Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, August 19, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, over 100 people are reported dead in today's violence, the US military announces a death, Denmark works overtime to eject Iraqi refugees, the US State Dept and the United Nations work overtime to embarrass themselves, and more.
Today the US military announced: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE ECHO, Iraq -- A Multi-National Division - South Soldier was killed in action August 19. Release of the identity of the Soldier is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin." When ICCC updates, that will make the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war 4332.
"The windows of the Foregin Ministry shattered," Harry Haydon (The Sun) quotes a Foreign Ministry worker stating, "slaughtering the people inside."  "Dozens of people were killed inside by shards of flying glass," adds UK's Channel 4 News (link has text and video) which identifies the woman as "Asia."  Once again, violence swept through Baghdad on a massive scale -- such a massive scale that 'worst violence since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities' was bandied about as if it were new and hadn't been used repeatedly in the last weeks.   "All these things landed on top of me. These terrorists. Many innocent people were killed," surivor Samira Hachem, who'd been in her apartment, tells Ernesto Londono (Washington Post).  Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) notes the website of the political party of Jalal Talabani (president of Iraq) reported multiple Baghdad bombings (not "immediately clear how many bombs were detonated or where") with multiple deaths and hundreds injured: "The finance, foreign, health, education, and housing ministries were all targeted, the PUK said, without indicating which blasts caused casualties. State-owned Iraqiya television broadcast footage of the capital showing plumes of gray smoke rising over rooftops." Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports that the bombings, "at least six attacks," began at 10:30 a.m. in the morning "within minutes of each other, the largest being the one outside the Foreign Ministry". Chulov's report is text and video and that's from the video.  The Economist offers, "BAGHDAD has not seen a day as violent as Wednesday August 19th for a long while. At ten in the morning, simultaneous car bombs and rocket attacks struck half a dozen ministries and the cabinet office. A lorry exploded beside the foreign ministry, destroying it and leaving a large crater outside. Nearby high-rise apartment buildings were also set ablaze. A bomb smuggled into the education ministry narrowly failed to kill the minister in his office, according to Iraqi television reports, and a mortar just missed the home of the environment minister. Rockets fell across the heavily fortified green zone, destroying parts of the parliament building and damaging a neighbouring hotel a few minutes before the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was expected to visit."   CNN notes the targeting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance. Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) agree those were "the main targets," note mortar attacks and quote eye witness Gaith Abdulla stating, "I saw people killed and wounded on the ground and many cars were ablaze. The security forces started shooting and were firing randomly. Then another massive explosion shook the whole place." ITN (link has text and video) describes the area around the Foreign Ministry, "The site was a twisted heap of smouldering cars as firefighters fought to put out the blaze." The video shows the Parliament building -- Parliament is not in session -- during the bombings as windows/panels shook and fell and dust flew in the air.  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) observes, "By targeting the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the bombers have sent a clear signal that they are able to strike at the heart of the Government. . . . Today's bloodshed will raise questions about President Obama's strategy to pull US forces out of Iraqi cities several weeks ago leaving domestic security forces in control."  Natalia Antelava (BBC News) offers this analysis, "These are unusual attacks -- in the last few weeks, we have seen explosions in Baghdad but these attacks occured in some of the supposedly safest neighbourhoods of the city.  For many people, these attacks confirm their worst fears over the withdrawal of US troops from cities across Iraq at the end of June and handing over of the security situation to Iraqi forces. A lot of people before the withdrawal were saying they were very fearful that attacks would rise."  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) sums up, "At the stie of the deadliest Baghdad bombing in 18 months, Iraqi faith that their security forces could protect them lay shattered in the wreckage." Caroline Alexander reports, "It's too early to know whether the Baghdad assualts will prompt a change in U.S. tactics, and Iraqi officials haven't requested assistance under the security pact, said U.S. Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a spokesman for the Pentagon."
"Everybody on the street was going crazy.  Everybody was just trying to get to their cars, just trying to get home -- and that's what I did," Mustapha Muhie told the BBC. BBC News offers a photo essay filled with plumes of smoke, showing the huge crater left by one bombing, the cranes used to check the Foreign Ministry for any people who might be alive and trapped in the building.  Some outlets are saying car bombs, some are saying truck bombs. Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) goes with truck bombings and quotes Katheem Hanoon who was selling snacks and water by the ministry before "[s]he was buried under her goods and shelves after the bombing": "What security? Where is it? Is it borther killing brother, son killing father?"  Sam Dagher (New York Times) informs, "The bombs crippled the downtown area, closed highways and two main bridges over the Tigris River and clogged hospitals with wounded."

