Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 23, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi women make clear their displeasure over the Cabinet make up, Daniel Ellsberg and Veterans for Peace get some recognition, and more.
Last Thursday a protest held outside the White House. One of the organizers was Veterans for Peace and Pentagon Papers whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg participated and spoke.  Juana Bordas (Washington Post) advocates for both of them to be named persons of the year:
Veterans for Peace and Daniel Ellsberg should be this year's person of the year because of their courage and bravery to stand up for all of us who believe that "war is not the answer." Moreover in a time of economic recession, the war machine is bankrupting our country. As John Amidon, a Marine Corps veteran from Albany asked at the White House protest, "How is the war economy working for you?"
While unemployment rates hover near 10 percent, there is no doubt that the U.S. economy and quality of life is faltering. Worldwide we are 14th in education, 37th in the World Health Organization's ranking on medical systems, and 23rd in the U.N. Environmental Sustainability Index on being most livable and greenest benefits. There is one place we take the undeniable world lead. The US military spending accounts for a whopping 46.5 percent of world military spending--the next ten countries combined come in at only 20.7 percent.

Linda Pershing (Truthout) reports, "Responding to a call from the leaders of Stop These Wars(1) - a new coalition of Veterans for Peace and other activists - participants came together in a large-scale performance of civil resistance. A group of veterans under the leadership of Veterans for Peace members Tarak Kauff, Will Covert and Elaine Brower, mother of a Marine who has served three tours of duty in Iraq, sponsored the event with the explicit purpose of putting their bodies on the line. Many participants were Vietnam War veterans; others ranged from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in their 20s and 30s to World War II vets in their 80s and older. They were predominately white; men outnumbered women by at least three to one. After a short rally in Lafayette Park, they formed a single-file procession, walking across Pennsylvania Avenue to the solemn beat of a drum. As they reached the police barricade (erected to prevent them from chaining themselves to the gate, a plan they announced on their web site), the activists stood shoulder to shoulder, their bodies forming a human link across the 'picture postcard' tableau in front of the White House."  Maria Chutchian (Arlington Advocate) quotes, participant Nate Goldshlag (Vietnam veteran) stating, ""There was a silent, single file march around Lafayette Park to a drum beat. Then we went in front of the White House,. There were barricades set up in front of white house fence. So when we got there, we jumped over barricades and were able to get right next to the White House fence." Participant Linda LeTendre (Daily Gazette) reports:

At the end of the rally, before the silent, solemn procession to the White House fence, in honor of those killed in Iraq and Afghan wars of lies and deceptions, the VFP played taps and folded an American flag that had been left behind at a recent funeral for the veteran of one of those wars. Two attendees in full dress uniform held and folded the flag. I had the image of all of the people who stood along the roads and bridges when the bodies of the two local men, Benjamin Osborn and David Miller, were returned to the Capital District. I thought if all of those people were here now or spoke out against war these two fine young men might still be with us.
I was blessed enough to be held in custody with one of those in uniform; a wonderful young man who had to move from his hometown in Georgia because no one understood why as a veteran he was against these wars. Even his family did not understand. (He remains in my prayers.)
Our plan was to attach ourselves to the White House fence until President Obama came out and talked to us or until we were arrested and dragged away. I don't have to tell you how it ended.
Mr. Ellsberg was one of 139 people arrested at that action.
We've noted the protest in pretty much every snapshot since last Thursday.  If something else comes out that's worth noting on the protest, we'll include it.  We will not include people who don't have their facts and it's really sad when they link to, for example, Guardian articles and the links don't even back them up.  It's real sad, for example, when they're trashing Hillary (big strong men that they are) and ripping her apart and yet Barack?  "Obama's inaccurate statements"??? What the hell is that?  You're inferring he lied, say so.  Don't be such a little chicken s**t.  It's especially embarrasing when you're grandstanding on 'truth.'  Especially when you're the little s**t that clogged up the public e-mail account here in the summer of 2008 whining that you were holding Barack to a standard, then admitting that you weren't, then whining that if you did people would be mean to you.  Oh, that's sooooooo sad. Someone might say something bad about you.  The horror.  You must suffer more than all the people in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
While the action took place in DC, actions also took place in other cities.  We've already noted NYC's action this week, Doug Kaufmann (Party for Socialism & Liberation) reports on the Los Angeles action:
Despite heavy rain, over 100 people gathered in Los Angeles on the corner of Hollywood and Highland to demand an end to the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. People came from as far as Riverside to protest, braving what Southern California media outlets have dubbed the "storm of the decade."
