Novelist Sinan Antoon (NEW YORK TIMES) notes:
The most common and passionate slogan throughout these protests has been, “We want a homeland.” It reflected the anger and alienation Iraqis felt toward a political class beholden to external influence (Iran and the United States) and oblivious to its people’s demands.
The regime’s brutal suppression and killing of peaceful protesters fueled Iraqis’ anger, widening and intensifying the protests and strikes across Iraq. It also radicalized the tone and demands of protesters who have been calling for an overhaul of the entire system, rather than cosmetic change. The resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Nov. 29 did nothing to quiet the protesters. And the regime’s violence continues unabated.
More than 500 protesters have been killed. I try to find out their names and catch a glimpse of their faces. I can’t keep up. Death seizes them in a flash and delivers their bodies to the darkness of the grave. But it also illuminates their names, faces and life stories, making them ever more familiar to those of us who are viscerally connected to Iraq, whether we live there or in a distant country.
I did know Safa al-Sarray, a 26-year-old aspiring poet and amateur artist, very well. He wrote to me nine years ago on social media about one of my novels. We kept corresponding. I loved his wit and sense of humor, and his insightful posts about life and politics in Iraq.
Safa was a precocious, passionate young man and a voracious reader, particularly of poetry. He grew up in a large working-class family in Baghdad. His father had died when he was quite young. He worked hard — three days a week as a construction worker and porter while studying at the University of Technology in Baghdad — to make ends meet and to support his family.
The death was noted in the October 25th snapshot:
In addition, Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports, "Iraqi police fired live shots into the air as well as rubber bullets and dozens of tear gas canisters on Friday to disperse thousands of protesters on the streets of Baghdad, sending young demonstrators running for cover and enveloping a main bridge in the capital with thick white smoke. One protester was killed and dozens were injured in the first hours of the protest, security officials said."
The first one killed is said to have been hit with a tear canister. The video above is supposed to be of that protester after he was hit.
That should have galvanized many. Instead, non-issues take up all the air in the room, day after damn day.
For weeks and weeks, that's been "IMPEACHMENT!" Doug Henwood (JACOBIN) throws some water on a number of people's faces:
Leaving aside the Constitution, because it’s part of the problem — Trump wouldn’t be president were it not for that near-unalterable relic of slavery days, the Electoral College — one can concede some of this. Yes, Trump is awful, and it would be a blessing to be rid of him. He’s a bigot, a grifter, and a would-be authoritarian. But impeaching him less than a year before the election is not the answer to much of anything. It’s a distraction from ejecting him in the most definitive way possible: beating him decisively in an election.
It’s telling that Joe Biden is named in the articles of impeachment. For the Democratic leadership, Trump’s worst offenses — the caging of children, the apologetics for Nazis, the fealty to asset-strippers and plutocrats, the endless vulgarities — were unpleasant but not fatal. Despite all those offenses, they didn’t begrudge him an extension of the Patriot Act, which is a funny set of powers to grant to someone so awful. What really set Nancy Pelosi et al. off was the alleged conspiring against one of their own, as reported by CIA officer Eric Ciaramella, someone who worked closely with the Obama administration. Dems want to keep Ciaramella’s name out of it, but isn’t knowing one’s accuser a cornerstone of American law?
Aside from the offense against Biden, Trump has serially disrespected not only the CIA but also NATO, much to the distress of national security tools like Adam Schiff. These are the least of Trump’s offenses, but they’re what really move the party leadership. Max thinks we can hijack the process for our own purposes, whatever those might be, but to Nancy Pelosi, that would doubtless be just another “green dream or whatever.”
I’ve never understood the point of impeachment from the first, even when it was a cause being pushed by the Squad, whom I otherwise admire a lot. Whatever its origins, Pelosi, a highly skilled politician in the short-term tactical sense, turned it into a defense of the old order. There’s no chance the Senate will convict Trump, as Mitch McConnell has made clear. So the House passing this narrow, legalistic indictment looks more like performance, and a weak one at that, than politics. It’s about taking a stand, making a gesture, and not changing the world.
CINDY SHEEHAN'S SOAPBOX, by the way, spoke with Jon Jeter on this week's show about some of the major issues that are not getting attention as a result of the obsession with impeachment. As nonsense sucks up all the attention, the people of Iraq suffer.
Stand with the people of Iraq?
Americans should. Our country is responsible for the destruction of Iraq.
But to care, you have to know what's going on. And when an American reporter who is supposed to be covering Iraq and Syria for her paper spends all her time offering hot-takes on movies or Tweeting about Lebanon or -- or doing everything but covering Iraq.
That's the reality.
