Thursday, February 24, 2011

Did any of his Chicago friends ever make an honest buck?






Iraq where the governmental war on the press never ends. Dar Addustor reports on the Iraqi military raid of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad after midnight this morning with the military seizing things including computers and personal items. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes JFO's Bashar al-Mandalawy stating, "The only reason behind this is to stop freedom of the press and expression in this country." Wael Grace and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) reports notes that it was the Iraqi military and the police raiding the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and that they entered by breaking down the main door and that the Baghdad Centre for Media was also raided at the same time. Meanwhile Iraq Freedom Congress' Amjad Ali (via US Labor Against The War) explains another attack on the press in Baghdad today:
At around 2:30 am Baghdad time a group of anti riot police raided the headquarter of Iraq Freedom Congress satellite TV (Sana) in Baghdad and destroyed every single piece of equipment in the office as well as confiscating a number of documents.
These attacks occurred following broadcasting segments of events took place in Tahrir Square in Baghdad by a number of TV Channels via Sana TV who filmed and documented a particular segment in which protesters clashed with the police on the night of February 20th, 2011 and one protestor was killed as a result, as well as the active participation of Sana TV in assisting of organizing the forthcoming demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
This is the Maliki government and its repressive practices; this is the democracy and freedom of expression which Maliki is bragging about. He continues sending his militias to silence his opponents and critics. He is no different than Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi in acts of torture.
Iraq Freedom Congress assert that it will carry on the fight and will not bow to the pracitices of Maliki and his mercenaries and vow that the demonstrations on February 25th, 2011 will continue the pace no matter how brutal this government practices is.
IFC pledges that it will continue [to] organize and fight with full force in the million people march on February 25, 2011.
Sunday the Journalist Freedoms Observatory called out the assault on the channel Nalia whose Sulaymaniyah office was set on fire after being raided by unknown assailants. Yesterday the Committee to Protect Journalists noted:
Attacks on the press also continue in Iraq. On Sunday, 50 gunmen raided a new, Sulaimaniya-based independent TV station called Nalia Radio and Television, according to Metro Center to Defend Journalists, a local press freddom group. Nalia TV only began broadcasting on February 17, when protests begen in Sulaimaniya. The boradcasting equipment was destroyed by bullets and arson, Metro Center reported. Iran's Press TV reported that two guards and a janitor were injured in the attack.
"They came in military uniforms," Twana Othman, a manager at Nalia TV, told Press TV. "They wore special hats so their faces could not be seen. They knew exactly what to shoot at and what to destroy. Then they poured petrol and burned everything."
Rahman Gharib, a local journalist who reports for Metro Center, told CPJ: "I think the attack on the station was connected to its editorial policy of covering the demonstrations and giving voice to the protesters."
On February 17, Hawlati, an independent Kurdish newspaper, evacuated its offices after threats from the guards of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) [KRG President Massoud Barzani's political party] building, Tariq Fattah, the director of the newspaper told CPJ. "Our office is close to where the demonstrations were taking place," he said. "The guards of the KDP were shouting at the door fo the paper that we are traitors and that we are stadning behind and leading the demonstrations."
Hisham Rikabi (Al Mada) reports that Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh held a press conference where he declared that Baghdad will ban vehicles on Friday that can broadcast live. There may also be a curfew imposed. In Egypt, the world was watching. In Iraq, the few western reporters that are present include some smug frat boys who think that mocking the Iraqi people is doing their job. Does it seem strange to you that Nouri's attempting to ban video of the protests? Joao Silva, New York Times photographer (recently badly injured in Afghanistan) observed, "The Iraqis have learned the power of photographic images, and they know that if there are no photographs of a bomb, it has far less impact abroad. We still try to go, but usually the police stop us before we get near enough to the scene to photograph it. They will let a reporter go up close, but no cameras. Sometimes you get lucky and manage to get an image. And on the really big explosions, like at the Hamra Hotel in January [2010] and the government ministries last year, they are just too big to keep everyone away. But usually they are very careful not to let cameras near. It's hit and miss, but there is definitely a culture of 'See No Evil'."
