Monday, November 24, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the treaty will not be voted on today in Baghdad, multiple bombings in Baghdad claim at least 22 lives, Joan Didion critiques the Cult of St. Barack, and more.
Starting with Iraqi refugees. Today Anna Badkhen (Christian Science Monitor) reports on Iraqis like Khalida who was beaten and raped (by thugs with the Interior Ministry) and managed to make it to Jordan where "her Jordanian neighbor barged into her apartment and attempted to rape her." Badkhen explains:
Khalida never reported the incident. Like tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, she does not have a permit to live or work here, and she is afraid that if she turns to authorities for help she will get deported. So instead of seeking punishment for her assailant, she latched the flimsy metal door of her apartment and stopped going outside.
Her story sheds light on a problem that is little researched, poorly understood, and largely ignored: Iraqi rape victims who now live in Jordan illegally and without protection. Sexual assault is heavily stigmatized in the Middle East, and victims are often afraid to talk about it to anyone, fearing that their families will abandon them. And their shaky status in Jordan leaves them afraid to seek help and vulnerable to new assaults and abuse. They fear persecution by Jordanian immigration authorities almost as much as they fear returning to Iraq.
Jordan is home to an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Iraqi refugees while approximately two million have settled in Syria. Friday the Jordan Times reported that the country's "Foreign Minister Salah Bashir on Thursday urged the international community to help countries hosting Iraqis shoulder increased economic and social burdens." He made that appeal at last week's meeting in Amman on the issue of Iraqi refugees. Iraq's Foreign Ministry notes that the Foreign Ministry's Dr. Mohammed Al Hajj Himoud represented Iraq along with a "delegation from Human Right Ministry and Education Ministry" and that they met with "permanent members of [UN] Security Council, Eight states group, United Nations, Arab League, Islamic Conference Organization, Red Cross and Red Crescent Socities." On the conditions many refugees face, Jalil Medhi (Rising Kashmir) uses the gang-rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer by US soldiers to explore the refugee crisis and explains that "incident is just a glimpse into what is happening inside Iraq. The story continues with the Iraqi refugees in Syria. Many of the Iraqi women fleeing the war in Iraq are turning to prostitution. In Syria alone an estimated 50,000 refugee girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution. And this is the only way for them to survive. These refugees are selling the only thing they have left of any value: their bodies . . . In the clubs, the waiters act as dealmakers between clients and the Iraqi prostitutes." And there are the ones who managed to sort-of get out of Iraq but not into another country. Olivia Ward (Toronto Star) reports on the approximately 3,000 refugees trapped on the border between Iraq and Syria, Palestinians welcomed during Saddam Hussein's reign (but given no shot at citizenship) whose fate is still tragic and she notes the countries which once took them in, no longer will. Amnesty's Gloria Nafziger explains to Ward, "The problem is that nobody wants the Palestinians. Countries in the region feel that giving them access is opening up a Pandora's box." While Iraq is the leading refugee crisis in terms of sheer numbers, there are many other refugee disasters around the world and Abeer Etefa and Ron Redmond (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) report Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, issued an appeal today, "At this moment, millions of people across the world are experiencing insecurity as their daily reality -- war and natural disasters -- threaten their existence. They don't have access to the essentials of life, including clean water, health care and shelter. Given the sheer scale of the task ahead, it is clear that no single organization, government or donor can tackle it alone."
A large percentage of Iraqi external refugees are Christians and Iraq's internal refugees include Christians but in a smaller percentage. In October, the assault on Iraqi Christians -- which had started months prior -- was noticeable and beyond denial. Since the assault received international attention, some of those who fled Mosul have returned. Gary Marx (Chicago Tribune) reports that "the community is Mosul is divided between those who believe they still have a place in Iraq and those who fear their days here may be numbered. Even those Christians who returned home to Mosul after the latest attacks are keepign a low profile." For any who forgot or missed it, Hamida Ghafour (United Arab Emirates' The National) summarizes what took place in Mosul:
Last month thousands fled Mosul, in the north, where a sizeable Chaldean and Assyrian population has lived since the second century, because their homes and churches were being targeted by Sunni extremists in a wave of car bombings and killings. Some have returned but the churches remain under heavy police protection. Since 2033, eight Iraqi priests have been murdered, including the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, who was kidnapped this year.
[ . . .]
Today, Iraq's Christian population is thought to be less than 800,000. Many have gone to Jordan, where I met a refugee family recently. In Jordan, as in the UAE, Christians probably feel more safe than anywehre else in the Middle East, thanks to strong public support from the royal family and laws that allow them to worship and build churches freely. Still, Nadia Samaan, 49, a chemical engineer, told me she was desperate to move to Canada with her husband, an accountant, and their four children.
The family were Chaldean Catholics who recognise the Pope's authority but celebrate the Eastern rites in the ancient Syriac language. The Chaldeans of Iraq are the descendants of those who did not convert to Islam in the seventh century.
