Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 7, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, pilgrims continue to be targeted; a US war resister was sentenced to 8 months yesterday; in Santa Barbara, JROTC out and The Peace Academy; 3 US service members die; and MADRE charts the violence against Iraqi women.
Starting with news of war resistance.  Yesterday, in Germany, Agustin Aguayo was court-martialed and sentenced.  Agustin Aguayo served in Iraq as a medic and attempted to be granted c.o. status.  As the military repeatedly refused to do so.  Bertrand Benoit (Financial Times of London) notes "Aguayo, a US citizen born in Mexico who enlisted in 2002, had twice failed to obtain an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector and refused to load his weapon while on his first tour to Iraq."   That count fails to factor in the civilian court attempts.  As his case was winding through the civilian courts and as  the military threatened to drag him to Iraq in chains and handcuffs, Agustin Aguayo self-checked out --September 2nd through September 26thReuters notes: "A deserter is defined by the U.S. Department of Defense as a member of the armed forces who is absent from their unit or post without authorization, quits their unit to avoid duty or enlists improperly in another service.  It can also apply to people who are absent without leave for 30 straight days or more."  Obviously, Aguayo was not absent without leave for 30 or more days.  The 30 days is a rule of thumb and not etched in stone.  However, the military elected to toss that standard out the window.
With his parents present, his wife Helga and his two eleven-year-old daughters Rebecca and Raquel, Aguayo stood trial.  In addition, Charles Hawley (der Spiegel) notes, "thrown in among the couple dozen journalists on hand for the trial were those for whom Aguayo symbolizes a much broader message.  They were representatives of the anti-Iraq War movement in the US and in Europe.  For them, Aguayo is something of a hero."  George Frey (AP) reports that Aguayo (with "a shaky voice") declared: "I respect everyone's views and your decision, I understand that people don't understand me.  I tried my best, but I couldn't bear weapons and I could never point weapons at someone.  The words of Martin Luther come to mind, 'Here I stand, I can do no more'."  Aguayo acknowledged missing movement and pleaded guilty to AWOL, but the judge (Colonel Peter Masterton) found Aguayo guilty of desertion. 
On Tuesday, Ashraf Khalil (Los Angeles Times) reported Courage to Resist's Jeff Paterson expects "Aguayo will get up to a year in jail followed by a less than honorable or bad conduct discharge." Paterson guessed well.  The judge sentenced Aguayo to eight months, reduced him in rank (down to private) and he will receive a bad conduct discharge upon completition of his jail time.  Bertrand Benoit (Financial Times of London) reports: "Anti-war activists, who had followed the case closely, said the mild sentence was a positive signal to the rapidly increasing number of Germany-based US military personnel who are seeking to avoid serving in Iraq."
The issue of how much time Aguayo will serve appears to be settled.  Mark St. Clair (Stars and Stripes) reports, "Aguayo was credited with 161 days of pre-trial confinement and will serve 79 more days, according to Hilda Patton of the V Corps public affairs office."  Or, as Courage to Resist observes, "he should be free within a few weeks!"  Present for the court-martial was Iraq Veterans Against the War's Kelly Dougherty.  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) quotes Dougherty: "While Agustin is first and foremost a man who is sincerely and morally opposed to war in all forms, he is also a proud example to other soldiers who are also questioning the war in Iraq and who feel like they might want to refuse or they might want to apply for conscientious objector or in some way object and resist this war in Iraq."  Iraq Veterans Against the War reminds: "A critical part of the GI movement to end the war in Iraq is service members' refusal to participate in it.  Agustin's stance against the war, and his moral decision to refuse re-deployment, sends a message to others in the military that they can refuse to go to Iraq. Agustin is a brave leader, IVAW commends and fully stands behind him." 
It is a critical part and it is a movement.  Aguayo is part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Ehren Watada, Kyle Snyder, Mark Wilkerson, Camilo Mejia, Patrick Hart, Joshua Key, Ivan Brobeck, Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Corey Glass, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake and Kevin Benderman. In total, thirty-eight US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at Center on Conscience & War, The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters.
Turning to Iraq, MADRE has released a report entitled "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq."  The report can be read in full in PDF format or, by sections, in HTML.  The report is divided into seven sections.  We'll focus on the first section today ("Towards Gender Apartheid in Iraq").  The sections covers the destruction of women's rights and the gender-based attacks that have largely gone unnoticed and unremarked upon.  The family law of 1959 (which predated Saddam Hussein's rule) resulted from mass protests by women and allowed women to have their full voices heard in a court of law as opposed to in a religous hearing.  This law gave women equal voices, allowed them to divorce, to retain custody, the right to inherent property, etc.  Even in the lead up to the illegal war, women still retained rights in Iraq.  That would quickly change.  First, the appointed (by the US) Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Paul Bremer, made it clear that women would be sacrificed to public relations spin.  Bremer "hand-picked" the members of the Iraqi Governing Council and was happy to side with them (such as when they did away with "Iraq's observance of International Women's Day") -- most obviously with regards to the proposed Resoultion 137 which would have been constitutional law and would replace the 1959 family law and was stopped not due to any concern for women but as a result of Iraqi women taking to the streets and calls from women's organizations and members of the US Congress.