And though Silva and Stephen Farrell know that, the paper's Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt feel they can disrespect and mock the Iraqi protesters. They can have 'fun' with the "patchwork" of demands. That's real strange considering that both men are US citizens. It was the US government that started the illegal war. Before the start of the Iraq War, the electricity outages weren't a daily feature. There was potable water. There was sanitation. Eight years after the Iraq War started, there is still not potable water, reliable electricity or santiation. I'm not understanding how it's funny -- or for that matter strange -- that the Iraqis are worse off with basic services than before the Iraq War. I'm not understanding how anyone would find it surprising that people would be outraged, in the 21st century, to live in an oil rich country that makes billions while the people don't have potable water. I'm not understanding how they think Egypt is something to compare Iraq too. Egypt wasn't occupied by a foreign power during their recent demonstrations, Iraq is. Egypt had every outlet in the US and every European outlet storm into the country to cover their protests. The Egyptians knew the world was watching, as did their government. By contrast, the Iraqis get less and less coverage every week. And despite this, they've been out in the streets protesting. If Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt had wanted to be honest about the protests throughout the country, they couldn't have had so much 'fun' mocking the Iraqis. If they'd bothered to report on Saturday's Baghdad protest involving widows and orphans, maybe they would have understood the issues. Reuters has video of one of the women demonstrating in that protest explaining, "The Iraqi people have been patient since the fall of the regime in 2003 and they want to improve their living conditions but now a single glance at Baghdad and other cities can show the tragedy that we've experienced. It's been eight years and government officials are still unable to ensure that power supplies are back or create job opportunities for the unemployed young people. The infrastructure is completely damaged. At the same time, we always hear reports and news about corruption and about those who steal the resources that belong to the people."
And these protests take place in a country that lived under repression long before the current puppets the occupation installed. In fact, the example the US set in the early 90s would likely give many pause to ever stand up. But Iraqis do stand up and they don't deserve to be mocked for it. For those who've forgotten what happened when Iraqis were encouraged by the US to stand up under then-US President George H.W. Bush, here's a refresher from Lance Selfa (ISR):
General Colin Powell announced what the U.S. had in store for the Iraqi army: "First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." Poorly paid and equipped Iraqi conscripts, two-thirds of them oppressed Shiites and Kurds, faced bombing 24 hours a day. Thousands of Iraqi troops deserted the battlefield. U.S. and coalition forces mowed down some of them when they tried to surrender. A military video showed in a combat briefing depicted Iraqi soldiers as "ghostly sheep . . . flushed from a pen . . . bewildered and terrified. Some were literally blown to bits by bursts of 30mm exploding cannon. One by one they were cut down by attackers they couldn't see or understand," according to one report. One U.S. officer anticipated another night of action: ". . . there is nothing that can take them out like an Apache [attack helicopter]. It will be a duck hunt." In scenes reminiscent of mass burials at liberated Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s, U.S. forces bulldozed the bodies of thousands of Iraqi soldiers into mass graves.
On February 15 -- a month into the air war -- Saddam's government announced it would accept UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal from Kuwait. The U.S. and its lackey, Britain, dismissed Saddam's surrender. Instead, Bush called for Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam: "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam to step aside." Bush's statement communicated two points: first, that the U.S. wouldn't settle only for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and second, that the U.S. might back anyone who rose up against Saddam. The first point proved that expelling Iraq from Kuwait was a mere pretext for wider U.S. designs in the war. The second point proved a lie only weeks later, when masses of Kurds and Shiites took "matters into their own hands" and rose up against Saddam.
Saddam had essentially cried "uncle," but the U.S. wanted to mount a ground offensive anyway. In six days, U.S. and coalition ground troops swept across Kuwait and southern Iraq, forcing Iraqi troops into a full-scale retreat. In the last 40 hours of the war, before Bush called a cease-fire on February 28, U.S. and British forces mounted a relentless assault against retreating and defenseless Iraqi soldiers. The road leading from Kuwait to Basra became known as the "Highway of Death." Iraqi soldiers fled Kuwait in every possible vehicle they could get their hands on. Allied tank units cut the Iraqis off. U.S. warplanes bombed, strafed and firebombed the stranded columns for hours without resistance. In a slaughter which a U.S. pilot described as "like shooting fish in a barrel," thousands of Iraqi conscripts were killed on a 50-mile stretch of highway. So many planes filled the skies over southern Iraq that military air traffic controllers maneuvered to prevent mid-air collisions.
The "Highway of Death," and, in fact, the ground war itself, served no military purpose. Saddam had admitted defeat before the ground war began. Attacks on retreating Iraqis merely delayed the war's end. But the U.S. mounted this barbarism for one reason only: to render an example of what would happen to any government which bucked the U.S. For nearly two days, the Pentagon invented the excuse that the Iraqis were staging a "fighting retreat," a fiction which they knew was a lie. "When enemy armies are defeated, they withdraw," said Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak. "It's during this time that the true fruits of victory are achieved from combat, when the enemy is disorganized . . . If we do not exploit victory, the president should get himself some new generals."
