Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The stalemate

Hump day at last. :D This is from Michael Jansen (Irish Times):

IYAD ALLAWI, Iraq’s leading secular politician, has agreed to join a government dominated by Shia religious parties, ending nine months of political wrangling.

Following a meeting late on Tuesday with his rival prime minister designate Nuri al-Maliki, Mr Allawi said, “We reached a joint vision. Each of us has experience that complements the other.”

Mr Maliki said, “There are great challenges and we have the ability to confront all these challenges.”

Mr Allawi’s spokeswoman Maysoun Damlouji said he expected to wield broad powers as head of the National Council for Strategic Policies, a 20-member body comprised of senior politicians designed to scrutinise and approve the prime minister’s key security and foreign policy decisions.

So do you think that's the hardest problem Nouri's going to face because I really think there's going to be some huge problems in the lead up to December 25th.

Iraq's Got Tyrants

From April 25, that's Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Iraq's Got Tyrants."

Here's C.I's "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, one of the world's Big Six oil conglomerates reportedly was in talks with Tehran, Nouri had to assure the US that he'd pay his GE bill in 2009, Nouri gets his hands on the oil-for-food money, Iraqi Christians remain targeted as do Shi'ite pilgrims, and more.
Ewen MacAskill (Guardian) breaks big news on one of the Big Six of Big Oil. According to a March 23, 2009 US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, Nouri al-Maliki told US officials that the California-based multi-national Chevron Corporation had been in negotiations with the Iranian government in Tehran. The official is Patricia Butenis. She is currently the US Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives. When Nouri passed on the information to her, she was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Baghdad. In the cable, she wrote: "With regards to hydrocarbons, the PM [Nouri] asked for the US position on direct contracts with US firms and on US firms developing cross-border fields on the Iran border. The PM said he is currently in negotiations with Chevron to develop various oilfields to include a cross-border oilfield with Iran (NFI). The PM claimed that Chevron had told him that it had already raised the issue of a cross-border development with Tehran as well. (Note: We have no independent confirmation of this: end note.)"
The cable documents that Butenis and Nouri also discussed General Electric -- specifically whether or not GE would be receiving their payments (for electricity -- no dollar amounts are noted) and notes Nouri "said that the contracts would be paid even if it had to come out of their own salaries." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Nouri, if he moves from prime minister-designate to prime minister, will pull down $360,000 a year -- and that if the power-sharing deal holds, Allawi will make the same. $360,000 is a great deal of money, especially for a 'leader' who hasn't been able to provide either safety or basic services. What services GE's providing and what cost would also be interesting to know. The cable also notes that Nouri doesn't trust the Iraqi police and rejected the notion (presented by the US military) that the Iraqi military should be used for "external threats" and the police should be used for policing. In his post, Nouri controls the Iraqi army which may be why he dismissed the US suggestions.
We'll note this section of the cable on the now former US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill (no, he didn't last very long, did he?) and Butenis is "CDA":
Turning to the CDA, the PM asked about the arrival of Ambassador Hill. The CDA said that Ambassador Hill will have confirmation hearings in the Senate on March 25 and that, hopefully, he would arrive in Iraq sometime in April. The Qhopefully, he would arrive in Iraq sometime in April. The PM asked the CDA if she foresaw any problems. She responded that some Senators had expressed concern with Ambassador Hill's lack of experience in the Middle East and over his negotiations with North Korea. She said that Ambassador Hill had already met with Senators McCain and Graham to address such concerns. She expressed optimism that he would be confirmed by the Senate, noting that he was one of the Department's most accomplished diplomats. The PM said that he had discussed Ambassador Hill with President Obama when they last spoke and that President Obama said that Ambassador Hill "had his complete confidence" and that he is "the right man for the job." The PM told the CDA that "we welcome him to Iraq."
Tonight on WBAI, Joy of Resistance airs from nine to ten p.m. (and streams live online) and among the guests will be Jill Filipovic to address the topic of "Swedish and US rape laws and the current wave of misogny that has surfaced in response to rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange." (Other guests will be Susan J. Doulgas, Lu Baily and Amanda Marcotte.) On this week's Law and Disorder Radio (aired Monday on WBAI and around the country thoughout the week), hosts Michael Ratner and Michael S. Smith discussed WikiLeaks. Excerpt:
Michael Ratner: Michael, there's been zillions of words and articles about WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. And, of course, in this country he's looked at as a pariah despite the fact that every newspaper in the country is covering what he has done and he's obviously made a major contribution toward our understanding of how our government runs but give us a second on your political take on what you think of WikiLeaks.

Michael S. Smith: You know why I like him? I like him for the same reason I liked it when the Russian revolutionaries opened the books and all the czars secret diplomacy and they showed how the First World War was an imperialist war and they showed the secret deals between France and England and the Russian czar on how to divide up the Ottoman Empire once they won the first great war of the 20th century, the first great imperial slaughter. They wanted to divide up the Ottoman Empire. And in 1916, they had a treaty called the Sykes-Picot Treaty where they racked up all this rich Ottoman stuff between France and England.
Michael Ratner: But even then, Michael, let's just say it wasn't just rich Ottoman stuff, it was oil because what was happening was the ships were turning from coal -- where they need fueling stations all over -- to oil burning. And they recognized that, so when the First World War -- during it, actually -- They were goign to divide up the oil in the Middle East.
Michael S. Smith: Oil. You remember when they stupidly called the war against Iraq "Operation Iraqi Liberation"? O-I-L. And they realized they'd made a dumb mistake and they changed it. It's still about oil.
Michael Ratner: So let's put it into perspective. You're saying the First World War is really about imperial overreach. The second example we have is, of course, the Pentagon Papers.
Michael S. Smith: Same thing.
Michael Ratner: Same thing. Again about showing the lies about the war. Supposedly to help the Vietnamese people, whatever b.s., to stop Communism. But of course it was about the US in the Far East and its role in the Far East and what Ellsberg was able to do. Now let's compare it here. What have we seen in these documents to Wiki that makes you also see that really what he has exposed here is imperial overreach?
Michael S. Smith: Well he's shown the nature of these governments that the United States installed and props up in both oil-rich Iraq, carbon-rich Afghanistan. And that's what's horrifying people like [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton. The secrets are coming out. The nature of these governments. How they talk to each other. WikiLeaks provided a service. They opened the books on America's secret dealings the same way Russian revolutionaries opened the books up in 1917. That's what's driving these people crazy. They're threatening not just to prosecute him for espionage. That's the soft line. The right-wing commentators on Fox News and people like Sarah Palin are calling for his death, they're inciting violence.
Michael Ratner: Let's go back here. And I was thinking to myself when you and I were talking earlier, why I like what he's done so much. And I think you put your finger on it. That here the US goes into the Middle East and into Central Asia -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran now it's looking like Yemen --
Michael S. Smith: Yemen.
Michael Ratner: -- and it's saying, 'We're doing this because we want to stop terrorism' -- and, of course, that's another question about how this makes terrorism grow -- 'but we want to stop terrorism.' And, of course, Bush said for awhile we want to bring democracy to Iraq. And what these cables do is demonstrate that really this is a central corp of the US mission right now: To control the oil resources and other resources of the Middle East. And they show that the US is doing it sometimes overtly -- of course it lies about Iraq and Afghanistan -- but sometimes it's doing it so that the American people don't even know that it's doing it. And that's Yemen, where it said to the Yemenese, 'Claim that you're doing that bombing even though they all have our names on them.' Or it says that the claims by the government publicly that Iran is helping the Taliban when, in fact, the secret cables show that that wasn't the case, that they didn't have any evidence on that. So what you're seeing from these cables is the focus on where US hegemonic empire is concentrated and how they're lying to the American people about what the US is doing there. So the American people can't even object to the wars. They can't even protest because half of them they don't even know about.
Michael S. Smith: Well that's exactly right and what I really like about WikiLeaks is that it enables the American people to have information on an equal basis as the secret bureaucrats. That's the basis of democracy. Having a free press, that's the basis of democracy. Characters like Joe Lieberman trying to cut of WikiLeaks at the knees shows just how they despise democracy -- what [Noam] Chomsky said to us when we talked to him last week -- they despise democracy and that's why they despise Julian Assange.
Michael Ratner: And I think we do want to say something about the charges of rape and sexual assault going on in Sweden. Charges like that have to, of course, be taken very seriously and have to be investigated. I would hope that everybody's in agreement about that. But in this case, what you also see is a series of questions that make you wonder why it's being treated in a certain way. And, of course, question number one is that he was in Sweden, right, Michael?
Michael S. Smith: He was there for six weeks trying to give his side of the story and they woulnd't talk to him.
Michael Ratner: So then he leaves Sweden, they know he leaves Sweden, he goes to the United Kingdom. They [Sweden] then begin the issuance of a warrant for him -- a warrant not to pick him up on the actual charge, because he hasn't actually been indicted yet --
Michael S. Smith: That's right.
Michael Ratner: -- but just to answer questions. And he was willing to answer those questions by a video monitor, by going to the Swedish embassy. But, no, they want to bring him back to Sweden. And he's going to be facing extradition now to Sweden.
Michael S. Smith: You know why I think they want to bring him back to Sweden? It's easier to get him out of Sweden than it is to get him out of England. England has much stronger tradition of guaranteeing liberty and extradition than Sweden has. They want to snatch him and bring him back here and put him in handcuffs and parade him in front of a federal judge and in front of all the major networks. That's what they want to do.
As the Michaels demonstrate, you can discuss WikiLeaks -- and even Julian Assange -- without trashing the two women. Some other people need to take note. Last week, we repeatedly touched on this topic. We'll touch on it again because "I know he's ___" whatever really don't know a damn thing. But we know them. We know two things about them, in fact.
1) We know that if they were publishing at the early part of the '00s, they were publishing in Larry Fl**t's trashy Hu**ler magazine. That would be Amy Goodman and a whole host of lefty 'friends.' So are we really surprised that these people who thought it was 'cool' to publish in that smut magazine would be attacking women who may have been raped? No, we're not surprised at all. (FYI, Amy did a little collection plate spiel today which is why we're starting with this. She's smart enough not to go that far on her own show but she went that far and beyond while begging for money live over the airwaves.)
2) We know that this group of people told us Scott Ritter was innocent and just framed by the Bush administration because Ritter was telling the truth about the Iraq War. Pig Ritter, in fact, was brought up by Glenn Greenwald. Now if Pig Ritter were only arrested for being a child predator in April 2001 and June 2001, people could debate the issue and whether or not a man caught explaining (to what he thought was an underage girl) that he wanted to first meet up at McDonalds where she could watch him beat off in the men's room and then they could see where the 'magic' next took them (the dollar menu and men's room at Wendys?) but that's not all, is it?
"Scott Ritter was framed by the Bush administration to hush him up! He's innocent!" That was the cry. But Bush left office in January 2009. And Scott Ritter got busted for being a sexual predate a third time: November 2009. Bush was long gone. And what Iraq War secret was Ritter sitting on at that time that made him a victim of targeting? Let's go to Andrew Scott of Ritter's local paper, Pocono Record:

Officer Ryan Venneman was posing as 15-year-old "Emily" in an online chat room when he was contacted by someone using the name "Delmarm4fun." This person, later identified as Ritter, told "Emily" he was a 44-year-old male from Albany, N.Y.

"Emily" told Ritter she was a 15-year-old girl from the Poconos, at which point Ritter asked for a picture other than the one "Emily" had posted on her account. Ritter then sent her a link to his Web camera and began to masturbate on camera.

"Emily" asked Ritter for his cell phone number, which he provided.

Ritter again asked "Emily" how old she was. Told she was 15, Ritter said he didn't realize she was 15 and turned off his webcam, saying he didn't want to get in trouble.

Ritter told "Emily" he had been fantasizing about having sex with her, to which she replied: "Guess you turned it off ..."

Ritter then said: "You want to see it finish," reactivated his

webcam and continued masturbating and ejaculated on camera.

And to think he was taken off cable TV. Imagine the fun Rachel Maddow could have with footage of that! Glenn-Glenn at Salon December 1st: "I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations, but what I do know -- as John Cole notes -- is this: as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties. As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs)." Here's what we know, Glenn-Glenn, if Scott Ritter were Scott Smith, he'd be looking at a three-strikes-you're-out-policy. Instead, he's traded on his diplomatic work, 'stress,' his wife's 'nerves' (I'm referring to what his attorney pitched in the 2001 arrests) to walk away. Hopefully, he won't this time. As for Eliot, some of us called it out in real time. It was a political hit job. The woman involved accused him of no harm so it was also a private matter in this site's opinion. But we noted it was a hit job and we noted -- loudly -- stop sending us your crap and 'funnies' about the arrest. We didn't link to that garbage.
Eliot was taken out. Now he was stupid enough to have sex outside of marriage while holding a public office and making people uncomfortable. Julian may be Eliot. He may be Scott Ritter. If, like Amy Goodman, you'd defended and defended Scott Ritter, maybe you might want to sit this one out because shame still drapes over you like a tacky, knock-off.
RTT News reports, "An appeal launched by Swedish prosecutors against a lower court decision to grant bail to WikiLeaks found Julian Assange would be heard at Britain's High Court in London on Thursday, according to court officials." Luke Harding (Guardian) believes Julian will be out on bail tomorrow. That's really it in terms of Julian unless you're a sexist at The Nation magazine who now live blogs "WikiLeaks." Well, not really WikiLeaks. Julian Assange -- he live blogs Julian Assange. The Nation ignored the WikiLeaks Iraq War Logs release in October. But toss in sexual assault and the chance to go to town on two women, and suddenly The Nation is interested in the soap opera around Julian. That they can almost handle 'live blogging' for. Stan Goff (Feral Scholar) has made a point to play fair -- as have many of his readers such as askod who makes the following important points:
The wise thing for Wikileaks to do would be to change their spokesperson while the legal process runs its course. The accusations were made in August, if a change of spokesperson had been done in October there would have been nothing to smear it with now. That it appears unable to do so does not speak well for its viability as an organization.
No, it does not. Nor does the tabloid coverage and yellow journalism from some defenders do much to help the organization. Julian Assange is not Daniel Ellsberg. Even if Daniel himself says so, it doesn't make true and we should damn well be smart enough to know better. Daniel Ellsberg did a brave thing. Julian Assange is a publisher similiar to the New York Times and the Washington Post (and others) with the Pentagon Papers. It is not the same role, it is not the same risks. If WikiLeaks is a 'journalist' -- one of the many arguments being made -- then it is actually a journalist in the way a book publisher is. It's not reporting, it's not analyzing. That's why it farms those documents out to news outlets. If it's a journalist (I'm fine for calling it a journalist), it's in the role of publisher. Some of the defenders appear to believe if they hurl enough spitballs, something's going to stick to the wall. All it does is confuse the issue.
