Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Celebrity Chronicles






1 in 10 internally displaced families are headed by women. Women for Women's Zainab Salbi (at Huffington Post) explores the situation for women in Iraq today:

I visited my mother's grave yesterday and learned that her tombstone was destroyed by a missile two years ago in one of the clashes between the militias and the US troops. "Not even the dead are spared from the bombings in Iraq," I thought to myself. But at least my mother is not witnessing the pain many Iraqi women are witnessing as they try to find space for themselves in the "new Iraq."
Few of the women of my mother's generation -- a generation of educated women who have worked in all different sectors of the country -- are still holding on. They are few -- many professional women who were doctors, professors and journalists were assassinated in the past seven years as part of what I believe is a larger, strategic approach by extremist militias to "cleanse" Iraqi society of its intellectual and professional elite. Those who have survived the killings and the temptation to leave the country in search of a safer place to live have either retreated within the home or taken advantage of quotas that have opened opportunities for women to become members of the Iraqi parliament.
Today in Iraq, women have no one unified reality. At the same time as many women increase participation in the political sector -- Iraq's Parliament and local councils are required to have 25 percent female representation -- thousands more are experiencing brutal hardship and extreme poverty. There are now more destitute women in Iraq than ever before -- estimates of the number of war widows range from one to three million. These and other socially and economically marginalized women are vulnerable and at high risk of trafficking, organized and forced prostitution, polygamy, domestic violence, and being recruited as suicide bombers, something that the society is still trying to process and understand. In a single day's journey around Baghdad, one can see all these many and conflicting realities of Iraqi women -- that was my day today.

"So Iraq is as important as ever," US House Rep Bill Delahunt said Thursday as he chaired the US House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, "albiet, it may be forgotten by some." Wally, Kat, Ava and I attended the hearing and due to so little Iraq coverage in Western media today, we'll drop back to it today. Congressional Research Service's Ken Katzman was among those appearing before the subcomittee. He didn't read his opening statement, he summarized it and we'll note this section.

Ken Katzman: In general, Iraq's political system can be characterized by peaceful competiton rather than violence; however, sectarainsim and ethnic and factional infighting continue to simmer and many Iraqi views and positions are colored by efforts to outflank, outmanuever and constrain rival factions. These tendencies will only grow in the run-up to the January 16, 2010 national elections in Iraq which may also concurrently include a vote, a referendum, on the US-Iraq agreement subject to --that that would have to be approved by the National Assembly to have the referendum -- that decision has not been taken yet. Compounding the factional tensions is the perception that Prime Minister Maliki is in a strong position politically. This is largely a result of the strong showing of his Dawa Party in the January 31, 2009 provincial elections. His showing in those elections was in turn a product of his benefitting from an improved security situation, his positions in favor of strong central government as opposed to local tendencies or regionalism, and his March 2008 move against Shi'ite militias who were virtually controlling Basra and Um Qasr port. Although Maliki's colalition was the clear winner in these elections, the subsequent efforts to form prvoincial administrations demonstrated that he still needs to bargain with rival factions including that of the radical, young, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is studying Islamic theology in Iran with the intention of trying to improve his standing in the clerical heirarchy. Possibly as a result of his strengthened position, Maliki is seen by rivals as increasingly authoritarian. He is widely assesed by US and Iraqi experts as attempting to gain control of the security services and build new security organs loyal to him personally rather than to institutions. Some have accused him of purging security officials he perceives as insufficeintly loyal. He has also reportedly been using security forces to intimidate opponents including in Diyala Province. For example. 4,000 Special Operations commandos, part of the Iraqi security forces -- the official forces of Iraq, report to Maliki's office of the commander in chief and not to the Defense or Interior Ministries. Some of Maliki's opponents and critics say these political tactics mimic the steps taken by Saddam Hussein when he was rising to power to centralize his rule.

It should have reminded the Subcommittee members of when US Ambassador Chris Hill appeared before the full House Foreign Relations Committee and always seemed confused (a natural state for Hill, granted) when asked of rumors that Nouri was attempting to consolidate his power. Committee Chair Howard Berman, for example, received a non-response.

Chair Howard Berman: According to Ken Pollack, in the most recent of the National Interest , over the past year, and I quote, "Malaki has been deploying more of Iraq's nascent military power to the north and goading the army into regular provocations with the Kurdish militia," the pesh merga. My questions are: Is Pollack's assertio accurate? And a little more detail -- you touched on this, but what are the prospects that there will be a serious outbreak of hostillities between Arabs and Kurds? Are growing Kurdish-Arab tensions the biggest threat to Iraqis stability?

