Saturday, February 26, 2011








For weeks, protests were planned for today in Iraq. This was done publicly, not hidden away. Along with using Facebook, organizers and planned participants gave interviews to the press. Clerics publicly supported the protests at the start of the month. Nouri al-Maliki then began making weak, generic statements of support which seemed to be empty lip service forced by the actions of the clerics. Last Sunday, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani issued a statement of support for the protesters. Wednesday, things suddenly changed as Moqtada al-Sadr leaves Iran and shows back up in Iraq. He's had no interest in Iraq since his brief layover in January but suddenly he's back and insisting that the protests must stop. al-Sistani also says the protests need to stop. Nouri al-Maliki makes clear that he was just mouthing empty words as he now declares that the protests must stop and starts resorting to fear mongering by again trotting out his claims that Ba'athists, from outside the country, are behind the protests and that the protests will tear Iraq apart.
It wasn't just words. Alsumaria TV reports that attempts to stop the protests included curfews that immediatley went into effect in Samarra, Nineveh and Sulaimaniah. Al Mada quotes Nouri's desparate plea last night where he labeled the protests subversive and insisted that intellecturals, writers and civil society organizations, workers and peasants, doctors, institutions and scientists, teachers, engineers and everyone must not participate in the demonstration Friday, they must drop their objectives because the terrorists are using this event to advance their own interests. He continued that there was a "legitimate need" for basic services and reforms but this was trumped by "compelling evidence" that terrorists were behind the demonstrations in order to return Iraq to its "former Ba'ath era of black days and mass graves and chemical weapons and lack of freedoms."
No where in his speech claiming to understand the protesters did Nouri mention or acknowledge that Iraq's had one prime minister since 2006: himself. And that under his leadership for years now, basic services haven't been provided. He's lied. In 2009, trying to get votes for his candidates in provincial elections, he claimed basic services were just around the corner. He'd show up in towns with a large 'block' of ice to provide them fresh (temporary) drinking water and swear that their own safe water would flow shortly but he got the votes he wanted and discarded his promise. He did that over and over. The demands the Iraqis are making are not new demands that just surfaced in the last 48 hours. Justin Raimondo ( points out:
So this is why we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, sacrificed thousands
of our own, and spent $3 trillion on "liberating" Iraq – so we could install this Gadhafi clone in office. Of course, Maliki hasn't unleashed his hired thugs
(hired by you) on the protesting populace quite yet – "only" three or four protesters have been killed, so far, in Iraq. Yet it isn't hard to imagine a
Libya-like scenario playing out in "liberated" Iraq: the country is a powder
keg waiting to go off.
Occupied Iraq where the war continues and gears up for its eight year mark next month. Occupied Iraq where billions in oil revenues flow into the government each year, where the population isn't even half a million, is barely over a quarter million, and yet the last eight years have seen an increase in poverty, an increase in an unemployment, destruction of infrastructure and basic services and much, much more. The government can't even provide safe drinking water. Iraqis had it before the start of the war. Now many are required to boil water before drinking it. Or there are those little purification tablets the UN passes out in order to mitigate the annual fall cholera outbreaks. The rivers are polluted -- which makes them unsafe for drinking as well -- as are the streets and basic sanitation is a problem. Basic electricity even more so as generators have had to become household items as common as stoves. The disabled, the widows and the orphans are largely left to fend for themselves with little help other than that provided by NGOs.
In this environment Moqtada al-Sadr waded in -- presumably doing the bidding of the government of Iran, the country he's made his home for how many years now? -- and declared that protests must cease immediately and that, instead, he'd hold another one of his wonderful (inept) referendums. The New York Times hailed Moqtada (wrongly) as second in influence in Iraq only to Nouri. What was going to happen?
Al Rafidayn reports Baghdad saw thousands congregate at Tahrir Square with the army and the police surrounding the area. Activist Lina Ali, who stood holding flowers while protesting in Tahrir Square, explains that electricity and potable water are not available. Al Mada adds comments from various people -- including some Iraqis -- about how the internet has changed things and offers, as one example, that Saudis twenty years ago didn't learn that Iraq had invaded Kuwait until three days after due to a media blackout; however, now the information travels. Ahmad Ezzeddine, Microsoft's director in Iraq, is quoted (from an interview with Alsumaria TV) stating that at one point Iraq's internet was a series of network connected to Dubai, England or Germany but today it is far greater and it's not as simple to block or censor. Iraq also now has over 45 satellite channels.

