Thursday, January 27, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 27, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, a conference is held focusing on Iraqi women, more bad news for Tony Blair out of the Iraq Inquiry, the US government's mistreatment (torture) of Bradley Manning does not go unnoticed, and more.
Today Baghdad was slammed with bombings. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "Three people were killed and 14 others injured Thursday morning when three bombs exploded in different neighborhoods in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said." All three were roadside bombings and Hamid Ahmed (AP) also reported on those bombings. However, those bombings were soon dwarfed by another Baghdad bombing. BBC News reports a Baghdad car bombing "near a funeral ceremony" has claimed at least 30 lives and left approximately fifty more people injured. Last week, waves of bombings began targeting various cities in Iraq and that has continued this week (Baghdad, Tikrit, Karbala, etc).  Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) provide this context, "The explosion was the fifth major attack in the last 10 days, leaving a death toll of nearly 200 people. The relentless pace of bombings was something the country has not seen in more than two years."
BBC, like many others, had to update the death toll throughout the day, including when it reached 37 and to note that, "Angry mourners attacked police who rushed to the scene, accusing them of failing to provide protection." Laith Hammoudi and Shashank Bangali (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "Perhaps inspired by the protest movement that's sweeping the Arab world, demonstrators fired guns in the air, hurled stones and shouted curses at police officers who responed to the scene of the funeral attack, residents said."   Al Mada notes that roads leading into that section of Baghdad (Shula) were immediately closed.  Laith Hammoudi and Shashank Bangali (McClatchy Newspapers) note that before that happened the demonstrators made clear that their anger was "that Iraqi police had allowed the attack, because Shaula is relatively small and has only one entrance" and that the police, faced with the crowd, withdrew. Al Jazeera reports, "The military sent in soldiers to restore order." Jason Ditz ( adds, "Iraqi troops have since sealed off the area, and have ordered residents to stay in their homes.  There is as yet no indication of the number of casualties in the post bombing clashes, nor any claim of responsibility for the bombing itself."
Of the funeral bombing, Reuters adds, "Iraq's deputy health minister Khamis al-Saad said 35 people were killed and 65 wounded. An official at a hospital gave the same death toll after the explosion in the Shula district, a former stronghold of anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but now thought to be controlled by a violent splinter group called Asaib al-Haq." Al Jazeera reports, "The military sent in soldiers to restore order."  Ammar Karim (AFP) notes, "Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of the area's security chief, army Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed al-Obeidi, in the immediate aftermath of the attack." Al Rafidayn calls it "the deadliest blast in the capital of Iraq for months" and they note, "Witnesses said the bomber blew himself up in a mourning tent filled with mourners and relatives [. . .] in the Shula district of Baghdad, which was formerly a stronghold of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is believed to be now  under the control of the League of the Righteous splinter group that advocated violence." Al Mada states the Baghdad police released a press statement that the car bombing at the funeral had resulted in a death toll of 60 with ninety people injured.
Meanwhile Basaer News reports the "so-called Baghdad Operations Command" has declared that it will have completed construction on the Baghad security fence this year and that there will be "cameras and observation towers" throughout Baghdad.  The newspaper notes the fence is constructed "under the pretext of control in a security situation which has remained uncontrollable" and is being rammed through "regradless of the problems it causes citizens." In other 'defense' news, Ahmed al-Zubaidi ( reports Nouri and his Cabinet have agreed to purchase 18 F16 fighter aircraft from the US in order to strengthen the air force fleet that they hope to be functioning within two to three years.  The 18 are "part of a plan by the Iraqi Air Force to buy an estimated 96 F16 airplanes from the US over the next ten years."
Abdel Hamid Zebair ( reports that members of Iraq's Parliament and the Kurdistan Regional Government's Parliament are taking part in an international conference in Erbil which started today and focuses on "the role of women in peace-building, reconciliation and accountability in Iraq." Aswat al-Iraq adds that the conference ends tomorrow and is being attended by "international female personalities and a number of world activists in women affairs and representatives of international organizations."  No Peace Without Justice explains:
The International Conference, which is the culmination of a long programme of reconciliation and accountability related advocacy and research undertaken by the organisers, both in Iraq and abroad, will be a major international event and represent a significant step towards securing Iraqi women an equitable voice within their country's political, judicial, economic, and other public institutions. Achieving these aims, and thereby promoting and mainstreaming gender equality within Iraq's ongoing reconciliation and accountability process, is one of the preconditions of its success. 
The Conference aims to provide a venue for high-level political discussions involving Iraqi politicians, policy makers, civil society activists, and other opinion leaders, as well as international experts from across the world with first-hand experience of promoting women's rights and organising women's organisations in the pursuit of positive social change.  
Most importantly, the Conference will provide a wide range of Iraqi women's groups and participants with a very significant opportunity to work together and organise in pursuit of their common goals of protecting and promoting the rights of women in Iraq, and leading their country's ongoing accountability and reconciliation process. The recommendations for institutional, legislative, and organisational reform that will emerge from the Conference will provide a crucial foundation for future initiatives promoting gender equality, and consolidate progress towards securing an inclusive democratic future for Iraq on the basis of comprehensive accountability and reconciliation.  The organisers aim to repeat this event in Baghdad next year.
Abdulla Sabri (AK News) notes that the conference comes as Nouri al-Maliki faces criticism over "the lack of women" in his Cabinet.  Iraq Daily Times points out, "Only one woman was named to Maliki's 42-member cabinet, sparking an outcry in a country that once was a beacon for women's rights in the Arab world and adding to an ongoing struggle over the identity of the new Iraq. Whether this fledgling nation becomes a liberal democracy or an Islamist-led patriarchy might well be judged by the place it affords its women."
Al Rafidayn reports on US State Department documents WikiLeaks has which state that the CIA helped officers of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard leave Iraq via Turkey and resettle in the US in 2003.  On the issue of WikiLeaks, John Wihbey (On Point with Tom Ashbrook, NPR) provides this news and link resource:
 Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times and a past guest of ours, is publishing a detailed account in the Sunday magazine of the Times' relationship with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. The Times was one of several news outlets that reported on diplomatic cables given to them by Wikileaks.
It's all part of a controversial new chapter in the history of the First Amendment and its limits. Some U.S. lawmakers have called for Assange's prosecution. The real-world blowback from the leaked cables stretches all the way to the Arab world, where anti-government sentiment in places like Tunisia and Yemen has been fomented by cables that were damning of their leaders. (See our memorable show in which John Perry Barlow and John Negroponte debated issues around secrecy.)
Listen back to our interview with Keller; see his very interesting On Point blog debate over coverage of Catholic issues [. . .]
Bill Keller appeared on The Takeaway today and spoke with John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee about WikiLeaks.  Excerpt:
John Hockenberry: How has this relationship evolved to one of enough credibility for the Times and the Guardian to proceed?
Bill Keller: Uhm.  Well, we -- We sort of knew from the get-go -- because WikiLeaks had already started to establish a profile -- that this was going to be a tricky relationship.  You know, sources -- You don't get to pick your sources, they tend to come to you with complications, agendas of their own.  So you -- You know what you really do is foces on the material.  Is it -- Is it genuine? Is it legit? Is it newsworthy?  And what he brought to the Guardian and the Times and Der Spiegel and a few other papers ultimately was the real deal.  I mean -- And genuinely, I think, important.
Celeste Headlee: Bill Keller, there is a lot of talk -- and I imagine there will be studies to come over the motives and agendas of Julian Assange.  This is a man who, obviously, seems to like privacy of his of his own in terms of his own address.  But many people say he's motivated by an agenda against the US government. Does that change the motivations or the missions of WikiLeaks?
Bill Keller:  I -- I mean, he clearly has a strong distaste for the US government, regards it as more a force for evil than for good in the world.  And that's one factor in why he's developed such a kind of large, cult following -- particularly in parts of Europe where the United States is resented for throwing its weight around too much. And that's certainly added an extra layer of caution in dealing with WikiLeaks and the material.  But you know I think he came into believing that one effect of all this transperancy would be to embarrass and compromise the United States.  At one point he called for [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to resign in shame.  In fact, a lot of people have been surprised that particularly the documents that relate to the State Dept show diplomates behaving in pretty compentent and-and well motivated ways.
From WikiLeaks to Bradley Manning. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. Paul Courson (CNN) notes Bradley is a suspect and, "He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say."  Amnesty International's Program Directo fo the Americas Regional Program, Susan Lee, sent the following open letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week:
