Thursday, June 20, 2013

The government's disarm con

Good morning!  Did you catch Free Speech Radio News yesterday?

One items that stood out to me was this report:

Speaking in Germany today, President Barack Obama announced further reductions in the US nuclear arsenal and said he’d pursue negotiations with Russia on the drawdown of deployed weapons.
“After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”
Obama spoke at the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, joined by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the city’s mayor. In 2010, Russia and the US signed a new START treaty, in which both countries agreed to cut their deployed nuclear weapons to about 1,500, but did not place limits on non-deployed weapons. According to the Pentagon, as of 2010, the US had more than 5,000 warheads in its stockpile. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would not allow the effectiveness of the country’s nuclear force to be decreased and a senior foreign policy advisor, Yury Ushakov, called for more countries to be involved in the talks, according to the BBC. Obama pledged to build support in Congress to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and called on global nations to begin negotiations on a treaty to end production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Yeah, Barack's so full fo s**t.  Everyone's going to reduce! But will still have a ton!

We're never getting rid of our stockpile that way and, be honest, the government (regardless of who is in the White House) doesn't want us to.

We will not get down to zero nukes and we won't in part because when fake measures, like what Barack proposed, take place, we all start saying, "Yea!"

I can already, in my head, hear the useless praise Jonathan Schell's probably composing as we wake this morning.

And because we fall for this crap over and over, the US government knows it doesn't need to get serious about really reducing the nukes.

Nuclear weapons kill, I hope we grasp that.

So if we have 10 nukes, that's what 10,000 deaths, 100,000 deaths?  1 million deaths?

Let's say it's 1 million.  And let's use that persepctive for the 'news' of yesterday.   Barack announced that everyone will get rid of 4 nukes yesterday. That means Germany has only one and Russia has zero and . . .

The US is left with 6 which will kill 6 million people.


Really?  'Yea'?  You're thrilled with this news that we're still hanging onto nukes?

If you are and you're supposedly anti-nuclear, you're getting conned yet again.

And it doesn't matter if it's a Bush, a Barack or whomever.  It's the same con over and over and that's why we're not at zero despite the power of the nuclear freeze movement -- which is a movement many of us in America believe in.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the United Nations notes that Iraq was number three in 2012 in terms of its citizens fleeing to other countries, the US State Dept gives Iraq a low rating on its efforts or 'efforts' to end human trafficking, Ayad Allawi gets interview by the BBC, candidates remain targeted in Iraq as Nineveh Province and Anbar gear up for provincial elections, and more.

Two major reports that include Iraq were released today.  First up, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued their "Global Trends Report 2012" which found that the number of refugees worldwide increased.

The report notes that "the top five source countries of refugees at the end of 2012" were: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic and Sudan.  That order is -- from highest to lowest -- the top five refugee producing countries.  When all five countries are combined, they account for 55% of 2012 refugees worldwide.  For Iraq, 2012 saw 746,400 Iraqis become external refugees (refer to Figure Four on page 13 of the report). Table one on page 39 shows that Iraq has 1,131810 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

BBC World Service was the first news outlet to note that the Iraqi refugee crisis was again on the uptick.    Matthew Woodcraft (BBC World Service -- link is audio) reported on this development June 5th speaking to and about the newly arrived in Jordan who fled Iraq due to the increased violence.

Some people leave Iraq, some people come in.  There's very little discussion of either departures or arrivals -- especially when they take place for for less than humane reasons.  Today, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the issue of human trafficking.