Though Resolution 137 was stopped, it was more important to get a puppet government in place quickly to pass the laws the US wanted passed and "liberation" and "democracy" were not the concerns of the US.  That was made obvious by Bremer's refusal to answer the cries for help as violence against women grew more common, by his refusal to "appoint women to the drafting committee of Iraq's interim constitution" or "guarantee that 40 percent of US appointees to Iraq's new government women were women" or "pass laws codifying women's rights and criminalizing domestic violence" or "uphold UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which mandates that women be included at all levels of decision-making in situations of peacemeaking and post-war reconstruction."
Women were targeted for violence and Bremer refused to address it (thereby encouraging the violence by sending the message that attacks on women would not be punished) and he refused to allow them a seat at the decision-making table.  This wasn't "liberation" and it wasn't "democracy."  As the report underscores, "rather than support progressive and democratically minded Iraqis, including members of the women's movement, the US threw its weight behind Iraq's Shiite Islamists, calculating that these forces, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, would cooperate with the occupation and deliver the stability needed for the US to implement its policies in Iraq."
In 2005, the US's puppet government began work on Iraq's constitution.  "Throughout the summer 2005, the Bush Administration exerted tremendous pressure on Iraqi politicians to complete a draft of the constitution within three months (though the same process took more than 10 years in the United States).  At the time, the Bush Administration was in desperate need of a public relations victory in Iraq: it needed a display for US audiences of the 'democratic progress' that had replaced the 'threat of weapons of mass destruction' as the rasion d' etre for attacking Iraq.  The Administration was also afraid that failure to meet the timetable for drafting a constitution would trigger new elections in Iraq, which would have likely produced a less compliant government."
Enter Zalmay Khalilzad who sold women out in Afghanistan and apparently was sent to Iraq for the same results.  "As in Afghanistan, Khalilzad supported the Islamist factions of the Iraqi constitutional drafting committee.  The result was a new constitution that declared Islam to be the official religion of the state and a fudnamental source of legislation."  And women were sold out as the US government -- while talking liberation and democracy -- yet again through their lots in with radical zealots who would destroy women's rights.
Page 6 lists examples of how the US allowed the legalization of "Violence against Women" which includes establishing Islam as the Iraq's national religion, barring free speech if it might hamper "public order and morality," allowing the federal court to not be made up solely of judges but by "judges and experts in Sharia" (the report notes that these are "presumably clerics").  Artilce 39 refutes the 1959 family law by turning all matters of "marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, and other presonal status issues" over to religious courts where "a woman's legal testimony is worth half that of a man's." 
The report documents the reality of life for women in Iraq -- a reality that has been dismissed as "personal problems" by the likes of Bremer and others but the abuses and the violence are rooted in the non-democratic laws that the US government has applauded or looked the other way on and the abuses and violences are rooted in the US government tossing their lot in with religious zealots that they thought would be compliant to their larger goals (which never included liberation or democracy). 
How much attention will the report receive?  Last week the Minority Rights Group International's (PDF format) report "Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003" which did include a discussion of the realities now facing women (click here for a summary of that section).  The report was largely ignored.  Patrick Cockburn did write of it (one of the very few) but he made no mention of  the realities facing women in Iraq.
Publications such as the New York Times spent the bulk of 2003 and 2004 ignoring women.  Women weren't just targeted for attacks, didn't just see the loss of rights from a US selected government, they also saw themselves rendered invisible by the so-called watchdog.  It was as though they no longer existed and it's very likely this report will get no more than one day's attention because Iraqi women have been on their own in terms of the mainstream press throughout this illegal war.  It's why the New York Times would say "14-year-old girl" in their laughable articles that were supposed to be covering the Article 32 hearing into the rape and murder of Abeer and the murder of her five-year-old sister and her parents.  It's always a "personal problem" with them, it never results from actions backed by the US, from actions encouraged and endorsed by looking the other way when women are raped, murdered, attacked . . .
What did the US government care about, what did the mainstream press gush over?  If you've paid attention at all in the last month and a half, it's the Iraqi oil law that now awaits approval from the Iraqi parliament.  Last week,  Antonia Juhasz (writing at The Huffington Post), addressed the proposed law:  "If passed, the law would transform Iraq's oil system from a nationalized model all-but-closed to U.S. oil companies, to a commercialized model, all-but-fully privatized and opened to U.S. corporate control.  Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, U.S. oil companies were shut out of Iraq's oil industry with the exception of limited marketing contracts.  As a result of the invasion, if the oil law passes, U.S. oil companies will emerge as the corporate front-runners in line for contracts giving them control over the vast majority of Iraq's oil under some of the most corporate-friendly terms in the world for twenty to thirty-five years. The law grants the Iraq National Oil Company oversight only over "existing" fields, which is about one-third of Iraq's oil. Exploration and production contracts for the remaining two-thirds of Iraq's oil will be opened to private foreign investment. Neither Iraqi public nor private oil companies will receive any preference in contracting decisions."  Echoing that is  the Green Party (US) which warns that a "new 'hydrocarbon law' up for approval in Iraq would lead to a prolonged, possibly permanent U.S. presence in Iraq, with U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties for years to come" and quotes Liz Arnone ("co-chair of the Green Party of the United States") stating: "The Iraqi hydrocarbon law, if approved by Iraqi lawmakers, will provide lucrative profits for U.S. energy corporations by placing up to 2/3 of Iraqi oil resources under foreign control.  The U.S. government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans, will be committed to protecting American energy company operations and investments in Iraq by keeping U.S. troops there."
The warning comes as as The No Bases Network is created.  Kintto Lucas (IPS) reports that, in Ecuador, an international conference has created The No Bases Network (some countries, such as Ecuador, already had a national movement) out of concerns, citing Lina Cahuasqui, "that most of the 1,000 foreign military bases on the planet belong to the United States, which has 737 in different countries.  Others belong to Russia, China, the United Kingdom and Italy."  Among those attending the ongoing conference is Cindy Sheehan.
Sheehan was recently in Vermont drawing attention to the issue of impeachement and she wrote about that (at Common Dreams) noting: "We made 13 stops across Vermont (which is bigger than it looks) and found ourselves settling into a routine. First the Iraq Vets would speak. Adrienne was an Arabic linguist for 10 years and knew the intelligence that our country was gleaning from such sources as Ahmed Chalabi was false because she, using her brain, figured out that he had much to gain from the invasion of Iraq. When she brought this up to her commander he accused her of not supporting their unit or the mission. Adrienne now works in a VA hospital in Vermont and hears tragic tales of why our vets have PTSD. Stories of soldiers who were driving down the road in a sandy country that they had no business being in one minute and who awaken to find themselves covered in blood with a body parts in their laps, not knowing if it was their own or one of their buddies." Shay Totten and Christian Avard (Vermont Guardian) report that the results have been 36 towns voting in favor of impeachment hearings for the Bully Boy: Bristol, Burke, Calais, Craftsbury, Dummerston, East Montpelier, Greensboro, Guilford, Grafton, Hartland, Jamaica, Jericho, Johnson, Marlboro, Middlebury, Montgomery, Morristown, Newbury, Newfane, Peru, Plainfield, Putney, Richmond, Rochester, Roxbury, St. Johnsbury, Springfield, Stannard, Sunderland, Townshend, Tunbridge, Vershire, Warren, Westminster, Wilmington, and Woodbury
Turning to Iraq, where the violence continues.  Commenting on yesterday's violence targeting pilgrims, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, issued a statement condeming "these heinous acts which appear to be aimed at provoking sectarian strife."  As Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) notes the count of Shi'ite pilgrims killed on Tuesday is now at "more than 150". As AFP notes, "The killings continued on Wednesday as -- undaunted -- thousands of pilgrims continued their march of devotion, carrying banners and copies of the Koran and marching hundreds of kilometres to Karbala's revered shrines."
Reuters reports six pilgrims were killed in Iskandariya (13 wounded) in a mortar attack, seven dead and 27 wounded in Baghdad from a roadside bomb, seven shot dead in Baghdad with 3 wounded. Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) notes that four pilgrims were shot dead in Dora (8 were injured).
Lauren Frayer (AP) reports on a bombing in Balad Ruz where a man walked into a cafe, set off a bomb, killing himself and at least 30 other people. Mohammed al Dulainy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a mortar attack in Baghdad that wounded a police officer, a Baghdad roadside bomb that killed one person, a car bomb that killed 10 people ("including 6 policemen") and left 42 wounded.
Mohammed al Dulainy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that two police officers were wounded in an attack "in Al Abara town," while a person was shot dead in Muqdadiyah, a person was shot dead in Jurf Al Milah and a person was shot dead in Khaniqeen. Lauren Frayer (AP) notes a butcher was shot dead in his shop in Ramadi.
Mohammed al Dulainy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports  10 corpses were discovered in Baghdad,
Today, the US military announced: "On March 7, an MND-B unit was conducting a route clearance patrol in order to secure a commonly traveled route of improvised explosive devices northwest of the Iraqi capital when they were struck by a roadside bomb, killing three Soldiers and wounding another."
In peace news, Mary Johnston-de Leon (Veterans for Peace) reports Santa Barbara High School has a new development -- The Peace Academy.  After mobilization led to lack of interest in the Junior ROTC program at the high school, it was shut down and Veterans for Peace's Lane Anderson and Babatunde Folayemi have helped the school start The Peace Acadmy which "will provide classes in mediation and conflict resolution, boxing, aikido, martial arts, sailing, fishing, outdoor activities including indigenous rites of passage ceremonies," etc.
Finally, the United Nations will be closing its weapons inspection commission in Iraq.  Evelyn Leopold (Reuters) reports: " The staff of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Agency, known as UNMOVIC, had not been allowed to return to Iraq by the United States since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003."  they have not been back since, in the midst of their inspections, Bully Boy gave his 'get out in 48 hours' bullying speech.  No weapons were ever found, by the UN or the US, because WMD ever existed.

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