Sunday, November 07, 2010

And the war drags on . . .

One of last week's biggest stories -- except in the US -- was the Sunday attack on a Baghdad church. It was news around the world and horrified people of all faiths and of no faith. Just as you do not expect a school to be a terrorist target (see the Beslan school hostage), you do not expect people participating in a faith worship to be held hostage. The US was supposed to be a beacon of religious freedom, that's part of why it was considered "the New World." As Eliza Griswold (Daily Beast) pointed out, "It also marks a shift in patterns of violence. It's nothing new for militants to destroy empty churches. But this bloodbath in a sanctuary full of worshippers is horribly new." Jim Muir (BBC News) notes it is "the worst single disaster to afflict Iraq's Christians in modern times". Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reports, "In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the church, France offered refuge to 150 Iraqi Christians, including some of the wounded."

For those outside the US, the attack last Sunday -- resulting in at least 58 deaths -- brought up history as well as fears. It was only in the still relatively 'new' (on the world stage) United States that the attack was treated by so many news outlets as just another moment of violence in Iraq. Friday, US House Rep Anna G. Eshoo's office issued the following:

Call on the Administration to Develop Comprehensive Policy to Protect Indigenous Religious Communities in Iraq

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of the hostage crisis which occurred at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (CA-14) and Frank Wolf (VA-10), who co-chair the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, as well as several other Representatives, sent a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive policy for the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq. Members of Congress also offered condolences to the victims and their families.

Rep. Eshoo said: “As an Assyrian American, the plight of Iraq’s indigenous religious communities has always held a very personal significance for me. Nearly constant violence has been a tragic consequence of our involvement in Iraq, and without clear action from the U.S. government, Iraq’s ancient Christian community faces extinction. The horrific attack and loss of life once again underscores the need for a concrete strategy to protect Iraq’s religious minorities.”

Rep. Wolf said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the hostage crisis at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad. This horrific attack against Christians gathered in their place of worship is symptomatic of a much larger problem—namely that Iraq’s ancient faith communities are being systematically targeted and driven from the land they have inhabited for centuries, threatening their very existence in modern day Iraq. Successive administrations have failed to recognize the unique needs of these indigenous faith communities and to prioritize their protection and preservation. This neglect comes at a grave cost. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a renewed focus on the plight of these vulnerable communities.”

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk said: “I condemn in the strongest terms the horrific attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad and extend my deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We must recognize that this reprehensible act specifically targeted the Iraqi Christians, continuing an alarming pattern of violence against vulnerable minority groups in Iraq. In the wake of this tragedy, I call on the Iraqi government, the Obama Administration, as well as international stakeholders, to prioritize the protection of indigenous religious communities in Iraq.”

Rep. Trent Franks said: “This devastating attack, which claimed the lives of 58 people who committed no offense other than having the 'nerve' to be Christian, reminds us that the precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans are not a given in other parts of the world. Despite the incredible progress Iraq has made over the past decade, it can never truly be said that Iraq is a wholly free and stable representative of Democracy in the Middle East until religious minorities are able to put their beliefs into action without fear of reprisal. I join my colleagues in mourning the lives senselessly lost as a result of this cowardly violence and I call on the Obama Administration to prioritize an articulated strategy for Iraq’s indigenous religious community.”

Rep. Chris Smith: “The devastation suffered by members of Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church—and of all religious minorities in Iraq—is almost beyond the comprehension of those of us who live in a country where the human right of religious freedom is respected. Nearly half of the worshipers died, and those who survived were wounded in body and spirit by the psychotic hatred of those who would control the free world through terror. We must protect, as first priority, the courageous believers who dare to follow their conscience rather than be controlled by fear. It is they who help lead the way in the fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq.”

Rep. Scott Garrett: “I extend my deepest condolences to the family members and loved ones of those who perished on Sunday at Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church. As thousands of Iraqis continue to be the victims of ethnic and religious discrimination in Iraq, I encourage Secretary Clinton to develop a strategy to address the ongoing atrocities. The United States was founded on the principles of freedom and equality, and should strongly resist the intolerance that fueled the recent hostage crisis in Baghdad.”


Click here to view the letter.

