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الخميس، 23 أكتوبر، 2014

Iraq snapshot Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Iraq snapshot Wednesday, October 22, 2014

THE COMMON ILLS
Wednesday, October 22, 2014. Chaos and violence continue, Blackwater employees get convicted, Iraqi Christians remain targeted, 'trend stories' continue, Iraqi Christians remain targeted, and more.
Blackwater is in the news again today and it's due to the infamous September 16, 2007 attack in September 16, 2007.  From the September 17, 2010 snapshot:
Turning to the issue of violence, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Sunday that  a Baghdad shooting (by private contractors) killed 9 Iraqi civilians and left fifteen more wounded. Later on Sunday, CNN reported, "In the Baghdad gun battle, which was between security forces and unidentified gunmen, eight people were killed and 14 wounded, most of them civilians, an Interior Ministry official said. Details were sketchy, but the official said witnesses told police that the security forces involved appeared to be Westerners driving sport utility vehicles, which are usually used by Western companies. The clash occurred near Nisoor square, in western Baghdad.  CBS and AP report that Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, announced "it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad," that "it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force" in the slaughter (eight dead, 13 wounded) and they "have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory."  

Blackwater was a US-based company run by Erik Prince which employed people as mercenaries.  They were sent around the world and within the United States.  But their actions in Iraq garnered the most attention.

The fallout from the September 2007 assault was so bad that Blackwater began a series of name changes. 

Today, the four Blackwater employees were convicted in a federal court.  Michael Winter (USA Today) reports, "Nicholas Slatten, who fired the first shots in crowded Nisoor Square, was found guilty of first-degree murder. The three other guards -- Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard -- were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations."  Eliott C. McLaughlin (CNN) notes, "Among those killed were a doctor, a used car salesman, a truck driver, a businessman, an Iraqi soldier, a gardener, a taxi driver and an aspiring doctor taking his mother to an appointment, according to prosecutors."

Dow Jones explains, "Mr. Slatten faces a life sentence for the murder charge while the three defendants convicted on manslaughter charges could face at least three decades in prison. The four defendants were largely motionless as the charges were read. Lawyers for Messrs. Heard and Liberty said they plan to appeal." AP adds, "One of the government witnesses in the case, Blackwater guard Jeremy Ridgeway, had pleaded guilty to killing the driver's mother, who died in the passenger seat of the white Kia next to her son."
 
The verdict came up in today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Iraq --

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and the last war? Four former workers for Blackwater were --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- convicted today, three of manslaughter, one of murder. What message does this send to those in Iraq, those across the greater Middle East, about the U.S. being able to hold people accountable for their bad behavior overseas?

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly respect the court’s decision in this case. And as you all probably know, but following the tragedy there, the Department took a number of steps to strengthen oversight of private security contractors, such as moving quickly to improve investigative policies and strengthening procedures for use of force and less-than-lethal force by security contractors. So again, aren’t going to have more comment on the court’s decision other than we respect it.

QUESTION: But in terms of the U.S.’s reputation, obviously, Nisour Square was a huge hit for the U.S.’s reputation. Is this verdict something that this building can point to when engaging with other countries on – look, if people do something wrong, they can and will be held accountable?


MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think the verdict per se, but the process and the judicial process we have in this country that we believe gives everyone access to a fair trial; they are innocent until proven guilty. And without speaking to the specific outcome in this trial, I do think that that is a very important tenet of what we do here.

QUESTION: Has anyone from this building spoken to anyone in the Iraqi Government about the verdict?

MS. HARF: I don’t know. I’m happy to check.
QUESTION: In the aftermath of that attack, the Iraqi parliament passed laws that limited the number of foreign PSDs that were allowed in Iraq and limited their weapons access, permits, all of that. Now that this verdict has come back, do you envision a scenario where the State Department could ask the Government of Iraq to loosen some of those restrictions?

MS. HARF: I can check, but obviously, it’s a very, very different situation today.

QUESTION: It is, but I mean, there are still all sorts of NGOs, journalists who need PSDs and weapons --

MS. HARF: Let me check.

 There was enough to convict without using questionable evidence.  Questionable evidence leads to rulings.  On appeal, any charge could be struck down.  Hopefully, the prosecution didn't cut corners or else the justice many feel was handed out today could be at risk of being pulled away.

It should also be noted that the four weren't rogue.

They were acting in a manner Blackwater encouraged, in a matter the US government encouraged.  

This is not to say the four are innocent or that they should have walked.

This is to note that the guilt didn't stop with the four convicted today.

Mark Ruffalo Tweeted:


  • It should also be pointed out that the government official being 'protected' in the attack remains a mystery.  

    His or her name or names should have been revealed long ago.

    And trend stories should have died long ago.  

    The media loves them -- loves them enough to create them.  

    Susan Faludi documents this very well in the journalistic classic Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.  

