Iraq snapshot - March 16, 2012
The Common Ills
Friday, March 16, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the targeting of Iraqi youth continues, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issue statements decrying the targeting, US State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland accuses the US military of offering safe harbor to a terrorist camp (she's given a chance to walk it back by an AP correspondent but chooses not to), and more.
In every culture, the youth attempt to make their mark. They attempt this by finding their own identities which often means dressing differently. The fashion may elict laughter or groans but it doesn't usually result in murder. Except in Iraq. Ellena Savage (Eureka Street) explains:
When I was in middle school, my taste for fashion was -- to say the least -- interesting. I would hack my hair into asymmetrical experiments, dye it impossible colours, and layer myself with kitsch garments found in northern suburbs op-shops. I would have liked to have been caught reading Camus in public, and for people to ask what made me such a complex personality.
In other words, I was another precocious teenager who wore her emerging individuality on the outside. I've toned down on the black nail polish, but I still cut my own hair (with varied results).
Right now in Iraq, teenagers just like I was are afraid for their lives. The media have dubbed the phenomenon 'Emo Deaths': young men who dress in emo fashion -- skinny jeans, black t-shirts, piercings -- are being targeted as homosexuals.
The Iraqi youths are simply expressing themselves as young people do around the world. But doing this in supposedly "free" Iraq can get you killed. Killed by being pushed off a building, by being shot dead, by being beaten with concrete blocks, there are many ways Iraqi youths are being murdered. Roby Hurriya has photos of his murdered Friend Saif Asmar and shows them to the press as he explains, "They laid him down on the pavement and smashed his head with a cement block." Lists are compiled and people are threatened. Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) notes, "Activists say one sign decorated with two handguns in Baghdad's Sadr City threatened 33 people by name, warning them to stop their 'dirty deeds' or face 'the wrath of God.' Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr issued an online statement calling emos "a lesion on the Muslim community," the Associated Press reported." And through it all, the government looks the other way. Who's doing the targeting? Karlos Zurutuza (IPS) reports:
Ruby points directly to the Mehdi militia - a former insurgent group led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Such crimes are being committed in complete impunity, says Ruby.
"Ours is a militia-run government," complains this young man on the run. "The only possible solution is that Western governments put pressure on Iraq to end this nightmare."
Dalal Jumma from the Organisation of Women's Freedom In Iraq concurs, and complains about the lack of a "mandatory separation between state and religion.
"The militias' letters hanging on the walls even accuse homosexuals or 'emo' followers of 'Satanism for participating in the martyrdom of Imam Hussein' – the Shia community leader killed in the Seventh century. How can we deal with such monstrosity?" says Jumma at the NGO's headquarters in Karrada district in southeast Baghdad.
IPS has had access to one of the letters allegedly found in Sadr City – it had a list of 33 individuals classified under their residence block numbers.
In a sign of how much effect the world attention to these attacks are having, Moqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement. Alsumaria TV reports that the cleric declared yesterday that the targeting of Iraqi youths did not "please God" and he denounced the attacks. On Saturday, you may remember, he issued a statement calling them the scourge of the earth. What changed in the last five days? The level of attention the issue is receiving around the world. Which includes Amnesty International issuing a statement today:
The Iraqi government should immediately investigate and bring to justice those responsible for a targeted campaign of intimidation and violence against young Iraqis seen as belonging to an "emo" subculture, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said today.
The attacks have created an atmosphere of terror among those who see themselves as potential victims.
A 22-year-old gay man in Baghdad told the international rights groups that anonymous callers made death threats on his phone on 11 March. The callers described a friend of his whom they had kidnapped and brutally beaten days earlier, saying that was how they got his number. They told him that he would be next. He has since cut his hair and does not leave his house for fear of being targeted. He said:
"When the news started spreading about emos, the threats and violence against gays increased. They are grouping us all together, anyone who is different in any way, and we are very easy targets."
The campaign's victims appear to represent a cross-section of people seen locally as non-conformists. They include people suspected of homosexual conduct, but also people with distinctive hairstyles, clothes, or musical taste. In English, "emo" is short for "emotional," referring to self-identified teens and young adults who listen to certain types of rock music, often dress in black, close-fitting clothes, and cut their hair in unconventional ways. People perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender or effeminate are particularly vulnerable.
In an official statement on 8 March, Iraq's Interior Ministry dismissed reports by local activists and media of a campaign against those seen as emos, saying the reports were "fabricated" and "groundless," and that it would take action against people who were trying "to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion." However, an official ministry statement on 13 February had characterised emo culture as "Satanist", casting doubt on the government's willingness to protect vulnerable youth, the international rights groups said.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
"At best the response of the Iraqi Interior Ministry is completely inadequate, at worst it condones the violence against emo youth. Iraqi authorities should unequivocally condemn the attacks, investigate any killings and protect anyone in danger."
