Friday, April 1, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Diane Rehm continues to ignore Iraq for the tenth straight week, protests continue in Iraq with at least 50 injured in the KRG, a woman attempts to set herself on fire in Baghdad, and much more.
The Great Iraq Revolution reports Iraqi security forces attempted to disperse protesters. As usual and, as usual, barbed wire is roped around to stop mobility and hinder access and the press are being harassed. Alsumaria TV reports that they were "calling for the release of detainees and urging to end unemployment and corruption in Iraq mainly in governmental institutions. Protestors urged to provide them with ration cards." Chanting and carrying banners (video here) what appeared to be thousands occupied Liberation Square. Al Mada reports that many more attempted to join the protesters but Iraqi forces surrounded the scene of the protest and blocked access. As with last Friday, those protesters who had family members imprisoned carried photos of their loved ones. They were easy to spot amongst the crowd with their photos and generally clad in black. On his album . . . Nothing Like the Sun, Sting has a song for the wives and daughters in Chile whose husbands were imprisoned, tortured and murdered under the terrorist reign of Augusto Pinochet and the song, sadly, fits so many regions including Iraq.
The two main groups behind this protest were the Youth Movement of Liberty and the Coalition of the Revolution. The Youth Monument of Liberty states, "We are not asking, we are calling for the immediate trial of all detained Iraqis who were not brought before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest because that is a violation of the Constitution's Article 19's thirteenth paragraph." That paragraph reads:
The preliminay investigative documents shall be submitted to the competent judge in a period not to exceed twenty-four hours from the time of the arrest of the accused, which may be extended only once and for the same period.
And they report protests took place in Falluja and in Sulaymaniya. Alsumaria TV notes of the Sulaimaniyah Province demonstration in Kaler (or Kellar) that eye witnesses say Kurdish security forces threw stones at members of the Change Political party. The Great Iraqi Revolution notes that the protest in Kellar "started peacefully but then the Kurdish Militias and Assayesh brought in their thugs and fighting started." AFP reports, also in Sulaimaniyah province, but in the city of Sulaimaniyah, approximately 4,000 protesters gathered and chanted slogans agains the two main Kurdih political parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- and that police used batons on protesters who used stones on the police resulting in 35 people being injured. MaximumEdge.com News notes, "City health official Rekard Rasheed said at least 38 of the injured were policemen in the melee of protestors demanding better government services, ending corruption and more jobs in the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north." Press TV reports that "at least 50 people" were injured. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) also notes "at least 50 people were wounded". Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers reported on the protests in northern Iraq, especially in relation to the disputed Kirkuk:
McEVERS: In recent protests that were part of a larger wave of demonstrations around Iraq and the region, intellectuals like Farouk Rafiq said the Kurdish success story is a myth.
Mr. FAROUK RAFIQ: This is a myth that there is economical opportunity. Do you know why? Because political parties, they captured the market. They have their own companies for themselves, for politicians, for those who are on the top.
McEVERS: So far, those politicians don't show any signs of relinquishing power. In fact, it's support from the Kurds that helped Iraq's incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, recently secure a second term. In exchange for this support, the federal government in Baghdad recently agreed to let Kurdistan proceed with agreements to pump and sell its own oil. Now, says analyst Jutiar Adel, the Kurdish leaders see economic growth as a way to continue asserting their autonomy.
Mr. JUTIAR ADEL: (Through translation) The economical presence, the economical strength is very important, and they want to guarantee that there is an economical power for Kurdistan.
McEVERS: That means in addition to ignoring protesters' demands for a bigger piece of the economic pie, other issues might be on the back burner, issues like who will control the area around the city of Kirkuk, where Kurds were the majority until Saddam sent Arabs to settle there.
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).
McEVERS: At a recent conference, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani told followers it's likely his grandson will still be fighting for Kirkuk.
While the protests in Iraq may not threaten an entire leadership, they could shift the balance of power within the ruling coalition. With both promises and targeted public policies in southern Iraq, the Sadrists could infiltrate Maliki's strongholds -- especially Basra and Baghdad -- consolidate their popular support there, and increase their pull within the new government, most likely at the expense of Maliki's State of Law coalition. As a result, the Sadrists could regain politically what they lost militarily in the 2007 Battle of Basra to Maliki-affiliated armed forces and emerge as a key player in the government. During the protests, the Sadrists lobbied for the resignation of several State of Law governors and high-ranking officials in Baghdad and Basra, accusing Maliki's administration of being lax in combating corruption. This move may turn the Sadrists from an indispensable ally for Maliki's reelection into his chief competition. Maliki already seems to be avoiding alienating the Kurds over the issue of Kirkuk, possibly to secure them as an alternative ally. The winners of this period of social unrest will be those who heed the call of the Iraqi street, and hold the potential to respond at the local level. The Sadrists have a golden opportunity to overshadow their past as a sectarian militia and recast themselves as populist policy makers who are receptive to the people's demands. Whether they do so remains to be seen.
And whether Nouri al-Maliki and the other puppets controlling Iraq can stop torturing, remain s in doubt. Wally slid the following over from MADRE:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MADRE: Rights, Resources and Results for Women Worldwide CONTACT: Stephanie Küng, MADRE (212) 627-0444, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pro-Democracy Youth Activist in Iraq Tortured and Threatened
Monday, March 28, 2011 -- New York, NY -- Last week, a youth activist organizing pro-democracy protests in Iraq was kidnapped, detained and tortured. MADRE learned of the attack on Alaa Nabil from our partner organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Alaa Nabil and OWFI believe the men who carried out the attacks to be Iraqi security agents. Today, MADRE and OWFI sent an official letter to the Iraqi government condemning the attacks and calling for action to protect Iraqis against such human rights violations.
On March 23, Alaa Nabil was kidnapped from the area around his residence by men who transported him to an unknown location. They forced him to face a wall, and they beat, kicked and whipped him with hoses and cables on his back and his arms. Before releasing him, the men issued direct death threats against him and against his activist colleagues, saying, "We will cut your tongues, you and your organizing colleagues, Firas Ali, Suad Shwaili, and Falah Alwan, if you dare to reach Al Tahrir Square. And if you insist on continuing this work, we will shoot each one of you and throw you where your bodies cannot be found."
Yanar Mohammed, Director of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, said today, "The kidnapping and torture of Alaa Nabil are a violation of his human rights and a violent attack on legitimate calls for democracy in Iraq. Through weeks of protests, I joined Alaa in our demonstrations calling for jobs, for justice and for our human rights, and I stand with him now."
Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director, said today, "In organizing pro-democracy protests, Alaa Nabil exercises internationally recognized human rights that the Iraqi government is legally obligated to uphold, yet he has been tortured and his life threatened. Iraqis have joined with people across the region calling for democracy, and they have been met by repression at the hands of their government, which is heavily supported by the US. We join with our partners in Iraq in raising our voices to denounce the attacks and death threats against Alaa Nabil."
To read the letter submitted by MADRE and OWFI to Iraqi officials, click here.
The following people are available for comment:
Yanar Mohammed, Director of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), co-founded OWFI after the US invasion in 2003. She set up a series of shelters that served as an underground railroad for women escaping the violence and death threats that escalated dramatically during the occupation.
Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. Yifat has worked extensively with women's human rights activists from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa to create programs in their communities to address violence against women, economic development, climate change, and armed conflict.
Nuri al-Maliki also assured that the opposition would remain localized by keeping the protestors away from each other. During the demonstrations, for instance, he controlled communication services and set up road blocks so that protestors had to walk about five kilometers to reach the central square in Baghdad. These measures may not have deterred the demonstrations, but they shifted them to outlying localities. Residents in Basra, Fallujah, and Ramadi overthrew their provincial governments and burned down public buildings. Gunmen in Tikrit attacked their local government and took hostages. In Anbar, the sheikhs seek to remove the governor, provincial council chairman and operations centers commander.
The unrest has had political fallout in Baghdad. Maliki's power base has been further undermined as Ayad Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr have threatened to withdraw support from the government. Even some members of Maliki's State of Law party have distanced themselves from the prime minister by forming a 'White Block" in parliament and calling for Maliki's resignation if the situation does not improve in 100 days. Developing alongside these political rifts is the strengthening of the position of Ayatollah al-Sistani, who has taken credit for the non-violent nature of the demonstrations without really having been involved in them.
As expected, Maliki has responded by trying to control and appease his challengers. While clamping down on protestors, he has promised political reforms and strengthened the state's distributive function through increased allocation of revenues for public goods and services. Furthermore, he has attempted to co-opt western Sunni Arab tribes by negotiating an amnesty with the "Jihad Reform Group", an ensemble of five Iraqi resistance groups based in Syria. The tribe's perception (and distrust) of Maliki as a Shi'a with Iranian backing, as well as its lucrative trade along the border area, will hinder Maliki's effort to draw Sunni Arab tribes back into the state and to undermine Ayad Allawi's tribal support base. And even though Maliki has licensed the Sadrists' "Sit in against Occupiers" demonstration planned for April 9, he needs to assure that the event does not become violent or further erode his fragile government.
At the New York Times, the paper can't find the protests already noted today; however, they can go to town for Ahmad Chalabi. Maybe Tim Arango's attempting to show how Chalabi continues to attempt to spin. Chalabi wants to be Minister of the Interior. So many people don't want him to be. He's using unrest in Bahrain to try to make himself appear in touch with 'the people.' And insisting -- as Arango sketches out -- that a near 100% Shi'ite is a mixed turnout. Arango is incorrect when he refers to the Parliament's ten day vacation/holiday as "Parliament briefly suspended its work to protest the Bahrain's crackdown" He's incorrect because ten days is significant. The ten days off came after the body had grandstanded that they were going to put Iraq first and therefore were cancelling their April vacation. It also came when Nouri's one-hundred days 'till reform kicked off. Using a tenth of those reform days is not "briefly." The Speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujafi has repeatedly denied it was a vacation or holiday.
In rather striking news, Reuters reports that the number of people killed in Iraq (Iraqi "civilians, police and soldiers") "rose in March" and uses a Ministry of Health count of 136. However, that number is a huge undercount.
Let's review, March 1st 1 person was reported killed. March 2nd 5 people were reported dead and twenty-nine injured. March 3rd 11 were reported dead and twenty-six injured. March 5th 5 people were reported dead and nineteen wounded. March 6th 21 were reported dead and twenty-six wouned. March 7th 2 were reported dead, two were reported wounded. March 8th 4 dead and seven wounded. March 9th 5 were reported dead and ten wounded. March 10th 10 were reported dead and twenty-two injured. March 11th 7 dead and eleven injured. March 12th three were reported injured. March 13th 17 were reported dead and seventeen injured. March 14th 14 were reported dead and forty-two injured. March 15th 1 was reported dead and seventeen injured. March 16th 1 person was reported dead and thirty-three injured. March 17th 5 were reported dead and fourteen injured. March 18th 2 dead and one injured. March 19th 11 were reported dead and twenty-four injured. March 20th 2 were reported dead and fifteen injured. March 21st 7 were reported dead and fifteen wounded. March 22nd 4 were reported dead and thirteen injured. March 23rd 6 were reported dead and twenty-five injured. March 24th 2 were reported dead and three were reported wounded and -1 on dead because Maj Gen Ahmed Obeidi was reported dead the day before but was alive. March 25th 9 were reported dead and thirty-four injured. March 26th 3 were reported dead and five injured. March 27th 12 were reported dead and sixteen injured. March 28th 20 were reported dead and fifty-two injured. March 29th 60 were reported dead and one-hundred-and-three injured. March 31st 7 were reported dead and thrity-one injured. Check my math but that comes to 251 reported dead and 615 reported injured. Those deaths include everything but US service members. So 251. And that's an undercount. All the deaths are not reported and all deaths reported don't get noted in the snapshot.
Alsumaria TV reports the death toll given by the Ministries of Defense, Health and Interior is 247 with 370 injured. Iraq Body Count does the numbers and finds "287 CIVILIANS KILLED" in the month of March. Reuters publishing 136 is laughable. It's all the more laughable when you note this sentence from the report: "Many of the deaths in March were the result of an attack on Tuesday on the provincial council of Salahuddin in Tikrit" -- we counted 58 for that (some counts were 60 and higher but for our 251 for the month, we only counted 58). Subtract 58 from 136 and you end up with 78. Reuters, which does a daily count of violence, seriously thought only 78 people were killed on all the other days this month? Seriously?
If you think that means Iraq gets attention from the media, you don't know Diane Rehm. Each Friday, The Diane Rehm Show offers an hour of discussion on domestic news in the first hour and an hour of discussion on foreign news in the second hour. If you set aside Nadia Bilbassy's two brief sentences on February 25th ("There was demonstration in Iraq. There was two people dead in Iraq today, in Baghdad and in Basra.") as she went over demonstrations in the Middle East, current events in Iraq have not been discussed since January 21st when CNN's Elise Labott was asked about Iraq by Diane. Today continued Diane's pattern of silence.
Grasp, please, that TEN FRIDAYS IN A ROW have found Diane and her guests (or substitute host Susan Page and her guests) ignoring Iraq on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show. Violence has increased, US service members have died in Iraq during this time. Protests have taken place. Journalists have been beaten by Nouri's security forces. This week alone provincial council offices in Tikrit were turned into a hostage scene in which US forces and Iraqi forces stormed in but didn't manage to save anyone and at least 58 people died. Nouri spent all of February denying Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) Human Rights Watch's documentation of the secret prison forces under his immediate command were in charge of. That lie would continue until March 15th -- at which point, oops-we-do-have-a-secret-prison! None of that was news to Diane and her guests. None of it merited discussion.
