I’m going to try starting a new series here. Blogs often are utilized as nothing more than gatherings of links to interesting topics and issues their authors find around the web.
I’m going to put some spin on this blog standard. The mainstream press continues to throw softballs to the occupation force and particularly to the Iraqi government. A classic example is the failure to really discuss the Badr Organization and it’s former leader, Bayan Jabr Solagh.
Yesterday this article was posted by Matthew Schofield of KnightRidder.
I’ll post a few excerpts here with my own commentary:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Senior Iraqi officials Sunday confirmed for the first time that death squads composed of government employees had operated illegally from inside two government ministries.
This confirmation turns out to be the release, finally, of a statement regarding 22 Shi’a agents of the Ministry of Interior who were apprehended at a checkpoint with a Sunni man who they were taking “for execution.”
“The deaths squads that we have captured are in the defense and interior ministries,” Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr said during a joint news conference with the Minister of Defense. “There are people who have infiltrated the army and the interior.”
Iraq’s Minister of Interior, Bayan Jabr, was involved with the Badr Organization inside Iran, which was constructed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard during the Iraq-Iran War between 1980-1988. The Badr Organization was known inside Iran as the Badr Corps or Badr Brigade. They were founded by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations:
It is the Iranian-trained wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest Shiite party in Iraq. During the U.S.-led occupation government’s crackdown on militia groups in 2003, the 10,000-strong militia changed its name from the Badr Brigade to the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development and pledged to disarm.
Later in the artilce it becomes clear, the Iraqi government has owned up to death squads as a clear cover-up effort:
Interior Minister Jabr said that investigations into death squads were still ongoing in the Defense Ministry. He said the Interior Ministry had arrested 22 people, and subsequently released 18 as innocent after interrogation, detaining four for further questioning.
“Now we have sent them (the four) to the court because it hasn’t been proven that all four were involved,” Jabr said. “Although I did not have clear signs (of their guilt) I sent them to the justice ministry so that the law could be carried out.”
These 22 people were arrested in mid-February, nearly 1 month ago, and despite the clear actions of death squads following the bombing of the Al’Askariya shrine in Samarra, the Iraqi government still contends the role of death squads is minimal inside Iraq.
The failure of the media to hold accountable members of Iraq’s current government who are alleged or known to have committed warcrimes against Iraq, in the interest of Iran during the Iraq-Iran war of the 80s only exacerbates these problems.
It has repeatedly been rumored that the Ettalaat and Iranian Revolutionary Guard are operating inside Iraq. However, given the long history of ties between SCIRI, Badr and the Iranian government, it seems unlikely that the Iranian government would need to have a direct influence via their own citizens and agents.
And a final misstatement on behalf of KnightRidder:
The government had long denied the existence of such death squads. Sunnis had accused the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia supported by Iran, of being behind the killings, inside or outside of government ministries. Jabr is a senior leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite political party, and has close ties to the Badr Organization.
When Schofield in this case describes Jabr as having “close ties to the Badr Organization.” He commits a serious crime of omission. Bayan Jabr does not have “close ties” to the Badr Organization any more than President Bush has “close ties” to the Republican Party.
This is to say that Bayan Jabr Solagh, also known by the name, Bayan Baqer Solagh, was a high-ranking member of the Badr Corps prior to “resigning” in order to run for office within the UIA as a politician affiliated with SCIRI. It is also important to remember that any senior politician of the UIA could be seen as having “close ties to the Badr Organization” since the Badr Organization is a wing of the SCIRI!
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
“There is chaos in Iraq now, and there is danger everywhere,” 27-year-old Nora Ahmed told IPS. The situation has gone “from bad to worse, and only when the occupation ends, women in Iraq will be in a better situation,” said Fatima al-Naddaf.
The women seemed to speak for many others.
Militias and criminals alike have been accused of targeting women in the absence of the authority of a central government.
Fatima al-Naddaf from Women’s Will, an advocacy organisation in Baghdad, works to highlight the difficulties faced by women in Iraq. “Before, Iraq was under sanctions, but at least it was a free country, not occupied,” she told IPS. “Iraq is bleeding now from the occupation.”
Women’s Will has been working on women’s issues and also on detention of men. Mass detentions of Iraqi men are endangering women, and their children, she says.
Women’s Will is working particularly on the issue of women detained in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The Iraqi government and the occupation have repeatedly shown a disregard for due process and adequate evidence before making detentions.
“The most dangerous issue facing the Iraqi women is that some of them are being arrested under occupation,” said al-Naddaf. “Until now there are still many Iraqi women in the Abu Ghraib jail.”
Women are looking to the closure of Abu Ghraib jail and continued steps towards solidifying an Iraqi government as a step to establishing security for women.
International Women’s Day passed unnoticed in Iraq this year but Baghdad resident Jinan Jabbar believes she will be able to celebrate it in the future. “Women in Iraq want the occupation forces to go back home,” she said. “They want to make a new and strong government in Iraq. Then we can celebrate the 8th of March.”
The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq released a statement Mar. 8 that said, “Crimes of the occupation are the major threat to Iraqi women’s rights. Before, women could go to work and study safely, today they are exposed to many threats such as kidnappings, murder and rape.”
Women’s Will blamed the occupation for creating a chaotic situation in Iraq. “We charge occupation forces with making a civil war in Iraq,” al-Naddaf told IPS. “Our appeal is asking them to stop violating Iraqi people’s rights in their daily life..”
Sixty-three-year-old Asmaa Ali described her family situation.. “My son was killed two weeks ago, and now I feel Iraq has become like a big prison. Before occupation my sons were soldiers in the Iraqi army and I worried about them when they were in the Gulf War. And now also I’m worried about the others because everywhere there is killing.”
Women have come to fear Iraqi troops now, she said. “The most dangerous problem Iraqi women face is the uneducated and fanatic Iraqi troops. Because of that some of the Iraqi women stop trying to educate themselves.”
Asmaa appealed for support from women around the world. “I want to invite them to come to Iraq, to see how Iraqi women suffered before, and how they are still suffering because of occupation.”
The troubles are not all new. Some women speak also of difficulties under the Saddam regime due to the brutal war with Iran and later because of the imposition of sanctions.
And there are also some voices of optimism among women. Jinan Jabbar believes women are in danger, but that in time “Iraq will be better.”
Ahrar Zalzali, a female Iraqi journalist, says the new government has at least shown there are some new possibilities for women. In some respects the situation of women has improved under the occupation “because women in Iraq are taking on a good place in the Iraqi government.” (END/2006)
The State Department identified Tom Fox today as the American man who was found in Iraq yesterday.
I only met Tom last fall in Baghdad, but I considered him a friend. He was a good man and dedicated to the practice of peace and nonviolence. Unfortunately Tom was kidnapped in Iraq on the 26th of November.
I have repeatedly expressed to friends and colleagues my hope that Tom and the rest of the CPT would be released alive. This development is upsetting and fills me with the utmost sadness and desperation about the situation in Iraq.
I still hope that Norman Kember, Jim Loney, and Harmeet Singh will be released safely by their captors.
I also want to reiterate what the CPT themselves have said previously. The United States and the UK are directly responsible for the fate of the CPT members, Jill Carroll, and other media and aid workers who’ve been killed in Iraq.
