Wednesday, September 28, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, details emerge of an alleged agreement between two political blocs in Iraq, Military Familes Speak Out offers a new effort to end the wars, an Iraqi woman wins a peace award, the UN awards grant money to help Iraqi women who are the victims of domestic abuse, and more.
Thursday on the Lawyer's Guild with Jim Lafferty (KPFK), Mike Prysner of March Forward! explained why he and others would be demonstrating with A.N.S.W.E.R. outside the House of Blues in Los Angeles this past Monday while Barack Obama was staging his fund raiser. We'll note this from the explanation.
Mike Prysner: Sure. Well we know the President Obama came into office on the heels of the much hated Bush administration in a widespread popular repudiation of both the domestic and foreign policy of the right-wing reactionary Bush administration. And so, let's take a look today and see what exactly has changed. First looking at the war in Iraq, the widely unpopular war in Iraq, you know, the one that President Obama said we could take to the bank the fact that he would end the war once he came into office? That's continuing to take the lives of US troops and Iraqi civilians every single day. And his first appointment, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, his first act as Secretary of Defense was to go to Iraq and pressure the Iraqi government to extend the withdrawal deadline that's set for December 31, 2011. Meaning that this unpopular occupation that so many turned against, that we were promised would end, is set to continue indefinitely.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari remains in the US. AP reports that he declared yesterday that his feeling is there will be US soldiers in Iraq beyond 2011 under the billing of 'trainers.' Zebari is quoted stating, "I think we will get an agreement on training. How many trainers will remain in Iraq is not that important. It's the commitment that is very important." What's really going on is better reported by Al Sabaah. Iraq wants out of Chapter 7. That's why they moved to the SOFA and left the UN mandate to begin with. Zebari remains in the US to press the White House on that issue, removing Iraq from Chapter 7. Al Sabaah reports that with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman at his side, Zebari made the case for ending Chapter 7 to the UN yesterday. The topic of the US military remaining in Iraq beyond 2011 was discussed on Press TV (link has text and video):
Press TV: Giving the fact that Saudi Arabia is obviously one of United States strongest allies, so could it be a possibility that on the surface maybe, like the Security of States comes out and says that Saudi Arabia has to stop funding these terrorists, but then we see that this continues and of course one of the outcomes is the consequence which puts into question this withdrawal of US troops. So could Saudi Arabia and the United States be in cohort in this together?
Moussawi: Well absolutely no. I mean when you take the bottom line of the American policy and when you see that the Americans are striving and doing their best in order to continue, to be present in the Iraqi soil, to continue their withdrawal, to extend their presence over there, then you know that this will be an effective tour for them when you have the ruins, the killings, the destruction is taking place on largest scale. This would put the Iraqis, and it is a way to push the Iraqis into despair, into frustration and to beg the Americans to stay there because they cannot manage the whole thing by themselves. This is a kind of pressure. This is a kind of political pressure paid for by the blood of the Iraqi innocents, the Iraqi martyrs, the women, the men and the military as well. You are talking about civilians, you are talking about combination of wars, you are talking about civilians and military people that are being the target of this kind of terrorist attacks and I believe this is going to boil down into the American interest. I cannot see in any way that the Americans are going to exercise any pressure against those terrorists or against any regional power that might support them to stop doing that, whether Saudi Arabia or not if this has been the situation.
With Congress back in session and the budget debates continuing, there are a lot of opportunities to make our voices heard and take action to end the wars and bring the troops home now. Read below for opportunities to write to your Congressional Representatives, make suggestions to the Super Committee, and take action in Washington DC and locally.
Tell Congress it's time to end the Iraq War, not prolong it
Earlier this summer Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) asked their colleagues to sign a letter to the President urging him to bring all the troops home by the end of the year. MFSO in turn, asked our members to support them by urging their own representatives to sign this letter.
Continuing her efforts towards finally, truly ending the war in Iraq, Congresswoman Lee has written as a bill: HR 27577, the Iraq Withdrawal Accountability Act of 2011, which would require the removal of all US troops and contractors from Iraq on or before the promised deadline December 31 2011. It has reached 37 cosponsors to date. Click here to learn more and send an email to your Representative.
Flood the Super Committee Deficit Reduction Suggestion Box!
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka "The Super Committee") has been meeting to come up with the next round of budget cuts. Despite the many examples of obscene military waste on outdated equipment, fraud and negligence, it is despicable that some on Capitol Hill are talking about cutting veterans benefits and raising Tricare rates. Servicemembers, veterans, and military families have suffered enough. The Super Committee needs to hear from us: End the wars and cuts military waste, not veteran's benefits. Click here to tell them what you think should be cut.
Take Action to End the Wars
On October 6th & 7th, people will be taking action in DC and across the country to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, whether you're lobbying Congress, occupying Freedom Plaza, or building solidarity with the communities impacted by the War on Terror.
- On October 6th there will be a national call-in day to Congress demanding an end to the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. We will send out more information about this next week along with talking points.
- Make an appointment to meet with your Representative or their staff on October 6th or 7th, either in their DC or home district office. Our Representatives need to hear from military families! Click here to find your Representative's contact information.
- Join us in DC! MFSO is organizing a unique event on October 7th called War Voices, a forum bringing together veterans and military families with Afghan civilians and community and economic justice organizers and artists to reflect on a decade of war. Click here to find out more.
- Many MFSO members will also be participating in the occupation of Freedom Plaza starting on October 6th. Click here for more info and to read MFSO's statement on this protest.
On behalf of MFSO,
Jack Amoureux, Rosanna Cambron, Debbie Carruth, Rosalie Donatelli, Sarah Fuhro, Adele Kubein, Jeff Merrick, Diane Santoriello, Larry Syverson, Katy Zatsick -- MFSO Board of Directors
Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson – MFSO Co-Founders
Oskar Castro, Samantha Miller, Liz Rocci, and Clarissa Rogers -- MFSO Staff
Meanwhile in Iraq the political split continues. Dar Addustour reports that the Kurdish delegation did not go to Baghdad yesterday as reported. Al Mada adds that the delegation is not expected to arrive this week and the earliest they would go to Baghdad. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "The Kurdish Coalition has decided to send two negotiating delegations to Baghdad to work in two main axis, one to discuss the problems of the political parties and the other to discuss the differences between the Arbil government and the central government in Baghdad, Member of the Kurdistan Coalition, Mahmoud Othman said on Wednesday." The three main issues of dispute are (1) Nouri al-Maliki's failure to implement/follow the Erbil Agreement (which he agreed to in order to stay on as prime minister), (2) Nouri's proposed oil & gas law which circumvents a 2007 agreement and would allow Baghdad to raid existing (discovered) oil and gas fields in the KRG and (3) Nouri's failure to follow Article 140 of the Constitution which required a census and referendum by the end of 2007 to settle the issue of the disputed and oil-rich Kirkuk. Jaza Mohammed (niqash) offers a breakdown on Nouri's proposed oil and gas law:
The first draft of a federal oil and gas law was formulated by the Iraqi cabinet in 2007. Although it was the subject of much debate and was never passed by the Iraqi parliament, that version did give regional powers, such as those in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan, at least partial authority over the oil reserves in their own area.
However in early September, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved a new formulation of the same law and again, has sent it to parliament for approval.
Several important, and potentially even more controversial, things changed in this version.
The draft law makes a national Iraqi oil company the ultimate authority in the formulation of policies, orders on procedures for drilling and production and in the signing of deals with investors. The council heading the Iraqi National Oil Company (or INOC) would have control over all the oil fields that are already producing crude.
This means the council at the top of the INOC gets a lot more authority -- under the old version of the law, the council could only draw up policies and issue instructions.
The INOC would also get authority over the bidding for almost all of Iraq's oil and gas fields; previously they were only able to conduct auctions on new -- read: undiscovered, undeveloped -- fields.
The new draft of the law also eliminates an important clause that said that the INOC's authority must include representation from Shiite Muslim parties, Sunni Muslim parties and from the Kurdish sector. It also reserves a seat on the council for the deputy prime minister for energy -- currently this is Hussein al-Shahristani, well known as a close ally of al-Maliki's.
