Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, SWAT helped with last week's massacre in Hawija, who trained SWAT, Nouri blames Parliament for his failures to provide security, whispers that Iraq is being split up continue, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations condemn the efforts to close 10 satellite channels, and more.

 Last week, Nouri al-Maliki's forces stormed a sit-in in Hawija (Kirkuk Province) killing 50 and injuing 110.  Though barely covered by US outlets (exceptions being the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and AP), the assault was shocking to the rest of the world.  On Inside Story (Al Jazeera), a panel discussed the attacks after yet another distorted report from Jane Arraf who is so eager to enable Nouri that she wrongly got the purpose of a commission wrong (the commission supposed to find out about the attack on the protesters, she really needs to try to tamp down on her obvious bias).

Salah Hashimi:  First of all, let me disagree with your introduction that this will lead to a sectarian strife.  There is absolutely no indication that this is a sectarian issue. It is between peaceful demonstrators and a government which happens to be dominated by Shia elements in Iraq. The Sunni community and the Shia community remain to be at peace with one another.  In fact, early reports suggest that plenty of messages have been received from the southern regions of Iraq in support of the demonstrators and in support of the peacefulness of the demonstrations. That's number one.  With regards to a massacre, I think early reports suggest that there was a scuffle between Iraqi soldiers, slightly away from the demonstrations in Hawija and that scuffle resulted in one of them being dead.  Because of the media blackout on the area, the government suggested that the demonstrators were armed and they were violent and that they were the ones who killed the soldier -- as a result of which, troops massed on the demonstrations in Hawija and subsequently raided them by not only army forces but by so-called SWAT teams.  Those teams are completely anonymous, their faces are not shown, no one knows where they come from and no one knows who trained them.  So we have peaceful demonstrators  -- and I say peaceful because, until now, we haven't had any evidence, a shred of evidence presented by the government that those demonstrators were armed or that they fired at anybody.  They've been there for many, many months and nothing has happened.  So why now? 

Let's stop the discussion to zoom in on an element noted but not addressed: SWAT forces.   Saturday,  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reported that SWAT forces are under the command of Nouri and take orders from him. When "SWAT" forces are noted in the US, people have a basic understanding of the Special Weapons And Tactics forces.  They came up in the sixties and had a bad image for many reasons which was why the TV series SWAT was created and aired (briefly -- two seasons) on ABC. The show was crap but people loved the instrumental theme song which made it to number one on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1976.  In the US, people are also familiar with it due to the bad movie released in 2003.

On Inside Story, panelst Abudlmunaem Almula will speak of SWAT and of the Operation Tigris Command forces.  However, he will use the term "SWAT" for the former but refer to the latter as "Tigris Operational Army."  That's not me saying Almula's wrong in his terms.  There are various terms used for the Tigris forces, some of it having to do with translation issues.  Iraq is an Arabic speaking culture, conversations in English will not always be as precise with terms.  The US created a force under General David Petraeus.  You may remember it and its numerous names.  In Iraq, it is known as "Sahwa."  In English language outlets, they are known as "Awakenings" or "Sons of Iraq" (or "Daughters of Iraq").  Iraqis appearing on English language programs generally refer to them as "Sahwa."  That's not strange.  It's perfectly understandable.

So someone explain "SWAT" and why it's being used in English and Arabic.

These are new forces.  Wael Grace made that clear in the Al Mada report and so did Almula.  These just emerged.  Why are they called SWAT?

It was not a term you'd encounter naturally in Arabic as we'll go into.

So why is it being used?  Why is it being used in Iraq?

Are you getting the point here?

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions.  At the request of the Iraqi government, according to [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

The SWAT forces are a new development in Iraq.  They emerge after the new agreement -- new training agreement -- is signed with the DoD in December.  They are new forces with an American name.  SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics.  In English, that's what it stands for.  Even if you translated the four words into Arabic, you wouldn't end up with the acronym "SWAT."  It's a US term. 

Were Bully Boy Bush still occupying the White House and US House Rep Nancy Pelois Speaker of the House, she'd be calling for an investigation into the Hawija slaughter to find out what the US involvement was.  Clearly, it includes training.  If it didn't, the SWAT forces wouldn't be dubbed "SWAT." 

The forces that stormed Hawija and killed protesters are forces that were trained by the US and their training was supported by US tax dollars.  This killing, this slaughter, would be the topic of Congressional hearings if we had a functioning US Congress.  Clearly, we don't.