Secretary John Kerry:  Thank you very much, and welcome, all of you, to this remarkable room, a room named after a Founding Father who was a lonely voice against slavery long before there was a United States of America. And it is called the Franklin Room, and you can see Ben Franklin looking over us from the wall over there above the fireplace. It’s fitting that we gather here today in this room in order to mark the importance of our country remaining committed to this message that we send to all of the world today.
Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you, Lou, for your kind words. Thank you most importantly, I think everybody here would join me in agreeing, you are a TIP hero and we thank you for everything you’ve done these past years. (Applause.) And I want to thank you and your team and everybody who works in the Trafficking in Persons Office. Thank you, all of you who are part of this effort today and those of you around the world who helped produce this report. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into this. This is a year-long effort. We’re already working on the next one and we will make measurements that are based in fact and common sense.
To our TIP Report heroes who have made a very long journey on very short notice, we welcome you here and we’re very grateful for your efforts. And everybody here will get to share in the remarkable individual, personal journeys that they represent.
When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery – literally tens of millions who live in exploitation – this whole effort can seem daunting. But it’s the right effort. And there are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom and for the possibility of life itself. It’s no understatement to say that we are working to tackle an issue that millions of people assumed had been dealt with a long time ago.
But the problem unfortunately persists, and I hate to say in some places can grow, and the challenge continues. And that is why the inspiring examples that are here today remind us not just that we have work to do, but that the actions of a single person can make all the difference in the world and they can actually bring so many lives out of bondage, out of the shadows, out of darkness. So I thank our TIP heroes for their very personal individual commitment, for the example that they set. And I thank all of you, those here and millions of others who are out there waging this battle. I thank them all for their commitment.
I want to acknowledge Somaly Mam, who is a survivor, who was a TIP Report hero in 2005, and who is a hero every single day in helping women and girls who have been abused to try to get their lives back.
I’m also particularly happy to be joined here today by Congressman Chris Smith. I’ve worked with Chris on this stuff. There’s nobody more committed or dedicated. So thank you, Chris, for your strong voice and leadership in these efforts. (Applause.) Trafficking in persons is one of those rare issues that can bring people together across the aisles without regard to ideology and without regard to politics, and that’s the way it ought to be. I appreciate Chris’s advocacy on this issue. For years together in Congress, we were able to work on this and some other issues. And it’s no understatement to say that he was banging the drum on this long before many in Congress even knew the term “trafficking in persons” or understood what it really meant.
Lou mentioned a number of great American diplomats, but he left one out, and that was one of our first African-American ambassadors, Frederick Douglass. A century later, the Douglass family continues to fight against all forms of slavery. And his direct descendant, Kenneth Morris, who is the head of the family’s foundation, is here with us today. He just came from the Capitol, where today Douglass was honored at long last in our National Statuary Collection. And we welcome Ken here. Thank you for being here with us today. Appreciate it. (Applause).

I know that's a long excerpt but if the issue is important -- and it is -- it's important to recognize those who work on it.  Feminist Majority Foundation has noted, "The three most common forms of trafficking are labor trafficking, including child labor, child soldiering and sweatshop work; sex trafficking, including child sex tourism and 'mail order' brides; and domestic servitude."

The State Dept's report is entitled "Trafficking in Persons Report 2013" [available at the link in PDF or HTML].   Human trafficking is a global problem.  It's not limited to Iraq.  It takes place in the United States, it takes place everywhere.  In fact, from the report, here's a US horror story:

 For over 20 years, the owners and staff of a turkey-processing plant subjected 32 men with intellectual disabilities to severe verbal and physical abuse. The company housed the workers in a “bunkhouse” with inadequate heating, dirty mattresses, and a roof in such disrepair that buckets were put out to catch rainwater; the infestation of insects was so serious the men swatted cockroaches away as they ate. Although the men were as productive as other workers, the company paid them only $15 a week (41 cents an hour) for labor that legally should have been compensated at $11-12 an hour. The employers hit, kicked, and generally subjected the men to abuse, forcing some of the men to carry heavy weights as punishment and in at least one case handcuffed a man to a bed. Supervisors dismissed complaints of injuries or pain, denied the men recreation, cellphones, and health care. The U.S. government filed an abuse and discrimination case against the company for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act. During the trial, the attorney representing the men said: “The evidence is these men were treated like property…these men are people. They are individuals.” A jury awarded the men a total of approximately $3,000,000, the largest jury verdict in the history of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That company is Hill County Farms (aka Henry's Turkey Service) and Yuki Noguchi reported on the horrors for All Things Considered (NPR -- report is audio, text and transcript) May 16th:

YUKI NOGUCHI:  During the day, the men worked at a nearby processing plant, gutting turkeys under the watchful eye of a contractor called Hill County Farms, which was paid to oversee the men's work and living arrangements. Those supervisors hit, kicked, handcuffed and verbally abused the men, who were paid $2 a day. This went on for three decades, affecting 32 men. [Susan] Seehase (director of a support center) says medical exams later revealed the men suffered diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, and festering fungal infections that had gone untreated.
SUSAN SEEHASE: Roots of teeth were exposed.

NOGUCHI: She says it went on and on because the men knew nothing better, and no one reported the abuse.

SEEHASE: Their life experiences didn't tell them that there was really another option for them. It's incredibly difficult to try to understand. And I have no explanation. And I don't know who can explain how this really happened.