Tuesday, as funerals were concluding, Baghdad was slammed by bombings. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers shares his story at Inside Iraq:

Last Tuesday was one of the most frightful days in my life.

I was 115 miles away from my family sharing my uncle’s family their sorrow for losing my uncle who died last Sunday. It was the second day of the funeral when I heard about the bloody explosions in Baghdad. More than 20 explosions swept the capital killing dozens of innocent people less than 24 hours after the bloody attack that targeted the Lady of Salvation Church in downtown Baghdad. I called my wife to check about the situation in my neighborhood when she said “ we are not really good because there is a car bomb only few meters from our house." I was shocked by the news and could not believe it for a while. My first reaction was a very big (WHAT). She confirmed the news adding “our neighbor’s young son saw the car near their house. He asked all the neighbors about it and no one could recognize the car. His curiosity pushed him to check the car. He laid down under the car. He saw a blinking green light. He shouted “car bomb” and run and told the security forces.”

At that point, the images of the bloody explosions that I covered during my seven years of work came to my mind. I started giving her some safety instructions. She told me that my brother gathered all the family in the rare rooms which is the safest. While I was talking to my wife, I heard the sound of shooting and when I checked with her, she told me that the police forces evacuated all the houses near the car bomb and they prevented people from coming closer by shooting in the air.

In England today, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood has issued a statement. CNN quotes him calling for Iraqi Christians to leave Iraq immediately:

I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing. This is better than having them killed one by one. [. . .] The Iraqi government is weak, biased, if not extremist. It does not protect us and the other minorities. It has ignored our legal rights. We ask the British government, the EU and the UN to protect us. [. . .] I ask the British government again to help the Iraqi Christians and grant them the rights of humanitarian asylum in order to preserve what is left of the victims who do not carry a weapon to fight and kill."

The Archbishop appeared on BBC News today (link has text and video):

Archbishop Athanasios Dawood: Our people now in Iraq, they are living in danger -- no protection, no support, nobody look after them. After this many years -- about eight -- since the fall of the old regime, nobody support our people. Our people are trying to flee from Iraq afraid from persecution, from killing, from ethnic cleansing and all the terrorists now, they attack all of our people in Iraq.

Cecil Angel (Detroit Free Press) reports Iraqi-American Andre Anton lost two cousins in the attack (one of which was one of the two priests killed) and he is organizing a rally in Detroit tomorrow "for noon [. . .] at the McNamara Federal building" which he hopes will be attended by people of all beliefs and that rallies will also be held in other US cities. The March Against the Ethnic Cleansing of Iraq's Indigenous Christians notes:

Time Monday, November 8 · 12:00pm - 3:00pm


Location Detroit, Phoenix, Newark/NYC, Chicago, San Diego, Modesto, Toronto, AUSTRALIA, SWEDEN, HOLLAND, GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, UNITED KINGDOM

Becky Schlikerman (Chicago Tribune) explains
, "Dubbed 'The Black March' because protesters will wear all black, the Chicago rally will start at noon at the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. Thousands of Facebook members have said they plan to attend similar rallies in other cities. According to 2000 census data, there are approximately 16,000 Assyrians in Illinois. But local Assyrian leaders say there are closer to 100,000 in the Chicago area. Organizers, like Shino, said they've reached out to people of all faiths, including Jews, Muslims and other Christian groups, including Chaldean Catholics who have common roots in ancient Mesopotamia, to stand in solidarity with the victims of an Oct. 31 attack on a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad." Christine Dobby (Toronto Star) notes Toronto rallied Saturday as well, "The marchers, who congregated at Front and Yonge Sts. and made their way up University Ave. past the U.S. embassy to Queen's Park, chanted slogans like, 'Stop killing Iraqi Christians'." Vatican Radio adds, "The Catholic community in Baghdad and throughout Iraq gathered for Sunday mass amid heightened security, following last weeks attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church. Elsewhere, thousands took to the streets of cities in Canada and the US this weekend to commemorate last Sunday's massacre and call for greater protection for the dwindling minority in Iraq."

Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad held their first mass today since last week's attack. Jo Siedlecka (Independent Catholic News) reports, "The walls are covered in bullet holes and still stained with blood; benches have been moved out of the church where 120 people were held hostage by Islamic militants. Father Mukhlis began the Mass by saying they would pray for the victims of the assault and for the attackers alike. He said: 'We will perform a strange kind of prayer, because Christ tells us: "Love your enemies." We will pray for those who assaulted our church and shed the blood of our martyrs. AP notes, of last Sunday's assault, "at least one . . . [of the two priests killed last week] was shot execution-style on the church floor."

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the number of US military people killed in the Iraq War since the start of the illegal war was 4430. Tonight? PDF format warning, DoD lists the the number of Americans killed serving in Iraq remains at 4430.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports mortars landed in the Green Zone today, a Baquba sticky bombing wounded five people, a Baquba mortar attack wounded three people and a Tikrit roadside bombing wounded two police officers. Reuters notes a roadside bombing "between Mosul and Tal Afar" claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five more injured, a Samarra roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 Sahwa and left two more injured, another Samarra roadside bombing left four people wounded, a Samarra bicycle bombing left two people injured and a Mosul grenade attack wounded a teenage female.


Reuters notes a Sunni Imam was shot dead in Baghdad and a suspected bomber was shot dead by the Iraqi military in Tal Afar. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul security guard was shot dead in front of his home, a Mosul drive-by wounded two Iraqi soldiers and an attack on a Salahuddin Sahwa checkpoint resulted in two Sahwa being wounded.

As the violence continues, so does the political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months and thirty-one days and still counting.

News out of Iraq is A DEAL HAS BEEN CONCLUDED!!!! In the real world, Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) remains rooted to reality and notes that Nouri's spokesperson has "claimed an agreement has been struck for him to remain in office." We'll be kind and not name the stupid tonight. But until it's signed off on, nothing's taken place. They will not be meeting Monday (though State Of Law, the Kurds and Iraqiya are supposed to make a joint-statement tomorrow). It's also true that should Parliament vote Nouri the chance to be prime minister, the minute they do a clock begins ticking with requirements that must be met by specific dates or Parliament can choose someone else. Since the process seems to be confusing, the first thing the Parliament has to do is vote in a Speaker and two deputies. After that takes place -- and there's no reason to believe it will take place quickly or slowly -- the issue of the presidency and vice presidency can be addressed. (If any of this confusing, refer to page 24 of the Iraq Constitution.) The president will then announce the PM-designate -- that's what Nouri or whomever will be -- based on who has the most support from the MPs. The PM-designate then has 30 days to form a Council of Minister (cabinet). Though this would presumably not be a problem for anyone chosen PM-designate, Nouri does have a history of ministers walking out on his cabinet. In fact, for months, Iraq's been without a Minister of Electricity (in violation of the Constitution, Nouri has allowed the Minister of Oil to serve in both posts).

When does Iraq have a new Prime Minister and not a designate? When the PM-designate can present a cabinet of ministers.

New content at Third:

Isaiah's latest "MSNBC's Boldest Lie" went up this morning. Pru notes "Students plan for a day of dissent" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

The EAN conference resolved to make 24 November a national day of action for education.

That is the day parliament votes on the proposals from the Browne review on the future of higher education.

This should be a day of dissent on campuses across Britain, with rallies, mass meetings and walkouts.

Students also resolved to make 5 November a day for the movement, and the bosses, to remember.

The aim is have solidarity action between students and workers—including doing collections on campuses and inviting striking workers to speak at university rallies.

Steve Hedley, the London regional organiser for the RMT union, which represents London Tube workers, also spoke at the event.

He told the conference, “It is an honour to stand up in front of so many young people here today.

“My daughter has been discouraged by the prospect of debt from going into higher education.

“The plans for free schools are plans to smash the teaching unions and public control over education.

“We have seen across Europe the massive upheavals against capital.

“We must put the blame for the crisis where it belongs—on the system as a whole.”

Steve’s speech was drowned out by applause and foot-stomping as he called for us to be “class fighters”.

“We need mass strike action and civil disobedience to stop the Tories in their tracks,” he added.

The following should be read alongside this article:

The mood to fight grows among students

Student voices of struggle across Europe

Goldsmiths students occupy against cuts

Video of student protest in Dublin

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