Hill responded in his usual rambling form, randomly strung together words that a generous person would count as 21 run-on sentences.

Chair Howard Berman: Let me interject --

Chris Hill: Yeah?

Chair Howard Berman: -- only because I only have about 20 seconds left .

Chris Hill: Yeah?

Chair Howard Berman: But is this assertion regarding purposeful deployments in the nature of provocations by the Iraqi army to the north?

Chris Hill: Yeah. I haven't read Dr. Pollack's article.

Yeah? That's how a US Ambassador speaks to Congress? Yeah? So Chris Hill -- in the best Condi Rice fashion -- played Beat The Clock, stringing together nonsensical words, stammers and "uh"s to keep the clock ticking down about an article he never read. He could inform he'd had a 36 hour sleepover in the Kurdistan region but he intentionally and repeatedly avoided all questions -- from Democrats and Republicans (Ranking Member Dan Rohrabacher attempted to follow up on Berman's question and got the same run around) -- about Nouri attempting to increase his own power. US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee is asking him about Nouri's power-grab in relation to Camp Ashraf and, yet again, he stalls and never can supply her with an answer. She even has to explain the basics to him, that regardless of whether Nouri is in control or the US is in control, the State Dept lodges objections to human rights abuses at the very least.

Related, Alsumaria reports that representatives from Baghdad, Damascus and Ankara met in New York today -- Turkey in the position of counselor -- over the increased tensions between Syria and Iraq. And they note that Jalal Talabani, Iraqi President will speak to the United Nations about that. Of course, he will speak about other things as well. And that was underscored in the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday as US reps spoke of the need to get Iraq back to its pre-Gulf War status in terms of agreements and laws and commerce. That's part of the two agreements signed by the US as well. That's, in fact, among the reasons why Bush didn't want to renew the United Nations mandate nor did Nouri. Nouri wouldn't be in charge of as much money as he is now without the 'occupation' of Iraq 'ending.' People have yet to grasp what the security agreements actually did and why Nouri and Bush wanted them. But, in fairness, the Thursday hearing wasn't covered by the press, now was it? Talabani is expected to call for an end to the $25 billion in reparations Iraq owes Kuwait. The 'thinking' is that, "Saddam did it! Not Iraq!!!! Saddam's gone!!!!" It's amazing, considering how reparations effect so many countries -- including the US where there are calls for reparations to be made for slavery -- that the notion that one leader died so there is no longer an obligation to make reparations goes unchallenged. But it does, day after day, week after week, with no comment or objection. And were Iraq still under the UN mandate for the occupation, it wouldn't have a shot at getting the reparations cancelled. Among the many reasons Nouri didn't want to renew the UN mandate.

On the tensions between Syria and Iraq, AP reports Nouri's created "a backlash over a bitter fight he picked with Syria" -- a backlash within the Iraqi government. Nouri insists that Ba'athist in Syria (a secular group) teamed up with al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (a fundamentalist group) to carry ou the bombings of Bloody Wednesday aka Black Wednesday on August 19th. Nouri has been fortunate in that the Western press has largely been happy to spin for him and indicate that he's requesting two people be turned over. But it's not just the US, here's Robert Fisk (Independent of London) reporting earlier this month, "Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, demands an international tribunal because Syria won't hand over a couple of Iraqi Baathists whom he blames for the suicide bombing deaths of at least 100 civilians in Baghdad." A couple? Nouri's asking Syria to hand over 179 people. And because of the August 19th bombings? No. Nouri was demanding those 179 people be turned over to Iraq in his face-to-face August 18th meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A day before the bombings. Nouri's been very lucky, very lucky, that the Western press has been so eager to run with his morsels and refused to explore the public reality. (Most of which was reported in the Arab press well before the bombs of August 19th began exploding.) AFP also reports on Talabani's intention to call for an investigation. (Left unstated is that Talabani's trip to the US is only in part due to the UN, he's also having medical treatment while he's here.) As Talabani gears up for his US trip, Iyad Al Samarraie, Speaker of Parliament, is visiting France. Alsumaria reports his trip is "to promote bilateral releations and cooperations between both countries' parliaments." Meanwhile Iran's Fars News Agency reports that Yasin al-Mamouri who heads Iraq's Red Crescent Society began his visit to Iran yesterday. The Tehran Times adds, "Al-Mamouri is scheduled to inspect Iran's Red Crescent Society's different organizations and sectors in his one-week travel." Iran continues to hold US citizens Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd. The three were visiting in Iraq and hiking in northern Iraq when they allegedly crossed into Iran July 31st. They have been prisoners ever since. Kiersten Throndsen (KBCI CBS 2 -- link has text and video) reports on efforts by family members to have the three released.

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