50 protesters were killed for the 'crime' of taking part in a sit-in.  110 more people were injured.  The US government backed Augusto Pinochet and his war crimes.  Apparently the US government now backs attacks on peaceful protesters in Iraq.  What's at question now is did the US just train them or were they involved in planning the slaughter?  In carrying out the slaughter? 

The refusal to ask these questions is a sickness.  And the US has left behind sickness in Iraq.  Not just in terms of birth defects and cancers.  Today Doctors Without Borders released [PDF format warning] "Healing Iraqis."

Mental health disorders and emotional distress are as debilitating and agonizing as physical health problems.  According to The World Health Organisation, mental health disorders are the fourth leading cause of ill health in Iraqis over the age of 5 years.  There is little doubt that years of political and social repression, punctuated by wars, and followed by a post-war period characterised by interrupted and insufficient basic services have taken their toll on the Iraqi people. 

The report notes that with a death toll you also have "the number of people impacted by these deaths, through injury, losing loved ones, and/or witnessing violent events in many times higher."   There are many case studies in the report.  We'll note one:

A young boy developed a speech impediment and started becoming aggressive towards his siblings and school friends after he witnessed the death of several people in a bombing in his neighborhood.  The boy avoids going to areas close to where the bombing took place and says that he can still smell the odor of burning bodies.  The boy is receiving focused trauma therapy, the use of drawing aids to help the boy articulate his feelings and fears and it's hoped that this will help address his stammer and social anxiety issues.

And the violence has not ceased, so Iraqis continued to be effected.   Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 547 violent deaths in Iraq this month.  Today's the last day of April and violence continues. National Iraqi News Agency reports a suicide bomber killed himself in Sulaiman Beg and claimed 2 others lives while also leaving five people injured, and a Kirkuk bombing leaves two Peshmerga injured.  NINA also notes an armed clash in Mosul left three Iraqi soldiers injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left 2 police officers dead, an armed clash in Tikrit left 3 rebels dead and three more injured, a Falluja roadside bombing left one person injured, a Tikrit roadside bombing left one police officer injured, 2 Baghdad bombings claimed 3 lives and left seven people injured,  and Ismail Flaiyih was assassinated in Ramadi.  He was a "member of the Coordinating Committee of the Organization of Anbar sit-in Square" and he was shot dead.

 In other news on protesters, NINA reports, "Military force arrested on Tuesday afternoon, Apr. 30, the organizer of Samarra protest, Sheikh Mohammed Taha a-Hamdoun."  He was arrested on his way to the protest and later released.

  Russia Today interviews Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi.  Excerpt:

RT: There are those in the political establishment who accuse Prime Minister al-Maliki of all the disasters going on in the country, though in fact these people are also part of the executive, legislative and judiciary. So why are they trying to shift the blame onto the Prime Minister?

AA: Because it’s the leader and the ruling party that bears the bulk of the responsibility. Now, why is exactly Mr. al-Maliki to blame? The matter is, he’s not only Prime Minister; he is also Commander-in-Chief, Defense Minister, Minister of the Interior, Director of the National Security Council of Iraq, and he is also in charge of security and intelligence services. These agencies have been involved in operations nicknamed ‘Baghdad’, ‘Tigris’, ‘Euphrates’, and others. He is the one who defines the nation’s policies and goals. Of course, he is the one with the most responsibility. His bloc, his party are the ones in charge. He is the head of the state, he controls everything. Unfortunately, the cooperation that we sought so eagerly didn’t take place. Yes indeed, there is a degree of cooperation when it comes to distributing and sharing powers in the executive branch. We have ministers with all the paraphernalia typical of a minister, but do they have any real power? Are they part of policy-making? No, they are not.

Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  If Barack hadn't given Nouri a second term via The Erbil Agreement, the prime minister of Iraq in 2010 would have had to have formed a full Cabinet -- no empty spaces.  Nouri's failure to form a full Cabinet means he's responsible for those empty positions.  That means any security failures  rest squarely on his shoulders.

Today Nouri tried to deflect that blame.  All Iraq News notes he told them, "The parliament's bad performance led to the security problems." 

Yesterday NINA noted Nouri met with a Kurdish delegation in Baghdad to discuss the ongoing crises between Erbil and Baghdad.  They also note that Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman stated any negotiations  "will be based on the previous agreements" -- he's referring to The Erbil Agreement.  Kitabat reports that also being discussed is dividing Iraq -- the topic Patrick Cockburn (Independent via CounterPunch) frets over here.