I am writing to express concern about the conditions under which Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning is detained at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. We are informed that, since July 2010, PFC Manning has been confined for 23 hours a day to a single cell, measuring around 72 square feet (6.7 square metres) and equipped only with a bed, toilet and sink. There is no window to the outside, the only view being on to a corridor through the barred doors of his cell. All meals are taken in his cell, which we are told has no chair or table. He has no association or contact with other pre-trial detainees and he is allowed to exercise, alone, for just one hour a day, in a day-room or outside. He has access to a television which is placed in the corridor for limited periods of the day. However, he is reportedly not permitted to keep personal possessions in his
cell, apart from one book and magazine at a time. Although he may write and receive correspondence, writing is allowed only at an allotted time during the day and he is not allowed to keep such materials in his cell.
We understand that PFC Manning's restrictive conditions of confinement are due to his classification as a maximum custody detainee. This classification also means that -- unlike medium security detainees -- he is shackled at the hands and legs during approved social and family visits, despite all such visits at the facility being non-contact. He is also shackled during attorney visits at the facility. We further understand that PFC Manning, as a maximum custody detainee, is denied the opportunity for a work assignment which would allow him to be out of his cell for most of the day. The United Nations (UN)
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), which are internationally recognized guiding principles, provide inter alia that "Untried prisoners shall always be offered opportunity to work" should they wish to undertake such activity (SMR Section C, rule 89).
PFC Manning is also being held under a Prevention of Injury (POI) assignment, which means that he is subjected to further restrictions. These include checks by guards every five minutes and a bar on his sleeping during the day. He is required to remain visible at all times, including during night checks. His POI status has resulted in his being deprived of sheets and a separate pillow, causing uncomfortable sleeping conditions; his discomfort is reportedly exacerbated by the fact that he is required to sleep only in boxer shorts and has suffered chafing of his bare skin from the blankets.
We are concerned that no formal reasons have been provided to PFC Manning for either his maximux security classification or the POI assignment and that efforts by his counsel to challenge these assignments through administrative procedures have thus far failed to elicit a response. We are further concerned that he reportedly remains under POI despite a recommendation by the military psychiatrist overseeing his treatment that such an assignment is no longer necessary.
Amnesty International recognizes that it may sometimes be necessary to segregate prisoners for disciplinary or security purposes. However, the restrictions imposed in PFC Manning's case appear to be unnecessarily harsh and punitive, in view of the fact that he has no history of violence or disciplinary infractions and that he is a pre-trial detainee not yet convicted of any offence.
The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA's obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that "all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be "subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons . . . .".
The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement -- which evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of oncentration -- may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defence and thus his right to a fair trial.
In view of the concerns raised, we urge you to review the conditions under which PFC Manning is confined at the Quantico naval brig and take effective measures to ensure that he is no longer held in 23 hour cellular confinement or subjected to other undue restrictions.
Sherwood Ross (OpEdNews) notes this on Bradley's treatment:
The corrosive, solitary confinement being inflicted upon PFC Bradley Manning in the Quantico, Va., brig is no exceptional torture devised exclusively for him. Across the length and breadth of the Great American Prison State, the world's largest, with its 2.4-million captives stuffed into 5,000 overcrowded lock-ups, some 25,000 other inmates are suffering a like fate of sadistic isolation in so-called supermax prisons, where they are being systematically reduced to veritable human vegetables.
To destroy Manning as a human being, the Pentagon for the past seven months has barred him from exercising in his cell, and to inhibit his sleep denies him a pillow and sheet and allows him only a scratchy blanket, according to Heather Brooke of "Common Dreams" (January 26th.) He is awakened each day at five a.m. and may not sleep until 8 p.m. The lights of his cell are always on and he is harassed every five minutes by guards who ask him if he is okay and to which he must respond verbally. Stalin's goons called this sort of endless torture the "conveyor belt."
Still on the topic of Bradley, we'll note this event announcement from Iraq Veterans Against the War:

We regard Manning as an American hero and will celebrate his alleged actions, raise awareness of his condition, and challenge his shameless mistreatment at the hands of the United States Department of Defense by dedicating a spring bicycle tour through the American South to honor Bradley Manning, tell his story, and raise funds for his legal defense.

March 21st - April 8th: The Rebel With A Cause Bicycle Tour

On March 21, 2011, we will embark on a 444 mile bicycle ride along the Natchez Trace beginning in Natchez MS and arriving in Nashville TN on April 8, 2011. We will be speaking and performing at dozens of places along the Trace, focusing on Manning's narrative and raising money for his legal defense.

The Ride is public, and we invite veterans, artists, and other supporters to join us for however long they wish. Potential participants should have a suitable bicycle, appropriate clothing, resources for food, a personal tent and sleeping bag, and the time. We will average 50 miles each day we ride and take a couple of days off in-between longer jaunts. We will be camping primarily between cities in the beautiful parks along the Trace.

April 9th & 10th: Bradley Manning Solidarity Weekend

If you are unable to ride with us, we encourage you to produce an independent event in your community on April 9th and /or 10th, the same weekend we arrive in Nashville, as part of Bradley Manning Solidarity Weekend (BMSW)!

BMSW is a call to socially conscious artists and organizers across the country and world to propel Bradley Manning to pop-culture status through artistic expression before he goes to trial.

The State of the Union address was delivered Tuesday night by Barack Obama, US President.  We noted some reactions to it and coverage of it -- trying to stay focused on the war issue of the speech -- in yesterday's snapshot. In that speech just two days ago, Barack laughable spoke of 'progress' in Iraq and the claim that violence was down. Ned Parker and Salar Jaff (Los Angeles Times) observe today, "Violence has returned with a vengeance for the first time since November, when a deal was announced to form a new government ending months of political paralysis."  Ruth Conniff (The Progressive) notes, "As the Media Consortium member Sam of GritTV pointed out on Twitter, Obama channeled Bush on Iraq and Afghanistan."  Steve Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) weigh in on Barack's State of the Union speech sections that focused on Iraq and Afghanistan:

The war in Iraq occupied no more space in President Obama's State of the Union address than it has in his administration's foreign policy: not exactly a footnote, but no longer the contentious, consuming, convulsive center of all attention.

Iraq came up only briefly in the 46th minute of a speech that lasted just over an hour, but his five sentences and 72 words amounted to a declaration of victory, if a subdued one.

"Look to Iraq," he said, using the experience here under his presidency as an example of the restoration of American standing in the world, "where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high."

Nearly 50,000 troops remain, but American combat patrols have ended, he said, and violence is down, though the last week has seen a particularly bloody spike in bombings and violence that has killed scores of people across the country.

And Myers is taking Iraq questions from people leaving comments at the article. Military Families Speak Out's Sarah Fuhro weighs in on the speech in a letter to the Boston Globe:

When he finally got around to discussing the two wars that eat up billions of tax dollars and that have killed or maimed thousands of young men and women, he spoke as if these conflicts are just another wonderful American program for progress and peace.
He mentioned 100,000 troops returned from Iraq, but neglected to mention the 50,000 who remain. He mentioned how our civilians "will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people,'' but did not explain that they can only move about the country in a military convoy. If, or when, we leave that devastated country, we will leave it with millions of unemployed, angry people who cannot possibly contribute to their own security, let alone ours.