Ben Lando (Wall St. Journal) notes military helicopters flew over Baghdad -- he doesn't note whose military: "As well as criticizing the demonstrators, the government has strictly limited freedom of movement across the capital in an attempt to curb Friday's protests. There has been an increase in military helicopter traffic and heightened security at checkpoints in the capital on Friday. In Baghdad's commercial district of Karrada, police and army officials are stopping and questioning pedestrians." Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) explains Baghdad "was virtually locked down" last night with a curfew imposed: "Near midnight Thursday, a red banner flashed across state television broadcasts announcing the curfew, a draconian measure more often deployed to deal with insurgent attacks." BBC News reports, "Soldiers blocked every road leading into Baghdad to try to stop protesters from carrying out their planned day of rage, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in the Iraqi capital. No vehicles were allowed into the city centre and thousands of riot police took up position in and around Baghdad Tahrir Square." Realizing at the last minute that the protesters weren't going to just drop the demonstration, Al Mada reports, the Baghdad Security Committee issued a desperate order that the protesters would not be allowed to carry "anti-government" banners. Despite this, Jane Arraf reported for Aljazeera that protesteros chanted "No to unemployment" and "No to the liar al-Maliki."
Alice Fordham and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report, "In Baghdad, witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Many people were beaten and chased through the streets. No deaths were reported in the Iraqi capital." AFP adds, "A journalist said security forces had used a water cannon and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowd. An interior ministry official said 15 people were wounded." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "Despite government attempts to portray the demonstration as politically motivated, many of the young men who raged against Mr. Maliki had much more basic reasons, complaining of a lack of jobs and public services and of the perception that in a country listed as among the world's most corrupt, officials are stealing the wealth." She quotes protester Oday Kareem stating, "I'm a laborer. I work one day and stay at home for a month. [. . .] He [Nouri al-Maliki] said people will do beter than they did under Saddam Hussein -- where is it?" For All Things Considered (NPR), Kelly McEvers filed a report which included:
But many of the protesters here calling Maliki a liar were young, unemployed men. They called for jobs, better electricity an end to corruption. They
repeated a word they'd heard in other protests around the region: peaceful, peaceful. But then one group toppled concrete blast walls blocking a bridge
to the fortifide Green Zone where Iraqi officials live and work. Riot police responded, protesters began throwing rocks. Okay, we're just beyond the
outskirts of what's going on but it's turned very violent, The sound you hear is people banging on corrugated steel as they are throwing rocks and clashing
with riot polie.
According to eyewitnesses, at least three protesters were shot dead by police during the standoff. Despite television footage to the contrary, the Baghdad Operation Command and Baghdad Police Department have denied that any protestors were killed or injured.
Multiple issues had helped bring out the protesters. Among the banners on display at Baghdad's Tahrir Square were, "Maliki has become just like Saddam," "We want the government to get rid of corruption and punish the corrupt," and "What happened to all the billions in oil revenue?" Many consider the lack of electricity, clean water and sanitation an insult for a nation known to have some of the world's largest proven petroleum reserves. As unemployed Baghdad resident Mohammed Khuadier al-Hamadani, 49, says, "There is no power, water , basic services, good infrastructure, food rations or jobs in a wealthy oil country like Iraq. This is unjust. They must stop this oppression. I want my share from oil just like the Gulf States. You know the Emir of Kuwait gave his citizens [profits and food rations]. Why can't we be just like them and have a prosperous life?"

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't call that the Motor City






Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports a Ramadi suicide bomber took his own life and that of 12 other people (twenty-four more injured). AP adds that Jasim al-Halbusi, Chair of the Anbar Provincial Council, says the attack was an attempt to assassinate the deputy governor. BBC says Hikmet Khalaf, the deputy governor was injured the bombing. Trend notes, "A journalist with the Iraqi satellite television station al-Ittijah was among those killed in the blast. The reporter's name remains unknown." Fadhel al-Badrani (Reuters) notes the death toll has risen to 15 and quotes Hikmet Khalaf stating, "We were in the middle of a ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of Prophet Mohammad's birthdy when a male suicide bomber carme to the door of the room and said 'God is Greatest' and blew himself up." In addition, DPA reports that a Baquba home invasion has killed 1 man and three of his sons. Tang Danlu (Xinhua) reports a Baquba roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left two people injured, that Lt Col Tha'ir al-Obiedi sruvived a sticky bomb attack in Baquba, a Baquba roadside bombing injured two people, and 2 Baghdad roadside bombings left five people injured.

Meanwhile an Iraqi govenor has declared that a prisoner died of torture. Dar Addustour reports that Nineveh's governor, Ethel Nujaifi, announced yesterday that another prisoner died of torture in Mosul. The man's name was Khalid Walid Sayf al-Din and that he had been born in 1976. An investigation has been announced and a promise made that those responsible will be punished. AK News reports on it here. The treatment of prisoners is among the many things that Iraqis have been protesting against in recent weeks. Human Rights Watch issued a report this week entitled [PDF format warning] "At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the US-led Invasion" which includes a section on torture.
On December 19, 2009, during one of the numerous security sweeps of Mosul, Iraqi soldiers kicked open the front door of Ahmad M.'s family home, arresting the 21-year-old for alleged terrorism.
For months, no one in his family knew where he was taken or if he was still alive. Ahmad said that during the worst days of his ordeal at a secret government detention facility at Muthanna Airport, he wished he wasn't alive.
"During the first eight days they tortured me daily," he told us. "[The interrogators] would put a bag on my head and start to kick my stomach and beat me all over my body. They threatened that if I didn't confess, they would bring my sisters and mother to be raped. I heard him on the cell phone giving orders to rape my sisters and mother."
In one torture session, Ahmed, who was blindfolded and handcuffed, said his tormentors stripped him and ordered him to stroke another detainee's penis. Then they forced him to the floor and forced the other detainee on top of him.
"It hurt when it started to penetrate me. The guards were all laughing and saying, 'He's very tight, let's bring some soap!' When I experienced the pain, I asked them to stop and said that I would confess. Although I confessed to the killings, I mentioned fake names since I never killed anyone. So the torture continued even after I confessed because they suspected my confession was false." He went on to say that one of the guards also forced him to have oral sex.
Ahmad's story echoes that of many Iraqi detainees, who are routinely subjected to torture at facilities across the country. Following on the legacy of the judicial system under previous governments, courts continue to rely mainly on confessions, which interrogators extract with seemingly unlimited brutality. International investigators have repeatedly documented the persistence and widespread nature of torture in Iraq in recent years; little has changed in response to those reports. Human Rights Watch's findings show that as of 2010, the practice remains as entrenched as ever, failing even to draw a critical response when evidence is produced by the Iraqi government itself.
Yesterday four protests took place in Dhi Qar. Al Mada reports that hundreds protested in cities in the province such as Nasiriyah as they demanded improved basic services, the end of corruption in the government and opportunities for the people of Iraq. 5 police officers were injured in the Panthers demonstration. They also note a smaller protest before the provincial council by the University of Dhi Qar employees who are demanding that the university's housing project commence (land has been allocated some time ago but no construction has ever taken place). Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports that portests took place in Halabja today "over lack of basic services, corruption and unemployment" and that 1 police officer was killed and three more injured.

