Thursday, October 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US government serves up a partially nude moment, the UN releases a new report on Iraqi refugees, the US cross-border raid assault into Syria back in 2008 receives some attention, and more.
The United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." From the introduction:
This report summarizes patterns and trends in the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during the first six months of 2009. The data in this report is based on information available as of 28 September 2009 unless otherwise indicated. It covers the 38 European and six non-European States that currently provides monthly asylum statistics to UNHCR.
The numbers in this report reflect asylum claims made at the first instance of asylum procedures: applications on appeal or review are not included. Also, this report does not include information on the outcome of asylum procedures, or on the adminission of refugees through resettlement programmes, as this information is available in other UNHCR reports.
The report uses the terms "the 44 industrialized countries" referring to: "27 Member States of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America." The study found that all the countries are seeing increased claims for asylum and the US "continued to be the largest single recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2009." The top five countries for most asylum claims are (in descending order) the US, France, Canada, UK and Germany.
Number one country of origin for aslyum seekers? From the report:
Iraq again became the main country of orgin of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries in 2006, having previously been the main source country in 2000 and 2002. Iraq also continued to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants during the first six months of 2009 with 13,200 asylum claims lodged by its citizens. The latest figures, however, show a decreasing trend, with roughly one third fewer Iraqis requesting international protection compared to the previous two semesters. The decrease in Iraqi claims was particularly signficant during the second quarter of 2009 when 5,400 applied for asylum in the 44 industrialized countreis, the lowest quarterly level since the second quarter of 2006.
During the first six months of 2009, Iraqis lodged asylum applications in 38 out of the 44 industrialized countries covered by this report, but the distribution of claims is not equally spread across countries. More than half of all Iraqi claims were submitted in just four countries: Germany (3,000), Turkey (2,600), Sweden (1,000) and the Netherlands (950). The decrease in Iraqi asylums was observed among all major receiving countries, and in particular in Sweden, where figures plummeted, from an average of roughtly 9,300 claims per semester during 2007, to 1,000 during the reporting period. Although the levels and trends in asylum flows are often difficult to explain, they can sometimes be related to concrete policy changes. In the case of Sweden, the change in Swedish decision making on Iraqi asylum claims, following the Migration Court's determination that the situation in Iraq is not one of "armed conflict", may have led to a shift in flows to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.
This was the fourth year in a row that the number one country of origin was Iraq. UNHCR also released [PDF format warning] "Developing a Livelihoods Assessment and Strategy: Case Stduy from UNCHR Jordan." The report estimates there are currently 685 Iraqis seeking asylum in Jordan and 500,413 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
The Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has come from various educational and societal backgrounds. Many had become very frustrated and suffer psychological distress due to the isolation and idleness that they face. Many were asking for an opportunity to be involved in delivering services to the refugee community (which also can be used as a method to enhance the community based approach), and many asked for opportunities to expand their existing skills and capacities.
And how many Iraqi refugees did the US accept? In the August 19th snapshot the Eric Schwartz (Asst Sect of Population, Refugees and Migration) State Dept press conference was covered. He asserted in that press conference, regarding Iraqi refugees being accepted by the US, "The numbers -- let me -- I think I may answer your next question. The numbers for fiscal year 2008, I think are on the order of about 13,000. I'm looking to my team here. And the numbers for fiscal year 2009 will get us -- will probably be up to about 20,000." Click here for transcript and video of the press conference. Following the November 2008 election, Sheri Fink (ProPublica) reported on the issue and noted, "A State Department official contacted by ProPublica said, 'We really do recognize a special responsibility.' The official said that resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009 was a minimum target. 'We hope to bring in many more.' The U.S. will also be accepting Iraqis who worked for the US through special immigrant visas, a program  that resulted from legislation introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (discussed  recently by Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues)." So how many Iraqi refugees resettle in Fiscal Year 2009? According to the US State Dept this month, the number is 18,838. Bare minimum was reached and a tiny bit passed. So what is that? The partially nude minimum? What a proud moment for the US government.
Staying with the US government, at the State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about Iraq and the 'intended' elections for January 2010 and he responded:
The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and -- I guess -- Iraqi law or the-the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What's happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text. The whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security which is composed of the head of the main parties and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President and (two) Vice Presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And, of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a -- this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a -- this is the kind of a process that you don't see very often in Baghdad. So, in some ways, it's encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.
