Monday, July 20, 2009

Barry O in a panic









Starting with Iraqi refugees. Today the International Committee of the Red Cross explains they "issued travel documents to 96 Palestinian refugees from Al-Waleed Camp (Anbar Governorate) to enable them to travel to Europe and the United States, where they will be resettled with the help of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International ORganization for Migration." Last week, Miriam Jordan (Wall St. Journal) reports that the US has agreed to take in 1,350 Palestinian refugees from Iraq --from among the over 3,000 refugees stuck in the 'camps' between Iraq and Syria. Jordan quoted University of California Hastings College of Law's professor George Bisharat stating, "These particular Palestinians are a fallout from the Iraq War. The Obama administration had to take some responsibility for the consequneces of the invasion." Patrik Jonsson (Christian Science Monitor -- link has text and video) had earlier reported that the refugees would "be resetteled in the US". However, Stephen Kaufman, writing at and for the US government at, doesn't say these refugees have been accepted, he states (on July 13th) that they "are being considered" for admittance to the US and sites the US State Dept as the source for that: "A State Department spokesman told July 13 that the resettlement process for the group actually began in 2008, and so far 24 Palestinians from Iraq have arrived in the United States."

While the refugees need to be offered asylum in the US, what sort of life awaits them? Not a good one if most reports are any indication. Fields Moseley (Utah's KUTV) reports on Raida Jarjes and Taofiq Rasheed, husband and wife Iraqi refugees living in Utah after being granted asylum following many years of waiting in Syria. In Iraq, she was a journalist, he was an attorney but here in the US they are among "50 refugee families [who] might be in the homeless shelter next month." Moseley explains, "The Rasheeds are foreign professionals without jobs, a common story among Iraqi refugees. They were delivered to this apartment complex and told a job should be their first priority. They received $920 each from the state department and a couple hundred bucks follows each week. But it won't last." The State Coordinator for Refguee Resettlement, Gerald Brwon, tells Moseley, "We are not able to find people jobs at the rate we have to if they have to pay rent." Saundra Amrhein (St. Petersburg Times) reports on Hayder Abudlwahab and his family (Iman, his wife, and their two sons) who escaped Iraq, made it to Syria and finally were accepted into the US, settling in Tampa in August 2008. They left Iraq after Hayder was injured in a bombing and "awoke on a pile of bodies in a Baghdad morgue. [. . .] Paralyzed, blinded, unable to scream, Hayder lay in a jumble of bodies. Knobby bones poked him from underneath, a still-warm arm lay across his side. The smell of rot was overwhelming." Now they live in Tampa trying very hard to make ends meet and just to make rent each month. Earlier this month, Aamer Madhani (USA Today) explained there was a 3.1% increase this year in "no-shows" for Iraqi refugees granted asylum to the US who do not take make the "U.S. government-paid flights out of Iraq" and that "the reluctance is a reflection of the difficulties faced by thousands of Iraqis who have arrived in the U.S. since 2006." Not all Iraqi refugees are struggling to those extremes. Maureen Sieh (Syracuse Post-Standard) noted, In the last year, 130 Iraqi refugees have been settled in Syracuse by refugee programs run by Catholic Charities and Interfaith Works Center for New Americans." Most charity programs have dried up in the US due to the economy and/or disinterest. Mosques and churches are among the few that remain. What of the US government's obligation? Last week the Boston Globe offered the editorial
"An obligation to refugees" which argued, "The United States should provide a haven for more refugees." Friday the International Organization for Migration announced the US State Dept had provided them $10 million "to meet the most urgent needs of Iraqi returnees." Returnees. Not refugees.