 Again, human trafficking is a global horror.  One of the most common misconceptions?  As the State Dept report notes:

"Trafficking doesn’t happen here." Approaching human trafficking as a crime that occurs only in far off places ignores situations of forced labor or sex trafficking that may be happening closer to home. Human trafficking is not a problem that involves only foreigners or migrants, but one faced in nearly every corner of the world involving citizens who may be exploited without ever leaving their hometown.

The US Ambassador at Large to Monitor Combat Trafficking in Person, Luis CdeBaca,  notes in the State Dept report's introduction that an estimated 27 million people are trafficked worldwide but that, using data provided by the governments of various countries, "only around 40,000 victims have been identified in the last year."  The actual number, from the report, is 46,570 which is an increase from 2011 (41,210) but still lower than the high of 2009 (49,105) (please note these numbers begin with 2008).   Of the 46,570 identified in 2012, only 7,705 resulted in trials and a little over half of those trials resulted in convictions (4,746).  From those numbers on trafficking, it's broken down further for trafficking in prostitution alone, 1,153 went to trial and only 518 -- less than half -- resulted in convictions.  Again this is a global horror.

We do focus on Iraq here, so that's what we'll zoom in on.  The report notes, "Iraq is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor."  Let's start with the trafficking of Iraqis:

Iraqi women and girls are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. An international organization reported cases of forced prostitution in the city of Tikrit; sex traffickers sell girls and women from Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Syria for the approximate equivalent of $1,000-5,000. Criminal gangs reportedly prostitute girls from outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) in the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah. An Iraqi official revealed that criminal networks have been involved in sex trafficking of boys and girls. An NGO reported that sex traffickers rape women and girls on film and blackmail them into prostitution or recruit them in prisons by posting bail and then forcing them into prostitution via debt bondage. An international organization alleged that police officers and other members of the security forces kidnapped women and girls and forced them into prostitution in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces. Some women and children are pressured into prostitution by family members to escape desperate economic circumstances. NGOs report that women are prostituted in private residences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Iraq through the use of temporary marriages (muta’a), by which the family of the victim receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission for the woman or girl to be married for a limited period of time, during which she is subjected to labor and sex trafficking. Women are also subjected to forced domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of forced divorce, and women who flee such marriages or whose husbands divorce them are often vulnerable to further forced labor or sexual servitude. Criminal gangs reportedly subject children to forced begging and other types of forced labor.

The large population of internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq are particularly at risk of being subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. An international organization observed that Syrian refugees in the Domiz refugee camp in Dahuk, Iraq, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Specifically, women may begin commercially dependent relationships with Iraqi men, men enter into employment without contracts, and children are increasingly pressured to engage in begging. In previous years, some Iraqi refugees in Syria reportedly contracted their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where some of them were reportedly raped, forced into prostitution, or subjected to forced labor. In other instances, Iraqi refugees’ children remained in Syria while their parents departed the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Previously, Iraqi sex trafficking victims deported from Syria on prostitution charges were vulnerable to re-trafficking by criminal gangs operating along the border. Iraqi refugees who involuntarily return to Iraq from Syria are highly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, due in part to the fact that female and child returnees typically do not have a support network or community to which they return.

 Some Iraqis are trafficked within the borders of Iraq, some are trafficked outside the border to another country.  What of those non-Iraqis who come to Iraq hoping for work or fleeing violence in their own countries?

Iraq is also a destination for men and women who migrate from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Georgia, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Uganda and are subsequently subjected to involuntary servitude as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. Women from Iran, China, and the Philippines reportedly are subjected to forced prostitution in Iraq. Some foreign migrants are recruited for work in other countries such as Jordan or the Gulf States, but are forced, coerced, or deceived into traveling to Iraq, where their passports are confiscated and their wages withheld, ostensibly to repay labor brokers for the costs of recruitment, transport, food, and lodging. Other foreign migrants are aware they are destined for Iraq, but once in the country, find the terms of employment are not what they expected or the jobs they were promised do not exist, and they are forced to live in work camps with substandard conditions. The Government of Nepal continues to ban its citizens from migrating to Iraq for work.