I hope there will be a full investigation and that all possible suspects in the death of Tom and the kidnappings of Jill Carroll and the remaining CPTers will be considered. It should not be forgotten that Rory Carroll, a Guardian correspondent, was kidnapped by members of the Iraqi Police after he ventured unannounced into Sadr City. Ahmed Chalabi himself is considered to have been instrumental in his release.
The recurring failure of the mainstream press, the State Department, and the anti-war movement itself, to examine Iraq in a complete context, one that understands the impact and importance of colonialism and the redrawing of Middle Eastern borders by Britain and the West, is directly related to our failure to create solidarity movements with the people of Iraq.
I hope Tom’s death will encourage others to work harder to understand the various elements at play in Iraq, and that the anti-war movement will not simply use Tom as an instrument in opposing the Bush Administration, but will see his tolerance as a model to follow to increase our understanding of Iraqis and other cultures being targetted by United States imperialism.
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, Mar 7 (IPS) - Repeated cries in the mainstream press of an unfolding civil war fall on deaf ears of many Iraqis. Only some have begun to use the term ‘civil war’ to describe the conflict raging around Iraq; many feel the term is inappropriate.
In the days after the bombing of the Shia shrine at Samarra Feb. 22, the Association of Muslim Scholars and representatives of Shia groups led by Muqtada al-Sadr and Sheikh al-Khalisi met at the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiya to negotiate a response.
They constructed a ten-point plan for responding to the violence and building a future for Iraq. That plan is currently being implemented with varying amounts of success.
A primary function of this plan is to “condemn the press organisations who tried to make this problem between Sunni and Shia become larger and larger, and we have all the rights to try them in future.”
During their meeting they made simple and well-publicised decisions to condemn the Samarra bombing, and all subsequent attacks against Sunni mosques, as well as condemning all terrorist operations.
It was significant that Shia representatives were invited to the Abu Hanifa mosque, a famous Sunni site in Baghdad, and a recurring target of anti-insurgency operations. “We invited them to see what we can do to end this problem and to stop the killings between Iraqi people,” Sunni leader Dr. Salam al-Kubaisi said.
The meeting was called “also to stop attacking Sunni mosques and to end the shedding of Iraqi blood, because this blood is very expensive for us and in future we can rebuild everything except human life.”
The leaders agreed to find compensation for all people harmed by the sectarian violence in the aftermath of the Samarra bombing.
The representatives who met at the Abu Hanifa mosque claimed that their people and organisations were not involved directly in the violence.
”We charge the occupation forces and the Iraq sectarian government,” Sheikh Majid al-Sa’adi, a Shia representing al-Khalisi told IPS. Many of Iraq’s parties, particularly the Sunni groups, and the nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr hold this view.
The groups placed two final statements in their agreement to point to the role of the occupation in the recent violence.
Their statement accuses the occupation of “responsibility for all that has happened in Iraq — sectarianism, terrorism, and other problems.” Furthermore, the resolution demanded that the occupation forces “leave Iraq as quickly as possible and return back home.” The agreement finally calls on the Iraqi people to live together in peace and to defy what it called the occupation’s desire to inflame sectarianism and create civil war.
”We ask Iraqis to not cooperate with the occupation’s plans, because their purpose is to make civil war in Iraq. Second, as Muslim leaders, we want to show all the world we are all against these attacks happening since the Samarra bombing,” said Salam al-Kubaisi.
Many Iraqi men seem to support the results of the Abu Hanifa gathering.
“From the first day of the occupation, because the U.S. government made meetings only with Shias and Kurds in London and they had an agreement with each other, but without Sunni, this was the beginning of the problem,” Mohammed Kareem, a 37-year-old security guard in Baghdad told IPS.
Those responsible for the Samarra bombing have yet to be located, but names of suspects abound. The United States and Iraq’s current governing council have made it clear they believe al-Qaeda was involved.
Other reports blame others. It has been revealed that Iraq’s minister for national security received reports in advance of the bombing that Shia shrines were being considered for terrorist attacks.
Last week Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni independent, called for “a political-judicial committee to be established immediately to check out these reports.”
It was largely the failure to investigate attacks that followed the Samarra bombing that led media around the world to declare that Iraq is on the brink of a civil war.
Some parties may have their own reasons for projecting a civil war in Iraq. “Some of the Shia leaders in Iraq, especially those who came from Iran after the war want to split Iraq and take the southern part for them,” said Kareem.
“The Kurds also want this, their purpose is to take the northern part from Iraq,” he added. “Also, the Iranian government wants this and they support the civil war in Iraq more than any other side. They need the U.S. troops to be busy in Iraq to leave Iran safe because they expect that the U.S. troops will invade Iran after Iraq.”
Although there has been a great deal of violence, it has been focused in only a few provinces, and is mainly occurring in Baghdad.
“Iraqi police forced Sunni people in Nahrawan to leave their houses and now these families live in the field with their women and children,” said a man who gave his name only as Hussein. “It’s injustice and now we become certain the Iraqi government is cooperating with Shia militia and occupation forces against Sunnis.”
The Sheikhs who stand in opposition to the occupation have expressed common ground with Iraqis who feel abandoned by Iraq’s new government and by the promises made by the United States occupation.
”The Iraqi government protects themselves only and they don’t care about the Iraqi people,” al-Sa’adi said. (END/2006)
The Sunday Telegraph, a UK paper is reporting that the US and UK will withdraw all forces by 2007.
First of all, this article is weak and only cites one anonymous “senior defense source.” I consider this to be suspect and, although perhaps indicative of an inevitable turn of events and a path the occupation forces are walking down, certainly this is not yet cause for the Iraqi Resistance or the global anti-war and anti-occupation activists to celebrate.
Secondly, I am going to put into writing for the first time something I’ve been consistently reiterating at speaking events throughout the month of February.
If the UK, US, and the rest of the “Coalition of the Willing” withdraw their forces in 2007 it does not necessarily mean the situation for Iraqis will change greatly. Over the last week and a half, since the bombing of the Al’Askariya Shrine in Samarra, the involvement of Iraqi militias in securing the country has been widespread.
Unfortunately, it is these same “militias” who are assassinating Iraqis on a regular basis. You can bet they will still be committing these acts and driving Iraq toward “civil war.” Civil war, however, is an inaccurate and problematic term for defining what’s currently happening in Iraq. more appropriate would be “wholesale extermination of Iraqis involved with the Ba’ath party.”
One might even call it genocide.
As in Africa, this genocide and extermination will be funded and supported by the multi-national corporations currently entrusted with the reconstruction of Iraq’s geography and the neoliberal institutions restructuring its economy.
For one of the latest examples of how this is reconstruction is being carried about by foreign firms please read this article, regarding the rebuilding effort newly decided in Najaf:
In the event that troops from the US and UK do withdraw from Iraq in 2007, if the multi-national corporations who gained access to Iraq’s resources and are now profiting off its devastation because of the American invasion, it should be considered an unnacceptable tragedy.
For Iraqis to “stand up” they need to be given the right to decide, democratically and by referendum, what role foreign investment should play in their economy.
“Really we don’t know exactly who they are, but I am sure these criminals are not normal and they get training in other countries,” Dr. Ali Al-Obeidi, a doctor in Mosul told IPS. “They know very well what they are doing. Their purpose is to destroy Iraq from the inside.”
It is not just the U.S. forces that Iraqis blame for these crimes. They see also an influence from Iran. Dr. Isam Al-Rawi, member of the Association of Muslim Scholars and head of the Teachers Association of Iraqi Universities suggests that Iran is involved in assassinating educated and influential Iraqis.
Since the end of the Gulf War and the beginning of the sanctions regime academics, doctors and other professionals in Iraq have experienced hardships because they are professionals. Scholarly journals, research equipment, and medical tools were all banned from shipment to Iraq under the sanctions.
The limiting of these and other “dual-use” items devastated academic institutions and stunted Iraq’s progress in keeping pace with other nations in technological advancement. Literacy in Iraq dropped from over 90 percent before the Gulf War to about 50 percent today, and much less in the outlying provinces.
But now Iraqi professionals are facing a newer, deadlier difficulty. Since the occupation began in 2003, Iraqi professionals have been regularly killed, sometimes on a daily basis.
“This is tyranny, we live in the worst tyranny in all of human history,” Dr. Al-Rawi told IPS.
“Every hour in Iraq there are killings, kidnappings, arrests, house raids and more. And all of that is because of occupation and our weak government. When I say that I don’t mean Saddam was good leader. No he also was bad but Iraqi streets were clean from these crimes, especially the crimes against professionals.”
Al-Rawi said, “I charge occupation forces and the Iran government because both want to destroy Iraq. The Iraqi minister of interior helps Iran to do their crimes, and the Iraqi government hides the statistics of assassinations, but we have our statistics.” The Shia-led government in Iraq is close to Iranian religious and political leaders.
The accusation that the minister of interior is involved in these assassinations is in line with findings by the U.S. military. Twenty-two men were arrested recently for running a death squad in Baghdad. They have repeatedly claimed that their actions were carried out under the orders of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr.
The Association of Muslim Scholars says only about 2,000 Iraqi doctors are still working in Iraq, and that more than 300 professionals have been assassinated since the occupation began.
Al-Rawi and other officials from the Association are calling for civil disobedience actions to draw attention to this issue.
“We don’t have enough power to stop these crimes because we don’t have the guns of the military forces, but we try to make pressure on the government and U.S. troops to stop it. We must be careful, and work very hard to stop (the assassinations) by demonstrations, sit-ins, and civil disobedience.”
Disobedience actions have begun already in an effort to force the government to take these concerns seriously. Doctors in Mosul joined a large demonstration Feb. 14 to demand security. They warned of civil disobedience action throughout the city.
“We don’t know what we can do to protect ourselves,” Dr. Ali Al-Obeidi told IPS. “Every day people are killed and kidnapped. I wish this disobedience will make enough pressure on our government to find a way to protect us and all professionals.”
As in Baghdad, citizens of Mosul say they never saw crimes like these before the occupation began. Many say the occupation bears a large responsibility for the assassinations of doctors, teachers and other professionals in the Mosul area.
Al-Obeidi was born in Mosul and has been a doctor since 1990. “For many years I didn’t hear about any accidents happening to doctors. This problem started after the war. It became bigger and bigger over these days; two of my colleagues were killed. I don’t know when I will get killed. Many doctors have left Iraq to go to another country, and one day soon it will be very difficult to find doctors in Iraq.”
On the day before the demonstration in Mosul, Haitham Al-Azzawi, a teacher from the Islamic University in Baghdad was killed. His death brought the number of professors and teachers killed since the beginning of the occupation to 182.
“Dr. Haithem was my close friend, we were friends for 15 years,” Dr. Omar Abdul Rahman told IPS. “He was a teacher at the Islamic University, he was 35 years old, married and he lived in Habibiya area in southeast Baghdad. On the13th of this month, when he finished his work at the University he was on his way back home when some armed men stopped him and killed him on the road to his house.”
Dr. Abdul Rahman said Haithem Al-Azzawi had no longstanding problems with anyone in his neighbourhood. “He was a quiet man and everyone liked and respected him. The criminals who killed Dr.Haithem are the same criminals who killed the other doctors and scientists. Really it’s a secret organised war. Many different sides work in this war against Iraqi professionals, for many different purposes.”
Dr. Isam Al-Rawi says the goal of these assassinations is the eventual destruction of Iraq.
A former general in the Iraqi army, who would only give his initials, A.R., said the killing of professionals was intended to have a long-term impact.
“Occupation forces focused on Iraqi scientists who worked in military plants, they arrested many of them, and some of them were assassinated,” he told IPS. “That’s why Iraqi scientists sent an appeal for help over the Internet. They are asking the UN to help them with their situation in Iraq and to save them from the arrests and raids by occupation forces.”
There is a clear design behind the killing, the former general said. “Many of them get killed near their houses or on the way to their work, and others get kidnapped, and we find their dead bodies in the street. When you follow these crimes you will be sure that the criminals have special training and their purpose is to make Iraq empty of any professionals.”
Many such killings in Mada’ain, Al-Shula and Al-Iskan have gone virtually unreported in the western press. (END/2006)
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, Feb 17 (IPS) - Iraqis live amidst the excesses of the occupation, death squads, shooting and terrorist bombing — but that is not all. They have learnt to live increasingly with crime that often enters homes without anyone to check it.
It is widely accepted that Iraq’s recent crime problems began with Saddam Hussein’s general amnesty declaration in October 2002. It is also widely believed the crime wave reached a high in April 2003 with the collapse of Saddam’s seat of power in Baghdad.
Given the porous borders and the focus of security forces on the war, criminals of all kinds gained a stronger foothold within Iraq. Today criminals and thugs are considered as difficult a problem as terrorism and the intransigent resistance.
“There are many kinds of crimes in Iraq now — robbery, murder, kidnapping, revenge, rape and drugs,” an Iraqi police officer told IPS. “There are new crimes we didn’t know before that are killing many innocent people in the name of resistance. Like the attacks that have happened many times like car bombs near schools, markets, and other places.”
Today, nearly three years into the occupation, there are few places considered safe from crime. People are attacked in their homes regularly in some parts of Baghdad.
Twenty-year-old Abdullah Sabah, currently unemployed, was robbed in his house in Baghdad last year. “In November 2005 my family’s home was robbed by one of the gangs,” he told IPS. “They threatened my family with guns, and they stole all our money and many other things.”
Crimes like this have become ubiquitous in Iraqis’ daily lives. Sabah blames the Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I). The failure of these forces to secure Iraq and to live up to obligations under international law has left many Iraqis bitter and frustrated.
“When they occupied Iraq they helped thieves to rob banks,” Sabah said. “The occupation forces helped them because the thieves were stealing in front of the soldiers and they did nothing. When we asked them to stop the thieves the occupation forces’ answer was: ‘We are soldiers not police, this is not our job’.”
It was then that the problem began. Eventually the money raised through these crimes was lost through gambling and spent on other things such as liquor and drugs. After they ran out of money, gangs began fighting one another to gain money and power.
Some gangs began to attack the professional class. “Another new kind of crime is the murder of Iraqi scholars, pilots, doctors, and teachers,” the Iraqi police officer said. “The people who do that know very well what they are doing. It is organised crime, a mafia you can say, and they want to destroy Iraq by these crimes.”