Hisham Mohammed Ali (Institute for War & Peace Reporting) reports that only approximately a third of those who fled Mosul have returned and that the bulk of the refugees do not consider Mosul safe such as Safa Nathir Kamu who states, "We would like to go back home. We need security, but unfortunately security in Mosul is nothing more than pictures on TV."
On the issue of security in general, Sunday a meet-up took place in Damascus. Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that those participating included the "Arab League, United Nations, Security Council, Eight major states, Islamic Organization confrence and the European Union as well as the neighboring countries of Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain" and that Iraq sent Labeed Abbawi (Undersecretary for Policy Planning and Bilateral Relations in the Foreign Ministry). Press TV adds that the Group of Eight also participated. UPI explains that the participants were part of a group "formed in 2006 by the interior ministers of Iraq's neighbors in an attempt to assert control over their borders with Iraq and to stop the infiltration of arms and fighters into the country." Xinhau reports that Bassam Abdel Majid, Syria's Interior Minister, called for all participants to agree that "Iraq will not be used as a launch pad for any acts of aggression against neighboring states under any circumstance" and then specifically condemnded the US assault on Syria which resulted in eight deaths last October as a "stark violation" of both international law and his country's sovereignty. Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters) notes that Maura Connelly, US Charge d'Affaires (and a woman, despite some recent press releases from the Syrian government), represented the US at the meet-up by "accusing host Syria of sheltering militants attacking Iraq" but "other countries adopted a more conciliatory tone, delegates said."
When not blustering in international meet-ups, the administration blusters and bullies with their client-state/puppet government in Baghdad. Asked at the US State Dept today when the vote on the treaty masquerading as a Status Forces Of Agreement might take place, spokesperson Sean McCormack declared, "I don't know. Talk to the Iraqis about it, talk to the Speaker of their Parliament. I think they've -- I've seen various news reports about later this week. We'll see." The vote was supposed to take place today; however, AP reported that the Parliament vote on the treaty, scheduled for Monday, has been pushed back to Wednesday and they noted, "Wednesday will likely be the last parliamentary session before the 275-seat legislature goes into recess for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which falls in the first week of December. Some lawmakers will then travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, denying the house a quorum." However, Alissa J. Rubin and Alan Cowell (New York Times) see that date as aspirational, not concrete, and state the vote "may come this week". Aspirational like the so-called 'hard dates' in the treaty. One person asking the hard questions is Simon Assaf (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) who writes of the treaty:
It is being hailed as an honourable end to a disreputable war, the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Iraqi cabinet last weekend sets out a timetable for the withdrawal of US combat troops from cities by June 2009, and the whole country by December 2011.
But the deal, the full text of which is yet to be published, will not end the occupation.
By signing the accord the Iraqi government is agreeing to a ten-year mandate for US troops to "guarantee the security of Iraq" against war, coup, rebellion or revolution.
The US will have the right to maintain 50 military bases, store military equipment, control Iraqi airspace, sail warships in its waters and continue its "supervision" of the interior and defence ministries. The military will also have the right to seize any Iraqi "working against US interests". The US has made small concessions over the prosecution of US soliders or citizens who break Iraqi law while not on operation duty -- but this can only be done in agreement with a US military panel.
The deadline for the withdrawal of troops can also be changed if the US or Iraqi government feels that the "situation on the ground" has changed.
Opposition to the agreement threatened to sink the deal. But after threats against the country, which included withdrawal of $50 billion in aid and the sequestration of its assets held in US banks, the Iraqi government caved in.
The powerful Shia religious establishment, headed by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, withdrew its opposition to the pact. All Iraqi parties that are allied to the occupation have also dropped their objections.
Britain hopes for a similar agreement guaranteeing its role in the south of the country.
The only voices of dissent to the accords are those of rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters. Sadr has denounced the accords and called a protest on Friday of this week.
Far from ending the occupation, the Status of Forces Agreement would leave the US in almost total control of the country, and guarantee the future of the occupation.
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Meanwhile Iraqi legislatures have noticed another flaw in the treaty: It does not protect Iraqi assets from seizures to collect on past debts. A rather serious omission but James Glanz and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) are too busy yucking it up in all shades of xenophobia to take the issue seriously. Those wacky Iraqi MPs, they've found another problemw ith the treaty! Ha ha ha, what more do they want!!!!! That is the attitude the 'reporters' display while forgetting to inform readers that Iraqi MPs have had a copy of the treaty for less than a week. The two 'reporters' also need to be knocked off their high horses because the Iraqi MPs are doing what they refuse to: Read the document. How silly of the Iraqis not to just repeat what officials say the treaty says -- you know, what the Times and so much more of the alleged 'free' press has done day after damn day. The 'reporters' find it 'cute' that MPs are worried about this and all but rolls their eyes in print as they explain for the 'thickheaded' that, of course, Nouri al-Maliki will go to the United Nations to get an extension of that via some form of a mandate. Mandate. The UN Security Council mandate expires December 31st and it does offer protection for Iraqi assets. And al-Maliki will go back to have that aspect extended but refuses to extend the mandate itself?