The report classifies Iraq as a "Tier 2" country and explains, "Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards."  TVPA stands for "Trafficking Victims Protection Act."  How did it garner that rating?  From the report:

The Government of Iraq does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but it is making significant efforts to do so. The government conducted some investigations and at least one prosecution under the 2012 anti-trafficking law. The government also established an anti-trafficking department in the interior ministry, which collected human trafficking law enforcement data and operated the newly established anti-trafficking hotline. The inter-ministerial Central Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons was active in furthering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts throughout the reporting period. The committee met multiple times, publicized its meetings to raise awareness about trafficking, and included participants from international organizations, foreign governments, and NGOs. Despite modest improvements in law enforcement efforts, the government failed to investigate or punish government officials complicit in trafficking-related offenses. Moreover, the government demonstrated minimal efforts to identify and assist victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, including those incarcerated for prostitution violations. The government continued to arrest, detain, and prosecute victims of forced prostitution and prohibit NGOs from operating shelters to protect sex trafficking victims. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials worked, on a limited basis, with NGOs and international organizations to refer some victims to protection services. The government also established a location for a temporary and permanent shelter for trafficking victims and drafted shelter guidelines.

Last January, Iraq's Deputy at the Ministry of Interior, Adnan al-Assadi, was quick to proclaim to Alsumaria  that he was on the job and was letting the European Union know, adding, "These workers enter the country either legally or illegally and some companies oppress them, hurt them or ridicule them in an inhumane way."

Does anyone else see a problem?

How about the fact that he's only focusing on the trafficking of non-Iraqis and his statements ignore the fact that Iraqis are being trafficked (in and out of Iraq).

He might need to refer to the State Dept's remarks on common misconceptions.

If he seemed defensive at the start of the year, he had every reason to be.  For years now, Iraq's government has claimed it was addressing (and solving!) the issue.  In 2009, Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) reported on the efforts of the Iraqi government to respond to State Dept condemnation on this issue.   Abouzeid also noted:

As a story detailed, trafficking in Iraq is a shadowy underworld where nefarious female pimps hold sway and impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters on the sex market. (See pictures of a women's prison in Baghdad.)

Do we need to repeat that in bold a few more times?

The reason I ask is, for years now, starting with the New York Times 'reporting' that women who had died were "prostitutes," through the more recent attempt this year of AFP to pimp that lie, we have noted it is nonsense.  If a group of women die, why would you besmirch their names?

Can a woman in Iraq be called anything worse than a prostitute?   Had she been branded that and lived, she would have risked being murdered in a so-called 'honor' crime.  The New York Times, to its credit, backed off from that nonsense.  It seemed to be long gone.  And then?  Dropping back to the May 22nd snapshot:

Alsumaria adds that an attack on a Baghdad home left 10 women and 4 men dead, an armed clash in Mosul left 1 rebel dead and two Iraqi soldiers injured, and they update the toll on the Kia mini-bus bombing noting 1 dead and seven injuredFars News Agency reports 1 corpse was discovered by Camp Ashraf.  AFP insists that the Baghdad home was a brothel.  They provide no quotes from neighbors maintaining that and, after the attack, they weren't allowed to enter the home so apparently AFP's confessing to visiting it before the attack?  They note, "Soldiers and police mainly armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and pistols cordoned off the site, which was visited by high-ranking officers."  Considering the stigma attached to prostitution in Iraq, I'm always amazed at how glibly some outlets are when it comes to making that charge about the just murdered.  They don't even wait a day.  They can't ever prove it, but it's apparently the thing to say when women die: "Prostitute."  Since they're so comfortable with it, maybe the need get off their little asses and start reporting on who is visiting these alleged brothels?  Or would that take all the fun out of their smearing dead women?  And note, it's not an even an 'allegation,' it's presented as fact.  Because smearing Iraqis -- especially dead Iraqis -- has always been a favorite hobby of the western press.

Can AFP explain how, the day the women died, the 'news' agency is able to say they were prostitutes?  Were their johns AFP correspondents?

If not, what are they basing it on?  Hearsay.  Imagine that, Iraq might be just like every other country on the face of the earth in that it has nosy and judgmental neighbors.

The neighbors don't know anything, they've just formed judgments.  Like the Iraqis who attacked the LGBT community formed judgments.  No one deserves to be harmed or attacked for the 'crime' of falling in love.  But not only did it happen, some of the targeted men and women weren't even gay or lesbian.  But they got targeted because of small minded, nosy neighbors.

Why AFP would want to help that along is beyond me.

But let's assume for just one second that the women in that house 'entertained' men.  That still doesn't mean they were prostitutes.  They might not have been willing sex-workers, they may have been the victims of human trafficking.

