Friday, February 1, 2013

Oh, Winslow

Winslow T. Wheeler writes "The Hagel Hearing" for CounterPunch.

He was at the never-ending hearing and that is all he has to say.

He did not seem to know anything about the hearing at all.

For example, he wrote, "Several Democrats seem mostly interested in protecting themselves from being seen as too cozy with Hagel because of his previous statements about Israel, its issues and its lobby (eg. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.), and others seemed mostly concerned about pork (eg. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.)."

Really?  I wrote "Applause for Senator Blumenthal" last night. I reported on Blumenthal.  He talked about assault and rape in the military.

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I would like the same kind of commitment that you've expressed very persuasively on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the issue of sexual assaults.  This issue bedevils the military.  I don't know whether you've seen an excellent documentary entitled The Invisible War?

Chuck Hagel:  Yes.

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I know you're familiar with this issue.  I commend you for what you've said to me privately.  And I would ask that your commitment not only to the prosecution and holding accountable people who are involved in this criminal conduct but also to the victims so that they receive the kind of services that in the civilian world, many of them do through victims' advocates in the courts and similar kinds of roles played.  So both to prosecution -- vigorous, zealous -- but also to protection of the victims, can you commit to that?

Chuck Hagel:  Absolutely, I'll commit to that.
That is pork?

Or the writer just did not know what he was talking about?

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Friday, February 1, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests take place across Iraq, flooding continues, more families are being displaced as a result of the flooding, and more.

Protests took place throughout Iraq today with Al Mada reporting the numbers participating significantly rose from last week.  Hurriyet also observes, "The turnout appeared to be among the largest since the protests began in December."   Sofia News Agency reports, "In Adhamiyah, a mostly Sunni neighbourhood of north Baghdad, several hundred demonstrators resumed their weekly protest under heavy security measures at the Abu Hanifa mosque, calling for the release of prisoners they say are being wrongfully held."  Alsumaria reports Falluja saw tens of thousands turn out today and they took to the international highway (that connects Baghdad to Jordan) as The Voice of Russia notes. Today Reuters notes the protesters in Falluja chanted "NO" to Nouri al-Maliki.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) explains,  "The main rallies Friday took place in Fallujah and Ramadi, cities that straddle the highway running through Anbar province."  For a photo of thousands and thousands of occupying the highway in Falluja -- and the areas around the highway -- click on this Alsumaria pageClick here for a photo of the Falluja protest taken byThaier al-Sudani (Reuters).   And AFP's Prashant Rao provides links to more photos.

Pictures of Iraq's anti-government protests in Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk by photographers:

Pictures of anti-government demos today in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Fallujah by photographers:

A spokesperson for the Falluja protesters, Khaled Hamoud, tells Al-Shorfa, "Today's demonstrations are no different from previous demonstrations in terms of the demands and rights we are seeking.  We hope that the government will meet them and we are determined to continue our peaceful demonstrations."  Morning Star quotes from Cleric Abdul-Hameed Jadoua who addressed the Falluja protesters telling them "the blood of martyrs was shed so that the dignity of our Iraq and our tribes will be restored. [. . .]  From this place, we tell the government that we do not want to see a soldier from now on, not only in Fallujah, but in all its suburbs and villages."   The Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted the following on the Falluja protest today.

Pick-up trucks full of young guys with flags heading for in what's expected to be huge protest after Friday prayers.

Prayers in - thousands still coming in ant-government protest - leaders appeal for non-violence.
View photo
-huge gathering for prayers on highway, calls to remember the martyrs, anti-Maliki chants and then all went home for lunch

Kitabat notes today's protests are a tribute to the Falluja martyrs who were killed last week.

Friday, January 25th, Nouri al-Maliki's armed thugs in Falluja fired on protesters killing at least seven (Alsumaria reported Saturday that another of the victims has died from wounds raising the death toll from six to seven)  and sixty more were left injured. Today Kitabat reports four more victims of last Friday's violence have died bringing the death toll to 11.  Protesters in Falluja were marching and taking part in a sit-in when the military opened fire on them.  Anbar Province has sworn out arrest warrants for the soldiers.  Rami G. Khouri (Daily Star) sees similarities between Egypt and Iraq:

The same applies to the tens of thousands of demonstrators in Iraq, who, like their Egyptian counterparts, are protesting the killing of demonstrators by the security services as well as a wider sense that the central government is not addressing the socio-economic and political rights of all citizens with diligence or fairness. In both cases, many ordinary citizens feel that one group is trying to monopolize power and seize control of the state. The Iraqi and Egyptian leaders have both acted with an authoritarianism that remind us of their predecessors’ policies in many ways., which Arabs now wish to leave behind them for good.

 Dar Addustour notes that Nouri met for six hours mid-week with armed forces commanders to discuss/anticipate today's protests.  Kitabat explains that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took part in protests today throughout Anbar Province, Kirkuk Province, Nineveh Province, Diyala Province and Salahuddin following morning prayers. Dar Addustour quotes from Sheikh Abdul Hamid Jadou's sermon where he said that the prime minister needed to hear the protesters.  The Sheikh declared that positions don't last, the world does not last but God watches and Nouri needs to do the right thing.  Alsumaria notes that protesters in Kirkuk marched calling for government to implement their demands and calling for loyalty to the Falluja martyrs and that the heads of the tribal clans in Anbar, Salahuddin and Nineveh Province are declaring Nouri needs to listen to the protesters.    Al Jazeera reports:

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Fallujah, said many had walked for hours to attend Friday's protest and had turned the highway into a mosque for the weekly prayers.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under increasing pressure to listen to their demands," she said, adding that a lot of the protesters, mostly young men, were unemployed and that a lot of them have been in jail.
"They feel they've been neglected by the Shia government," she said.

World Bulletin observes, "The protests are evolving in the most serious test yet for Maliki and his fragile government that splits posts among Shi'ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurds, who were already deadlocked over how to share power for more than a year."  In a report for the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf explains:

The Anbar demonstrations began in December, with protesters demanding an end to perceived targeting of Sunni Muslims after the arrest of the Sunni finance minister’s bodyguards on terrorism charges. But it is the arrests of dozens of Iraqi women that have infuriated many in this fiercely tribal area. That anger has spread to Sunni areas in Baghdad and to provinces farther north, and both Al Qaeda in Iraq and mainstream political figures have been quick to join the fray.

Human Rights Watch's "Iraq: A Broken Justice System" was released yesterday and noted:

Most recently, in November, federal police invaded 11 homes in the town of al-Tajji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes. Sources close to the detainees, who requested anonymity, said police took 12 women and girls ages 11 to 60 to 6th Brigade headquarters and held them there for four days without charge. The sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate.
Despite widespread outcry over abuse and rape of women in pre-trial detention, the government has not investigated or held the abusers accountable. In response to mass protests over the treatment of female detainees, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a pardon for 11 detainees. However, hundreds more women remain in detention, many of whom allege they have been tortured and have not had access to a proper defense.

On the topic of the call to release prisoners, this call has been a constant of the recent wave of protests and was also a part of the 2011 protests.  Iraqis disappear into the 'legal system' and their families can't find them.   Article IV allows the security forces to arrest relatives of suspects.  Relatives who are not charged with anything languish in detention centers and prisons.  The Sunni population feels they are especially targeted by Nouri -- both with regards to arrests and with regards to being put to death.

Dropping back to the November 12th snapshot:
Staying with violence, as noted in the October 15th snapshot, Iraq had already executed 119 people in 2012.  Time to add more to that total.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported last night that 10 more people were executed on Sunday ("nine Iraqis and one Egyptian").  Tawfeeq notes the Ministry of Justice's statement on the executions includes, "The Iraqi Justice Ministry carried out the executions by hanging 10 inmates after it was approved by the presidential council."  And, not noted in the report, that number's only going to climb.  A number of Saudi prisoners have been moved into Baghdad over the last weeks in anticipation of the prisoners being executed.  Hou Qiang (Xinhua) observes, "Increasing executions in Iraq sparked calls by the UN mission in the country, the European Union and human rights groups on Baghdad to abolish the capital punishment, criticizing the lack of transparency in the proceedings of the country's courts."

AFP reported yesterday that already this year Iraq has executed 91 people -- yes, we're still at the start of 2013 -- 88 men and 3 women.  The United Nations Secretary-General has personally called on Iraq to put in place a moratorium on executions but Nouri al-Maliki has rejected that.  Iraq's recent prison breaks have often been tied to executions.  Most press outlets (non-Iraqi) simply report that some death row prisoners escaped. But often, the escape follows the news that prisoners will be moved to Baghdad (to be executed). 

Today, All Iraq News adds that Nouri al-Maliki gave an interview where he insisted that all legitimate demands of the protesters will be listened to if they show patience.  Patience?  Like when he asked them to be patient in 2011 and give him 100 days to fix corruption and other problems.  100 day are finally over and he hasn't done a damn thing but lie and use his lies to get people off the street. 