Al Jazeera puts the death toll at 95 and the number wounded at 500 and quotes Iraqi Mar Gen Qassim Atta stating the Foreign Ministry was targeted by a truck bombing.  Caroline Alexander also notes 95 dead but 563 injured and credits the count to AFP which got the numbers from the Interior Ministry.  Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) adds, "Government ministry workers, journalists and security guards were among the dead." Jenny Booth (Times of London) offers a timeline of attacks in the last two years and August 10th saw 51 deaths (Mosul and Baghdad).  Jane Arraf explains, "The ministry, surrounded by high concrete walls on a busy street, was near a checkpoint that had been dismantled earlier this year. As attacks in Baghdad have decreased, Iraqi authorities eager to show improvement in security and make the city livable again have started removing concrete walls and security checkpoints."  Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) reports on the attitudes regarding the removal of (some) walls and quotes teacher Adel Hameed stating, "I feel like something heavy removed from my chest when they remove the walls, but I still feel in pain that my country had to pay very large amounts of money for those gray slabs to slice our city into Shiite and Suni enclaves."
Oliver August (Times of London) reminds, "Today is the sixth anniversary of a truck bombing that hit the United Nations compound in Baghdad, killing 22 people including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello." The link includes Sky News' video and you can see what looks like hundreds of burned out cars, some still aflame, and attempts to hose them down. Some were clearly parked (in a parking lot), others were on the road and apparently in motion when the explosions took place. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) explains, "Television footage showed cars smashed by falling concrete slabs and streets full of rubble and glass."  August quotes a guest at the Rasheed Hotel stating, "The windows were blown out and the doors were taken out, even the door frames went. If I had been in my room at the time I would have been seriously injured or worse. Everything is locked down now. Nobody can move anywhere, nobody is getting in or out. Even our security team cannot move." The eye witness is identified as "John Tipple, a UK solicitor". Not noted is that Tipple is one of Danny Fitzsimons' attorneys -- the British contractor who could face trial in Iraq and face the death penalty. Tipple is in Iraq attempting to have Danny Fitzsimons' case transferred to England.