Sunday, Nouri's government announced they were pulling the licenses for Al Jazeera, al-Sharqiya, al-Sharqiya News, Babeliya, Salahuddin, Anwar 2, Taghyeer, Baghdad and Fallujah.  Linda S. Heard (Arab News) offers this:

On Sunday, the Iraqi authorities pronounced the death knell on even any pretence that the government is adhering to democratic principles such as freedom of the media. The powers that be have chosen to shoot — or rather shut-down — the messenger by revoking the licenses of 10 television stations, including Qatar’s Al Jazeera that have been punished for “sectarian bias” which translated means “critical of the Shiite-dominated regime.” Whoever took that fascist-type decision is delusional if they thought that by doing so sectarian violence would be quelled. It is not only anti-democratic, it is provocative, guaranteed to incite anti-government elements. Moreover, in an era of satellite television and the Internet, closing people’s eyes and ears to news is simply unworkable. The authorities have also crushed another of democracy’s staples by using a heavy hand on protesters peacefully demonstrating.

The move's already been condemnded by Ayad Allawi, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq's Journalistic Freedom Observatory, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.  Today,  Human Rights Watch condemns the decision:

“The authorities have admitted that there was no legal basis for their decision, which looks more suspicious given the government's history of cracking down on opposition media, particularly during protests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If the Iraqi government is truly committed to ending violence and sectarianism, it should reform the criminal justice system, hold the security forces accountable for attacks on protesters, and stop blocking elections in provinces in which it has little support.”

Mujahid Abu al-Hail, who heads the media commission’s Department of Audiovisual Media Regulation, told Human Rights Watch that the commission suspended the licenses after concluding that the ten stations were “promoting violence and sectarianism.” The stations are: Al-Jazeera, Al-Sharqiya, Al-Sharqiya News, Al-Anwar al-Thany, Al-Fallujah, Al-Tagheer, Al-Garbhiya, Salah al-Din, Babeliya, and Baghdad TV.

Al-Hail told Human Rights Watch that he recommended the license suspensions because the commission’s “Monitoring Department” had concluded, after tracking the stations’ output for three months, that their “messages” encouraged violence and sectarianism. He admitted that he did not make the decision “on a legal basis” but said it was on national security grounds because the stations had “broadcast speeches and fatwas from extremist sheikhs that encouraged violence.”

Al-Hail was unable to provide Human Rights Watch with details of any occasions when the suspended stations’ broadcasting output amounted to actual incitement to particular and imminent acts of sectarian or other violence. Both international law and the Iraqi constitution would require similar incitement for the broadcasts to fall within the ambit of permissible content-based restrictions on freedom of expression. He said the commission had documented examples of such incitement in a report that it would make available to Human Rights Watch, although it has not yet done so. It has also not provided this report to the affected channels.

“At a time when the security forces are attacking protesters without punishment, it’s hard to believe the government’s claims that it canceled these channels’ licenses out of its concern to protect citizens from violence,” Whitson said. “The authorities have a responsibility to protect citizens, but also to protect their free speech and access to information. The media commission’s inability to cite any specific examples of incitement to violence by these ten TV stations it has decided to shut down is telling.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released the following today:

Baghdad, 30 April 2013 - The United Nations today urged the Communication and Media Commission (CMC) to reconsider its decision to suspend the licenses of several TV stations in Iraq. كوردى

"Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of democracy, one that the United Nations takes very seriously," said Mr. Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq. “This decision comes at a critical time for Iraq,” the UN envoy added. “I urge the Commission to fully respect its commitment to press freedom and at the same time I urge all media to exercise integrity and professional ethics in their daily work.”

The Director of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Office in Iraq, Ms. Louise Haxthausen, urged the Iraqi authorities to consider that these radical measures "might have adverse effects on stability efforts, as responsible media have a vital role to play in ensuring dialogue based on freedom of expression as a means to resolve differences."

"We request the Iraqi authorities to revise the decision carefully and quickly," said Ms. Haxthausen.
 I would suggest, like my friend has just said, that there is a hidden agenda

Yesterday, Iraq War veteran Kim Rivera (above with son Gabriel from Amnesty International's website) faced a court-martial in Colorado.  The war resister self-checked out and went to Canada with her family (husband and two children then; she's now a mother of four) when she couldn't continue to participate in the illegal war. War Resisters Support Campaign announced yesterday Kim "was sentenced to 14 months in military prison and a dishonourable discharge after publicly expressing her conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.  A pre-trial agreement capped the sentence at 10 months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge."

Erin Prater (Colorado Springs Gazette) reports on the court-martial.  We discussed Prater's report this morning and there's no correction so we'll assume Prater reported accurately which would mean a government witness took the stand a lied about Kim's blog.

If Prater was accurate, Will C. Holden (KDVR) wallows in ignorance.  His attack -- don't call it a report -- include the lie that Kim would "become the first woman to desert the war in Iraq."  No.  No, you stupid idiot, she's just the first woman you heard of.  I can name three that went to Canada before Kim.  She's the first one Holden's heard of because he's an idiot.  You don't even have to include Canada.  And if you don't know the names you can still look at the military's yearly desertion figures.  Kim was the first woman Holden had heard of so he rushed to 'report' and did so badly.  He also repeats the false claim of  "She was denied to the dismay of 19,000 people who signed an online petition in protest."  Yesterday afternoon, a friend at AP called to say the 19,000 remark had been picked up and carried all over.  That was from a September entry here. In September when I wrote that, it was 19,000.  In yesterday's snapshot, we included the final number ("In the weeks before she was deported, 20,391 people signed a petition calling for the government to allow Kim to remain in Canada."). It's not 19,000.  Holden probably shouldn't be cribbing from other people's reports and should probably do a little work himself.

NPR has (a) apparently spent through all the McBucks Joan Kroc left them and (b) has no 'partner stations' in Colorado since Edyer Peralta has to do a write up on Kim and can't cite any NPR reporting or any NPR 'partner stations' reporting.  To Peralta's credit, he has no big mistake.  The same can't be said for BBC:

During the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 Americans fled to Canada to avoid conscription and were welcomed by Canadian authorities. Most returned to the US following President Jimmy Carter's offer of amnesty to the so-called "draft dodgers".

Are we back to this crap again?  Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter both offered programs.  Carter only for those who fled to Canada before they were deployed.  Ford allowed for both those avoiding the draft and those checking out of the service.  During that time, Canada didn't care.  Canada welcomed both and the term "war resister" was used because it included both categories, those who were avoiding the draft and those who were already in the military (regardless of whether they had been drafted or enlisted on their own).

RT notes, "The young mother is the third Iraq war resister that was deported from Canada and now faces a jail sentence. Robert Long and Clifford Cornell, both deserters of the Iraq war, were dishonorably discharged and deported from Canada. Long was sentenced to 15 months in military prison in 2008."  And the young mother of four is pregnant, due in December.  So for refusing to participate in an illegal war, a pregnant woman will be behind bars.  Under 'anti-war' Barack Obama.  And  of course, there's blame for the Canadian government which deported Kim as well.  Matthew Coutts (Daily Brew) writes about this noting:

The War Resisters Support Campaign said that she was ordered to return to the U.S. because the idea that she would be arrested and detained was “speculative.” And, of course, that is what happened.
Spokesperson Michelle Robidoux said she has remained in contact with Rivera since she left and says she has been forced serve on a Colorado Springs military base,separated from her family in Texas.
“The Canadian government is entirely culpable for what has happened to that family,”she told Yahoo! Canada News. “We were asking that she be allowed to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and that was dismissed. She has two Canadian-born children and was quite established in that community.
“The Harper government, by sending her back to military custody and now to jail, has completely torn apart that family’s existence. There was no reason they could not have agreed to look at the humanitarian and compassionate application other than their own ideological opposition to war resisters being allowed to stay in Canada.”

Lastly, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following today:

April 30, 2013, New York – Today, President Obama spoke about Guantanamo at a press conference and said, among other things, "Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country. . . . And so I'm going to -- as I've said before, we're -- examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we're also going to need some help from Congress." 
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released the following statement in response to the president’s comments. 
After representing men at Guantanamo whose hopes for justice have been raised and dashed so many times over the last eleven years, we praise the president for re-affirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress. Here is a prescription for what he himself can begin to do today if he is really serious about closing the prison.

  • Congress is certainly responsible for imposing unprecedented restrictions on detainee transfers, but President Obama still has the power to transfer men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.

  • Congress may have tied one hand behind his back, but he has tied the other: he should lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen regardless of a detainee's status.  It's collective punishment based on citizenship, and needs to be reevaluated now.

  • President Obama should appoint a senior government official to shepherd the process of closure, and should give that person sufficient authority to resolve inter-agency disputes.
  • The President must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo or the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last 11 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that nearly all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts. In addition, CCR has been working through diplomatic channels to resettle men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.