Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 2, 2023.  The US government releases a religious report looking at other countries, the effects of climate change in Iraq are there for anyone to see, Robert Reich oversimplifies what's taking place with the hate merchants today, and much more.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom notes:

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released its 2023 Annual Report documenting developments during 2022, including significant regression in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, and Russia. USCIRF’s 2023 Annual Report provides recommendations to enhance the U.S. government’s promotion of freedom of religion or belief abroad.  

USCIRF’s independence and bipartisanship enables it to unflinchingly identify threats to religious freedom abroad. In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF recommends 17 countries to the State Department for designation as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) because their governments engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of the right to freedom of religion or belief. These include 12 that the State Department designated as CPCs in November 2022: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—as well as five additional recommendations: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam. For the first time ever, the State Department designated Cuba and Nicaragua as CPCs in 2022.

USCIRF is disheartened by the deteriorating conditions for freedom of religion or belief in some countries— especially in Iran, where authorities harassed, arrested, tortured, and sexually assaulted people peacefully protesting against mandatory hijab laws, alongside their brutal continuing repression of religious minority communities.” USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel said. “We strongly urge the Biden administration to implement USCIRF’s recommendations—in particular, to designate the countries recommended as CPCs, and for the Special Watch List, or SWL, and to review U.S. policy toward the four CPC-designated countries for which waivers were issued on taking any action. We also stress the importance of Congress acting to prohibit any person from receiving compensation for lobbying on behalf of foreign adversaries, including those engaging in particularly severe violations of the right to freedom of religion of belief.

The 2023 Annual Report also recommends 11 countries for placement on the State Department’s SWL based on their governments’ perpetration or toleration of severe religious freedom violations. These include two that the State Department placed on that list in November 2022: Algeria and Central African Republic (CAR)—as well as nine additional recommendations: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF is recommending the State Department add Sri Lanka to the SWL for the first time due to its deteriorating religious freedom conditions in 2022.

Iraq is a country that they recommend for the State Dept's Special Watch List:

population is approximately 95–98 percent Muslim, with 61–64
percent Shi’a and 29–34 percent Sunni. Christians—consisting of

Catholic, Orthodox and Assyrian Church of the East, Protestant Evan
gelical, and others—comprise approximately one percent, although

accurate figures are
obscured by frequent displacement both within
and beyond Iraq’s borders.

Iraq is unique as a
Shi’a-majority Arab state. It has ties to both
the Sunni-majority Arabic-speaking world and Iran, a non-Arab Shi’a

country. Iraq is also home to numerous ethnic and religious minorities

such as Kurds, Yazidis, Sabean Mandaeans, Kaka’is, Shabaks, and

Turkmen as well as members of Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Armenian,

and other Christian churches. In 2022, at least
2,763 Yazidi women and
girls kidnapped from Sinjar by ISIS were still missing, many
within northeast Syrian camps detaining ISIS fighters and
their families
. Yazidi Iraqis welcomed the international community’s
additional steps toward accountability and justice, such as a German

court’s judgment in July convicting a repatriated German ISIS member

of genocide.

Article 2 of the
federal constitution establishes Islam as the offi-
cial religion and affirms “the full religious rights of freedom of belief

and religious practice to all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis and

Mandean Sabaeans.” However, the penal code contains
statutes, and since 2016, the Law of United National Identity requires

non-Muslim minors to convert to Islam if one of their parents becomes

Muslim, as in the
ongoing legal case of an Assyrian child.
In the years since the 2003 collapse of Saddam Hussein’s

regime, sectarianism has
flourished, with political power in the IFG
along religious lines among dominant Shi’a political
parties, a Kurdish president, an Arab Shi’a prime minister, and an
Arab Sunni president of Parliament.

Other Religious Freedom Issues in the IFG and KRG

Within weeks of the new administration’s emergence in October,

IFG agencies issued
eviction notices to Christians in a displacement
settlement in Baghdad’s Zayouna district, leaving the families—many

of whom ISIS had displaced from their Nineveh homelands in 2014—

facing homelessness during winter. The evictions were completed in

February 2023.