Every day, protesters are getting killed and this has been going on for some time. But she's bored and tired and wishes she could cover something else. Maybe THE WASHINGTON POST should help her out by reassigning her?
The protests have been going on for some time. September 28th, came the news that Iraq's Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi had fired Lt Gen Abdul Wahab al-Saadi the previous day. The lieutenant general was considered key to defeating the Islamic State in Mosul. He was the commander of the Iraqi Counter-Terrosim Forces and his firing was seen as a move by Mahdi to appease the Iranian-backed militias. THE WASHINGTON POST's Liz Sly observed, "Iraq's Lt Gen Abdulwahab al-Saadi became a national hero during the ISIS war. Lots of speculation that he's been removed at the behest of Iran which sees him as a threat." MIDDLE EAST EYE noted, "Iraqis across the country - including in battered Mosul, where a statue of Saadi was erected but never unveiled due to divisions in the city - reacted with shock to the move. The hashtag 'We are all Abdulwahab al-Saadi' began trending on Twitter, with users sharing photographs of the general aiding civilians in Mosul and other cities." Despite an online outcry, Mahdi insisted, "The decision is irreversible." September 29th, a protest took place in Mosul, as journalist Mustafa Habib noted in real time. By October 1st, as we noted in that day's snapshot, protests had spread across Iraq and we pointed out, "It is at least the third major protest in the last seven days." we noted Lawk Ghafuri (RUDAW) reporting on the first protest of the last seven days which had taken place in Baghdad the previous Wednesday outside the Council of Ministers as Iraqis with various advanced degrees protested over corruption and unemployment and were met with water cannons (Lawk noted this video). On October 1st, Mohammed Rwanduzy (RUDAW) reports:
Hundreds of Iraqis protested in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday to express diverse, long-brewing grievances, including, a lack of basic services, rampant corruption, and unequal treatment within the Iraqi Army.
Civilian protestors expressed anger about the Friday dismissal of Iraqi Army commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, credited with the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services (ICTS). Civilian protestors holding pictures of al-Saadi disapproved of his subsequent transfer to the Ministry of Defense.
“We don't want this is corrupt government,” civilians chanted, while others extended their discontent to the parliament and presidency. “All are corrupt equally,” a protestor said.
Also on October 1st, Mustafa Habib observed, "All the world expected big protests in Iraq this summer bud did not happen because they want to give the govt a chance despite the continued poor services, but after the govt's decision to remove Saadi, the protests began today from Baghdad & may be the biggest." Somehow the western press that has followed has left out the firing of the lieutenant general and the fact that the protest started at the end of September." The protests over the firing of al-Saadi only reached Baghdad on October 1st but they were already taking place. And on October 1st, protests also took place in Basra and Missan. The Iraqi government set the pattern for their response that day: Violence. Margaret Griffis (ANTIWAR.COM) noted, "Protests across Iraq have left at least 10 dead and 286 wounded. [. . .] The fatalities occurred in Baghdad and Nasariya. At least 11 people were arrested in Basra. [. . . ] Security personnel at some point had turned to live ammunition to disperse the crowds. Demonstrations were also reported in Basra, Dhi Qar, Diwaniya, Karbala, Najaf, Nasariya and Wasit. Use of live ammo to clear protesters was also reported in Nasariya, where a fatality occurred. Among the complaints are lack of basic services, rampant corruption, and unequal treatment within the Iraqi Army."
By October 2nd, the Iraqi government had imposed a curfew. Ali Alzzawi pointed out that the government also "blocked the internet so they can do whatever they want to those peaceful protesters." ALJAZEERA's Imran Khan reported, "They are restricting live broadcasts from the protest scene, as well as social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter." At that point, the death toll was at least 20. By Saturday, Hamdi Alkhshali, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Tamara Qiblawi (CNN) would report the death toll had reached 93. December 14th, the REUTERS death toll stood at 440.
Human Rights Watch released the following:
Unidentified armed forces, apparently in cooperation with Iraqi national and local security forces, carried out a brutal spate of killings in Baghdad’s main protest area on December 6, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Estimates range between 29 and 80 dead, and 137 injured. Electricity to the area was cut during the attack, making it harder for protesters to identify the killers and flee to safety. Police and military forces withdrew as the unidentified militia, some in uniforms, began shooting.
The killings come three months into protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq, in which the death toll has reached 511 people, according to the Ministry of Health. Given the level of unlawful killings by the state forces, countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Iran – that provide military and law enforcement training and support to Iraq – should end such assistance until the authorities take effective action to stop the killings and hold abusers to account. The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva should hold a special session into the killings of protesters in Iraq.
