Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

Hump Day.  And Pope Day.  We've got a new Pope (the world does but I meant "we" as in Catholics), his name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio and he will go by the name Pope Francis.  John Hooper (Guardian) tells us that he's the first to use Francis and, more importantly:

But the cardinals' choice risked running into immediate controversy over the new pope's role in Argentina's troubled history. In his book, El Silencio, a prominent Argentinian journalist alleged that he connived in the abduction of two Jesuit priests by the military junta in the so-called "dirty war". He denies the accusation.

That's rather distressing.  Ratzneberger (or however you spelled his name) got a few days, if I remember right, before Nazi concerns were raised regularly in the press.

Jake Miller (CBS News) reports:

According to a senior U.S. government official, Vice President Joe Biden - America's first Catholic vice president and the highest ranking Catholic official in the country - will lead the U.S. delegation to witness the installation of Pope Francis in Rome, CBS News Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reports. The White House has yet to announce the full delegation for the inauguration Mass, which will be held next Tuesday.

That's weird because I've never really thought of Joe Biden as Catholic.  Or as non-Catholic.  I lack C.I.'s amazing memory so maybe I did know he was Catholic at some point and even blogged about it during the 2008 campaign but, if so, I don't remember.  As far as I know, this is the first I've heard of Joe being Catholic.

(I'm not implying he's hidden his religion.  I'm sure he hasn't.  I'm just saying it never registered with me until Miller's article.)

So what does the Pope mean? 

Well he's supposed to be a moral leader of the Church and he gets to ride around in the Pope Mobil which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is.  Maybe things were different before the need for the bullet proof bubble?

He gets to live in the Pope Cave -- as I like to think of Vatican City.

As a Latino, the Church will expect him to visit Latin America regularly. 

Now that the Church has selected the Pope, we next wait for them to select a First Lady.  Okay, just joking on that one.  Despite Woody Allen's belief in Sleeper that by this time we would have married Popes, the Church still requires the Pope to be unmarried -- as it does with the priests.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri has backed off threats against ExxonMobil, Iraqi Christians continue to live in fear, the US Senate hears about rape and assault in the ranks, and more.

Senator Kristen Gillibrand:  Too often women and men have found themselves in the fight of their lives -- not in the theater of war but in their own ranks, among their own brothers and sisters and ranking officers in an environment that enables sexual assault.  And after an assault occurs -- an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults happened in 2011 alone according to the Defense Dept's own estimates -- some of these victims have to fight all over again with every ounce of their being just to have their voice heard, their assailant brought to any measure of justice and then to fight for the disability claims they deserve to be fulfilled.

This morning in DC, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing on rape and assault in the military.  Gillibrand is the Subcommittee Chair, Lindsey Graham is the Ranking Member.  Chair Gillibrand observed, "The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new and it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long."  Ranking Member Graham noted that  ". . . clearly the message that we're sending to our female members of the military is that we're too indifferent and that your complaints are falling on deaf ears."

Senator Barbara Boxer doesn't serve on the Subcommittee (or the Senate Armed Service Committee period) but felt the need to testify before them.  She babbled on about being "heartened that Secretary Hagel is taking immediate action to review the facts of this troubling case . . ."  Save your babbles, Boxer.  What a bunch of crap.  The case in question is a public relations nightmare.  In November, Lt Col James Wilkerson was found guilty by a military court of assaulting a woman.  At the end of last month, Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin gave an order releasing Wilkerson from prison and Franklin tossed aside the conviction.

Boxer can babble all she wants and some groups will be stupid enough to pretend the babbles help anyone.  First off, Boxer voted to confirm Hagel.  She and her cohorts didn't give a damn about whether or not Hagel could do the job.  For the record, the job isn't hating Israel (as far as I know, Hagel doesn't hate Israel) or giving speeches against the Iraq War.  These were the 'reasons' so many idiots backed Hagel.  We pointed out repeatedly, before his name was even floated and after he was nominated, that the Secretary of Defense had two major problems to address: the rate of suicide and the rate or rape and assault in the military. 