An essay on Kitabat's main page explains that Friday is the day Iraqis stand up to leaders who attempted to perpetuate divisions among the people, leaders who abused the Iraqi people's patiences, leaders who ignored the people and now the day of rage calls all Iraqis to Tahrir Square in Baghdad to make Iraq's voice heard. The writer offers a religious prayer asking for protection for the marchers and a peaceful march with no attacks from the government. Friday, the essay announces, will be when Iraq leaves its recent sectarian and ethnic categories and again becomes one nation with "brother having the back of his brother" and the people emerging triumphant over the politicians after too many bleak years. "Tomorrow we are all one and the same and will root out the corruption and the violence and death" that has plauged Iraq.

And yet some are demanding that the long planned, long announced protests not take place. Yes, Moqtada al-Sadr has returned and, with his return, his fawning press base is back. Yesterday's snapshot noted an article by Michael S. Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) that we panned for gold and ignored the very weak parts of. The article had just gone up and I thought it would be redone before going into print (which is often the case). That didn't happen. The article includes these laughable paragraphs:

Mr. Sadr is widely seen as the only one who can rival Mr. Maliki for the support of the Iraqi people. In 2008, Mr. Maliki sent troops into southern Iraq to clear the cities of Mr. Sadr's militias, ultimately leading Mr. Sadr to abandon them.

But Mr. Sadr's partisans did very well in last March's election and later provided key support to Mr. Maliki so he could continue to be prime minister.

We're not a pro-State of Law website and we certainly don't carry Nouri's water for him. But a rival would Ayad Allawi whose political slate actually beat Nouri's State of Law. A rival would not be someone who came in with half the seats of Allawi or Nouri. Sadr's about as popular (or was at election time) as the Kurds -- which it a tiny portion of Iraq. To claim otherwise is to rewrite history. Before Sadr 'abandon'ed those militias, he first attempted to launch an uprising but that was taken down in Basra and in Baghdad.

Did Sadr provide key support for Nouri?

Yes, he did and that's where reporters provide context but no one apparently can either because they don't know recent history or they just don't care. Moqtada al-Sadr resurfaced in Iraq yesterday to issue a call that the protests long planned for tomorrow be called off. What he offered instead was a referendum. The press is obligated to tell the story of Moqtada's most recent referendum -- less than a year ago. But no one wants to remember that today.

Dropping back to the April 7th snapshot:

Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).

The Times reporters are correct, Moqtada did throw his support behind Nouri. After holding a referendum -- one that he said would determine who his bloc would support. Nouri isn't who won the referendum. Nouri didn't even come in second. But Moqtada broke his word and still supported Nouri. He ignored the wishes of the people. And how do you referendum basic services? "Are you for or opposed to water you can drink safely without first boiling? Are you for or opposed to trash pick ups? Are you for or opposed to electricity?"

Now he's showing back up proposing another referendum? A skeptical press would greet his vanity move with laughter. Do we have a skeptical press, a functioning press? Today be thankful for Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) who gathers multiple threads to provide the tapestry and not some isolated segment that reveals nothing. As she notes, "the leadeup to the big day has been marked so far by the more familiar features of Iraq's bare-knuckle style of governing: crackdowns by security forces, political intrigue, sectarian divisions and the threat of violence." And she continues on that path, noting the patterns, reporting the events and she's even speaking to experts. Joost Hiltermann weighs in (and his record, especially of late, has been remarkably high, I'd estimate that in the last 12 months, 92% of the calls he's made -- what he's seeing and where that will end up -- have been correct). (Jane Arraf's reports have been consistently strong. That's this week, that's her entire career of reporting from Iraq. A friend called about the observations made this morning by me that appear only slightly reworked above and asked about "What about Jane?" He worked with her at CNN and has high respect for her. Most people who know her work do. I was not attempting to sleight Jane Arraf. I thought it was a given that we expect strong reporting from her and that she delivers. Over and over. If that wasn't obvious, my apologies for not making it so before.)
Moqtada returned to Iraq yesterday to say "NO!" to the protests. Someone else returned to say "YES!" and "YES!" gets you arrested apparently. He was the shoes heard around the world: Muntazer al-Zaidi. The Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes, one after the other, at George W. Bush. Nicholas Blanford (Time magazine) spoke with him right before he arrived in Iraq and he tells Blanford, "We never used to have sectarianism until the Americans came to Iraq." The Post-Chronicle notes he was arrested today in Baghdad for "inciting people" (endorsing Friday's protest). AFP notes that right before his press conference, Iraqi military showed up and declared they were ordered to arrest him.

