Iraq snapshot - March 12, 2012
The Common Ills
Monday, March 12, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the targeting of Iraqi youth (gay and/or Emo) finally gets Big Media's attention, US officials and UN officials fail Iraqi youth with their silence, and more.
As Al Mada, Dar Addustour, Alsumaria TV and Kitabat reported last week (Al Mada all last week) and as the US and UK LGBT press picked up on the story of Iraqi youth being targeted -- those thought to be Emo, those thought to be gay and those thought to be both. (As was the case in Egypt last year, Emo youth were demonized in Iraq this year as Satanists and vampires.) But while all this went on, silence from Big Media. Saturday,the silence was broken. First, Ahmed Rahseed and Mohammed Ameer (Reuters) reported on the targeting noting, "At least 14 youths have been stoned to death in Baghdad in the past three weeks in what appears to be a campaign by Shi'ite militants against youths wearing Western-style "emo" clothes and haircuts, security and hospital sources say. Militants in Shi'ite neighborhoods where the stonings have taken place circulated lists on Saturday naming more youths targeted to be killed if they do not change the way they dress." Later the same day, Alice Fordham (Washington Post) reported on the targeting including, "Lists threatening named people with death unless they change their attitude circulated anonymously late last week in Baghdad. Prominent clerics, as well as at least one police official, have condemned the emo -- short for emotional -- craze for its gloomy music and macabre look, which includes tight clothes and styled hair. The trend began in the 1980s in the West but has only recently become popular in the Arab world." And suddenly, Big Media was interested in the story. And applause for law professor Jonathan Turley who noted the targeting at his blog today. With all that, we might have been tempted to feel things were finally moving.
How can we be
Just along for the ride
We'd rather believe
That we decide
That we can stand here
And say loud and clear
Here comes the turn of the tide
-- "Turn Of The Tide," written by Jacob Brackman and Carly Simon, first appears in Robert Richter and Stan Warnow's 1984 film In Our Hands (of the June 12, 1982 peace demonstration in NYC -- which includes speeches and performances) and performed live on Marlo Thomas' 1988 TV special Free To Be . . . A Family where Carly sang it live and -- via with satellite link -- with children in the then-Soviet Union, appeared on the soundtrack album to the special, on the cassette single of "Let The River Run" and first on a Carly collection with the boxed set Clouds In My Coffee.
But if the tide had truly turned on this topic, wouldn't today's the issue have been raised in today's State Dept briefing? It wasn't. At least they were semi-adult. The issue also wasn't raised in the White House press briefing but there were giggles and guffaws as a reporter joked about a Blackberry app and more garbage. Does the press not get that their peers may laugh, White House spokesperson Jay Carney may laugh but the public's not laughing. The public's wondering why these people paid to cover the White House use this time to giggle and snort instead of addressing serious issues? And while trivializing serious issues, the press trivializes itself in the eyes of people. And it's probably worth again noting that in 2009, when a wave of attacks targeted Iraq's LGBT community, it took the BBC to ask about it at a State Dept press briefing. The New York Times, AP, Reuters, ABC News, CNN, and a host of other outlets at one press breifing after another in 2009 and no one bothered to ask. That's okay. The BBC took that embarrassing non-answer from the US State Dept and made it sort of the centerpiece of their 2009 radio documentary on the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community -- thereby allow the entire world to listen and laugh at the US press corps and the US State Dept. The one hour documentary was anchored by Aasmah Mir, entitled Gay Life After Saddam and first aired on BBC Radio 5 July 12, 2009 (it was meant to debut the week prior but the Wimbledon Men's Final delayed it). And let's note one thing from the documentary, Iraq's LGBTs had a better and safer life before the start of the 2003 US war on Iraq. Excerpt.
Aasmah Mir: Haider is an Iraqi seeking asylum in England. He's been living in Huntersfield. He left Iraq shortly after the US invasion six years ago.
Haider: If you respect yourself and live and you don't cause any problems nobody is going to kill you. We didn't hear of anybody being killed because of his sexuality in Saddam's regime. Now after that, everything got worse, everything got fluctuated. I fled from Iraq in 2003 because of one of the worst experiences I've had in my life. I was kidnapped for 9 days, they took me in a small car and they send me about to a place about half an hour. I was. I was eye-folded, they call it. [. . .] on the border of Baghdad. One of the officers there, he raped me. And then he said "if you're going to tell anyone from the rest of the gang, I will kill you directly." I was scared. Just a one meal a day which is not enough. They were always telling us that they were going to kill you.