Community members from other religious minorities, including

Sabaean Mandaeans
, Shabaks, and Kaka’is, have communicated their
intentions to lobby international bodies for minority protections and

the new IFG administration for constitutional and other legal safe
guards for religious and ethnic minorities. These activists note that,

for example, Article 125 of the federal
constitution sets forth “admin-
istrative, political, cultural, and educational rights” for minorities but

lacks mechanisms of enforcement.

Political representation remained an important concern for reli
gious minorities, with communities pointing out flaws in
both the IFG's. 
and KRG’s quota systems for elected representatives from minority
religious backgrounds. Some minority advocates suggested both

the IFG and KRG amend their existing quotas to ensure
is effective and meaningful rather than symbolic and
vulnerable to dominant religious groups’
political appropriation
of minorities’ seats. In February, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court

further limited
the political representation of Yazidis, Shabaks, and
Feyli Kurds, forcing those minorities to campaign within the
severely circumscribed
Christian and Mandaean components. In
March, archaeologists criticized both IFG and KRG leaders’ ongoing

sectarianizing of cultural heritage sites, finding it amounts to
heritage predation
. In the IFG, confessional political and religious
groups leveraged the ethnic and religious political quota system, the

Iraqi Constitution of 2005, and a collection of later laws, including

religion-specific endowments, to misappropriate and alter the char
acter of religious heritage sites. Meanwhile, the KRG’s “
land grabs
of indigenous Christians’ villages and sites constituted a form of

targeted demographic change
, prompting continued displacement
and migration.

In May, the Iraqi Parliament
passed a Sadr-proposed law criminal-
izing Iraqis’ and foreigners’ ostensible attempts to normalize relations

with Israel. The law did not address Judaism and set forth exceptions

for Iraqis’ “religious visits” to Israel as preapproved by the Ministry

of the Interior. However, it not only potentially “
promot[ed] an envi-
ronment of antisemitism
” but also reflected Iraq’s rampant political
sectarianism, with Shi’a parliamentary blocs advancing the legislation

in part to
distance themselves from Sunni Kurds’ and Arabs’ perceived
receptivity to normalizing ties with Israel.
Key U.S. Policy

The administration of President Joseph R. Biden continued to prior
itize Iraq’s stabilization and economic development in U.S. relations

with both the IFG and KRG.

In July, the United States condemned an
attack on a resort in
Duhok that killed at least eight civilians. The IFG attributed the strike

to Turkey, which
frequently carries out airstrikes in northern Iraq in
ostensible pursuit of members of the
terrorist-designated Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK). The strikes have contributed to the abandon
ment of nearby
Christian villages, threatened already traumatized
Yazidis in Duhok’s displacement camps, and
inhibited Yazidis’ return
to Sinjar. The United States
maintained its “strong support for Iraq’s
sovereignty and its security, stability, and prosperity, including that

of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.”

The United States Agency for International Development

asserted its
commitment to providing financial assistance to help
enable the approximately 1.67 million displaced Iraqis’ return to their

homes. In November, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Alina L. Romanowski

a disaster in Iraq for fiscal year 2023 “due to the ongoing
complex emergency and humanitarian crisis."

And they offer:

Include Iraq on the Special Watch List for
engaging in or tolerating severe violations
of religious freedom pursuant to the Inter-
national Religious Freedom Act (IRFA);
Use diplomatic channels and multilateral
engagement to encourage the IFG and the
KRG to expedite processing the return of
kidnapped and displaced Yazidi genocide
survivors and assist them in reintegrating
into Iraqi society; to resolve conflicts over
disputed areas per Article 140 of the Iraqi
constitution, while including all religious
and ethnic minorities in the process; and
to comprehensively implement the Sinjar
Agreement with full inclusion of the Yazidi
community in particular;
Impose targeted sanctions on additional
PMF leaders responsible for severe vio-
lations of religious freedom by freezing
those individuals’ assets and/or barring
their entry into the United States under
human rights related financial and visa
authorities, citing specific religious free-
dom violations; and
Continue to assist Iraqi religious and eth-
nic minorities in rebuilding communities
devastated by ISIS and in advocating for
their own interests, including opening a
broad discussion on holding fair and free
elections to select their own local leaders as
well as representatives to the IFG and KRG.
The U.S. Congress should:
Incorporate religious freedom concerns
into its larger oversight of the U.S.-Iraq
bilateral relationship through hearings, let-
ters, and congressional delegations and by
appropriating funding for development pro-
gramming to strengthen religious freedom.

