Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 10, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, if the media doesn't cover realities for Iraqis why would you blame the American people for not knowing about them, the State Dept continues their public lackadaisical presentation, and more.
To put a face on war, Susie Day pens the essay "Dead Iraqis Occupy Wall Street" (Monthly Review):

With the war in Iraq now officially over and the Occupy Wall Street movement less visible, life in New York was expected to return to normal. Instead, several recent passersby in Manhattan's financial district have reported seeing thousands of deceased Iraqi civilians taking up residence at Zuccotti Park. The park served for two months in the fall of 2011 as a protest base for thousands of OWS activists.
Although the Iraqis remain largely silent and immobile, some witnesses claim to have seen individual deceased mothers, students, and the elderly holding up the backs of old pizza boxes, on which have been scrawled the English words, "Remember Me."
Public reaction has been mixed. Some say the dead are "occupying" the park in nonviolent protest; others accuse the Iraqis of faking their own deaths in order to flout U.S. immigration laws. The Bloomberg administration, having evicted hundreds of living protesters from the park in mid-November, has thus far maintained a wary tolerance.

Meanwhile John Robles (Voice of Russia -- link is text and audio) interviews De
John Tirman (Washington Post) mused on US President Barack Obama's speech. (For the record, as we noted the day Barack gave that speech, if you're president of the United States you don't say "nearly 4,5000 members of the US armed forces who died in Iraq," you give the exact number or you and your staff haven't done the job needed.) Tirman
notes Barack's speech included nothing about the dead or injured Iraqis and offers, "This inattention to civilian deaths in America's wars isn't unique to Iraq. There's little evidence that the American public gives much thought to the people who live in nations where our military interventions take place."

We're always so quick to blame the American people.  Why is that?  Do they control the newspapers and the radio and the TV?  If people should care -- and I believe they should -- then the media should be covering it.  If it's not being covered, it's really cowardly to blame the American people when you haven't said one damn word about the American media.
How would the American people know about, for example, Iraqis right now? 
Traveling sea gull?
If the media's not covering it, then that's a media issue, it's not an American people issue. Quit blaming We The People for the crimes of The Few The Media.  As the year drew to a close on December 31st, McClatchy and NPR closed their Baghdad bureaus, joining ABC, NBC and CBS, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and countless others, go down the list.  How are Americans supposed to know the realities for Iraqis when they can't get coverage of Iraq?
But don't worry, they're spending their money and time well.  For example, if NPR were still providing coverage from Iraq, listeners of Morning Edition might not know, thanks to Steve Inskeep, that Mitt Romney spoke at a Saturday event in "jeans and an open-collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up."  Here's some reality, if Steve Inskeep wants to work for Women's Wear Daily, he needs to try to get hired there.  It might not be easy, their standards are a bit higher than those of National Public Radio.  But while he's on NPR doing 'news' -- and this is true for others at NPR as well as PBS -- unless Mitt Romney -- or any other candidate -- shows up for a speech in just underwear or nude, it's not really news what they're wearing.  It's chatter.  It wastes our time.  It ensures that real issues are never addressed.  It's not news.
While the bulk of All Things Media Big and Small ignore Iraq, independent journalist Dahr Jamail has returned to the country.  Dahr (Centre for Global Research) observes, "As a daily drumbeat of violence continues to reverberate across Iraq, people here continue to struggle to find some sense of normality, a task made increasingly difficult due to ongoing violence and the lack of both water and electricity. [. . .] Iraq continues to have a cash economy; meaning there are no credit cards, almost no checking accounts, no transfer of electronic funds, and only a few ATMs.  Iraq lacks a functioning postal service, has no public transporation, nor a national airline -- and most goods sold in Iraq are imported."
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
-- "For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Futher" written by Anne Sexton
As noted Saturday, "What did protesters tell CNN last month? They begged CNN not to leave Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Why? Because when the press left, Nouri's forces would attack the protesters. (And did.) Across the world, we all have the power to shine a light on what's going in Iraq."  Today Jomana Karadsheh (CNN -- link is video) files an important report:
Jomana Karadsheh: Last month, Oday al-Zaidy and a small group of people gathered in a Baghdad square to celebrate the US media withdrawal planning to burn the US flag.  But more than 200 security forces swarmed around them, banned us from filming and stopped the protests because they said the group had not obtained a permit.  But they still managed to burn the flag.  Oday and others were beaten up and detained for a day. Security officials say, they assaulted policemen, something the group denies.  "Democracy in Iraq is an illusion," Oday says.  "An American illusion and an American lie.  Whoever wants to see that for themselves, should come and see what's been happening in Iraq since February 25th."  That's when thousands of Iraqis -- partly influenced by the Arab Spring -- took to the streets of cities across the country protesting against corruption and a lack of basic services. [Gun shots are heard and security forces move in.]  But from the start, they were met by a fierce crackdown.  The government denies an orchestrated effort to put down protests, saying there were just minor violations committed by to put down protests by individual security officers.  Activists groups disagree.  Human Rights Watch says the violations have been systematic and ongoing documenting dozens of cases where protesters were beaten up, detained and, in some cases, even tortured.
Human Rights Watch's Samer Muscati:  People are afraid to go to demonstrations, are afraid of being rounded up, of being assaulted, of being beat up, of being followed to their own homes.
Jomana Karadsheh:  And this is what has happened almost a year since the protests began here in Baghdad's own Tahrir or Liberation Square the scene is very different from last February. Activists say the crowd here has significantly dwindled over recent months and most of those present on this Friday say they are supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  This crowd behind me has been chanting against two of the prime minister's two main political rivals -- Ayad Allawi and Saleh al-Mutlaq.  Banners like these around the square praise "the wisdom and courage" of Mr. Maliki.
Human Rights Watch's Samer Muscati:  I think really we are at a critical juncture and we are at a crossroads and Iraq right now, from what we see, is a budding police state.  And hopefully that will change but all indications now are that things are actually going to deteriorate even more.
Baghdad Operations Command Spokesperson Qassim Atta: Our country is still suffering from terrorism and security forces are highly sensitive and ready for the worst possibilities and it is their right to protect public security. There should be no generalization.  These human rights organizations can visit Tahrir Square every week to see the protests.
Jomana Karadsheh: But those who dare venture out have a different story.  As we try to speak to this protester, we're interrupted by government supporters.  Protesters say they're intelligence agents. For now, there are still some who refuse to back down despite the intimidation campaign. 
Iraqi Male: The Republic of Iraq! Every time he's dead! Kill! Dead! Kill! Why?
Jomana Karadsheh:  As this man cries out against the government, Maliki's supporters move right in, drowing out the calls for change.  Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Baghdad.
 A police state.  Well aren't we lucky the US isn't spending billions training the Iraqi police.  Oh.  Wait.  The US tax payer is on the hook for training the potential police of a police state.  Ed O'Keefe (Washington Post) explained in October, "Since 2003, the United States has spent about $8 billion to train, staff and equip Iraqi police forces. With the U.S. military preparing to leave Iraq at the end of December, responsibility for the police training program transferred to the State Department this month. The department has requested $887 million to continue operating the program this fiscal year."
When not busying themselves with preventing freedom of assembly, Nouri's thugs focus on other speech issues, like journalism.  Dahr Jamal (Al Jazeera) reports:
According to [Iraq's Society for Defending Press Freedom's Oday] Hattem, if a journalists reports critically "that means this journalist will lose his life".
Like Hussein, Hattem sees the situation worsening on all fronts.
"The political and freedom of speech situations are both descending," he said. "Maliki launched an attack on freedom of speech in February 2010, when he arrested tens of journalists and human rights activists after the beginning of demonstrations in Baghdad."
US President Barack Obama, during a December 12, 2011, press conference with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, had nothing but high praise for the state of press freedom in Maliki's Iraq:
So we're partnering to strengthen the institutions upon which Iraq's democracy depends - free elections, a vibrant press, a strong civil society, professional police and law enforcement that uphold the rule of law, an independent judiciary that delivers justice fairly, and transparent institutions that serve all Iraqis.
Three days later, Iraq's Society for Defending Press Freedom filed an appeal with Iraq's High Federal Court against Maliki's government and its "Journalists Rights Law", which the group said contradicted four articles from Iraq's constitution. 
And that's what the US has backed and continues to back.  Even now.
Let's note some of today's violence.   AFP counts 8 dead and seventeen injured in today's violence including a Saadiyah roadside bombing which claimed the life of Iraqi military Col Hassan Ali and injured three of his bodyguards. Mazin Yahya (AP) counts 10 dead today and emphasizes three young boys -- all ten or under -- killed in a Tikrit roadside bombing.  Both note a Shurqat sticky bombing which claimed the lives of 2 people who worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and left another injured.  Reuters also notes a Baghdad home invasion in which 1 "Iraqi private bank manager and her husband" were killed last night.
Vestnik Kavkaza reports, "The US has made a big mistake by withdrawing from Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, 1news.az reports. Erdogan met his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg and reminded him that he had warned US president and vice-president about repercussions from such step. The Turkish premier noted that the situation in Iraq remains tense and inter-religious conflicts may arise at any moments. Turkey is a neighboring state and cannot remain indifferent to the situation. He added that Iran is planned to be involved in the process." KUNA also notes Erdogan making public statements of concern about what's taking place in Iraq and they offer this context, "Erdogan made these remarks amidst political conflict between the Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's rule of law coalition and the Iraqiya List after a judicial committee issued an arrest warrant for vice-president Tareq Al-hashimi on terrorism charges."

