Thursday, April 08, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, April 8, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces two deaths, neighborhood raids take place in Baghdad (where's the press?), actions seen in the US military video WikiLeaks released continues to be debated, Iraq Veterans Against the War asks for your online vote, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATIONS BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- Two United States Division - North Soldiers died of injuries sustained in combat operations while conducting a patrol in northern Iraq, April 7. Five other Soldiers were injured and evacuated to a military medical facility where they are currently being treated. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The deaths bring the total number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4390. In all, three US service members have died in Iraq this week.
Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh were two journalists for Reuters killed by US troops July 12, 2007. Monday WikiLeaks released US military video of the assault. Today on Talk Of The Nation (NPR), Neal Conan spoke with Columbia Journalism Review's Clint Hendler. We'll note some background on WikiLeaks first.
Neal Conan: And how new is this organization [WikiLeaks] and what does it consist of
Clint Hendler: A couple of years old. Founded, I think, in 2006, 2007. What it consists of is a good question because it's a little -- they kind of run on the edge financially and personnel wise. There are two primary spokespeople. A man named Julian Assange, an Australian national, another man Daniel Schmitt, who's German.  Assange has said that the prime group of people who really make WikiLeaks run are about five people or so and then there's an additional quadron of volunteers that they can bring in project to project to help them out with analysis and decription and what have you.
Neal Conan: Well we'll get to all of those in a minute. Who funds it?
Clint Hendler: That's a good question too. They take donations from online readers   They also apparently have a group of more deep-poketed donors.
They took calls to get listeners reactions to the video. 
Neal Conan: Reed, what did you learn from it?
Reed: What did I learn from the video?
Neal Conan: Yeah.
Reed: Well I guess I-I what I think mostly is how far we removed we are [from Iraq,] how far off our radar and basically how we've buried our heads in the sand and when something like this comes out, it's very clear that things are going on that we're not made aware of.
A caller from San Antonio took offense to Conan referring to the video as "disturbing" and Conan responded, "It is disturbing -- It is disturbing to see a group of men standing around -- and I believe that some of them were armed and I believe that some of them were journalist and, clearly, some of them were unarmed. I understand what the Rules of Engagement were at that time and they were operating within those Rules of Engagement and that it's difficult for us sitting here in Washington, DC or San Antonio, Texas to put ourselves in the postion of those men in the helicopter or know what the situation was with those US troops who were under fire not far away.  Nevertheless, the loss of life is disturbing."  At Lens Blog (New York Times), Michael Kamber remembers Namir:
Namir made his name with harrowing photos of the insurgency in the northern city of Mosul in 2006, when it was among the most dangerous places in Iraq. His photo of a masked insurgent carrying a looted bulletproof vest marked "Police" in large letters, was one of the seminal images of the war -- a single photo that captured Iraq's descent into chaos and the inability of the Iraqi and American governments to protect resources, or pretty much anything else at that point.  
Namir repeatedly got to the scene of attacks while vehicles and buildings still billowed flames and bodies lay in the street. The danger in such coverage is hard to express in words: firefights broke out spontaneously, unseen snipers fired on civilians at will, insurgents killed journalists who they accused of working for the "Western invaders." And the American forces -- sometimes invisible a mile or more away -- fired through thermal sights at individuals they believed to be insurgents as they gathered around damaged coalition vehicles in the midst of a combat zone.                     
Namir was 21 years old when he did his groundbreaking work in Mosul. By the age of 22, he had seen as much death as many hardened combat veterans. As threats against his life mounted -- from Iraqi insurgents unhappy with the truths his photos revealed -- Reuters moved him to Baghdad for his own security. There, he quickly became one of the most beloved members of the Reuters staff, a cheerful, funny, smart young man who loved motorcycles, staff members recall.             
On July 12, 2007, Namir set out with Saeed, his driver, to do a story on weightlifting. Hearing of nearby violence, he changed routes and went to the neighborhood of New Baghdad, where fighting was taking place.         
Amnesty International issued the following today:

