuries following the conquest. The population drop was so great that the Spaniards later had to bring slaves to labor in their plantations on the Costa Chica (Oaxaca's Pacific coast).

Such change and catastrophe, however, produced one of the world's most beautiful dances: The Dance of the Feather. Today, it is performed in a number of towns in central Oaxaca, among them the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. In one of life's ironies, the forced migration of the Zapotecs, driven from their homes by poverty and conquest, helped this commemorative dance survive.