The savagery of the U.S. war took some of the luster off Bush's victory. But nothing so revealed the callous disregard for ordinary Iraqis as U.S. complicity in Saddam's suppression of the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in the weeks following Iraq's defeat. Demobilized soldiers in the southern, predominantly Shiite sections of the country returned to their hometowns and vented their fury on all symbols of Saddam's regime. Kurdish guerrillas launched a coordinated uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the week following the Gulf War cease-fire, ordinary Iraqis stormed the regime's police headquarters, barracks and prisons. Crowds broke into underground dungeons and torture chambers, freeing political prisoners who hadn't seen daylight in decades. Masses of people lynched officials of Saddam's government. For almost two weeks, ordinary Iraqis controlled whole regions of the country and Saddam's government seemed on the verge of collapse.
Then, Saddam got a helping hand from an unlikely source -- the U.S. government. Bush had meant his call for Saddam "to step aside" as a signal of U.S. support for a military coup against him -- not a popular uprising. An uprising from below might set the wrong example for the populaces of the U.S.-allied feudal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. U.S. officials also expressed fears that successful uprisings could lead to a breakup of Iraq and the strengthening of the other Gulf bogeyman, Iran. U.S. military officials refused to meet with emissaries of the rebels. And U.S. forces stood by as Saddam's government, officially violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement, mounted a counterattack. When Saddam's forces dropped firebombs on fleeing rebels near the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala, American planes patrolled high above, surveilling the attack.
In the wake of all the slaughter and destruction, George Bush promised that Desert Storm would usher in a "new world order." But the new order looked quite a bit like the old order.
In Kuwait, U.S. bayonets restored to power the ruling al-Sabah family, a feudal dynasty. Bush had made much about the rights of the Kuwaiti people to determine their own destiny free from Iraqi rule. But in restoring the al-Sabahs to the throne, Bush restored a political system which allowed only 3 percent of Kuwaiti residents any political rights at all. Women still can't vote in Kuwait. As soon as the al-Sabahs returned, they launched a reign of terror against Palestinian "guest workers," whom the al-Sabahs accused of pro-Iraq sentiments. Kuwaiti police rounded up thousands. They summarily executed hundreds of them. Kuwait expelled more than 400,000 Palestinian workers -- many of whom suffered under the Iraqi occupation -- from the country. Human rights organizations denounce Kuwait's disregard for elementary human rights.
By the end of March 1991, Saddam had put down the Shiite/Kurdish rebellion. The immediate result was a humanitarian catastrophe that dwarfs even the horrible situation in Kosovo today. As many as 3 million Kurds fled into Iran and Turkey. When destroying Iraq, the coalition air forces flew one raid a minute. In the first week of the Kurds' torment in makeshift camps in the mountains, those same forces could manage only 10 flights. The total relief for Kurds that Congress approved in April 1991 amounted to about eight hours of spending on the war. When the U.S. announced Operation Provide Comfort, it used the safeguarding of Kurds to establish a military occupation of northern Iraq.

With that as a backdrop, it's amazing that any Iraqi protests. But they do protest and they are protesting all over the country and building up to what they hope is a huge turnout on Friday. Hoping for. Enter Moqtada.
AFP reports Iraq's own groundhog, Moqtada al-Sadr, has returned to Iraq -- it must be spring. And guess what? He wants to put the brakes on protests. Did Iran dispatch him? Michael S. Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) say that he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a call today to ask that protests be delayed. This is a reversal on protests from last week for Moqtada and a reversal from Sunday for al-Sistani. Moqtada has an 'answer.' What is it? Alsumaria TV reports al-Sadr's proposing "a one week referendum in all provinces of Iraq including Kurdistan on February 28." Wow! A Moqtada referendum! Who wouldn't want that!!!! March 7, 2010, Iraq held elections. Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc came out with the most votes but Nouri was determined to hold on to the prime minister post. In April, al-Sadr held his own elections to see who his bloc should vote. From the April 7th snapshot:
Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).