The reactionary Nouri made more speechifying today. Michael S. Schmidt and Jack Healy (New York Times) report on his call for no protests tomorrow and quote him declaring, "They are attempting to crack down on everything you have achieved, all the democratic gains, the free elections, the peace exchange of power and freedom." What?
What peaceful exchange of power and freedom? Before the March 7, 2010 elections, Nouri was prime minister, Jalal Talabani was president. Tariq al-Hashimi was a vice president before the 2010 elections and will continue when the Parliament does their voting. Adil Abdul-Mahdi was a vice president before the election and will continue . . . In addition, a third vice president will join them (and Talabani's pushing for a fourth). On this subject, I'd mentioned in a previous snapshot that the White House went with Nouri because he agreed to keep US forces on the ground in Iraq and noted that they ignored the oil lobby and the CIA who each had other candidates. Allawi was and is the choice of the American CIA. Abdul-Mahdi is the choice of big oil.
Nizar Latif (The National) reports that despite the calls from Nouri, al-Sistani and Moqtada, "Thousands of protesters prepared to take to the streets today to call for government reforms and improved public services as the government warned of violence from militants."
Yesterday, we noted that, considering Iraq's not so distant past, it's amazing that Iraqis protest (encouraged to rise up by George H.W. Bush and then slaughtered while the US looked elsewhere). Alan Greenblatt (NPR) covers that period from a more centrist position than does Lance Selfa (I support Lance's historical review) so you can che

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Did any of his Chicago friends ever make an honest buck?






