Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting ready for the big move

Weekend!  :D

Today, Free Speech Radio News had a must-listen report.  Click here to stream and here's their text intro to the segment:

President Barack Obama nominated James Comey today to be the new director of the FBI. Comey was the deputy attorney general for President George W. Bush, and in that role signed off on the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. If confirmed, he would lead another federal agency accused of illegal surveillance practices. The announcement comes amid new revelations about the US government’s spying powers, including documents leaked to the Guardian that show the government does at times collect domestic US communications without a warrant. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

And Norman Pollack has a must-read at CounterPunch.

This is a kind of sad and kind of glad weekend both for me.

Elaine, our daughter and me are doing what we've long wanted to do -- move to Hawaii.  Several years ago, C.I. was kind enough to give me some of her land there.  I had gone there on  a vacation and fell in love.  I was staying at her place.  And she insisted I take some of it.   And I wasn't going to refuse!  That was a very kind and generous offer.  Since then, every summer we go there with the plan being that at some point we move there.

And now's the time.

This weekend in fact.

That will mean I'll miss my folks, of course.  I lived at home until I finished college.  I started law school when I was living with Elaine.

I know my mom's sad.  She won't show it and puts on a bright smile.  But I'm one of 8 kids and I was the second last to leave.  I saw Mom tell 6 brothers and sisters how happy she was they were getting their own place or moving wherever and saw her break down and cry as soon as the departer was out of sight.

I know she's going to do that with me and that makes me want to cry.

I really wish I could move to Hawaii and somehow have it be right next to Boston.  :(

Dad's like me, he just lets it hang loose.  So we've blubbered a bit already today.  I'll miss them both so much.

But Hawaii feels like home.  It did the first minute I was on the ground there.

Elaine's trading practices.  The plan was for her to stop.  But that's when everything was just abstract.

A friend of her's who grew up in the northeast was looking to return.  Elaine called and the two decided to just swap.  It's a good time because Sunny's got her degree and she's ready to move on.  (Sunny is Elaine's very good friend and very excellent assistant.)  Elaine and C.I. had a long cry as well.  Since Rebecca had her baby, C.I.'s spent nearly every weekend in the area.  So for seven or eight years now, Elaine and C.I. have been able to see each other every weekend.  Now that's going to stop.  But now, C.I. says, she's got a reason to visit Hawaii more.  But, those three (Elaine, Rebecca and C.I.) are very close, they were college roommates and that was a big bond.  Before that, Elaine knew C.I. because C.I. dated Elaine's brother. So they are lifelong friends and now the joy of the last years, of seeing each other every week, is over.  Rebecca doesn't live on the west coast.  She lives close to Boston (on an island).  So she and Elaine have always been able to see each other.  She told Elaine she'd try to be here to see us off at the airport but that if she couldn't, it was because she couldn't stop crying.   Anyway.

It was different in the abstract, just happiness all around.

Then about eight weeks ago, this all fell into motion.

And now it's happening.

And I'm excited but also a little sad.

So when I write next, I'll be writing from Hawaii.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a good weekend.

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

Friday, June 21, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad's voter turnout was beaten by Anbar and by Nineveh (though so sad folks can't navigate reality well enough to report it), today is the sixth month anniversary of ongoing protests in Iraq and we're happy to note it but just wish we weren't the only ones doing so, the KRG continues to attract the companies and businesses that the central government can't, Iraq's on the receiving end of a cultural insult that someone in the US government should be explaining, and more.

Let's start with the elections because I'm so tired of the garbage from the press.

Anbar and Nineveh, they tell us, weren't allowed to vote in April because it was too violent.  They leave out that that was Nouri's claims or that Nouri offered two other excuses for calling off the vote after it was pointed out that Baghdad was just as violent.

Oh how the whores love to whore.

Yesterday, Anbar Province and Diyala province were finally allowed to vote (after being prevented by Nouri al-Maliki from voting in April).  Today we get outlets telling us that 'good for Anbar' but Nineveh's below the national average.  No, no, no.  Quit being a liar, quit making false comparisons.  Baghdad is the only comparison due to levels of violence.  From yesterday's snapshot:

Despite all of that and much more, it appears the voting in Anbar and Nineveh was successful today.  Alsumaria reports that the Independent High Electoral Commission states 37.5% of registered voters turned out in Nineveh and that 49.5% turned out in Anbar.  Alsumaria notes that UNHCR assisted with the elections and were at polling places.  At five o'clock, when voting was scheduled to end, UNHCR checked to make sure that all voters were out of the polling stations and then locked the doors and, with IHEC, secured the ballot boxes.  All Iraq News notes that IHEC's Electoral Office head Muqdad al-Shiriefi declared in a Baghdad press conference this evening, "There are no violations in the PCs elections of the provinces."  NINA reports that the Mottahidoon Coalition issued a statement declaring the high rate of turnout in the two provinces was an indication that the protesters, who "have suffered various severe conditions in order to get their demands and recover their usurped rights," believe in their democratic rights.

No violations, no accusations. How different it is in Anbar and Nineveh -- another detail the 'working' press forgot to note.  Now what was the turnout in the province of Baghdad -- the only comparable province in terms of violence?  After the elections in April,  Matt Bradley (Wall St. Journal) reported:

Only slightly more than 50% of eligible Iraqi voters participated in provincial elections on Saturday, a far cry from the 72% turnout for the latest such elections, in 2009, according to Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission. In Iraq's capital, turnout slipped to 33%, the commission said.

 Only 33% of voters turned out in Baghdad.  I don't know -- problem with the official numbers -- what's going on but just FYI, we're sticking to percentages and will stay with that.  What's the problem?  IHEC's statements don't add up.  Not when they're dealing with solid numbers of voters.  Run the numbers, I just did after I stopped and thought about what IHEC said of the 12 provinces total for the April 20th election.  (That was 50% so double it.)  When you add that, the KRG population (I'm using CIA population figures -- which are estimates and I'm even using the 2012 which is lower than this year's) and include the numbers for Anbar and Nineveh and then add estimates for Kirkuk (CIA), the CIA population in Iraq is not matching IHEC numbers, IHEC is grossly undercounting or the CIA has been wildly off the mark for years now.  So we're sticking to percentages but if someone ever adds the numbers (supplied by IHEC) and tries to figure out the population, don't complain to me, I just ran the numbers and I see the problem too.

So Baghdad had 33% turnout.  But let's explain that further because the press didn't use Baghad or bother to explain April 20th turnout.  Again, from yesterday's snapshot:

  Apparently there was no concern over refugees who fled the provinces being able to vote. When the 12 provinces were allowed to vote in April, there were polling stations set up in Anbar and Nineveh -- but just for refugees from the 12 provinces who had moved in to Anbar and Nineveh to vote.  The Independent High Electoral Commission announced that there were "special polling centers" set up for displaced persons from Nineveh and Anbar . . . if they were in the KRG.  Only, if they were in the KRG.  Now if you were a member of the armed services and resided in Anbar or Nineveh in your downtime but were deployed to other provinces, IHED had 266 polling stations in 15 of the other provinces for you to vote.  But if you were a resident of Anbar or Nineveh who had been displaced and went to any province other than the three in the KRG, you were out of luck on voting.

So, for example, Sunni refugees who fled Baghdad (due to violence) and went to Anbar were able to vote April 20th at an Anbar polling center and their voted counted -- because they are IDPs -- as being a Baghdad vote.  By the same token, Iraqi Christians who fled to the KRG due to violence were able to vote April 20th at polling stations as residents of Baghdad.

