Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't ask, he won't tell





This week on Antiwar Radio, Scott Horton spoke with Jason Ditz ( and the discussion included Iraq.
Scott Horton: What's going on in Iraq?
Jason Ditz: Well what's going on in Iraq is sort of the same thing that's going on all across the region. There's a high level of unemployment and increasing concern about a leader of the government taking more and more power for himself and there are starting to be some pretty big protests.
Scott Horton: Well be more specific about more power for himself?
Jason Ditz: Well right now Nouri al-Maliki the Prime Minister is also Nouri al-Maliki the Interior Minister and Nouri al-Maliki the Defense Minister and the National Security Minister and I believe he might have another title or two in there too. But basically he's -- when he announced his new unity cabinet, he kept every single cabinet position that has any police or military forces or even some of the smaller law enforcement groups are all under his control. He -- he literally controls, as the leader, every single, uh, every single non-foreign force in Iraq now.
Scott Horton: But that's unconstitutional according to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iraq from 2005, right?
Jason Ditz: Well it certainly is. He's sort of skirting that by claiming that he's the interim Defense Minister and the interim Interior Minister and interim all these other ministers but -- And that he's going to appoint somebody. But it's been awhile now and he certainly doesn't seem to be moving forward with it.
Scott Horton: So now tell me about the reaction to this now too because across the Middle East, there's been protests. What's the effect of the "Egyptian virus" -- as John McCain called it -- in Iraq?
Jason Ditz: Well there have been some protests particularly in some of the poorer Shi'ite cities in the south. There's been some pretty good size protests demanding economic improvement, criticizing the government and police reacting as they have in a lot of places just by opening fire on the protesters.
Scott Horton: Do you know if there were any reports about Iraqi reaction to the international reports? I guess it was Amnesty -- No, it was Human Rights Watch and I guess CBS News followed up on all of this about Nouri al-Maliki and his secret prisons and torture and all of that. Is that part of the narrative in Iraq about the protests in the south, for example?
Jason Ditz: That I'm not sure about. It seems like the protests are pretty non-specific to the extent they're reported in the media. They're more angry at the general situation that they've got this not particularly elected government, Maliki's party came in second in last year's election and he ended up dominating the situation even more than he had before and that the economy is getting worse and worse so it seems like the specifics of torture, the specifics of his policies are sort of being drowned out by just the overwhelming annoyance at the situation in the hope that something similar that happened in Egypt might happen in Iraq too.
Yesterday attorneys led protests in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. Alsumara TV notes, "The wave of demonstrations in Iraq does not only stir up underprivileged. Iraqi lawmakers staged a protest on Thursday in Baghdad against the ruling of the Iraqi Government to ban access for citizens and lawyers into State institutions mainly the Trade Ministry directorates. [. . .] Demonstrators believe that banning them from accessing state directorates to follow up their clients' formalities is an invitation for corruption." Al Rafidayn reports on the 500 in Baghdad and notes that 200 also demonstrated in Karbala and in Kut which saw two different protests -- one by attorneys. Haider Roa ( adds demonstrations also took place in Samawah, Kut, Amara, Diwaniyah and Ramadi yesterday. Al Mada adds that the Islamic Supreme Council has declared it will protect any Iraqi who is protesting against the government's policies. Ammar al-Hakim, president of the Islamic Supreme Council, is warning that the government needs to start providing the basic services, providing jobs and end the corruption. He issued a call for the security forces of Iraq to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iraqi people and ensure they are protected during demonstrations and marches. He demanded that Iraqi officials stop offering easy and false assurances of improvements and actually deliver improvements. In response, Baghdad Operations Command agreed that they will protect Iraqi citizens who are taking part in demonstrations. Alsumaria TV adds, "Head of Islamic Supreme Council Sayyed Ammar Al Hakim rebuked the way Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki are dealing with the concerns and interests of Iraqis. Al Hakim called to deal more seriously with people's demands and restrain from fake vows and pledges, he said."
Also yesterday Oxfam published the report "Whose Aid Is It Anyway?" and AFP notes, "The non-profit group Oxfam said on Thursday that major powers were concentrating too much aid on countries for political and military reasons and were overlooking other severe crises. The aid organisation said billions of dollars had been used for "unsustainable, expensive and sometimes dangerous aid projects" supporting short-term foreign policy and security objectives. Oxfam particularly highlighted tens of billions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade." The topic was the focus of the latest Guardian Focus podcast with Madeleine Bunting and guests the Guardian's Jonathan Steele, the European Council on Foreign Relation's Daniel Korski, Oxfam's Mike Leis and War on Want's John Hilary. In the discussion Bunting played a clip of Hillary Clinton speaking on the issue of Afghanistan women which led Jonathan Steele off on a raving loon moment. I've thought about that and that's the only term for it. (This was supposed to be addressed in yesterday's snapshot but there wasn't room.) Jonathan Steele needs to think about his remarks. Madeleine Bunting and the Guardian need to stop the women bashing.
Had I written yesterday, I wouldn't have called it that. But Madeleine specifically criticized David Cameron by name (as did guests) and they also criticized Hillary by name. Does no one see the problem with that?
David Cameron is the Prime Minister of England. Is Hillary Clinton the President of the United States? No, she's not. Her equivalent in the UK would be Theresa May. May, the UK Home Secretary, was never mentioned. Nor should she have been. Jonathan would argue he was building on her voting record from her days in the Senate. When she and Barack both served in the Senate, there wasn't a big difference in their voting records when it came to Afghanistan or Iraq. And you're not building on her voting record if you're talking about the status today. If you're talking about the status of that war today, the United States military has only one commander in chief and that is Barack Obama.