One of these gangs kidnapped 14-year-old Hassan. “The gangs called me and asked for a ransom of 100,000 dollars,” his father Thaer, a car dealer, told IPS.
High ransom demands have been typical in kidnappings. Iraqis often report initial demands ranging from 20,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars. These demands are usually drastically reduced later, sometimes to only a few hundred dollars.
Iraqis who do not have the money to pay usually attempt to make a deal with the kidnapper, or call the police. Thaer did both.
“I didn’t have this money, so after two days I started to negotiate with them to lower the ransom,” he said. “At the same time I called the police, but the police were still weak at that time. The police used my cars to follow the gang. The gang released my son because the police caught one of them. But in that operation one of the police was wounded and my cousin was killed.”
Such crimes were unknown in Iraq under Saddam. Before the war, the only kidnapping Iraqis worried about were those carried out by Saddam’s secret police. Iraqis knew that if they did not challenge Saddam’s political mandate, they could expect to remain relatively secure.
“We lived in this country before the war and there was safety,” Thaer said. “Nothing has changed except the occupation. It is the only new thing; that means the occupation bears a big responsibility for the crime in Iraq.”
Drug trafficking too has risen after the war, says 35-year-old taxi driver Salem. “Iraq was a very clean country before the occupation,” he told IPS. “Under Saddam’s government if they caught anyone with drugs, the sentence was execution. After the war drugs became a very big problem for Iraqis.”
The drugs problem is rarely discussed publicly. “As a taxi driver I meet many people using drugs in my car,” said Salem. “I feel sad for them because most of them are young. It was easy for anyone to smuggle drugs because the Iraqi borders were open after the war.”
Thaer believes that beyond fighting crime, “if the Iraqi government offers jobs for Iraqis, this will make crime less and less.”
Salem says the crime will stop only when the occupation ends and Iraqis take care of themselves. “I feel sad for my country and I wish the Iraqi government builds a good and strong security system as quickly as possible,” he said. “There is no hope from occupation forces. They work for their security only, and they don’t care about Iraq.” (ENDS/IPS/MM/IK/IP/BC/SS/06)
Please come to the University of New Hampshire tonight to see Brian Conley speak about the situation in Iraq, particularly given the recent frightening developments.
Also he will be presenting a short video of interviews with Iraqis who will speak themselves about the situation facing their country.
7:00 PM Durham NH, UNH!
Please contact Brian about setting up an event in your area!
aliveinbaghdad (at) gmail.com
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
It was said initially that the bombing happened early in the morning Feb. 22, and was sudden and unexpected. It now appears that although the explosions occurred at 6:55 am that morning, preparations began earlier.
“According to initial reports, the bombing was technically well conceived and could only have been carried out by specialists,” construction minister Jassem Mohammad Jaafar said in a statement. He also said it must have taken at least 12 hours to place the charges.
This corroborates other information that suggests that unknown black-clad men dressed in the standard style of Shia police commandoes seized the shrine Tuesday evening and held it until just before the explosion Wednesday morning.
Since the bombing there have been demonstrations all over Iraq, many of which have drawn both Sunnis and Shias. These demonstrations have called for a peaceful response to the bombing. They have also demanded that the government be held responsible for failing to provide adequate security.
In response, defence minister Saadoun Dulaimi called on Iraqis to avoid violence. “If we have to, we are ready to fill the streets with (armoured) vehicles,” he told reporters Saturday. He added, “If there is a civil war in this country, it will never end..”
Major Tim Keefe from the Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) told IPS, “There are no plans to deploy MNF-I troops to the streets. We are prepared to support the Iraqis if requested by the Iraqi government.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Al-Askariya mosque bombing, more than 100 Sunni mosques were attacked, and in the following days several Shia mosques have been attacked in reprisal for the attacks on Sunni mosques.
“On the 22nd of February, 100 Sunni mosques were attacked and some of them were occupied by Shias, and they burned some and attacked the Islamic Party building in Basra,” Tarek Al’Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party said in a statement.
Despite these attacks, and suggestions in the mainstream press that Iraq is already caught in civil war, many Shias on the streets are calling for calm and unity.
Haider Hasan, a 37-year-old Shia who works in the oil ministry is among many concerned about the attacks on Sunni mosques.
“I’m against that, I think they were some of the uneducated Shia people and couldn’t control their feelings and they started to attack Sunni mosques,” he told IPS. “I would like to ask them to stop that because we don’t want this problem to get bigger and bigger.”
Most demonstrations have been called as a peaceful response to the attacks, but it has been difficult to keep them under control. Abd Ali who arranged one of the demonstrations said, “I organised this peace demo to send a message saying we have a peaceful way for protesting against this bombing in Samarra. But other Shia people brought their guns, and it is so difficult to control their feelings of anger.”
These feelings have spilled over into repeated acts of violence since the bombing. Political leaders on both sides of Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide have called for calm. Sunni leader Adnan Dulaimi said Iraqis must not fight each other because “occupation forces want us to fight between each other.”
Many Iraqis say they do not know who actually carried out the bombing, but they blame the occupation..
Some believe it was the work of Ba’athists left over from Saddam’s militia forces. “I think they were from the Ba’ath party because when they lost their control in Iraq they want to destroy it by causing a civil war between Sunni and Shia,” said Haider Hasan.
Omar Hamid, a 30 year-old member of the Iraqi Islamic Party told IPS that it was allies of the occupation forces who attacked the Al-Askariya shrine “because occupation forces want to make the Iraqi people busy with a civil war, and that will make it easier for them to carry out their plans in Iraq. And I’m sure the persons who did this attack in Samarra had permission to move in Samarra because it was curfew in Samarra at that time.”
The attacks on Sunni mosques began within a few hours of the attack on the shrine in Samarra.
“I saw one of the attacks on a Sunni mosque, it happened in front of me at the Al-Quds mosque in the Baladiyat area in eastern Baghdad,” Alaa Ahmed told IPS. “I saw many land cruisers and cars come to Al-Quds mosque and they opened fire on the mosque. As I saw them I became sure they had training before, because they knew what to do very well.”
The Baladiyat area is close to Sadr City in Baghdad, a large Shia slum. In recent weeks many, particularly Palestinians living in the refugee camp there, have complained of attacks by Shia militia groups.
Omar believes some of the attacks were carried out by the Mahdi army of Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Shia militias. “Really I’m sorry to say but, some Shia militias carried out (the attacks), and they don’t know how much they help the occupation forces with their plans to make civil war with these kinds of attacks.”
Omar was not alone in believing that the attacks would help the occupation. Most of the demonstrations were simultaneously protesting the attack in Samarra and the continued occupation. They were asking also for more security.
“We are very angry today because terrorists attacked one of most important holy mosques for us, and in this demonstration we ask the Iraqi government to protect our mosques and imams buried inside the mosques,” Haider Hasan said after one of the demonstrations. “We voted for the Al-Jaafari government in the last election and they should take their responsibilities and at least protect our holy imams’ graves.”
Alaa Ahmed told IPS he still has hope, despite the recent attacks. “I hope Iraq will pass this problem in safety and I hope the occupation will end as quickly as possible. My message to Shias is I hope they will be careful about colluding with the occupation. Remember Sunni and Shia are both Muslims and all these mosques are for Muslims.”