What are they doing for refugees? In it's most recent [PDF format warning] report on Iraq, the US State Dept notes that "as many as 2 million Iraqi refugees" are being housed by "regional governments," an estimated 2.8 million are currently displaced within Iraq and then they offer a dollar figure . . . for Fiscal Year 2008. FY2008 ended months before Barack Obama was sworn in. Fiscal Year 2009, the current year, is nearly over. It ends at the end of September. March 20, 2009, much was made of the announcement of pledges by the US in excess of $141 million which was added to the stingy sum of $9 million that had already been 'committed.' Have those pledges been honored, has the money -- $90 million to UNHCR, $15.5 million to UNICEF, for example -- been paid out? Were the pledges honored? Yvonne Abraham (Boston Globe) pointed out another area of concern yesterday, "The federal government desperately needs Arabic speakers, particularly ones who know the Middle East. Hundreds of the Iraqis who worked with US forces are now here, and desperately need jobs. Yet nobody seems to have come up with a way to match our needs with theirs. Kirk Johnson, whose List Project brings Iraqis who helped American forces to the United States, said only a few have found work as government translators here. The rest are shut out because the security hurdles are too high, or because they're not citizens."

Saturday, James Denselow (Guardian) explored "Iraq's forgotten crisis" and noting the interlocking nature of the conflicts (such as the KRG and the central government), the failed and failing infrastructure and the drought on issues including the external and internal refugees:

The consequences of the upstream damming of Iraq's rivers, when compounded with a general trend towards the reduction in rainfall entering the two river basins, is having a severe impact on the Iraqi breadbasket's ability to feed its population. The World Food Programme estimates that some 930,000 people are currently food-insecure in Iraq, with a further 6.4 million at risk of becoming food-insecure in the event of the failure of the Public Distribution System (PDS). Resettlement of internally displaced refugees and the potential return of the millions of Iraqis from Jordan and Syria all have the potential to place a further burden on this fragile system. Adam L Silverman, who worked as a social science adviser for the US army human terrain teams in 2008, noted that lack of river discharge leads to "ongoing soil erosion that leads to further desertification and increased heat and dust storms, which has a measurable negative impact on the quality of life of the Iraqis". Reuters reported that the sandstorms that delayed Biden's trip led to several deaths and "hundreds of Iraqis seeking medical help after one of the worst sandstorms in living memory stretched beyond a week, choking throats, clogging eyes and afflicting asthma sufferers in particular".

"The Iraqi refugee crisis is far from over and recent violence is creating further displacement," notes Refugees International, "Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families' well being." Refugees International's latest report is [PDF format warning] entitled "IRAQI REFUGEES: WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND SECURITY CRITICAL TO RETURNS." It finds that not only are large scale returns not coming in the immediate future but that "[n]ot one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return. Some women said they won't return because they are members of targeted minority groups, or because of injuries they suffered. . . . Some fear rising conservatism would restrict their ability to participate in civic and professional life. . . . Others feared they were at risk of so called 'honor killings' by family members because they refused marriages, had divorced, or were accused of prostitution." The field report found reoprts of forced marriages in Syria and the KRG. In Syria, "an Iraqi women working as a singer in a restaurant . . . was attacked by three men and raped. When she reported the crime to the police and asked for assistance, she was arrested, detained for six days, and threatened with deportation for working illegally. UNHCR finally obtained her release, but her assailants were never arrested." The report notes:

In northern Iraq, the KRG has taken some welcome steps to respond to the disturbingly high levels of reported gender-based violence (GBV), particularly so-called "honor killings," burnings and other attacks on women, often disguised as accidents or suicides. Recent higher GBV statistics in KRG may indicate a greater willingness to report such crimes, but further visible government support for women's rights is sorely need throughout Iraq.
The KRG, unlike the Government of Iraq, has supsended laws providing for "mitigating circumstances" to reduce the punishments for so-called "honor" crimes and has increased the penalties. Its Prime Minster set up a Cabinet-level Committee on Violence against Women and set up and staffed in each KRG governorate a "Directorate to Follw up Violence against Women." The offices conduct outreach and public education and investigate cases to turn over to the prosecutor. To protect women at risk of serious violence, the KRG and nongovernmental organizations operate small residential shelters. However, staff has little training or experience on security, confidentiality, or the counseling skills needed to assist clients. RI learned of recent incidents of women being trafficked from shelters.
The KRG could enhance these institutions' effectiveness and credibility by appointing experienced women to senior leadership posts in the Cabinet Committee and the Directorates, by regulating the shelters, and by ensuring shelter staff receive training and oversight. Donors should provide technical assistance through deploying specialist in investigations, witness protection, counseling, and helping to create standard operating procedures for temporary shelters. Donors should increase support to local NGOs experienced in GBV prevention and response services. Help is also needed in ensuring the wider distribution of public education materials in both Kurdish and Arabic, since higher levels of domestic violence are reported in the displaced population, which has not benefitted from any government outreach.