Baghdad's April vote includes all Baghdad Province residents in Iraq -- anywhere in Iraq.  On April 20th, they even had polling centers in Kirkuk which was real middle finger if you think about since official residents of Kirkuk never get to vote in provincial elections.  But in April, Baghdad residents -- whether in Baghdad, deployed outside of Baghdad in the security forces or IDPs who fled Baghdad Province due to violence -- were all able to vote if they wanted to.  And only 33% wanted to.

Anbar and Nineveh didn't get that.  Their residents who are in the security forces and out of Anbar and Nineveh were able to vote.  In addition, their IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) were able to vote . . . if they were in the KRG (three provinces).  If they were anywhere else, they weren't allowed to vote.  While Anbar's 95% Sunni, Nineveh is more mixed demographically.   Why would you assume, for example, that Turkmen would choose to go to the KRG?

Baghdad had better weather in April while Anbar and Nineveh were both over 100 degrees yesterday when voting took place.  Baghdad residents (in Baghdad or IDPs) could vote across Iraq.  That wasn't the case for Anbar and Nineveh.  But a larger percentage of voters in Anbar turned out than in Baghdad and a larger percentage of voters in Nineveh turned out than in Baghdad.

This isn't noted in the nonsense that's being passed off today as 'reporting.'

As an Iraqi community member who voted in yesterday's elections notes of today's western media coverage, "They will not give us credit for anything."  No, they certainly will not.

Since December 21st, Anbar and Nineveh have been the leading provinces when it came to protests.  But if the press can't portray the protesters as 'out of control,' they're just not interested in them.  Some reporters need it so badly that they lie about it -- as one US outlet did today: "Often violent protests in the Sunni-majority provinces of Anbar and Ninevah are motivated as much by low unemployment and spotty electricity during the sweltering summer months as they are by sectarian grievances."  Want to explain that one?

Didn't think so.

No, the protests have not been violent in Anbar and Nineveh and to suggest that they have really makes you a questionable reporter.  If protests -- which have taken place since December 21st -- were violent, we'd be seeing mass deaths and destroyed property and all these things that just don't exist.  Seems like the reporter feel for Kelly McEvers' propaganda that we called out earlier this week (here).  That's too bad because the rest of the article (which is on another topic) looks very strong.  But how can anyone trust you when you falsely characterize six months of peaceful protests as "violent."  If they were violent -- even in just those two provinces -- I'd assume they'd have a body count of 30 dead per month.  They don't even have a body count of 1 dead per month by protesters.

Now Nouri's forces have killed protesters during this time.  Most infamously, the April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija when Nouri's federal forces stormed it. Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault. AFP reported the death toll increased to 53.   UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

It is the six months today, by the way, six months since the ongoing protests started.  Another detail the media 'forgot.'

Today is the sixth month anniversary of the ongoing, peaceful protests that kicked off December 21st.  In February, Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) wrote:

Protests are raging throughout Iraq...thousands upon thousands are demanding the following :
- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.

The protests in Anbar, Fallujah, Sammara, Baquba,  Tikrit, Kirkuk, Mosul...and in different parts of Baghdad stress over and over 1) the spontaneous nature of the "popular revolution against oppression and injustice" 2) its peaceful nature  i.e unarmed  3) the welcoming of ALL to join the protests regardless of sect or ethnicity as ONE Iraqi people and 4) and the March to Baghdad.

In six months of ongoing protests, most western outlets have never offered as much on it as Layla Anwar did that day (and the above's an excerpt, click on the link to read her full post).  And when the western media has bothered to note it, they've ignored so much.

With the exception of the Guardian, no one's wanted to touch the issue of women and girls raped and tortured in Iraqi prisons.  When Jane Arraf 'touched' on it, she did so by nothing that this was happening -- per Amnesty International [see this March 11th entry aptly titled "Iraqi women and girls (and the silence on this topic)" and snapshots for March 11th, March 12th, and March 13th] -- and then went on to share a report about the abuse of . . . a male prisoner.

Only the Guardian -- among western media -- has shown any bravery.  AFP won't even acknowledge that this is the underpinning of the protests.  Haifa Zangana (Guardian) was one of the people covering reality:

The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012. Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them. Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.

[. . .]

No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of "violating with impunity the rights of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees". HRW's account is echoed by a report by the Iraqi parliament's own human rights and women, family and children's committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.
Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to "arrest those members of parliament who had discussed the violence against women detainees". Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has acknowledged that there are 13,000 prisoners in custody accused of terror offences, but he only mentioned women detainees in passing [. . .]

Another person able to cover reality was Dahr Jamail (Al Jazeera) who reported:

Heba al-Shamary (name changed for security reasons) was released last week from an Iraqi prison where she spent the last four years.
“I was tortured and raped repeatedly by the Iraqi security forces,” she told Al Jazeera. “I want to tell the world what I and other Iraqi women in prison have had to go through these last years. It has been a hell.”
Heba was charged with terrorism, as so many Iraqis who are detained by the Iraqi security apparatus are charged.
“I now want to explain to people what is occurring in the prisons that [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and his gangs are running,” Heba added. “I was raped over and over again, I was kicked and beaten and insulted and spit upon.”
Heba’s story, horrific as it is, unfortunately is but one example of what a recent report from Amnesty International refers to as “a grim cycle of human rights abuses” in Iraq today.

Six months worth of protests and what has the bulk of the western media done with it?  Nothing.

Protests continued today.  Demonstrators turned out in Jalawla, in Falluja, in Ramadi,  in Kirkuk and in BaghdadThey're declaring Monday "The Day of the Detainee."  In the Iraq 'legal' system, people charged with crimes but not convicted disappear for years in jail as do people who have never been charged with a crime but were rounded up and tossed in a prison.  National Iraqi News Agency notes that the security was beefed up throughout Anbar Province around sit-in areas.  They did this in Diyala Province as well and "Shahab-Badri, Vice-Chairman of the Committee of Religious Scholars of Iraq, demanded security forces to take responsibility by ensuring access to worshipers to prayers yards , calling on the Iraqi government to meet the constitutional and legitimate usurped rights that the demonstrators claimed since more than six months."

NINA also reports, "A security source in Kirkuk province, said that rapid intervention special forces of Dijlah Operations Command arrested the coordinator of the Popular Committees for the mass movement in the province Sheikh Khaled Mafraji."  Alsumaria notes that the Kurdish movement -- both in Kirkuk and nationally -- is calling for the Sheikh's immediate release.

He was not the only one arrested.  Al Mada reports that "SWAT" forces arrested him and that activists were also arrested in Ramadi and Kirkuk.  Rafie al-Issawi declares that Nouri al-Maliki is underestimating the strength and the will of the protesters.  al-Issawi is identified as that outgoing Minister of Finance.  (December 20th, his staff and bodyguards were seized by Nouri's force.  One of the things that has prompted the ongoing protests.  He announced he was resigning.  I have no idea where that stands.  Where it stands with Ayad Allawi is that al-Issawi has resigned.  Both are members of Iraqiya -- Allawi is the head of Iraqiya -- and Allawi considers al-Issawi out of the Cabinet.)