Bradley Manning may be the issue. The US militiary seems to think so. For anyone not up to speed, Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." Manning has been convicted in the public square despite the fact that he's been convicted in no state and has made no public statements -- despite any claims otherwise, he has made no public statements. Manning is now at Quantico in Virginia, under military lock and key and still not allowed to speak to the press. As Daniel Ellsberg reminded from the stage in Oakland last September, "We don't know all the facts." But we know, as Ellsberg pointed out, that the US military is attempting to prosecute Bradley. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) sketches out some new details of Bradley's imprisonment:
Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months -- and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait -- under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.
[. . .]
The U.S. ought at least to abide by minimal standards of humane treatment in how it detains him. That's true for every prisoner, at all times. But departures from such standards are particularly egregious where, as here, the detainee has merely been accused, but never convicted, of wrongdoing. These inhumane conditions make a mockery of Barack Obama's repeated pledge to end detainee abuse and torture, as prolonged isolation -- exacerbated by these other deprivations -- is at least as damaging, as violative of international legal standards, and almost as reviled around the world, as the waterboard, hypothermia and other Bush-era tactics that caused so much controversy.
Alsumaria TV reports that Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi have "agreed on the necessity to reach joint mechanisms over the formation of new governmental institutions." AP notes that Allawi appears to have withdrawn his threat to leave the power-sharing coalition and observes, "Mr Allawi, a former premier, had held out for months, insisting that he or one of his allies should be the next prime minister since his secular Iraqiya party narrowly won more seats than any other alliance in the March Parliamentary elections." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) adds that "Allawi indicated on Wednesday that he would join it after all. That appeared to remove the last major obstacle to Mr. Maliki's formation of a new government, something he must do by law before Dec. 25."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a National Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now nine months, eight days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."
Press TV notes, "Allawi will join Maliki's government as the head of newly created National Council for Strategic Policies to oversee security and foreign policy issues. The 20-member body will closely monitor Maliki's major security and foreign policy decisions. The Iraqi parliament must still come to a firm decision on the scope of authority the new council should be granted."
Meanwhile Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Iraq closed another chapter on the Saddam Hussein era Wednesday when the United Nations Security Council lifted most of the sanctions that it had imposed after the late ex-dictator's invasion of Kuwait 20 years ago." Obvious benefit? $700 million from the oil-for-food program is about to be "into Iraq's escrow account". Previously, they couldn't touch the money. File it under "I'll have what Joe's snorting," BBC News reports that US Vice President Joe Biden -- who chaired the meeting -- declared, "Iraq is on the cusp of something remarkable -- a stable, self-reliant nation." Where have we heard that before?
In Mosul today, Reuters reports, a female Iraqi Christian college student was kidnapped. The latest wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians began October 31st with the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which at least seventy people were killed and another seventy injured. Since then, Baghdad and Mosul especially have been flashpoints for violence aimed at Iraqi Christians with many fleeing -- and many fleeing to the KRG. Tim Rutten's "Iraq, the Middle East and intolerance toward Christians" (Los Angeles Times) notes:
The United States, meanwhile, does nothing — as it did nothing four years ago, when Father Boulos Iskander was kidnapped, beheaded and dismembered; or three years ago, when Father Ragheed Ganni was shot dead at the altar of this church; or two years ago, when Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped and murdered; as it has done nothing about all the church bombings and assassinations of lay Christians that have become commonplace over the last seven years.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued the following statement:

12/14/2010: USCIRF Urges Upgrading Security in Iraq for Christians and Other Imperiled Religious Communities
For Immediate Release
December 14, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC - In advance of the December 15 UN Security Council meeting on Iraq, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today urged the U.S. government to redouble its efforts, and use the international forum as an opportunity, to address the grave situation facing that country's Christians and other imperiled religious minorities.

The Security Council meeting is slated to address the progress in Iraq to date. The recent upsurge in attacks against Christians makes clear, however, that the country's most vulnerable religious minorities remain in peril. The smallest Iraqi religious groups—including ChaldoAssyrian, Syriac, and other Christians; Sabean Mandaeans; and Yazidis—face targeted violence, including murders and attacks on their places of worship and religious leaders, intimidation, and forced displacement; they also experience discrimination, marginalization, and neglect. As a result, these ancient communities' very existence in the country is now threatened. The loss of the diversity and human capital these groups represent would be a terrible blow to Iraq's future as a secure, stable, and pluralistic democracy.

This is a particularly important period in Iraq, with a new government being formed and the U.S. military presence drawing down. USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government take the following steps to protect these vulnerable communities:

• Provide Protection: In consultation with the Christian and other minority religious communities' political and civic representatives, identify the places throughout Iraq where these targeted minorities worship, congregate, and live, and work with the Iraqi government to assess security needs and develop and implement a comprehensive and effective plan for dedicated Iraqi military protection of these sites and areas; as this process moves forward, periodically inform Congress on progress.

• Promote Representative Community Policing: Work with the Iraqi government and the Christians' and other smallest minorities' political and civic representatives to establish, fund, train, and deploy representative local police units to provide additional protection in areas where these communities are concentrated.

• Prioritize Development Assistance for Minority Areas: Ensure that U.S. development assistance prioritizes areas where these vulnerable communities are concentrated, including the Nineveh Plains area, and that the use of such funding is determined in consultation with the political and civic leaders of the communities themselves.

On December 4, in the wake of the recent spate of attacks, 16 Iraqi Christian parties and organizations issued a compelling joint call for greater protection. USCIRF urges both the U.S. and Iraqi governments to heed this call and work with these leaders, as well as the leaders of the other small endangered groups in Iraq, on implementing these and other measures to protect and assist these communities before it is too late.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at tcarter@uscirf.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or (202) 523-3257.

Today the European Parliament held a briefing on the issue of Chrisians in the Middle East. Yet Barack remains silent -- in a country where identification is often the strongest motivator when it comes to voting.
Kirsty Buchanan (UK's Express) reports:

THE congregation receives death threats, there are 35 soldiers manning the perimeter fence and the vicar ­travels to work with 12 bodyguards in three armoured vehicles. Welcome to Christian worship, Baghdad-style.
In the last year St George's in Iraq's capital has been bombed four times but the "very ugly and very solid" church is still standing.
Meanwhile AFP notes that Shi'ites are making a pilgrimage to Karbala for Ashura: "Black flags, representing the sadness of Shiites during Ashura, and pictures of the revered Imams Hussein and Abbas, both of whom are buried in Karbala, were seen throughout the city, while violence targeting pilgrims in Iraq has claimed the lives of 10 people in the past few days." Zawya adds that some pilgrims in Karbala have engaged in anti-corruption chants such as this one aimed at the Public Integrity Commison: "Tell us how many thieves have been presented to the integrity commission. We swear by your name, oh Hussein, that we are not afraid to speak, to express ourselves, to publicly denounce these wolves!" And Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) reports that 10 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed yesterday with many more left injured and that "Attacks targeting Shiite pilgrims have spiked in recent days as hundreds of thousands of worshipers have been making their way to the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq and other Shiite shrines."
Reuters notes today's violence includes a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people injured, a Baghdad bombing which injured two people, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured one person, two Kirkuk bombings which claimed 1 life and left two people injured and Tuesday's Baghdad roadside bombing's death toll has risen to 10.