AFP reports that Nouri al-Maliki has ordered a review of "security measures".  Ahmed Rasheed, Khalid al-Ansary, Michael Christie, Mohammed Abbas and Tim Pearce (Reuters) report that Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi ("Baghdad's security spokesman") stated, "The operation shows negligence, and is considered a security breach for which Iraqi forces must take most of the blame."  In the aftermath, a number showed up to compete for crazy.  Chris Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq, denounced an undefined "they" as "psychopaths."  Chip Cummins (Wall St. Journal) notes, "Iraqi security officials initially blamed Baathist loyalists and operatives associated with al Qaeda for the series of attacks, but provided no evidence for that claim.  No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attacks."  Apologies to Chip Cummins who was wrongly billed as "Chip Cummings" yesterday and that was my error.  KUNA traces the swirling accusations identifying the head of "Baghdad security operations" as the first to accuse and to accuse "Baathis non-believer alliance".  But crazy ass Jalal Talabani -- who so disgraced himself in the last years that his party performed miserably in the July Kurdistan elections -- may have won the prize for crazy (a padded cell) by insisting the bombings were the actions of a new polyblend: al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists.  KUNA quotes him stating, "Terrorist criminals from Al-Qaeda and Saddamists carried out Wednesday a number of criminal acts which targeted civil communities and government establishments."  Now anyone could be responsible, anyone.  But when you're going to toss around accusations with no proof, you might try making them plausible.  And while al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists teaming up could happen, it's not really the most realistic charge to instantly make.  For one thing, Ba'athists are what?  Secular.  Anyone accuse al Qaeda in Iraq -- or al Qaeda anywhere -- of being secular?  Nope.  Never.  Jalal hasn't looked so crazy since his trip to the US to unplug his arteries was followed by a major pig out which led to his collapsing in a Chicago bookstore.  Someone might want to advise him that when he's no longer president of Iraq, he's probably not going to be flown in to the US every couple of months for the equivalent of cholesterol-lipo. Ben Lando (Time magazine) notes of the assertion of an al Qaeda and Ba'athist blend, "It is hard to asses that claim at the moment."
In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an Anbar Province car bombing which left two security guards for Habbaniyah Police Chief Khalid al Khirbeet injured.  Reuters notes a roadside bombing outside of Mosul which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left four more injured.
Reuters notes an armed clash in Mosul in which 1 police officer was shot dead and three people were injured and 1 off duty police officer was shot dead in Mosul. Dropping back to Tuesday, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Kirkuk and Iraqi Christian Sabah Dawood was shot dead in Kirkuk last night. Alsumaria notes 1 more person shot dead in Mosul last night "in a separate incident."
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Dr. Semeer Gorgis's corpse was discovered today in Kirkuk and that the Iraqi Christian had been kidnapped yesterday.
News this week includes talk of the SOFA being put to a referendrum for Iraqis in January and of US forces entering nothern Iraq in a huge deployment where they hold hands with the peshmerga and Baghdad's own security forces who otherwise can't get along.  Charles Cooper (Coop's Corner, CBS News) observes, "For some reason, this story has not received as much attention as it ought to. Turns out that United States General Ray Odierno and Iraq's leadership are at odds over the timetable for the departure of American forces. How this issue gets resolved is likely to have major implications for both countries and, perhaps, the wider region."  Covering recent developments, Ben Lando explains:
And so there was political ambivalence when U.S. Commanding General Ray Odierno suggested this week that U.S. forces deploy to disputed territories in the north, a move not consistent with SOFA. Under his plan, U.S. troops would temporarily coordinate with the security forces there -- and those security forces are at odds with one another. For it is in Kurdistan that Iraq may actually fissure. The central and regional Kurdish governments have been arguing over oil, land and money for years. Recently, they would have clashed if U.S. forces had not intervened.      
Unlike SOFA, the fate of Kurdistan is an issue the government is not brave enough to put to a ballot. This week Iraq announced it would postpone a national referendum on the disputed territories even though Iraq's Kurds have been demanding one since 2006. Whether or not the Iraqis take up Odierno's suggestion, the country's dilemma about the U.S. is clear: While Iraq can't live with the U.S. military presence, it will have to learn to live without it fast.
Monday Human Rights Watch released a report entitled "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq." For the 67-page report [PDF format warning] click here. Iraqi Haytham shares:
A car pulled us over.  About six men carrying a weapons stepped out and asked for our IDs. They were dressed in black, which is usually the sign of the Mahdi Army.  I demanded, "Who are you to ask for our cards?" So they opened the door and pulled us out, humiliating us, calling us "puppies," saying, "We see you in pervert places all the time."
