Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nouri wants a culture fair and the State Dept gets spit on

All Iraq News reports that the Ministry of Culture has declared, "The 23rd of March will be the date to launch the events of Baghdad the Capital of Arab Culture Festival."  A culture festival in Baghdad?

The same Baghdad that, February 11th, Nouri al-Maliki began refusing to allow Iraqis from out of Baghdad to enter?

The same Baghdad that went into 'fright night' terrors (see yesterday's snapshot also refer to this Dar Addustour report on the fright night terrors) when residents of Sadr City (a section of Baghdad) protested outside the Green Zone.

The same Baghdad Dar Addustour reports yesterday found the forces asking for I.D. and if you didn't live in the section of Baghdad you were attempting to enter, you were turned away?

And this will be the setting, next month, for a culture festival?

Apparently, they just plan to invite non-Iraqis.  At a time when Nouri's government is refusing to let Iraqis visit their own country's capital, Nouri's going to host foreigners?  Oh, that'll go over well.

From yesterday's snapshot:  " In addition, Al Mada reports that the US and Iraqi governments -- specifically the US Treasury Dept's Deputy Secretary David Cohen who is meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad -- are discussing ways to disrupt the flow of terrorist financing in Iraq."

Guess what?  Iraq apparently spat in Cohen's face.  I don't know maybe it was the last name?  Al Rafidayn reports  State of Law's Laith Mohammed Reza states that they rejected all of Cohen's suggestions including that they impose any kind of sanctions on Iran or Syria.  He further states that they did not reach any agreements in the meeting.  So, despite the statement the US Embassy in Baghdad issued, the meeting was a complete waste of time and every suggestion Cohen made was rejected.

US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves tomorrow for Turkey.  Bulet Aras and Emirhan Yorulmazlar (The Hill) offer their take on the region and note of Iraq:

Ankara-Baghdad relations turned sour after Maliki paradoxically perceived the Turkish position to promote consensual politics not only in Iraq, but also in Syria as threatening. At home he shied away from power sharing, abroad he feared yet another Sunni ascendancy. The resultant equation is the U.S.-encouraged Maliki coalesces with Iran and the Baathist Assad. Turkey sided with the KRG and Sunni minority against an “oppressing” Maliki majority bloc, yet acted reservedly not to alienate other Shiite groups. Iran’s policy has been to aggravate
Shiite-Sunnite tensions in Iraq and the region to hedge against its political losses after the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, Turkey’s burgeoning energy and security needs entailed a rapprochement with the KRG, which was earlier advocated by the Americans but went even further than U.S. projections. Overall, for Ankara, the U.S. siding with Maliki in the name of political stability is a faux pas that requires reparation. This is while the U.S. came out vocal in opposing Turkish-KRG cooperation particularly on energy. Maliki’s ties with Ankara seem irreparable and until US pretension about political stability in Iraq ends both sides will continue to differ on Iraqi affairs.

At least eight people are injured today in Baghdad, the National Iraqi News Agency reports, as two bombs go off, another eight are injured in a al-Azizia car bombing (Wasit Province), .  All Iraq News updates the injured toll for Wasit to fourteen.  And Reuters is stating that 3 people are dead.  That's another thing to watch for, seriously injured may pass away. On the Baghdad bombing, Reuters reports that in addition to the eight injured, 1 person was killed. Aslumaria notes 1 Sahwa leader was shot dead in a Kirkuk attack that also killed 1 bodyguard and left another injued.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 316 violent deaths this month in Iraq.

It is any surprise that, Monday, the US State Dept issued the following travel warning for Iraq:


February 25, 2013

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq given the security situation. Travel within Iraq remains dangerous. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated August 9, 2012, to update information on security incidents and to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations where U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

Although violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist, reported incidents nationwide have decreased in the past year. U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence, however. Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons. Numerous insurgent groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq, remain active throughout Iraq. Although Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) operations against these groups continue, terrorist activity persists in many areas of the country. Regardless of the cause, terrorism or criminal, violence throughout Iraq remains at critical levels. In addition, some political protests and demonstrations have turned violent in the past six months. U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. government personnel in Iraq to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission must follow strict safety and security procedures when traveling outside the Embassy. State Department guidance to U.S. businesses in Iraq advises the use of protective security details. Detailed security information is available at the U.S. Embassy website.

The U.S. Embassy is located in the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad. The IZ is a restricted access area. Iraqi authorities are responsible for control of the IZ. Travelers to the IZ should be aware that Iraqi authorities may require special identification to enter the IZ or may issue IZ-specific access badges. Individuals residing and traveling within the IZ should continue to exercise good personal safety precautions.
Increasingly, many U.S. and third-country business people travel throughout much of Iraq; however, they do so under restricted movement conditions and almost always with security advisors and protective security teams.
Some regions within Iraq have experienced fewer violent incidents than others in recent years, in particular the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR). The security situation in the IKR, which includes the governorates of Sulymaniya, Erbil, and Dohuk, has been more stable relative to the rest of Iraq in recent years. Although there have been significantly fewer terrorist attacks and lower levels of insurgent violence in the IKR than in other parts of Iraq, the security situation throughout the IKR remains dangerous, and threats have increased in recent months. U.S. government personnel in northern Iraq are required to be accompanied by a protective security escort when traveling outside secure facilities.