Yes, it now turns puppet Nouri al-Maliki is willing to go to the United Nations . . . for that one aspect and only for that. Saturday, he sent flunkies out to hold a press conference. Campbell Robertson and Katherine Zoepf (New York Times) explained that the thrust was a renewal of the UN mandate just wasn't possible, it just wasn't. Why? No one bothers to say. They do bother to repeat the lie that all US troops leave Iraq in 2011. No. If the US maintains an embassy in Iraq, US soldiers will remain there as they do at every other embassy the US has. The contract is for 2009. After the first year, anything can be modified or the contract itself can be cancelled. And that point was confirmed by Adam Ashton who has been reporting for McClatchy Newspapers. Over the weekend, at The Modesto Bee, Ashton wrote a piece on a variety of topics and included that "[t]wo senior U.S. government officials" explained their assessment of the treaty and whether or not it meant a withdrawal of all US service members by the end of 2011, and he was informed that for the US to stay after 2011, "the pact would have to be renegotiated for foreign soldiers and contractors to stay." What????? No, "Of course it means all out in 2011!" That's what the press keeps reporting even though it's not true. The truth is the treaty only covers 2009. Everything else can be cancelled or modified. Jeremy R. Hammond (Information Clearing House) is one of the few actually examining the treaty:
The terms of the agreement effectively allow the U.S. to continue to control billions of dollars of proceeds from the sale of exported Iraqi oil held in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It also contains numerous loopholes that could allow the continuing long-term presence of U.S. military forces and would effectively maintain U.S. jurisdiction over crimes committed by American soldiers.
Yesterday the puppet held his own press conference. Reuters reports he said his country would not ask for an extension of the United Nations mandate. Except that we now know he will. Not for the entire issues at stake but for the one issue of protecting Iraqi assets. Apparently, al-Maliki's hoping to whip through the United Nations by getting into the Express Checkout Lane. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports on al-Maliki's efforts to consolidate his power and how the treaty might help him do that even more. Back when he was just a senator and chaired the US Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, Joe Biden could speak of those dangers freely. Now he's vice president-elect and muzzled. So we'll drop back to the April 10th snapshot to note:
Biden noted the "internal threat" aspect being proposed and how these requires the US "to support the Iraqi government in its battle with all 'outlaw groups' -- that's a pretty expansive commitment." He noted that it requires the US "to take sides in Iraq's civil war" and that "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be in place a year from now -- half the government has walked out."
"Just understand my frustration," Biden explained. "We want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist."
[Semi-related, Bobby Ghosh (Time magazine) reports on who is on the tax payer dime in Iraq thug wise.] While the Iraqi Parliament gears up on a vote, remember that the White House thinks they can circumvent the Constitution and ignore the Congress. This from the American Freedom Campaign:
Does this sound right to you? Next week, the Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote on whether to approve an agreement setting the terms of the ongoing military relationship between the United States and Iraq. So far, so good. A legislative body, representing the people of a nation, shall determine the extent to which that nation's future will be intertwined with that of another. Of course, one would expect that the United States Congress would be given the same opportunity. That, however, is not the case. Or at least it is not what the Bush administration is allowing to happen. Shockingly, the Bush administration is not even letting Congress read the full agreement before it is signed!
We need you to send a message immediately to U.S. House and Senate leaders, urging them to demand the constitutional input and approval to which they are entitled.
The administration has asserted that the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq is merely a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and therefore does not require congressional approval. Yet the agreement goes far beyond the traditional limits of a SOFA, which typically set the terms for bringing materials and equipment into a nation and outline the legal procedures that will apply to members of the military who are accused of crimes. Believe it or not, the current agreement contains terms that will actually give Iraq a measure of control over U.S. forces. No foreign nation or international entity has ever been given the authority to direct U.S. forces without prior congressional approval - either through a majority vote of both chambers or a two-thirds vote in the Senate in the case of treaties.
If this agreement goes into effect without congressional approval, it will establish a precedent under which future presidents can exercise broad unilateral control over the U.S. military -- and even give foreign nations control over our troops. Congress must take immediate action. Unfortunately, they are about to adjourn for at least a couple of weeks. But it is not too late for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make a statement, signaling their strong belief that Congress will not be bound by and need not fund an agreement that has not been approved by Congress.