If that is the case, then AFP not only besmirched their reputations, AFP also allowed these women to be defined by the very criminals who trafficked them.  Maybe in light of the State Dept's report today, AFP can take a look at that?  And among the misconceptions mentioned in the report that AFP might want to consider in light of their 'reporting'?  Try this one:

 “She’s free to come and go.” Popular images of human trafficking include dramatic kidnappings and people held under lock and key. More common, but less visible, methods of control include psychological coercion, debt bondage, withholding of documents and wages, and threats of harm. As in domestic abuse cases, observing a person out in public or taking public transportation does not mean that she is free from the effective control of her trafficker.

(By the way, we were being kind May 22nd. Since we're addressing it again, the author of that report was W.G. Dunlop.)

Mark Thompson has a report for Time today entitled "How the Iraq War got off on the wrong foot."  Some may be amused by it but I do think many others will point out that if you're article's about post-invasion US forces doing missions to eradicate evidence and images  of Saddam Hussein, you're not writing about how the illegal war got off on the wrong foot -- which would be with lies, hysteria and a compliant and cooperative media.

On the media, today BBC World Service's Sarah Montague interviewed Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi.  The audio segment has garnered a great deal of attention and BBC notes that video of the interview will be featured tomorrow on the BBC TV program Hardtalk.  I'll make that my excuse for waiting until tomorrow to seriously dig into that interview.  (In reality, the human trafficking report wasn't going to be a big part of this snapshot until 2 State Dept friends pointed out that the US press is largely ignoring the report released today.)  In the interview, he discussed the climate in Iraq when Montague repeatedly stated he hadn't accomplished anything.  He pointed out that 18 Iraqiya candidates had been killed running for office in 2013.  She didn't even pause, she didn't take a moment to absorb.

I like Gabby Giffords and this is not to make light of her shooting.  But when she was shot, the US was outraged.  As they should have been.

But that was one politician.  This year alone, in Iraq, 18 politicians were assassinated.  That's news.  That's an issue and it does go to the climate that's created in the country.

National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul suicide bomber killed political candidate Sheikh Younis al-Rammah today, as well as "four of his brothers and cousins" and left six more injured.  AFP reports, "Ramah's United Iraq party is seen as allied to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He was not running in the June 20 polls, but several of his party members were candidates."

Let's note a few of the failed attempts since Monday  (we've noted the ones that resulted in deaths or injuries already in the snapshots). Today NINA reports, MP Hassan Zeidan survived an assassination by bombing in  Mosul, today Anbar candidate Hafedh Abdul-Mahdi escaped an assassination by bombing, and -- it's not just politicians in office or running for office, it's also, as on Monday, the targeting of the Nineveh Province Electoral Commission director Mohamed Hani and Board Commission Golshan Kamal who survived an assassination attempt by bombing.  That's three assassination attempts that failed in the last three days.  There is a climate of fear in Iraq -- and this climate can translate into fear of voting.  It doesn't have to and it may not, but it is possible that, by association, the violence aimed at candidates can influence tomorrow's vote.

Tomorrow's vote?  April 20th, Iraq saw provincial elections take place in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces.  As Kirk H. Sowell (Foreign Policy) rightly observed, "Iraq's April 20 provincial elections were like two elections in one country.  They included all  provinces outside the Kurdistan region except Kirkuk, due to a long-standing dispute over election law, and the predominately Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninawa, where the cabinet postponed elections under the pretext of security following a series of candidate assassinations."  The United Nations continues to press for Kirkuk to vote this year.  Whether that happens or not, tomorrow is when Anbar and Nineveh Province are supposed to finally be allowed to vote.

All Iraq News notes that Allawi declared today the postponing had been illegal and unconstitutional.  He is correct.  Any postponement is supposed to go through the Independent High Electoral Committee.  They -- and only they -- are the ones who can make that judgment.  They are over scheduling elections.  Parliament has to vote on dates and other issues.  But this had already been taken care, elections had been announced and Nouri just declared that the two provinces -- the two he is most unpopular in -- would not be voting.

As Ayad Allawi noted, most of those eligible to vote in the 12 provinces that were allowed to vote?  They chose not to vote and voter turnout was down to approximately 30% (he notes that in his BBC interview today). 

Boushra al Mouzaffar (Al-Hayat via Al-Monitor) reports:

Saleh al-Mutlaq, the Iraqi deputy prime minister who also leads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, said he is concerned about electoral fraud in the provinces of Ninevah and Anbar. He accused his opponents of having “a clear project to divide Iraq.” Meanwhile, the United bloc, led by parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, was optimistic that the coming election would be better than the last. The electoral battle in Ninevah and Anbar is almost exclusively between Mutlaq and Nujaifi.