The demonstration, initiated and led by the ANSWER Coalition, broke the routine of holiday shopping and garnered support from activists and even passers by, who joined in chanting "Money for jobs and education -- not for war and occupation!" and "Occupation is a crime -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine!" Protesters held banners reading, "U.S./NATO Out of Afghanistan!" and "Yes to jobs, housing and education -- no to war, racism and occupation!"
Speakers at the demonstration included representatives of Korean Americans for Peace, ANSWER Coalition, KmB Pro-People Youth, Veterans for Peace, Party for Socialism and Liberation and National Lawyers Guild.
Tuesday, Nouri al-Maliki managed to put away the political stalemate thanks to a lot of Scotch -- tape to hold the deal together and booze to keep your eyes so crossed you don't question how someone can claim to have formed a Cabinet when they've left over ten positions to be filled at a later date. One group speaking out is women.  Bushra Juhi and Qassmi Abdul-Zahra (AP) report, "Iraq's female lawmakers are furious that only one member of the country's new Cabinet is a woman and are demanding better representation in a government that otherwise has been praised by the international community for bringing together the country's religious sects and political parties."  As noted Tuesday, though represenation in Parliament is addressed in Iraq's Constitution, there is nothing to address women serving in the Cabinet. Aseel Kami (Reuters) notes one of the most damning aspects of Nouri's chosen men -- a man is heaing the Ministry of Women's Affairs.  Iraqiya's spokesperson Maysoon Damluji states, "There are really good women who could do wel . . . they cannot be neglected and marginalized." Al-Amal's Hanaa Edwar states, "They call it a national (power) sharing government. So where is the sharing? Do they want to take us back to the era of the harem?  Do they want to take us back to the dark ages, when women were used only for pleasure."  Deborah Amos (NPR's All Things Considered) reports that a struggle is going on between secular impulses and fundamentalist ones.   Gallery owner Qasim Sabti states, "We know it's fighting between the religious foolish man and the civilization man. We know we are fighting like Gandhi, and this is a new language in Iraqi life. We have no guns. We do not believe in this kind of fighting." Deborah Amos is the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East.  Meanwhile Nizar Latif (The National) reports that distrust is a common reaction to the new government in Baghdad and quotes high school teacher Hussein Abed Mohammad stating, "Promises were made that trustworthy, competent people would be ministers this time around, but it looks as if everything has just been divided out according to sectarian itnerests.  No attention has been paid to forming a functioning government, it is just a political settlement of vested interests. I'm sure al Maliki will have the same problems in his next four years as he had in the last four years."
Days away from the ten months mark, Nouri managed to finally end the stalemate.  Some try to make sense of it and that must have been some office party that the editorial board of the Washington Post is still coming down from judging by "A good year in Iraq." First up, meet the new Iraqi Body Count -- an organization that provides cover for the war and allows supporters of the illegal war to point to it and insist/slur "Things aren't so bad!" Sure enough, the editorial board of the Post does just that noting the laughable "civilian deaths" count at iCasualities. As we noted -- long, long before we walked away from that crap ass website, they're not doing a civilian count. They're noting how many deaths Reuters reports. They ignore AP, they ignore McClatchy, they ignore all outlets but Reuters. Last time we pointed that out, they rushed to include a few other Western outlets for a day or two. So they'll probably pull that again this time. But they are such an undercount that they regularly have even less deaths then the Iraqi government reports each month. You only cite iCasualties if you're pro-war.