Iraq where the governmental war on the press never ends. Dar Addustor reports on the Iraqi military raid of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad after midnight this morning with the military seizing things including computers and personal items. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes JFO's Bashar al-Mandalawy stating, "The only reason behind this is to stop freedom of the press and expression in this country." Wael Grace and Adham Youssef (Al Mada) reports notes that it was the Iraqi military and the police raiding the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and that they entered by breaking down the main door and that the Baghdad Centre for Media was also raided at the same time. Meanwhile Iraq Freedom Congress' Amjad Ali (via US Labor Against The War) explains another attack on the press in Baghdad today:
At around 2:30 am Baghdad time a group of anti riot police raided the headquarter of Iraq Freedom Congress satellite TV (Sana) in Baghdad and destroyed every single piece of equipment in the office as well as confiscating a number of documents.
These attacks occurred following broadcasting segments of events took place in Tahrir Square in Baghdad by a number of TV Channels via Sana TV who filmed and documented a particular segment in which protesters clashed with the police on the night of February 20th, 2011 and one protestor was killed as a result, as well as the active participation of Sana TV in assisting of organizing the forthcoming demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
This is the Maliki government and its repressive practices; this is the democracy and freedom of expression which Maliki is bragging about. He continues sending his militias to silence his opponents and critics. He is no different than Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi in acts of torture.
Iraq Freedom Congress assert that it will carry on the fight and will not bow to the pracitices of Maliki and his mercenaries and vow that the demonstrations on February 25th, 2011 will continue the pace no matter how brutal this government practices is.
IFC pledges that it will continue [to] organize and fight with full force in the million people march on February 25, 2011.
Sunday the Journalist Freedoms Observatory called out the assault on the channel Nalia whose Sulaymaniyah office was set on fire after being raided by unknown assailants. Yesterday the Committee to Protect Journalists noted:
Attacks on the press also continue in Iraq. On Sunday, 50 gunmen raided a new, Sulaimaniya-based independent TV station called Nalia Radio and Television, according to Metro Center to Defend Journalists, a local press freddom group. Nalia TV only began broadcasting on February 17, when protests begen in Sulaimaniya. The boradcasting equipment was destroyed by bullets and arson, Metro Center reported. Iran's Press TV reported that two guards and a janitor were injured in the attack.
"They came in military uniforms," Twana Othman, a manager at Nalia TV, told Press TV. "They wore special hats so their faces could not be seen. They knew exactly what to shoot at and what to destroy. Then they poured petrol and burned everything."
Rahman Gharib, a local journalist who reports for Metro Center, told CPJ: "I think the attack on the station was connected to its editorial policy of covering the demonstrations and giving voice to the protesters."
On February 17, Hawlati, an independent Kurdish newspaper, evacuated its offices after threats from the guards of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) [KRG President Massoud Barzani's political party] building, Tariq Fattah, the director of the newspaper told CPJ. "Our office is close to where the demonstrations were taking place," he said. "The guards of the KDP were shouting at the door fo the paper that we are traitors and that we are stadning behind and leading the demonstrations."
Hisham Rikabi (Al Mada) reports that Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh held a press conference where he declared that Baghdad will ban vehicles on Friday that can broadcast live. There may also be a curfew imposed. In Egypt, the world was watching. In Iraq, the few western reporters that are present include some smug frat boys who think that mocking the Iraqi people is doing their job. Does it seem strange to you that Nouri's attempting to ban video of the protests? Joao Silva, New York Times photographer (recently badly injured in Afghanistan) observed, "The Iraqis have learned the power of photographic images, and they know that if there are no photographs of a bomb, it has far less impact abroad. We still try to go, but usually the police stop us before we get near enough to the scene to photograph it. They will let a reporter go up close, but no cameras. Sometimes you get lucky and manage to get an image. And on the really big explosions, like at the Hamra Hotel in January [2010] and the government ministries last year, they are just too big to keep everyone away. But usually they are very careful not to let cameras near. It's hit and miss, but there is definitely a culture of 'See No Evil'."
And though Silva and Stephen Farrell know that, the paper's Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt feel they can disrespect and mock the Iraqi protesters. They can have 'fun' with the "patchwork" of demands. That's real strange considering that both men are US citizens. It was the US government that started the illegal war. Before the start of the Iraq War, the electricity outages weren't a daily feature. There was potable water. There was sanitation. Eight years after the Iraq War started, there is still not potable water, reliable electricity or santiation. I'm not understanding how it's funny -- or for that matter strange -- that the Iraqis are worse off with basic services than before the Iraq War. I'm not understanding how anyone would find it surprising that people would be outraged, in the 21st century, to live in an oil rich country that makes billions while the people don't have potable water. I'm not understanding how they think Egypt is something to compare Iraq too. Egypt wasn't occupied by a foreign power during their recent demonstrations, Iraq is. Egypt had every outlet in the US and every European outlet storm into the country to cover their protests. The Egyptians knew the world was watching, as did their government. By contrast, the Iraqis get less and less coverage every week. And despite this, they've been out in the streets protesting. If Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt had wanted to be honest about the protests throughout the country, they couldn't have had so much 'fun' mocking the Iraqis. If they'd bothered to report on Saturday's Baghdad protest involving widows and orphans, maybe they would have understood the issues. Reuters has video of one of the women demonstrating in that protest explaining, "The Iraqi people have been patient since the fall of the regime in 2003 and they want to improve their living conditions but now a single glance at Baghdad and other cities can show the tragedy that we've experienced. It's been eight years and government officials are still unable to ensure that power supplies are back or create job opportunities for the unemployed young people. The infrastructure is completely damaged. At the same time, we always hear reports and news about corruption and about those who steal the resources that belong to the people."
And these protests take place in a country that lived under repression long before the current puppets the occupation installed. In fact, the example the US set in the early 90s would likely give many pause to ever stand up. But Iraqis do stand up and they don't deserve to be mocked for it. For those who've forgotten what happened when Iraqis were encouraged by the US to stand up under then-US President George H.W. Bush, here's a refresher from Lance Selfa (ISR):
General Colin Powell announced what the U.S. had in store for the Iraqi army: "First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." Poorly paid and equipped Iraqi conscripts, two-thirds of them oppressed Shiites and Kurds, faced bombing 24 hours a day. Thousands of Iraqi troops deserted the battlefield. U.S. and coalition forces mowed down some of them when they tried to surrender. A military video showed in a combat briefing depicted Iraqi soldiers as "ghostly sheep . . . flushed from a pen . . . bewildered and terrified. Some were literally blown to bits by bursts of 30mm exploding cannon. One by one they were cut down by attackers they couldn't see or understand," according to one report. One U.S. officer anticipated another night of action: ". . . there is nothing that can take them out like an Apache [attack helicopter]. It will be a duck hunt." In scenes reminiscent of mass burials at liberated Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s, U.S. forces bulldozed the bodies of thousands of Iraqi soldiers into mass graves.
On February 15 -- a month into the air war -- Saddam's government announced it would accept UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal from Kuwait. The U.S. and its lackey, Britain, dismissed Saddam's surrender. Instead, Bush called for Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam: "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam to step aside." Bush's statement communicated two points: first, that the U.S. wouldn't settle only for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and second, that the U.S. might back anyone who rose up against Saddam. The first point proved that expelling Iraq from Kuwait was a mere pretext for wider U.S. designs in the war. The second point proved a lie only weeks later, when masses of Kurds and Shiites took "matters into their own hands" and rose up against Saddam.
Saddam had essentially cried "uncle," but the U.S. wanted to mount a ground offensive anyway. In six days, U.S. and coalition ground troops swept across Kuwait and southern Iraq, forcing Iraqi troops into a full-scale retreat. In the last 40 hours of the war, before Bush called a cease-fire on February 28, U.S. and British forces mounted a relentless assault against retreating and defenseless Iraqi soldiers. The road leading from Kuwait to Basra became known as the "Highway of Death." Iraqi soldiers fled Kuwait in every possible vehicle they could get their hands on. Allied tank units cut the Iraqis off. U.S. warplanes bombed, strafed and firebombed the stranded columns for hours without resistance. In a slaughter which a U.S. pilot described as "like shooting fish in a barrel," thousands of Iraqi conscripts were killed on a 50-mile stretch of highway. So many planes filled the skies over southern Iraq that military air traffic controllers maneuvered to prevent mid-air collisions.
The "Highway of Death," and, in fact, the ground war itself, served no military purpose. Saddam had admitted defeat before the ground war began. Attacks on retreating Iraqis merely delayed the war's end. But the U.S. mounted this barbarism for one reason only: to render an example of what would happen to any government which bucked the U.S. For nearly two days, the Pentagon invented the excuse that the Iraqis were staging a "fighting retreat," a fiction which they knew was a lie. "When enemy armies are defeated, they withdraw," said Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak. "It's during this time that the true fruits of victory are achieved from combat, when the enemy is disorganized . . . If we do not exploit victory, the president should get himself some new generals."
The savagery of the U.S. war took some of the luster off Bush's victory. But nothing so revealed the callous disregard for ordinary Iraqis as U.S. complicity in Saddam's suppression of the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in the weeks following Iraq's defeat. Demobilized soldiers in the southern, predominantly Shiite sections of the country returned to their hometowns and vented their fury on all symbols of Saddam's regime. Kurdish guerrillas launched a coordinated uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the week following the Gulf War cease-fire, ordinary Iraqis stormed the regime's police headquarters, barracks and prisons. Crowds broke into underground dungeons and torture chambers, freeing political prisoners who hadn't seen daylight in decades. Masses of people lynched officials of Saddam's government. For almost two weeks, ordinary Iraqis controlled whole regions of the country and Saddam's government seemed on the verge of collapse.
Then, Saddam got a helping hand from an unlikely source -- the U.S. government. Bush had meant his call for Saddam "to step aside" as a signal of U.S. support for a military coup against him -- not a popular uprising. An uprising from below might set the wrong example for the populaces of the U.S.-allied feudal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. U.S. officials also expressed fears that successful uprisings could lead to a breakup of Iraq and the strengthening of the other Gulf bogeyman, Iran. U.S. military officials refused to meet with emissaries of the rebels. And U.S. forces stood by as Saddam's government, officially violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement, mounted a counterattack. When Saddam's forces dropped firebombs on fleeing rebels near the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala, American planes patrolled high above, surveilling the attack.
In the wake of all the slaughter and destruction, George Bush promised that Desert Storm would usher in a "new world order." But the new order looked quite a bit like the old order.
In Kuwait, U.S. bayonets restored to power the ruling al-Sabah family, a feudal dynasty. Bush had made much about the rights of the Kuwaiti people to determine their own destiny free from Iraqi rule. But in restoring the al-Sabahs to the throne, Bush restored a political system which allowed only 3 percent of Kuwaiti residents any political rights at all. Women still can't vote in Kuwait. As soon as the al-Sabahs returned, they launched a reign of terror against Palestinian "guest workers," whom the al-Sabahs accused of pro-Iraq sentiments. Kuwaiti police rounded up thousands. They summarily executed hundreds of them. Kuwait expelled more than 400,000 Palestinian workers -- many of whom suffered under the Iraqi occupation -- from the country. Human rights organizations denounce Kuwait's disregard for elementary human rights.
By the end of March 1991, Saddam had put down the Shiite/Kurdish rebellion. The immediate result was a humanitarian catastrophe that dwarfs even the horrible situation in Kosovo today. As many as 3 million Kurds fled into Iran and Turkey. When destroying Iraq, the coalition air forces flew one raid a minute. In the first week of the Kurds' torment in makeshift camps in the mountains, those same forces could manage only 10 flights. The total relief for Kurds that Congress approved in April 1991 amounted to about eight hours of spending on the war. When the U.S. announced Operation Provide Comfort, it used the safeguarding of Kurds to establish a military occupation of northern Iraq.