The 39-minute video released on Monday by WikiLeaks, appears to show a helicopter gunsight video with an audio track of conversation among the crew opening fire on a group of men, two of whom appear to be armed, moving about a square in eastern Baghdad. It also shows further firing on a van which arrives, apparently to evacuate the wounded and the dead. Two children were wounded in the incident.         
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:
"This highly disturbing video appears to show that after the initial attack, US troops opened fire on people seeking to assist a wounded man, injuring two children, and killing several more people.            
"These troubling images can not be viewed or judged in isolation and must be put into the context of what else was happening in the vicinity. The US authorities must disclose any further information or footage that will shed light on this and they must conduct a proper investigation to determine whether US forces adhered to the rules of international humanitarian law and took necessary precautions to spare civilians."                     
Amnesty is calling for the incidents depicted in the video to be independently investigated and for reparation, including compensation, to be made available to victims of violations of international humanitarian law.             
A US military investigation into the attack concluded that correct rules of engagement were followed, although those killed and injured included civilians.
WikiLeaks said the men in the square included Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, who were both killed in the incident.               

The only thing that will provide clarity to the confusion between what is shown on the video and the military's initial report is a new investigation. BBC News quotes Reuters' David Schlesinger stating, "I would welcome a thorough new investigation. Reuters from the start has called for transparency and an objective inquiry so that all can learn lessons from this tragedy." Last night, Adam Entous (Reuters) reported that CentCom was stating there were no "plans to reopen an investigation into" the assault. Michael Sheridan (New York Daily News) quotes CentCom spokersperson Jack Hanzlik stating on television yesterday, "The video only tells you a portion of the activity that was happening that day." Deutsche Welle offers a roundup of some press reactions including Berliner Zeitung ("The leaked WikiLeaks material shows bloodthirsty soldiers coldly pursuing their business.") and Sueddeutsche Zeitung ("There is only one word to describe what happened that day: murder."). Lauren Crothers (Toronto Star) notes, "War has become nothing more than a video game."  At World Can't Wait, Elaine Brower wonders: "Why are these occurences such a 'shock' to those who are paying attention? Does anyone really think that these are unusual circumstances?"  Benedict Carey (New York Times) notes some of the intercom comments made by US service members during the assault and reactions to it, including former military psychologist Bret A. Moore who states, "You don't want combat soldiers to be foolish or to jump the gun, but their job is to destroy the enemy, and one way they're able to do that is to see it as a game, so that the people don't seem real." Laura Essig (True/Slant) terms Carey's article an "apologia" and states that she "must weigh in on the utter and complete lack of journalistic integrity at the Times." Among the radio programs covering the story is The Takeaway (we'll note another radio program tomorrow that we don't have room for today) which today offered responses from their listeners.
Caller: This is Tim, in New Beford, Mass. The United States media has a responsibility to show military confrontations in their entirety. and you can't make decisions about United States' policy in other countries unless you have the entire truth. The media has to show these kinds of videos. 
In addition to listeners reactions, Takeaway producer Noel King spoke with Centcom which provided multiple photos they said showed weapons at the scene but in only one image could King make out an image.  Request for further supporting evidence was met with the assertion that they couldn't release anything else, that photos which would offer stronger proof had been redacted, etc.  For those whom streaming doesn't beneift, King has written up her interaction with CentCom here. Dahr Jamail will cover tomorrow, in terms of radio. But click here for his (text) report regarding the US military video. I meant to include Dahr's upcoming speaking events last week and there wasn't space.  So we'll put his radio discussion of the military video on hold and note them here.  The first event on the list is tomorrow evening, so I really can't push it back another day and into another snapshot:
Santa Fe, NM
April 9, 2010 --  6:30 pm       

WELCOME TO HELL                 
Life Under Siege in Gaza         

MOHAMMED OMER            
Award-winning independent journalist from the Gaza Strip, and author of the Rafah Today blog          

Followed by a conversation with
Journalist,author and co-recipient with Mohammed of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism       

Unitarian Congregation       
107 West Barcelona Rd       
Santa Fe, NM 

Suggested Donation $5

Sponsored by Another Jewish Voice Santa Fe and the Middle East Peace and Justice Alliance  
Endorsed by Veterans for Peace Santa Fe Chapter, Santa Fe Women in Black


Portland, Oregon
April 10, 2010– 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm    

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility Annual Awards Dinner 2010   

with Keynote Speaker, Dahr Jamail                   
Independent Journalist, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan       

Honoring the High School Student Winners of the Greenfield Peace Writing Contest               

Music by Retta and the Smart Fellas        

The Oregon Zoo                 
4001 SW Canyon Road
Portland, Oregon                        

Please RSVP by March 26th    

To purchase by check, or for more information including how to place a congratulatory message or ad in the keepsake book, become a table captain or sponsor of the event, contact Kelly Campbell at 503-274-2720.            