Turning to a different protest,  Alsumaria notes "hundreds" (probably thousands) have turned out in Kut today to protest.  This is not a part of the ongoing protests.  This is a protest that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr called yesterday and they are demonstrating against the proposed conference in Qatar that the Taliban will be attending.  Judging by the photo with that Alsumaria report and the photo with this report on Kufa, a lot more followers of Moqtada al-Sadr turned out in Kufa to protest the Taliban being included on the Qatar Conference.

All Iraq News notes a Baghdad bombing has claimed 1 life and left seven more people injured. NINA reports the Khour Bridge near Qa'im has been blown up and that armed clashes are taking place around it with "military helicopters . . . providing support to the military forces" -- at least 3 Iraqi soldiers are dead and two more injured.  On the topic of violence, Ian Johnston (NBC News) offers a very strong examination of violence in Iraq.   Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack states, "By any defintion, what's going on in Iraq is a civil war."  From the report:

Hamit Dardagan, principal analyst with Iraq Body Count, which has been documenting civilian casualties since the war began, said the death toll was alarming, but still some way off the mass slaughter of 2006-07 when several thousand people died on a monthly basis.
He said the death toll had dropped dramatically from mid-2008 to a plateau of a few hundred a month.
“This year is the first time we’ve seen a really steady trend that’s reversed the direction on 2008,” Dardagan said. “It’s been a steady, low-level war. It’s just that recently … it’s actually started to worsen in a way that’s not just a single-month blip. It seems to be a continuous trend."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 354 violent deaths so far this month.

Today, Iraqi News reports, "The Presidential Staff of Iraq congratulated the citizens of Anbar and Nineveh Provicnes for holding local elections."  Why the presidential staff and not the president?  Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.   The fact that a statement wasn't issued in his name will lead some to question (or more loudly question) whether or not Jalal can even speak -- despite the optimistic 'reports' by his doctors.  He's now missed an eight of his term due to the stroke.

On other rumors, will Iraq ever hold a census?  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports that Nouri al-Maliki has been making noises about it -- but those noises were when he visited Erbil this month to try to sway Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani over to his side.  As with so many of Nouri's promises, there just aren't any facts that back them up.  He's claiming that a census will be held this year.  From Habib's report:

However al-Allaq didn’t think a census would be held in 2013. "The federal government didn’t allocate any funds to hold a census in this year’s budget so we won’t be holding one until next year,” he explained.

There are other reasons why holding a census may not be the most desirable step at present. Many of Iraq’s political and economic problems are very connected with demographic issues like ethnicity and sectarianism. A census would impact on things like the distribution of resources to different parts of the country and accurate electoral rolls.

There has also been plenty of criticism of the electoral process in Iraq. After all, because there’s been no census it is hard to know exactly how many voters there should be or how old they are.

As Faraj al-Haydari, former head of Iraq's all important Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, told NIQASH, “a census is fundamental for the success of any election. Unfortunately the lack of census has disadvantaged the democratic system in this country. Since 2004, IHEC has used the Ministry of Commerce’s figures which are obviously not accurate.”

The lack of accurate figures has also meant that it’s not been possible to hold district elections – after all, nobody knows how many people are living in each district.

Guillaume Decamme (AFP) reports on the sense that, in the KRG, things are moving along at a good pace:

Abdul-Karim is not the only one who feels that way – the economy of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, with Irbil as its capital, is growing faster than the rest of the country and sees none of the violence that has raged across Arab areas. In Irbil, crowded cafes overflow onto sidewalks, customers pack out restaurants with no fear of attack and, perhaps most importantly for the three-province region’s future prospects, foreign investors appear keen to plant their flag.
“It is really easy to set up shop here,” said Jorge Restrepo, an American of Colombian origin who runs a consultancy business in Kurdistan targeting Spanish and Canadian energy companies.
“The government of Kurdistan is very open to foreigners,” he said.
The low level of violence does help.  But equally true, the KRG government has not been led by a paranoid who makes promises and signs contracts and then breaks them.  If you can't trust someone, you aren't inclined to do business with them.  Foreign companies going into Iraq require a commitment that their deals are legal and will stand up in court and will be honored.  Nouri's failure to project that image goes a long, long way towards explaining why 15 other provinces in Iraq can't come remotely close to the business investments that the KRG is seeing.
No one but Nouri al-Maliki is responsible for his bad image.  He refuses to honor his word, to honor contracts.  He is not to be trusted and that is the message he's projected on the world's stage.  For example,  Ali Abedl Sadah (Al-Monitor) reports today on a new deal between Iraq (Nouri) and Russia for military helicopters.  To report on that, Ali Abedl Sadah has to, of course, note what came most recently:
This statement came one day after a Russian news agency published information on the completion of a purchase agreement between the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Russian government, dating back to 2011.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had visited Moscow to hold negotiations for an arms deal. Yet, it was immediately halted after suspicions of corruption against officials close to Maliki.
These officials included members of his office. Maliki later decided to dismiss Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman, for being involved in receiving kickbacks to facilitate the procedures to conclude the agreement between the Iraqi and Russian parties.

October 9th, with much fanfare, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia.  After taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off.  The scandal, however, refuses to go away.  And it among the broken promises that has harmed central Iraq's standing. The problem most likely doesn't go away until Nouri stops being Prime Minister.

Turning to the topic of Iraq, Chevron and Abednego.  As UPI noted earlier this week, "Iraq's Kurds have consolidated their growing energy sector with Chevron Corp. securing a third exploration block in the semiautonomous northern region and France's Total buying a majority stake in another." At the Christian Science Monitor, Jen Alec wonders "Can Baghdad stop exports of Kurdish oil?" and concludes:

The Kurds have the advantage, even more so not that the rest of Iraq is engulfed in a sectarian conflict as it becomes the definitive second front in the war in Syria. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flew to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to hold high-level talks. This hasn’t happened since 2003, and it indicates that the talks were on the Kurds’ terms, as well as their terrain.
Will Baghdad be able to stop the Kurdish oil and gas momentum? Not at this point. Once the pipeline is up and running, the game is over and Baghdad doesn’t have the resources to turn it into a conflict.
Jen Alec also writes at Oil Price.  It's also true that, despite Nouri al-Maliki promising to deliver one in 2007 (the White House benchmarks for 'progress' in Iraq), Iraq still has no national gas and oil law.  When that happens, provinces can do what they like -- especially if they are the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

Nerdun Hac─▒oglu (Hurriyet Daily News) notes that KRG President Massoud Barzani met with Turkey's Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz in Russia yesterday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and they discussed the proposed pipeline further.   On oil in general, Peg Mackey and Alex Lawler (Reuters) explain, "Iraq's oil output target for 2013 is still within reach, even with flows stuck at 3 million barrels a day during the first half of the year, but a lofty goal for 2014 will be far more difficult to meet, oil executives and officials say." What's the big stand out this month? That exports "have fallen by about 200,000 barrels per day."

From oil to another divisive topic, cultural artifacts.  Last month (May 16th), the National Archives (in the US) issued the following:

Washington, DC…On Friday, October 11, 2013, the National Archives will unveil a new exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.” The exhibit details the dramatic recovery of historic materials relating to the Jewish community in Iraq from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, and the National Archives’ ongoing work in support of U.S. Government efforts to preserve these materials. Located in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, “Discovery and Recovery” is free and open to the public and runs through January 5, 2014.
In both English and Arabic, the 2,000 square foot exhibit features 24 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the fascinating yet painstaking preservation process. This exhibit marks the first time these items have been on public display.


On May 6, 2003, just days after the Coalition forces took over Baghdad, 16 American soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, a group assigned to search for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, entered Saddam Hussein’s flooded intelligence building. In the basement, under four feet of water, they found thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq – materials that had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad.
The water-logged materials quickly became moldy in Baghdad’s intense heat and humidity. Seeking guidance, the Coalition Provisional Authority placed an urgent call to the nation’s foremost conservation experts at the National Archives. Just a week later, National Archives Director of Preservation Programs Doris Hamburg and Conservation Chief Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad via military transport to assess the damage and make recommendations for preservation of the materials. Both experts share this extraordinary story and take you “behind the scenes” in this brief video []. This video is in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages its use and free distribution.
Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped to the United States for preservation and exhibition. Since then, these materials have been vacuum freeze-dried, preserved and photographed under the direction of the National Archives. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from 1540 to the 1970s. A special website to launch this fall will make these historic materials freely available to all online as they are digitized and catalogued. This work was made possible through the assistance of the Department of State, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Center for Jewish History.
The Jews of Iraq have a rich past, extending back to Babylonia. These materials provide a tangible link to this community that flourished there, but in the second half of the twentieth century dispersed throughout the world. Today, fewer than five Jews remain.

Display highlights include:

  • A Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568 – one of the oldest books in the trove;
  • A Babylonian Talmud from 1793;
  • A Torah scroll fragment from Genesis - one of the 48 Torah scroll fragments found;
  • A Zohar from 1815 – a text for the mystical and spiritual Jewish movement known as “Kabbalah”;
  • An official 1918 letter to the Chief Rabbi regarding the allotment of sheep for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year);
  • Materials from Jewish schools in Baghdad, including exam grades and a letter to the College Entrance Examination Board in Princeton regarding SAT scores;
  • A Haggadah (Passover script) from 1902, hand lettered and decorated by an Iraqi Jewish youth ; and
  • A lunar calendar in both Hebrew and Arabic from the Jewish year 5732 (1972-1973) - one of the last examples of Hebrew printed items produced in Baghdad.
“Discovery and Recovery” is divided into six sections:
Discovery: The dramatic story of how these materials were found, rescued and preserved is one worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. A short film captures these heroic efforts. The section includes actual metal foot lockers used to ship the documents to the United States.
Text and Heritage: This section explores Iraqi Jewish history and tradition through recovered texts, including a Torah scroll fragment, a Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568, and a Babylonian Talmud from 1793.
Iraqi Jewish Life: Constancy and Change: Using recovered texts, this section explores the pattern of Jewish life in Iraq. Highlights include a Haggadah (Passover script), siddur (prayer book) and an illustrated lunar calendar in both Hebrew and Arabic (one of about 20 found, dating from 1959-1973).
Personal and Communal Life: Selected correspondence and publications illustrate the range and complexity of Iraqi Jewish life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Original documents and facsimiles in flipbooks range from school primers to international business correspondence from the Sassoon family.
After the Millennia: Iraqi Jewish life unraveled in the mid-20th century, with the rise of Nazism and proliferation of anti-Jewish propaganda. In June 1941, 180 Jews were killed and hundreds injured in an anti-Jewish attack in Baghdad. Persecution increased when Iraq entered the war against the new State of Israel in 1948. In 1950 and 1951, many Iraqi Jews were stripped of their citizenship and assets and the community fled the county en masse. This section includes the 1951 law freezing assets of Iraqi Jews.
Preserving the Past: It is not surprising that the Coalition Forces turned to National Archives conservators for help. Learn about transformation of these materials from moldy, water-logged masses to a carefully preserved, enduring historic legacy. View the National Archives’ state-of-the-art treatment, preservation, and digitization of these materials.
The Fall issue of Prologue Magazine, the Archives’ flagship publication, will feature two articles on “Discovery and Recovery.” Prologue is available in the Archives Shop.

National Archives Preservation and Conservation

The Conservation Department cares for the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents, as well as billions of other records. In state-of-the-art preservation labs, staff assess the condition of records and identify their composition. Experts stabilize and treat documents to prepare them for digitization, exhibition, and use by researchers. A “conservator-on-call” team is ready to provide guidance for any records emergency at National Archives facilities nationwide. National Archives conservation experts also serve as “first preservers” and provide aid to other agencies and offices following disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Hours are 10 AM-5 PM.
# # #
For more information on or to obtain images of items included in the exhibition, call the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

There is no Jewish community in Iraq anymore.  What the illegal Iraq War unleashed destroyed it.  I fully support the artifacts being handed over to the government of  Israel -- Israel is where most Iraqi Jews have gone in the last decades. Cultural artifacts belong to the people, not to a land.  If tomorrow all the Yazidis or Shabaks or Armenians were out of Iraq and a week later a discovery was made about their cultural artificats?  Those would belong to the people of that culture.

While I support the Jewish people in Israel being over these historical Jewish records, I do not support them being shown in the United States as described above.  For those who don't know, this is a very big issue to some in Iraq.  Some in Iraq are very vocal in their belief that these Jewish records and artifacts belong to Iraq.  They want them returned.  I'm not really grasping how disputed artifacts belong on display in the United States. I'm failing to see how this helpful to anyone -- especially since the United States government started the illegal war.  To me this plays as taunting, as insulting and as humiliating to the people of Iraq -- and it plays like the US government meant for it to cause ill will.  (I personally don't believe that but it does play out as if the US government is attempting to humiliate Iraq and I have no idea what US government idiot gave approval for a US exhibition.)

Iraq was briefly mentioned in today's US State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: At a time when Iraq is really suffering a great deal of turmoil, it seems that volunteers or militias are crossing the borders into Syria to aid the Syrian regime. Are you having any kind of special talks with the Iraqi Government to stop them from doing that or to prevent people from going to answer the calls of the Sunni jihadist side?

MR. VENTRELL: So we do – we have seen reports of a limited number of Iraqi Shia and Sunni militants fighting in Syria. These movements stoke the violence in Syria and contribute to the suffering of the Syrian people. So we continue to call on all of Syria’s neighbors to take all possible steps to prevent the flow of militant fighters into Syria in order to prevent exacerbating the sectarian aspects of the conflict. And so I would also note that the Iraqi Foreign Minister himself has made a statement – going back, I believe this is a week or so ago, June 11th -- discouraging Iraqis from joining the fight in Syria. So it’s something that we’ve discussed with the Iraqis in the past and they’ve made public statements about.

Iraq War reporter Michael Hastings passed away this week, as we've already noted.  I just want to make a few quick comments.  I do not and did not know his widow Elise Jordan.  I was appalled to read that she was rebuffed when she attempted to have a correction made to the obituary of her husband (the online one was wrong, she contacted Jill Abramson to ask that the error not appear in the print).  There's no excuse for that in the world.  There is a thing called professional courtesy that at the very least should have kicked in. Jill should remember that and I think she will, this sort of thing is not forgotten or unnoticed and it has a way of coming back.

 It's called payback, Jill.  You should have heeded the request of Elise Jordan, the request of a grieving widow who just wanted to make sure her husband was remembered correctly.  Think about that, Jill, Elise Jordan was crying over her fresh loss that felt so raw and all it would have required for you to have helped her in her pain was removing one damn sentence.  It wouldn't have hurt you in the least but that's the kind of woman you really are, Jill, just a dirty piece of trash.  And, yeah, as Isaiah noted in his comic, you do have a mustache and it's very unattractive, Jill.