It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain down tears
Of heartaches and fears
It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain
I know for sure
'Cause you don't reach for me no more

-- "Clouds," written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, first appears on Chaka Khan's Naughty album

Just like Nouri's going to solve the problems of the protesters, he's also heading a committee to solve the problems of the rainfall.

So much rain in , green zone cut off from rest of city by lake-size moat. Whatever will we do without them?
Earlier week, Aswat al-Iraq reported people in the capitol were saying that "Baghdad was drowned in a lake of mud and dirty water."
All Iraq News notes that the highest rainfall in recent days has been in Tuz Khurmato.  That's in Salahuddin Province and that's the province, All Iraq News notes, where three villages are sinking.  2,000 homes have also sunk in Tikrit in what's being called "The Tikrit Disaster.All Iraq News notes that a village in Salahuddin Province was threatened yesterday when a dam collapsed and that 1500 families have been relocated by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society due to the flooding.  Alsumaria speaks with Salahuddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri who explains that in the entire province, 6000 families have been evacuated from their homes -- six-thousand families.  The flooding is due to the rain, yes, but it's also due to the fact that Nouri refuses to spend money to improve the sewers and other infrastructure.  So when heavy rains fall, the water pools.  It's not diverted anywhere, it doesn't drain.  When heavy rains fall for several days in a row -- as has happened this week -- you end up with serious problems.  For example, the Tigris River is flooding.  Alsumaria reports that Salah Abdul Razzuq, Governor of Baghdad, has called for citizens residing on and near the banks of the Tigris to evacuate their homes because the last two days alone has seen the river's water levels rise approximately 75%. 

Again, this is about Iraq's crumbling infrastructure.  Iraq is not a poor country.  What other country with less than 30 million people can claim a federal government budget of 100 billion in US dollars?  The money is there to fix the infrastructure and do other needed things.  It's just not being spent as it needs to be.  It just seems to go quickly into the bank accounts of various Iraqi figures.  100 billion dollars for 2012 in a country of less than 30 million? The government could have just given every citizen 3 million in US dollars and still had sizable pocket change. Instead, Kitabat reports that you can find everyone scavenging in Baghdad through the waste -- the standing waste.  Children dig through it hoping to find toys and adults dig through it looking for anything they might sell to bring in some needed income for their family.  This standing waste, in the country's capital, is an embarrassment and it's health menace.  For public health reasons alone, it should have been dealt with years ago.

Meanwhile Alsumaria notes an armed attack in a Mosul home that's left 1 Iraqi soldier dead.  On the topic of violence, it is the end of the month and Prashant Rao (AFP) Tweets:

Iraq death toll spikes in January - data: The grim spreadsheet:

Iraq Body Count tabulates 341 violent deaths in Iraq for the month of January.

We go back to Twitter for news of Iraqi Christians:

  1. Vatican: Abp. Louis Sako elected Patriarch of the Chaledean Church... -

Online at the official site, The Vatican's posted:

(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has granted ecclesiastical communion, in accordance with Canon 76 § 2 of the code of canons of the Eastern Churches to His Beatitude Raphael I Louis Sako, canonically elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans in the Synod of Bishops of the Church, held in Rome January 28, 2013.
The Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church, convoked by the Holy Father under the presidency of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, canonically elected the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans on January 28th. The new patriarch succeeds Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, and has chosen the name of Louis Raphael Sako I".
Born in Zakho (Iraq) July 4, 1948, Patriarch Sako completed his primary studies in Mosul, before attending the local seminary of St. John, run by the Dominican Fathers.
Ordained a priest on June 1, 1974, he undertook the pastoral service at the Cathedral of Mosul until 1979. Sent to Rome, he attended the Pontifical Oriental Institute, receiving his doctorate in Eastern Patristics. He later received his doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in Paris. On returning to Mosul in 1986, he was appointed parish priest of the Parish of Perpetual Help.
From 1997 to 2002 he held the office of Rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad. He then returned to Mosul took over pastoral care of the Parish of Perpetual Help until the election as Archbishop of Kirkuk September 27, 2003. He received episcopal ordination on 14 November.
He has published several books on the Fathers of the Church and several articles.
Apart from Arabic and Chaldean, the Patriarch speaks German, French, English and Italian.
More to follow...