The Senate didn't consider these problems to matter as evidenced by what passed for questioning.  Big surprise, one of the two issues blows immediately after someone who isn't qualified is voted into the position.

Will Hagel rise to the occasion? 

So far?  No.

Hagel hasn't done a damn thing except answered the questions of members of Congress.  Congress has pushed this not Hagel.

It shouldn't have come to this.  Hagel should have handled it all by himself and should have.

Rape and assault are serious crimes.  If we're not going to take them seriously then allow Hagel to muddle along, allow Barbara Boxer to give lip service to caring, but at the end of the day please drop the pretense that anybody really gave a damn.

What Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin did was outrageous.  Any other crime overturned by whim would be dealt with swiftly.  Don't give me the nonsense about, "Well it's in the code that the senior officer in someone's chain of command can overturn a court-martial."  There's nothing that can be done for this issue now with regards to Wilkerson, a sexual predator -- a convicted sexual predator, being allowed to walk.

But here's what Hagel can do -- what he damn well should have done immediately -- move to bust Lt Gen Craig A. Franklin down in rank.

Instead of acting like the chicken with his head cut off -- exactly why so many of us said Hagel didn't have the experience needed for the position -- Hagel should have immediately started the process to bust Franklin in rank. 

Instead it's been pity party, it's been "Congress you should have written something stopping this."  No, this is a flagrant assault on justice.  And guess what?  That makes is conduct unbecoming an officer.  When you add in that the offense is something out of control that the chain of command above Franklin has made clear must be dealt with, it's all the more unbecoming conduct. 

How do you address it, how do you prevent from happening again?  You bust the officer down in rank.  Not only does it ensure that Franklin won't have the power to do it in the immediate future, it also sends a message to everyone else in the ranks that this is unacceptable.  That in today's military, rape and assault will be treated as serious charges.

The member of the Senate that has addressed this the best, in my opinion, is Senator Claire McCaskill.  She's not posturing, she's demanding answers, she's demanding change, she's expressing justifiable outrage over what happened.  She also spoke in Congress last week about this.  Did a great job, I thought, and I'm not fan of Claire McCaskill's.  She didn't show up at today's hearing empty-handed, she's already got a bill that would end this type of jury nullification.  She wrote an amazing column on the issue and, in it, she points out of Franklin's nullification of the verdict, "This violates every sense of justice and fairness that we expect in America."  It does.  And -- pay attention, Chuck Hagel -- when an action "violates every sense of justice and fairness that we expect in America," that's conduct unbecoming an officer.

Hagel's refused to do what he immediately should have, move to bust Franklin down in rank -- a move US President Barack Obama should sign off on.

"Now what is it going to take to convince the military that sexual assault is a violent and vicious crime [. . .]" Boxer babbled on.  It's not a mystery.  The answer is very simple and it sends a message, "We better start taking this crime seriously." 

Boxer is part of the problem.  She's so hell bent on pontificating that she never realizes the answer already exists.  She's too busy praising Hagel to insist that he do his job. Article 133 of the UCMJ is very clear on this and you damn well better believe if you can be convicted of unbecoming conduct for being drunk in public or associating with a prostitute, your decision to set a sexual offender free and to expunge his record -- thereby allowing him not to even have to register as a sex offender -- is outrageous and, most importantly, dangerous to society.  Franklin has disgraced his rank.

After Boxer finished babbling, a second panel spoke.  Service Women's Action Network's Anu Bhagwati, former Army member BriGette McCoy, former Army member Rebekah Havrilla and former Navy Brian K. Lewis. 

Anu Bhagwati: Sexually assault is widely understood by military personnel who have been overexposed to a culture of victim blaming and rape mythology.  So let's be clear: Rape and assault are violent, traumatic crimes -- not mistakes, not lapses of professional judgment, not leadership failures and not oversights in character.  Rape is about power, control and intimidation.  Thanks to a surge of pressure over the last few years by advocates, the media and Congress, military force has finally been forced to reckon with the issue of military sexual violence.

