Thursday, October 15, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, October 15, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept notes religious issues (and targeting) in Iraq, we continue to discuss the Democratic Party debate with a focus on Hillary and Bernie, and much more.

Wednesday morning at the US State Dept, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of an annual report.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, today we present the department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2014.
And I particularly want to thank David Saperstein and his entire team for producing a report that reflects a vast amount of objective research and that will provide a uniquely valuable resource for anybody who cares about religious freedom in all of its aspects. And I am very grateful for David’s willingness to come on board. He has provided important new energy and focus on this, is building a terrific team, and I think you’re going to hear more and more from the Department with respect to our fight to protect people’s right to exercise religious freedom.
The message at the heart of this report is that countries benefit when their citizens fully enjoy the rights to which they are entitled. And this is not a hopeful theory; this is a proven reality. No nation can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly profess their innermost beliefs.
I should emphasize that the concept of religious freedom extends way beyond mere tolerance. It is a concept grounded in respect for the rights and beliefs of others. It is deeply connected to our DNA as Americans – to everything that we are and everything that we came from. It’s a concept that is based on respect, and respect, in turn, demands legal equality. It demands that the practitioners of one faith understand that they have no right to coerce others into submission, conversion, or silence, or to literally take their lives because of their beliefs.
The purpose of this annual report is to highlight the importance of religious freedom not by lecturing but through advocacy and through persuasion. Our primary goal is to help governments everywhere recognize that their societies will do better with religious liberty than without it. The world has learned through very hard experience that religious pluralism encourages and enables contributions from all; while religious discrimination is often the source of conflicts that endanger all.

By issuing this report, we hope to give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens; but the report also has the benefit of equipping interested observers with an arsenal of facts.

The report notes:

Iraq declined precipitously this year as the collapse of government security structures in parts of the country prevented leaders from stopping ISIL’s territorial offensive and subsequent atrocities. Likewise in Syria, the effective control by various non-State groups of portions of the country’s territory contributed to a precipitous decline in religious freedom. On both sides of the border, ISIL sought to elimina­­­­­te members of any group it assessed as deviating from ISIL’s own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam. It has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people, conducted mass executions, and kidnapped, sold, enslaved, raped and/or forcibly converted thousands of women and children—all on the grounds that these people stand in opposition to ISIL’s religious dogma.
Shia militias in Iraq also committed abuses, targeting some Sunnis with abductions, execution-style killings, torture, and threats, as well as destruction of homes and businesses. In some instances, these militias reportedly prevented internally displaced Sunnis from returning home. The Prime Minister has emphasized a zero-tolerance policy for human rights violations and abuses and called for the protection of religious minorities, but the government’s capacity to protect civilians from the ongoing conflict was limited.

And further in, we'll note this section:

Legal Framework
The constitution recognizes Islam as the official religion, mandates Islam be considered a source of legislation, and states no law may be enacted contradicting the established provisions of Islam, though it does not differentiate between Sunni and Shia Islam. It also states no law may contradict principles of democracy or the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in the constitution. The constitution guarantees freedom from religious, intellectual, and political coercion.
Apparent contradictions between the constitution and other legal provisions remain. For example, the law prohibits the practice of the Bahai Faith, and a 2001 resolution prohibits the practice of the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. Although constitutional provisions on freedom of religion may override these laws, no court challenges have yet invalidated them, and there is no pending legislation to repeal them.
Personal status laws and regulations prevent the conversion of Muslims to other religions and require conversion of minor children to Islam if either parent converts to Islam. In the IKR, there were several cases of Christian single-parent families affected by the conversion policy, which applies to all religious minorities. In some cases, the Christian parent fled with the minor children to avoid conversion of the children to Islam.
National identity cards denote the holder’s religion, but do not differentiate between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Passports do not specify religion. Bahais and Kakais may only receive identity cards if they self-identify as Muslims. Without an official identity card, Bahais and Kakais cannot register their marriages, enroll their children in public school, acquire passports, or access some government services.
The Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders, an independent group formed by church leaders in 2006, consists of representatives from each of the 13 officially recognized churches and requires Christian groups to register. To do so, the group must have a minimum of 500 adherents in the country. Without formal registration, religious groups cannot qualify for government funding or official recognition from the government’s endowment for Christian, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandaean, and “other” religions.
The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose which court (civil or religious) will adjudicate matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, endowments, and other personal matters. The Personal Status Law stipulates that civil courts must consult the religious authority of a non-Muslim party for its opinion under the applicable religious law and apply that opinion in court.
The constitution requires the government to maintain the sanctity of holy shrines and religious sites and guarantee the free practice of rituals. The penal code criminalizes disrupting or impeding religious ceremonies and desecrating religious buildings.
The law specifies that constitutional guarantees providing for reinstatement of citizenship do not apply to Jews who emigrated and gave up their citizenship under a 1950 law.
Of the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, the law reserves eight seats for members of minority groups: five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Dahuk; one for a Yezidi; one for a Sabean-Mandaean; and one for a Shabak. In the 2014 national parliamentary elections, six minority candidates won parliamentary seats outside of the quota allocation, bringing total minority representation to 14 seats. The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament reserves 11 seats for minorities: five for Christians, five for Turkmen, and one for Armenians.
The constitution states that followers of all religions are free to practice religious rites and manage religious endowments (waqf), endowment affairs, and religious institutions. The government maintains three waqfs: the Sunni; the Shia; and the Christian, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandaean, and “other.” Operating under the authority of the prime minister’s office, the endowments disburse government funding to maintain and protect religious facilities.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also maintains three waqfs: the Sunni, the Christian, and the Yezidi endowments. The KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs operates the endowments, which pay the salaries of clergy and fund the construction and maintenance of religious sites. To receive assistance, religious groups are required to register with the ministry. While funding is available for registered Christian groups, some churches choose not to register and, therefore, fund themselves. The KRG also provides funding to some religious groups without endowments. For example, monthly government stipends fund temple maintenance and cultural activities for the Sabean-Mandaean community in the IKR.
The government provides support for Muslims desiring to perform the Hajj, organizing travel routes and immunization documents for entry into Saudi Arabia. The government also provides funding to Sunni and Shia waqfs, which accept Hajj applications from the public and submit them to the supreme council for the Hajj. The council, attached to the prime minister’s office, organizes a lottery process that selects pilgrims for official Hajj visas.
The constitution provides that the federal Supreme Court is made up of judges, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, and legal scholars. The constitution leaves the method of regulating the number and selection of judges to legislation that requires a two-thirds majority in the Council of Representatives. The federal Supreme Court’s composition continues to be governed by a law that does not require that Islamic jurisprudence experts be included on the court. The federal Supreme Court is presently comprised of nine members, representing a cross-section of ethnicities and religions.
The government requires Islamic religious instruction in public schools, but non-Muslim students are not required to participate. In most areas of the country, primary and secondary school curricula include three classes per week of Islamic education, including study of the Quran, as a graduation requirement for Muslim students. During the year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) approved the inclusion of Syriac and Christian religious education in the curricula of 152 public schools in Baghdad, Ninewa, and Kirkuk. Private religious schools operate in the country, but must obtain a license from the director general of private and public schools and pay annual fees.
Many Christians who speak the Syriac language consider the right to use and teach it to their children a question of religious freedom. The constitution establishes Arabic and Kurdish as official state languages but guarantees the right to educate minority children in their own languages, and makes Turkmen and Syriac official languages in “the administrative units in which they constitute density populations.” The MOE includes an office for Kurdish and other language education, which aims to ensure that minority communities are taught in their native languages.
The KRG MOE funds Syriac-language public schools (elementary and high school) in its territory, and the curriculum does not contain religion or Quranic studies.

Government Practices

Because religion, politics, and ethnicity are often closely linked, it is difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. There were reports the central government engaged in killings, kidnappings, arrests, detentions, restrictions, and discrimination based on religious affiliation. Misuse of official authority based on sectarian identity continued to be a concern. There were relatively fewer reports of official abuse and discrimination based on religious affiliation in the IKR, but similar reports based on ethnic affiliation. Official investigations of abuses by government forces, illegal armed groups, and terrorist organizations were infrequent, and the outcomes of investigations that did occur were often unpublished, unknown, or incomplete. The government also publicly called for tolerance for all religious communities and developed a committee that implemented reforms to rectify sectarian imbalances in the ministries and implement fair hiring standards, and issued and began implementing an executive order to enforce legal rights related to detainees, a key concern of Sunnis. Religious and ethnic minorities residing within the territory of the disputed internal boundaries in north-central Iraq blamed the central government and the KRG for the lack of security in the area. This sharpened following ISIL’s incursion into Mosul in June when the ISF retreated and when KRG forces withdrew from Sinjar and parts of the Ninewa Plain in early August.
There were some reports that Iraqi police or the ISF either killed Sunni detainees or failed to prevent deadly attacks on Sunni detainees by Shia militias. These reports increased in the wake of ISIL’s advances into northern Iraq in June.
Conflict between the ISF and ISIL in other locations also led to fighting along sectarian lines. In one example, on March 25, media reported that the ISF, accompanied by Shia militias, entered Buhruz, Diyala Province, to challenge an ISIL force for control of the predominantly Sunni town. ISF soldiers reportedly watched while Shia militia members rounded up and killed a group of Sunni men, including teenagers and elderly persons. Three Sunni mosques were reportedly burned during the confrontation, along with shops and homes of Sunni residents.
Yezidi and Christian political and civil society leaders stated that Kurdish Peshmerga and Asayish forces harassed and committed abuses against their communities in the portion of Ninewa Province controlled by the KRG or contested between the central government and the KRG. Both activists and members of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament stated that KRG security officials held some Yezidis in arbitrary detention both before and after ISIL occupied the Sinjar district of Ninewa.
Sunni Muslim groups stated there was an ongoing campaign of revenge by the Shia majority in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses of Shia during the Saddam Hussein regime. Complaints included reports of discrimination in public sector employment due to de-Baathification. This process was originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime. According to Sunnis and local NGOs, however, the Accountability and Justice Law (de-Baathification law) has been implemented selectively and used to render many Sunnis ineligible for government employment. According to sources in Basrah, Sunnis were, in limited cases, passed over for official positions solely on the basis of their religious affiliation. Unrest over Sunni political disenfranchisement and unresolved grievances continued from 2013, with violent clashes between the ISF, police, and anti-government protesters in Anbar Province in January.
Sunnis also reported that central government security forces targeted them for harassment, illegal searches, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and abuse. International and local NGOs cited the government’s use of the anti-terrorism law as a pretense for detaining Sunni men – and their female relatives – for extended periods of time without access to a lawyer or due process. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and AI reported evidence of torture and ill-treatment of Sunni detainees, as well as deaths in custody of Sunni men detained under the anti-terrorism law. In one case cited, the body of a man who died in custody showed bruises, open wounds, and burns consistent with the application of electricity.
Human rights NGOs and Yezidi leaders stated KRG authorities discriminated against some groups of Yezidi, Christian and Kakai IDPs in providing humanitarian assistance in the IKR. There were also reports that KRG authorities prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the IKR. While Kurdish authorities generally admitted ethnic and religious minority IDPs, entry for male Arabs, particularly Sunnis, was more difficult than for others. As Kurdish forces regained territory from ISIL, media reports and government officials noted the Peshmerga were preventing Sunni Arabs from returning to their homes in some areas of reclaimed territory. Kakai IDPs in Erbil also reported pressure from provincial authorities to move from a primarily Christian suburb to IDP camps. In September a provincial official reportedly threatened to move Kakai IDPs to a camp by force if they did not go voluntarily.
Members of religious minority groups, community activists, and media related that many non-Muslims chose to reside in the IKR and areas under KRG control because they considered these areas to offer greater security, tolerance, and protection for minority rights. Some Christians in the Disputed Internal Boundaries Areas reported that false claims of land ownership by local officials blocked Christians from building on land that the Christians said was their property. According to a human rights NGO, one such dispute near Shaqlawa prevented the construction of dwellings for primarily Christian IDPs. A Yezidi activist stated that local Kurdish officials in the village of Ain Sifne in the Shaykhan district of Ninewa continued to pressure local Yezidis to swap their land for larger amounts of poorer quality land elsewhere, in an effort to “Kurdify” the area.
The Iraqi cabinet, the Council of Ministers (COM), had one Christian minister while the KRG’s COM had no minority ministers. Members of minority religious groups were underrepresented in government appointments, public sector jobs, and elected positions outside of the Council of Representatives. Members of minority religious groups held senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the KRG, although they were proportionally underrepresented in the unelected government workforce, particularly at the provincial and local levels. Minority group leaders said this underrepresentation limited minority groups’ access to government-provided economic opportunities.
Non-Muslims throughout the country, including Christians, Yezidis, and Sabean-Mandaeans, stated they were being politically isolated by the Muslim majority because of religious differences.
In the IKR, some evangelical Christian groups chose not to register with the government-run endowments, despite requirements to do so to operate legally. They reported they preferred to avoid increased government scrutiny of their internal operations, and to avoid KRG regulations for registration that indirectly constrained proselytization.
The combination of corruption, attacks against non-Muslim businesses, uneven application of the rule of law, and nepotism in hiring practices throughout the country by members of the majority Muslim population had a detrimental economic effect on non-Muslim communities and contributed to their emigration. The deputy chairman of the Council of Sabean-Mandaeans in Dhi Qar Province, for example, attributed his group’s increased emigration rate to the lack of security and limited economic opportunity. Advocacy groups and representatives of religious minority communities said the failure of the ISF, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, to ensure protection for minority communities against ISIL in Mosul and across the Ninewa Plain also led to the departure of Christians and other religious minority communities from northern Iraq during the year.
Government policy continued to recognize Christians’ right to observe Easter and Christmas without interference. The government also provided increased protection to Christian churches during these holidays. Local Bahais were able to celebrate the festivals of Naw-Ruz and the Festival of Ridvan without interference or intimidation. Provincial governments have also designated religious holidays in their localities; for example, in 2013, the Maysan provincial council recognized a Sabean-Mandaean holiday as an official holiday. The Maysan provincial council also provided physical protection for the Sabean-Mandaean community during times of worship, formally excused the group from Shia Muslim dress codes during times of mourning, and granted land for places of worship.
An advocacy group reported that the Ministry of Antiquities initiated an investigation into the destruction of the home of the founder of the Bahai Faith and the government sent a notice halting construction work on the site. Discussions between the government and the various groups involved in the possible reconstruction of the site were ongoing at year’s end.

From the holy and sacred to the profane: Politicians.

Democratic hopefuls gathered in Las Vegas Tuesday night to make the case for why they should be the party's 2016 presidential nominee . . . or something.

Senator Bernie Sanders shamed himself -- that is his natural color -- and provided proof to many who had long suspected he was only in the race to provide cover for front runner Hillary Clinton while playing sheep herder to disaffected leftists.

Colonel Sanders stood on the stage and announced he was tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's "damn e-mails."

If you're thinking he took the time to talk about the implications of some idiot dumb enough to use a non-secure e-mail server for government business and that the same fool now thought they could be trusted with security codes for bombs, for example, you're wrong.

Colonel Sanders was sidestepping his strained (at best) relations with the African-American community to step forward and defend the liar supreme Hillary Clinton.

The defense didn't help.

Katie Zezima (Washington Post) points out:

Despite this, the issue has, and will, continue to dog Clinton. The FBI is investigating the security of Clinton's e-mails, and the inquiry recently grew in scope to include a second technology company. Clinton will testify later this month before the House Select Committee, which has said that her e-mail use pertains to their investigation. Concerns over the security of her system have been mounting; a technology subcontractor who worked on Clinton's e-mail setup expressed concerns that the system was vulnerable to hackers, and Clinton and the State Department have given different accounts of why they turned over e-mails.

It's not over for Hillary.

It might be over for Bernie.

An ongoing federal investigation -- two, in fact -- really isn't when you weigh in on anyone but a sibling or a spouse.  If you weigh in on one of those and you end up wrong, the world forgives you.  If you defend a criminal you're not related to and the criminals crimes are exposed an investigation it goes to character and your lack of judgment.

Hillary's e-mail scandal just became Bernie's e-mail scandal.

Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlatic) offers:

Using contested intelligence, a powerful adviser urges a president to wage a war of choice against a dictator; makes a bellicose joke when he is killed; declares the operation a success; fails to plan for a power vacuum; and watches Islamists gain power. That describes Dick Cheney and the Iraq War—and Hillary Clinton and the war in Libya.

Hillary's Libya lies were among the biggest lies of the night -- a tough call to be sure.

As we explained Wednesday morning:

A number of e-mails note that Muammar Gaddafi was a contained and limited threat and had been brought to the table by the previous administration (Bully Boy Bush).
That's true.  It's also true that Gaddafi had first normalized relations with the United Kingdom and then with the US (and was taken off the terrorist list in 2006).
I think most of Hillary's 'history' is as short-sighted as she is.
I highlighted the above in last night's snapshot because there she was (yet again) promising she would "get to that" (the dead Americans) and there she was (yet again) ignoring the dead.

Back to Conor taking on Hillary's revisionist history:

That is about as misleading as summarizing the Iraq War by saying that the Iraqis had a terrible leader; they had a free election after the war; and they voted for moderates. It elides massive suffering and security threats that have occurred in postwar Libya.
Yet the answer didn’t hurt the Democratic frontrunner. That’s because neither CNN moderators nor prospective Clinton supporters understand the magnitude of the catastrophe that occurred amid the predictable power vacuum that followed Ghadafi’s ouster. “Libya today—in spite of the expectations we had at the time of the revolution—it’s much, much worse,” Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Frontline. “Criminality is skyrocketing. Insecurity is pervasive. There are no jobs. It’s hard to get food and electricity. There’s fighting, there’s fear … I see very few bright spots.”

Though a non-stop parade of lies and a televised embarrassment, a number of people did tune in for the train wreck.  In fact, David Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) notes that 15.3 million viewers tuned in making it the largest audience for a cable TV broadcast Democratic Debate -- although still far short of the 25 million that tuned in for the Fox News broadcast of the GOP debate earlier this year (25 million viewers).

Susan (On The Edge) weighed in with a take which includes, "The real dark horse is [former Maryland Governor Martin] O'Malley, who gave a credible performance and great closing statement although I believe HRC is probably unbeatable to get the nomination, assuming Biden doesn't step in. I fully expect her to be elected the next president."

Community coverage of the debate includes Wally's "THIS JUST IN! CRANKY'S SELF-LOVE!" and Cedric's "She says she'll vote for herself" (joint-post), Marcia's "The winner was . . .," Rebecca's "hillary liar clinton," Ruth's "The laughable 'debate'," Elaine's "Hillary or Anderson -- who was more disgusting?," Betty's "1 Tweet to catch," Trina's "The 'reality' debate" and Ann's "I've seen the future and it is butt ugly."

The convention wisdom for gas bags in the press is that Hillary owned the debate.

This ignores the fact that terms like "pushy" and "arrogant" and "entitled" (and, yes, in one focus group reported on last week, "bitch") are regularly applied to Hillary.

A little humble mixed into her performance would have gone a long way.

This is the same gaggle that cheered on her now infamous "What difference, at this point, does it make!" screech.  (We called that out the day it happened.  It was even more appalling if you were sitting in the hearing than it came off on air.  People -- not reporters -- visibly recoiled from her screech.)

She proved she could out macho any man on the stage in Las Vegas but has anyone doubted Hillary's butch in the last six or so years?

It was not a good moment for her.

Joseph Kishore (WSWS) focuses on Bernie Sanders and notes:

As he rises in the polls, Sanders very deliberately seeks to reassure the other main center of power in the United States—the military-intelligence apparatus. On Tuesday, he declared that he is “prepared to take this country into war if that is necessary.” Insisting that he is “not a pacifist,” Sanders pointed to his support for the war in Kosovo under Clinton, the war in Afghanistan launched by the Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s present war policy in Syria and Iraq.
These statements followed on previous comments that he would make use of drones, Special Forces “and more,” and that the United States “should have the strongest military in the world.” On Tuesday, he added a call for the prosecution of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Sanders’ support for imperialist war abroad says far more about his politics than his proposals for social reforms at home. All of the wars he backs are being waged in the interest of the ruling class and its program of global domination. It is impossible to oppose the economic policy of the corporate and financial elite at home and support its policy abroad.

The violence never ends in Iraq.  And Barack Obama's part of that as he continues to bomb Iraq to 'save' Iraq.  Operation Inherent Failure, DoD announced yesterday, resulted in multiple bombings with many unverifiable claims:

Airstrikes in Iraq
Attack, bomber, fighter, ground attack, remotely piloted aircraft and rocket artillery conducted 16 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the government of Iraq:
-- Near Baghdadi, one strike hit an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL homemade explosives cache.
-- Near Beiji, two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL building, an ISIL resupply vehicle, and two ISIL fighting positions.
-- Near Kisik, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun and an ISIL fighting position.
-- Near Mosul, three strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed three ISIL fighting positions and two ISIL heavy machine guns.
-- Near Ramadi, four strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed five ISIL buildings, five ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL tactical vehicle, two ISIL improvised explosive clusters used as minefields, and denied ISIL terrain at three separate locations.
-- Near Samarra, one strike destroyed two ISIL weapons caches.
-- Near Sinjar, three strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed eight ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL vehicles, ten ISIL bunkers, and two ISIL tunnel systems.

-- Near Tal Afar, one strike destroyed an ISIL fighting position.