On the issue of Barack and his wars, KPFA's Ann Garrison reported at Global Research that, "Two years ago, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama [. . .] invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, the heart of Africa, on his Inauguration Day.  Most Americans, including those who campaigned hardest for Obama, would have a hard time making sense of this, or of the military forces involved." Garrison filed a report for KPFA's Weekend News Sunday where she intereviewed Keith Harmon Snow and has provided an audio link of that as well as a transcript that goes beyond the broadcast segment -- they are at San Francisco Bay View and Global Research.  Excerpt:
KPFA/Ann Garrison: So what sense does it make to say that Barack Obama invaded Congo, the heart of Africa, on his Inauguration Day?
Keith Harmon Snow: The U.S.-backed military invasion of Jan. 20, 2009, included U.S. military commanders, special forces, military advisers, technicians and other U.S. military personnel, and it involved weaponry supplied by the U.S. and Britain.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Can you explain the CNDP militia and the significance of its integration into the Congolese army, the FARDC, on Jan. 20, 2009?
Keith Harmon Snow: First, the name CNDP -- Congress for the Defense of the People – couldn't be further from the truth. The CNDP was a Rwandan Tutsi-based militia that was created by Rwandan war criminals who had infiltrated Eastern Congo, infiltrated troops into Eastern Congo, and mobilized, armed and economically empowered Rwandan Tutsi civilians who had infiltrated Eastern Congo in recent years and in recent decades. There was a tripartite agreement between Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame, Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, and the president of Congo -- another Rwandan, Joseph Kabila -- which worked behind the massive propaganda of "peace talks" to advance the military campaign to infiltrate and control Eastern Congo. By quote "integrating" these Rwandan militia elements into the Congolese National Army, the Rwandan program was advanced through a kind of Trojan horse operation.
And now we're moving over to England where the Iraq Inquiry continued to taking public testimony and heard today from Adm Michael Boyce who was UK Defense Chief from 2001 to 2003.  The Committee members -- especially Usha Prashar -- hit upon a January 15, 2003 briefing repeatedly.  As with 2002, he was led to believe that the plan for Iraq was not regime change and even March of 2003 -- shortly before the war began -- he didn't feel that was what Tony Blair was aiming for.  He did plan for a possible invasion and testified that was drawn up as a possibility and he did so after Tony Blair and George W. Bush had their April 2002 meet-up in Crawford, Texas.  This is in direct conflict with Tony Blair's testimony last week that his Cabinet knew the score. 
In Iraq, Christians have been under assault throughout the war but the latest wave of attacks began October 31st with the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. We'll close with this from US House Rep Frank Wolf's office:
Washington, D.C. - In the wake of increasing violence, targeted attacks and heightened discrimination against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, and persistent concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other nations, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today introduced bipartisan legislation calling for the creation of a special envoy at the U.S. State Department for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Wolf, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, is long recognized as a voice for the persecuted around the world. He said threats against religious minorities have been increasing in recent months and that the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless, to develop policies to protect and preserve these communities, and to prioritize these issues in our broader foreign policy.

"If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak," Wolf said in introducing the bill. "President Ronald Reagan once said that the U.S. Constitution is a 'covenant that we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind.'''

Last week, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the recent spate of attacks and the ongoing persecution of Christians in Iraq and Egypt. Commission members heard testimony about the increasing sectarian tensions in the two countries and the need for greater U.S. attention to the plight of religious minorities.

Iraq and Egypt are not an anomaly, Wolf said. Other religious minorities, including the Ahmadis, Baha'is, Zoroastrians and Jews, are under increasing pressure in the region. Last year the Pew Forum released a report on global restrictions on religion which found that "nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities."

Wolf, along with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), also co-chairs the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, and they have long pressed the State Department to develop a comprehensive policy to address the unique needs of the ancient ethno-religious faith communities in Iraq, a policy which recognizes that these indigenous communities are not simply the victims of generalized violence in Iraq but are facing targeted violence which is forcing them to flee the lands they've inhabited for centuries.

In addition to numerous letters to the State Department seeking to elevate these issues globally and ensure that U.S. embassies are "islands of freedom" in the midst of repression, Wolf has also written church leaders in the West urging them to speak out on behalf of the persecuted globally.

sherwood ross