Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Maybe this will distract them?




This week, Iraq War veteran Lt Dan Choi again goes on trial.  Margaret Cho (Huffington Post) notes:

He is an Arabic linguist -- the kind of soldier desperately needed there -- yet because he is gay and proud and refused to stay silento n the matter of the military's systematic homophobia, he was unfairly discharged and now has to stand trial.  His work as a gay activist led to the eventual demise of Don't Ask Don't Tell which allowed LGBT folks to serve openly in the military, and in a cruelly ironic twist of fate, is still being asked to pay for the "crime" of being gay.

Nine a.m. Thursday morning, Dan goes into the US District Court in DC and this is over his 2010 protests at the White House:

Three years after Choi’s handcuffing protests, the US Federal Attorney’s Office refuses to dismiss the charges against him. The prosecution is being pursued by Assistant US Attorney, Angela S. George.
Generally, White House protestors are arrested and required to pay $100 fine to a municipal court, the equivalent of a parking ticket in the District of Columbia. Instead, in this case, the US Attorney’s Office is invoking a seldom-used federal level criminal charge called "Failure to Obey".
Lt Choi retorts:
“The charge is baseless. It assumes traffic was blocked, but there is no traffic to block on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The main reason for this charge is to prevent me from re-joining the military, to paint me as simply disobedient. It prevents my rejoining (the military) in a vindictive waste of resources. I stand trial to assert my rights and the rights of all to be treated equally under the law.”
Choi’s case is the first time since anti-Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan was prosecuted, that a protestor has been tried federally for demonstrating at the White House.
National Security Agency whistleblower, Navy and Air Force veteran Thomas Drake remarked: "This is yet another sad example of the federal government overstepping their bounds against critics they do not like."

Today, Lela Gilbert (Huffington Post) notes a conversation she had recently in Jerusalem with an Iraqi Jew:

He told me that he and his family had fled Baghdad in the late 1970s, driven out of Iraq like hundreds of thousands of other Jews from Muslim lands between 1948 and the early 1970s. They escaped ever-increasing dangers -- matters of life and death. He said, "The Christians saw what happened to us. But they didn't read the writing on the wall about what would happen to them."

Yesterday,  Alsumaria reported a Christian in Kirkuk was released after his family paid the kidnappers a ransom.  Last week, The Economist noted, "The lot of Iraq’s Christian population is particularly glum. Though a steady trickle had been leaving for decades, the exodus became a flood after the American invasion in 2003, when radical Islamists unleashed a sectarian onslaught against Shia Muslims, Christians and others. The ferocity of attacks such as the one against the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in 2010, which left at least 58 Christians dead, speeded the departure of many more. In the past decade as many as two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5m Christians are thought to have emigrated." Iraqi Christians make up a significant number of Iraq's refugees who've left the country.  In addition, many of those who have stayed have left their homes and moved to northern Iraq (the Kurdistan Regional Government) in an attempt to find safety.  Rana told Annabel Roberts (NBC News) last week, "I didn't like Saddam Hussein, but he didn't bother the Christians.  He was a dictator.  When he went, the gangs came from everywhere."  So she sought asylum in London:

In a pew near Rana sat Wasseem, a 26-year-old who arrived in the U.K. five months ago. The murder of his friend Rariq haunts him, Wasseem said through a translator. Rariq, also a Christian, was a driver for American forces in Baghdad and was kidnapped on his way to meet Wasseem. Rariq’s dismembered body was returned to his family five days later.

 Anugrah Kumar (Christian Post) translates the departures into an easy to understand context, "Iraq had 300 churches and 1.4 million Christians in 2003, but now only 57 churches and about half a million Christians remain" -- from 300 churches to 57.

The Christian presence isn't the only one on retreat in Iraq.  Arwa Damon (CNN) Tweets on leaving Iraq.

24 Mar
Gutted 2 B leaving ...very worried about people & future. friend last night said in his area sectarian threats resumed & assassinations

23 Mar
going through notebooks & stuff gathered from last 10yrs in ..."700 bodies this month in "..."complex IED attack against US"...

Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf writes for Foreign Policy about the retreat of press freedoms:

Television is particularly difficult. With almost every bombing, the government imposes a new layer of regulations. Police and soldiers who used to talk freely now need permission from the Interior or Defense Ministry. Being allowed into a press conference at the prime minister's office involves handing over your watch as well as your pen and notepad. Tape recorders are completely out of the question.
Even entering the parliament building now requires prior written permission, and both cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs are considered a security risk and confiscated at the entrance. Once you get in the building, parliamentary session themselves still aren't open to the media. The press gallery was closed years ago, "for security reasons," and the only recordings of proceedings are an edited, delayed television feed.
For the first time since the Saddam era, there are official travel restrictions. The government recently announced that foreign journalists need prior Iraqi Army permission to travel to the restive Anbar Province, where Sunni protesters have been staging regular demonstrations against the government. Journalists for foreign news organizations trying to cover the ongoing protests have been stopped at Iraqi Army checkpoints. Some have been arrested.

Yesterday, Iraq had a prominent visitor.  Jane Arraf Tweets some thoughts on the visit:

    1. Anyone else find it odd that Kerry comes to Baghdad near 10th anniversary of war and talks to travelling US reporters but not press?
    2. How can he talk to them if the Iraqi government doesn't invite the press?
    iraqi govt did invite press but there was no presser. Seems state dept wanted event more controlled and dare I say, undemocratic.

I believe Sohar Hamudi with Amar-Iraqiya is an Iraqi journalist and US Secretary of State John Kerry.  He is one of three reporters Kerry took questions from at the US Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday.  In response to Hamudi's question, Kerry's response included:

With respect to demonstrations, we believe very strongly that every citizen has the right to have their voice heard. And under the constitution of Iraq, people have a right to be able to affiliate, to express any political view, and nobody should be penalized for that.
So we urge people to demonstrate peacefully if they choose to demonstrate. We do not want to see, nor do we advocate anything but peaceful demonstration, but we urge the government to respond to those demonstrations in an appropriate way – not with violence, not with repression, but rather with the openness that a democracy merits. The country will be stronger for people having the right to be able to express their views in a peaceful way.

Along with Hamudi, Kerry took a question from Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times) and Anne Gearan (Washington Post).  Hamudi was the only one to ask about Iraq proper.  Richter and Gearan's concerns were Syria.

The protests have been going on since December 21st.  Approximately 10% of the country has participated in the protests.  What are they about?

The same thing that happened in 2011. We'll do this as briefly as possible.  March 2010 saw Iraqis go to the polls and vote in parliamentary elections.  Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.  Per the Constitution, Iraqiya was due to have the prime minister-designate.  That's a 30-day position.  They name someone to be prime minister but he or she has only 30 days to put together a full cabinet.  Failure to do so within 30 days means someone else is named prime minister-designate.  Nouri refused to step down as prime minister.  He refused to let the process go forward.  For eight months after the election -- with the support of the US White House -- he brought things to a standstill.  The whole time the US government was leaning on the political blocs, telling them Nouri could go 8 months more, telling them if they cared about Iraq, they'd be the grown ups and they'd let things move forward.  That's when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement gets introduced.  It's a legal contract.  The US says it's legal binding.  Give Nouri a second term as prime minister and the Kurds can get Articel 140 implemented.  All sorts of deals were written in to get the political blocs to agree to go along.

Nouri used this contract to get a second term.  But he refused to honor the promises he made in the contract.  He instead initiated a power-grab.  This lead to the 2011 protests that started in January and got really active in February.  The Iraqi people were tired of not having potable water and dependable electricity, they were tired of the lack of jobs, of the 'disappeared' in the so-called Iraqi 'justice' system, they were tired of the lack of jobs.  They took to the streets.  Nouri got them to leave the streets by promising if they gave him 100 days he would fix everything.

Nouri lies and Nouri stalls.  He did so to get his second term.  He did so to send the protesters packing.  After 100 days, nothing had changed.  This led the Kurds, Iraqiya and cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr to publicly call for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented.  Tensions continued to build.  There is no progress for the Iraqi people.  On top of that, fall 2012 saw reports emerge that made the Iraqi 'justice' system even more disgusting: Women and girls were being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers. 

Eli Sugarman (The Atlantic) sums it up this way:

Iraq's increasingly powerful Shi'ite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, started accumulating power following the 2010 parliamentary elections. He secured a second term -- after a drawn out eight-month power struggle - by promising to share power with other political blocs, including Iraqiyya (a more secular party that has attracted Sunni support) and the Kurds. That promise quickly disintegrated. Instead, Al-Maliki preferred to assert personal control over the security forces, target senior Sunni officials with arrest, and otherwise eviscerate many of the safeguards enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. His actions ignited widespread protests in Sunni majority provinces in December 2012 that continue as of writing. Today, many in Iraq's Parliament fear that he is a dictator-in-the-making.


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