There is more to the statement but let's stay on the topic of statements to jump over to Huffington Post where they post two paragraphs and maintain that's a statement from the State Dept. Those two paragraphs are part of the four paragraph statement we ran in yesterday's snapshot. Maybe we should have included the title to the statement? "U.S. Embassy Condemns Attacks on 'Emo' Youth In Iraq." Use the link, you'll be taken to the US Embassy in Baghdad's website. From the title alone, you should be able to grasp -- even if you write for the Huffington Post -- that this is a statement not from the State Dept but from the US Embassy in Baghdad. It's a real shame Huffington Post can't stick to the facts or even do a basic fact check. As we noted yesterday of Hillary's 'quote' in the statement -- she's not speaking of Iraqi youths, it's from a speech she gave at the start of December.
Huffin Puff also forgets to note that the State Dept has received billions this fiscal year (and are asking for billions for next fiscal year) because they are the leaders of the US mission in Iraq. Where's the leadership? Silence and cowardice from the top, all the way down. If the State Dept -- and that includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- can't publicly condemn these killings than they've just demonstrated that they are unable to lead any mission in Iraq and that no further monies should go to them for this purpose.
The State Dept provides no leadership on this or any other Iraq issue. Not only that, they offer no transparency. When the Pentagon was in charge, reports had to be issued, press conferences on Iraq held. Getting billions of dollars -- billions of US taxpayer dollars -- has increased the State Dept's budget, it has not increased their efforts to inform the public of how the taxpayer money is being spent in Iraq. There is no oversight. The American people are supposed to take it on blind faith that their dollars are being used wisely in Iraq -- no, that is not how a democracy works. In December, State officially took over the US mission in Iraq. Since that time, Hillary Clinton has not given one press briefing on Iraq. She has been able to avoid the topic and the issue. The American people should be getting regular updates on how the monies are being spent. But the Congress can't even get straight answers from the State Dept on that.
The Huffington Post has a poll, the question is: "Should the U.S. and/or other countries offer support to the LGBT people and 'emo' young adults of Iraq?" That's far too vague a question. A much simpler one would be: "Should the U.S. publicly condemn the attacks on the LGBT people and 'emo' young adults of Iraq?" It's disgusting that the State Dept and Hillary can't even issue a statement calling out these murders. It sends the wrong signals and it's disgusting.
Here's the opening of the statement issued by Human Rights Watch today:
The government of Iraq should immediately investigate and bring to justice those responsible for a targeted campaign of intimidation and violence against Iraqi youth seen as belonging to the non-conformist "emo" subculture, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said today. The attacks have created an atmosphere of terror among those who see themselves as potential victims.
On March 8, 2012, the Interior Ministry, in an official statement, dismissed reports by local activists and media of a campaign against those seen as emo. The ministry said the reports were "fabricated" and "groundless," and that it would take action against people who were trying "to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion." An official ministry statement, on February 13, that characterized emo culture as "Satanist" cast doubt on the government's willingness to protect vulnerable youth, the international rights groups said.
"The government has contributed to an atmosphere of fear and panic fostered by acts of violence against emos," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of claiming that the accounts are fabricated, Iraqi authorities need to set up a transparent and independent inquiry to address the crisis."
The campaign's victims appear to represent a cross-section of people seen locally as non-conformists. They include people suspected of homosexual conduct, but also people with distinctive hairstyles, clothes, or musical taste. In English, "emo" is short for "emotional," referring to self-identified teens and young adults who listen to alternative rock music, often dress in black, close-fitting clothes, and cut their hair in unconventional ways. People perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender, or effeminate are particularly vulnerable.
And State remains silent. I attend the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday thinking Iraq might come up (the topic was the naval fleet). It didn't. But let's note a section where accountability was expected and demanded. This is Ranking Member John McCain questioning the Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus and then between McCain and the Marines' General James Amos.
Senator John McCain: As you know, Mr. Secretary, the reason why Senator Webb, Senator Levin, I and others have been concerned about the issues of Guam is because the costs have escalated dramatically. At least in one area, from six billion to sixteen billion dollars. There has been slow progress with the Japanese. So we decided after Senator Levin, Senator Webb and other of us, that we needed some outside view. An independent view of this situation. We passed the Defense Authorization Bill in December. It's now been two-and-a-half months. How long does it take to let a contract -- to get an independent assessment, Mr. Secretary?