A lot of people spent yesterday -- Norman Solomon shows up all over -- with worthless articles about yesterday being the 20th anniversary of Bully Boy Bush's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" moment.  I didn't see any that were cleverly written nor did I see any that said anything that hadn't been said when the same people wrote them on the 1st anniversary of Bully Boy Bush's idiotic moment.  He's a War Criminal and the crimes continue -- even though those writing the pieces all appear to have checked out on Iraq around 2008.

We're not wasting our time on noting that.  We will point out that  Steve Hanley (CLEAN TECHNICA) notes:

21-year-old Ali Julood, a native of Rumaila, Iraq, was scheduled to speak a the BP annual meeting on April 27, but he couldn’t. Ali died on April 21, a victim of leukemia likely caused by flaring near his home. His father, Hussein Julood, spoke for his son instead via a webcam.

Through an interpreter, he told the meeting, “From my door, you can see the black smoke from gas flaring 24 hours a day, and you can smell the toxic chemicals from these flares. Sometimes it’s so bad, breathing is difficult, and oil rains from the sky. Cancer is so common here, it’s like the flu.” Hussein told the BP meeting that Ali “loved nature — his favorite place in the world was his garden. And he wished that children could enjoy playing and breathing freely outside.”

Ali was one of several people interviewed by the BBC last year for a documentary entitled “Under Poisoned Skies” that examines the activities of the oil and gas industry in Iraq. The BBC found that areas near gas flaring sites contained high levels of chemicals and pollutants, with rates of leukemia and other cancers among the local population notably higher than in other parts of the country.

In Rumaila, where Julood lives, flaring occurs less than 2 km from the family home, despite Iraqi law requiring a minimum distance of 10 km from residential areas. Ali’s phsician told the BBC that his leukemia was likely caused as a result of his proximity to those chemicals and pollutants. A report leaked to the BBC showed rates of the cancer in the area, which is located south of the city of Basra, have increased by 20% in the past five years.

The BBC investigators found evidence that millions of tons of emissions from gas flaring had failed to be declared by major Western oil and gas companies working in Iraq. In its report, it named BP, Eni, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell as companies that are contributing to the egregious level of pollution in the area.

Maybe if the insta-writers had tied in that or other actual issues that Iraq has to deal with it -- fallout from the Iraq War -- they could have written something meaningful?  They could have noted how the war ravaged country is now a climate disaster, for example.  Sinan Mahmoud (THE NATIONAL) reports:

Farmer Saadoon Abdul-Sahib Jabr has been in the agriculture business for decades.

In that time, he has seen it all, from droughts and heavy rains to failed crops and deteriorating soil quality.

But these past few months, he said, have been particularly challenging.

Mr Jabr, 58, inherited 1,000 dunams — or 247 acres — of land from his father in the town of Al Maimouna, in Maysan province south of Baghdad. He planted 80 dunams with wheat and barley.

This year’s season for winter grains, beginning around October and ending as late as May, got off to a very rough start for farmers, with little rain and dwindling water levels in the rivers.

“The situation was very tough,” said Mr Jabr. “The drought this year was the most severe one.”

Known in ancient times as Mesopotamia or the Land Between the Two Rivers, Iraq is said to have been the site of the biblical Garden of Eden.

Today, the UN classifies the oil-rich nation as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. Its severe water crisis has been gradually worsening for decades, negatively affected by climate change, mismanagement and pollution.