Meanwhile the US government has nothing to say. As we noted Sunday, that's how you end up the loser. More and more statements are being made about the state of Iraq. By other countries. And the US response? At the State Dept for two weeks they more or less parroted the same response guessing (correctly) that doing so would mean reporters would lose interest. And by the end of last week, journalists had given up -- a stance that continued yesterday.

So as the crisis continues in Iraq and as people -- in the US and around the world -- see various government officials weighing in, don't be surprised when the attitude is: "The US destroyed Iraq and now they just don't care."

They're begging for that to be the image.

And heaven forbid the crisis grow worse and really bloody. At which point the reaction will be, "Why didn't the US government even give a damn?"

(They never gave a damn because, beginning in 2006, they made the decision that Nouri was the US future and mattered more than Iraqis. This lack of concern for Iraqis was a thread in the Bush administration and one picked up and continued by the Barack administration.)

Adam Schreck (AP) notes, "Administration officials acknowledge that Iraq is mired in its worst government crisis since Hussein's ouster, with no obvious answers because of longstanding sectarian and regional rivalries, and newer schisms caused by political maneuvering. The task is Iraq's now, they insist, with the United States only advising and providing aid." On the first sentence, it's a shame they refuse to indicate that publicly on the record. On the second sentence, it's a shame they're such liars. How many billions is the US pumping into Iraq this year? And how many weapons are being sought by Iraq right now? And how desperate is Iraq to get out of Chapter VII at the UN? Those are only some of the influence levers the US has.
In today's State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about Iraq and offered more banal statements.
QUESTION: Toria, I forget, is it today that she's speaking with the staff in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Yes, she spoke to them this morning. She did.
QUESTION: Yeah. What did she say?
MS. NULAND: She had a phone call yesterday with our staff in Afghanistan and she had a phone call today with our staff in Iraq. These were New Year's Day calls. Both of those staffs work extremely hard, seven days a week in most cases. They work under extreme conditions. And I think it was an opportunity to thank them for the work that they both did last year and to give them a pep talk going forward, because they're both also shepherding important transitions in our relationships with both countries.
QUESTION: Right. And on the Iraq part, is there any early indication of how things are going now that the transition is happening?
MS. NULAND: In terms of the State Department picking up --
QUESTION: Troops out. Yeah. Right.
MS. NULAND: -- the lead, we're working it through. As we've said from the beginning, this is -- it's a daunting effort, but we believe that we're up to the task. I think you've seen that that Embassy's been extremely busy, led by Ambassador Jeffrey, in its work with all of the Iraqi political parties to encourage them to talk to each other and encourage an Iraqi-owned process of national dialogue among the key leaders. So that continues, as do all of our civilian support opportunities and our training opportunities.
No concerns expressed at all.  You know who the administration is sounding like, right?  Tony Hayward, BP's Tony Hayward, during the Gulf Disaster.  In fact, they're sounding worse than that, they're sounding like South Park's parody of Tony Hayward.

People are paying attention the political crisis -- people in the US, people around the world.  And the administration is choosing to sound like Tony Hayward.  Not a smart move.