Secretary Raymond Mabus: Senator, since this contract is not under my purview, since I don't let this contract --
Senator John McCain: I see, it's somebody else's responsibility. Well I want to tell you for sure that until we get that independent assessment there should be no concrete plans made by the Secretary of Defense or the Defense Department until we have a chance to examine the assessment and then go through the authorization process or any expenditure of funds that need to be made in order to get this redeployment issue into some kind of sanity. Believe me, we acted -- as is our responsibility -- because of our intense frustration about the lack of progress on this issue. And now, two-and-a-half months go by they haven't even let a contract to get an independent assessment by the way. And we wanted it to be completed by the first of April, the end of March, which obviously cannot happen. I'm not going to let you continue to slow walk us on this issue. Just to put things in perspective, on the F35, again, we started the program in 2001, cost estimates for a couple of thousand aircraft, 2456 aircraft were going to be $238 billion. We've now had additional costs of $150 billion. A hundred fifty additional billion dollars in cost. Block IV, as I understand it, please correct me if I'm wrong, General Amos, Block IV, 32 aircraft which are approximately fifty-percent complete are not $500 million over original estimated costs. Are those figures wrong?
General James Amos: Senator, I can't say whether the figures are wrong or not. Uhm --
Senator John McCain: Do you know what the original costs were supposed to be, General?
General James Amos: Oh, I do. I was the --
Senator John McCain: Alright, was [cross-talk] Is that fact, is that fact wrong?
General James Amos: That fact is pretty close, sir.
Senator John McCain: And there's been an additional $150 million cost overrun. Is that fact true?
General James Amos: I'm -- I'm not -- I can't comment on that. I-I don't know.
Senator John McCain: You don't even know what the cost overrun has been?
General James Amos: Well, I-I, sir, this is not a single point in time. I've noticed the program grow, I've witnessed the technical baseline review last year --
Senator John McCain: Let me interrupt you again. Do you argue the fact that there's been a $150 billion additional costs of the aircraft since the original estimate of $238 billion?
General James Amos: Sir, I can't comment on that. I cen't tell you whether it's a hundred fifty billion dollars. I know it's significant.
Senator John McCain: So, for the record, you don't know how much the cost overrun has been for the F35?
General James Amos: Not precisely.
Senator John McCain: Roughtly? [silence] Do you know roughtly what the cost overrun has been? Sir, I'm assuming since --
General James Amos: No, I don't!
Senator John McCain: That's remarkable.
Do you think State could hold up under that kind of questioning about Iraq? I don't.
Do you know what a winning election theme is? There's no evidence that either major political party does currently but that is. McCain calling out waste. That's a winning strategy any election year but especially when programs -- needed programs -- are begin cut. When that happens, the electorate really isn't the mood for officials who don't think they have to answer to the American people on how the taxpayer money is spent. Having been told the Iraq War is over (it's not), the taxpayer really isn't prepared for the billions that are going to Iraq through the State Dept and that's before you get into the lack of transparency.
Were I Secretary of State, I would've gotten my head out of my ass long ago and scheduled weekly briefings on Iraq so the American taxpayer knew what was going on.
Earlier this month, the US government posted two positionsfor a US "AID Project Management Specialist (Economic Growth and Agriculture Office -- Baghdad)." Why is US AID going to Iraq?
Back in December, Hillary received loud applause for declaring, "Gay rights are human rights." Karen McVeigh (Guaridan) reported, "President Barack Obama has instructed officials to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid. In the first US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens abroad, a presidential memorandum issued on Tuesday instructs agencies to use foreign aid to promote such rights."
Pretty words. Did they have any weight? Did they have any meaning? Not to judge by the terrorizing of Iraq's gay and/or Emo population. Amnesty International notes:
While it is unclear who is behind the anti-emo campaign, Iraqi media reports have fuelled it by characterising what they call an "emerging emo phenomenon" as Satanists, vampires, immoral and un-Islamic. Some clerics and politicians have also contributed to the demonisation of young emos. The Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called them "crazy fools" and a "lesion on the Muslim community", though he also maintained that they should be dealt with "within the law."
Documents received by Amnesty, HRW and the IGLHRC indicate that in August 2011 Iraq's Education Ministry circulated a memo recommending that schools curb the spread of emo culture, which it called "an infiltrated phenomenon in our society."In its 13 February statement the Interior Ministry's indicating that it was seeking approval from the Education Ministry for "an integrated plan that would let them [police] enter all the schools in the capital." On 29 February the Interior Ministry released another statement announcing a campaign against emo culture in Baghdad, particularly in the Khadimiya neighborhood, where they identified one shop as selling "emo clothing and accessories."