    One of the most famous examples in the book is Faludi taking on Newseek's 'trend story' about how women of a certain age were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married. The 'support' for that story? It was a comment a reporter made and that was enough to kick off a trend story -- a lie spread around the world.

    Faludi notes:

    The trend story, which may go down as late-20th-century journalism's prime contribution to the craft, professes to offer "news" of changing mores, yet prescribes more than it observes.  Claiming to mirror public sentiment, its reflections of the human landscapes are strangely depopulated.  Pretending to take the public's pulse, it monitors only its own heartbeat -- and its advertisers'. 
    Trend journalism attains authority not through actual reporting but through the power of repetition.  Said enough times, anything can be made to seem true.  A trend declared in one publication sets off a chain reaction, as the rest of the media scramble to get the story, too.  The lightning speed at which these messages spread has less to do with the accuracy of the trend than with journalists' propensity to repeat one another.  And repetition became especially hard to avoid in the '80s, as the "independent" press feel into a very few corporate hands.

    Husna Haq is the latest unable to resist the bait of 'ISIS recruits!'  To Haq's credit, there is no nonsense of trying to turn this into a 'young girls are joining IS!' nonsense we've already seen.

    But this paragraph in the Christian Science Monitor article gets at all that is wrong with these 'trend stories:'

    According to CIA estimates, about 2,000 Westerners have traveled to Iraq and Syria (many via Turkey) to join ISIS. Of these, more than 100 have come from the US, at least 500 from the UK, and more than 700 from France, according to estimates from authorities in those countries.


    Oh my goodness!

    100 Americans!

    That's like a tenth of the country!

    Because we only have 1,000 people in the whole country, right?


    No, there are 316.1 million people in the United States.  

    So that's 316,100,000 people and of that huge number 100 have joined the Islamic State.

    Are you getting how useless these stories have been?

    There is no trend story here.

    And with the numbers so small you really could profile everyone in a report.

    But it might not carry the alarm and create the frenzy trend stories live to do.


    Even worse, she and her dopey guests pretended that the Islamic State thickens its media as a result of a social media.

    No.

    They may get a message out via media but what has thickened their membership is attacks on the Sunni population -- in Iraq, where they are the minority, and in Syria, where they are the majority.

    Stop the persecution of the Sunnis and you end the need for anyone to get behind a group that argues it can protect the Sunni population.

    It's an obvious point so many miss.  Take the State Dept's Brett McGurk.



    That's not addressing anything.  Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth points out:

  • More US military advisers won't help  defeat ISIS until Baghdad reins in Shia militia still killing Sunnis. 



  • Meanwhile, religious minorities remain under attack in Iraq.


     Crowdfunding campaign aims to raise $1 million for Iraqi Christians 
    0 replies 24 retweets 17 favorites


    The crowdfunding campaign will run from Oct. 14-Nov. 24, and can be found on Indiegogo, which is one of the largest crowdfunding platforms in the world. Almost $5,000 of the $1 million goal has been raised so far.

    “We invite all of our brothers and sisters in Christ to join us and contribute, from as little as $10, to the crowdfunding campaign that we have initiated,” stated Eduardo Paz, co-founder of La Filotea Productions.

    How bad are things?  Ghassan Rifi (Al-Monitor) speaks with Ghattas Hazim, the Greek Orthodox Bishop for Bahgdad:

    Hazim revealed shocking figures to As-Safir about the Orthodox presence in Iraq. He said only 30 families out of 600 remain in Baghdad; the rest were displaced following the invasion of Kuwait, and there are fewer than 10 families left in Mosul.
    In Iraq’s Basra, all the Orthodox families have been displaced after members of the families were killed or threatened. Indeed, over 90% of the Orthodox Christians in Iraq have been displaced due to the security chaos which has prevailed over the country for the past generation. Hazim hopes that Erbil, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, would be a haven for Christians since it looked like a promising region due to the size of the economic and trade investment, and since it “welcomes our sons who move there from all over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” Hazim said.
    “The Orthodox confession is recognized in the Iraqi law and constitution,” Hazim said. “Our situation there is similar to our situation in Lebanon and Syria. We have two churches, a school, which is considered one of the most prominent schools in Baghdad, in addition to a retirement home and an orphanage, a center for sports, cultural and educational activities.”
     
    Iraq's Christians are targeted from all over -- including from within their own ranks.  Roxana Popescu (San Diego Union Tribune) reports:

    San Diego Chaldeans are pushing back against the suspension of a local priest by Chaldean patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako in Baghdad. The priest, Noel Gorgis, was reprimanded for not returning to Iraq as commanded by the patriarch, months after the majority of Iraq’s Christians fled because of the brutal religious persecution they faced by terror group Islamic State.
    The patriarch reminded the priests and monks in his decree of their vow of “obedience to the superiors” without reservations.