Along with attempting to have Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested, Nouri is also attempting to have Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq arrested. Though Parliament has refused to take up Nouri's demand (Nouri cannot strip anyone of their Cabinet post, he needs the approval of Parliament), Dar Addustour notes Nouri is already attempting to find a replacement and is eyeing Jamal Karbouli. Al Mada adds that Nouri began discussions with Karbouli about this post on Sunday. Hayder al-Khoei had an article Sunday at the Guardian which Al Mada summarizes here. al-Khoei is reminding that the conflict is (thus far) between political rivals and not sects. Ayad Allawi, for example, heads Iraqiya and he is of the same sect as Nouri al-Maliki. We'll note the second to the last paragraph from the Guardian article:

Interestingly, and perhaps even more telling, Ayatollah Sistani blamed politicians for the recent crisis without taking sides. In 2005 Sistani stood by the Shia political parties and helped them get into power. Today Sistani refuses to meet politicians, regardless of sect, because he believes they have failed to provide services. Again, there is a Najaf-Baghdad complex at play that has received little attention.



Turning to the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office notes:
Tuesday, January 10, 2012              (202) 224-2834
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Thursday, January 12, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will hold a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide.  Senator Murray is Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.  Senator Murray will use the struggles, stories, and suggestions she hears on Thursday to bring local concers to Washington, D.C.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
          Local veterans
WHAT: Veterans listening session with Senator Murray
WHEN: Thursday, January 12, 2012
             1:15 PM PT
WHERE: VFW Post 379
               118 S. 5th Ave.
               Yakima, WA 98902
It is the 10th anniversary of the illegal prison on Guantanamo.  John Robles (Voice of Russia -- link is text and audio) interviews Debra Sweet. Excerpt.

John Robles: My first question regards the National Defense Authorization Act, under which an Indefinite Detention Clause was passed, also censorship under the SOPA act. Starting with the PATRIOT Act, it seems like human rights have been stripped away one after the other in the US. Would you characterize the US as a police state?

Debra Sweet: I don't know that I would characterize the US across the board as a police state. Certainly, in many other countries and historically there are places where people can't even gather, not to mention US-backed states, where protesters have been shot and killed during the Arab Spring with impunity. A lot of that comes back to the US backing of very authoritarian governments around the world. One can say that, since 9/11, since the Bush regime used the attack on the World Trade Center as a pretext to unleash an endless war on the world, apparently it's been continued by the next administration. Civil liberties and the protection of the first ten amendments have been, which are known in the US as the Bill of Rights, has been severely restricted and now we see that what the US instituted 10 years ago, on January 11th 2002, when it opened its illegal prison in Guantanamo, it allowed the US for years to hold men with no access to Habeas Corpus right, no charges against them. And, in fact, there have been very intense court battles within the US to try to get those men any rights at all. And, in fact, 171 are still being held indefinitely. All this has become a model, as a way that the US can keep people indefinitely without charges and now, as you are mentioning, under the law that Barack Obama signed last Saturday, on the last day of the year, there is a situation where the US now, through the President, can hold people indefinitely under custody of the US military. And this definitely includes US citizens, as well as anyone else. This is under charges "suspicion of involvement with terrorism". You may call it a police state -- and it has a real fascist tinge to it, because it's setting out a situation where people can be grabbed based on what the President thinks you are thinking about and presumably held by the military forever either in this country or outside of it. And we understand that the US has employed "black sites", third-country prisons, in addition to what it's done in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo.
Debra Sweet is with The World Can't Wait which is not only noting the 10th anniversary of the opening of the illegal prison in Guantanamo but is also calling for actions this week including Wednesday January 11th:

Sign up for Washington DC action

Andy Worthington's Appearances Around the Country
Protests in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco and More

January 11, 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo. A broad coalition of groups: Center for Constitutional Rights, Code Pink, No More Guantánamos, Pax Christi Physicians for Human Rights, Torture Abolition and Survivors Network, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, War Criminals Watch, War Resisters League, Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International USA and World Can't Wait - is calling for a major demonstration in Washington, DC and solidarity actions elsewhere to ensure accountability for torture, unlawful detention and other human rights violations committed by the US government in the name of national security. And to demand:

• the closure of Guantánamo by ending indefinite detention and military commissions;
• the end of torture and impunity for torture;
• the end of unlawful detention at Bagram and all US facilities;
• the end of Islamophobia and discrimination;
• and support for all detainees either being charged and fairly tried, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.

The primary action in DC is a human chain of 2,771 people in orange jumpsuits representing the people still detained without charge or fair trial at Guantánamo and Bagram stretching from the White House to the Capitol. We will chant, we will hold signs, we will not be silent.

Find out more about Guantánamo, Bagram, indefinite detention and torture.

Scroll down to read some of the stories of the people still languishing in these hellholes.