Senator Kelly Ayotte is a former prosecutor and she noted that her home state (New Hampshire) has a Victims Bill of Rights and felt that the military would benefit from adoption one.  Senator Mazie Hirono spoke about removing the chain of command from these issues and having an independent body pursue the charges as well as the need for victims reporting attacks to be able to be reassigned to different units.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen noted  she was "amazed to see in your statistics that SWAN brought forward that 1 in 3 convicted sex offenders remain in the military and that the only branch of the service that says they discharge all sex offenders if the Navy."   Like Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Clair McCaskill is a former prosecutor.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Rape is the crime of a coward.  Rapists in the ranks are masquerading as real members of our military because our military is not about cowards.  Now our military does an amazing job of training.  I am so proud of our military.  But, unfortunately, I believe that this is not a crime that we're going to train our way out of because the crime of rape has nothing to do with sexual gratification, it has nothing to do with dirty jokes, and frankly there are a lot of studies that say it's not even connected necessarily with people who like to look at bad or dirty pictures.  It's a crime of assault, power, domination.  And I believe, based on my years of experience, that the only way that victims of sexual assault are going to feel empowered in the military is when they finally believe that the focus on the military is to get these guys and put them in prison.  So I believe that the focus of our efforts should be on effective prosecution and what do we need to do to make sure that these investigations are done promptly and professionally, that the victims are wrapped in good information, solid support and legal advice.  That the prosecutors have the wherewithal and the resources to go forward in a timely and aggressive way; and you don't have the ability of some general somewhere who's never heard the testimony of factual witnesses in a consent case can wipe it out with a stroke of a pen.  And so what I would like from you all -- your cases, they're all compelling, they're all moving -- I, like Senator Graham, am infuriated at that chaplain, I'm infuriated with the notion that some of the men who put up with what happened to you or even perpetrated what happened to you are still serving in our military.   I would like to hear from you -- especially those whose cases were more recent -- what happened when you reported in terms of getting good legal information about what your rights were and what to expect?

Rebekah Havrilla: Thank you, Senator McCaskill.  As mentioned, I had none.  When my friend notified me that he had found the pictures of my rape online, again, it was kind of a -- it was kind of a spur of the moment decision of, "Okay, this is enough.  This has gone on long enough.  I'm going to do an investigation.  Like this is ridiculous."

Senator Clair McCaskill:  If I could go back to your initial decision --

Rebekah Havrilla:  Mmm-hmm.

Senator Clair McCaskill: -- because we know that there is a huge number of these cases, that there's never a restricted or an unrestricted report.  Just so we make the record clear, a restricted report is kept for five years and an unrestricted report is kept for 20 years.

Rebekah Havrilla:  I believe those have now changed.  I believe that restricted reports are to be kept for fifty but previously there was a much lower cap on that correct.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Okay.  Well whatever the amount is, the difference between a restricted report and an unrestricted report is how timely we can get after it because, if it's a restricted report, it's not going to be investigated.

Rebekah Havrilla:  Correct.  You basically just become a statistic. 

Senator Clair McCaskill:  So if in fact one of the reasons you may your report restricted was the unique nature of the victim being embedded with her perpetrator in a work environment that is intense and depends on working together, what would have happened when you went in if you were told that if there is probably cause found in the next thirty days that this crime was committed, your perpetrator would be removed from the unit, what would your response have been?

Rebekah Havrilla:  It probably would have been worth considering. At that point, you have a timeline, a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak, with set standards and guidelines of 'okay, this will happen in the event that this and this are found.'  Again, everybody -- When you're in the middle of it, you look back -- I look back on it with kind of 20/20 or Monday morning quarter back style and you're like, "Oh, I can look back on this and I might have done it differently," but when you're in the middle of it, it's extremely difficult to be able to think clearly.  I mean, it's-it's a huge trauma, it effects your mental health, it effects how you see the world, how you see yourself.  But, had I had more information, had there been some kind of recourse of saying, you know, this isn't about me, this is about him, and had there been probable cause for some kind of prosecution, and I was actually asked later, when I did my full investigation, they said, "If they find enough are you willing to take this to court-martial?"  And I said, "Yes, absolutely."  But, in the beginning, that wasn't even an option for me, that wasn't something given to me and, again, we can do the what-ifs all we want and looking forward, I'm a different person than I was.  And I were to be in the same situation and have that happen to me, I would say, "Yes, absolutely.  I'm willing to take that as far.  This perpetrator is going to be done in 30 days or at least the potential for that thereof, let's move forward with this."

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Do you feel like your SARC, your Special Advocate that you talked to, do you feel like they were neutral, supportive, tried to talk you out of it, tried to talk you into it?

Rebekah Havrilla:  Uhm, most of them are very supportive and they wanted to be helpful but they all understood that their hands were tied as to what they could actually do for you as a victim.  They kind of -- When I -- When I went in to do my restricted reporting against my rapist, I had mentioned in passing the constant sexual harassment and sexual assault of my team leader and they said, "Oh, do you want to do a report against him too?"  And I was like, "I hadn't even thought of that but sure why not."  They weren't pressuring me anything, it was just kind of a you are -- you have the option also of making a restricted report against this individual, is that something that you're willing to do?  At that time, my end of the tunnel, my light at the end was that I had 60 days and I was out of the Army and that's all I wanted.  I wanted to be out, I wanted to be done.  I wanted to be away from the unit that I was in.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Mr. Lewis, what about you?  Did you feel like the point and time you reported anywhere that there was any legal help or any kind of help at all that would have allowed you to move forward with some kind of effort too?  And is your perpetrator still in the Navy?

Brian K. Lewis:  I honestly don't know and, at this point, I hope that I've moved forward enough away from it that I don't care.  It has to be about me at this point not what my perpetrator did.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  I appreciate that but I care, just so you know.  I care.

Brian K. Lewis:  I appreciate that, Senator.  But honestly when -- when the situation came to light there was an eerie silence that emanated from the JAG office.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  And what year was this?

Brian K. Lewis:  2000.  And it was like a black hole had all the sudden surrounded the JAG office because the Judge Advocate General of that command is subordinate to the commanding officer. At some point it becomes about the preservation of their own career than about helping me and, no, there was no effective, legal situation that I could access, Senator.

Senator Clair McCaskill:  Well my time is out. I do want to say that I do -- I've spent a number of hours with amazing professional prosecutors in the area of sexual assault at the Pentagon on Monday -- decades of experience.  And I do feel that there is some progress being made in some branches -- some more than others -- recognizing that they have failed at getting after this and doing what our military usually does best and that is: Focus on a mission and make it happen.  And what you all are doing today allows us to focus on the mission to get the coward rapists out of the ranks.  And we're going to do everything we can to make that happen so thank you all very much for being here.

Tomorrow, we'll note the hearing we attended this afternoon (House Veterans Affairs Committee) which will touch on burn pits and other topics.  I did not hear the government officials testify in the hearing above.  There was a lengthy break after the first two panels and the hearing resumed in the afternoon.  I was attending the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in the afternoon.

September 17, 2007, Bob Woodward (Washington Post) reported, "Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman said in an interview that the removal of Saddam Hussein had been 'essential' to secure world oil supplies, a point he emphasized to the White House in private conversations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq."    The topic of oil, Rupert Rowling (Bloomberg News) reports, "OPEC crude output rose in February to the highest level in at least three months, with Iraq and Iran boosting production even as refinery maintenance damped demand, according to the International Energy Agency."  Omar al-Shaher (Al-Monitor) also weighs in on Iraqi oil, "Iraq is close to completing design of a pipeline to carry Iraqi oil to Jordan and Egypt through the Gulf of Aqaba. Once completed, the project is to be handed over to a specialized company, pursuant to investment regulations."  A pipeline can carry Iraq's oil wealth to many places.  When it's working.  And the history of pipelines in Iraq is a history of bombings.  When you add in the turmoil in Egypt, the chances of the pipeline being repeatedly targeted increase even more.  The bombings themselves are a problem but so are the repairs.  In the middle of last month, an Iraqi oil pipeline was bombed.  Press TV noted at the time the Ministry of Oil spokesperson Asim Jihad "added that technical teams had started work to repair the pipeline, and that repairs would take several days."

The pipeline's not the only new deal Iraq's pursuing.  Domain-b reports, "Iraq has shortlisted Reliance Industries Ltd and six other companies firms for developing its Al-Nassiriya oilfield and construction of an associated 300,000 barrels per day refinery."  The Voice of Russia notes, "The Iraqi government has confirmed two Russian oil majors, Lukoil and Zarubezhneft, among the official bidders for the development of the Nasiriya oil field and the construction of a new oil refinery with the daily output capacity of 300,000 barrels.Dow Jones Newswires reports Indonesia's PT Pertamina is attempting to secure "a 20% stake in the West Tuba block in Iraq which is owned by Exxon Mobile Corp."

ExxonMobil?  Dropping back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:

In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field.  Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region."  Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.

We could provide all the links for this soap opera but I think most of us are up to speed already.  The sort version is that in the two-years-plus since that day, Nouri and his flunkies have threatened ExxonMobil, have stated the White House was going to stop the deal (a State Dept press briefing cleared that up), have said they would ban ExxonMobil, they would punish it, they would . . . Last week, Reuters reported that although ExxonMobil has been willing to sell off "its stake in the southern Iraq West Qurna-1 oil field" and just focus on the Kurdistan Regional Government's opportunities, "now Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is working to keep the U.S. oil giant on side, industry sources say, offering much sweeter terms at West Qurna-1 – a $50-billion (U.S.) investment project and a greater potential prize than the Kurdish blocks if Baghdad structures the contract closer to the more lucrative Kurdish model." 

Kevin Connolly (BBC News) observes, "It is part of Iraq's tragedy that its oil wealth could easily have been spent on providing top-class hospitals as good as those of Switzerland or Germany or the US. But of course it wasn't."  Juxtapose that with Dale McFeatters (Scripps Howard News Service) assertion, "The grim truth of modern warfare is that it is a tremendous driver of medical innovation."  Seriously, McFeatters?  Here's some grim truth for you, via Bie Kentane (BRussels Tribunal and Global Research):

Iraq has a higher percentage of persons with disabilities than other countries – not only persons born with disabilities, but also those who suffered disabilities later on. Three wars in as many decades and terrorist attacks have cost a large number of people their limbs, eyesight, and various physical, intellectual and mental abilities that other people take for granted(Kobler, 2012).
Landmines and explosive remnants of war have a devastating impact on Iraq’s children with around 25 per cent of all victims being children under the age of 14 years (War victims monitor, 2011).
Causalities from failed cluster sub munitions rose between 1991 and 2007 from 5,500 to 80,000, 45.7% between the age of 15 and 29 years of age, and 23.9% were children under the age of 14. Both UNICEF and UNDP believe these figures are an underestimation (War victims monitor, 2011).
This last decade the Al Munthanna and Basra provinces of Iraq have challenged Angola for the highest proportion to total population of children amputees (Indymedia Australia, 2011).
Children are often more vulnerable to the dangers associated with approaching or disturbing landmines and UXOs.  24% of victims in the Kurdistan Region were under 14 years old.
Many children lose their limbs, sight, or hearing resulting in lifelong disability. Child victims are then often perceived as a burden to their families and are discriminated against by society, with limited or no future prospects for education. The country will not meet the 2018 deadline to clear all landmines and UXO (IRIN, 2012).

That's only a small sample of the grim truth of what the illegal war 'gifted' Iraqis with.  Grim truth can also be found in  Amnesty International's new report  [PDF format warning] "Iraq: A Decade of Abuses."  Let's explore the grim reality of forced 'confessions' which dominate the Iraq 'justice' system today.  From the report.