After widespread media coverage of the violence and intimidation against emos, the Interior Ministry toned down its language in its 8 March statement. It warned against "radical and extremist groups attempting to stand as protectors for morals and religious traditions from any conduct against people based on a fashion, dress or haircut." The ministry denied that any emos had been killed and threatened "necessary legal actions against those who try to highlight this issue and build it out of proportion."
Meanwhile, on 14 March security forces in Baghdad detained the film crew of Russia Today's Arabic TV channel, Rusiya al-Yaum for three hours as they tried to film a segment related to the attacks on emos. Security forces confiscated their footage even though the channel had a permit to film in Baghdad. Meanwhile, a report by Al-Sharqiya TV on 7 March said that men in civilian clothes brutally beat two young women in public in al-Mansour district because of their "fashionable clothing."
On 15 March the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a non-profit organisation that provides legal assistance and safe passage to Iraqis facing severe persecution, told HRW that in the past week it had conducted interviews with 23 young Iraqis, most of whom had cut their hair short and were in hiding after receiving death threats and harassment because they were perceived to belong to the emo or LGBT communities. The interviewees also reported that ten others perceived to be in those communities had been killed since mid-February.
And still the White House and State Dept remaing silent. In December, Barack and Hillary had a lot of strong words, but their actions this month demonstrate that they were empty words, nothing more.
The actions of the media and organizations are having some impact. You can see it in the fear of foreign coverage and in the actions of the Ministry of Interior yesterday.
First up, Kitabat reports that Russia Today (RT) found itself detained in Baghdad when it attempted to report on the targeting of Emos. Ashraf al-Azzawi Ali Hussein (correspondent and cameraman) and Abdullah al Ashe (assistant cameraman) were filming and had been given permission to film when police approached them and confiscated their equipment and film, took them to police headquarters and detained them there for three hours. When they were released, they were told they could not film in downtown Baghdad.
Secondly, Alsumaria TV also reports that the Ministry of the Interior officially recognized the murders yesterday. Though various officials have talked about the murders, they have done so on background and the Ministry's official position has been that these attacks are not happening -- this despite their posting a statement to their website in February (only removed this week) calling for the elimination of the Iraqi Emo.
Dan Levin (The Cutting Edge) observes:
Killings have been reported by other methods and in other cities as well. Since national authorities are not recording the incidents as a special category, the total is not known. In recent days, members of Shi'ite militias, mainly in the Sadr City district, have circulated lists of names of people targeted for killings. The threats refer to "obscene males and females," understood to refer to both gays and "emos," an American teenage subculture of distinctive hairstyles and black clothes that has spread to Iraq. Hurriya says he believes at least 200 men have been killed in recent years either for being gay or appearing effeminate. During an interview at the Reuters bureau in central Baghdad, he opens a satchel and brings out a series of photographs of bludgeoned corpses of young men found on the streets of Baghdad. He has been documenting the killings and running a safe house for gay men. "We, as the gay community, are connected like string," he says. "We know if anything bad has happened to any of us."
The apparent spread of the violence in recent weeks to heterosexual youth who dress in emo style has caused panic among young Iraqis. Emo, a once-obscure genre of American "emotional" punk rock, became a mainstream subculture in the West in the past decade. In Iraq, it appeals to young people -- male and female -- hungry for self-expression in a conservative, often violent culture. Young Iraqis who call themselves emos typically wear long or spiky hair, tight jeans, T-shirts, silver chains, and items with skull logos. In recent days they have been rushing to barbers to get their hair cut. Shops selling clothing and jewelry with skulls and band logos have quickly taken down their emo displays. Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government may not be helping. The Interior Ministry last month released a statement that labeled the emo culture "Satanism." It said a special police force would stamp it out.
At the State Dept today, Victoria Nuland came off more like an EST counselor than a spokesperson, crying out, "All right, everybody. Let's go right to what's on your minds. Happy Friday." Sadly, nothing about Iraq's youths were on her mind or on the mind of the so-called press gathered to jot down her faux pearls of conventional wisdom. For any who've forgotten,
since this story developed two Mondays ago, there has been no State Dept press briefing where a spokesperson has brought up the issue of the targeting of Iraqi youth or where the press has raised the issue. Today was no different from the other days.
Well, except for the fact that Nuland accused the US Army of harboring terrorists, providing aid and comfort. It's not every day a State Dept spokesperson does that. From today's brieifing (link is transcript and video):
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the status of the MEK as a terrorist group?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the review is ongoing. Beyond going back to something that the Secretary said when she was on the Hill, I don't have anything new to say. I think the Secretary made clear that it is important to us in the context of looking at this review that the MEK vacate its last known terrorist camp in Ashraf and that that would be a factor in our decision if they were be able to do that.