Moscow, Idaho   
April 29, 2010 -- 7:00 pm to9:00 pm                      

Kenworthy Performing Arts Center              
508 S. Main St., Moscow, Idaho                    

Empire, Occupation, Resistance, and Independent Media:
A Fund Raiser for Radio Free Moscow with Dahr Jamail

Snacks and drinks served.

** Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches **
** Visit Dahr Jamail's website **

Dahr Jamail's new book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now available.

Order the book here

As one of the first and few unembedded Western journalists to report the truth about how the United States has destroyed, not liberated, Iraqi society in his book Beyond the Green Zone, Jamail now investigates the under-reported but growing antiwar resistance of American GIs. Gathering the stories of these courageous men and women, Jamail shows us that far from "supporting our troops," politicians have betrayed them at every turn. Finally, Jamail shows us that the true heroes of the criminal tragedy of the Iraq War are those brave enough to say no.            

Order Beyond the Green Zone  

"International journalism at its best." --Stephen Kinzer, former bureau chief, New York Times; author All the Shah's Men

Winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism
If you attend any of the events, you can be sure Dahr will be discussing the WikiLeaks story at some point in the exchange. 
Elections were held March 7th and today the attempts at creating a power-sharing coalition presumably continue.  Simon Jenkins (Guardian) notes that the West at least exported elections to Iraq and Afghanistan, if nothing else, and:
For the time being, Baghdad's government has been in abeyance. The Sunni militias, reportedly backed by al‑Qaida, have returned to the streets, and the death rate is again soaring. Kurdistan is all but a separate country, and the odds are on the Sunnis being forced back into a semi-autonomous region. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and millions been driven from their homes – including almost all Iraq's ancient population of Christians. The import of democracy has so far just inflamed local tension and fuelled fundamentalism. Like precious porcelain, elections were exported without instructions on their care. In the absence of adequate security, they are little more than tribal plebiscites.
But what is going on in Baghdad?  An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers reports neighborhood raids at Inside Iraq as she details attempting to get home after work on Tuesday where her two children are.  She encounters masked men at one check point and they refuse to let her pass.  She encounters another checkpoint at the other entrance and the same refusal.  But, she's told, if she really lives in the neighborhood, she'll know a third way in.  That's apparently driving through a school parking lot which she attempts but is stopped and surrounded.  Finally, she's told she can enter that way . . . on foot.  She'll need to park her car in someone's garage or it will be mistaken for a car containing a bomb.  After doing that and taking a cab back to the school, she's allowed to proceed on foot, arriving home, finally, at 8:45 p.m.   That's Tuesday.  She wakes up Wednesday and:
As I started to walk out my house, a soldier at the far end of the road indicated to me to go back inside. I knew then that it was a raid and search operation, and that the search was the next step.          
Indeed, as the day progressed it became evident that a military convoy was conducting a search. They knocked on the door, we let them in. They asked if we had weapons, searched the rooms and asked how many people lived in the house.     
For some reason, that bothered them. "Only three?? You and your two children? That's all? No-one else? Only you three???"           
A little more than 15 minutes later they moved on. But for 24 hours, since the evening before, we had absolutely no phone-net coverage. And the other thing is that although there were a few Americans with the convoy, they did not seem to be leading, and they did not participate in the search.
Today, I found out that our neighbourhood wasn't the only one being searched. Mansour and Yarmouk witnessed searches and some detentions; and farther west, Abu Ghraib district witnessed the detention of hundreds of young men.
Is this a security operation based on sound intelligence -- or a blind lash-out as a reaction to the bombings in the last few days -- a  futile attempt to quell the outcry against bad security..
As Nouri's forces have imprisoned some political opponents causing others to go into hiding, why are search missions taking place in Baghdad and why is it that her report is the first time it's being reported?
NPR's Deborah Amos is the author of the just released Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. Her book addresses the refugee population and notes early on (introduction): "An estimated 60 percent of the refugees are Sunni Arabs. Fifteen percent are Iraqi Christians. Secular Shiites, Mandaeans, Yazidis and Kurds are adrift, too, the losers in a brutal civil war that sealed the power of Shiite nationalists."  Further into the book, she writes:

The collapse of multicultural Iraq had begun with the Christians. The first indications of the politics of displacement came not with the Sunnis but with the oldest community in Iraq, the Christians: Their experience of persecution, which began almost immediately after the U.S. invasion, was a model for the much larger Sunni crisis that would follow.
[. . .]
Many Iraqi Christians had supported that invasion and hoped life might improve for them with the colapse of the Baath regime. But with the rise of militant Islam in Iraq, Christians were more directly associated with the hated West and therefore linked to the American presence.  They became particular targets. It did not help that the muscular American evangelical movement arrived in Iraq Along with American tanks.  Samaritan's Purse, the global relief organization  led by the Reverend Franklin Graham, who called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion, mobilized missionaries and relief supplied in the months after the invasion, which in turn mobilized Islamists to target Iraqi Christians.
As a result, Iraq's Christians were among the first to leave after Saddam's deposition. Their departure was the beginning of the cleansing of Iraq's historically diverse sectarian landscape. Some fo the wealthiest Christian families crossed the borders within months of the arrival of American troops, and even more packed up after churches across the country were firebombed in coordinated attacks in 2004. Iraq's Christian exiles expected to qualify more easily for resettlement in the West and they could count on temporary shelter in the established Chrstian communities in the Middle East in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.
But the resettlment process was agonizingly slow and the long wait was taking a toll. On a winter morning in Damascus, the basement kitchen of Ibrahim Khalil Church had been turned into a feeding center for Iraqi Christians sliding into destitution. Three times a week, stern Syrian nuns in stiff white habits ladled out fragrant lamb and rice from large aluminum pots. The church also opened a free medical clinic with volunteer Syrian doctors who doled out medicine for many chronically ill Iraqis who could no longer afford private care. Counseling for the vast number of rape cases and services for trauma victims, especially children, were very limited, but these were the only services available.
More than a hundred bedraggled Iraqis, most of them women, silently inched up the food line, their pans and plastic containers ready for a hot handout that was a welcome addition to a survival diet of bread and heavily sugared tea. Some told me, quietly, that their husbands had worked as translators for the U.S. military and had to leave the country when the family was threatened by neighborhood militias. They had packed quickly. Most said they had exhausted the family savings and now depended on food handouts. Muslims were welcome here, too. The common denominators were hunger and humiliation for people who had been part of Baghdad's middle class, which had considered itself the Arab world's urban elite.
Staying with the refugee population, Tuesday BBC Radio 4 aired Iraq's Forgotten Conflict, a news special from Edward Stourton on the religious minorities in Iraq. (You have four more days to access it. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.) Stourton notes that there are now 8 Jews in all of Iraq.  Jews are not the focus of the special -- and that's their only mention -- but Christians, Yazidis and Mandaens.  Because we've focused less on the Mandaens over the years, we'll emphasize them from the documentary.
Edward Stourton: Christianity isn't the only religion that flourished in Iraq during that period. A group called the Mandaens put down roots too.  The Mandaens believe that John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. They see themselves as Christianity's close cousins and, like Iraq's Christians, they've been targeted since the invasion. Salman Sada is one of the Mandaens who, again, like so many Christians, have taken safety in the refuge of Erbil.
Salman Sada:  Mandaens have suffered as a targeted people. And they have suffered from killing and persecutions and kidnaps.  And for that they escape and flee out of Iraq, most of them, to Syria and Jordan. And they have immigrate to third countries such as UK, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Australia, America, Canada.
Edward Stourton: How many of the Mandaens have left and how many remain in the country?
Salman Sada:  Less than 5,000 remain inside Iraq. 85% of community are either refugee  or are seeking refugee [status].
Edward Stourton: Do you think the Mandaens will survive in Iraq?
Salman Sada:  I doubt it.
Edward Stourton: In Baghdad, I met the second most senior priest in the Mandaen hierarchy, Sheikh Alaa, and he explained to me why members of the religion are so vulnerable in today's Iraq.
Edward Stourton: Can you explain to me the Mandaen view of violence?
Sheikh Alaa: [Translated] The Mandaens always emphasize on peace and peaceful living in society. We are absolutely opposed and against any acts of violence against a fellow human being of whatever sect or religion.
Edward Stourton: So, to be clear, it's forbidden to use any sort of violence even in an army or something of that kind?  You can't carry weapons, you can't perform any kind of violence at all, is that right? You're pacificists.
Sheikh Alaa:  We cannot.  But for compulsary service -- and there you will be executed in the dictatorship if not. But our religion forbids carrying arms and using acts of violence.  Especially when it comes to unjustified wars.  The truth -- not necessarily all with you, or all with me --  it could be somewhere in the middle.  Thus there's always a dialogue and keeping bridges of communications.
Edward Stourton: Tell me what's happened to Mandeans since the invasion of 2003 because they've had many difficulties, haven't they?
Sheikh Alaa: This exodus and fleeing of the country -- this has caused us a lot of difficulties.  This has led to the diminishing numbers of Mandaens in Iraq which is heart breaking. But we have felt marginalized in Iraq. We felt being set aside. Despite all the sacrifices and our role in society which has been an honorable role throughout. Only three days ago, a very honorable and [. . .] gentleman was a goldsmith in an area in Saydiyah in central Baghdad was murdered in and all of his belongings were stolen. The occurence of these criminal acts -- there are tens and hundreds of other examples in there. These are robberies which very few follow up in catching the perpetrator. Moreover in each and every single incidnet of such heinious attacks, the families of the victims were threatened not to pursue any legal action.
Edward Stourton: The Mandaens perform all their religious rites in water and they're required to go through a new river baptisim every Sunday. It's one thing to do that in southern Iraq, quite another to do that in Sweden where so many of them have fled.  The group leaders feel their traditions will simply get lost in the diaspora life. Dr. Layla al Roomi is campaigning to attract international attention to the plight of the Mandaens, fearing that the religion really could soon become extinct. She's been interviewing exiled Mandaens about what drove them away from their historical home.