And you only hail 2010 as a "good year" in Iraq if you're EUI -- editorialzing under the influence. Over 9 months without a government. And it's still not got one. The Cabinet is not full. Nine months where nothing got down. The 2007 benchmarks have never, ever been reached -- and those were benchmarks they were supposed to achieve (ideally) in one year. 2010 was further proof that Iraq's a failed state -- a point the editorial board will agree with me on only if the theft-of-Iraqi-oil legislation doesn't come to pass. At which point, forget violence and death counts, they will take to computer to insist that things are awful in Iraq. This is the year Iraq set the world record for longest time between an election and the formation of a government. And this is hailed as "a good year in Iraq"? Who spiked the egg nog?  Regardless, give them credit for giving Iraq attention since so very few do.  Jay Price (News & Observer) notes, "According to the Pew Research Center, just 4 percent of stories in the U.S. media now are about Afghanistan. And Iraq? Not even 1 percent."  Okay, don't like it, don't like Iraq falling off the radar but Price is on solid ground . . . until his next sentence: "'War fatigue,' say the experts, citing a public that's just tired of hearing about the conflicts. Also to blame is the money crunch at media companies, which have sharply cut staff in those expensive war-zone bureaus."  Now, in that last sentence, he handled that very well.  They are "media companies," they aren't news.  And they waste millions on news readers as opposed to breaking any stories via investigative journalism.  So he's correct there.  But these "experts"?  Who the hell are they?  They clearly don't know what they're speaking of and if Jay Price had read the actual report Pew put out, he would know that.  From the report: "The situation in Iraq was followed very closely by 19% of the public and a similar number (17%) say they very closely followed news about the administration's review of its Afghan war strategy. The situation in Afghanistan and the review of the war's progress accounted for 5% of the newshole, while Iraq made up 1% of coverage."  This was a survey os news consumers and the people put Iraq at numbr 15 on "Public's Top Stories for 2010."  In addition, 19% were following it very closely.  But it only made up 1% of the coverage.  I don't think those figures demonstrate burnout and I'll match my research & methodology skills up against anyone else. Burnout would be somewhere around 4% or less of the public saying they were following it. Trudy Rubin gets her lumps and praises from me.  And I'm sure I'll call her out (negatively) in the future (as I've done many times) and I'm sure I'll throw some earned praise her way in the future (ibid).  But one thing that she needs praise for that I haven't given her recognition for is that she may be the one of the only US columnist who is still regularly going to Iraq.  Her paper is the Philadelphia Inqurier but she's also syndicated throughout the US.  Thomas Friedman lost interest in Iraq long ago (shortly after the war he helped sell had no "turned corner" despite his forever assuring the world a turned corner was just up ahead aways).  Bob Herbert doesn't go to Iraq.  Paul Krugman's got no idea what's going on in Iraq.  The only columnist besides Trudy Rubin that I'm aware of regularly going to Iraq is David Ignatius (Washington Post).  (National Journal may have some -- I don't generally read their columnists.)  She deserves credit for that.  She also deserves credit for the scope of her columns.  Hopefully she'll inspire others because we could use a lot more her and a lot less Gail Collins-types who think they write cute and that might be true if we were all still in eighth grade.  One of the thing Rubin's written of in 2010 especially was the fate of her driver Salam.  So we'll excerpt on that topic from her latest column:
Salam spent two years in jail on false charges brought by relatives of Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. These militiamen, who were killing Salam's neighbors, were arrested after he tipped U.S. troops. When American soldiers left Baghdad, the killers used contacts inside Iraq's Shiite-dominated army to get Salam - and his two teenage sons - jailed.
The three were finally freed by an honest judge. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has now made a political deal with the Sadrists in order to finally form a government, nine months after Iraqi elections. The deal, brokered by Iran, required that large numbers of Mahdi Army thugs - like those Salam fingered - be freed from prison. This deal resurrects a fiercely anti-American group that battled U.S. forces until it was routed in 2008.
With Sadrists on the loose, Salam began receiving death threats. He told me he was going to flee Iraq (to a country that, out of concern for his safety, I won't name). No one answered when I phoned him in Baghdad.
Maliki, for his part, is still dickering over key government posts with the Sadrists, who hold a crucial bloc of 40 parliamentary seats. Iran obviously influences Sadr, who lives in Iran, as well as other political parties whose leaders troop regularly to Tehran.