The Government of Iraq strictly enforces requirements regarding visas and stamps for entry and exit, vehicle registration, authorizations for weapons, and movements through checkpoints. The Embassy highly recommends that all U.S. citizens in Iraq carefully review the status of their travel documents and any necessary licenses and government authorizations to ensure that they are current and valid. U.S. citizens are urged to immediately correct any deficiencies in their travel documents. U.S. citizens are strongly advised against traveling throughout the country with deficient or invalid documents. For more information about entry/exit requirements for U.S. citizens, please see our Country Specific Information page for Iraq.
U.S. citizens should avoid areas near the Turkish or Iranian borders. The Turkish military continues to carry out operations against elements of the Kongra-Gel terrorist group (KGK, formerly Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK) located along Iraq's northern border. Additionally, extensive unmarked minefields remain along the same border. The Governments of Turkey and Iran continue to conduct military operations against insurgent groups in the mountain regions. These operations have included troop movements and both aerial and artillery bombardments. Borders in these areas are not always clearly defined. Iranian authorities previously detained, for an extended period, U.S. citizens who were hiking in the vicinity of the Iranian border in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR). The resources available to the U.S. Embassy to assist U.S. citizens who venture close to or cross the border with Iran are extremely limited. 
The ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services to U.S. citizens throughout Iraq, including Baghdad, is particularly limited given the security environment. The U.S. Consulates in Basrah, Erbil, and Kirkuk cannot provide routine services such as passport applications, extra visa pages, and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad. U.S. citizens in need of these services while in Iraq must travel to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The Embassy's website includes consular information and the most recent messages to U.S. citizens in Iraq. U.S. citizens in Iraq who need emergency assistance should call 0770-443-1286.
For information on “What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis,” please visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Emergencies and Crisis link. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
U.S. citizens who choose to visit or reside in Iraq despite this Travel Warning are urged to take responsibility for their own personal security and belongings (including their U.S. passports) and to avoid crowds, especially rallies or demonstrations. U.S. citizens who choose to travel in Iraq should be aware that Iraqi authorities have arrested or detained U.S. citizens whose purpose of travel is not readily apparent. Persons also have been detained for taking photographs of buildings, monuments, or other sites, especially in the IZ in Baghdad.

All U.S. citizens in Iraq, including those working on contract for the U.S. government, are urged to inform the U.S. Embassy of their presence in Iraq by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to obtain updated travel information. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to provide updated security information or to contact them in emergencies. The Embassy also offers SMS text alerts delivered to your mobile phone when new security and emergency messages are released.
U.S. citizens may obtain the latest security information or other information about Iraq by contacting the U.S. Embassy, located in the International Zone, via email, or by accessing U.S. Embassy Baghdad's website. The after-hours emergency numbers are 011-964-770-443-1286 (from the United States) or 0770-443-1286 (within Iraq). As cell phone service is unreliable in Iraq, emergency calls may also be placed through the Department of State at 1-888-407-4747.

Stay up to date by bookmarking our  Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains current  Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.  You can also download our free Smart Traveler App, available through iTunesand the Android market  for travel information at your fingertips.  Follow us on  Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.

Let's move over to US House Rep Walter Jones for a moment.   We noted him yesterday morning.

Emily Heil (Washington Post) quoted him stating, "Lyndon Johnson's probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War and he probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney. Congress will not hold anyone to blame."  We ignored that at first when it was breaking and picked it up yesterday because we could pair it with something else.

Today the Winston-Salem Journal editorial board calls Jones out for the remarks.  They throw away terms like "holier than though" and "preaching."   And now I'm really confused.

We avoided Jones' remarks as a stand alone.  We only pulled them in yesterday morning when there was a larger topic and they did not go into the snapshot.

I have no problem with what he said.  But I saw what he said as religious.  We try to avoid religious statements (while also covering attacks on Muslim, Christians, Jews and other minorities, it's a fun dance here).  We do not take someone's name in vain -- any deity.  If Isaiah had wanted to participate in the comic 'event' when everyone was drawing Mohammed, I told him that if he did it would go up here and I'd stand by it and his freedom to draw the cartoon.  But he asked and so I said that I wouldn't draw it myself -- if I had any drawing talent -- because while I understand the political point and can applaud it, I really don't see the need to create a wall between myself and others I'm trying to communicate with.

I have no problem with Jones' remarks.  I have no problem with those remarks being made about Nouri al-Maliki by Moqtada al-Sadr.

But we avoided them until we could connect it with some non-religious.  To me, those are clearly religious remarks on Jones' part.  That's fine and he can express it and should because that's what he believes.  So where I'm confused is where the editorial board misses this?

I don't see this as holier-than-thou.  I don't see how you say, 'You voted for the war too!' to dimiss the remarks.  Jones feels that Dick Cheney lied to the country to sell the Iraq War.  That's more than voting wrong, that's deliberate deception.  Jones is saying, as I understand him, people died from this.  I don't see how the editorial board is missing the religious nature of the remarks.

This goes to teaching and it's a thou-shall-not-kill issue, it's a justice issue.  This isn't Jones -- or someone else -- prying into someone's personal life.  I'm really bothered by the editorial because I would assume you would either avoid his remarks or you would acknowledge the religious aspect of them.  I don't feel that the editorial board acknowledged it.

(I should point out that we said something similar this month with regards to Bully Boy Bush.  Only, I avoided religion, as I usually do, and went instead with 'he made his own hell and now he'll have to live in it.'  Similar remarks were made about Powell by me.)

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