Monday, April 13, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, April 11, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, threats force Reuters journalist Ned Parker out of Iraq, the country's prime minister Haider al-Abadi arrives in DC with a long list for Santa Claus, and much more.

J. Dana Stuster (Foreign Policy) notes that the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian has been a prisoner of the Iranian government for eight months now.   The Washington Post's Marty Baron Tweets:

Our statement on report that faces espionage charges: "product of fertile and twisted imaginations."
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The linked to report includes this statement from Baron:

It has been nearly nine months since Jason was arrested.   Now comes word via an Iranian news agency that Jason will face espionage charges. Any charges­ of that sort would be absurd, the product of fertile and twisted imaginations. We are left to repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Jason and, in the meantime, we are counting on his lawyer to mount a vigorous defense.

J. Dana Stuster also notes:

Separately, Reuters’ Baghdad bureau chief, Ned Parker, left Iraq this week after credible threats were made against his life. The threats followed a Reuters investigation into human rights abuses in the battle to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State and its aftermath. Parker was threatened on Facebook by people believed to be affiliated with Shia militias operating in Iraq and a television program funded by one of the militias “accused the reporter and Reuters of denigrating Iraq and its government-backed forces, and called on viewers to demand Parker be expelled.” The State Department has reportedly raised the issue of press intimidation with the Iraqi government, but a spokesperson for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the safety of the press “has improved significantly since this prime minister took over” and encouraged members of the press to reach out to police if they are threatened.

Ned Parker is a journalist who has long covered Iraq.  He distinguished himself first at the Los Angeles Times.  There, among other stories, he broke the news on Nouri al-Maliki's secret prisons. At Reuters, he's continued to break important stories.  

He also wrote two very important long form pieces in 2014: "Who Lost Iraq?" (POLITICO) and "Iraq: The Road to Chaos" (The New York Review of Books).

Stars and Stripes notes:
Three days later, the television station Al-Ahd, owned by the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, broadcast a report on Parker including his photo. The television report accused Parker and Reuters of defaming Iraq and urged viewers demand the reporter he expelled, Reuters said.
An April 3 report by Parker and two colleagues detailed human rights abuses in Tikrit after government forces and Iranian-backed militias captured Tikrit from Islamic State militants. Reuters said two of its reporters saw an Islamic State fighter lynched by Iraqi national police. The report also described widespread looting and arson in the city, which local politicians blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

James Gordon Meek (ABC News) adds, "The blatant killing of a prisoner in front of the journalists was one of the most alarming examples of the types of war crimes committed with apparent impunity by Iraqi Security Forces and uncovered in a six-month ABC News investigation that aired in March on "World News Tonight With David Muir." It also comes on the eve of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's White House huddle with President Obama on Tuesday."

The State Dept's Brett McGurk Tweeted on Haider al-Abadi's arrival.

Will the issue be raised during the visit?

Probably not.

The threats and attacks are not an isolated incident but part of a move to suppress and destroy journalism in Iraq.

Two Sundays ago, we noted:

NINA does not publish -- any longer -- violence on the day of.  It publishes reports the next day.  So right now you can't find out about Sunday's violence but come Monday you can.
What's going on?
Al Mada's doing nothing.
It's a ghost of its former self.
In that instance, it's supposedly agreed to silence its own voice to 'help' the new government.
Many other outlets in Iraq are 'helping' or under intimidation.

I've heard about [it] from Iraqis reporting for various outlets and kept waiting to see a major report on it from the west.  Instead, they don't even note it.
Dar Addustour has been covering in reporting and, last week, columnist As Sheikh also weighed in.  Noting the problems facing the Iraqi press, he called for a fund to be set up to support the press and the freedom it is supposed to have.
It is amazing that the press which managed to push back against thug Nouri al-Maliki is now a victim of Haider al-Abadi.
In fairness to Haider, some -- like Al Mada -- are silencing themselves.  They think it's for 'the good' of the country (two different reporters for the paper have e-mailed about that -- they do not agree with the paper's policy).