“The US, UK, and Iran can’t have it both ways, calling on the Iraqi government to respect the rights of protesters while supporting the Iraqi forces killing protesters or standing by,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “With killings of protesters continuing day after day, they should end this support.”
Five witnesses to the killings told Human Rights Watch by phone that on December 6 about 1,000 protesters were present in Baghdad’s al-Khilani Square, 600 meters north of Tahrir Square, and in al-Senak Garage, a five-story parking garage just off al-Khilani Square they had been occupying since November 16. At about 7:30 p.m., they said they saw seven pickup trucks speed into al-Khilani Square and slow down. As the vehicles drove through the square slowly, gunmen in plain black uniforms and civilian dress opened fire with AK-47s and PK machine guns above the protesters, before lowering and firing directly at them. At the time, the witnesses said the protesters were gathered peacefully and not threatening any violent acts.
The witnesses said they saw about two dozen Federal Police and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), who were manning two checkpoints in the square, leave by car as the gunmen arrived. Some nine hours later, at 4:30 a.m. on December 7, the armed men left, they said, and within a few minutes security forces returned.
Electricity to al-Khilani Square and al-Senak garage went out for about an hour as the shooting began, the witnesses said, and to Tahrir Square for a few minutes, putting out streetlights. “All we could see was light coming from the bullets,” one said. The electricity directly next to the squares stayed on.
After shooting people in the square, the men in the pickup trucks drove to al-Senak garage, the witnesses said. A protester said he was on the first floor of the garage with about 150 other protesters when he first heard shots ring out. Then he saw about 30 men in civilian dress carrying machetes and sticks storm the building. A few minutes later he saw five pickup trucks pull up outside, and men in black uniforms enter carrying guns. As he ran down the stairs and out of the building, he said he saw armed men open fire on protesters inside the building and stab others. He saw at least seven protesters wounded.
A protester on the second floor said he heard screams from the first floor, and saw the armed men appear and stab protesters who tried to stand in their way. “I saw many people get injured but all I could think about was how I would get myself out of there,” he said.
When the protester from the first floor exited, he hid behind a concrete block, he said; when he looked back, he saw an armed man throw a protester off the third floor and saw others lighting tires to block emergency exits. Other witnesses outside the garage said they saw fires coming from the garage. The protester from the first floor said: “Five of my friends are still missing, and I don’t know if they are dead or were detained. I saw the armed men loading bodies into their buses and trucks an hour before they drove away, at 4:30 a.m.”
A protester who had been outside the garage said he saw at least 10 protesters get shot around him. He and two doctors present in al-Khilani Square said that they saw tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) working as ambulances try three times to approach the wounded to evacuate them. Each time armed men inside the garage threw Molotov cocktails to stop them. Finally, a larger group of protesters rushed over to the bodies and moved the wounded, they said.
“There’s very strong evidence the Iraqi authorities outsourced their dirty work against protesters, leaving just as the killings commenced and returning to assist with arrests,” said Whitson. “If they stood by and allowed these armed men to attack protesters or carried out the murders themselves, the Iraqi government forces will be responsible.”
Human Rights Watch reviewed 11 videos from that night, which appeared to substantiate many aspects of the witnesses’ accounts.
According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the attack killed at least 9 protesters and wounded another 85 civilians. However, a reliable source from the Baghdad medical community, who has monitored the number of dead and wounded across the city’s hospitals, said he had confirmed at least 29 people killed in the attack, from stabbing and bullet wounds, and another 137 injured. A major in the army medical corps told The Times of London that as many as 80 or 85 might have been killed.
The armed forces also detained some protesters, and their whereabouts are unknown. One of the doctors present said he saw armed men detain three protesters, hold them in his medical tent for eight hours, then take them away. A video posted on Facebook on December 8 appears to show Baghdad Operations Command Forces in the same medical tent freeing about eight men who were handcuffed and blindfolded. The captives say they were physically abused. One officer tells them that they were detained by Kata'ib Hezbollah, a unit in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, formally under the control of the prime minister) that is linked to Iran, and that the Command is there to help them.
The incident began hours after the US government announced sanctions on three senior members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), militias operating under the nominal control of the Defense Ministry.
In response to earlier abuses against protesters, Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi resigned from office on November 29.
The government has taken some limited steps towards accountability, but no serious efforts to quell the abuse against protesters. On December 1, the Criminal Court in Wassit convicted two police officers for using excessive force and killing protesters, and other southern courts have issued arrest warrants against officers in Najaf and Dhi Qar for excessive force and issuing orders that led to the killing of protesters. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, judicial authorities have yet to take action against officers in Baghdad. However, on December 8, the government dismissed the head of Baghdad Operations Command, Major General Qais al-Muhammadawi.