Alsumaria covers the news and adds that Archbishop Sako is the author of over 200 articles and 20 books on religion and theology.   AFP covers the news here.  In 2000, the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services prepared a fact sheet entitled "Iraq: Chaldean Christians" which included the following:

Chaldean and Assyrian Christians have the same ethnic and linguistic background, though as Eastern Rite Catholics, Chaldeans recognize the primacy of the Roman Catholic Pope while Assyrian Christians, who are not Catholic, do not (Journalist 17 May 2000; Minority Rights Group International 1997, 346). The Assyrians and Chaldeans are non-Arab, though the Iraqi government defines them as Arab, purportedly to increase identification of Iraqi Christians with the largely Sunni-Arab regime in Baghdad. The Kurdish government in northern Iraq refers, at least to Assyrians, as Kurdish Christians (USDOS 9 Sept. 1999).
[. . .]
1994 figures state that 220,945 of Iraq's Christians are Chaldean, though this number may now be down to 200,000 (UK Immigration & Nationality Directorate Sept. 1999). News sources state that there are anywhere from 500,000 to two million Christians in Iraq, of which Chaldeans reportedly predominate (Associated Press 26 Dec. 1998; The Economist Intelligence Unit 10 Feb. 2000; Knight-Ridder Tribune News 18 Feb. 1998). The US Department of State cites "conservative estimates" which place over 95 percent of Iraq's population, estimated at 17,903,000 in 1991, as Muslim, while the remaining less than 5 percent is broken down among Christians, Yazidis, and Jews (9 Sept. 1999).

Turning to the United States where Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Today her office issued the following:

Friday, February 1, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Senator Murray's Statement on New VA Study on Veterans Suicides

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a study that provides more accurate information on veterans suicides.  The two-year study incorporates information from 42 states and includes data on the suicide deaths of veterans who were not previously recorded because they had not sought care or benefits from VA.  This is an important advancement that will help VA better understand veterans mental health needs and do more to combat the epidemic of veteran suicides.  In August 2011 Senator Murray wrote to the National Governors Association urging Governors across the country to provide information to the VA to help them track the scope of veterans suicides.

"This data provides a fuller, more accurate, and sadly, an even more alarming picture of veteran suicide rates.  And while I am encouraged that VA has worked to collect the information needed to better understand the problem we face, this must lead to action.

"I encourage VA and DoD to quickly implement the Mental Health ACCESS act that I recently pushed through Congress and that was signed into law this month.  That law will help streamline and improve suicide prevention programs while offering veterans and their family's new avenues to mental health care.

"VA also needs to do mroe to quickly bring on additional mental health professionals to deal with the shortage veterans face, particularly in rural areas.  We cannot accept as unavoidable that VA facilities have month-long wait times for appointments or that at-risk veterans feel that they have nowhere to turn.

"We also need to do more to reach out to the families of veterans so that they recognize warning signs, know where to go for help, and have a support network of other veterans and their families to lean on.

"This must not only be a top priority for the VA, it has to be a top priority for the nation as a whole if we are going to begin to make progress in reversing this deeply troubling trend."

Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

Yesterday we covered the Senate Armed Service Hearing on US President Barack Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.  Last night, Wally reported on the hearing in "Hagel's all mushy (Wally)," Kat covered it with "Lindsay Graham" and Ava covered it with "Congress was as bad as the press today."  Yesterday, we noted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was getting praised for a 19 word sentence and she didn't deserve praise.  Ruth's "Applause for Senator Blumenthal" report on Senator Richard Blumenthal and she included this exchange on assault:

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I would like the same kind of commitment that you've expressed very persuasively on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the issue of sexual assaults.  This issue bedevils the military.  I don't know whether you've seen an excellent documentary entitled The Invisible War?

Chuck Hagel:  Yes.

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I know you're familiar with this issue.  I commend you for what you've said to me privately.  And I would ask that your commitment not only to the prosecution and holding accountable people who are involved in this criminal conduct but also to the victims so that they receive the kind of services that in the civilian world, many of them do through victims' advocates in the courts and similar kinds of roles played.  So both to prosecution -- vigorous, zealous -- but also to protection of the victims, can you commit to that?

Chuck Hagel:  Absolutely, I'll commit to that.

And now back to Iraq.  Various outlets today turned out the notion that al Qaeda in Iraq wanted to back the protesters and were calling for the protesters to take up arms.  Kitabat notes that the protesters rejected the notion.  MWC adds, "Protest organisers in Ramadi, Fallujah and elsewhere, however, said that they had no links to the group, and that they aimed to hold only peaceful demonstrations."