Today England's Sky TV filed a video report on the latest attacks on Iraqi youth:
Simon Newton: Even for a country used to terrible violence, these killings have been shocking. The rise of Emo culture among some young Iraqis hasn't been welcome in all quarters. Despite the infiltration of Western influence, many in the country remain deeply conservative. Sarah is an Emo but too frightened to show her face on camera. She interacts with other followers around the world using Facebook.
Sarah: There are special events where we support the Emo group. We meet regularly to decide which ones to attend.
["Famous Last Words" by My Chemical Romance plays.]
Simon Newton: Like most youth cultures, Emo has its own music, fashion and lifestyle -- much of it revolving around themes of emotional pain and andorgeny -- a blurring of the sexes. Sarah says she only meets fellow Emos with her parents approval and admits her family are divided by her lifestyle.
Sarah: Sometimes we have heated discussions at home. I usually stay silent and usually don't go to gatherings.
Simon Newton: Nine Emo youngsters were bludgeoned to death and seven shot recently in Sadr City. The Interior Ministry says it's monitoring the movement claiming rumors of homosexuality and mass suicide means it's a danger to wider society
[Official babbling, I'm not interested.]
Simon Newton: Being gay remains taboo in Iraq. Human rights groups say 750 men and women have been murdered for their sexual orientation. But with clerics linking the Emo lifestyle to homosexuality, the fear is that figure will only rise. Simon Newton, Sky News.
And one of England's premier music papers picked up the story, the New Musical Express which debuted in 1952. Today NME notes, "Reports also indicate that militias in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's conservative Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City have distributed leaflets with the names of 20 young people that they say should be punished for being 'emo'." Yesterday, BBC News explained, "Dozens of Iraqi teenagers have been killed in recent months by militias who consider them to be devil worshippers, human rights activists claim. The young people are described as 'emos', a term used in the West to refer to youths who listen to rock music and wear alternative clothing. [. . .] Iraq's interior ministry recently described emos as devil worshippers. In Iraq, the term emo is also conflated with homosexuality, which although legal is socially and religiously taboo." And Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) spoke with a gay Iraqi youth who explains, "Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other 'perverts' but they will cut my body into pieces." The letter reads, "We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen." Jasim Alsabawi (Rudaw) spoke to a variety of Iraqis including Dr. Shamil Ashu who is a psychologist and explains that emo has been in Iraq for some time, "It emerged in the 1990s when some bands were singing emotional songs to attract people's attention. Many teenagers and children who had family problems were influenced by it. These bands have unique costumes, and the suppressed emotions and frustrations among teenagers nowadays is the reason they are mimicking these imported habits." Peter Graff (Reuters) adds, "Since the start of this year, death squads have been targeting two separate groups - gay men, and those who dress in a distinctive, Western-influenced style called "emo", which some Iraqis mistakenly associate with homosexuality. [. . .] Iraq's government, dominated by the Shi'ite majority that was oppressed under Saddam, may not be helping. The Interior Ministry added to the atmosphere of menace last month by releasing a statement that labeled the emo culture 'Satanism'. It said a special police force would stamp it out."
As Graff points out, the statement came from the Ministry of the Interior last month. And yet Nouri al-Maliki has done nothing. Excuse me, he's given his approval on this targeting, this terrorism and these murders.
In November 2010, Jalal Talabani named Nouri al-Maliki prime minster-designate. It was his task to name a (full) Cabinet by the end of December 2010. Nouri refused to name heads to the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of National Security. For 15 months, the posts have remained empty.
Which means Nouri is in charge of all three -- something he insisted would be temproary at the end of 2010. He's in charge of the Ministry of the Interior. Which means he was or should have been aware of the statement on the Emo youth that the Ministry released last month. He should have been aware of it and, as someone who takes an oath to the Constitution, he should have stopped it. He didn't.
The deaths fall at his feet. Via intent or ignorance, he has allowed this to take place and he is responsible for the deaths. And this despite his proclamations to care for Iraq and to care for Iraqis. Only some Iraqis, apparently, are worthy of Nouri's protection -- an interesting way to interpret both the Constitution and the role of prime minister.
