Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Princess will screw the whole country given the chance





In Iraq, Hawija has become a hot spot.  Friday's snapshot included,  "Iraqi Spring MC also reports that activists at the Hawija sit-in were targeted by Nouri's forces and three were injured.  National Iraqi News Agency adds that in addition to the three injured, 1 of the protestors was shot dead."  Nouri's forces are out of control in Hawija and people are appalled.  National Iraqi News Agency reported yesterday that Hawija has been occupied by Nouri's forces since Friday.  Today they are still preventing aid from entering the are where the sit-in has been taking place.   Tribal elders are calling for the judiciary to insist the forces leaveMohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports that this is being seen as an effort by the Commander-in-Chief and armed forces, which is leading people to ask why the national military is even in Kirkuk?  Local politicians are noting this is how you set up a military state (not a democracy).

Members of the national Parliament are also weighing in.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that members of Parliament were prevented today from entering and providing aid to the protestors.   Sunday, All Iraq News quoted Iraqiya MP Wisal Saleem declaring, "The Government is adopting injustice and oppression as if we are in an occupied land rather than in a country that granted us the freedom of expression.  End the military siege imposed on Hawija and let the medial and food supply be brought inside the district.  This is the duty of the Government rather than a gift from it." And All Iraq News also quoted Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi calling for the military siege of Hawija to end and for the security forces to leave the people alone. Today they report that Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi has "sent a delegation [. . .] to inspect the situation of the citizens in Hawija" and he is calling for the rights of the demonstrators to be respected.  National Iraqi News Agency adds that Allawi's calling for the UN to intervene.  All Iraq News notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has declared that "preventing the entry of food and drinks to Hawija is inhumane and completely unacceptable" and that the United Nations needs to step in to protect the protesters from the security forces.  Alsumaria notes he met with the special envoy of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today and stressed that inhumanity of refusing to allow humanitarian aid in to those participating in the sit-in despite harassment by Nouri's security forces.   Tomorrow, protesters around Iraq are protesting under "Hands Off Hawija.

The protests long ago reached the 100 day mark and have been going on since  December 21stFang Yang (Xinhua) notes, "The Iraqi Sunni minority held a day of civil disobedience on Monday, protesting the discrimination against their community by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.Layla Anwar (Arab Woman Blues) has summarized the protesters demands as follows:

- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.

Despite the fact that they are ongoing and that they attract so many people, the western press has repeatedly ignored the protests.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports on them today as does Kamal Naama (Reuters).

Every time I note the lack of coverage from the western press, we get an e-mail.  Yes, Voice of America in its many forms has covered the protests.  They've actually covered them almost every day.  But Voice of America is not supposed to be for US news consumers -- that's why its forbidden from broadcasting in the US (some Americans listen to it on short wave radios -- you can also find it online).  Why is it prevented?  Because it's seen as propaganda and, when the US Congress had a spine, they were opposed to citizens of a democracy being given propaganda as news.  We do not knowingly highlight Voice of America here.  Knowingly?  There's an Iraqi version of Voice of America that we noted two years ago until a friend at the State Dept informed me it was a Voice of America outlet.

In fairness to Voice of America, they do some real reporting.  I know because they're always sending it to the public e-mail account.  And it's great that people in Europe, for example, can learn about the protests from them.  But that wall exists for a reason and I support  that wall.

Hawija is only one location for today's protests.   Iraqi Spring MC notes that protesters in Baquba called a general strike as did protesters in Ramadi.  Those wishing to protest in Samarra are facing Nouri's forces which are attempting to block them from gathering.  Hundreds are demonstrating in AmiriyaAll Iraq News quotes the spokesperson for the Samarra protestors, Najeh al-Mizan, explaining, "The response of Samarra people to the general strike call was great since all kinds of life just stopped in the city when all the governmental institutions were closed as well as the schools, colleges, markets and all other institutions." In addition, "shop owners and the students of the University of Mosul started a general strike."  Al Mada adds that Anbar Province and Salahuddin Province are also seeing general strikes and Abdul Razzaq al-Shammari, spokesperson for Ramadi protestors, says this is a new phase, an escalation, as a result of earlier attempts by the activists not having led the government to respond to their demands.  Dar Addustour notes that the Anbar protests led to the closing of all government offices except security and hospitals and 90% of the stores in Mosul were closed.  Kamal Naama  (Reuters) quotes Mosul shop owner Manhal Makki stating, "We decided to take action today to show solidarity with the protesters.  The government should consider our rightful demands." 