And Thursday's snapshot noted Haider al-Abadi's attack on the press -- in a speech the press covered, one he gave in Falluja, but somehow all the outlets covering the speech failed to cover Haider's attack on the press.

By the 8th, when Ned Parker's picture was being broadcast on TV with a call to kill him, Haider was in Falluja declaring that there were elements of the media working against the struggle.

The attacks on Ned Parker had already begun, the threats already publicly made and Haider deliberately threw gas on the fire.

Haider did everything but call Ned Parker a member of the Islamic State.

Saturday, his office issued this statement:

Since Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi took office a series of significant steps have been taken to cultivate an environment where free speech is fostered in both local and foreign media. Bans on several networks have been lifted and journalists are encouraged to perform their job with freedom and integrity even when that entails criticising the government. When the Prime Minister's office was informed  of Mr Ned Parker's concerns over certain broadcasts and segments on local channels we immediately ensured that he was safe in his compound which is fortified and guarded by a well equipped Iraqi police force. We requested that Mr. Parker report to the police details of what he believed to be a serious threat on his life and offered him protection. The broadcasts on those channels were primarily directed against the Iraqi government accusing it of being too lenient on Reuters, which, in their view, had reported stories that were not accurate. We staunchly oppose any bullying, intimidation

towards the media and any attempts to curb and encumber freedom of speech.
We are committed to developing and bolstering a free press which we will take painstaking measures to protect, and is fundamental to our vision of a free and democratic Iraq.

More empty words from a US-installed puppet who's accomplished nothing to point to with pride.

You'll notice he doesn't mention his remarks in Falluja.

You'll notice that it's the only press release in the last 7 days that he hasn't issued in English.

Iraq's Ambassador to the US is Lukman Faily.  Today, he took questions online at Twitter.  We'll note this exchange with the Washington Post's Liz Sly.

. After what happened to can you guarantee journalists won't be harassed/threatened by govt allies?
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. freedom of expression is paramount to the new Iraq. Ensuring safety of foreign and Iraqi journalists is an obligation
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. one of the first things PM Abadi did was to drop all pending lawsuits against journalists on behalf of the government
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What's he doing now?

Saturday, Iraq Times reported Haider's government has decided to shutter all radio stations and TV stations which are linked to government institutions or ministries.  The reason being given?  It's supposed to be a cost-saving measure.

At today's US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Marie Harft couldn't be bothered with the topic -- remember, the administration must not acknowledge any problems related to Iran, they must keep their mouth shut as they've done forever in order to try and get a deal -- some deal, any deal -- with Iran.  But at today's United Nations briefing,  Stephane Dujarric (United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson) noted:

  •    The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said that on 9 April a Reuters correspondent was forced to leave Iraq after being subjected to threats against his life on social media. This follows criticism of a report filed by his Bureau on violations against civilians and civilian property perpetrated by pro-Government militias following the liberation of Tikrit from Da’esh.
  • The Mission has underscored that freedom of expression and the right to impart and to receive information underpin democracy and the rule of law. It is incumbent on the Government to do all it can to ensure the protection of domestic and international journalists and media professionals in carrying out their duties, and to send the clear message that threats against media professionals are not acceptable, said the UN mission.

All Iraq News reports on the United Nations statement.

No one notes US President Barack Obama's remarks . . .

. . . because he hasn't made any.

This despite the fact that US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power Tweeted the following Sunday:

POTUS: We will continue to speak out not bc we’re interested in meddling but bc we know from our own history it’s approp. for us to stand up
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We will continue to speak out?

When does Barack plan to start speaking out?

Not everyone is so reticent.  We'll note this from The Committee to Protect Journalists:

The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Iraqi authorities to investigate death threats against Reuters' bureau chief in Baghdad and ensure that journalists are able to work in Iraq without fear of reprisal. Ned Parker was forced to flee Iraq following death threats, Reuters reported on Saturday.