In today's New York Times, Jack Healy reports on the targeting of Iraqi youth and notes the image problems as the Arab Summit looms, "Many details of what Iraqi newspapers have called the 'emo killings' are murky, but the uproar comes at an awkward moment for Iraq. The country has been preparing to showcase itself to the world as host of a high-profile meeting of Arab leaders in late March, the first major diplomatic event here since American forces withdrew in December. But the news that young men in tight T-shirts and skinny jeans are being beaten to death with cement blocks and dumped in the streets has threatened to overshadow the new palm trees and fresh paint." The Arab Summit was supposed to have been the crowning glory of 2011. Baghdad would host the Summit. But it was postponed once and then twice. Now they insist it will take place this month (March 29th), the officials from other Arab countries will come to Iraq for the summit to represent their countries. AFP reports that Bagdhad is contemplating shutting down its airspace of all commercial traffic in an attempt to guarantee safety during the summit. I'm not sure if they're assuming that al Qaeda in Iraq has had flight training (no one's offered that theory thus far) or that they believe a shipment of fighter planes is coming in. But the only 'air' attacks in Iraq have been from mortars and small rockets. They're also considering imposing a curfew. Those moves don't really speak to a 'safer' Iraq, do they?
The summit, if it takes place, was supposed to be Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's moment to shine. Due to the nature of the summit, Nouri would be representing Iraq in the same manner as visiting officials represented their countries. Presiding over the summit itself would be Talabanai. Over the weekend, Kitabat reported that Talabani's latest trip to the Mayo Clinic in the US makes many believe he won't be back in Iraq in time for the summit and won't be able to preside over it. (Past trips to the Mayo Clinic usually require Jalal to spend a week to a week and a half in the US. If this trip is like previous ones, he should be able to make it back to Iraq in time for the summit.) It's been a period of bad news for Talabani which kicked off with the March 1st killing of American teacher Jeremiah Small in the KRG. The killer then took his own life. The killer was Beyar Talabani, Jalal's great-nephew.
Last week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had promised he would attend the Arab Summit. Today Ban Ki-moon delivered prepared remarks on Middle East Countries at the UN Security Council meeting on Changes in the Middle East -- a 1330 word statement. And not once did he ever mention the targeting of Iraqi youth or, in fact, Iraq.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outdid Moon in bluster and word count. Yet her opening remarks running 1876 words didn't mean she found the time to note Iraqi youth or Iraq. Excuse me, who leads the US mission in Iraq now?
That supposed to be the State Dept which Hillary Clinton is supposed to be in charge of. So, golly, maybe at a Security Council meeting entitled "Changes in the Middle East," Hillary should damn well talk about Iraq?
I understand why she doesn't want to talk about it. Would you want to talk the US failure in Iraq? Would you want to be the one to admit that, yes, Iraq is "the breakdown" of a state, that "the army, the ministries, and so on that are still plagued by chaos and confusion and violence"?
Oh, I'm sorry, that has been admitted to by the State Dept. The press just forgot to inform you. Friday, State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland agreed with that description quoted above as she conducted the press briefing and she herself stated that what was described "is precisely why we are focused [in Syria] on trying to push everybody towards a political solution through dialogue."
Seems to me, when your own spokesperson is describing Iraq that way and when your department is tasked with Iraq, when you brag about how the US is running Iraq to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month -- when you do all of that and the country's falling apart, you stop screaming for war on Syria or Iran or any other damn country, you shut your mouth, roll up your sleeves and do the damn job you've been tasked with.
No, Hillary Clinton, you are not doing that.
And, yes, Hillary Clinton, shame on you, for refusing to address Iraq today. Either before the Security Council or after at the UN in your never-ending blab-a-thon press conference. Shame on the reporters for not raising the subject, but shame on you for not addressing it.
You cheapen and betray every word you've spoken about what you've done for gays and lesbians at the State Dept when you can't even make the time to call out the attacks on Iraqi youths. You won't shut up about the burned Korans (again today -- over and over), and you blather on about every topic under the sun, but you won't say one damn word about the targeting of Iraqi youths.
You're not doing your job.
And you're not helping Iraq.
You have put out an order at the State Dept to "starve the beast" on the topic of Iraq, to not speak of the country, to avoid it, so the press has nothing to run with, nothing to print, nothing to air. That may be skillful manipulation of the press and damage control (especially during an election year), but don't for one moment kid yourself that it's leadership or that you are doing your job or that you are helping the people of Iraq.
I know Hillary and I like Hillary but Hillary has her defenders, the Iraqi youth don't. And for any who might whine that I'm being cruel to Hillary -- I'm holding to the same standard I'd hold anyone else and if I wanted to be cruel, I'd riff for three to four paragraph on the topic of her outfit today and how "The Mad Hatter called. He wants his wardrobe back." Followed by three more about how clothes should be sewn and only rugs should be produced by latch hook and cross stitch.