I tried to argue we were just friends, tried to convince them there was nothing between us.  Then they pulled out a list and they started asking us about these names. 
The report documents the extrajudicial persecution, torture, and execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis. In recent months, hundreds of gay men have been tortured and murdered in Iraq in a systematic campaign of social cleansing by Shiite militiamen and extremists. Furthermore, victims and witnesses allege that Iraqi security forces have colluded and joined in the killing.       
"The alarming testimonies detailed in this report are undeniable evidence that the rights and safety of gay Iraqis are at risk," Hastings said.        
"Gay Iraqis should not have to live in fear of being tortured, mutilated, or murdered by their countrymen. International human rights law explicitly condemns torture and guarantees the right to life and the right to effective state protection. These abuses fundamentally threaten the rights and safety of all Iraqis.
"I urge the Iraqi government to stem this tide of violence and hate and to protect its LGBT citizens," he said. "I also commend Human Rights Watch for raising awareness of this urgent matter and for its ongoing dedication to defending and protecting human rights around the world."
Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday that indicates hundreds of Iraqi gay men have been kidnapped, tortured and murdered since the beginning of 2009. The report claims that Iraqi authorities have not acted to stop militias that are actively targeting men suspected of engaging in homosexual conduct and may be complicit in some attacks. The report cites a militia member who told a reporter in May that the spike in anti-gay violence is to combat "a serious illness in the community that has been spreading rapidly among the youth after it was brought in from the outside by American soldiers. These are not the habits of Iraq or our community and we must eliminate them.... Our aim is not to destabilize the security situation. Our aim is to help stabilize society."
However, Human Rights Watch researcher Rasha Moumneh says, "Murder and torture are no way to enforce morality.... These killings point to the continuing and lethal failure of Iraq's post-occupation authorities to establish the rule of law and protect their citizens."            
The report includes interviews with many gay Iraqi men. One man told researchers:             
"They did many things to us, the Mahdi Army...They kidnapped [my partner] for six days. He will not talk about what they did to him. There were bruises on his side as if he was dragged on the street. They did things to him he can't describe, even to me.... They sent us veiled threats in text messages: 'You are on the list.' They sent him a piece of paper in an envelope, to his home: there were three bullets wrapped in plastic, of different size[s]. The note said, 'Which one do you want in your heart?'.... I want to be a regular person, lead a normal life, walk around the city, drink coffee on the street. But because of who I am, I can't. There is no way out."
Rebecca noted that last night and that "it's really shocking how little we seem to care about that in this country." "The supposedly liberated Iraq is encouraging the assaults on their own LGBT community," Trina wrote yesterday. Mike followed the same train of thought with, "It's not 'renegades' or a 'few bad apples,' it's the Interior Ministry, it's the security forces, it's anyone with a beef -- most likely imagined -- in Iraq. And they get away with it and they have gotten away with it. And no one says, 'Just one minute'."  Marcia observed, ""I hope people in this country get that it could be them. It could be them because they're gay, because they're a person of color, because of their gender, because they have X kind of eye color. Bigotry isn't 'scientific'."  Tying it into lynchings targeting African-Americans in the US during the last century, Ann explained, "So when I read the above and realize that Iraqi LGBTs are being targeted, I do identify. I do know what it's like to wonder, as I did when I first learned of lynchings, 'Why does someone hate me so much? What have I done to them?'  Iraq's LGBT community hasn't done anything to anyone. They are being targeted because of bigotry and that's due to the fact that some people can't feel good about the day if they can't start it off hating someone else."  Elaine weighed in with, "The bigotry is always about fear. Ramiz and others are being targeted not because they did anything to anyone else but because they are feared. Sometimes it's a fear that if others know about Ramiz, they might decide to live their own lives freely. Other times it's a fear that if you don't make an effort to beat up Ramiz, people may figure out that you are gay yourself."  On the silence that has largely been the response to the report, Stan advised, "Picture yourself as gay and ask yourself what message you're then receiving as you go from left website to website and see nothing on the report or on the continued assault on Iraq's LGBT community."  Ruth noted the silence and tied it into the lack of "people to speak out strongly on behalf of Iraq's LGBT community."  As Betty pointed out, "We have nothing to lose in America by speaking out on this issue. We are protected and we are safe. And our speaking out could mean so much to a persecuted group of people. And I don't understand why we refuse to do that. If it were you being targeted, you'd want someone to speak out for you. If it were your child, you'd want someone standing up."  Kat wondered, "What if that was your boyfriend? Or your girlfriend? And, on top of everything else, you couldn't publicly mourn?"  The report was noted in Monday and Tuesday's snapshots.