"Threats aimed at silencing journalists, no matter from where they come, cannot be tolerated. The Iraqi people deserve to know and to share information about the extreme violence and volatility wracking their nation," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, from New York. "We call on authorities in Baghdad to investigate this act of intimidation and hold the perpetrators to account."
[. . .]
Journalists in Iraq, particularly local ones, have been under threat as the security situation in the country has deteriorated, according to local press freedom groups including the Journalists Freedom Observatory.

Saturday, Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart (Reuters) broke the news that on his visit to DC, Haider al-Abadi intends to ask for more weapons and needs them on credit.  Dar Addustour adds that Haider intends to ask the US government for money to rebuild areas 'liberated' from the Islamic State.  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports Haider's wish list includes the White House accelerating the delivery of the Apache helicopters and the F-16 warplanes. AFP notes Haider also intends to ask for more US air strikes.

That's quite a list for Santa.

And we all know Haider's been naughty, not nice.

So before Barack puts on his Santa suit, he might, for once, realize that the US government is in a position of strength and it can insist that various reforms have to be implemented -- not just given lip service -- before any deliveries take place or any reconstruction funds are given or loaned.

This is a chance to use the diplomatic tool box. This is a chance to offer the carrot or the stick.

Barack's not been very good at that.

He's been good at bombing.

He especially loves fly over bombings -- which he then tries to pretend are not combat actions.

But he's not very good at diplomacy.

Which may explain why there's still no political solution in Iraq.

Margaret Griffis ( reports 139 violent deaths across Iraq on Monday.  As the assault on Anbar Province continues, Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports 1500 families have fled for safety reasons.  They will join the thousands already displaced inside Iraq.

On the Anbar Province assault, Rod Nordland and Falih Hassan  (New York Times) report:

Under pressure from American officials here, Iraq has withdrawn Shiite militiamen from the Ramadi area in Anbar Province, and the American-led coalition immediately responded by stepping up bombing raids to support Iraqi forces battling extremists of the Islamic State there, according to Iraqi officials involved in the decision.
The American ambassador, Stuart E. Jones, met Saturday with Anbar tribal leaders and provincial officials and expressed his dissatisfaction that Shiite militiamen were in the thick of a local offensive against the Islamic State near the Anbar provincial capital, according to two participants in the meeting, interviewed Sunday.

The same thing with Tikrit, remember?

Maybe on the visit, Barack could make that an existing condition?  Maybe explain to Haider no bombs dropped from on high when Shi'ite militias are running wild in the area?

Today, new content finally went up at Third:

And lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.  We'll close with this from Bacon's "GROWERS MOVE TO GUT CALIFORNIA'S FARM LABOR LAW" (Capital and Main):

When hundreds of people marched to the Los Angeles City Council last October, urging it to pass a resolution supporting a farm worker union fight taking place in California's San Joaquin Valley, hardly anyone had ever heard the name of the company involved. That may not be the case much longer. Gerawan Farming, one of the country's largest growers, with 5,000 people picking its grapes and peaches, is challenging the California law that makes farm workers' union rights enforceable. Lining up behind Gerawan are national anti-union think tanks. What began as a local struggle by one grower family to avoid a union contract is getting bigger, and the stakes are getting much higher.

The Gerawan workers got the City Council's support and, on February 10, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution that went beyond just an encouraging statement. The LAUSD purchases Gerawan's Prima label peaches and grapes through suppliers for 1,270 schools and 907,000 students. The LAUSD's resolution, proposed by board member Steve Zimmer, requires the district to verify that Gerawan Farming is abiding by state labor laws, "and to immediately implement the agreement issued by the neutral mediator and the state of California."

Verifying compliance, however, may not be easy.  In mid-March a hearing on Gerawan's violations of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) ended after 104 days of testimony by 130 witnesses.  According to the Agricultural Labor Relations' Board's general counsel, Sylvia Torres-Guillén, and its regional director in Visalia, Silas Shawver, Gerawan mounted an intense campaign against the United Farm Workers after the union requested bargaining in October 2012.  According to the board, Gerawan sought to "undermine the UFW's status as its employees' bargaining representative; to turn its employees against the union; to promote decertification of the UFW; and to prevent the UFW from ever representing its employees under a collective bargaining agreement."