While Hillary was silent again today on the topic, Saturday found Iraq's clerics weighing in on the killings. Alsumaria TV reported that cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared that Emo youths were the scourge of society, insane, a dark evil within the Muslmin community and called for their deaths ("finish them off under the threat of law"). By contrast, Dina al-Shibeeb (Al Araibya) reported on the cleric reaction to Emo youths in Iraq (including Moqtada) and notes that "on the other end of the spectrum, one of the most revered Shiite sheikhs in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Thursday that targeting 'Emo' youth is an act of 'terrorism' and a 'bad phenomenon for the peaceful co-existence project'." Cleric Mohammed al-Yaokoubi insists that the Emo targeting and killing is "exaggerated and fabricated." It's a plot, he insists, to serve a non-religious, government agenda. The report notes Al Akhbar reporting Friday sources in the Ministry of the Interior who acknowledged "the approval to eliminate it [Emo youths] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger." AGI added, "The ayatollah's [Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's] Baghdad delegate Abdul-Raheem al-Rikabi described the stoning as 'terrorist attacks,' adding that while the emo movement may be questionable 'it has to be addressed by way of dialogue and by other peaceful means, not via physical elimination'." Iraqi youth need to be defended. The US government supposedly gives a damn about the Middle East. HIllary told the UN today that the region has "a common desire for rights, freedom, economic hope and human dignity" and insisted that these "are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the UN Charter and they are fundamental to my country's identity" (on and on) but they're just words, just meaningless words, when you don't have the guts, the courage, the spine to condemn what is taking place with the targeting of Iraq's youth. This is beyond ridiculous. You're over sixty-years-old, you're a government official and you can't defend the children of Iraq. It's disgusting and what's going to happen if Hillary doesn't find a spine real damn quick is that the Madeline Albright will no longer be the punchline when people mock a US Secretary of State, it will be Hillary. That will be her legacy unless she starts making the time to start calling out abuses.
They're such idiots in the Barack Obama administration. When they refuse to call out the targeting in Iraq, they look the War Whores they are and people paying attention just roll their eyes as they make claims about caring about the people of Syria or anywhere else.
When you refuse to defend the people in danger because the actions the US government has taken, the world sees that and they know your claims of humanitarian intervention are bulls**t.
Over sixty, the person supposedly in charge of the Iraq mission and she refuses to publicly call out the killing of Iraqi youth, to simply say, "This is wrong." Just as Madeline Albright's Marie Antonette pose on sanctions will forever follow her around, just as Ronald Reagan's silence on the emerging AIDS crisis during his presidency is something his legacy will never escape, Hillary's ensuring that she'll be seen as the homophobe who was too busy crying out for more war to object when a genocide took place. No one's asking her to send more US troops into Iraq (I believe there are 900 -- plus contractors -- still in Iraq). We just expect her to condemn actions that are appalling and go against human rights.
But for an administration that uses "human rights" as a prop, that's apparently too much to expect.
And repeating, I know Hillary, I like Hillary, but her feelings aren't really my concern. She's a public servant who's supposed to be representing the United States and she is silent as Iraqi youths are killed by thugs. She is silent in the face of that. I don't have any sympathy for her. I'll cry for the Iraqi youths. They don't live in a mansion, they don't have six-figure book deals, they don't travel with an entourage and they didn't ask for their country to be invaded by the US to begin with.
Iraqi Christians have suffered wave of attacks since the start of the Iraq War, the most brazen being the October 31, 2010 attack on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church. These waves of attacks led many to become refugees which is why they make up a surprisingly large percent of Iraq's external refugees. Within Iraq, they have relocated to northern Iraq for safety. Jack Healy (New York Times) reported yesterday that lack of jobs and safety concerns are resulting in they're leaving northern Iraq and heading towards "Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States." Those who remain will face additional problems. Ahmed Mohammed (Al Mada) reports on the literacy law being discussed by Parliament and by educators which would foster education through a series of measures -- one of which would be withholding family rations cards if a family does not send their children to school. When waves of attack start on, for example, Iraqi Christians, the first thing many parents do is keep their children home. They are the ones who would most likely be punished by the measure.
Iraq was once the cradle of civilization. It was an advanced country. Then the US wars and the sanctions wore it down. After the 2003 invasion, a new trend emerged -- Iraq's educated class began fleeing the country. This was dubbed "the brain drain." It didn't have to happen. But the US government didn't rate an educated class as important, they were too busy getting in bed with thugs and exiles and exiled thugs. Thugs scare, thugs intimidate and that was the role the US government wanted them to play, to throw off and scare the Iraqi people so that there would be little resistance to the plans the US decided to impose.
An educated class could organize, could put forward leaders, could put forward opposition. So the US was more than happy to set the thugs loose throughout Iraq to ensure that didn't happen. And thugs fear knowledge so they especially loved targeting the doctors and the professors and the engineers, etc.
Let's stay on the targeting of Iraqi women for a moment. What is the State Dept doing for them? I know the lie -- the lie that even friends in the State Dept laugh about because it's such a ridiculous lie. Here it, if you haven't already heard it, "The State Dept is overseeing police training because it will help Iraqi women if the police are trained to recognize the rights of all." That's not police training and it's not a description of the training the US is even offering. All it is is a cheap lie from the State Dept.
Maybe some day, Iraqi women will reclaim the rights they had prior to the US invasion. Fortunately, they're strong women and are used to fighting for themselves. They'll continue to advocate for themselves and for all the children of Iraq. (Iraqi women have been the most publicly outspoken in decrying the attacks on Iraqi's LGBTs and/or Emos.) Al Mada reports that Saturday MP Safiya al-Suhail announced the formation of a coalition in Parliament to support women, noting that it includes men and women and that they come from various political blocs with the goal being to address the economic, social, political and cultural status of women. Also over the weekend, Suha Sheikhly (Al Mada) reported over the weekend that a workshop put together by the magazine Narcissus explored Iraqi women's rights and noted that while quotas allow a number of women into the Parliament, once women are in the institution they face many road blocks to exercising their powers; that in all civilizations, civil rights movements are necessary to strengthen the rights of the people; and more. One participant felt that the workshop raised questions but did not provide solutions. Another felt that the government money for individual widows was not sufficient to support even one person and that the payments were too often late whent hey did come. Another woman voiced the opinion that Gender Traitor Ibtihal al-Zaidi who is Minister of Women cannot represent women because she has publicly stated she does not believe in equality and the Constitution recognizes equality. Iraqi women are the subject of Iraqi-American Heather Raffo's play 9 Parts of Desire which is playing in Malta's St. James Theatre in the Round March 16, 17 and 18th and is directed by Toni Attard and with a cast of Shirley Blake, Estelle Grech and Marta Vella. Fiona Galea Debono (Times of Malta) explains, "The central element is thep lay, which highlights the plight of women in conflict. It is about nine Iraqi women -- mothers, lovers, communist exiles, educated and not -- who were locked up during the Gulf War. They are being portrayed by three actresses, whose talent is being challenged by the character changes they have to master. But their differences have one common prop: a square garment wore by Arab woman as a veil or cloak."
Turning to the topic of violence, CNN reports armed assailants invaded the Mayor of al-Dhuloiya's office today and killed 5 of his guards while, in Baghdad, assailants "robbed a pair of jewelry stores" and had "a shootout with police." AFP adds that the Ministry of the Interior says both owners of the jewelry store were killed, 2 police officers and 2 bystanders were killed and ten people were left injured -- that adds up to six dead; however, the hospital states that 7 died and fourteen were attacked (go with the hospital figures), the Tarmiyah municipal headquarters were attacked early this morning leaving 3 police officers dead and a police patrol came across the assailants nearby resulting in 2 police officers shot dead. Zee News notes Tarmiyah mayor Jassim Mohammed Saleh's home was attacked yesterday resulting in the death of 1 bodyguard and four of the mayor's female relatives. Xinhua identifies the four women as the mayor's "wife, sister and two daughters."
Radio notes, real quick. On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), topics explored included a squatters museum, AIPAC, Michael Smith's book tour for Who Killed Che? (written by Michael Smith and Michael Ratner), attorney Wolfgang Kaleck on the Columbian Trade Unionist murder and Cyrus McGoldrick on police surveillance of American Muslims. And Michael Steven Smith is Matthew Rothschild's guest on this week's Progressive Radio with the two discussing Che and the new book.
Lastly, US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes this Wednesday hearing on the issue of homeless veterans (it should be an important hearing, the witnesses are impressive and well versed in this issue):
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES:
Contact: Murray Press Office
Monday, March 12, 2012
WEDNESDAY: VETERANS: Murray to Hold Hearing on Veteran Homelessness
Hearing will discuss VA's progress on 5-year plan to end homelessness among veterans
(Washington, D.C.) -- Wednesday, March 14th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing to discuss the progress the VA has made in its 5-year plan to end homelessness among veterans. During the hearing, the Committee will hear from 2 homeless female veterans, service providers, and officials from the VA.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Marsha Four, Executive Director of Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center
Reverend Scott Rogers, Executive Director, Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry
Linda Halliday, Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations, Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs
Pete Dougherty, Acting Executive Director, Homeless Veterans Initiatives Office
WHAT: Hearing to discuss VA's progress on its 5-year plan to end homelessness among veterans, including the unique needs of homeless women veterans
WHEN: Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
10:00 AM ET
WHERE: Russell Senate Office Building