Friday, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office released the Human Rights and Democracy 2012 report. It's not a pretty picture.  The Iraq section opens with:

Despite some progress in 2012, the human rights situation in Iraq remains difficult.  However, there were some encouraging developments.  The establishment in April of Iraq’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), progress on a bill to combat domestic violence, ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, agreement of an exemplary NGO law by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and growing engagement on women’s rights issues are all signs of movement in the right direction.  Nevertheless, significant problems remain. 
Iraq’s emerging civil society faces a number of challenges, including lack of training and expertise and the difficulties which non-governmental organisations face in obtaining registration.  Iraq’s use of the death penalty increased dramatically during 2012, when 129 executions were carried out.  Citizens continue to face difficulties gaining access to justice due to weak implementation of the law.  Corruption remains endemic: Transparency International ranked Iraq 169 out of 176 in its 2012 Corruption Perception Index.  Iraq’s diminished religious and ethnic minority communities remain vulnerable.  In the Kurdistan region, several laws designed to improve the human rights situation have been passed, but the implementation of some of these laws, for example the Family Violence Bill, has been slow. 
The promotion of human rights continued to be an important part of the UK’s Iraq Strategy, which was laid before Parliament in October 2012.  Our priorities include supporting establishment of the ICHR, promoting women’s rights and encouraging Iraq to implement its National Action Plan for Human Rights.  Progress on these was mixed.  Despite commissioners being appointed in April, the ICHR is not yet fully operational.  The National Strategy for Women’s Advancement is still in draft form after three years, although a number of women’s rights groups are now working steadily towards an implementation plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.  On 19 December, the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) announced an implementation strategy for its National Action Plan, which was drafted in response to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  We regularly raised human rights concerns with senior members of the government and encouraged them to take action to meet our concerns. 
Our priorities for 2013 include supporting delivery of the National Action Plan.  We will continue to support the UN and other partners to develop an action plan for implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.  Working through the EU and other partners, we will also support the development of the ICHR.  We will continue to monitor the progress of legislation under consideration by the Council of Representatives, including the Freedom of Expression law and the draft Information Crimes law.  We will also continue to provide training and funding for a variety of human rights projects across Iraq, with an emphasis on women’s rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
Freedom of expression Although Iraq enjoys a higher level of media freedom than many Arab countries, major problems still exist with legislation governing the media, and there is not yet a strong culture of supporting press freedom.  Draft legislation currently being debated in the Council of  Representatives is ambiguous and has the potential to restrict journalists’ ability to report freely. 
Although the Committee for the Protection of Journalists reported a decrease in the number of journalists killed for reasons related to their profession, media professionals continued to suffer harassment and violence, and to be arrested without proper cause.  We were particularly troubled by the closure on 16 December of two media outlets in Baghdad, al- Baghdadia TV and Radio al-Marhaba, and are concerned that the government’s action represents a disproportionate use of regulatory policy.  The closures followed a threat in June, subsequently retracted, by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) to close 44 media organisations.  These included the BBC, which the CMC claimed were operating without a licence. 
The UK provided funding for a local NGO (IMCK – Independent Media Centre, Kurdistan) to run media-training sessions with former BBC World presenters for 80 MPs in Erbil. 
A number of demonstrations took place across Iraq during 2012, many of which were free from interference by the government.  However, Human Rights Watch reported that, in response to demonstrations marking the February anniversary of the start of weekly protests, security forces in Baghdad restricted demonstrators’ access to protest sites.  In the Kurdistan region’s Sulaymaniyah province, a number of demonstrators were reported to have been harassed, beaten and arrested.
Access to justice and the rule of law There were reports throughout the year of people being arbitrarily detained and not being given access to legal counsel, and of prison conditions which do not meet international and domestic standards.  Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government had carried out mass arrests during the build-up to the Arab League Summit in Baghdad in March, and had unlawfully detained people at Camp Honor prison.  This is a facility which it had claimed in March last year to have closed following reports that detainees held there had been tortured.  We were particularly concerned by allegations in October of sexual and physical abuse of female detainees by prison officers. 