Nafa Abdul Jabbar (AFP) quotes Iraqi Christian Mariam Daniel asking, "How can a mother celebrate a feast while her son was killed by the enemies of this country, how can we have a feast while my grandsons are crying for their father? Wher is the feast when I see the tears in the eyes of my daughter-in-law and her loneliness which was caused by hands covered with the blood of innocents?"  Yet another wave of violence targeting Iraqi Christians is underway.  This wave started October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which approximately 70 people were killed and at least 70 more wounded.  In the waves of violence which have followed, Mosul and Baghdad have been the primary targeted areas.  Many Iraqi Christians have left for northern Iraq (the KRG which has seen an influx of at least 1,000 families since the October 31st attack on the Church) or have left the country.  Meanwhile Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Hundreds of Christian students from towns and villages on the outskirts of Mosul have stopped attending the main university in Mosul despite offers by the Iraqi army to bus them in and out." Dagher quotes college student Anwar Matti explaining, "We just do not trust them anymore."  And now Christmas approaches.
Yahya Barzanji and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) report Christmas celebrations and any public signs of observance have been called off in Iraq by "a council representing Christian denominations" and let's step aside for just a second to grasp that this council is predominately made up of the public voices who have insisted that Iraqi Christians must stay in Iraq, who have basically issued that order leading many to wonder what was really going on? Did they want to create martyrs? If you can't worship freely, there's no reason to urge Iraqi Christians to stay in Iraq. They're no longer just under threat of violence, they're now not allowed to worship publicly. In terms of the religion being practicied, this isn't a minor detail. Marco 't Hoen (Epoch Times) adds, "Churches in Bagdad, Kirkuk, Basra, and Mosul have asked members not to decorate their houses, and the churches canceled Christmas Mass and planned Christmas celebrations."  Khalid Al Qushtaini ( fears that the shared history Christianity and Islam have had in Iraq has been forgotten.
The New York Times sees fit to run a whole paragraph (that is sarcasm) on the issue (written by Jack Healy). Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds, "There will be no Christmas Eve mass, no Santa or decorations at some churches during Christmas or the New Year, Sako said. Some churches will continue with Christmas Day mass as usual. Cancellations don't include the relatively safe Kurdish region in northern Iraq." IRIN notes, "Hundreds of Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region and particularly the town of Ankawa, which has become a safe haven for the country's Christians, thanks to its special status and privileges granted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Ankawa, near Erbil, KRG's capital, has a predominantly Christian population and administration, several churches and distinct Assyrian language." England's Journeyman Pictures offers this report (transcript and video -- if you don't see the clip option, click here). In the report, which aired on England's Channel 4, Lindsey Hilsum observes, "Christmas service at St. George's -- the only church in Baghdad celebrating fully this year." Jason Ditz ( observes, "Given the number of high profile killings and complaints that the Iraqi government seems disinterested in protecting them, this Christmas will be a grim one for Iraqis indeed. But at the rate they are fleeing the country, it may be one of the last ones marked at all.
Martin Chulov (Guardian) points out, "It has been the worst of years for the country's Christians, with thousands fleeing in the past month and more leaving the country during 2010 than at any time since the invasion nearly eight years ago. Christian leaders say there have been few more defining years in their 2,000-year history in central Arabia." And Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad?  Nafa Abdul Jabbar (AFP) reports, "Instead of Christmas deocrations, the front of the sanctuary holds a banner picturing the two priests and the worshippers killed in the attack framing an image of a bloodied Jesus on the cross, while individual pictures of victims sit below." 
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has sounded alarms repeatedly since the last wave started and attempted to draw attention to the targeting.  Richard Greene (CNN -- this is a video report) spoke with the USCIRF's Nina Shea who noted, "The worst place of all [for Christians] undoubtedly is Iraq, where there was a recent church bombing, but we've also seen church attacks and village attacks in Egypt. We saw the deportation of scores of Christians in the relatively moderate country of Morocco. There is a pastor -- a Christian pastor -- on death row for apostasy in Iran.  And in Pakistan, now for the first time a Christian woman has been condemned to death for blasphemy." And USCIRF's Leonard Leo and Talal Eid pen a column for the Washington Post which includes:
The barbaric war against Christians is part of a broader attack against Iraq's non-Muslim minorities. Mandaeans, who follow John the Baptist, and Yizidis, who adhere to an angel-centered religion, have also been viciously persecuted by violent, radical Islamists. The Mandaeans in Iraq are believed to number only a few thousand, down from an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 in 2003.