    And it's not just one priest.  Megan Burks (KPBS) reports:

    Just 14 priests serve the tens of thousands of Chaldean Catholics who have emigrated from Iraq to the Western United States. A church leader in Iraq has suspended seven of those priests, including the Rev. Noel Gorgis in El Cajon. 
    Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the head of the church, wants the Iraqi-American priests who fled violence in Iraq to return home or leave the church. 
    San Diego County Chaldeans oppose that and say they will appeal to the Vatican to stop it..

    Finally, the Ashraf community in Iraq remains targeted.  The Iranian dissidents take their name from Camp Ashraf which was their home for many years.  They were forced to resettle at Camp Liberty.  Today, US Senator John McCain's office issued the following:

    Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to raise concerns about the residents of Camp Liberty, whose lives are increasingly at risk as the security situation in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, continues to deteriorate.

    “I am writing you to follow-up on the response I received in August to my previous letter concerning the ongoing refugee resettlement process and to discuss my continuing concerns about the residents of Camp Liberty,” writes Senator John McCain. “As you are aware, due to the increasingly dangerous threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the resettlement process has stalled, and many fear that the people at Camp Liberty could be at grave risk if the security situation in Iraq, and especially in Baghdad, continues to deteriorate. For this reason, the Administration must move more quickly to find safe, permanent, and secure locations for Camp Liberty residents outside Iraq. I was encouraged to hear about Albania’s willingness to temporarily host some Camp Liberty residents for purposes of identifying individuals for relocation to the United States. But, I fear that this effort is insufficient to adequately safeguard the security of the remaining residents of Camp Liberty. … Again, I urge you to continue to push for the protection of the residents of Camp Liberty and to expedite the refugee resettlement process. We made a commitment to protect these Iranian dissidents and, as we move forward, I look forward to working with you to fulfill this commitment.”


    The signed letter is here and the text of the letter is below.

    October 22, 2014
    The Honorable John Kerry
    Secretary of State
    United States Department of State
    2201 C Street N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20520
    Dear Secretary Kerry,
    I am writing you to follow-up on the response I received in August to my previous letter concerning the ongoing refugee resettlement process and to discuss my continuing concerns about the residents of Camp Liberty.
    As you are aware, due to the increasingly dangerous threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the resettlement process has stalled, and many fear that the people at Camp Liberty could be at grave risk if the security situation in Iraq, and especially in Baghdad, continues to deteriorate. For this reason, the Administration must move more quickly to find safe, permanent, and secure locations for Camp Liberty residents outside Iraq. I was encouraged to hear about Albania’s willingness to temporarily host some Camp Liberty residents for purposes of identifying individuals for relocation to the United States.  But, I fear that this effort is insufficient to adequately safeguard the security of the remaining residents of Camp Liberty.
    Given deteriorating conditions in Iraq, I believe our current efforts should focus on the 2,700 residents whose lives are at stake in Camp Liberty. Some recent events call into question the Iraqi government’s commitment to uphold its agreements to ensure the safety and well-being of these residents. In August 2014, the National Council of the Resistance of Iran accused the Iraqi government of blocking deliveries of food, fuel, and water to the Camp and making it difficult for residents to seek medical assistance.  And according to statement made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Iraqi Minister of Justice stated that if Iran asked for the extradition of the residents of Camp Liberty, Iraq would deliver them.  As you know, transfer to Iran could amount to a death sentence for these committed opponents of the tyrannical regime in Tehran, which has repeatedly attacked and murdered them inside of Iraq, as recently as last year. This is especially troubling in light of the appointment of Interior Minister Mohamed al-Ghabban, who has ties with Shiite militia groups that are openly hostile to residents of Camp Liberty and loyal to Iran.
    Clearly, actions need to be taken to ensure the continued safety of the residents of Camp Liberty. With this in mind, I appreciate your responding promptly to the following questions:
    1.         The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and U.S. Embassy Baghdad staff have resumed their visits to Camp Liberty. Since they have resumed their visits, has there been any concern about the living conditions at Camp Liberty?  Please explain your answer.
    2.         Has the Administration investigated allegations that the Iraqi government has placed harmful restrictions on Camp Liberty and is denying its residents food, water, and medical aid?  If so, please explain the Administration’s findings.  If not, why not?
    3.         If the violence in Iraq continues to escalate, what further actions will be taken to ensure the safety of the residents?
    4.         What actions are being taken to ensure that the residents will continue to have access to food, water, and the basic necessities?
    5.         What is the current status of the refugee resettlement process for the residents of Camp Liberty and when will it be completed?
    6.         Does the Administration require renunciation of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) as a pre-condition before an individual may be considered for resettlement in the United States?
    7.         What is the status of U.S. efforts to settle some of the Camp Liberty residents in the United States?
    Again, I urge you to continue to push for the protection of the residents of Camp Liberty and to expedite the refugee resettlement process. We made a commitment to protect these Iranian dissidents and, as we move forward, I look forward to working with you to fulfill this commitment.
    Sincerely,
    John McCain
    United States Senator
    ###

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