Moving to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. July 25th, they hold their provincial elections as well as elect a president. Nada Bakri (Washington Post) notes the region is "simultaneously considered the most democratic in Iraq and not all that democratic. Two main parties -- [KRG President Masoud] Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- have for years exercised a stranglehold on the region, dividing between them politics, patronage, investments and business deals." Pakistan's The National observes that a vote was also supposed to be held "to approve the new constitution, but a hurried intervention by the US vice president Joe Biden and warnings from Baghdad have persuaded Kurdish leaders to postpone that referendum. Kurdish anxiety is understandable. . . . The Kurds now appear to feel that the goodwill they displayed when they were strong brought few benefits." All weekend the tensions between the KRG and the centeral government in Baghdad continued to increase. Mehid Lebouachera (Kuwait Times) explained the roots of the tensions as follows: "Six years after the US-led invasion in which Kurdish rebel groups were key allies, their decades-old claims to historically Kurdish-inhabited areas remain unresolved by the new Iraqi government in which they hold both the presidency and a deputy premiership. And opposition to the Kurdish demands remains as strong as ever, not only among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein's ousted regime but also among the Shiite majority community that leads the new government and among ethnice minorities such as Turkemn. As time drags on, Kurdish leaders have voiced mounting frustration at the impasse in their talks with Baghdad, sparking an increasingly heated war of words with Arab politicians."

Lebouachera explains the tensions over unresolved borders. There are a number of disputed territories but let's zoom in on oil-rich Kirkuk. Nouri al-Maliki was installed by the US over three years ago. That's important. The 2005 Constitution, which went into effect in the final third of 2005 -- mere months before Nouri was installed -- promised an independent census of Kirkuk and a 2007 referendum. Nouri came to power and didn't get on that issue. Following the 2006 mid-term elections in the US, when both houses of Congress were handed over to Democrats (November, 2006), the White House, under pressure on the never-ending illegal war, began talking benchmarks for 'success.' The White House defined those benchmarks and Nouri signed off on them. The benchmarks included resolving the issue of Kirkuk. 2007. Two years later and still nothing.Not only throughout the illegal war, but also before it began, it was always known that Kirkuk was a divisive issue. (Hence the September 1998 White House meeting with Jalal Talabani, Kurd and current president of Iraq, and Masoud Barzani, Kurd and current president of the KRG; as well as the passage of in October 2002 of legislation by the Kurdish parliament preparing for the Iraq War.) Saddam Hussein ran Kurds out of the area and installed Arabs. The Kurds see Kirkuk as their land. The land is oil-rich and the Arabs aren't eager to hand it over to Kurdish control.So despite the fact that Nouri came into office mere months after the Constitution went into effect (calling for resolution of the Kirkuk issue) and despite the fact that, in 2007, he signed off on benchmarks which included resolving the Kirkuk issue, he's done nothing. There has been no referendum, there hasn't even been a census.Last summer, lands the Kurds consider their own were nearly invaded by Iraqi forces in what some saw as an attempted take over and others saw as a 'crackdown' or assault similar to what Nouri staged on Basra in March of last year. It was a very tense situation and war could have erupted right then. Unlike the Shi'ite - Sunni conflict which was more ethnic cleansing due to the fact that the Sunnis are not in power and do not have the numbers that the Shi'ites, the KRG has its own army, has its own forces and the tensions do not cease, if these issues aren't resolved, it's not unlikely that real civil war will break out in Iraq. A real one. Not ethnic cleansing being 'prettied up' with the phrase 'civil war.' Not a bunch of powerless minorities being killed and run out of the country, but a full on war.