For Christians, the fate of another religious minority, Iraq's Jewish community, provides a grim example of what the future may hold. Like Iraq's Christians, the Jews were there for more than 20 centuries. As of 1947, the country's Jewish population exceeded 50,000. Today only a handful remains.
For humanitarian reasons alone, the U.S. and the world must hear and heed the anguished cries of Iraqi Christians.
Yet there is another, equally compelling reason to care.
Simply stated, it is in the interests of the U.S. and the international community that Iraq becomes a force for freedom and stability in the Middle East.
If that is the goal, then the eradication of its Christian community would be a colossal setback. It would remove an educated and successful community, as well as a historically moderating force that served for centuries as a bridge between East and West. If liberty and security are to prevail over violent extremism and intolerance, bridge-building is essential.
Which is why, in the US and around the world, so many are puzzled by US President Barack Obama's silence on the issue.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted (and called out) the targeting of Iraqi Christians last month and US Vice President Joe Biden called it out last week while chairing a UN Security Council meeting.  But Barack has remained silent and his silence continues.  Leonard Leo sees the issue of leadership as a more national one and tells Richard Greene (CNN -- text report), "We've got to have governments taking ownership of these problems and enforcing the laws that exist." However, Catholic Culture reports that Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, is calling for Europe and the European Council to recognize the targeting and he states, "Frankly, it is a little sad that Euope isn't reacting on this issue as it should."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes 2 Baghdad roadside bombings left one police officer wounded.
Alsumaria TV reports that an Iraqi police officer was injured in a Baghdad shooting today and that the assailants used a gun with a silencer.  Reuters notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul.
Alsumaria TV reports 1 female corpse was discovered in Kirkuk.
In other news, Hashim Ali ( reports that and investigation into whether or not Iraq's private banks were money laundering has returned the decision that they were not and Abdul Rahman al-Mashhadani, a financial expert states, "The offices of the banking and brokerage firms may be a convenient from for money laundering process or may not but the central bank is not overseeing any laundering at the private banks."  Alsumaria TV reports that Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, is in Turkey where he and Turkish President Abdullah Gal are discussing "bilateral relations and economic cooperation."
From Amnesty International, we'll note "Iraq must ensure release of police officer detained without charge:"

Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to free a police officer, initially detained because he was suspected of having links to armed groups, who has been held for over a month after an order for his release was made.
Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib has been held for over two years apparently on suspicion of collaborating with armed groups opposed to the Iraqi government and the presence of US forces in Iraq although no charges have ever been brought against him.
An order for his release was issued in November but he is still being held at a police station in Tikrit, where he is at risk of torture. It appears that those detaining him may be seeking to extract some sort of ransom payment from the family of Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib before releasing him.
"Iraq's new government must now intervene and ensure that the order for the release of Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib is implemented without further delay and not made subject to the payment of a ransom or other illegal obstruction," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"After more than two years in detention without facing any charge or trial, it is high time that Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib is released and reunited with his family."
Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib worked as a police officer in the village of 'Uwaynat, near Tikrit, at the time of his arrest by US forces in July 2008.
They reportedly suspected him of having links to armed groups involved in violent attacks but never brought any charges against him.
He was still held at Camp Taji when US forces handed over control of that prison to the Iraqi government on 31 March 2010. A month earlier, the US authorities had recommended his release.
In mid-November, the Iraqi authorities at last ordered the release of Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib. He was transferred to al-Rusafa prison for one day, then on to the police station where he formerly worked, apparently in preparation for his imminent release.
Instead, the father of two has continued to be detained there.
Initially, the reason given for his continued detention was that the Anti-Terrorism bureau in Najaf was looking for an individual of the same name. However, his family were able to obtain a certificate stating that Qusay 'Abdel-Razaq Zabib is not the man wanted by the bureau.
His family have since been told repeatedly that he is to be released but he remains in custody.

the washington post
juana bordas
the daily gazette
linda letendre