To listen to The Diane Rehm Show's international hour for the last ten Fridays was to think Iraq must have fallen off the face of the earth and, certainly, the war had ended. Those who sold the Iraq War probably should be working overtime to pay their debt off.
March 3, 2003, Diane could talk about the financial cost of a potential Iraq War, but not about the human costs. Gordon Adams and Loren Thompson were her guests. And Loren Thompson -- of a think tank that's really a lobbyist for the defense industry -- sure did pop up a lot as a guest on Diane's show during the lead up to the Iraq War, didn't he? Such as January 21, 2003. She'd return to "economic implications" February 3rd. Or how about the laughable January 13, 2003 episode billed as an hour on the anti-war movement but included David Corn who was Red-baiting A.N.S.W.E.R. and countless others during that time period. Corn -- opposed to the illegal war but more strongly opposed to the peace movement -- got to be a guest many times -- March 7th, for example. March 17th, she had Robert Kagan as one of her guests. Making the case for war. Somehow, Diane 'forgot' to inform her listeners that Kagan's wife was working for Dick Cheney. Conflict of interest? Not to Diane. How about February 6, 2003 when Colin Powell's lies (The Blot) to the United Nations was 'analyzed' by War Hawk Ruth Wedgwood (Johns Hopkins University, of course) and cave-boi David Corn who insisted, "I give him credit, a very good case from a p.r. aspect." "Far more concrete evidence about these deceptions," Corn insisted were provided by Powell. He couldn't call it out. He could raise a few questions but he couldn't (try "wouldn't") call it out. So you had a weak and uninformed David Corn making a weak, kind of case sort of against the war and War Hawk Ruth Wedgwood insisting that the case was made. Thanks, Dave, you really went out on a limb there, didn't you? Ruth Wedgwood can declare the case has been made and David Corn's idea of offering a 'rousing' refutation was to say, "The question still is what do you do about it?" He repeatedly accepted the premise in his own remarks. (He cited, for example, one person who questioned Powell's presentation in the Washington Post. But in his own remarks he found Powell convincing. Again, thanks, David Corn, for nothing.) Contrast Corn's weak-ass garbage with Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! of the same day Phyllis Bennis "there were no smoking guns, but a lot of smoke and mirrors." Even in headlines, the spin wasn't being accepted the way Corn did on The Diane Rehm Show (which airs several hours later than Democracy Now!). From that day's opening headline.
Amy Goodman: But much of the Powell -- much of the evidence Powell presented is impossible to verify. Powell's speech was peppered with assertions like "Our sources tell us" or "we know that . . . " Defectors and detainees were not named.
Goodman's first segment after headlines was the seventy-plus minute speech Powell gave to the United Nations. Phyllis Bennis and James Paul were the guest offering analysis. (From Iraq, Jeremy Scahill offered the response from Iraq's government.) Via telephone, As'ad Abukhalil noted that the original Arabic recordings -- which Powell was translating to the UN -- "the translations are not really that good." the original Arabic is far more general and could mean a lot of things. By contrast, for Diane and her guests, the original Arabic meant only what Powell said it did.
The Iraq War hasn't ended. And every Friday, US citizen Diane Rehm has a whole hour to discuss world events but doesn't feel that the US war in Iraq is worthy of discussion -- for ten weeks now (that includes today), she's felt that way. It's going to be fun to watch Ann monitor the show to point out Diane's huge gender imbalance among guests.
In some of today's reported violence, which Diane also couldn't be bothered with though it was all in the news cycle before her show went live, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Falluja suicide bombing has claimed the life of the bomber plus that of "at least three Iraqi soldiers." Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that at least six people were injured (and identifies one of the dead as "a passer-by" as well as 2 Iraqi soldiers) and that the suicide bomber passed for "a street cleaner". Reuters states all 3 dead are Iraqi military and notes one man was shot dead in Mosul and a Mosul grenade attack injured two people.
Meanwhile Al Mada reports rumors that Nouri al-Maliki is planning to alter the political scene in Iraq and create "a majority government." What is public is that Sabi al-Issawi attempted to resign as the Secretary of Baghdad but Nouri al-Maliki refused to allow it, Al Mada reports. Al Rafidayn adds this was the second time al-Issawi has attempted to resign.
The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they've earned under the program guidelines.
The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.
Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.
When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit. Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply. Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.
To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.