Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Electing the other party





Today the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Iraq (link is streaming). Appearing before them was Martin Kobler who the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq.
SRSG Martin Kobler: Let me start at the outset by condemning in the strongest possible terms yesterday's atrocious, terrorist attacks on Ashura pilgrims which killed dozens and injured many more. Mr. Ambassador, my condolences go to the families of the victims. The Iraqi religious and ethnic diversity is the ultimate strength of the country. This diversity is at the heart of the country's effort to establish a peaceful, prosperous and all-inclusive society.
It wasn't a good start. S'hi'ites are the dominant group in Iraq -- both in terms of controlling the govnerment and in terms of sheer numbers. So Kobler looked like a little kiss ass sucking up to the butt of power. It would have taken one sentence to note the Friday assault on Iraqi Christians. But he didn't.
Today, UPI quotes the Iraqi Minorities Council's vice chair Louis Climis explaining, "The sad fact that minrorities still need to camouflage their identity implies they are often ignored or discriminated in public life." And they note that Minority Rights Group International has determined as many "as 4,000 Christian families fled Baghdad" in the last thirteen months. Though many of the more than one million Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the start of the war, a significant number have moved to the Kurdistan Regional Government's three provinces which is thought to be 'safer' Iraq and more welcoming. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, religious minorities were targeted there as well on Friday. Catholic Culture explains it this way, "Following an imam's sermon -- described as 'vitriolic' by AsiaNews -- Islamist protestors destroyed dozens of liquor stores and other property owned by Christians in Zakho, a city of 200,000 in northern Iraq. The violence then spread to surrounding towns."
Damaris Kremida (Christian News Today) adds, "After mullah Mala Ismail Osman Sindi's sermon claiming there was moral corruption in massage parlors in the northern town of Zakho on Friday (Dec. 2), a group of young men attacked and burned shops in the town, most of them Christian-owned. The businesses included liquor stores, hotels, a beauty salon and a massage parlor, according to Ankawa News." Hevidar Ahmed and Ahmed Iminki (Rudaw) interviewed Mala Ismail Osman Sindi who denies doing any inciting and insists all he did was talk "about massage parlors" and "I only said that instead of massage parlors, people should build mosques." However, they also interview someone attending the service who states that the message preached got the response of angry cry for destruction and Sindi affirms that one person did shout out during the service but states he handled that. An observer in Zakho states, "After the Friday sermon, a large number of people gathered in front of the massage parlor, attacked and set it on fire. Later on, they stormed liquor stores and women's hair salons." City officials states 20 liquor stores, 3 hotels, 1 woman's hair salon and a massage parlor were set on fire while Sumel officials state "four liquor stores were burnt in their town."
IRIN notes, "While violence in 2011 is slightly lower than in 2010, [Minority Rights Group International's Chris] Chapman said, there have been several attacks on churches; an attack on a Turkmen political party; repeated attacks on members of the Shabak, Yezidi and Mandaean minorities, including kidnappings and murders, according to local NGOs; and continued targeting of shops providing goods or services deemed un-Islamic, including liquor stores owned by Christians and Yezidis, according to USCIRF[US Commission on International Religious Freedom]."
It takes a special kind of insanity to insist that religious and ethnic diversity are the strength of the country and refuse to acknowledge attacks on that diversity. Again, the dominant population is Shi'ite. Alsumaria TV reported yesterday:
Iraqi Yazidi citizens in Dahuk Province, 450 km northern Baghdad, are concerned about the situation and its accelerated implications in the province as well as in some areas of Kurdistan Region following some sectarian attacks on alcohol shops and bars in Dahuk Province. Yazidis began guarding their territories on their own, while the Directorate of Yazidi affairs called security forces to take strict measures to protect citizens.
"The compound residents fear the same attacks that took place last night in Zakho and Samil regions," mayor of Khanik Al Yazidi Compound Kiran Ido told Alsumarianews. "Since last night, about 400 men are guarding the compound in anticipation of any attack," Ido added.
"The compound's residents fear to be targeted," Ido affirmed calling concerned authorities to "take action towards fixing this unusual situation."
The worries of Yazidis and other minorities in the Kurdish part of Iraq following Friday's incidents are justified," some observers said. "These incidents threaten peace in this region known for its ethnic diversity especially after the latest incidents which Christians considered as targeting them since they are the biggest traders of alcohol in the region," observers added.

The slogan is "This is your UN" but when they're forgotten and ignored, it may be very difficult for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis (among other groups) to feel that way.
Kobler spoke of spending a great deal of time on the issue of Camp Ashraf and this issue was the one he most emphasized.
Background, Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."

We're going to include two more excerpts of Kobler's testimony. Both because this is a serious issue and because it matters what he said. Many people following this issue don't want summaries -- which might or might not be accurate -- they want the actual words.
SRSG Martin Kobler: The government of Iraq has asked the United Nations to facilitate a peaceful and durable solution to this matter and we are making an exhaustive effort to do so. We believe that such a solution is possible. However, the positions of the government of Iraq and the Camp Ashraf residents and their leaderships still remain far apart. The government of Iraq repeatedly emphasized its intention to close down the camp by December 31st this year and to transfer its residents to another location until countries are found outside Iraq where they can reside. This deadline is fast approaching. The position of Camp Ashraf residents to remain in the Camp until countries are found to receive them -- is to remain in the Camp until countries are found to receive them. They still do not agree to be transferred to a new location outside the camp without the protection of Blue Helmets [a phrase referring to UN peace keeping forces]. I'm pleased by the progress made so far and by the government of Iraq's agreement to give UNHCR the role it has under its mandate.
Yes, that's how sad it was. The UN envoy is thanking the Iraqi government for following the mandate. We'll note another section and I'm not sure what he's attempting to say in the last sentence of the quote (possibly no "lasting solution" in Iraq?).
SRSG Martin Kobler: The Secretary-General has spoken personally to Mr. Maliki to appeal for flexibility and for full support for the UN's efforts to faciliate this peaceful solution the government has assured that it seeks. He has asked me to attach the highest priority to this case. In trying to facilitate a solution, we are emphasizing a number of important points. First, that lives are at stake and must be protected. The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents. Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable. Second, we believe that any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect Iraqi soveriegnty on the one hand and applicable international humanitarian human rights and refugee law on the other hand. Third, a solution must also respect the principle of nonrefoulement. No resident of Camp Ashraf should be returned to his or her home country without consent. While some progess has been made in our latest discussions in Baghdad, many obstacles remain to arriving at a plan that would meet the concerns and requirements of all concerned. Subject to all conditions being met, UNHCR is ready to begin verification and interviews for the purpose of refugee status determination; however, the process will take time to complete and clearly the situation cannot be fully resolved before December 31st. I, therefore, appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found. I also appeal to the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage constructively and with an open mind to this process. They should give serious consideration to the proposals under discussion. There should be no provocation or violence from their side nor a challenge to Iraqi sovereignty. Finally I appeal to the international community to do more to help. A lasting solution cannot be found and as governments step forward and offer to accept Camp Ashraf residents to resettle in their countries.

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