None of this has gone down well with Kurdish politicians, both in Baghdad and in their own semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan. Who owns the oil fields inside the Kurdish region, which has its own government and its own legislation, has long been a contentious issue between the Arab government in Baghdad and the Kurdish one in Erbil.
Aswat al-Iraq notes, "The President of Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, had presented an initiative to settle the political crisis in Iraq, including the formation of an 8 - 12 member committee, representing different political blocs to begin talks to form the new government and to settle the suspended differences, and to hold extensive meetings for the leaders of the political forces to settle the issue of the three Presidencies." Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) examines the tensions and finds:
The tense situation between Erbil and Baghdad has reached new heights, leading to an exchange of accusations regarding fundamental issues such as the oil and gas law and the Erbil agreement, which paved the way for the establishment of the current government. There is also the Article 140 of the constitution, which the Kurds insist on applying regarding Kirkuk.
These relations have reached an unprecedented low, especially after the Jordanian government ignored the capital Baghdad, sending Maarouf Al Bikheet, Jordan's Prime Minister, to visit Erbil instead.
Another source of concern is the tension between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens in Kirkuk, with the approaching US withdrawal from the governorate and increasing fears of violence.
The insistence of Turkmens in Kirkuk to establish a military force to protect themselves after a systematic campaign to assassinate their elites is also cause for concern, although the Turkmen say they need this force as they have given up on the government that is incapable of protecting them.
Aswat al-Iraq adds, "A legislature in al-Iraqiya Coalition has said on Wednesday that the Coalition's Chairman, Iyad Allawi, had held talks with the President of Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, to reach a joint vision to withdraw trust from the government of Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, denying that the motive of the meeting 'had been to bargain on the problems of Kirkuk, as the Arab Community in the Province claimed'."
"The results of our 63 billion dollars -- of which portion I spent several millions, I'm proud to say -- ironically was that most of that money was spent for us not for them," Peter Van Buren explained to John Hockenberry (PRI's The Takeaway) yesterday. "The money was spent for propaganda projects, for show good projects, for feel good things. But I'm afraid in terms of helping the Iraqis, they still lack water, sewer services, electricity, the basics of life. I'm afraid we did not do our job."
Peter Van Buren is a State Dept employee and the author of the new book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project) which hit bookstore shelves yesterday. Peter Van Buren's book charts 2009, not the more distant past, not the Bush era. As a result of truth telling about what went on in Iraq under Barack, the administration has been targeting Van Buren. From his "Freedom Isn't Free at the State Department" (TomDispatch via Truthout):
On the same day that more than 250,000 unredacted State Department cables hemorrhaged out onto the Internet, I was interrogated for the first time in my 23-year State Department career by State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and told I was under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information. The evidence of my crime? A posting on my blog from the previous month that included a link to a WikiLeaks document already available elsewhere on the Web.
As we sat in a small, gray, windowless room, resplendent with a two-way mirror, multiple ceiling-mounted cameras, and iron rungs on the table to which handcuffs could be attached, the two DS agents stated that the inclusion of that link amounted to disclosing classified material. In other words, a link to a document posted by who-knows-who on a public website available at this moment to anyone in the world was the legal equivalent of me stealing a Top Secret report, hiding it under my coat, and passing it to a Chinese spy in a dark alley.
Peter Van Buren and Tom Engelhardt connect the targeting of Van Buren with the targeting of others in the alleged era of Obama Openess in "WikiLeaked at the State Department" (Antiwar.com):
It's hardly a secret at this late date that, while the Obama administration arrived in office promoting "a new standard of openness" in government, in practice it's cast not sunshine, but a penumbra of gloom over the workings of Washington. Talk about a closed and punitive crew. Its Justice Department has notoriously gone after government whistleblowers and leakers, launching significantly more (largely unsuccessful) prosecutions than any of Obama's predecessors. His people lit out with particular ferocity after WikiLeaks, and specifically Bradley Manning, the young Army private accused of passing enormous caches of Army and State Department documents to that website. In the process, the administration developed special forms of pre-punishment to torment him while he was confined, still uncharged, at a Marine brig in Quantico, Va. (It also went to ludicrous lengths to bar government officials, workers, contractors, the military, and anyone else linked to them from reading the leaked documents to which everyone else on Earth already had access.)