In December 2011, Iraqi TV stations broadcast testimonies of at least three detained former bodyguards of the office of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi in which they accused him of ordering them to murder government and security officials and others.  At least two of them later testified against al-Hashemi in court; the testimony of at least one of them was accepted as evidence by the Central Criminal Court when it convicted al-Hashemi on 9 September 2012 [case number 372 of 2012, First Branch] of involvement in killings and sentenced him to death.  His son-in-law, Ahmad Qahtan, was sentenced to death in the same trial.  Although both have so far evaded arrest, al-Hashemi and his son-in-law have since been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law in at least three further trials by the Central Criminal Court and sentenced to death in absentia [Verdict of 1 November 2012 in case number 1675 of 2012, Third Branch; verdict of 4 November 2012 in case number 1430 of 2012, First Branch; verdict of 2 December 2012 in case number 1638, First Branch].  Some of those detained in connection with the government's allegations against al-Hashemi are alleged to have been tortured in detention; one former bodyguard is alleged to have died in detention as a result of torture.  (See section 3.4.)
Several of those arrested in connection with the allegations against al-Hashemi, including two detainees whose confessions were broadcast on television in December 2011, have also been sentenced to death.  The two were among six defendants convicted by the Central Criminal Court under the Anti-Terrorism Law and sentenced to death on 6 November 2012 [case number 1334 of 2012, First Branch].  Others were sentenced by the Central Criminal Court on 9 September 2012 [case number 783 of 2012, Third Branch], 30 September 2012 [case number 1672 of 2012, Third Branch]; 30 September 2012 [case number 1674 of 2012, Third Branch], 9 December 2012 [case number 373 of 2012, First Branch], 10 December 2012 [case number 1926 of 2012, First Branch], and 16 December 2012 [case number 1639 of 2012, First Branch]
The TV broadcasting of self-incriminating testimony by detainees before they actually stand trial or before the verdict in their trial is delivered appears intended by the authorities to serve several purposes: to stigmatize the individuals concerned and intensify pressure on the courts to return guilty verdicts against them, to convince or reassure the public that the authorities are making effective efforts to combat attacks and killings by armed groups and other violent crime.  Sometimes, possibly, such broadcasts may be intended to denigrate particular individuals out of a political motivation.  Such pre-trial exposure, however, fundamentally undermines the presumption of innocence and the right of the individuals to receive a fair trial; there are equally concerns that such testimonies have been admitted as evidence against others.  In this regard, UNAMI has commented: "the interrogation of witnesses in such circumstances without the presence of legal counsel casts doubt on the credibility of the testimony and the legality of the process.

We're all supposed to pretend Iraq isn't a failed state, that's it's functioning and some want you to lie that it's flourishing.  It's a failed state.  Clue one: Name another country where the Vice President has fled (even now, Tareq remains a Vice President, he's never been removed from office) and has been convicted of 'terrorism.'   Iraq is a failed state.  Peter Beumont (Guardian) reports.:

Abu Muhammad lies in his front room and tells a story depressingly familiar by Iraqi standards. A public servant, he was travelling to work when he hit traffic at the nearest checkpoint to the highway out of his neighbourhood. So he took a detour and used another checkpoint that would take him through a predominantly Shia area.
One hundred metres from the checkpoint he was blocked by two cars and dragged from his vehicle by masked, armed men. "They didn't seem to know my name. They swore at me and when I asked what they were doing, I was hit on the head with a pistol. I fought and then they shot me in the foot. They tried to put me in the boot but I managed to break free. Then I was running. That's when they shot me again."
It may sound like a story from the bad years of sectarian conflict from 2005 to 2008, when at its peak on average 3,000 people were killed every month. But this episode happened earlier this year, and speaks volumes about the rising tide of sectarian confrontation that has returned to Iraq.

National Iraq News Agency reports, "Police chief of Zummar district, Nineveh province survived an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb exploded on his convoy today 13, March."  And they report that a roadside bombing targeted Peshmerga Colonel Azad Mohammed.  In both attacks, the target emerged unscathed but a bodyguard was left injured.  NINA also reports that a Mosul bombing has left two police officers injured, a second Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left four more injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing left one person injured, an attack on a Falluja checkpoint left two police officers injured, and a Baghdad sticky bombing left city council member Bardan Abid Saud wounded.