 This is from the report's section on women's rights and LGBTs:

Women in Iraq continue to face a number of threats, notably gender-based violence.  Inadequate or unimplemented legislation remains a key challenge, with “honour” still permitted by the Iraqi penal code as a mitigating factor in crimes involving violence by men against women or children.  Perpetrators of crimes involving sexual violence are exonerated if they marry their victim.  Surveys indicate that 21% of women have been beaten by their husbands and that in some provinces a majority of women believe that it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife under certain circumstances.  More positively, the government has taken steps to address the problem of trafficking through its adoption in May of the Trafficking in Persons Law.  In the Kurdistan region, the newly elected (April 2012) Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, has taken a personal interest in the promotion of women’s rights, appointing his own Special Adviser on Women’s Issues to work alongside the High Council of Women’s Affairs to implement the Family Violence Bill. 
We continue to support efforts to improve the position of women in Iraqi society, working closely with the UN, EU and other international partners.  Following the success of a similar project in the Kurdistan region in 2011, we are funding a police-training project in Baghdad to develop a more effective police response to incidents involving violence against women.  In the Kurdistan region, we are funding a project run by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to increase the participation of female parliamentarians in the Kurdistan parliament.  We also funded a project to support female journalists in 2012. 
The UK supported events in the Kurdistan region to mark the international campaign of “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence”.  HM Consul General in Erbil was invited to speak alongside Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani at the opening of the campaign, and we published articles in several of the most widely read newspapers and news websites re- affirming the UK’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls.  In contrast to 2011, when Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki publicly appealed to all government departments to strengthen legislation on domestic violence and underlined the need for more education and reform to protect women’s rights, activities in central Iraq were, disappointingly, limited to a small cultural event led by the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
Minority rights Ethnic minorities, mostly concentrated in northern Iraq, continue to report instances of discrimination as well as considerable problems in gaining proper access to employment, healthcare and education. 
In 2012, there was a continued trend of sectarian violence.  Minorities located in the disputed areas of northern Iraq were disproportionately affected.  For example, in August at least nine people were killed and fifty injured in an attack against a Shabak mosque in Mosul.  In October, several members of the Shabak community were killed and a number of others injured after homes and businesses in Mosul identified as belonging to the group were attacked.  A lack of evidence of investigation by security forces into attacks has contributed to a growing mistrust by minority communities in the security forces’ ability to protect them.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights Although not illegal under Iraqi law, homosexuality is still not widely accepted in Iraq, and the situation for the homosexual community and other sexual minorities remains difficult.  We were concerned by reports earlier in the year that members of the LGBT community and Iraqi followers of the “Emo” fashion culture were attacked, and in some cases murdered, for their appearance or their sexual identity (or perceived sexual identity).  It is difficult to judge the accuracy of such reports or the scale of the problem.  Disappointingly, and despite the evidence, the government response has been one of denial. 

It's an important report and one that the US State Dept should have been able to do but hasn't for some time. 

Saleh al-Mutlaq continues to court hate.  All Iraq News reports that he met with Martin Kobler, the United Nations Secretary-General  Special Representative, and declared that the protests result from election propaganda.  Saleh gets more disgusting every day.  The outrage in Iraq began building in October.  It had to do with the lack of public services, the lack of employment, the vast poverty, the refusal to implement The Erbil Agreement and so much more.  On public services, for example, IRIN notes today:

 Long-term investments made into electricity-generation capacity in recent years have not fully borne fruit, observers say, and have not been matched by similar investments into networks for electricity transmission and distribution. “It’s like pouring water into a leaking bucket,” said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq.
According to the UN’s Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit (IAU) in Iraq, the electricity supply system is “particularly unreliable and serves its users only a few hours each day.”

Iraqi households receive an average of eight hours of electricity from the public network, according to the 2011 Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey, though the government promises to provide electricity 24 hours a day by the end of this year. In the 2011 IKN survey, seventy percent of respondents reported daily electricity cut-offs of more than 12 hours a day. An additional 26 percent had cut-offs of at least three hours a day. Summer temperatures in Iraq can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.

But in October, the ethical layer came in.  A real protest has to have an outrage that people can bond over, that they can say "NO MORE" too.  Without it, a protest lasts a week.  In October, the media outlets began reporting that women and girls were being tortured and raped in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.  This was followed by Parliament confirming this was taking place.  Shi'ites may be the majority in Iraq, but in the prisons, Sunnis outnumber them.  So Sunnis were especially outraged by the torture and rape.  Then, on December 20th, Nouri went after Rafie al-Issawi, the Minister of Finance, who is a Sunni and a member of Iraqiya.  He had bodyguards and staff hauled off.  To many Iraqis, it played like December 2011 when Nouri targeted Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.  Saleh had called Nouri a "dictator" to CNN which is why he was targeted.  Saleh al-Mutlaq is known for his cowardly streak.  He was soon his knees begging Nouri for forgiveness.  That was the end of any difficulty for Saleh.


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