But that doesn't seem to be a concern to the US installed government. Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that, as nothing is done regarding disputed territories, Kurds in Nineveh Province have issued statements threatening to secede but that's apparently not cause for concern either. And all the statements being made by KRG officials? Apparently not a concern either. AFP reports that Massud Barzani, president of the KRG, stated yesterday, "We are committed to the application of Article 140 (of the Iraqi constitution) and we rpomise that we will absolutely not compromise on this issue or on the rights of the people of Kurdistan." Article 140 requires an independent census in Kirkuk and a referendum to take place no later than . . . December 2007. This is not a minor detail nor is it something once touched on and then forgotten. Saturday, the KRG's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave a speech and it included the following:In formulating policy for our government, we have always been committed to the Iraqi Constitution and protection of the interests of the Kurdistan Region and all of Iraq.As you are all aware, recent tensions have occasionally surfaced with the federal, central government over pending issues. It is clear that, as long as those issues remain unresolved; this will threaten the stability that we all aspire to achieve in Iraq. I would like to address this matter openly. What we in the Kurdistan Regional Government want to achieve is to resolve these issues peacefully and in accordance with the terms and conditions enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution, for which 80% of Iraqis voted. We have always been ready in the past, and we are ready and willing now to sit at the negotiating table with the federal government and talk with those who possess the will to solve these issues. Sometimes we in the Kurdistan Region are accused of being too firm and insistent in our demands. But I would like Iraqis and the whole world to be aware of two things: First, our insistence on the commitment to the Constitution and its guarantees for freedom and democracy emerge directly from our history. We in the Kurdistan Region have suffered greatly as the result of agreements which were unfulfilled and promises which were ignored. In order for us to live in peace and stability, we want our rights to be protected. This will take place as a result of permanent agreements by which all concerned will abide, in accordance with Constitutional principles. We don't have any hidden agenda in Iraq.Second, for those who say that we cannot negotiate seriously, there are tangible examples of how the KRG has participated seriously in negotiations that have led to historic results. Therefore, we can engage in a similar manner with Baghdad in this regard.We want to be a reliable and cooperative partner with the federal government. Our vision of security, stability and prosperity for the Kurdistan Region requires a peaceful and cooperative relationship and coordination with all of Iraq and with Baghdad and we will continue with this policy in the Kurdistan Region. All that we ask for is to have a relationship within the framework of the Constitution, which is the highest law of the land and the greatest guarantee to us that history will not repeat itself. Our message is clear. The Kurdistan Regional Government is ready and hopeful that serious dialogue will resume with the federal government to solve the issues according to Constitutional principles and within a federal, democratic Iraq.Our insistence on resolving the issues are with the aim of guaranteeing a bright future for our people and the prevention of any repetition of our tragic history.

Meanwhile, do-nothing Nouri is headed to the US. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports Nouri, who has been making disparging remarks about US service members lately, intends to visit Arlington Cementary while visiting the White House. Reportedly he plans to pay his 'respects' -- non-existant ones to judge by his recent remarks. She quotes Nouri al-Maliki's boy-toy Sami Askari declaring, ""The Democrats were in opposition to George Bush so they tended not to see his positive points, only to concentrate on the negative ones. So I think the prime minister needs to say this: That as a people, we are not ignoring what others did for us. Every Iraqi who goes to Washington needs to make clear that the war was not a failure." Save the fantasy talk for Nouri, Askari. Nouri made quite clear to Barack last summer what he thought of Bully Boy Bush. The idea that after running Bush down (no problem with that here), Nouri's now going to counsel Barack on the 'good' in George W.'s efforts is laughable. What's not being reported are rumors that Biden has scheduled a high-level meeting with Nouri and former Ba'athists for this visit. Those are rumors. When Biden visited Iraq, Nouri remainded non-committal to the idea and indicated he would weigh a meet up with Ba'athists and Arab neighbors. Shortly after Biden departed Iraq, Nouri began issuing fiery statements indicating otherwise. Nouri's personal press representative Mike Tharp of McClatchy Newspapers and Nouri's Ass raves like he's audtioning for Pat Newcomb: The Movie, insisting -- in a non-journalistic manner -- that Nouri is "the popular leader of an American ally, the prime minister of an increasingly independent-minded country". When Mike gets the taste of Nouri's ass washed out of his mouth, someone inform him that Nouri's a thug and a US installed puppet currently testing the length and tethering of his leash.

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