The United States is currently planning a reduction of forces in Iraq, and there has been speculation whether the recent unrest will extend the occupation.
Major Keefe said MNF-I troops were not affected by the recent developments. “This has no effect on the planned drawdown of troops. Iraqi security forces continue growing in their capabilities and battle space will continue being turned over as each situation merits. There is no consideration regarding ‘retaking control’ of any battle space.” (END/2006)
And in an instant, everything in Iraq changes direction again. Saturday representatives of Muqtada Al’Sadr met with Sunni opposition groups. As my readers may remember, I’ve repeatedly alluded to the negotations going on behind the scenes between Muqtada Al Sadr and his followers and the Muslim Scholars Association, Iraqi Accordance Front, and other non-Ba’ath Party aligned Sunnis.
After the meeting the Muslim Scholars Association and Al’Sadr jointly pledged to redouble efforts to secure Iraq and end the increase in sectarian conflict that has been witnessed in the aftermath of last week’s bombing at the Askariya Mosque.
This turn of events, and the much repeated belief of many Iraqis that Iranian intelligence and members of the Badr militia may be responsible for the bombing, may lead to a consolidation of Iraqi opposition against Iran.
Many of the Iraqi Bloggers linked to at Alive in Baghdad’s Iraqi Blogs section are raising interesting questions about the attack as well as the western media coverage of the aftermath.
Imad Khadduri has an interesting breakdown of Iraqi opinion about the events around the bombing:
“Who bombed the shrines?”
From Imad Khadduri | February 24th, 2006
This is a noteworthy posting from Baghdad Dweller:
Who bombed the shrines?
In the first Comment to the above posting: “By the way today the so called Al-Qaeda in Iraq condemned the bombing, Baath party condemned the bombing and many fractions …
And regarding the media, there is an important question raised by “Truth about Iraqis”
Is western media complicit in the murder of Iraqis?
From Truth about Iraqis | February 24th, 2006
Reuters team of Alastair Macdonald and Lutfi Abu Oun - Curfew stalls Iraq bloodshed
Agence France Presse reporting from Washington - Sectarian violence not seen as tipping into civil war: Pentagon
MSNBC: Iraq curfew helps cap most viol…
Continue reading >>
These two blogs should give some interesting perspective on Iraq. I can only reiterate many of the things they say eloquently through the lens of a Western mind.
An important note to remind people however, is that despite the mainstream press’ repeated claims that “both factions of the Shi’a government have alliances with Iran,” there is in fact no evidence of a direct alliance between Al’Sadr and Iran, if anything it is the opposite.
Furthermore, it is just as much of an over-simplification to suggest that there are only two factions of the Shi’a government as it is to imply that there is a monolithic single-mindedness and uniform goal for the disparate groups involved in Iraq’s insurgency and resistance movements.
More about the divisiveness between Sadr and the elements of Iraq’s government who are allied with Iran soon.
Till then, keep an eye on the Iraqi Blogs section, they have some of the best breakdowns of information about the unfolding events of this past week.
I just finished chatting with Omar, my friend and translator who lives in the Mansur area of Baghdad.
I’m worried that, with all the exaggerations about civil war and violence, we are forgetting to remember the on-the-ground reality in Iraq.
Omar tells me he’s glad the gunfire and violence hasn’t been near his area in the Mansur neighborhood lately, but he hears it constantly, and, like all Iraqis, just waits for it to come knocking.
According to the figures at Icasualties.org, this month hasn’t been all that different from previous months.
With two days left in the month of February, the deaths of Iraqi security forces are still lower than last month, and the deaths of civilians are only a few higher. Although the last two months have been distinctly higher than December, civilian deaths have ranged between 400 and 700 on average since May of last year.
Only in August was there a drastic increase in civilian deaths, and the deaths of security forces were all higher than this month during the same period.
Granted, Icasualties’ numbers may not be fully caught up for this month, but when measured as an overall trend, the situation looks a little different than the media’s recent civil war hysterics let on.
Icasualties’ numbers also only tally violent/war-related deaths. There is little accounting of the collateral damage due to the widespread devastation of Iraqs social services and health infrastructure.
Omar only has about 5 hours of electricty per day right now in Baghdad, and as I said previously, there is virtually no access to clean water.
Although these aren’t sexy and gruesome killers, they’re certainly contributing to the ongoing deaths of civilians, and as the summer approaches, and the weather starts heating up in Baghdad, we can only expect these kinds of deaths to continue.
Today it was around 80 degrees in Baghdad, and its still February.
It leads me to wonder whether the western and mainstream press will continue to cover Iraq if the “sectarian” tensions die down, and the largest killers become US airstrikes, heat exhaustion, and dysyntery
Dahr Jamail, another independent reporter who has covered the war in Iraq is doing a great service over at his site, DahrJamailIraq.com. He has hosted all of the videos and photos that have been released in the recent news reports, as well as the video of the British military attacking Iraqi youths in the south of Iraq.
Here is some of his post:
Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches
February 18, 2006
SBS Torture Video, British Abuse Video and Photos of Torture and Abuse of Iraqis
In an effort to keep the videos and footage of abuse and torture of Iraqis by American and British forces in Iraq available despite U.S. government and Pentagon censorship efforts, we have decided to post them all.
Below are brief descriptions of each video and groups of photographs, followed by a link where they may be viewed.
UK News Of the World shows British Troops Beating Iraqi Youth
The UK’s News of the World showed a 2 minute video of British Troops dragging a number of Iraqi youth involved in a protest behind a gate and then violently beating them. The News of the World website states that “The News of the World has a long history of supporting British troops - which is why we believe out heroes are shamed by these thugs [the troops doing the beating]”. Obviously “these thugs” not only include the numerous individuals involved with the actual beating, but the tens of troops who walked by the incident unconcerned, and the man with the gun and video camera who was filming while cheering the “thugs” on. The video gives the distinct impression that this type of behavior is widespread amongst the British Troops.
To view this disturbing video, click here
To view his entire piece, please visit his site!
Today at 1 PM I will be speaking at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick Maine. I’ll be discussing the general impressions I gained regarding daily life in Iraq as well as their feelings about the occupation.
I will also try to touch on the recent developments in the politics of the Middle East, particularly the nomination of Ibrahim Al Jaafari as the new prime minister. I’ll also be updating the site soon with more thoughts and insight about developments in Iraq.
Tomorrow I will be speaking at Emerson College in Boston at 6 PM in the Bill Boardy Theatre.
The following week I will be speaking at the Cambridge School of Weston on the 27th, and on February 28th I will be speaking at the University of New Hampshire.
Please consider coming to these events, and if you can’t come to ask questions in person, feel free to post comments on this entry with questions you’d like me to try and help answer about the situation in Iraq.
As always, donations are much appreciated, as I hope to return to Baghdad in April, but must still raise around $4000 to make it!
Please donate here!
Also, if you can’t give money, consider donating old digital cameras or camcorders. I hope that when I return to Iraq I will be able to begin providing media equipment to Iraqis to tell their stories themselves!
Email me at aliveinbaghdad @ gmail.com for specifics on how to do this.