Please send an E-mail encouraging such action to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid immediately by clicking [here]
This is truly a dire situation and we hope that you will join us in calling for action. Thank you. Steve Fox
American Freedom Campaign
As violence swept through Baghdad again today, Alissa J. Rubin and Alan Cowell (New York Times) opined, "The timing of the attacks -- which folled a recent increase in violence -- suggested that insurgents wanted to demonstrate that they were still able to disrupt the city and penetrate well-guarded areas even as the government seeks Parliament's approval of the security agreement." Among the attacks in Baghdad today, CBS and AP note, was a woman bomber who took her own life outside an entrance to the Green Zone and the lives of seven other people with thirteen more left wounded. Another Baghdad bombing involved a minibus. CNN reports that already claims are being made that the woman was "mentally disabled." (That charge was made before on two female suicide bombers and was never proven though it did lead to the raiding of an Iraqi hospital and the terrorizing of the hospital's staff.) BBC notes, "The noise of the blast echoed across central Baghdad and a pall of black smoke rose above the site." Deborah Haynes (Times of London -- link has text and video) notes that 13 people died (nine more wounded) in the explosion that took place right after the minibus "stopped at a residential neighbourhood in the east of the capital to allow women and men working at the Trade Ministry to climb onboard" and Haynes quotes a shocked shopkeeper who declares, "We did not expect they would target a civilian bus filled with females." Another eye witness, Majid Ali, tells McClatchy of the victims, "They are innocent people. I don't know how these criminals dare to do such a crime. Those who committed it are inhuman." Adam Ashton and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) explain the "third bombing targeted a police patrol in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood about 11 a.m. near the Technology University. It killed one person and wounded five, including three police officers."
In other reported violence today . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad mortar attack that injured six people.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 brothers shot dead in Diyala Province, 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul, one police officer wounded in another Mosul shooting. Reuters notes 1 lawyer shot dead in Kirkuk.
Last week a panel discussion took place on the election at the New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Participating were Joan Didion, Andrew Delbanco, Jeff Madrick, Darryl Pinckney, Robert Silvers, Michael Tomasky and Garry Wills. The New York Review of Books has the podcast of the event (scroll down to November 17, 2008, What Happens Now? A Conversation on the 2008 Election) and we transcribed some of Didion's opening remarks for Third:
What troubled had nothing to do with the candidate himself.
It had to do instead with the reaction he evoked.
Close to the heart of it was the way in which only the very young were decreed of capable of truly appreciating the candidate. Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching of arguments made on the candidate's behalf by their children -- by quite small children. Again and again, we were told that this was a generational thing, we couldn't understand. In a flash we were sent back to high school, and we couldn't sit with the popular kids, we didn't get it. The "Style" section of The New York Times yesterday morning mentioned the Obama t-shirts that "makes irony look old."
Irony was now out.
Naivete translated into "hope" was now in.
Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.
Partisanship could now be appropriately expressed by consumerism.
I could not count the number of snapshots I got emailed showing people's babies in Obama gear.
Now I couldn't count the number of terms I heard the terms "transformational" or "inspirational." The whole of election night I kind of kept dozing on and off and the same people were on always on television and every time I woke up
to them they were saying "transformational."
I couldn't count the number of times I heard the sixties evoked by people with no apparent memory that what drove the social revolution of the sixties was not babies in cute t-shirts but the kind of resistance to that decade's war that in the case of our current wars, unmotivated by a draft, we have yet to see.
It became increasingly clear that we were gearing up for another close encounter with militant idealism by which I mean the convenient redefinition of political or pragmatic questions as moral questions -- which makes those questions seem easier to answer at a time when the nation is least prepared to afford easy answers.
Some who were troubled in this way referred to those who remained untroubled by a code phrase. This phrase which referred back to a previous encounter with militant idealism the one that ended at the Jonestown encampment in Guyana in 1978 was "drinking the Kool-Aid."
No one ever suggested that the candidate himself was drinking the Kool-Aid. If there was any doubt about this, his initial appointments would lay them to rest.
In fact, it seemed increasingly clear that not only would he welcome healthy realism but that its absence had become for him a source of worry. "The exuberance of Tuesday night's victory," The New York Times reported on November 6th, "was tempered by concerns over the public's high expectations for a party in control of both Congress and the White House amid economic turmoil, two wars overseas and a yawning budget gap. " A headline in the same day's paper, "With Victory At Hand, Obama Aides Now Say Task Is To Temper Expectations."
Yet, the expectations got fueled, the spirit of a cargo cult was loose . I heard it said breathlessly on one channel that the United States on the basis of having carried off its presidential election now had "the congratulations of all the nations." "They want to be with us," another commentator said. Imagining in 2008 that all the world's people want to be with us may not be entirely different in kind from imagining in 2003 that we would be greeted with flowers when we invaded Iraq. But in the irony-free zone that the nation had chosen to become this was not the preferred way of looking at it.
Today The New York Review of Books offers an adaptation of Didion's remarks (as well as one of Darryl Pinckney's).