So Moqtada staged a referendum and the people's will would be followed! Except it wasn't. al-Sadr got credit for being a "king maker" for tossing his support behind Nouri al-Maliki. It would be different this go round how? Don't expect everyone to follow Moqtada al-Sadr and with an already weakening hold on his base (due to his most recent lay over in Iraq), it's probably not the best time for him to be tossing around "referendum" and inviting people to think back to last April.
Al Rafidayn reports that today UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert says that the "differences between the Arabs and the Kurds in northern Iraq" need to be resolved. You think? And how nice of Melkert to suddenly remember that issue . . . just as the region is alive with protests. Sky News reports Halabja is where hundreds of protestors marched today and shots were exchanged with the Mayor insisting the protesters did the shooting. If you were being asked to step down by the protesters, you'd probably work overtime to portray them poorly as well. One police officer died, another was injured. Sky News notes, "But protesters, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest, insisted that no-one at their rally was carrying weapons. They said that police fired into the air and the casualties were caused when the bullets fell downwards." Jack Healy teams with Namo Abdulla for a report on this and it's confusing because he tells us that "thousands of people" "over the past week" have been protesting in the Kurdistan region. But this is the same Healy who took part in mocking the protests and insisting they were small.
Joao Silva's earlier comment about the way the Iraqi government attempts to block images from reaching the public (especially international audiences) is included in the report Human Rights Watch issued yesterday, [PDF format warning] "At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the US-led Invasion" -- and let's excerpt from the section on journalism:

Murders, assaults, and threats continue against writers for doing their
jobs. Government officials, political party figures, and militias may all be responsible for the violence, intended to silence some and intimidate the rest. New obstacles to the free exchange of information have emerged in the period since 2007: the rising number of libel suits lodged by government officials against journalists, and increasingly restrictive regulations that constrain their professional activity. Legislation intended to create additional protections for journalists has been stalled for more than a year and is unlikely to move forward any time soon.
Iraq is obligated to respect the right to freedom of expression of all persons under international law and Iraq's constitution. However, its national laws and regulations are inconsistent with these obligations. As Human Rights Watch has documented in this report, the Iraqi government can use these laws to revoke or suspend broadcasting licenses and bring charges against individuals.
Two pieces of legislation designed to facilitate the work of journalists are stalled in Iraq's parliament, the Council of Representatives: the Access to Information Law, which ensures the right of journalists to obtain public information, and the Journalists' Protection Law, which aims to protect media workers and compensate them for injuries sustained while working. Local press freedom advocates and journalists expressed concerns that the Journalists' Protection Law should apply broadly and protect all journalists including those working in new media. The law currently defines "journalist" narrowly as someone who works for an established news outlet and is affiliated with the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate.
[. . .]
Journalists who uncover corruption or criticize senior government officials are at particular risk of abuse.
Two television presenters, famous in Iraq for provocative shows that criticize the government, said they had been beaten by security officials on different occasions over the past two years. Human Rights Watch viewed one video filmed by his cameraman in which Iraqi security officials punched one of the presenters and attempted to drag him into a van during a taping on a busy Baghdad street in 2009.
Since the two presenters are well known, security forces on the streets of Baghdad can easily recognize them. In the fall of 2009, they said police detained the pair for allegedly not properly stopping at a Baghdad checkpoint. One officer slapped the passenger on the head and shouted, "You Ba'athist!" Six or seven police dragged them out of the car, kicking and beating them. The police arrested and took them to a police station. Although the police officially charged them with running a checkpoint, the line of questioning during their interrogation was political. An officer spat on one of the journalists and asked them, "Why do you incite uprisings against the government?" and "Why do you glorify Saddam?" The
police dropped the charges and released the pair after their television station intervened.

A journalist tells HRW, "In Basra, security forces act with complete disdian and disrespect for journalists." Another, also in Basra explains that security forces detained them and confiscated their equipment for no reason last year. Nouri's been prime minister since 2006. He can't blame it on those who came before him. And while the US media never wanted to address reality (AFP and BBC did address it), Nouri came to power promising to attack the media. His 'four-point initiative' (apparently now completely forgotten) that was going to curb violence never did that. But US outlets gushed over it. They reduced it to a three-point plan, though. They didn't convey to US audiences that one of the points was curbing the media, restricting freedom of the press. (This was in the fall of 2006. In the summer of 2006, he was touting a seven-objective plan. Before that, in May 2006, Nouri had a 24-point plan. As with most things he's proposed, all went no where.) The four-point initiative included a governmental media oversight body which would monitor reporting for that pesky 'bias' known as truth.

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