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
SINIYAH, Feb 9 (IPS) - Twice now, an IPS correspondent has been refused entry to this town that has become a prison for its inhabitants. Contact with residents of the town came only at the checkpoint.
A month back, the United States military built a 10km wall of sand around the town of Siniyah, 220km north of Baghdad. The town is close to Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit and the oil refining centre at Beiji.
Construction of a sand wall around the town began Jan. 7 in response to repeated attacks against the 101st Airborne U.S. forces stationed in the area. A night curfew has been imposed in the area.
An IPS correspondent could not visit the town to look at the situation within, despite official claims.
“Journalists have not been limited or prevented from travelling in and around Siniyah,” U.S. military spokesman Major Tim Keefe told IPS. “Coalition and Iraqi Forces go to great lengths to make sure journalists are able to do their job in a safe environment.”
That was after soldiers stopped the IPS correspondent entering the town on two occasions. But in the queue to the main checkpoint many people were more than willing to speak to IPS about the situation within.
“On the 7th of January, the U.S. troops started building this wall around Siniyah,” said Muhammed, a 34 year-old engineer from Siniyah. “They are trying to isolate Iraqi fighters who are attacking them every day. The troops have been exposed to attacks near Siniyah by roadside bombs and by different weapons.. Also, the resistance blows up the petrol pipelines leading to Turkey.”
The issue of the pipeline is a salient one for residents of Siniyah. The town has been sealed off not because of attacks within the town, but due to the belief it is being used as a staging ground for attacks outside.. The coalition forces are attempting to halt attacks directed mainly at the Beiji refinery and at convoys serving the coalition.
The chosen targets have brought general support for Iraqi resistance within Siniyah. Muhammed says the attacks are taking place because “this petrol will go to Turkey and is stolen by occupation forces, or when Turkey buys this petrol the money is taken by the occupation forces.”
Residents of Siniyah speak also of injustices by the occupation troops. The wall of sand is now dividing residents from the Iraqi government, they say.
“Siniyah has become a real battlefield now, and the occupation forces have destroyed many of our homes,” said Sumiya, a 33-year-old housewife. “There is no security inside Siniyah and it is worse than any place in Iraq now. The occupation forces and Iraqi National Guard are raiding Siniyah houses everyday and arresting many people. There is a curfew from 5 pm. to 5 am; in Baghdad it is only midnight to 5am.”
Sumiya said her children have stopped going to school. Everyone in the town is affected. “My problem is that my college is outside Siniyah, and it is very difficult for me to go back and forth everyday with these checkpoints,” said a 20-year-old student who gave his name as Ammar.
“I left my job because it was outside Siniyah, it is impossible to go and come back every day because of this earth wall and these checkpoints on the way,” said 45-year-old Abdullah Jabar.
The U.S. forces say the wall was built with local approval. “Local police, city council members, sheikhs and religious leaders met with leaders from the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment 101st Airborne Division, Air Assault, to discuss the operation,” Major Keefe said. He declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.
As the isolation of Siniyah continues, its 3,000 residents appear to be unifying behind the opposition. “I don’t think that the occupation force will stop resistance by these steps, because violence causes violence,” Ammar said. “It is normal throughout history there is resistance in any occupied country. But there is no occupation that used this kind of violence.”
“We are in very bad situation and we live in very big jail for three thousand, one called Siniyah,” said Jabar, echoing sentiments of residents interviewed by IPS last month.
The Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) have used such tactics before. Walls and checkpoints were used to isolate residents of Samarra and Fallujah before the eventual devastation of the towns. (END/2006)
Don’t forget! I’ll be in Rutland Vermont tonight! At 6:30 pm I’ll be speaking about Iraq in the Fox room of the Ruland Free Library on Court st. I’m sure I’ll talk a little about the misdirection of President Bush during his address last night, as well as trying to adequately address the current reality for people living in Iraq. If you’re within driving distance of Rutland you should come down!
If not, consider checking out other upcoming events!
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Tonight, as we look toward the future, and wonder what fortunes 2006 will bring, it’s a good time to look back at the past year, 2005.
In 2005 the occupation expanded.
In 2005 two illegal elections, organized under an occupying force, were imposed. In direct violation of the Geneva and Hague 4 conventions, a constution was imposed, created by elites and expatriates, with the interest of the elites put ahead of the people. Despite the large secular and diverse intermarriage of much of the nation’s populace, these concerns were ignored, generally in favor of divisiveness and sectarianism.
In 2005, there is no longer a nation. The government is in shambles and all appearances of forward momentum reflect individual gains by individual parties. Each party considers the interests of its members or its tribe first, and the interests of a unified nation second.
In 2005, cities all over the western part of the nation were devastated by American airpower and explosive destruction. Rather than breaking the back of the insurgency, or the resistance, it has seen a renewed strength, perhaps even a resurgence. Today, the minimal gains of the December elections lie in shambles. The political process, once an opportunity for reunifying diverse struggles, looks only like a sham, utilized for further sectarianism.
In 2005, divisiveness between those who have always lived in the nation, before Saddam’s fall, has prevented a unified national response to the occupation and its proxies. The Uncle Tom’s of Baghdad are running the show, the roosters are in control of the henhouse.
No matter what the President of the United States may try to say this evening, remember these things. The nation is in disarray, and should not even be considered, at this time, as a nation. But with a unified response, and a direct call for an end to sectarianism and the occupation, the nation may yet repair itself from these difficulties and be resurrected from this disasterous state.
Here’s an update in the ongoing “In Their Own Words” Alive in Baghdad tour.
Tonight I’ll be speaking in Dover New Hampshire at the Dover Friends Meeting House. The event begins at 6:30 PM. I suspect given the timing of this event, I’ll be attempting to foreshadow what President Bush will speak about at his State of the Union address tomorrow. We can expect he’ll detail how the administration has met each deadline in the “march toward democracy.”
Unfortunately, if he does make these remarks, we need to remember how innaccurate they are. The attempts of the US and an elite minority of Iraq expatriates to impose a consitution rife with problems didn’t meet their arbitrary deadline, in fact the deadline was extended multiple times and despite the legal requirement for the government to dissolve after failing to meet the constitution deadline, this requirement was ignored so that an elite minority could impose drastic changes on Iraqi life through a constitution that was approved after only a minority of Iraqis were capable of viewing the document!
This is just one of the disasters that has occurred while the Bush Adminstration has been meddling in Iraq’s affairs and creating systemic social chaos.
On Wednesday, the 1st of February, I’ll be speaking in Rutland Vermont. The event will begin at 6:30 in the Rutland Free Library’s Fox Room. I’m hoping to be able to organize several other events in the future in Vermont, however at this point, there is nothing in the works. If you’re reading this and you’re in Vermont or have contacts in Vermont, please send them my way: aliveinbaghdad (at) gmail.com. I’ll probably direct much of this event around presenting the Iraqi situation, and responding to whatever deception and misdirection President Bush attempts to provide during his State of the Union address.
Then this weekend, I’ll be heading to NCOR, the National Conference on Organized Resistance While there I’ll present a workshop and discussion of the situation in Iraq. I’ll also have a table where I’ll be showing video clips from Iraq and be available for longer discussion and questions about the situation in Iraq. Because of the nature of NCOR, I’ll most likely focus a little more on the radical side of Iraqi politics and how we can stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq. I also hope we can have a lively discussion about the role of resistance to the war and occupation in Iraq.