With that as a backdrop, it's amazing that any Iraqi protests. But they do protest and they are protesting all over the country and building up to what they hope is a huge turnout on Friday. Hoping for. Enter Moqtada.
AFP reports Iraq's own groundhog, Moqtada al-Sadr, has returned to Iraq -- it must be spring. And guess what? He wants to put the brakes on protests. Did Iran dispatch him? Michael S. Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times) say that he and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a call today to ask that protests be delayed. This is a reversal on protests from last week for Moqtada and a reversal from Sunday for al-Sistani. Moqtada has an 'answer.' What is it? Alsumaria TV reports al-Sadr's proposing "a one week referendum in all provinces of Iraq including Kurdistan on February 28." Wow! A Moqtada referendum! Who wouldn't want that!!!! March 7, 2010, Iraq held elections. Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc came out with the most votes but Nouri was determined to hold on to the prime minister post. In April, al-Sadr held his own elections to see who his bloc should vote. From the April 7th snapshot:
Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc won 40 seats in the Parliament. Kadhim Ajrash and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) report that Ibrahim al-Jaafari "won 24 percent of the 428,000 ballots cast in the internal referendum, ahead of al-Sadr's second cousin, Jafar Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who obtained 23 percent, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Ubaidi said today in the southern city of Najaf." Al Jazeera notes that Nouri al-Maliki received 10% of the vote and Ayad Allawi 9%. The US military invaded Iraq in March 2003 (and still hasn't left).
So Moqtada staged a referendum and the people's will would be followed! Except it wasn't. al-Sadr got credit for being a "king maker" for tossing his support behind Nouri al-Maliki. It would be different this go round how? Don't expect everyone to follow Moqtada al-Sadr and with an already weakening hold on his base (due to his most recent lay over in Iraq), it's probably not the best time for him to be tossing around "referendum" and inviting people to think back to last April.
Al Rafidayn reports that today UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert says that the "differences between the Arabs and the Kurds in northern Iraq" need to be resolved. You think? And how nice of Melkert to suddenly remember that issue . . . just as the region is alive with protests. Sky News reports Halabja is where hundreds of protestors marched today and shots were exchanged with the Mayor insisting the protesters did the shooting. If you were being asked to step down by the protesters, you'd probably work overtime to portray them poorly as well. One police officer died, another was injured. Sky News notes, "But protesters, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest, insisted that no-one at their rally was carrying weapons. They said that police fired into the air and the casualties were caused when the bullets fell downwards." Jack Healy teams with Namo Abdulla for a report on this and it's confusing because he tells us that "thousands of people" "over the past week" have been protesting in the Kurdistan region. But this is the same Healy who took part in mocking the protests and insisting they were small.
Joao Silva's earlier comment about the way the Iraqi government attempts to block images from reaching the public (especially international audiences) is included in the report Human Rights Watch issued yesterday, [PDF format warning] "At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the US-led Invasion" -- and let's excerpt from the section on journalism:

Murders, assaults, and threats continue against writers for doing their
jobs. Government officials, political party figures, and militias may all be responsible for the violence, intended to silence some and intimidate the rest. New obstacles to the free exchange of information have emerged in the period since 2007: the rising number of libel suits lodged by government officials against journalists, and increasingly restrictive regulations that constrain their professional activity. Legislation intended to create additional protections for journalists has been stalled for more than a year and is unlikely to move forward any time soon.
Iraq is obligated to respect the right to freedom of expression of all persons under international law and Iraq's constitution. However, its national laws and regulations are inconsistent with these obligations. As Human Rights Watch has documented in this report, the Iraqi government can use these laws to revoke or suspend broadcasting licenses and bring charges against individuals.
Two pieces of legislation designed to facilitate the work of journalists are stalled in Iraq's parliament, the Council of Representatives: the Access to Information Law, which ensures the right of journalists to obtain public information, and the Journalists' Protection Law, which aims to protect media workers and compensate them for injuries sustained while working. Local press freedom advocates and journalists expressed concerns that the Journalists' Protection Law should apply broadly and protect all journalists including those working in new media. The law currently defines "journalist" narrowly as someone who works for an established news outlet and is affiliated with the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate.
[. . .]
Journalists who uncover corruption or criticize senior government officials are at particular risk of abuse.
Two television presenters, famous in Iraq for provocative shows that criticize the government, said they had been beaten by security officials on different occasions over the past two years. Human Rights Watch viewed one video filmed by his cameraman in which Iraqi security officials punched one of the presenters and attempted to drag him into a van during a taping on a busy Baghdad street in 2009.
Since the two presenters are well known, security forces on the streets of Baghdad can easily recognize them. In the fall of 2009, they said police detained the pair for allegedly not properly stopping at a Baghdad checkpoint. One officer slapped the passenger on the head and shouted, "You Ba'athist!" Six or seven police dragged them out of the car, kicking and beating them. The police arrested and took them to a police station. Although the police officially charged them with running a checkpoint, the line of questioning during their interrogation was political. An officer spat on one of the journalists and asked them, "Why do you incite uprisings against the government?" and "Why do you glorify Saddam?" The
police dropped the charges and released the pair after their television station intervened.