"The Americans did more harm than good," Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq's Yanar Mohammed explains . "Under Saddam, women were educated." Yesterday Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Iraq's Council of Ministers has issued an instruction for the approval of the Agreement to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the National Plan for Human Rights in Iraq". So all these years after the destruction of women's rights in Iraq, a committee's going to be created to explore the issue. Over the summer, Michael Gibb (Huffington Post UK) wrote about a conference in Iraq:
Despite a quota system that guarantees them [women] a quarter of all parliamentary seats, they were angered by their limited representation in the Cabinet and in key parliamentary committees mandated to shape Iraq's future through, for example, the distribution of its oil wealth. As in Libya, they also highlighted the neglected potential contribution women can make to the process of reconciliation in Iraq.
One group speaking out is women. Bushra Juhi and Qassmi Abdul-Zahra (AP) report, "Iraq's female lawmakers are furious that only one member of the country's new Cabinet is a woman and are demanding better representation in a government that otherwise has been praised by the international community for bringing together the country's religious sects and political parties." As noted Tuesday, though represenation in Parliament is addressed in Iraq's Constitution, there is nothing to address women serving in the Cabinet. Aseel Kami (Reuters) notes one of the most damning aspects of Nouri's chosen men -- a man is heaing the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Iraqiya's spokesperson Maysoon Damluji states, "There are really good women who could do wel . . . they cannot be neglected and marginalized." Al-Amal's Hanaa Edwar states, "They call it a national (power) sharing government. So where is the sharing? Do they want to take us back to the era of the harem? Do they want to take us back to the dark ages, when women were used only for pleasure." Deborah Amos (NPR's All Things Considered) reports that a struggle is going on between secular impulses and fundamentalist ones. Gallery owner Qasim Sabti states, "We know it's fighting between the religious foolish man and the civilization man. We know we are fighting like Gandhi, and this is a new language in Iraqi life. We have no guns. We do not believe in this kind of fighting." Deborah Amos is the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East.
The criticism barely made a difference. Nouri finally found a woman he could appoint to his Cabinet by the time the conference started -- one woman . . . in his 42 member Cabinet.
The Role of Women in Peace-Building, Reconciliation and Accountabiliy in Iraq was a two-day conference held in Erbil. Over 300 Iraqis attended the conference -- including journalists, judges, ativists and MPs. Fayaa Zein El Aabedin, Itab Al Douri, Ghada Al Aamili, Samira Abdullah, Jwan Akram Ameen, Shayo Askari, Fatina Baban, Hanaa Edward, Manal Finjan, Yonadim Kana, Madiha Al Mousawi, Aayda Al Taee, Pascale Warda and Bushra Zweini made up the conference's Drafting Committee. The Conference came up with 67 recommendations. That was in January of this year.
"We have had wars and wars and more wars," said one woman. Though peace has yet to be found in northern Iraq, these women's words and friendship give glimpses of hope. Another woman said that the best thing she has been learning from the Fezalar schools is not to hate. "Hate is a prison," she said.
Kirk says: "We need to see the faces of children -- our human brothers and sisters, so that we may build a future together that gives their children and our children a chance to develop a world of hope and compassion."
Kirk's photo exhibit -- titled "Iraqi Women of Three Generations: Challenges, Education, and Hopes for Peace" -- will be shown in Austin at the St. Edward's University Library from October 1 to 28.
Sonali Kolhatkar: Now that the occupation is still ongoing, it is supposed to be wrapping up this December, tell us how the war has impacted Iraqi women's rights. There have been reports saying that literacy rates and employment rates among Iraqi women have dropped precipitously in just the last few years. How did that happens as a result of the US occupation?
Houzan Mahmoud: Well you know you can imagine that this society has been so highly brutalized for three decades at least -- under Saddam as well as American allied intervention militarily. I mean, Iraq was turned into a military zone, everything was militarized. There are all these kinds of weapons used against the civilians. Plus women were actually the first casualties of the war. You know, they lost jobs, they lost their family members -- husbands, brothers. And they have no one. The government doesn't really care about all these people who have no jobs, who have no homes to live in. You have a huge number of women being trafficked both internally and externally for prostitution in trafficking. The government doesn't even do anything about that. So -- And plus, the Islamic groups, Shi'ite political groups, have gained power as well as in opposition. They are reinforcing the most strict and conservative norms in the society and particularly against women forcing them to wear burqas and hijabs It is really -- As I said, women lost even those basic rights they had before.
Iraqi women and girls are subjected to conditions of trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia for forced prostituion and sexual exploitation within households. Women are lured into forced prostitution through false promises of work. Women are also subjected to involuntary servitude through forced marriages, often as payment of a debt, and women who flee such marriages are often more vulnerable to being subjected to further forced labor or sexual servitude. One NGO reports that recruiters rape women and girls on film and blackmail them into prostitution or recruit them in prisons by posting bail and then holding them in situations of debt bondage in prostitution. Some women and children are forced by family members intor prostitution to escape desperate economic circumstances, to pay debts, or to resolve disputes between families. NGOs report that these women are often prostituted in private residences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are trafficked within Iraq for the purpose of sexual exploitation through the use of temporary marriages (muta'a), by which the family of the girl receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission to marry the girl for a limited period of time. Some Iraqi parents have reportedly collaborated with traffickers to leave children at the Iraqi side of the border with Syria with the expectation that traffickers will arrange for them forged documents to enter Syria and employment in a nightclub. The lare population of internally displaced persons and refugees moving within Iraq and across its borders are particularly at risk fo being trafficked.
And Iraqi women face problems throughout the country. Earlier this month, Rebecca Murray filed a major report for IPS on the rights of Iraqi women and last week, Nawzad Mahmoud (Rudaw) reported, "Female leaders and high-ranking civil servants in Iraqi Kurdistan have been removed from their posts and replaced by men in recent months, raising concerns that women are losing power in government. Women's rights organizations cheered a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) initiative to appoint women to ministerial, mayoral and other key decision-making posts over the past several years. However, Sulaimani province, which had three women mayors in mid-sized cities, now has no female mayors and the number of female heads of municipalities and department general-directors are on decline." OWFI's Kayt C. Peck will be speaking this Sunday in Lubbock, Texas at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (2801 42nd Street) in an event open to the public. The topic will be Iraqi women. Still on the topic of Iraqi women, September 14th the International Peace Bureau announced that one of the two winners of this year's Sean MacBride Peace Prize was Hanaa Edwar:
Born 1946 in Basra, Iraq, Hanaa Edwar became an activist already as a student. She joined the Iraqi Women's League while very young, and was arrested after the Ba'athist-led coup in 1963. Escaping from prison, she moved to Germany to represent the Iraqi Women's League at the Women's International Democratic Federation in the 1970s.
After this period she moved to Lebanon and then Syria, and became a strong activist in the struggle against the dicatorship. She also joined the resistance movement in Iraqi Kurdistan for three years, but not in a military position. Forced to migrate again, she formed the Iraqi Al-Amal Association. This was located first in Damascus, and then from 1996 the organization settled in Erbil, Kurdistan. After the fall of the regime in 2003 she moved the head office to Baghdad.
Hanna's name has become synonymous with the defence of human rights, with a long track record of activities. She has been instrumental in the formation of the Iraqi Women's Network, made up of more than 80 organizations. One of her most recent campaigns was lodging a law suit at the High Court of Iraq against the Speaker of Parliament for acting unconstitutionally to hinder the formation of a government after the last election. This campaign became known as the Civil Initiative for the Preservation of the Constitution. Her action at the Human Rights Conference in Baghdad on 5 June 2011, to defend civil society organizations and to demand the release of four arrested young people, highlighted the increased attacks on civil liberties in general in Iraq. Her protest led to the release of four youths.
IPB's Co-President Tomas Magnusson comments: "Hanaa Edwar is an extraordinary woman activist, well-known in the whole of Iraq for her strong positions in the slow moving process among politicians. She is brave, and under constant threats to her life, but not slowing down in any way her mission. She is a most worthy laureate, determined and energetic, with an impressive record of activities to strengthen human rights and democracy, to develop civil society, and to defend women's rights. She has been an outspoken and tireless challenger of the ruling parties, the Ba'athists and male-dominated politics in general."