In the BBC interview today, Sarah Montague could not accept the fact that there were ex-Iraqiya -- and Ayad Allawi was referring to -- though not naming -- Saleh al-Mutlaq.  I don't believe she has any idea how unpopular al-Mutlaq has become with many one-time supporters.  He was seen as having 'survived' when Tareq al-Hashemi was railroaded and al-Mutlaq's 'crime' was much greater -- hitting at Nouri's vanity by telling CNN that Nouri was the new Saddam.  But Nouri and Saleh patched things up and Saleh created a backlash in the process.  December 30th, he showed up at the Mosul protest and got the sort of welcome he had earned.  When we noted it, some insisted we were crazy, patted the little lady on the head and maintained if that were true certainly Prashant Rao's circle jerk would have noted it.

It wasn't true?  By March 28th, it was very clear (see "Saleh al-Mutlaq: Maybe less popular than Nouri" and the next day's "al-Mutlaq denounced, at least 26 dead and 73 inju..." And then  explain this March 29th photo.)

Now al-Mutlaq's smearing Osama al-Nujaifi as a cheat.

Based on what?  He didn't smear him like that in the last provincial elections (2009).  He didn't smear him at all in the 2010 elections.  But, Saleh wasn't competing in those.  No, he'd been judged to be a Ba'athists and Nouri removed Saleh's name from the ballots.

Wael Grace (Al Mada) examines what might be a split between traditional 'opinion leaders' backing candidates and the support the activist community (which has been protesting since December) intends to provide at the ballot box.

In other violence,  NINA notes a Baghdad bombing left six people injured, one of Nouri's commanders in Kirkuk was injured in an armed attack, a Kirkuk bombing wounded two Iraqi soldiers2 Muqdadiya bombings left 3 people dead and fifteen injured, and, last night, an armed attack on the Tikrit home of former MP Wisam al-Bayati left 1 enginer and 1 police officer dead and four more people injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 319 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

Meanwhile, at the US State Dept today, Secretary John Kerry addressed the issues of inclusion, pride and progress.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Please, please, please, please. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very, very much. Ken, thank you for a generous welcome. Thank you all. Secretary Pat Kennedy and Director General Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for being here, and others. We appreciate it. Tara, everybody, thank you for being here.
And Ken, when I heard you say you could talk forever about my efforts on behalf of LGBT, I was sitting there, like any formerly elected person for 29 years, and I said, “Go ahead, keep talking, keep talking.” (Laughter.) But no such luck today.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here with all of you, and very, very special to welcome just some super special guests here, and I want them to stand up and I want everybody to say thank you to them and recognize them. Judy and Dennis Shepard are here, and we’re so grateful for you being here. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
I remind everybody that it is amazing to think, but it has been nearly 15 years since we mourned the tragic murder of their son, Matthew. And I can remember very clearly meeting them previously and speaking to the crowd gathered on the National Mall in front of the Capitol building at a vigil that was held two nights after he was killed. Thousands of people came together to share their grief, but also to share their sense of outrage that such an act could be carried out, such a senseless, violent, terrible heartbreak. And we were all standing with Judy and Dennis on that dark night, and frankly, since then, they have helped to lead the way through darkness and into the light, and they’ve turned their pain and their loss into a remarkable global message of hope and of tolerance. So, Judy and Dennis, make no mistake: You really do inspire us and we are very honored to have you here with us today. Thank you.
I also want – I know Congressman John Lewis was here a little bit ago, I think, and he had to leave to go vote. There are few members, few people I’ve met in life who I admire as much as John Lewis. He was almost killed on that day down in Selma, and he led, at the side of Martin Luther King and others, to break the back of Jim Crow in this country. John is just without doubt one of the most self-effacing, beautiful human beings I have ever met and an amazing person of courage who demonstrates what you can do against, as Bobby Kennedy said, the enormous array of the world’s ills. So we thank him for being here today, and most importantly, we thank him for standing up on the front lines of fighting for people’s rights for all of these years.
I also want to thank Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Thanks for being here and for your contributions. And I want to thank Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya from our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. We’re very, very grateful also to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington for that wonderful rendition of our national anthem, and thank you for their performance.
As Ken said, I have had the privilege of being involved in the struggle for rights, for LGBT rights, for a long period of time. And it is a privilege. Coming from Massachusetts, maybe we inherently know something about fighting for rights from the inception. But it wasn’t that long ago, as I recall, and many of you, I’m sure, do too, when things looked very different from the way they look today. If you want an amusing read before you go to sleep, go get the transcript of my testimony before Strom Thurmond on the Armed Services Committee 20 years ago, when we first pushed for an end on the ban on gays in the military. If you want to read a Senate hearing that is actually literally like a Saturday night skit – Saturday Night Live skit, that is it. And I won’t go into all the questions that Strom and his inimitable accent posed to me – (laughter) – but I walked out of there thinking that I was truly on a different planet, or he was; one or the other. (Laughter.)
But we ran into a wall of misunderstanding and of misperception. But as we are learning even today, as we look at various places in the world where homophobia raises its ugly and frightened head, we see that there is fear and that a lot is driven by fear – always has been – not always with respect to LGBT issues, but with respect to people generally, with respect to race and religion. And this is an ongoing battle for all of us, and believe me, not just for us; it is an ongoing battle in hidden parts of this planet, in dark corners where there is no light, where people are thrown into jail, or worse, beaten brutally, tortured and even murdered because of who they are or what they believe.
So we have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and all of you, every single person here, because you have the privilege of being here in this building, in this freedom, able to talk about this; it is because of that that you actually bear also a larger responsibility. When I voted, as Ken said, in 1996, I don’t claim any great act of courage. Maybe it was because I did represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but nevertheless I was proud to be the only person running for reelection that year in those 14 who actually voted against DOMA. And I am confident that if the Supreme Court adheres to the law and to precedent, that it must be found unconstitutional.
Now, we also know that we’ve made progress where – (applause) – now, if it isn’t, you can take that applause back in your home someday. (Laughter.)
Obviously, the landscape has changed remarkably fast. And every one of you here deserves credit for that. You all know your individual journeys in this effort, whether you are a member of the LGBT community or whether you are a supporter and a friend and here in solidarity with it. But everybody understands that things are changing because people have dared to stand up and show solidarity and speak common sense and talk truth to sometimes ugly power.
And the fact is that we have an Administration today that I am proud to say no longer defends the constitutionality of DOMA. That’s an enormous step forward. We also have a Senate that recently welcomed its first openly gay member, and we have a record number in the House of Representatives. I can remember when the first person came out in the House of Representatives within the service – time of my service in the Senate. We also have seen how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now a part of history, and that no American who wants to wear the uniform of their country that they love will be denied the chance to serve the country they love because of whom they love.
So we’re making progress. And that is the sort of change that we are seeing spread across the country, as state after state breaks down the barrier – the real barriers – to honest equality, not only in the workplace but throughout life.
But we have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel. Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws. Two of my former constituents, just to give you an example – I got to meet them – a fellow named Junior and Tim, who were married in Massachusetts, but because of DOMA the Federal Government didn’t recognize their marriage. And so the law treated them differently than if they had been man and woman, married. And time after time, when I met with them – and I did frequently and learn how hard it was that they couldn’t choose the path that they wanted to for themselves – but they also reminded me in the course of their life history what, in fact, marriage is supposed to be all about, which is an enduring love, a love that actually keeps you together even when you’ve been separated and it’s as if you hadn’t been. And I’ll tell you why, because one of them was out of the country and couldn’t come back in and we had to go through hoops to be able to actually ultimately reunite them here in our country because of our immigration laws.
They’re not alone. A few weeks ago, I was standing right here in this room at my first town hall when a young FSO named Selim Ariturk stood up and told a similar story about his life and his partner, whom he’d met overseas during his first tour. And he had to jump through hoops to be treated fairly. I know that many of you have probably experienced very similar stories, or even experienced them individually.
So the reality is, even as we celebrate, we have to come here today and commit ourselves to the ultimate task of fulfilling equality under the law here in our own country, and we have to be clear-eyed about the challenges that remain. I believe that we are on an irreversible course, and I believe happily that the United States of America is helping to set a global example for how people ought to be treated in life. I think that – I make this commitment to you that as Secretary of State, I will continue to stand right where I have stood throughout my years of elected service, and that begins with how we treat our LGBT colleagues right here in the State Department.
And I think under Pat and Linda’s and other people’s stewardship, we are already doing an outstanding job. Same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all of our employees’ families. And we’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It’s now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a big deal. And we’ve stated unequivocally that this Department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’m happy to say that these steps reflect not just the Department view, but President Obama’s view, and President Obama’s commitment to full equality, no matter who you are or who you love. And as Americans send us out to show our face to the world in this Department, we will set an example through our respect for the rights of people everywhere. Having GLIFAA members as part of that American face, frankly, helps us demonstrate our leadership.
Our work, though, is more than just setting an example. We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve, and where using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values. That’s what this represents. This isn’t an aberration. This isn’t some step out of the mainstream. It’s actually the mainstream is out of step with what ought to be the mainstream. The mainstream represents the recognition of universal rights that have been true since humankind began writing about them and defining them, and as we have moved through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to this place in the 21st century, where we understand that dignity and equality and the rights of all people are at the center of what we ought to be espousing in our public and our private life.
When we see the abuse of those values that are directed at the LGBT community, we have a moral obligation to stand in pride with LGBT individuals and advocates. We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair, and tolerant.
It is the right thing to do. It’s also in our country’s strategic interest. Greater inclusion and protection of human rights, including those for LGBT people and for their communities, leads to greater stability, greater prosperity, and greater protection for the rights of human beings. Stronger partners on the world stage are built out of this endeavor, and the truth is that in the end, it can actually help project peace and security across the whole region.
And that is why, in 2011, President Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on the human rights of LGBT persons globally, directing that all agencies abroad must ensure that our diplomacy and our foreign assistance promotes and protects these rights. And I think we have accomplished a great deal on this issue.
With our support, the UN Human Rights Council passed its first-ever resolution affirming the rights of LGBT persons. Through PEPFAR’s blueprint for an AIDS-free generation, we are working to scale up HIV services for LGBT individuals, who are often at higher risk. Our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is expanding our effort to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. And we are providing LGBT travelers with information about countries where they may face prosecution or arrest – persecution.
Overseas, we’re encouraging our missions to think about how do you best support these goals. And here at home, we’ve set up a Department-wide task force that will develop new approaches in order to try to better integrate LGBT policy into our foreign policy.
And through our Global Partnerships Initiative – I just met with members of it a few minutes ago – we have set up the Global Equality Fund, and that will support LGBT human rights defenders on the front lines. We’re working with likeminded governments, including Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Finland. And we have partnered with private sector leaders, including the MAC AIDS Fund and the John D. Evans Foundation. I think they both are here. And we are especially grateful to the Arcus Foundation, which will match any corporate contribution that we receive up to $1 million. And we hope that additional partners are going to join us in this critical effort.
So all of this that I’ve talked about is a good start, my friends, but it’s just that. It’s a start. Last week, the President appointed three openly gay ambassadors to Denmark, Spain, and to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe. And they will build on the tremendous record and work by Ambassador Huebner and former Ambassadors Hormel and Guest. In fact, I remember the confirmation hearing for former Ambassador Hormel, which in itself was a kind of groundbreaking, difficult process which we ultimately succeeded in winning.
So we are committed to seeing more LGBT persons in senior positions in this Department. And I ask for your input and all of your ideas, so that in the coming days I can sit down and work with our team here to ensure that the Department is properly resourcing and prioritizing our international efforts for the next generation of LGBT progress.
I think everybody here knows this isn’t automatic, not always an easy path. There is fear, and from the fear, the hate that sometimes comes with it that translates too often into violence. We still see anti-propaganda laws in Eastern Europe that are targeting LGBT demonstrators. We still hear reports of violence amongst – against transgender persons in Latin America and Asia. We still see the enforcement of archaic sodomy laws in the Caribbean, and we see abuse and incarceration of LGBT activists in Africa.
But I believe, as I think you do, that today we come here in pride, with pride, to celebrate the fact that the winds of freedom are blowing in the right direction. We know that the intolerance towards LGBT brothers and sisters fades with each passing generation. And it is with a belief in our common humanity, in the fundamental worth of every human being, that we have to keep moving forward towards our goal of shared justice and equality here in our country and around the world.
So I especially join here today in saying to our GLIFAA members and to all of you, Happy Pride every day the world over. Thank you for the privilege of being with you. Thank you. (Applause.)
Please sit down. I gather we’re going to do a couple questions, so we’ll – I’ll do that.

We'll include the questions tomorrow.  Monday, a State Dept friend noted this upcoming speech and asked if we'd note it?  Yes.  Of course, we will.  It's significant and important and, yes, historical.  We don't have room for the speech and for the questions -- today.  So we'll note Secretary Kerry's remarks today and include the Q&A tomorrow -- which you can read right now at this State Dept webpage.  If you'd prefer to watch or listen, the speech is here on YouTube -- and it has the closed caption option -- an option Secretary Kerry has pretty much made a mandate in his push for inclusion.