A journalist tells HRW, "In Basra, security forces act with complete disdian and disrespect for journalists." Another, also in Basra explains that security forces detained them and confiscated their equipment for no reason last year. Nouri's been prime minister since 2006. He can't blame it on those who came before him. And while the US media never wanted to address reality (AFP and BBC did address it), Nouri came to power promising to attack the media. His 'four-point initiative' (apparently now completely forgotten) that was going to curb violence never did that. But US outlets gushed over it. They reduced it to a three-point plan, though. They didn't convey to US audiences that one of the points was curbing the media, restricting freedom of the press. (This was in the fall of 2006. In the summer of 2006, he was touting a seven-objective plan. Before that, in May 2006, Nouri had a 24-point plan. As with most things he's proposed, all went no where.) The four-point initiative included a governmental media oversight body which would monitor reporting for that pesky 'bias' known as truth.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

They call it a plan






Today confusion reigns surpreme. Most thought Kaye Whitley, the Pentagon's Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was an employee of the Pentagon whose salary was paid by the tax payer and, therefore, answerable to the public. Turns out Kaye Whit-whit is a star-star. Her concert rider hasn't reached Van Halen proportions yet (presumably, she will not cancel an appearance if brown M&Ms are in the green room) but give her time, give her time.
On today's Tell Me More (NPR), Michele Martin explained that they had contacted the Pentagon and Kaye Whitley had agreed to appear on the show for a discussion Martin was moderating on sexual harassment in the military provided -- pay attention -- that she speak first and only to Michele Martin (no one else appearing could question her or comment to her). That's a bit extreme for a government employee. Especially one whose ass should have been fired when she refused to testify to Congress in July 2008. But provided she could get these conditions, the star-star would appear. Except she wouldn't. Even after agreeing to Whitley's conditions and her stating she would appear, at the last minute Kaye-Kay backed out. Usually when a diva backs out at the last minute, the rumors are pills or booze. Let's hope Kaye's not hitting the hard stuff. Who knows what the reasons were for Kaye's backing out but it's past time that the Pentagon started explaining what world they're living in that they have an employee who thinks she can testify to Congress only when she wants to and whose MAIN JOB is to do media outreach but insists upon star treatement or she won't agree to it.
Michele Martin: I should also say that we called upon the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention response office for a comment and the director of that office, Kaye Whitley, first agreed to appear on the program but although we assured Ms. Whitley, per her request, that she would speak directly to me in a one-on-one conversation, we were subsequently informed that she would not be appearing.
Panayiota Bertzikis was Martin's guest and apparently,, unlike Kaye Whitley, had no special demands. Panayiota's part of the group, fifteen women, 2 men, who are suing former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates over their lack of leadership and response on the issue of sexual assaults and rapes. Susan Burke is the lead attorney for the plantiffs. Penayiota Bertzikis is the executive director of Military Rape Crisis Center. She explained what happened to her.
Penayiota Bertzikis: I enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2005. In 2006, I reported a rape to my commander, Coast Guard Station Burlington, Vermont. And my executive petty officer told me to shut up about the rape and to leave his office. After it was reported to his supervisors, the executive officer, I was forced to continue working with my perpetrator for over a month, living on the same floor as him in military housing and being reprimanded and abused further by pretty much the entire station who knew what was happening. After being transferred to Coast Guard Station Boston, the abuse continued to happen and eventually in May 2007, I was involuntarily discharged from service on the basis of a misdiagnosis.
Michele Martin: What does that mean?
Penayiota Bertzikis: The Coast Guard told me that I was having problems adjusting to being raped and therefore I can no longer serve in the military. They told me I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and from there, because of that, I can no longer serve in the Coast Guard.
Michele Martin: Wait a minute. So they're saying you can no longer serve in the Coast Guard because you had Post Traumatic Stress after suffering a rape but they never investigated the rape.
Penayiota Bertzikis: Well it was so-called investigated but they found there was no so-called credible evidence that a rape occurred even though my perpetrator has confessed to what he has done.
Miichele Martin noted some of the claims of improvement Robert Gates has made publicly and Penayiota Bertzikis didn't see those improvements and she specifically pointed to the hotline, "And those 24 hour hotlines that you're supposed to call? I have cases where survivors called those hotlines where you're supposed to call and talk to a victims advocate after an assault and those phones are not being picked up by anyone. The e-mails and phone calls are not answered so I haven't seen any difference since the Dept of Defense have done this Sexual Assault Prevention Office. There hasn't been much difference between now and what happened to me in '06."
Last week, CBS News announced that Lara Logan was attacked and sexually assaulted while on assignment in Egypt. today Michele Martin addressed many issues regarding that topic with ABC's Martha Raddatz, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh and Women's Media Foundation's Liza Gross (link has audio and transcript). Nir Rosen, of course, attacked Logan on Twitter after the news broke, explaining how he had no sympathy for her and, like many abusers, insisting she got what she deserved. Sunday, Maureen Dowd (New York Times) weighed in, "He apologized in a whiny way, explaining that he 'resented' Logan because she 'defended American imperial adventures,' and that she got so much attention for the assault because she's white and famous. He explained in Salon that 'Twitter is no place for nuance,' as though there's any nuance in his suggestion that Logan wanted to be sexually assaulted for ratings." Noting Rosen's 'apology,' Phil Bronstein (San Francisco Chronicle) observed, "But that started yet another debate about whether Rosen himself was a scurrilous troll or the victime of anti-free speech forces. I vote the former. An Esquire writer actually claimed both Rosen and Logan were 'attacked by the same thing . . . mob mentality.' That's a big stretch." And today Rosen won the not highly sought after "Dick of the Week" award: "Amazingly though, Rosen was only getting warmed up. It's his apologies that really set the standard. Rosen made several attempts at an "apology" that range from whining and petulant to flippant and dismissive. It becomes very clear very quickly that Rosen feels absolutely no remorse whatsoever for his inappropriate, insulting tweets." You can also refer to "The Damned Don't Apologize (Ava and C.I.)" that Ava and I did for Third.