I hope many of my readers will be able to come to the events this week! Please also contact me if you live in an area of the country where you haven’t yet heard I’ll be coming. I’ll be back in Massachusetts and Maine the week after NCOR. Currently I am working on scheduling more events in upstate New York as well as Michigan and on the West Coast.
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[Editor’s note: Before the attacks come in, let me make something clear, this is the version of the article that “went to the presses” as it were, although the proverbial presses wre mostly ephemeral, because IPS is a web-based news outlet. It involves a few changes made by my editor, I did not intend to suggest that the United States is intentionally attacking journalists, so much as their lack of clarity about the situation in Iraq is endangering specifically Iraqi journalists by default. Further more, the wide net being cast in many operations has repeatedly detained many Iraqi and Arab media workers.]
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, Jan 26 (IPS) - Journalists covering Iraq have run into some sort of balance of troubles.
During the days leading up to the war in Iraq in the spring of 2003, many foreign correspondents travelled to Baghdad. Journalists knew war was imminent, and news bureaus scrambled to position their reporters to cover the story.
As the war unfolded, journalists from all over the world were thrown together. Those from the western and non-Arab press became increasingly reliant on Arab-speaking Iraqis, who better understood the situation and were better positioned to move around in relative safety.
In the first stage of the war, the conditions appeared to be equally dangerous for every journalist. Then, the U.S. forces began to target journalists.
The U.S. troops were aware that many journalists and other civilians were residing in the Palestine Hotel when a tank fired on the hotel April 8, 2003, killing two journalists and wounding three others.
The United States initially claimed gunfire came from the hotel lobby, but later retracted this statement. Around the same time Al Jazeera headquarters nearby were bombed, killing one person there, Tarek Ayoub. These incidents perhaps highlighted what was to come.
As the war has progressed, Iraqi journalists increasingly appear to be targeted by the United States and other Coalition forces.
Two Reuters journalists from Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani and Majed Hameed were detained, and finally released Jan. 15. “The United States forces arrested me for nothing, they had no proof against me,” Hameed said after his release. “They knew I was innocent, and now I will continue my work as a journalist.”
Last week the U.S. authorities released Samer Mohammed Noor, who had been held for eight months without charge. “We are relieved at the release of Samer Mohammed Noor but we do not understand the reasons for keeping him in detention for more than eight months, particularly since there was no concrete evidence against him,” the group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
Yunis Khuthair, 38 year-old editor of Al Tahaddi newspaper was arrested by U.S. troops Sep. 23, 2003. At least he was charged. “They gave me many funny charges, like I tried to assassinate Tony Blair, I hid Saddam in my house, I cooperate with the terrorists,” Khuthair told IPS. “But these were all fake.”
At least one Iraqi journalist, Abdel Amir Younes Hussein, is still in detention.. Reporters Without Borders (RSF, Reporters Sans Frontieres in French) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have both made repeated appeals for Hussein to be released. He has been in detention more than ten months.
Suhaib Al Baz, a 26-year-old Iraqi journalist who works for Al Jazeera told IPS, “I have been arrested many times by the U.S. forces, the last time in 2004 when I was held for 76 days at Abu Ghraib. I was tortured many times, I don’t know why because I never received charges.”
He was told he would be sent to Guantanamo because he worked for Al Jazeera, he said. “I was placed in a special jail for dangerous prisoners with Saleh Hassan, they used dogs on us, they dropped cold water on me in winter, and even with all this bad treatment, I had no charges.”
Al Jazeera continues to be targeted. Many of its correspondents have been repeatedly detained or imprisoned. Former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi shut down its offices.
The Pentagon and its spokespersons in Iraq have remained silent over detainees.
“We do not discuss the cases of individual detainees,” U.S. military spokesman Lt-Col Barry Johnson said in a statement. “All detainees are held by the authority of UNSCR (United Nations Security Council resolution) 1546 and 1637, which allows the multi-national force to detain individuals who are considered imperative threats to the security of Iraq.”
Johnson added: “Their internment is held in full accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and the reviews of their cases are conducted by a board that is made up primarily of Iraqi officials, along with Coalition officials.”
Reuters, Reporters Without Borders, and other groups have repeatedly called for investigations into the deaths and detention of Iraqi journalists. But the U.S. military has defended its actions.
“A soldier being fired upon, who sees a person on the streets pointing an object at him, can’t always be expected to fully comprehend what’s a camera versus a weapon,” Lt-Col. Johnson told IPS. “He is always going to defend himself against a perceived threat.”
In September last year, a Congressional panel was convened to investigate the deaths of journalists in Iraq. Gen. George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, promised to examine the issue himself. “It’s an issue that we take very seriously. And what I will do when I get back to Baghdad is I’ll get a few of the local journalists together and work through some of their concerns with them.”
Since September at least seven journalists have been killed in Iraq. Some of them died under mysterious circumstances, a number of which involved men in Iraqi police uniforms. The United States continues to say that it acts within the ‘rules of engagement’, and denies claims of abuse by journalists who have been detained.
The press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders last year rates Iraq at position 157 out of 167. “The situation in Iraq deteriorated further during the year as the safety of journalists became more precarious,” it said.
Khuthair, who was also detained at Abu Ghraib, says the United States deliberately targets journalists. “They gave me very bad treatment because I am a journalist,” he said. “One day a United States guard in Abu Ghraib said to me, ‘The media hate us more than the resistance!’ I asked him if there were other journalists in Abu Ghraib, and he said there were 17 others there at the same time.”
It is difficult to determine accurate numbers for Iraqi journalists and media workers who have been detained by the United States forces. Many Iraqis work as freelancers, and without the acknowledgement of major media outlet employers, their detentions may go unnoticed. Journalists can often be detained two or three times and still receive no charges.
“Those of us who work with foreign papers feel isolated, because we cannot tell people we are journalists,” said an Iraqi journalist who writes the blog ‘24 Steps to Liberty’. “Because of this, the Iraqi government doesn’t consider us either Iraqi journalists or foreign journalists, which can make it very hard for us to get information.”
Lt-Col. Barry Johnson says he is seeing changes in the Iraqi media. “The media here have evolved from being formal mouthpieces of a dictatorial government to a key element of a budding democracy. Those who have worked closely with the media have seen this progression and see it as a sign that democracy is truly taking hold in this country.”
Many journalists do not see it that way. Before the war, there was strict monitoring of journalists by Saddam’s government, but none of the kind of troubles encountered now, Khuthair said. “Now it is very dangerous because after U.S. troops arrested and killed many people without reason it made Iraqis hate any American, and the Iraqis think all foreigners work with the U.S. troops.”
But it is not only the U.S. soldiers who create difficulties for Iraqi journalists. They fear the Iraqi government, kidnappers and criminals, and also attacks by terrorists and insurgents. “Nowadays, it is very hard to convince people to talk to you,” the blogger from ‘24 Steps to Liberty’ told IPS.
“After they realised all we could do is expose their miseries, they stopped telling their stories,” the blogger said. “It is a dangerous job because the Iraqi government is after you if you write against it, the multinational forces will kill you if you interview the insurgents, and the insurgents want to kill you if you write nicely about the government.”