McClatchy's Jospeh Galloway notes the 'intended' elections in a piece where he weighs in on the 'change' (non)delivered by US President Barack Obama, "The president-to-be promised a swift withdrawal from the Iraqi quicksand, but that hasn't come to pass, either. Instead, we witness a slow-mo pullout that will sort of end things on the Bush administration's timetable of late 2011 for the last American combat troops to be gone, and God only knows when for the rest to leave. That's if the Iraqi parliament can pass a new election law in time for elections to be held on schedule in January." Yesterday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy told the US House Armed Services Committee that the delay was not currently a problem. She stated that Parliament had two weeks to act and that they could "simply have a vote on an election date" and leave all other issues by the wayside as they utilized the law from the 2005 elections. This would not only mean that the elections would be on a closed-list, it would also mean the issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed. (The long post-poned issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed.) On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday (a new one begins airing tomorrow night), Jasim Azawi explained "an open list is where a group, they list every single candidate running for office, for parliament. While a closed list-- just like happened in 2005 -- you really don't know who you are voting for." Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was on the show and he is among those calling for an open list -- as is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- and Allawi offered this, "In fact, this is another failure by the Iraqi Parliament to produce a strategic law that would -- hopefully would be cementing democracy. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Likewise, the Parliament has failed in producing a law for the parties -- to say where the funding for these parties are coming from, what they are, who they are, are they national, are they sectarian, are they secular. So there are no laws -- no laws of election. Indeed, the Iraqi people are disenchanted with the so-called closed list because usually it's either voting for the sect or voting for the -- for the leader of the list." Along with using the former election law being seen as a failure by Iraqs, there's also the what Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Michele Flournoy did not reference that decision to the committee yesterday. Which doesn't mean it doesn't apply.
Other problems include Faleh Hassan (Middle East Online) reports that the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is currently "facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections" Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the "supreme Shiite religious tuhorities," the Marajiya, have concerns about the elections including the issue of the lists, "Another Iraqi who's close to the Marjaiya said their foremost goal was to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that replacing the system of party lists of candidates with direct votes for representatives would serve this aim."
US State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly was also asked today about the US Embassy in Baghdad and "shoddy work" and he sidestepped the issue with, "Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you." What was he avoiding? Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the costly ($736 million) US Embassy is the subject of a new study by the State Dept's Inspector General which finds, "contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., failed to properly design, construct and commission the largest U.S. Embassy overseas. It also cites failures by the former leadership of the State Department bureau that's responsible for constructing overseas diplomatic posts. Officials there said that those failures had been rectified, and they took issue with some aspects of the inspector general's report." And they note McClatchy's previous coverage of the US Embassy construction issues including the following:
The State Dept uses contractors to provide 'protection' in Iraq -- contactors such as Blackwater (which prefers to be called "Xe" these days). Earlier this month, Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) reported US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has shut the press and the public out of the pre-trial hearings and the judge asserts he is doing so to guarantee a fair trial. The trial? September 16, 2007, Blackwater shot up Baghdad. The death toll was at least 14. Finally the issue moves to a US court and the press and public are left in the dark. Del Quentin Wilber reported that Washington Post attorney James McLaughling lodging a request for the judge to reconsider the decision to hold the pre-trial hearing behind closed doors. Today the Los Angeles Times editorialized on the matter observing:
Urbina's action is an extreme and unjustifiable response to fears about pretrial publicity. It is also difficult to square with long-standing Supreme Court decisions requiring that courtrooms be open unless there are extraordinary circumstances justifying closure.
[. . .]
It's appropriate for a judge to worry about the effect of prejudicial publicity. But the Supreme Court repeatedly has insisted that there are ways to minimize the effect of publicity without closing the courtroom or forbidding the media to report on what transpires there. For example, when it comes time to select the jury, candidates can be subjected to what the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger called "searching questioning ... to screen out those with fixed opinions as to guilt or innocence."
[. . .]
As for the revelation of secret grand jury material, to the extent that's a problem, the judge could close sessions in which such testimony was likely to play a part and release redacted transcripts later. But blanket secrecy is no more justified by a fear of disclosing grand jury testimony than it is by a concern about pretrial publicity.
Meanwhile Josh Gerstein (Politico) reports that attorneys representing the five Blackwater contractors in the case "are demanding that the U.S. government arrange armed security for the defense team as it heads into the dangerous streets of Baghdad to gather evidence and interview witnesses." Among the arguments the defense is making is that the prosecution will be relying on the efforst of the FBI which has visited Baghdad to meet with witnesses and compile evidence. Gerstein notes that, last month, "Judge Ricardo Urbina asked Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson to consider the plea for help." As the FBI noted last December, a sixth Blackwater contractor entered a guilty please December 5th "to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the Sept. 16, 2007 shooting at Nisur Square." At a press conference December 8th, US Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan declared, "While there were dangers in Baghdad in September 2007, there were also ordinary people going about their lives, performing mundane daily tasks, like making their way through a crowded traffic circle." In the press conference it was noted that "at least 14 persons" were killed and at least twenty were injured while and the five contractors were also alleged to be responsible for "assaulting but not injuring at least 18."