Dr. Layla al Roomi: Women told me their stories, that were raped.  A woman who was raped by four men, all night alone with her husband watching, for no reason other than being a Mandaen.  She's not covering her hair because we don't cover our hair. She was wearing jeans, they told her. So for this 'reason,' that gave them 'the right' to go and rape her. She was pregnant. She lost the baby. She is traumatized. I saw a 17-year-old boy who was in an art college. Some of his colleagues abducted him. They circumsized him by force without any anesthetic.  Because the Mandean religion prohibits circumsion. And to become a Muslim, you have to be circumcized. They were reading part of the Suras from the Koran on his head while he was forced with two men to his arms and legs and circumsized that way. The Mandean feel it is targeted. The Christians feel it is targeted. The reason why it is targeted  is that some of al Qaeda have sworn that Iraq will become an entirely Muslim country and that they will rid Iraq of what they call the "infidel." And the first infadel are the Mandean. 
Online currently, a $25,000 grant is up for grabs and the winner will be decided by the number of online votes.  Iraq Veterans Against the War notes:


Warrior Writers Project is applying for a $25,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh program and we need your vote!                             

Starting April 1, Pepsi will post all the proposals it has received so the public can vote.             

The top ten proposals in the $25,000 range win. Grants will be used to fund three 2010 Warrior Writers retreats for veterans throughout the country, so vote early and vote every day!                

If you are really motivated to help, plan an event or house party so you can get people to vote. All you need is a laptop and friends willing to offer their votes.

At every event you attend/organize in April, please make this announcement and set up a laptop to ask folks to vote for us. We can do this!!            

(IVAW is the fiscal sponsor of the Warrior Writers Project. Application for this grant does not constitute endorsement of the Pepsi Cola Corporation or any of its products.)              


"Yes, folks, it's true," writes NOW on PBS executive producer John Siceloff, "NOW on PBS has come to the end of its broadcast run. The last episode will air on April 30, 2010. PBS announced last fall it was canceling NOW and providing funding for a new public affairs show called Need to Know." Click here for the rest of his essay. The program begins airing each week on Fridays on most PBS stations (check local listings) and this week they look at the economy:

The national economic disaster hit the city of Braddock Pennsylvania
like a wrecking ball. But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman -- dubbed
"America's Coolest Mayor" by The New York Times -- is taking very
unconventional approaches to reinventing the town and re-inspiring its
residents. Home to the nation's first A&P supermarket and Andrew
Carnegie's first steel mill, Braddock is being revitalized with new
youth and art programs, renovations of abandoned real estate, and bold
plans to attract artists and green industries.         

On Friday, April 9 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW sits down with  
Mayor Fetterman to learn how the 6'8" 370-pound political novice is      
trying to turn his town around, and if other devastated communities can
and should follow his large footsteps.