Despite all the difficulties Iraqi journalists face, the resolve of many is unbending.
“I will continue reporting the truth, and this will lessen the Iraqi suffering,” said Suhaib. Khuthair said, “If some Iraqis want reprisals by kidnapping foreign journalists, this isn’t good, but how can we control it? I think when the United States stops arresting and killing people, everything will be okay.” (END/2006)
On Monday a top official of Hamas, Saeed Syam, called for the release of American journalist, Jill Carroll. “Hamas joins those who ask to release American citizen Jill Carroll. Hamas is against the kidnapping of innocent people, of foreigners who are guests in the Arab countries, and those who introduce humanitarians services and help for the Arab people - and for any people in general - especially when they are not interfering in internal Arab affairs. We have declared many times we are totally against kidnapping civilians.”
Mr. Syam is the latest in a lengthening line of militant and anti-occupation leaders to oppose the kidnapping of Jill Carroll. Many of these groups have also condemned the kidnapping of Christian Peacemaker Team members in November of last year.
Despite the recurring and increasing calls by Sunni clerics and others, the mainstream press still has not bothered to question whether we can be certain that Sunni resistance groups are responsible for these kidnappings. Kidnappings have been a constant threat in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, and they seem to be directed mainly by criminal elements, not resistance or insurgent forces.
Over the last three years we have repeatedly seen instances where those in leadership roles in Iraq have abused their power. It appears to be a running theme across Iraq’s entire history. Recently however, corruption in Iraq’s governing agencies has been exceptionally bad.
In November it was finally released in the international press that agents of Iraq’s Interior Ministry were engaging in torture of mainly Sunni Iraqis.
In October it was revealed that Rory Carrol, a correspondent for the Guardian, was abducted by Shiite militia forces in Sadr city.It is unfortunate that both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have failed to make clear the role of Iraqi Police or men posing as Iraqi Police, in the kidnapping of Mr. Carroll, who is not related to the Christian Science Monitor’s reporter, Jill Carroll.
In September, it was revealed that one billion dollars appears to be have gone missing from the budget of Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. The Indepedent reported Ali Allawi, Iraq’s Finance Minister suggesting “It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history.”
The continuing failure of the mainstream press to properly grasp the risks for journalists in Iraq contributes to their risk. Furthermore, the failure of the mainstream press to treat the kidnapping, killing, and detention of Iraqi journalists with the same outrage as that reserved for Westerners such as Jill Carroll increases the division between Westerners and Iraqis and serves to inflame the anger and frustration of Iraqis with not only the direct representatives of the occupation, but all foreigners working in their country.
The release this month of three detained Iraqi journalists by the United States military cannot make major news, because the mainstream press would first have to explain how Coalition forces have repeatedly detained Iraqi journalists and media workers without charge. However, the continued treatment of Iraqi journalists as second class citizens, both by the United States military-many of whom seem to treat all Iraqis with a guilty until proven innocent mentality-and the mainstream press, continues to be one of the major difficulties in “winning hearts and minds.”
As detailed above, there have been many actions on the part of various Iraqis that do not appear to help “Iraqis stand up” or push forward Iraq’s reconstruction. Iraqis from across the spectrum, whether Arab or Kurd, Sunni or Shiite, have been involved in corruption, theft, kidnapping, and resisting the occupation.
Reading the mainstream press, it is almost impossible to get this impression on a daily basis. The mainstream press examines the situation in Iraq from the time-honored position of a clash of civilizations, where the West is pitted against Islam. In this analysis, transgression by Kurdish, Shiite, and secular Arab leaders in Iraq are seen as abberations from the norm of loyal thankful Iraqis happy to have been liberated. Transgressions by Sunnis are the norm, and the result of an embittered minority, angry at losing its power.
This viewpoint makes it easy to assume that inexplicable events are the results of Sunni anger and sectarianism. It is unfortunate how much damage is being done by ignorance on the part of the mainstream press. What is fortunate is that this particular issue has a concrete solution. By educating ourselves better about the experiences of Iraqis, whether Arab, or Kurd, Shiite Sunni, or Secular, we can make tangible steps toward understanding the situation. By understanding the situation in Iraq, we may finally hope to build a movement toward reconciliation and ending the occupation.
Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD, Jan 23 (IPS) - While politicians deliberate over Iraq’s future, Iraqis are dealing with the reality of the present. They are looking at the debris of a country where reconstruction has come to a standstill.
They are also looking at a situation in which the capital of the oil-rich country has been stricken recently by a dire shortage of gas and kerosene.
Iraqis in Baghdad had been receiving 12 to 13 hours of electricity a day on average over recent months. Over the past few weeks they say supply has fallen to just a few hours a day.
“We have no services at all,” Usama Asa’ad, a 31 year-old mechanic told IPS. “Our electricity is on only one or two hours a day.”
Many Iraqis thought the United States would improve their situation when the occupation began in April 2003, but those expectations are long over. Iraqis complain that the situation in Baghdad now is worse than it ever was under Saddam.
Electricity supply is inconsistent, and sometimes there is no water for a week or more at a time. After the recent increase in petroleum prices mandated by the International Monetary Fund, the situation has become far more difficult for Iraqis.
“The petrol price became three times more than before, and this makes everything in the market more expensive,” said Abdul Sattar, waiting in a queue at one of the petrol stations in Baghdad. “I’ve been waiting for six hours in this queue and I’m not even sure whether I will get petrol. Yesterday I waited for seven hours but I didn’t get anything. The petrol station isn’t open at night because there is no security.”
Iraqis continue to blame the United States and the occupation for the petrol shortages and the lack of security. President George W. Bush has declared that he would seek no more money for Iraq’s reconstruction, further angering Iraqis.
“The water is not clean enough, there is no petrol for our cars, and the occupation forces intend this,” said Usama Asa’ad. “They want to make all of Iraq’s services for private companies, so that United States companies will take as much money from Iraq as they can.”
Zubair, a 33 year-old engineer at the Beiji refinery says production at the refinery is steady. “The refinery is working now the same as before the war. We don’t know about it (the petroleum problem), sometimes we hear that terrorists bomb the convoys, and sometimes we hear the petrol is taken by the United States army for their vehicles.. We don’t know what is the truth.”
Iraqi resentment of the coalition forces is caused by more than the long petrol queues. The failure of the occupation to rebuild Iraq’s security and services, combined with recurring night-time raids have left Iraqis angry and cynical.
“Security is the most important thing we need now,” Nora, a 25 year-old housewife told IPS. “We need to sleep at night with no one raiding our house. Would you believe, we wear all our clothes at night? You can imagine what it is like for them to bomb the gate of your house, and how you will feel when you have children like me.”
Iraq’s new government will be formed within the next few months. Most parties appear to be pushing for a government of “national unity.”
Iraqis are expecting to see the new government make unequivocal changes over the consequences of the occupation. Usama Asa’ad says they also expect to see the government reconstruct Iraq, since the United States is ending its own aid.
“The United States troops occupied Iraq in twenty days because they wanted to do that, but they didn’t rebuild Iraq ever since they came almost three years ago, because they did not care to do that.”(END/2006)