Nouri al-Maliki hid out in Syria for many years and Syria rejected efforts on the parts of the then-government in Iraq to extradite Nouri and many others. These days he's angry that Syria won't turn over Iraqis to the current government or 'government' in Baghdad. He thinks if he stomps his feet, Syria should immediately turn over approximately 200 Iraqis. When Black Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday, Gory Wednesday took place back in August, Nouri immediately attempted to utilize the Baghdad bombings to claim that Syria was enabling terrorism and that they must turn Iraqis over. This wasn't the first time the Nouri led government or 'government' in Baghdad had taken part in confrontations with Syria. Dropping back to the October 27, 2008 snapshot:
Yesterday Reuters reported that US and Iraqi officials were summed by the Syrian Foriegn Ministry following an attack which the Telegraph of London described as follows: "In an echo of the Israeli air strikes which last year targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, US military helicopters were reported to have crossed into Syria to drop troops who then executed the mission.
The state news agency Sana reported that eight civilians had been killed in the raid. 'Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (1345 GMT) on Sunday,' it said. 'American soldiers' who had emerged from helicopters 'attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths. The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory,' Sana said." Tony Perry (Babylon and Beyond, Los Angeles Times) wondered, "Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike?" Today Ellen Knickmeyer and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) explained, "U.S. attacks inside Syria are extremely rare, though the U.S. military has stepped up security along Iraq's border with Syria in recent months to stem the traffic of fighters and weapons into Iraq. U.S. officials say many insurgents, particularly suicide bombers, arrive in Iraq via the Syrian border." Reuters reports: "A deadly raid on the Syrian side of Iraq's border, blamed by Syria on the United States, targeted an area used by insurgents for attacks on Iraq, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Monday." CNN cites Sgt Brooke Murphy as one military spokesperson stonewalling: "Unfortunately, we cannot confirm anything at the moment." Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) explain, "In Washington, several military representatives who were asked about the operation did not deny that a raid had taken place. Although they would not confirm the attack, they used language typically employed after raids conducted by secretive special operations forces."
Reese Erlich and Peter Coyote (Vanity Fair) examine the attack. This is from their opening where they detail how bystander Akram Hamid ended up shot by US forces:
They display no markings of the Syrian Air Force, and they are the wrong color, painted black. He sees a B and a four. And they are flying low. When the door-gunners open fire, Hamid throws himself against the angled bank of the river. The men are shooting everywhere, firing from the air, spraying the ground.
Suddenly, the formation splits apart. Two helicopters hover just above the cinder-block walls that enclose a small farm, 300 feet away. One disappears inside the farm, and the last one lands about halfway between him and the wall. Eight men in uniform leap out and run quickly, crouching low, carrying weapons. They are not Syrians. They take cover farther up along the same bank, several hundred yards away.
Shells from the air are tearing out chunks of concrete, punching holes through the cinder blocks as if it were paper. The noise of the guns and motors is deafening. Hamid pulls himself along the rutted ground, peers fearfully over the edge of the bank, and slithers away, taking advantage of a lone tree for cover. He does not understand what is happening.
Some of the eight soldiers on the ground move forward and take up positions outside the high walls, but they don't seem to notice him. The hovering helicopters continue firing, tearing up the ground between him and the farm. "I thought it was safe because they didn't shoot at me," Hamid says later. After watching for about 15 minutes, he jumps on his bike to escape but, he says, "that's when they shot me." A bullet rips through his right arm, breaking it, mangling the muscles and nerves badly, and knocking him to the ground. Struggling to his feet, he sees the soldiers watching him as they climb into the helicopters and leave. "I was the last one they shot," he recalls. "No one was shooting at the soldiers," Hamid continues with certainty. "No one was shooting back."
Turning to some of today's reported violence in Iraq . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 person and left another injured, a second Baghdad sticky bombing wounded four people, 1 Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, 1 Mosul roadside bombing left three people injured and a Diyala Province sticky bombing was an attack on Sahwa leader Sheikh Hussam Aziz and injured him and his driver.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that Wedensday night 1 person was shot dead in Kirkuk and 3 people were shot dead in Mosul while today in Mosul 1 woman and her 6 children were shot dead by her husband (the children's father) who then took his own life and a Mosul armed clash resulted in 2 deaths (one police officer, one assailant). Reuters notes 1 person shot dead in Mosul today.
In the US, Courage to Resist notes that Iraq War resister Tony Anderson has been "released from the Ft. Sill stockade after serving a full year in prison for refusing to fight in Iraq" and quote Tony stating, "I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don't regret following my conscience. I know there must be consequences for my actions and I must accept this fact." And they note, "Please help Courage to Resist support the troops that refuse to fight with your urgently needed tax-deductible donation today. We also host a number of individual defense funds if you wish to contribute to a specific resister. Read more ." And Ms. magazine notes:
What does it mean that for the first time in U.S. history women are about to become the majority of U.S. paid workers?
Ms. is pre-releasing its Fall feature article "Paycheck Feminism," that suggests some of the governmental policies that can and must change to meet the needs of women today.
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