Meanwhile UK Gay News reports that England is threatening to deport a gay Iraqi male and MP Sarah Teather is calling for the deportation to be halted.  They note the Human Rights Watch report and state, "Ms. Teather has been working on behalf of her constituent ever since the initial government decision to deport him.  The news from one of the most respected human rights groups in the world that anti-gay attacks are on the rise in Iraq makes it even more certain that her constituent would face execution if he returned to Iraq."  The Human Rights Watch report concludes with recommendations and among those are the need for countries to grant asylum to members of Iraq's LGBT community.  Today is World Humanitarian Day as Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, noted today at the US State Dept.  He also noted the Baghdad death six years ago of the UN's Sergio Vieria de Mello.  A lot of pretty words.  Anything behind them?  Please, more garbage -- in fact it stinks more than it did under George W. Bush.  Here's candy man Eric, "In Iraq, we're working hard to assist the government there to more effectively manage the reintegration of a displaced population whose estimates have varied, but we think it's probably around 2 million people, as well as the return of refugees."  That's what the US State Dept now does -- sends people back to a death camp.  That's ridiculous and how shameful for the Democratic Party that even under Condi Rice and George W. Bush, the previous State Dept acknowledged the violence and wasn't so obviously cold and cruel.  In Eric Schwartz's remarks the world can hear "change" -- for the worse.  And who would have ever thought that was possible.  He also bragged that the US ("by the end of this fiscal year") would have taken in 30,000 Iraqi refugees.  Really?  Because the administration promised more than that.  But that's really become Barack's campaign slogan hasn't: "We promised more . . . than we delivered."  Schwartz can take comfrot in the fact that UN's Dr. Naeema Al-Gasser made a bigger ass out of herself today than Schwartz.  She'll whore it for Nouri till her dying day and keep claiming she's doing it to help Iraqis.  Dr. Trash  gave another idiotic speech and the UN plugged it, like real idiots, noting that "Iraq is steadily moving towards recovery and reconstruction."  I believe today's reality just punked your lying asses.  And for those late to the party, Dr. Trash got into bed with Nouri most infamously last September.  That's when Iraq's yearly cholera outbreak -- due to the lack of potable water -- returned and Dr. Trash it upon herself to blame Iraqi women at a press conference for the outbreak.  Those silly, silly women, failing to properly boil the water.  No, that silly, silly government refusing to spend the needed money to repair Iraq's water system.  But there was Dr. Trash blaming Iraqi women for the cholera outbreak.  Blaming Iraqi women already under assault, already living under attack, with rates of domestic abuse soaring throughout that country.  And that's how Dr. Trash decided to 'heal.'
Meanwhile, Denmark continues its efforts to evict Iraqi refugees who had been granted santuary by Brorson's Church in Norrebro before police broke into the church and drug the refugees out.  The Copenhagen Post reports thousands of people turned out yesterday to show their support for the refugees while Ice News notes, "When the Copenhagen police forcibly evicted 19 Iraqi asylum seekers from a church in Norrebro, their tactics were anything but gentle. Such was the heavy-handed approach to rounding up the Iraqis from their shelter in Brorson's Church that cries of outrage are ringing out from all quarters."  Monday, The Copenhagen Post reported, "Speaking with Politiken newspaper, [Andam] Farzil confirmed reports of police using batons and said the beating continued inside the police bus."
Iranians at Camp Ashraf are refugees and we see how Iraq treats them.  Nouri orders an assault on them.  Some may whine "terrorists" but ask yourself about those Palestinians trapped on the Iraqi border all these years later.  Nouri's not done a damn thing to help them.  The Chicago Tribune reports that Team Barack "downplayed international fears over the safety of Iranian dissidents living at an exile camp in Iraq as recently as mid-July, days before a raid by Iraqi security forces killed 11 of the exiles and left scores wounded. . . . In a July 15 letter to a concerned British politician [MP Robin Corbett], the State Department said U.S. officials were doing their 'utmost' to ensure the safety of up to 3,500 Iranians living at Camp Ashraf in Iraq" and they quote from the letter, "U.S. military representatives are in daily contact with Camp Ashraf residents and continue to montior their situation."  Really?  Then how come that July 28th assault took the White House by surprise? 
Last week Tanya Snyder (Free Speech Radio News) reported on Camp Ashraf and among those she interviewed for the report were the International Committee of the Red Cross' Bernard Barrett who explained, "In particular concern is the whole principle of nonrefulment which basically means that a person cannot be forced to go back to a country where they have grounded or serious fears of persecution or ill treatment because of the ethnicity or political beliefs or religion or whatever."
Turning to the US, Cindy Sheehan (Cindy's Soapbox) writes the critique of Barack's VFW speech that should have come from The Progressive and The Nation but entering the Cult of St. Barack requires taking a vow of silence.  Peace Mom Cindy explains:

As I listened to clips of Obama's speech to the VFW on August 17th, 2009, I was wondering if his speechwriters were on vacation and they just recycled an old Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice speech.                                

While the so-called left is focused on the health care debacle and is allowing the so-called right to define the debate when it should be: Medicare for all, and all for Medicare; Obama and his neocon foreign policy team are preparing for a decades long, bloody foray in Af-Pak.                    

As Yael T. Abouhalkah, an editorial writer for the Kansas City Star, put it:

"President Barack Obama did his best imitation of former President George Bush Monday at the VFW national convention in Phoenix.          

Obama sounded downright hawkish -- and, yes, presidential -- when he addressed the issue of terrorism in front of the veteran-laden crowd…Dick Cheney could not have said it better."       

This is one of the reasons I am leading protests next week on Martha's Vineyard where President Obama will be vacationing. The anti-war movement cannot allow itself to be co-opted by the Democratic Party any longer.

She notes she and others will be demonstrating on Martha's Vineyard from August 26th to 30th. And she comments on the need for the demonstrating and protesting here (we'll try to note an excerpt from that tomorrow morning).
In an update to yesterday's snapshot, an e-mail advises that War Criminal Lynndie England is being 'managed' and the book she's getting press on is not her book -- she didn't write it. The author of the book was not invited on Lynndie's 'book tour'. The e-mail's verified by a friend who knows the writer. If the writer wishes to go public or wishes to be quoted anonymously, ___ will be. But I am noting War Criminal Lynndie is a on a for-show round of sympathy and the right-wing is pushing her. Her Library of Congress appearance was a stunt and I've also heard from people at the Library of Congress questioning the claims of death threats. In which case, that was yet another stunt to build sympathy for Lynndie. By the way, the book is Tortured and it was written by Gary S. Winkler whom I am told was not invited to the Library of Congress event despite offering to appear. 

Lastly, independent journalist David Bacon reports on "Taft's New Community of Mixtec Farmworkers" (ImmigrationProf Blog):

Taft was once a speculator's boomtown, surrounded by a forest of oil wells, hotbed the state's burgeoning petroleum industry. Today it is a divided community, home to a growing farm worker population, who work in the fields of the southern San Joaquin Valley. Hundreds of families have migrated to Taft from the town of San Pablo Tijaltepec in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. These Mixtec migrants charge that they are not treated as welcome participants in Taft's town life. Meanwhile, families try to preserve the indigenous Mixtec culture they've brought with them, while working and sending money home to those who depend on remittances from the north to survive.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award.