The Iraqi government bears the leading responsibility to protect Iraqis’ right to life. It should urgently identify and make public the groups and security forces that engaged in or coordinated these killings and hold perpetrators to account. It should compensate victims of all unlawful killings.
The US-led coalition against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the UK, continue to support the ISF. The coalition countries rarely make public the parameters or recipients of their assistance. The US Congress appropriated $850,000 for security programs in Iraq in 2019. Iran also provides support to Iraqi forces, including the PMF, which is harder to track.
“Witness after witness says that the official security forces left the square as men wielding Kalashnikovs sped in and gunned down protesters,” Whitson said. “The authorities, it seems, even allowed the lights to go out, blanketing the protesters in darkness with only flying bullets to light up the sky.”
There's so much there to cover -- if you're a real journalist stationed in Iraq. Or if you're a columnist. It's got all the drama, for example, that Rachel Maddow loves -- and she wouldn't even have to add to it -- but it's about a serious issue so she's not going to cover that. Than and the fact that she supported the Iraq War. So the talk show host will continue to waste our time with non-events. Remember some of those? Electors to the electoral college are going to stop Trump! Mueller's going to put Trump behind bars! All these things that never happened, kind of like her sad little life.
We'll again note this statement from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (issued last Friday):
Maybe reporters who couldn't be bothered to cover the dead and wounded protesters will be interested in that?
Oh, they already are!
REUTERS reports, "U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday he spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi amid a spate of attacks on bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq and called on Baghdad to take steps to get the situation under control. A senior U.S. military official warned last week that attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation." Audie Cornish and Jane Arraf from yesterday's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED (NPR):
CORNISH: Game this out a little. I mean, here you are getting warnings from U.S. and Iraqi officials that this could turn very ugly. What are their specific concerns?
ARRAF: Essentially, there's a lot at stake here - a lot of money, a lot of influence. So Iranian militias, nominally under control of the Iraqi government, hold a lot of power. And the big fear is that those Iranian-backed groups - both the ones under control, allegedly, of Iraqi security forces and others outside - will start fighting groups that don't have those ties.
And here's a warning sign we've seen. There is a cleric, a Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr - very influential, considered an Iraqi nationalist - and he supported the protests. His house in Najaf was hit by a drone attack. Now, it was known he wasn't in Najaf, but it's believed to be a warning. And on the U.S. side, a senior U.S. military official I spoke with this week said that Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. bases have been increasing. He said the U.S. won't just sit around waiting for Americans to be killed. So there's also the fear that the U.S. could be drawn into this.
Oh, goody! A new angle because the press was getting so bored with the protests -- violence, deaths, the triumph of human spirit, it bored them so.
ALJAZEERA notes, "US officials say they are considering sending 5,000 to 7,000 troops to the region to counter Iran." The Iraq War never ends.
And no one is ever held accountable.
I don't know if it's fair to say Nancy did nothing. She bullied John Conyers, remember? He wanted to do impeachment and Nancy took it off the table, remember? That was in 2006.
Nancy didn't just stay silent, she actively worked to protect War Crimes. She is disgusting. Her vote against the war is made meaningless by everything else she did that continued the war.
This week Nancy Pelosi made this stunning confession ... she knew Bush/Cheney were lying when they told us Iraq had WMDS but she didn't think that was an impeachable offense. The cost of that lie is incalculable. Question: Should Nancy be Impeached for obstructing justice?
All of those people who were killed, all of the ones who were injured, all of the US tax dollars that could have been used to make American lives better instead spent on destruction.
Jake Johnson (COMMON DREAMS) notes:
In a scathing op-ed for the Washington Post Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders took aim at Republican and Democratic "deficit hawks" who claim the U.S. cannot afford to guarantee healthcare to all, make higher education tuition-free, or fund other crucial domestic priorities but have no issue with voting to hand the Pentagon $738 billion.
"I find it ironic that when I and other progressive members of Congress propose legislation to address the many unmet needs of workers, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor, we are invariably asked, 'How will we pay for it?'" wrote Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. "Yet we rarely hear that question with regard to huge increases in military spending, tax breaks for billionaires, or massive subsidies for the fossil fuel industry."
As Common Dreams reported last week, Sanders—in a joint statement with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)—announced his opposition to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, sweeping legislation that increases the Pentagon budget by $22 billion and sets aside money for the creation of President Donald Trump's long-sought "Space Force."
Bernie's seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. So is War Hawk Joe Biden.
The following sites updated: