Thursday, March 4, 2021. The day before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq. This would be the first time that a pope has visited Iraq. The three day visit is expected to find the Pope traveling approximately 900 miles within Iraq. The US corporate media has been alarmist and deliberately obtuse. An Iraqi community member asked that her thoughts be shared. She sees the coverage as an insult as though the Iraqi people are not, in the minds of the US press, worthy of such a visit and as if they're not capable of welcoming the Pope because they are not 'advanced' like those in the US. She sees the press coverage as continued xenophobia. I think her points are well taken.
Pope Francis addressed the faithful on Wednesday morning asking them
to accompany him with prayers as he sets off for an Apostolic Journey to
“The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet those people who have suffered so much; to meet that martyred Church in the land of Abraham,” he said, speaking during the weekly General Audience.
Together with other religious leaders in the country, the Pope
continued, he hopes another step forward will be taken “in fraternity
“I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers, so that it may unfold in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits," he said.
The visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Iraq this week happens in a context of despair felt across Iraq’s ethnic, provincial and sectarian spectrum. Christians in Iraq, victims of decades of oppression, look at this visit as a symbol of hope. They also hope it will help address some of their lingering fears. The pope’s priorities for Iraq’s Christians should be formulated in specific terms. While Christians in Iraq remain hemmed in on how to deal with the past, but optimistic about their future, most feel overwhelmed by the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. As in many other cases, some of the expectations from the visit are indeed too high to meet.
Iraq, known for its diverse population, has failed to protect the human rights and freedoms of its indigenous communities of which the Assyrians—ancestors of today’s Christians—are the oldest and largest. After centuries of Ottoman oppression, they paid the high price of the post-colonial failed state and dictatorship. Estimated at around 1.5 million in the 1980s, today’s numbers range between 250,000 and 400,000 at best. Most are located either in the Kurdistan Region or in Hamdaniya district in the northern province of Nineveh. While Hamdaniya was traditionally populated by Christians, most of those currently living in the Kurdistan Region landed there after fleeing from other parts of Iraq. In Nineveh specifically, the Christian population has plummeted by 80 percent since the Islamic State group’s (ISIS) invasion. Other Christian population centers in Iraq (Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Tikrit) host only a few families.
Since 2003, religiously motivated bloodshed and the devastation caused by ISIS left many Christians dead or displaced. While some dared to return to their areas of origin, the majority is still weary of returning. Both returnees and displaced families look at their future with extreme anxiety. The massive emigration of Christian families in the last three decades does not help build the confidence of those remaining and who feel outnumbered and vulnerable. Many studies show that the primary concern of Christians—and other constituents in northern Iraq—is safety and dignity. They are afraid from both physical elimination as much as other “identitycidal” measures through induced demographic change, dilution, or exclusion. As these communities fear at least as much—if not more—for their identity than livelihood, the supreme pontiff’s visit is an opportunity to advance some tangible ideas with the hope that decision makers in Iraq and the international community can adopt some of them and put them on track to implementation.
Beyond blessing and boosting the morale of Christians, there is a thirst to see some concrete ideas championed by Pope Francis. Many want to believe that this trip has the potential to change some paradigms and affect the pull and push factors of Christian emigration. As in other post-conflict settings where some communities feel under the threat of physical elimination, internationally tested mitigation measures could be relevant. In the specific case of Iraq, it is worth exploring how to strengthen the existing constitutional guarantees in order to reassure Christians—and other constituents—about their fate and dignity.
Last week, US President Joe Biden bombed Syria because . . . he believes bombings in Iraq were carried out by . . . Iran. Yesterday, Anbar Province's Ain al-Asad airbase was bombed. Bill Van Auken (WSWS) reports:
The 10 rockets that fell on the base, which houses US and other NATO troops, claimed no casualties, but one US civilian contractor died of a heart attack while sheltering during the assault. Iraqi security officials said little damage was inflicted on the base, while witnesses told local media they had seen flames and a long plume of black smoke.
Raising the prospect of another round of US military action, President Joe Biden told reporters, “We are following that through right now... we’re identifying who’s responsible and we’ll make judgments.”
The rocket attack follows last week’s US air strikes against facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias in Syria. Those strikes, the first military action ordered by the new Democratic president, were initially reported to have killed 17 people, while later reports said that just one person died.
While there was widespread speculation that the rockets fired on Ain al-Asad were in retaliation for the US strike in Syria, as of Wednesday evening no group had claimed responsibility. The area surrounding the base is overwhelmingly Sunni and not under the control of the predominantly Shia Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an official arm of Iraq’s military, which the US military attacked last week in Syria.
Alice Fordham (NPR) adds, "The White House says officials are assessing
whether further response is warranted after a U.S. civilian contractor
died after suffering a "cardiac episode" during a rocket attack on an
airbase in Iraq early Wednesday local time, the latest such attack since
U.S. airstrikes hit Iran-backed militants last week." At IN THESE TIMES, Danny Sjursen notes:
The campaign will do little to further the United States’ objectives in the Middle East (in as much as they can even be articulated at this point), but it heralds something more dispiriting still: That nearly two decades into a regional war, Washington (perhaps willfully) does not understand the Syria-Iraq-Iran nexus, and that the Biden administration is following a failed blueprint in the Middle East — a reality that was thrown into even sharper relief when the U.S. elected not to punish Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after the release of a declassified intelligence report that found he was directly responsible for the murder of the Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi.
Few mainstream outlets have even bothered to ask what these pesky paramilitaries are up to. The U.S. military first intervened in Syria in 2014 following the Islamic State’s takeover of the country’s Eastern territories, along with the Northern and Western areas of Iraq. So did Iraqi Shias, who did a good amount of fighting in the bloody recapture of ISIS-occupied territories after the U.S.-trained Iraqi army all but collapsed. These militias, following the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s call to defend Baghdad, formed under an umbrella organization known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) with the support of the U.S. military. Over the last seven years, American troops have seen their mission in Syria change and change again, from defeating ISIS, to preserving Kurdish autonomy, to “containing” Iran and Russia (both of which have fought the Islamic State, albeit in alliance with Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Assad), to “securing” the country’s sparse oil wells. But during this time, the mission of Iraq’s militias has evolved as well — from defending the country against ISIS onslaughts to resisting America’s ongoing occupation. And so long as U.S. troops remain in place, significant segments of Iraq’s population will see these paramilitaries — and their rocket attacks — as legitimate.
The United States’ intervention in Syria has looked a lot like its disastrous invasion of Baghdad in 2003, which shattered the Iraqi state, unleashed a brutal civil war and gave rise to a deadly phoenix that would become ISIS. Both have led to the deaths of more than 1,000 militia members, along with countless civilians. And neither is likely to see a full withdrawal of U.S. troops in the immediate future.
Joe Biden, who believes his own son’s fatal cancer was caused by exposure to toxic burn pits during his tour in Iraq, has repeatedly asked that God bless our troops. But keeping those same soldiers in a war zone like the Baghdad, Balad, and Erbil, Iraq, bases struck by rockets over the last two weeks, with no discernible aim, might be considered a sacrilege. Exacerbating matters, we are inundated with stories about Tehran and Moscow’s nefarious objectives in Syria, even as the story remains more complicated than that. (Tehran, for example, is much less powerful than Washington’s courtiers in the media would have you believe.)
This passes for leadership. This is the person who was ready on day one . . . until day one arrived. At BLACK AGENDA REPORT, Danny Haiphong observes:
Last November, tens of millions voted for Joe Biden to simply replace Donald Trump. The U.S. ruling class gave Biden and his administration free reign to normalize an “expect nothing” approach to politics among the masses of people. However, the first month of Biden’s administration demonstrates the continued relevance of the materialist conception of history and its emphasis on the struggle between opposing forces that shape political and economic realities. The absence of any expectation for Biden to alter the status quo has been coupled with a proven commitment from the Biden administration to strengthen the status quo’s violent imperialist regime. Only when this is understood can a mass debate about the development of politically Left alternatives to Joe Biden and the Democratic Party truly begin to take shape amid a period of intense crisis in all realms of U.S. imperial rule.
At THE GRAYZONE, Danny also has a piece explaining how DEMOCRACY NOW! is fostering animosity against Chine:
The U.S. has claimed a humanitarian “Responsibility to Protect” to justify military operations in the name of saving civilian lives from evil dictators. Most notable have been the brutal U.S.-led wars in Libya and Syria which destabilized entire regions in the name of “civilian protection” and “promoting democracy.” These operations relied heavily on self-described human rights NGO’s and media outlets to cultivate support among liberal sectors of the US intelligentsia. Sadly, Democracy Now has been among the most influential and insidious outlets carrying water for the humanitarian interventionist agenda.
The flagship program of the left-wing Pacifica radio network, Democracy Now (DN) and its founding host, Amy Goodman, are regarded as standard bearers of grassroots progressivism. However in recent years the show has become a reliable platform for uncritical regime change propaganda, demonizing targets of US empire from Syria to Nicaragua while sending a correspondent to embed with US-backed “rebels” in Libya. Now that China is in the crosshairs of the US, DN is playing host to virtually any piece of humanitarian agitprop that Washington can conjure up, while publishing a regular serving of sharply negative stories about Chinese government and society.
A review by The Grayzone of every China-related report and interview Democracy Now aired in the past year found that 3 out of every 4 painted China in a decidedly negative light, often echoing narratives emanating from the US State Department. Perhaps its most inflammatory and factually questionable report appeared this February amid an escalating wave of anti-China propaganda.
Amy Goodman's resorting to xenophobia and endorsements of war (see Libya) have long been noted here. It's sad but what's sadder are the people who still don't grasp that Amy long ago walked away from any real "war and peace report."
On Joe's bombings, Abby Martin offers this analysis.
[Dona with THIRD ESTATE SUNDAY REVIEW adding a note to C.I.'s snapshot -- Martha and Shirley called me about e-mails regarding "TV: Clark Kent reported the truth but then he was fictional" below. C.I. and Ava made the call to publish their piece this morning. They wrote it Sunday and it was supposed to have been up with a whole edition. It's "Sunday" review, not Thursday. For what should have been posted already, I reviewed a book about Anais Nin. That will go up Sunday. As will the interview Ava and C.I. did with Elaine and I about our books we reviewed. But they were bothered that their TV piece was not up and I don't blame them. They made the decision to publish it and that's all for 'this week' at THIRD. There are no hard feelings and I completely understand what they did and why they did it. I can speak for Ty, Jess and myself but if Jim has any difference of opinion, he can note it in the next edition.]
The following sites updated:
The following sites updated: