Iraq snapshot - April 11, 2012
The Common Ills
Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Chaos and violence continues, Iraq's LGBT community gets some attention, Martin Kobler talks about Camp Ashraf, did two bodyguards of Tareq al-Hashemi die, and more.
As pointed out in yesterday's snapshot, Omar Ali (Liberation) notes A.N.S.W.E.R.'s San Francisco chapter held a teach-in the afternoon of March 25th at the First Unitarian Chuch on Franklin. The topic of the teach-in was the Iraq War. Speakers included Dr. Jess Ghannam, Nazila Bargshady, Dr. Henry Clark, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Richard Becker and Gloria La Riva. Ali notes, "The teach-in was well attended by progressives from many different movements and communities. The diversity of the attendees demonstrates the sense of unity of different strata of the working class of this country in opposition to the war against the Iraqi masses.
We included some of Iraq War veteran and March Forward co-founder Mike Prysner's speech in yesterday's snapshot. A number of e-mails state that the video with Omar Ali streams visually but there's no audio. I didn't know that. I was using my own notes of Mike's speech. Since there are problems with the stream, we'll note some more of his speech (I didn't take notes during the other speeches)
Mike Prysner: Families would come to us whose children had been killed, whose children's limbs had been blown off, who came to us begging for some kind of monetary compensation because they were left with absolutely nothing. I saw literally thousands of detainees who did absolutely nothing except be a military age male who happened to live in a village that was picked at random to be raided one night and who was brought into detention facilities to be tortured and humiliated. You know, for me personally, as I said earlier, I wanted to go to this war. I believed very much in it. I believed very much in the military and our country. But all of the lies and indoctrination that we were being fed couldn't match reality because I had other teachers beyond the president and the military commanders and those were the Iraqi people. And there are several people who will always be burned in my memory, they're the ones who taught me the truth and taught me which side I was on. It was men who were urinating themselves, pleading through sandbags on their heads in detention facilities. It was a father who was shot through the neck and as he was dying saying over and over, "I just want to see my family, I just want to see my family." And the number one person, the one that really did it for me was -- I have a little sister who's now 18 so she was about 8 at the time I deployed. I got her name tattooed on my arm before I -- before I left. Her name's Rachel. And we were ordered at this one point to kick these families out of their home for whatever reason. And there was this 8-year-old girl who looked exactly like my sister and it was my job to drag her out of her house as she was crying, as her parents were crying, as her siblings were crying, arrest the males in her family, put them on a truck and send them to those detention facilities. And I couldn't stop looking at her face because it was my sister's face. And I realized that this girl was exactly like my sister, that man who was shot was exactly like my father and that these people were just like my family. And so what happened was, I couldn't stop seeing that everything that we were doing to the Iraqi people, I was doing to my own family. Because they are our family, they're our brothers and sisters. And so this was the breaking point for myself and so many others. And the daily violence, the daily abuse, the daily humiliation all by an unwanted foreign invader, led to a widespread popular uprising against the occupation. And no rank-in-file soldier who has been to Iraq can say that they don't understand why the Iraqi people stood up and fought back. In fact, that's the main factor why the majority of US troops ended up opposing the war: Because it was clear that the resistance of the Iraqi people was justified. But the US government had a plan for the popular rebellion too. They used the tactics of divide and conquer and shredded a once united country. And in it's wake, they left a country completely destroyed. And it's difficult to overstate the level of suffering and destruction that the Iraqi people now deal with. And anyone believing the lie that the war in Iraq was somehow out of care for the Iraq people, one just has to look to the wave of the war within the US military to see how true that is, to see how much this government cares about its own soldiers -- let alone Iraqis. Today, in the wake of the Iraq War, there's an epidemic of suicides in the US military -- where, for the past three years more active-duty soldiers are killing themselves than are being killed in combat. This is a staggering, shocking number. Thousands already have been abandoned and left to die alone with the guilt and trauma of what they've been sent to do, hundreds of thousands of families thrown into chaos by loved ones they no longer recognize. Suicide and suicide attempts are at such a staggering record breaking rate, they can only call it an emergency situation. You can only call it a crisis that this government has refused to respond to in any meaningful way. I've traveled to different bases that have high rates of suicides and the numbers are staggering. Among veterans there's 950 suicide attempts a month. But when you see these peoples' faces -- I mean, I met people who jumped out of their window in the middle of the night because they heard voices speaking in Arabic every time they turned the lights off. I've met people who can't eat because they can't hold their utensils because they shake so bad. And these same people, when the go to the doctors in the army and say "I need help," they're told that they're fine and that they have to go on other deployments. And they can go a million times a day to every doctor, every chaplain, every leader that they have in their chain of command and they'll be told the same thing. It will always be written into the history of this war that during this time the US government allowed a wave of preventable suicides through it's US military and did absolutely nothing to stop it but not only did nothing to stop it but actively tried to deny soldiers their access to treatment, to deny them compensation. This is what they're doing now as they try to save precious tax dollars -- you know the same people who spared no expense writing blank checks for new weapons systems. And of course if you can witness the truly shocking, devestating effects of the war on US troops, one can only imagine the level of psychological trauma experienced by Iraq's entire population who didn't do just one tour or two tours but lived 20 years under constant bombing and nine years of brutal occupation. None will bear the scars of the war deeper than the Iraqi people.
The Iraqi people have suffered and the suffering continues to this day. In many ways, that's due to the fact that the US government refused to utilize trained people and instead put thugs in power to scare the people with the hopes that a scared people couldn't fight back against the empire. The thugs get bored and consumed with their self-hatred so they lash out at others. Sometimes it's women, sometimes it's Christians, sometimes it's the LGBT community, sometimes it's . . . Anyone who isn't in the thug class is at risk of targeting in Iraq. Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project has released a video on being gay in Iraq which the Huffington Post has posted to their site. There is no closed caption but here's a transcript of the video.
Ahmed's Story: Surviving Persecution Against LGBT in Iraq
War and sectarian violence in Iraq forced thousands to flee for their lives and seek refuge elsewhere.
These people are stranded, unable to return to Iraq without risking their lives.
Ahmed had to flee Iraq as after the war intolerance towards homosexuality increased.
Neighboring countries fail to provide adequate protection to the growing number of refugees in Ahmed's situation.
For the safety of Ahmed and his family, identities have been concealed.
Ahmed: I was studying medicine in Baghdad University but after the war everybody starts to express every hatred he has. I don't support Saddam [Hussein -- ruler the US overthrew with the Iraq War] and I don't like him but at least there was law somehow. Sadly, my ex-boyfriend that I met four years ago and I was devoted to him for four years, I gave him my life, I gave him everything. He was the first boyfriend for me. He lost his job and he started to ask me for money, okay? Immediately, I started to give him, I give him everything I have. But then he started to ask for more and more. I told him, "My love, I cannot any more because my parents are suspecting. You know, I may lose my parents. He said, "I don't care about your parents." I had a lot of private pictures between me and him. He said, "You remember the photos we had?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Imagine that I will send the CDs to your uncles." I said, "No, you're joking." One day my sister called me. She said, "You have to flee Baghdad now. I have just received a call." She said that six of my uncles -- I have eight uncles -- they received a small envelope under the main gates of their houses. A letter was written with the CD: "Your son is one of Baghdad's biggest gay bitches." They made a meeting, those uncles, and they decided they want to make an 'honor' killing. And they want to shoot me in front of people. I said, "Are they serious?" She said, "Sure they are serious. You have to flee now. I prefer that you live in a far place rather than seeing your name on a rock on a grave." I said, "Do you hate me?" She said, "No, no. Just please, for God's sake, you have to flee."
Ahmed was able to escape to a neighbouring country, where he joined other family members.
Ahmed: I had a kind of stable, calm life. You know, I lived with my mom and dad, they loved me so much. I have my own friends and I had a boyfriend there.There was a small shop called Sense for perfumes and I liked some of their perfumes. I went there and I am paying. At that moment, I felt a hand is grabbing my hair and two hands grabbing and pulling my hands. I looked at them. I was shocked. The religious police. They say, "You're a f**. Is that how a man has to look like?" Then we went to the high court. The judge, he said, "You know, you are accused for being a homosexual. I want to tell you something, you don't deserve to live and you are a shame for your family, for the Iraqi nation, or for the Muslim nation. God, he took a lot of time. More than you deserve." In that jail, a police man entered. He said, "I know your story and I feel sorry for you." I was so happy. I said, "At last there is a good guy here." He said, "I want you to stand up." I said, "Okay." I stood up. He said, "I want to make sure. Are you really f**got?" Then he said, "Yeah, it seems that you are." Okay, then he tried with me. I refused. I refused. I refused. I clenched and clenched and spass-ed my muscles so as he won't be able to rape me fully. He was so mad. And he said, "You bitch. I will turn your days to hell in this jail.
Ahmed's parents were able to get him a conditional release from jail, prior to his trial.
They then contacted IRAP.
With the help of the Iraqi Refugees Assistance Project, Ahmed is now living safely and openly in the United States.
In Iraq, however, violence against the LGBT community is resurging.
Support the work of IRAP and help others like Ahmed.
Visit RefugeeRights.org to donate.
Imagine living in Iraq today and being gay (or just being thought to be gay). Huffington Post notes, "As Reuters reports, 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, since the start of this year."
Near the start of last month, Trudy Ring (SheWired) reported:
A recent wave of violence in Iraq has resulted in the kidnapping, torture, and killing of about 40 people perceived to be gay or lesbian, with the murder weapon sometimes being a concrete block to the head.
The killings began in early February after an unidentified group put up posters with death threats against "adulterous individuals" in largely Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and Basra, reports the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The threats listed the targets' names and ages, and gave them four days to change their behavior or face divine retribution.
Some of the murders have been carried out by smashing the victims' skulls with concrete blocks or pushing them off roofs of tall buildings, says a report from two other groups, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and Iraqi LGBT.
Again, imagine living in Iraq today and being gay (or just being thought to be gay). And, yes, it was better for Iraq's LGBT community under Saddam Hussein. As it was for Christians and for women and for minority groups in general.
Of course, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared last month, "To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say -- you are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to uphold."
What pretty words. What a shame his Special Envoy to Iraq spits on those words, betrays Iraq's LGBT community, stays silent as they're targeted and killed, ignores the persecution.
As we noted yesterday, the Special Envoy Martin Kobler appeared Tuesday before the United Nations Security Council where he yammered away for approximately 20 minutes and also handed in a written report/statement which was 17 pages long. Though he was supposedly concerned about violence and targeted groups and though he made his focus the first three months of the year, he couldn't bring himself to mention the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community. He could talk about the so-called 'honor' killings but not in relation to gay men or lesbians. Ban Ki-moon assured the world's LGBT community just last month that they were not alone. Just yesterday, his Special Envoy to Iraq, made clear that, in fact, Iraq's LGBTs are very much alone. Martin Kobler made very clear that the United Nations, as represented by him in Iraq, will gladly and always look the other way while thugs go on killing sprees. One of the slogan of the United Nations is, "It's your world." But apparently that doesn't apply for LGBTs. Someone with the UN to address whether Ban Ki-moon was lying or if Martin Kobler just doesn't understand how offensive what he did yesterday was?
Also smelling up the room was US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice who didn't say a word about the exclusion and silence despite the fact that she presided over the Security Council hearing. The White House is aware, see this White House announcement, that this is LGBT Pride Month. But Barack mouths a lot of pretty words he apparently doesn't mean. This was made clear today when the White House announced they would not issue an executive order barring discrimination against LGBTs on the part of contractors awarded State Dept or Defense Dept contracts. Byron Tau (POLITICO) reports:
Obama is under pressure from some gay activists to endorse same-sex marriage -- and his refusal to address discrimination through executive order is unlikely to help him among those in the community who are hoping for a more forceful stance on equality from the White House.
"I don't know if the White House is politically homophobic, actually homophobic, or just afraid of doing anything that might risk some attention," Heather Cronk, the managing director of GetEQUAL.
"He's not going to have hoards of gay folks running over and voting for Romney," Cronk said, admitting that Obama stands little chance of losing votes to Republicans over the issue. "The problem [is] that the White House is making a calculation."
And making it clear that they aren't that 'gay friendly,' let alone the fierce advocate for gay rights Michelle used to insist Barack was.
As shameful as Kobler's silence on the targeting of Iraq's LGBTs is the Iranian press' refusal to be honest about what happened yesterday in the hearing. Fars News Agency and the Islamic Republic News Agency are among the outlets focusing on remarks read out loud by Iraq's Ambassador to the UN Hamid al-Bayati while ignoring Kobler's remarks. al-Bayati can demand that the Iranian dissidents who have been housed in Iraq since 1986 leave and imply that this is the case and he can state that the government of Iraq cannot keep these MEK in Iraq. That's in contrast to remarks made by Kobler who stated that Iraq may have to learn to be flexible with regards to the departure of the MEK. Only the Iranian press even seemed to care about the issue, this despite it being a signficant especially with regards to the US government which gave the dissidents of Camp Ashraf protected persons status under the Geneva coventions. We're going to include Kobler's full remarks on Camp Ashraf since they've been ignored near completely by the press.
UN Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler: Madam President, a year ago on 8th of April 2011, the tragic incidents in Camp Ashraf led to the death of dozens of Camp Ashraf residents and hundreds injured. In an effort to reach a peaceful and durable solution, UNAMI and the government of Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding on 25th of December 2011. The government of Iraq agreed to extend the deadline for the closure of the camp. From mid-February until now, almost 1,200 residents of Camp New Iraq were safely relocated to the temporary transient location in Camp Hurriyah, near Baghdad. UN monitors are deployed to monitor both the relocation and the situation in Camp Hurriyah around the clock. The UNHCR has a team at Camp Hurriyah to carry out the verfication and the ajudication. I wish to make it clear that this memorandum of understanding concerns voluntary relocation and its implementation is based firmly on all sides acting peacefully and in good faith. It should be noted that on 8th of April an incident took place at Camp Iraq during the prepartion for the fourth transfer of residents. A confrontation developed. UN monitors now report that the situation has returned to calm. Both sides have no resumed cooperation in preparation for the next trasfer. I would love to have reported that another 400 group of residents have moved to Camp Hurriyah. These incidents have momentarily interrupted the relocation but as we speak, UN monitors are at Camp Hurriyah and in Camp Liberty -- in Camp New Iraq and, I'm pleased to report, that the next 400 residents will move immediately once the loading of personal belongings is completed. This is a sign of good will of the residents. And I will continue to be actively engaged that an understanding is reached on the remaining issues. With this move, half of the residents of Camp New Iraq will have been relocated to Camp Hurriyah. I would like to take this opportunity to make the following four remarks. First, I would like to commend the Iraqi authorities, particularly Prime Minister al-Maliki for his advisers and the commanding general and the many Iraqi police men and the Iraqi army for their patience and cooperation in ensuring the safe and secure relocation of the first three groups of the residents. I encourage them to pursue the relocation of the remaining residents in a manner that guarantees the residents human rights, safety and security. And avoid everything which can be seen as provocative. We will do everything possible to assist the government of Iraq to relocate the remaining residents. There are, however, still major obstacles ahead which might require flexability on the deadline. Second, I would also like to highlight that the Camp residents, despite initial difficulties, have shown goodwill and cooperation recently in the relocation process. The residents have indeed come a long way. It is difficult to abandon a place where one has lived for more than two decades. And I do encourage the residents to continue to show good will and continue to work in a cooperative spirit. Third, and most importantly, I reiterate my call to member states to accept the residents. Now that the UNHCR has begun its work, it is high time for the international community to accept eligable candidates and fund the relocation process. The support of the international community is urgently needed. I welcome the joint UNHCR - UNAMI resettlement conference which took place last month on March 23rd. More than 30 member-states participated; however, no country has committed to accept residents. A donors appeal meeting also took place the same day seeking to raise $39 million US dollars fund for the Ashraf Project. Only one member-state made a concrete pledge and this falls far behind what we had hoped. Without international support, the process cannot succeed. Last, but not least, I would like to thank my colleagues in UNAMI, UNHCR and the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights for the hard work and support. The Ashraf file placed a heavy burden on the mission. I could count on the support of most of my colleagues. My admiration goes to the monitoring staff at Camp Hurriyah and the UNHCR staff in particular -- those who accompanied the convoys under truly dangerous conditions. As stated by the Secretary-General in his report the process is still fragile and incidents of violence cannot be excluded. We must, therefore, remain vigilant.
Again, Kobler speaking to the UN Security Council yesterday.
On the hearing, AP, Trend News Agency, Antiwar.com (Margaret Griffis) rushed to tell you that Special Envoy Martin Kobler declared 613 Iraqis were killed in the first three months of the year. Those are not UN numbers, the United Nations doesn't keep its own count. Those are the official numbers from the Iraqi government. For a more reliable and independt The independent Iraq Body Count has a different number. IBC says 295 civilians died in March, 278 in February and 458 in January. That's 1031. That's over 400 more than what Kobler offered. (418 more, check my math -- always.) If you're going to run with a number Kobler gave, it's probaby a good idea to provide another number so that readers can compare and contrast.
The press also missed that Kobler states the ongoing political crisis is resulting in violence.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler: [. . .] the tensions that have arisen between the main party blocs in Iraq which have developed into a political impasse. I have therefore Iraqi political parties and leaders to work together in the spirit of partnership towards finding common ground that will resolve their differences. In this regard, Iraqiya's decision to end its boycott of the Council of Ministers and Council of Representatives was the right step. President [Jalal] Talabani suggested holding a National Conference as a way forward to bring about an end to the stalemate. Unfortunately, until today, there was no agreement on the agenda. An inclusive forum is needed, however, as a first step to end the political impasse. I call on all Iraqi leaders to sit together to address all their differences in a meaningful way. UNAMI stands ready to continue supporting these efforts. [. . .] I'm concerned that Iraq's political situation is heightening communal tensions in the country and leading to an increase in the number of attacks on civilians.
Not only was Kobler's remarks on the political crisis ignored so were those by US Ambassador to Iraq Susan Rice in her press briefing (mainly on Syria, she dismissed the topic of Iraq quickly) who noted Martin Kobler had spoken of the political crisis, "SRSG Kobler and Council members noted the importance for Iraq to resolve political differences and to address the concerns of all political blocs in an inclusive forum."
On the topic of violence, Reuters reports that Diyala Province saw multiple home bombings today in an organized attack by unknown assailants which left 5 people dead and another six injured.
Meanwhile the day started with confusion and ends that way. This morning BBC News and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) were among those reporting that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi stated two more of his bodyguards had died in the custody of Nouri's security forces. In a later report, Yacoub notes that Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council is maintaining there have not been any deaths. Al Rafidayn was reporting the denial several hours prior to AP. They also note that al-Hashemi is calling for Parliament to investigate. Someone needs to and doesn't appear that the press did since the story is no more clearer this evening than it was this morning.
In the US, peace activist Cindy Sheehan refuses to pay her taxes as a protest against empire and the perpetual war. As a result of her activism, the US government now wants to take her to court. She notes:
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Green Party of Michigan
April 11, 2012
For More Information, Contact:
Media Coordinator: Jennifer La Pietra (508)280-1360
Green Party of Michigan Concerned About Consent Agreement
(Detroit) - On April 4th, the Detroit City Council approved a consent agreement by a vote of 5-4. The close vote emphasizes the controversial nature of the final agreement, its measures clearly unfair to citizens of Detroit, and especially union workers.
The Green Party of Michigan has long supported unions and works to assure that the people's voice is heard in government, encouraging groups which are in line with our stated goals. John Anthony La Pietra, Platform Committee Chair explains: "We endorse the sharp criticisms of the consent agreement expressed on Monday in a letter to City Council members by Concerned Citizens for Democracy. The Green Party of Michigan believes in grassroots democracy as one of its key values -- that's why we oppose the anti-democratic power grabs of Public Act 4 and this coercive contract on Detroit."
One of the most unsettling of the measures include the ability of the city to void contracts, which could prove detrimental to the unions which are the heart of many of Detroit's industries, clearly a measure not desired by the numerous union workers in the city. The agreement also calls for the city to slash costs, unfortunately, with no assistance from the state. While re-examining expenditures and emphasizing efficiency is important for recovery on any level, cuts called for by this agreement will have to be made by the average struggling citizen.
The threatened alternative of an emergency manager could be even worse than a consent agreement, so a well-reasoned consent agreement which places more power in the hands of the citizens it affects would pave a road to recovery. For weeks, Detroit's residents watched press releases anxiously, hoping that the unjust Emergency Manager Law would not be implemented in their city as has been the case in surrounding communities. However, as the debts continued to mount, a record-making financial collapse began to seem disturbingly possible. And without adequate financial support, the consent agreement could slide down the slippery slope and put the city under an emergency manager anyway.
What makes this consent agreement worrisome is the similarity between the emergency manager and the appointed "financial advisory board" (along with other bureaucrats appointed by the mayor). Even though the consent agreement states explicitly that its goal is to improve finances while maintaining a safe, secure environment, maintaining public services and attracting business, the financial advisory board's main goal is improving finances. Maintaining, or especially growing, a city requires an influx of funds - not a reduction. The consent agreement is self-defeating.
A city in such financial straits undoubtedly needs a boost to get it started down the path to financial solvency. The expectation that Detroit will be able to live under the strict budgetary constraints and pay down its debts at the same time seems unreasonable. Flint's emergency manager realized the same of his situation as he prepared a budget proposal for the city. It included a request for $20 million in bonds backed by the state. Detroit leaders should have insisted on a similar commitment.
The timing of the back and forth agreement authorship between Governor Snyder and Mayor Bing is far from coincidental. This consent agreement could not have come too quickly for the governor as a successful petition drive is very near to making the implementation of an Emergency Manager a moot threat. Even despite a feeble challenge to the type size on the petition, there is every likelihood that it will pass. If it does, the Emergency Manager Law will be suspended until Michiganders can vote on it. The governor undoubtedly knows that support for his law is very slim, so he is using it while he can.
Art Myatt, Green Party of Michigan Vice-Chair, sums up the reasons why the consent agreement isn't in the city's best interest: "It looks to service the city's budget at the expense of the city's people and the city's employees, and to preclude the possibility of the affected population interfering with the process by way of local elections."