Instead of popping open a can of crazy, Jonathan should have asked Bunting why she played the clip to begin with? She's calling out David Cameron who's the leader of England. Why is she not calling out Barack? He should have asked her was the clip played because Hillary's a woman? Was the clip played because Barack makes no statements -- as he pursues these wars -- about the women in the countries he keeps the US military? If the latter's the case, that's not only troubling, it's worthy of an entire broadcast. People need to stop using Hillary as their chew toy. The Cult of St. Barack ensured that he got the White House. He now needs to take the criticism for his policies. And if that's too much for Jonathan Steele and Madeleine Bunting, then the Guardian Focus needs to find more mature guests and more mature host.
Some basic facts on Iraq from the United Nations Country Team Iraq -- young population with nearly 50% being less than 19, only 18% of women are employed. Those are 2011 figures. In 2009, Oxfam published their survey of Iraqi women and the number of them who were head of household was approximately 36%. The bulk of them are not receiving any assistance from the government and the meager amount offered to widows by the government (the few that receive assistance) is not enough to live on. In December, IRIN noted, "An IOM survey of 1,355 female-headed displaced families who have returned to their places of origin found that 74 percent are struggling to secure adequate nutrition for their families. Delays in receiving subsidized government food rations or lack of some food items in the rations force women to buy food with whatever money they have, adding to their struggle, the report, issued on 3 December, states. The survey also found that health problems and social norms had prevented nearly 40 percent of them from finding jobs. Of those who are able to work, 71 percent are unemployed." Nizar Latif (The National) reported last week on how the Iraqi Women's Association's Madia al Rawai was warning that the al-Maliki government needed to look at what was happening in surrounding countries, "The Iraqi government should pay attention. There is an army of women, with no jobs and no money, and they are ready to take to the streets unless something is done to improve their situation." Tupperware's Elinor Steele has been writing entries for The Huffington Post about Iraqi women she encountered on her recent visit to the country. She noted earlier this month:
Iraq has always been a pioneer in the Middle East for integrating women into society and promoting women's rights; however, over the past 30 years many laws that empowered women have been retracted and some men in society have become more conservative and less open-minded to women-owned businesses. This kind of thinking could set Iraq's economy back by decades.
During my visit, I had a chance to meet a group of Iraqi female politicians. The first comment they made was about unequal representation within the Iraqi government. While the Iraqi parliament is complying with its constitutional mandate that 25% of the seats must be held by women, there are no women in senior-level government positions such as vice president or serving as ministers at high-ranking ministries.
Sunday, Iraq's representatives in Parliament are supposed to vote on the vice president. In the past, the country has had two vice presidents. Three has been expected to be the number this year and all men. However, Al Rafidayn reports that there may be four vice presidents and that the fourth expected to be a VP is a woman with the Turkmen bloc, Faihaa Zine El Abidine. Supposedly, on Monday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani asked parliament to allow for four vps and that was to provide a post for "the women of Iraq." The Turkmen bloc issued a statement noting that women in Iraq are maginalized in the current government and that they did not receive any posts from Nouri to his cabinet ("the center of political decision-making"). How very telling that the country might have their first female vice president when Nouri -- his Cabinet still not full -- can't find slots for women. His Cabinet is so bad that even the head of the Ministry of Women is a man.
Iraq has many problems but Elinor Steele and the New York Times ignore the obvious. The puppet government is installed. The forces terrorizing Iraqis were picked by and endorsed by the US and British governments. The terrorizing was supposed to keep the Iraqis too frightened to fight the occupation. So religious extremists were put into positions of power and it has made life hell for Iraqi women, Iraq's LGBT community and Iraq's religious minorities. These thugs doing the terrorizing were elevated to their positions not by accident. John Leland and Duraid Adnan (New York Times) report on the situation in Baghdad for women and reveal just how close minded so many are (including some women). A store's window display promises eternal damnation to women who allow even bits of the hairs on their head to be seen. (Iraqi women should reject that store window display by rejecting the store itself.) 34-year-old Maysson Ibrahim vows she will continue to wear her "tight jeans and skirts" and the curses and harassment will not force her "to cover herself." And all of this could have been addressed. The US government controlled Iraqi media. They could have set a tone (hell, if they knew what they were doing, they could have shaped the society -- that's not me encouraging it and I've refrained from stating how that could happen -- either in personal conversations or at this site). They chose not to. Yet again, they decided it was more important to support terrorism and allow the thugs free reign. Journalist Anna Badkhen writes:
No one knows exactly how many Iraqi women have been raped since the U.S-led invasion in 2003, but activists in Iraq and abroad put the numbers in the thousands. Human rights groups began to see an increase in rapes in Iraq immediately after the fall of Hussein's regime, and evidence that different factions were targeting women. In 2008, Amnesty International reported that "crimes specifically aimed at women and girls, including rape, have been committed by members of Islamist armed groups, militias, Iraqi government forces, foreign soldiers within the U.S.-led Multinational Force, and staff of foreign private military security contractors."
Badkhen writes the above for a Frontline video report she and Mimi Chakarova did on the safe houses for Iraqi women. They visit one in the Red Zone which, for safety reasons, they must visit "in the dead of night," Chakarova explains. They discover "a two bedroom apartment full of women and children. One of the women warns us that the rats will keep us awake. [. . .] There are six women living here with their children. Four have been raped." From the video report:
Mimi Chakarova: When we were in Iraq, did you witness any women getting raped.
Male US service member: Yeah, definitely. On both tours I would say at least 8 rapes that I saw with my own eyes.
Anna Badkhen covered the women shelters for Ms. magazine in 2009. Utne re-runs her article for Ms. Excerpt:

The Underground Railroad was founded in 2004 by Baghdad-born architect-turned-feminist-organizer Yanar Mohammed, head of OWFI, along with MADRE, an international women's rights group based in New York. It provides the only sanctuaries for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence outside the quasi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, where the local government and nongovernment organizations operate several shelters. In addition to providing temporary asylum, it helps women resettle in places where their abusers cannot find them easily. Since its inception, says MADRE policy and communications director Yifat Susskind, the railroad has helped thousands of women. Several have been transferred to Turkey and at least two now live in the United States, but most of the rescued women have remained in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein's regime persecuted political dissidents but allowed women personal rights and freedoms; assaults on women were rare. But when violence engulfed the country after the U.S. invasion, women became "the easiest targets," says OWFI member Dalal Juma. Violence against women is now rampant and goes virtually unchecked by Iraq's new legal system. Sexual violence is "severely under­reported," Amnesty International wrote in March, and along with other crimes against women and girls, is usually committed with impunity.

[. . .]
Women learn about the shelter through word of mouth and OWFI's quarterly newsletter; the only people who know its location are the women who run it and a thoroughly vetted handful of male security guards armed with handguns. One of these guards lives at the shelter with his young wife, an OWFI employee. As far as the landlord is concerned, the couple is renting the apartment and the other women are their relatives, in town for a visit. Just to be on the safe side, the organization pays $350 a month for the place, which would normally cost about $150. "Money for silence," Juma explains.

Women in Iraq have not been afforded equal access to justice or protection by law enforcement agencies, so have stayed more vulnerable and likely to face abuse.
"The security situation in general has obviously hit the vulnerable populations worst, and when we look at the situation for women, there is a fear that -- rather than improving -- the situation since 2003 has deteriorated," said Helen Olafsdottir, a UNDP Iraq advisor for Crisis Prevention and Recovery. "We've found that there was a huge gap in terms of addressing issues of domestic violence, and gender-based violence in general."
According to surveys conducted jointly by the Government of Iraq and UN agencies from 2006 to 2009, women in Iraq face high levels of violence, but lack adequate access to care and justice in the aftermath.
One in five women from 15 to 49 years old has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband -- some 14 percent of whom were also pregnant at the time. The real numbers are likely higher, however, since reporting of gender-based violence cases is generally low, as women fear social stigmatization and lack confidence that authorities will investigate complaints. [See
here and here for sources of stats above and facts in the next paragraph.]
In Iraq, there is not a strong legal framework to protect women from abuse, compounded by a lack of shelters and a lack of adequate training for medical and law enforcement authorities to respond to instances of gender-based violence.

The US government created the conditions women in Iraq now live in. It's amazing how little press coverage Iraqi women receive. The best thing the US can do for Iraqi women is to remove all forces immediately. US forces are used to prop up the puppet government and the thugs who terrorize. A quick departure by the US could spell an end to them. The longer US forces prop up this anti-woman government, the longer the anti-women sentiment exists and begins to appear 'normal' to many Iraqis.

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