Saturday, April 23, 2011

He's so pretty!






Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) report, "In Iraq, top U.S. military officials believe that leaving a sizeable force beyond this year could bolster Iraqi stability and serve as a check on Iran, the major American nemesis in the region, officials said. U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have echoed the concern that if the U.S. pulls out completely, Iran could extend its influence." The two note that the talks have been regarding ten thousand US forces remaining in Iraq and that a big sticking point appears to be concern that US forces remaining on the ground past December 31, 2011 may feed into the discontent already gripping the region. The reporters note, "Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets in recent months, demanding better basic services and an end to government corruption. Baghdad responded last week by imposing a ban on protests on the streets of the capital." Al Mada reports that Nouri al-Maliki insisted on Iraqi television that it's a "no" to a new security agreement (or an extension). Nouri's good about making those statements in public . . . and privately doing just the opposite. This may or may not be another example of that. Christopher Islam (CBS News) reports that Adm Mike Mullen stated today that if US forces are to remain beyond December 31, 2011, then the US will need to be planning "soon, very soon" and, Islam adds, "One senior Iraqi politician told CBS News that the Iraqi Security Forces are simply not ready to assume responsibility for security and that, in addition to the problems addressed by Mullen, they lacked sufficient command and control, surveillance and electronic counter-measures that have been instrumental in reducing the violence in the country during the past four years." Though some early reports today -- after Barnes and Entous' exclusive report -- insisted that there were no talks taking place on this issue, the White House confirmed that talks were underway. Nicholas Johnston (Bloomberg News) reports, "The U.S. is discussing with Iraq whether some U.S. troops will remain in the country to assist with security even though no requests for assistance have been made, White House press secretary Jay Carney said." Carney is quoted stated, "We are also in negotiations, discussions with the Iraqis about what their security needs are and will be in the future." Meanwhile Anne Johnson (WRAL) reports that next month Fort Bragg's 83nd Airborne Division deploys members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq.

It's Friday, protests continue in Iraq. The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "A party from the Union of Fallujah Lawyers led by their Secretary General, Saeed Al - Fallahi have arrived in Ahrar." That's Ahrar Square in Mosul and click here for some photos of that protest. And they note, "My freinds, it seems that in spite of all the killing the demonstrators are still arriving in Ahrar and there are now over 100,000 people there!" and "Sahar Al Mawssawi is speaking live now - she is in Al Ahrar and describing the scene - she says that the numbers of troops sent from Baghdad are even more than the number of American troops when they first invaded Iraq - she says that they do not understand why the government is so frightened of peaceful unarmed demonstrators - she also says that they want the Occupation OUT and that anyone who asks for them to stay should be expelled. She also says that they hold the Al Iraqiya Satellite station responsible for all the disappearances from Tahrir Square."
The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Al Hurra Al Iraqiya spoke live to us, a few minutes ago, telling us how the women of Mosul were forced to walk through lakes of cess with their children to discourage them from going to Ahrar, this morning, but to these criminals' surprise, the women pressed on and got to Ah,rar! She continued saying they have forcd us to turn into ferocious animals for our rights and for our country." Ghannam's cronies attacked "a group of young men in Al Noor District," "Thousands of young revolutionaries at the 4th Bridge being attacked by Ghannam's troops and being barred from proceeding to Ahrar" and they "raided Shaikh Barzan Al Badrani's home in an attempt to arrest him, today, but failed to do so!" In addition, "largest Turkeman Tribe, al Lehaie Beq have joined the Vigil!" And they report:
Al Ahrar was joined by a large contingent of supporters from all of Baghdad's districts including the Thawra and in The Tahrir, Baghdad they were singing and chanting "from Baghdad to Mosul". Tahrir was sad as well as wonderful - sad and tragic - a mother with three missing lovely young men crying her eyes and heart out - a sister ...with five missing brothers who was lucky enough to have located one of her brothers in one of the prisons through the Rafidain Satellite Station - young men - young industrialists - it was awful - exhausting - they just want to get rid of the occupation and Maliki and his gang. They are no longer interested in electricity or food or employment - gthey just want him out and they want their men and women out of the secret prisons - a third and a fourth - all mothers and sisters - terrible..... terrible..... Listen to them - My God! when is this hell going to end for Iraqis?????
DPA reports, "Iraqi police and military forces fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds of people in a northern Iraqi city who gathered Friday to protest against the US presence in the country, witnesses said." In addition, they note that protesters were out in Baghdad including women carrying photos of their loved ones who've disappeared into the Iraqi 'justice' system. Dar Addustour reports on the protest in Baghdad today and banners calling for the release of detainees, improved public services, an end to corruption and an end to the US occupation of Iraq. Today Human Rights Watch issued an alert about the ongoing crackdown on protesters in Iraq and this is the section on Baghdad:
Iraqi security forces in Baghdad are detaining and abusing activists in connection with protests against the chronic lack of basic services and perceived widespread corruption. On April 8, security forces in a vehicle with markings from the 43rd Brigade of the Army's 11th Division, arrested Nabil at the end of a peaceful protest at Tahrir Square. He was immediately transferred to other security forces in civilian clothing, and held for a week.
Released on April 15, Nabil, an organizer of the February 25 Group - one of several groups planning demonstrations in the capital - told Human Rights Watch that he had been beaten repeatedly while his hands were held behind his back with plastic zip-ties, and often while blindfolded. He said his captors also used a stun gun on his arms, chest, and back.
"I heard them giving orders to shock us and hit us only below the neck, so there wouldn't be any marks. They shocked me and hit me on the arms and back and chest," he said. "I got a cut on my head that was bleeding, and one of the guards yelled at another who caused it. 'Why did you make him bleed? He is a son of a bitch and will make a scandal for us. Do not leave any marks. Hit him in places where there will be no marks.'"
Nabil said his captors went through his cell phone and told him, "We know all these numbers, and we are watching and listening to all your calls.'"
Nabil had previously been arrested on March 22, and Human Rights Watch witnessed signs of physical abuse immediately after his release from that detention. Human Rights Watch sent inquiries about Nabil's arrest and others to the offices of the prime minister and security officials but has received no response from authorities.
On April 13, security forces entered the adjoining offices of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), where the February 25 Group has held meetings in Baghdad. The security forces arrested one of the group's members, Firas Ali, who has peacefully participated in several of the Tahrir Square demonstrations.
A protester detained in early April for taking part in demonstrations at Tahrir Square told Human Rights Watch upon his release that he saw Ali inside a prison in Baghdad's Old Muthanna Airport. The witness said Ali was being held with more than two dozen protesters, 20 of whom were detained on the day of the April 15 demonstration.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about Haydar Shihab Ahmad, also from the February 25 Group, who has been missing since April 1, just after taking part in that day's demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. Members of his family told Human Rights Watch that they have made several inquiries at prisons in Baghdad in unsuccessful attempts to locate him, and have received no official reply about whether he has been detained.
"Iraqi authorities need to release any peaceful protester held incommunicado and without charge, and account for those it is charging with a criminal offense," Stork said.
Iraqi authorities have taken several steps to eliminate protests in the capital from public view. On April 13, officials issued new regulations barring street protests and allowing them only at three soccer stadiums.
"We have specified Al-Shaab, Kashafa and Zawraa stadiums as permitted sites for demonstrations in Baghdad instead of Ferdus or Tahrir squares," Baghdad's security spokesman, Major General Qassim Atta, said at a news conference televised by the state broadcaster, Iraqiyya TV. "Many shop owners and street vendors have called us and complained to us because demonstrations have affected their work and the movement of traffic."
In late February, Iraqi police allowed dozens of assailants to beat and stab peaceful protesters in Baghdad. In the early hours of February 21, dozens of men, some wielding knives and clubs, attacked about 50 protesters who had set up two tents in Tahrir Square. During nationwide February 25 protests, security forces killed at least 12 protesters across the country and injured more than 100. On that day, Human Rights Watch observed Baghdad security forces beating unarmed journalists and protesters, smashing cameras, and confiscating memory cards.
Mosul and Baghdad are only some of the areas protesting continue in. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, the KRG (northern Iraq) is also seeing continued protests:

Kurdish leaders, facing popular protest against corrupt and undemocratic government in Iraqi Kurdistan, on Wednesday turned to Baghdad for help in quelling demonstrations that have rocked the Kurdish capital of Sulaymaniyah. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq and also head of the old-line Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is said to have requested help from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; a source in Sulaymaniyah said that Talabani depends on a 3,000-man "security force" that is largely Arab.
The Sulaymaniyah source said that when Talabani appeared there Monday in an effort to calm demonstrators, protesters began chanting: "Mu-bar-ak, Mu-bar-ak," in a reference to the deposed Egyptian president. Talabani's colleague in the PUK, Burham Salih, this week reportedly offered to resign as president of Iraqi Kurdistan to halt the protests.
"There have been mafia-style practices used against the free media in the region," said Salih's letter in an unusually blunt criticism of the Kurdish leadership, according to Agence France-Presse. The AFP said 95 people were wounded in clashes between police and security forces in Sulaymaniyah Sunday and Monday, and seven more on Tuesday.

Mohideen Mifthah (AFP via Sri Lanka Sunday Times) notes that the "near-daily demonstrations" in the region are contributing to the creation of a new image for the KRG. Mifthah also notes, "A poll conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute in December offered hints for the causes behind the anger in Sulaimaniyah. Some 62% of respondents in Sulaimaniyah said Kurdish MPs were not listening to their needs, and 35% said the economic situation in Kurdistan was either 'somewhat bad' or 'very bad,' both of which were the highest in the region." Frank Smyth (Committee to Protect Journalism) observes:

[. . .] in recent months more than 150 Iraqi Kurdish journalists have been injured or attacked, according to the local Metro Center to Defend Journalists. One journalist was murdered three years ago in Kirkuk after uncovering evidence of government corruption. But most of the journalists who find themselves more recently under siege have been covering violent clashes between the Kurdish security forces and protestors in Sulaymaniyah.
This rise in attacks against the press was the backdrop for the conference, aptly named "Safety for Press is Safety for All" and held Thursday in the Kurdish capital of Arbil. Sponsored by the non-governmental Independent Media Centre for Kurdistan, the conference brought together dozens of journalists, along with Iraqi Kurdish government officials such as the minister of culture and a number of mid-level police and security force commanders. I was asked to give a global perspective on how the situation for the press here compares with other parts of the world before we began discussing the issues along with possible solutions.
One thing that united everyone in the room and that unites almost everyone in Iraqi Kurdistan is the Kurdish-speaking population's long struggle for autonomy. The pesh merga or "those who die together" armed militias continue to dominate Kurdistan today after having fought for decades as guerrilla groups against various Iraqi governments based in Baghdad. Among the movement's most revered events is the "intifada" or attempted "shaking off" of Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991 after the Gulf War. Thousands were killed and far more became refugees after the attempted overthrow failed.

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