QUESTION: What about the court order that is asking for a response from this building by, I believe, next Friday in response to some petition on – for action on petition to be removed from the list? Do you have anything on that?
MS. NULAND: I'm not aware of any next Friday deadline, Ros. If you have something on that, you can send it us.
MS. NULAND: But we are going to do this in a deliberative way.
QUESTION: Can I try -- you're going to get bombarded. I just want to make sure that you meant to say – you meant to call Camp Ashraf a terrorist camp.
MS. NULAND: I don't know what I meant to call it. Suffice it to say, that what the Secretary on the Hill is our statement of record on that subject.
QUESTION: Right, but do you – does the United States –
MS. NULAND: The closure of camp – sorry, it's main paramilitary base. Thank you, Matt. As the Secretary said, the closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK's FTO status. Thank you for cleaning up my language as usual, Matt.
So the US military provided aid and comfort to a terrorist camp according to Victoria Nuland. And Matthew Lee was correct, March 26th is the date the federal court has ordered the State Dept to offer their classification. If Victoria Nuland doesn't know that, that's rather sad.
The Associated Press reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani left the Mayo clinic on Wednesday and is scheduled to be back in Baghdad in time for the Arab Summit (March 29th). To review, on or around March 26th, Baghdad Airport International will be closed to all commercial traffic, no protests will be allowed on the day of the Summit, 100,000 security forces will be dispersed throughout Baghdad (leaving other areas prime targets for attacks), Baghdad will have spent over $86 million (in US dollars) on the summit and Al Sabaah reports all vehicles (including bicycles) will be banned for the Arab Summit.
Going to be hard to spin that as a success.
Question: If, for example, Basra, Samara, Najaf and Rutba all suffer attacks on March 29th, would the security forces in Baghdad be forced to disperse to those areas? And, if they did, wouldn't it be similar to the way attackers use one bombing to draw the security forces to the location only to present them with another bombing?
Wednesday Kitabat reported that the 28th and 29th would be declared a holiday. Today Al Mada reports that the Baghdad government is denying that there will be a holiday. (A holiday would allow the government to close down a number of facilities.) Speaking of holidays, Al Mada reports the Parliament wants to take 35 days off (holidays) this year.
We'll close with this from the Feminist Majority:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2012
Contact: Francesca Tarant, 703-522-2214, firstname.lastname@example.org
Feminist Majority and NOW Supports the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Attorneys representing the Roman Catholic Church and priests who have been charged in two Missouri sex abuse cases have filed a case in an effort to legally compel the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to disclose its records from the past twenty-three years. The documents requested include correspondences with victims, witnesses, police officers, and lawyers. SNAP, a network of survivors of religious sexual abuse and their supporters, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the case.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal adamantly spoke out against the outrageous attempts to intimidate SNAP and compel the release of its records: "The bishops are playing hardball with survivors of priest abuse, but the bishops are not playing hardball with priest predators. The Conference of Catholic Bishops needs to focus on stopping cleric sexual abuse and the hierarchy's cover-ups."
"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is at it again. In addition to playing a major role in the right-wing war on women, the all-male hierarchy of the Catholic Church is trying to silence an organization dedicated to helping women and men who have been victimized by clergy," said Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women.
In the past few months, David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, and SNAP have been subpoenaed five times and questioned extensively about SNAP's operations by defense attorneys, despite the fact that SNAP is not a party in the litigation. Since SNAP refused to respond to all of the questions in the deposition or submit all of the subpoenaed documents in Kansas City, the attorneys on behalf of Catholic officials and the accused priests have filed a motion, scheduled for April 20, in attempt to compel SNAP to comply. "The effort to gain SNAP's records threatens not only survivors of priest pedophilia but also could set a dangerous precedent for victim advocates in domestic violence or other rape cases," said Smeal. Ten victims' advocacy groups filed a supporting amicus brief for SNAP saying the subpoena in unconstitutional since it violates the rights of association and would harm victims.
SNAP criticized the court's efforts to "unseal" its private records in a statement: "Catholic officials are demanding thousands of pages of private records from child sex abuse victims and others. This has been called a 'fishing expedition.' But it's much worse than that. It's a cynical, shrewd legal maneuver to deter victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and others from exposing predators, protecting kids and seeking help from SNAP. And it threatens the long-standing privacy protections that almost all crime victims - not just child sex victims of predatory clerics' victims - have enjoyed for years."