Today Dennis Sadowski (Catholic News Service) reports:

Attending the installation of Patriarch Louis Sako as the new leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, looked around at the large crowd gathered in St. Joseph Cathedral and what he saw gave him a sense of hope.
Seated in the congregation amid tight security during the March 6 ceremony were Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. That political leaders would attend was not unexpected.
But Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and Nujaifi, a Sunni Muslim, are political rivals from different branches of Islam. That they were able to put aside their differences in a show of unity to support the minority Chaldean church and its new patriarch impressed Bishop Pates.

Last week, Trina wrote about Iraqi Christians, "Like other religious minorities in Iraq, the Christian population has just been targeted over and over.  The Jewish population?  You can count it on one hand and have fingers left over.  The Jewish population has been run out of the country.  I want the Iraqi Christians to be safe so I will not say, 'I hope they are not run out of their own country.'  I would prefer that to them being killed in Iraq."  Tengri News expresses similar concern today:

After 10 years of attacks on Iraqi Christians, Monsignor Pios Cacha wonders if the ancient community's days are numbered, AFP reports.
"Maybe we will follow in the steps of our Jewish brothers," he says.
The priest's reference to Iraq's Jewish population -- once a thriving community numbering in the tens of thousands but now practically non-existent -- neatly sums up the possible fate of Iraq's Christians.

Salam Faraj (AFP) explains, "Estimates of the number of Christians living in Iraq before 2003 vary from more than one million to around 1.5 million. But repeated attacks by Islamist groups pushed many to leave, and now they are estimated at less than 500,000."  At the end of last month, MidEast Christian News reported:

A Christian leader has stated that Iraqi Christians are deserting the region due to harassment from numerous bodies in the Middle East country.

Archbishop Mar Youhanna Boutros Moshe of Mosul for Syriac Catholics said the reasons for the migration of Iraqi Christians include their exposure to harassment by many bodies, security instability and a lack of job opportunities.

Though a minority within Iraq, Iraqi Christians make up a large portion of the international Iraqi refugee population.

They still make up a large portion of the international Iraqi refugee population.  Which still exists.  Even if organizations that took money to 'address' the situation and to 'help' -- organizations like Human Rights First -- can no longer even be bothered pretending to care about their plight.

Another long running issue is the decades long conflict between the government of Turkey and the PKK.  Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."

Monday came news that the PKK was planning to release "10 Turkish officials [they had]  kidnapped."  From yesterday's snapshot:

Hurriyet adds today, "A delegation from Turkey arrived in northern Iraq on Tuesday to oversee the handover of eight Turkish officials kidnapped by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)."  World Bulletin offers, "The officials the PKK is now holding were kidnapped on various dates in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Van, Mus, Bingol and Sırnak."

Middle East Online reports this morning, "The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on Tuesday freed eight Turkish prisoners held for two years in northern Iraq, as part of a new peace push by Ankara to end a 29-year-old insurgency."  Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz (CNN) quote Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party's MP Adil Kurt stating, "This is a very important step. ... This shows that there can be a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue. It is a show of goodwill that they were released without any preconditions."  Hurriyet Daily News notes that the Peace and Democracy Party had representatives at the exchange and "The group, accompanied by Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, headed to an undefined meeting point in northern Iraq, Anatolia news agency reported. It was composed of BDP Hakkari Deputy Adil Kurt and BDP Bitlis Deputy Husamettin Zenderlioglu, Head of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Ozturk Turkdogan, İHD Diyarbakır Provincial Chairman Raci Bilici, Head of Mazlum-Der Faruk Unsal and Deputy Head of Mazlum-Der Selahattin Coban." Azad Lashkari (Reuters) has a photo of the release here.

Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) offers this judgment, "Now this takes us to the more important step we could see by next week, this is according to Ocalan, we could see calling for the PKK to announce a ceasefire."  Constanze Letsch and Ian Traynor (Guardian) provide this context, "The release was the first tangible result of the attempt at a negotiated settlement, which kicked off gingerly last October with Turkish intelligence service approaches to Ocalan, but which in recent weeks has escalated, generating a wary confidence that the chances of ending one of the world's longest-running conflicts are perhaps better than ever before."