Iraq’s two main sources of water, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s freshwater reserves, have significantly declined over the years. Construction of dams and diversion of water upstream in Turkey and Iran has exacerbated the situation, leaving downstream nations like Iraq with less water.

Of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world, 11 are in the Middle East and North Africa, making it one of the most affected regions in the world.

Over the years, a lack of fresh water resources has been compounded by climate change, population growth, poor management and — in some places — conflict. It has reached a stage where it affects the daily lives and health of millions.

As the climate crisis accelerates, water scarcity in the region home to 360 million people is expected to worsen and disrupt economic growth. A report from the World Bank found that climate-related water scarcity may lead to economic losses of up to 14 per cent of the region’s total GDP over the next 30 years.

[. . .]

The UN has identified Iraq as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.

One of the most affected sectors by water scarcity in Iraq is agriculture, which makes up less than 4 per cent of the country's annual GDP of 208 billion (as of 2021) but is the main source of income for at least a third — or 14 million — of the nation's 44 million population.

Iraq’s two main sources of water, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s freshwater reserves, have significantly declined over the years. The construction of dams and the diversion of water upstream in Turkey and Iran have exacerbated the situation, leaving downstream nations like Iraq with less water.

Mismanagement and pollution have also contributed to the crisis.

Some farmers have begun turning away from centuries-old irrigation techniques to more modern systems that reduce water use by almost half.

The government provides some support but farmers say not nearly enough to cover their needs.

In other news, KURDISTAN 24 notes, "The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, will visit Baghdad and Erbil over the next few days."  MEHR NEWS AGENCY reports:

Turkish airforce has bombarded several villages in Metin Mountain located in Dohuk Province in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, media sources reported on Wednesday.

An eyewitness said that Turkey has been bombarding the region for the past week, stirring panic among the local people in the region.

From time to time, the Turkish military carries out air strikes on alleged PKK positions, which is listed as a terrorist group by the EU, US and Turkey.

Robert Reich.  Not a fan, not an enemy.  George Washington University's transphobe Jonathan Turley had a hissy fit over Robert's GUARDIAN column last week.  Remember, Turley wants opinions to be freely expressed . . . except when he doesn't agree with the opinions.  

For a second week, Montana Republicans have blocked Democratic transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr from participating in a debate over proposed restrictions on transgender youth.

Zephyr, a first-term Democrat from Missoula and the first openly transgender woman elected to the Montana legislature, hasn't been allowed to speak on the state house floor since last Tuesday, when she told Republican colleagues they would have "blood on their hands" if they banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

On Monday, her supporters brought the House session to a halt, chanting, "Let her speak!" from the gallery before being escorted out. Seven were arrested for criminal trespass. Republican leaders describe the disruption as an "insurrection."

[. . .]

  It's tempting to dismiss all this as just another outcropping of crazy right-wing bigotry.

And it's tempting to be appalled at such blatant prejudice but believe there must be more important issues to worry about. According to the Pew Research Center, only 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary (that is, their gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth).

Yet let me remind you: Bigotry against minority groups based on sexual orientation or gender Identity, such as the trans community, is a way fascism takes root.

As the world tragically witnessed in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the politics of sexual anxiety gains traction when traditional male gender roles of family provider and protector are hit by economic insecurity. 

That's from his COMMON DREAMS column.  Robert misses so much.  That's why I'm neutral on him.  While I can agree with his COMMON DREAMS column, I'm also aware that he's left out so much.  It's not all economics.  It's about power and it's about a right-wing element that feels powerless.  It goes beyond wages and goes to the pandemic.  That left so many feeling so powerless.    Look at Marjorie Taylor Greene attacking Randi Weingarten last week (see Friday's Iraq snapshot).  They're insecure and they're paranoid and they feel powerless as a result of the pandemic. 

Wages?  That's part of it.  Inflation certainly is.  But Reich's not a social scientist, he's just an economist and can only go there for every explanation.  For every explanation and the only explanation.  That's why I'm neutral to him.  His vision is too limited for me.

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