Around the world, the attacks on women never end. Today Human Rights Watch issued [PDF format warning] "At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the US-led Invasion." Despite Barack Obama's pretty lies that Iraq is 'progress' and puppy dog tails, Human Rights Watch studied seven cities over last year and found reality is very, very different. Take this from the section on women:

Women and girls also suffered from increasing restrictions on their freedom of mobility and protections under the law. In an attempt to attract support from conservative and religious groups and tribal leaders, the government introduced decrees and legislation negatively impacting women's legal status in the labor code, criminal justice system, and personal status laws. Security forces subjected female political activists and relatives of dissidents to gender-specific abuses, including sexual violence.
The insecurity created by the US-led 2003 occupation of Iraq, followed by sectarian strife that engulfed the country, further eroded women's rights.
In the months following the invasion, Human Rights Watch documented a wave of sexual violence and abductions against women in Baghdad. At the time, women and girls told Human Rights Watch that insecurity and fear of rape and abduction kept them in their homes, out of schools, and away from work. Although assailants kidnapped many men as well, the consequences for women and girls were worse due to concerns of family "honor," which is predicated on the moral standing and behavior of female members of the family. For women and girls, the trauma of an abduction continued well after release -- the shame associated with the event was a lasting stigma because of the presumption that abductors had raped or sexually assaulted the woman or girl during her ordeal, regardless of whether she was actually raped.
After 2003, militias, insurgents, Iraqi security forces, multinational forces, and foreign private military contractors raped and killed women.
[. . .]
Today, armed groups continue to target female political and community leaders and activists.
This threat of violence has had a debilitating impact on the daily lives of women and girls generally and has reduced their participation in public life. It has had profound consequences for women's economic participation, as many female professionals, including doctors, journalists, activists, engineers, politicians, teachers, and civil servants are forced to cease working fearing for their safety.
On November 12, 2009, an assailant shot Safa 'Abd al-Amir, the principal of a girls school in Baghdad, four times. The attack happened shortly after she announced that she was running in the national elections as a Communist Party candidate. After al-Amir left her school in the al-Ghadir district at about 1:30 p.m., a maroon-colored BMW approached her vehicle from behind to the side; an assailant shot her three times in the face and once in the arm. She did not immediately realize what had happened to her since the gunman used a silencer.
Despite her injuries, al-Amir managed to leave her car and walk barefoot for about 20 meters.
When police arrived at the scene, they initially feared she was a suicide bomber because she was drenched in blood. "I couldn't answer the questions because they had shot my mouth -- I just kept pointing to my mouth," al-Amir related.
That's a reflection on many things including the US occupation and the US government's chosen puppet Nouri al-Maliki whom they reinstalled. He's now been prime minister since 2006. But in the 2011 State of the Union address, Barack was lying about "a new government being formed" and how great that was. Would that be Nouri's Cabinet? He can't seem to find women to appoint, can he? Even the minister over women's affairs? A man. But that's progress to Barack. Let's remember, on the shooting of a candidate, that most of the violence targeting candidates before the election benefited Nouri's political slate. Covering the report, IPS notes:
Forced marriages and prostitution and domestic and sexual abuse are frequent occurrences in Iraq, according to the report. In one case HRW investigated, a 14-year-old Baghdadi was kidnapped in 2010, drugged, taken to a residence that held other Arab and Kurdish girls and was forced to "sleep with one or two men daily" -- a story familiar to many victims of forced prostitution in Iraq.
The report found that because "victims of sexual violence and trafficking have well-grounded fears of reprisals, social ostracism, rejection or physical violence from their families, and a lack of confidence that authorities have the will or capacity to provide the support or protection required," many cases go completely unnoticed by the Iraqi government. Even those cases that are referred to authorities are met with investigative reluctance.

According to Human Rights Watch, the 2003 invasion caused a chaos that has exacted an enormous toll on Iraq's citizens as the deterioration of security has resulted in a return to some traditional justice practices and religiously inflected political extremism, which have had a deleterious effect on women's rights, both inside and outside the home. It has been reported that militias promoting misogynist ideologies have targeted women and girls for assassination, and intimidated them to keep them from participating in public life.

"Increasingly, women and girls are victimised in their own homes for a variety of perceived transgressions against family or community honor. Trafficking in women and girls in and out of the country for sexual exploitation is widespread", Human Rights watch said.

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