Michael Hastings was an investigative reporter.  In my remarks here earlier this week, I said his luck ran out.  I was not referring to anything other than he had gone into difficult areas (war zones) and managed to survive when others didn't.  Since that went up, there are two rumors circulating.  One that he was targeted by the  FBI and two that he was pursuing the Petraeus affair-ouster. Either may be true, both may be true, both may be false.  We don't traffic in rumors about how someone died here because I'm just not interested in adding to anyone's grief.  If Elise Jordan wants to weigh in on those things, we will cover them.  Until then, the following is all I have to say on the matter.  The FBI denied they were investigating Michael Hastings.

Attorney General Eric Holder is over the Justice Dept (that includes the FBI).  I saw him testify to Congress about targeting reporters only weeks ago.  It was just AP, he explained.  And then, a few days later, it was learned that James Rosen of Fox News had also been targeted.  I have no idea if Michael Hastings was targeted by anyone but a denial doesn't really mean anything with that track record.  Also true, we have an alphabet soup of agencies operating in the US.  Anyone of those could have been tracking Michael Hastings (and might have even led him to believe they were FBI -- especially true if they were military intelligence which loved to pose as FBI during Vietnam).  I have no idea how or why he died.  What I do know is he was an important reporter, a credit to his profession and he will be missed by those who knew him and by those who just knew his work.

Finally, tomorrow in NYC, there will be an action against Barack's ongoing Drone War:

when: Saturday, June 22, 11 to 1:00 p.m.
where:  the Cube at Astor Place

contact: Jill Godmilow (212) 226-2462,, or Jonathan Langer (716) 544-8237,

(video documentation available) 

On Saturday, June 22, at Astor Place, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., a group of men and women will create a Drone Zone similar to those where the U.S. is terrorizing small villages in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc.

"Crossing Guards", 15 or so (women and men), each with a white, crossing guard diagonal sash, will be staged about 10 paces apart around a small area of Astor Place at Lafayette, next to The Cube... to produce "the zone." They stand silent, as cautionary figures... looking much like crossing guards might if so instructed. The guards are holding upright and steady 8 foot PVC poles. On each pole is a sign that reads: "DRONE ALERT!  YOU HAVE ENTERED A DRONE ZONE. PLEASE BE PREPARED TO TAKE SHELTER QUICKLY."  On top of each pole is mounted a mini-speaker emitting a low audio track of a drone continuously buzzing (as drones do flying over a Pakistani village), sourced from iPods or smart phones in their pockets.

If questioned by citizens, each crossing guard will have pink 4 x 6 cards to hand out. On one side is a brief description of life in Yemeni, Pakistani, Somali, Afghani village that suffers the tremendous stress and trauma from 24-hour drone surveillance, as well as potential strikes or crashes. On the other side of the card is a brief description of the CODE PINK Drone Theatre Project itself. Also, a list of on-line sites for more information about armed drone surveillance, targeted killings, and drone proliferation.

This action will be repeated again and again in New York City and elsewhere throughout the summer

NB: There will be video documentation of the project for use for television and online sites and other press locations..

Joan Wile, leader of Grandmothers Against the War, has stated "This project – silent street theatre – asks passersby to reflect on the condition of drone tormented and threatened populations. Perhaps it will also project the blowback of drones ultimately aimed at us."

when: Saturday, June 22, 11 to 1:00 p.m.

where: the Cube at Astor Place

contact: Jill Godmilow (212) 226-2462,, or Jonathan Langer (716) 544-8237,

admission: none




Thursday, June 20, 2013

With a little luck

Eric London (WSWS) reports on Barack's spying:

FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged in Congressional testimony on Wednesday that his agency has used aerial drones for surveillance purposes within the United States. The revelation came in the midst of more efforts to justify the Obama administration’s unconstitutional domestic surveillance programs under the banner of the “war on terror.”
Though the government has previously admitted to using drones along the US-Mexico border and in isolated instances, Mueller’s admission was the first time the FBI publicly acknowledged that it uses remotely piloted aircraft. The disclosure may well have been made in order to pre-empt whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has threatened to make public further details about the government’s widespread surveillance programs.

It's like there's no end to it.  It's like that scene at the start of Sunburn where Farrah Fawcett gets on the plane and sits next to Charles Grodin and it's one thing after another until she finally spills on his pants.

Barack is such a creep.  He just can't be trusted.

And this is said by someone who never thought he was god-like.  But even I'm taken aback by just how corrupt he is.

In fact, all of us who were right about him still end up sounding like Farrah in Sunburn when she's explaining to Charles Grodin about the robber that was just in her room.

Farrah:  There was a man in here!  Look! He was going through my drawer.  I took the lamp, hit him and missed him he threw me on the bed, he looked like -- He had a face like Mickey Mouse

Charles:  Like Mickey Mouse?

Farrah:  A Mickey Mouse face! 

Charles:  Uh-huh.

Farrah:  A Mickey Mouse face!

Charles:  Yes, yes.  Are you on pills of any kind?

Farrah:  What!

Charles:  Are you taking pills with the liquor you're drinking?  You can't mix that.  You know that.

Farrah:  There was a man in here he had a face like Mickey Mouse!

And if you've seen Sunburn, you know that the man did have a face like that.  But Grodin won't believe her because she sounds crazy.

Barack is driving us all crazy.

But with a little luck . . . (That's how Sunburn ends, with that Paul McCartney & Wings song.)

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Anbar and Nineveh Province get to vote,  polling stations are targeted with violence, turnout is high, IHEC finds no irregularities in the vote, Nouri gets out maneuvered with regards to Baghdad's provincial government, today is World Refugee Day with notable remarks from John Kerry (good), Angelina Jolie (good) and Senator Rand Paul (embarrassing).

Proving that War Hawks need lots of (ego) feeding to survive, Andy Bowers of Slate (a War Hawk who got in the faux antiwar club as a result of the circle jerk) gushes today, "George Packer, a New Yorker staff writer known for his brilliant coverage of the Iraq War, turns his attention to problems here at home in his new book The Unwinding. "  No, no one who gave a damn about Iraq would ever note Packer's "brilliant coverage of the Iraq War" because it just wasn't there.  George Packer is a  War Hawk.  Oh, he wrote a (bad) play.  Who the hell cares?  He cheerleaded the Iraq War whined in a book that there wasn't enough military on the ground because, hey, the war's not wrong, it was just fought wrong, we can fight it better next time!  That's what these people sell over and over.  There is no awareness, there is no awakening, there is only attempts to defend war and insist any mistakes must result not from the decision to start a war but from the way it was fought.  In his awful 2006 'book,' he wanted to argue that , even though the Iraq War was a war of choice, "this didn't make the war immoral by definition."

From the classic comedy sketch (about the quiz show scandal) . . .

Mike Nichols: It's a moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes!

Mike Nichols: A moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes! Yes! Yes! It is a moral issue.  

Mike Nichols:  A moral issue.

Elaine May:  And to me that's always so much more interesting than a real issue

Always be skeptical of those who talk 'morality' but ignore the law.

The War Hawks love to conceal their true natures.  Norman Solomon (Huffington Post) calls War Hawk Thomas Friedman out and when Friedman attempts to spin, Norman quotes Friedman.

National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 person was killed by a mortar attack on an Anbar Province polling station and another was left injured. and that, according to the Nineveh Province Police Brigadier General Khaled al-Hamdani, bombings are taking place in various areas of that province in order to prevent voting.

Iraq has 18 provinces.  3 of the 18 are the KRG -- a semi-autonomous region that will hold provincial elections in September.  Being semi-autonomous it votes on its own schedule (and did during the 2009 provincial elections as well).  The exception being the parliamentary elections when all Iraqi provinces that are voting vote at the same time.

So the 3 KRG provinces didn't vote in the April 20th provincial elections.

In addition, Kirkuk (again) did not get to vote.  This is because, long story short, Kirkuk is disputed territory -- claimed by the central government in Baghdad and by the KRG.

The United Nations was pressing the case for allowing Kirkuk to vote.  Even so, that was unlikely to happen.  It's even more unlikely now that the UN Secretary-General Special Representative to Iraq is an empty seat.  Next month, Martin Kobler is placed over the Congo.  No one has been named (still) as Kobler's replacement.

That adds up to four provinces. There are 18.  So 14 should have voted, right?

Only 12 voted.  Nouri decided to penalize the two provinces where he is most unpopular -- Anbar and Nineveh -- by refusing to allow them to vote in April.  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."

Today, they were finally allowed to vote.  The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following statement:

The United States congratulates Iraq for conducting successful provincial elections in Anbar and Ninewa today, ensuring that the citizens of these two provinces have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights at the ballot box. This was an important step toward solidifying Iraq’s democratic future.
We also congratulate Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), which managed and organized the elections in the face of a challenging security environment. Iraqi police and military forces should be commended for their work in securing polling sites and protecting voters as they cast their ballots at over 1,000 polling centers in Anbar and Ninewa.
This day did not pass without violence, however. We condemn the attacks that occurred at polling stations in both provinces that wounded a number of Iraqis.

Wang Yuanyuan (Xinhua) reports, "The state-run television Iraqia showed Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi entered a polling station to cast his vote in his hometown city of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province.  Iraqi security forces spread into the cities of the two provinces, cordoned off polling centers and imposed a traffic ban on vehicles."

AFP notes that the two provinces have nearly 3 million registered voters and that there are at least 1185 politicians competing for 69 seats.  Alsumaria reports that there were over 1107 polling stations in the two provinces.  In the two provinces.  You catch that right?  Apparently there was no concern over refugees who fled the provinces being able to vote. When the 12 provinces were allowed to vote in April, there were polling stations set up in Anbar and Nineveh -- but just for refugees from the 12 provinces who had moved in to Anbar and Nineveh to vote.  The Independent High Electoral Commission announced that there were "special polling centers" set up for displaced persons from Nineveh and Anbar . . . if they were in the KRG.  Only, if they were in the KRG.  Now if you were a member of the armed services and resided in Anbar or Nineveh in your downtime but were deployed to other provinces, IHED had 266 polling stations in 15 of the other provinces for you to vote.  But if you were a resident of Anbar or Nineveh who had been displaced and went to any province other than the three in the KRG, you were out of luck on voting.

As Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi told BBC World Service's Sarah Montague interviewed yesterday,  only 30% of registered voters voted in the April 20th elections.  Safety concerns and disillusionment may be the reason for the low turnout in April.

Today, AFP quotes Mosul college student Fahd Ismail stating, "I have come to the polling centre not to vote, but just to destroy my ballot. I saw that students who graduated before me got nothing from the government, and now we are in the same situation."  Last week, Mustafa Habib (Niqash) quoted voters in the two provinces with reasons why people might not vote. Candidate Imad Zakariya stated, "The hot weather at this time of year will make people reluctant to vote. In spring, when it is cooler, people are more inclined to get out and vote." It was 105 degrees (F) in Ramadi this afternoon and 'dropped' to 100 degrees at nightfall. Ramadi is a major city in Anbar Province. Mosul is a major city in Nineveh Province. The high in Mosul today was 104 degrees (F).  Anbar Province resident Harith al-Ani told Niqash last week, "The changes in the election dates and in voter registration centres has also caused confusion."

The Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "A vehicle ban was imposed in major cities in the two provinces and thousands of policemen have been deployed" and "The United Nations reported 17 candidates were assassinated ahead of this year's election, more than half of them in Anbar and Nineveh. Adam Schreck and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) also note, "A total of 17 candidates have been assassinated ahead of this year's election, with the bulk of them from Ninevah, according to Jose Maria Aranaz, the chief electoral adviser at the United Nations mission to Iraq."

Despite all of that and much more, it appears the voting in Anbar and Nineveh was successful today.  Alsumaria reports that the Independent High Electoral Commission states 37.5% of registered voters turned out in Nineveh and that 49.5% turned out in Anbar.  Alsumaria notes that UNHCR assisted with the elections and were at polling places.  At five o'clock, when voting was scheduled to end, UNHCR checked to make sure that all voters were out of the polling stations and then locked the doors and, with IHEC, secured the ballot boxes.  All Iraq News notes that IHEC's Electoral Office head Muqdad al-Shiriefi declared in a Baghdad press conference this evening, "There are no violations in the PCs elections of the provinces."  NINA reports that the Mottahidoon Coalition issued a statement declaring the high rate of turnout in the two provinces was an indication that the protesters, who "have suffered various severe conditions in order to get their demands and recover their usurped rights," believe in their democratic rights.

The United Nations notes:

20 June 2013 – The United Nations envoy in Iraq today congratulated the men and women of the Anbar and Ninewa governorates on casting their votes on local elections that were delayed two months ago over mounting concerns about security.
“The people of Anbar and Ninewa overcame threats to cast their vote today, and violence failed to disrupt the democratic process,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler.
Most Iraqi governorates held their local elections two months ago. However, voting was delayed by officials in Anbar and Ninewa because of security concerns.
The past couple of months have been some of the deadliest on record for Iraq, with a series of bombings killing hundreds and injuring many more across the country. Candidates have been regularly targeted, and on Wednesday a suicide bomber reportedly blew himself up as he embraced a political leader in northern Iraq, killing the candidate and four of his relatives.
In addition, a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying five officials from the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in the town of Baiji in Ninewa today, killing one of them.
“Despite the best efforts of the security forces, it is very sad that lives were also lost in this process,” Mr. Kobler said. “Several candidates were targeted in the lead-up to today’s vote, while an IHEC staff member was tragically killed in an attack on a bus today and several IHEC colleagues were wounded.”
Delegations from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) visited a number of polling centres, and Mr. Kobler commended the professionalism and commitment of the IHEC in carrying out the elections. He also welcomed the efforts of Iraqi Security Forces under the command of the High Electoral Security Committee in assuring safe conditions for voting.
Mr. Kobler extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

The violence didn't end when the voting was completed.  Reuters reports, "A[Ramadi] suicide bomber killed seven people at an Iraqi vote counting centre on Thursday evening, police said, hours after polls closed in two Sunni Muslim-dominated provinces." 4 of the 7 "were members of Iraq's electoral commission."   Alsumaria notes the death toll rose to 9 and that twelve people were also injured.  They also explain the bombing occurred directly outside the polling station.  In addition, Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing targeting a military convoy left 1 military officer dead and another injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 333 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

 On the topic of the ongoing violence, Rudaw reports:

 An upsurge of violence and deadly car bombs in Iraq in the past few months appear to have served as a wake up call to some Iraqi leaders, among them former Vice President Adil Abd Al-Mahdi.
“Terrorism is clear in its message, but we are not clear in our plans and reactions,” Abd Al-Mahdi wrote last week on his personal Facebook page.
Abd Al-Mahdi is from the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) and is considered one of Iraq’s most influential Shiite leaders.
His party controls many important security and army posts. But Abd Al-Mahdi believes that the government does not quite know how to deal with the problem of terrorist attacks.
“We either react to it on a sectarian basis or only give it more popular support and space, which it doesn’t deserve,” he wrote, “Or we deal with it haphazardly and kill the innocent instead of the culprit.”

Abd Al-Mahdi served from 2006 to 2010 as vice president -- alongside Tareq al-Hashemi -- and was named for a second term in November 2010.  He left the post in the summer of 2011 after Nouri had asked the Iraqi people to give him 100 days to clear up corruption and after Nouri had let the 100 days expire without ever addressing the corruption.

While today was good for the voters, it was also bad for Nouri.  His State of Law had struggled in April to get votes.  The struggles for State of Law continue.    Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Al-Monitor) reports:

Despite the success of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition in obtaining 20 of 58 seats in Baghdad, the Al-Ahrar bloc, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, won 11 seats; the Sunni Mutahidoun block, led by Osama al-Nujaifi, obtained seven seats; the Citizen bloc obtained six seats and around 14 seats were distributed over other blocs and minority quotas. The way the seats were distributed allowed these forces to come together and form a government that excluded the biggest winner in the elections.
At first glance, it seems that this distribution, according to which the local government of Baghdad was formed on Saturday, is wide-ranging, inconsistent and incompatible at key points. It also seems that the State of Law Coalition will overcome its loss by trying to attract small blocs in the Baghdad Council to change the current government, a scenario that may be realized in the coming months. There is, however, another scenario that is more attainable, which involves the new alliance in Baghdad achieving greater harmony and making this experience a prelude to changing the political map in the general elections in 2014.
Not only does Baghdad have the largest population in Iraq (about 8 million), but its local government may have the means to tame the sectarian sensitivities, which are becoming more dangerous in Iraq and the region.

US President Barack Obama has decided to arm the so-called 'rebels' in Syria.  This goes against the wishes of a number of Iraqis. (Not all and maybe not even a majority, but there is a vocal segment in Iraq against the arming or supporting of the so-called rebels.)  Christianity Today speaks with MP Yondadam Kanna who is also Secretary General for the Assyrian Democratic Movement (as in Assyrian Christians):

Q: What do you think about future of Christians in Middle East?

A: Well, it depends upon the political systems or political regimes in the region. If the regimes are fanatic Islamists, extremists or racists, then it's very difficult for us. But if the regime is liberal, if it's recognising civil and human beings rights and looks to a nation's identity rather than to a religious basis, then it can work out.  It's our grandfathers' lands which we love and want to stay in. We want to live in peace with our partners and neighbours, on the same standard, equal for all citizens.
But if they are extremists or fanatics and run the countries on a religious basis, it will be very hard in, for example, Syria. We'll face a huge migration in the future. Same like what's going on with the Copts in Egypt, and same [as] what happened with us in Iraq after the fall of Saddam [Hussein].
The policy that is used today in Syria, under the excuse of getting rid of the regime, is very dangerous. If the state collapses, then the jihadists are in power. If the jihadists are in power, it's a huge risk, not only for Christians, but also Muslims of that region — not only in Syria, but in the rest of Middle East and then Europe, too. They are pushing Syria to be unorganised, the whole region to be unorganised. After Syria, next will be Lebanon, Iraq and so on.

[. . .]

Q: Are you saying the Obama administration's decision to support the Free Syrian Army with weapons is a wrong decision?

A: Unfortunately, the [term] "the Free Syrian Army" is very broad. Who is the Free Syrian Army? Jihadists? Jebhat al Nusra [a Syrian group with links to al Qaeda]? All others? Which one of them is it? So who are they really supporting?

There is a very real fear that the already huge Middle East refugee crisis could grow even larger in number as a result of Barack's decision.  Let's note the 'rebels.'  Back on June 11th, outlets -- such as AFP -- were reporting that al Qaeda in Iraq was out of the so-called rebels, that a split had taken place.  We noted:

The 'damage' has been that Jabhat al-Nusra has had 'funding' issues.  Governments wanting to support them -- the UK, the US -- are faced with questions by their citizens of why is the government supporting people who tried to kill US and UK service members in Iraq?  Kwame Holman (The NewsHour, PBS -- link is text, video and audio) noted yesterday, "The Obama administration could decide this week whether it's time to ship arms to rebels in Syria. Top U.S. officials began meeting today to consider the question. And Secretary of State John Kerry put off a trip to the Middle East to take part in the sessions."
Of course, the 'rebels' aren't really rebels and the main reason for the action be taken to split the two (publicly split, probably not in reality) was that the Iraqi faction outraged many on Sunday when they killed a child.

Probably not in reality?

Today, AFP files their latest, "Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq has defied orders from al-Qaeda senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to break up his self-proclaimed merger with Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), indicating tensions within the organisation, AFP reported."

Back to the topic of the refugees.  Today was World Refugee Day.  UNHCR noted, "World Refugee Day was established by the UN General Assembly in late 2000 and is marked each year on June 20, with the aim of bringing attention to the plight of the world's forcibly displaced."  Yesterday, 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).

Today, at the US State Dept, Secretary of State John Kerry explained the day and its meaning:

[The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.]
Thank you. Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I apologize for being a moment late. I just came from the Hill, where I was testifying on the subject of Syria, where we obviously have an enormous impact in terms of refugees. I appreciate your allowing me to sneak in and move the box and stand here and talk to you. (Laughter.) I’m delighted to welcome our ambassadors here. Thank you all for joining us this morning. And it’s a privilege for me to be here. And I want to thank our outstanding Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, who has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. And I think all of you know that the challenges that we’re here to talk about today are monumental, they are humbling, and they remind us of the unbelievable global, moral responsibility that we have to try to deal with people who face some of the toughest circumstances on earth.
I thank the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. I see you on the screen there. Thank you for being with us. Happy for the modern technology, which is bringing us together here. I gather you’re in Jordan, and appreciate your participating from there. And he has, as all of you know, been absolutely relentless in his efforts to try to help us do a better job to respond. It’s an endless job, and nothing more serious than what he is facing today, being in Jordan.
I also want to thank the members of Congress. I just – they beg their apologies here, but they were going to come down here, many of them, to be supportive – and they are – but they’re voting, in the middle of the vote. That’s actually one of the ways I got rescued from my hearing. (Laughter.) So now I’m very much in favor of those votes, folks. (Laughter.)
And I want to thank Wilmot for sharing his story with everybody here today. We appreciate his service in the military and his work with veterans.
Today is just the 12th official World Refugee Day, but I’m proud to say that in United States of America, our country has had a tradition of welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and it runs deep in our roots. I think it’s safe to say it’s part of our DNA as Americans, and we’re proud of that.
Roughly 150 years before the American Revolution took place and 400 years before the Statue of Liberty first stood up in New York Harbor to welcome people, a fellow by the name of John Winthrop came to this land as a Puritan refugee from England with a group of refugees on a sail vessel, the Arbella.
And he crossed the Atlantic. Before he arrived in Boston Harbor, he delivered a very well-known sermon, envisioning the colony they were going to create there as this “City Upon a Hill,” words that have been well quoted now by President Kennedy initially and President Reagan subsequently. He challenged the congregation that came over with him to serve as a model of justice and tolerance because, as he said, “the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Well, I would say to you today that they still are. The eyes of all people are upon us. And opening our docks and our doors to refugees has been part of the great tradition of our country. It defines us. It really is who we are. Most people came to this country at one point or another from another place.
And I think it’s safe to say that as we look at the world today and we consider where the High Commissioner is today, this challenge is as great as ever. Nearly 1.6 million people are now refugees out of Syria, a very significant portion of them in Jordan, where the High Commissioner is now. He will tell you, as I have experienced in my trips to Jordan, the profound impact that these refugees have on a community when they come there.
Many of them are not in the camps; they’re just in the general population and they seek employment, or they rent an apartment, 10 of them to the apartment, all contributing to the rent, which raises rents, which produces pressure on other people within the normal Jordanian course of life. That has an impact on Jordanian citizens; it has an impact on the politics.
In addition to that, they go to work or try to go to work. And because they’re desperate to go to work, they work for less money. In working for less money, they lower wages, and that has a social impact on the rest of the community.
So there are profound impacts from refugees. And obviously we live in a world today where not all refugees are refugees as a consequence of revolution or war and violence. We have refugees because they can’t find water. We have refugees because of climate change. We have refugees who are driven out by drought and the lack of food, who move accordingly because they want to be able to live.
And today we see refugees in so many new parts of the world. We see refugees in Mali, in the mountains of Burma, and in many other places. It’s fair to say that as we gather here for this 12th occasion, the eyes of some 46 million displaced people around the world are upon us. And we need to be able to look back at them with the knowledge that we are doing everything that is possible to try to help.
The challenge is immense. We just put an additional huge amount of money into Syria. And I think it’s safe to say that everybody comes to this table committed to try to do everything in our power to live up to our values and to meet the needs. The State Department, USAID, our partners in the U.S. Government, the United Nations, nonprofits around the world, faith-based groups, humanitarian organizations – all of them try to come together in order to try to live up to our common values.
And we don’t do this just because we’re trying to keep faith with the past; it’s because working to resolve this issue is critical to our future. And I think it’s vital to our nation’s strategic interest. It’s also the right thing to do.
When the stakes are high, you need to up your game, and I’m proud to say that the United States is trying to do that. Today, I announced that we are nearly doubling our contributions this year to the UNHCR. We are giving to the High Commission on Refugees a $415 million commitment that brings our 2013 total to $890 million. And I’m proud to say to you that that makes the United States of America the largest single contributor in the world. We provide more aid to the UNHCR than any other country and more than the next six countries combined. Americans should be proud of that. (Applause.)
What does this provide? This funding provides clean water, provides shelter, provides medicine to families around the globe. It tries to provide them with the ability to be able to survive day to day, from Afghanistan, Ecuador, from Burma to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This funding will advance our efforts on behalf of those who simply cannot defend themselves, including the elderly and the disabled. It will help to continue all of the programs to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation and to aid the victims of gender-based violence. And we make this investment because it makes a real difference in the lives of fellow human beings. I have seen this with my own eyes, and I think many of you here have seen it also.
The families of two of my predecessors, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, escaped Hitler and Stalin, and they landed on the shores of our county, like so many other American families centuries earlier, all of whom came here yearning and hoping for a brighter future.
Another one of our State Department family, Alex Konick, was born in Romania to parents who instilled in him a passion for geography, a fascination with other cultures. But the Romanian communist regime would not give his father a passport. And so, with nothing but the clothes on his back, Alex cut through a barbed-wire fence on the Yugoslav border and he made it to a refugee camp in Italy. And finally, later, on November 17th of 1982, he arrived in New York City.
Alex calls that day his “freedom birthday,” and he celebrates it every single year. After graduating from Columbia University and getting married, he took the passion that he inherited for travel and geography and culture and he decided to serve his country right here in the State Department. Today he’s proudly serving at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, in what is today a much different region from the one that he escaped. That’s the difference that we can make.
You can take another person, Gai Nyok, who is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who escaped the war there, trekking 500 miles on foot to Ethiopia. He finally arrived at Kakuma, Kenya, a sprawling refugee camp that housed 100,000 refugees, but food and rations there were very meager, and conditions were inadequate. So when the United Nations came, Gai immediately – when the United States came, he immediately signed up.
You fast-forward just a few years. Gai finished high school early, with a 4.0 GPA; he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in economics and international relations. And I’m proud to say that today, Gai is one of our Pickering Fellows here at the State Department, on the path to becoming a diplomat in the Foreign Service.
Tomorrow his story and his photo will be featured on the State Department’s blog and he is a prime example, like so many millions of others, of exactly why it is worth all of us standing up for the world’s most vulnerable, fighting on behalf of refugees, people who are determined to work hard, to give back, to rebuild their lives and to become part of the fabric of this country or whatever country they can find asylum in, people who have started businesses and gone on to win prizes, recognition for literature, for science, for technology, and other great endeavors.
So my friends, as we gather here today, the eyes of all people are still on us. And thanks to the work of people like Anne and Antonio – and so many of you – I believe we have reason to be hopeful. Because of your commitment, our most sacred values and the United States hopes and aspirations still remain a beacon of hope for people all over the world. We have work yet to do, but we recognize that we do it as a land of second chances and as an example for what we can do to help people achieve that second opportunity.
Thank you for the privilege of being here with you today. Thank you. (Applause.)

Others making statements today included UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie:

The Syrian crisis here in Jordan and across the region is the most acute humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world today.
1.6 million people have poured out of Syria with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and more are arriving every minute.
More than half are children.
They have left behind a country in which millions of people are displaced, suffering hunger, deprivation and fear; where countless women and girls have endured rape and sexual violence; where a whole generation of children are out of school; and where at least 93,000 people have been killed: the friends, neighbors, fathers, mothers and children of people in this camp today.
I want to thank the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees in their homes and communities. Their generosity is lifesaving. But they cannot do it alone. Appeals must be met and support given. The over-burdening of these countries' economies is the greatest risk to their stability.
I pray all parties in the Syrian conflict will stop targeting civilians and allow access for humanitarian aid.
And I appeal to the world leaders please, set aside your differences, unite to end the violence, and make diplomacy succeed. The UN Security Council must live up to its responsibilities. Every 14 seconds someone crosses Syria's border and becomes a refugee. And by the end of this year half of Syria's population ten million people will be in desperate need of food, shelter and assistance. The lives of millions of people are in your hands. You must find common ground.
On this day, World Refugee Day, I would like to say a word about the more than 15 million people who live as refugees worldwide.
Refugees are often forgotten, and frequently misunderstood. They are regarded as a burden, as helpless individuals, or as people who wish to move to someone else's country. That is not who they are.
I have met refugees around the world. They are resilient, hardworking and gracious people. They have experienced more violence and faced more fear than we will ever know. They have lost their homes, their belongings and their countries. They have often lost family and friends to horrific deaths. Faced with war and oppression they have chosen not to take up arms, but to try to find safety for their families. They deserve our respect, our acknowledgment and our support not just today but for the duration of their ordeal.
By helping refugees, here in Zaatari camp and across the globe, we are investing in people who will one day rebuild their countries, and a more peaceful world for us all. So on this day, I honor them, and I am privileged to be with them."

Elise Foley (Huffington Post) notes US Senator Rand Paul 'celebrated' early with statements made yesterday slamming refugees.  Foley also reports:

Paul has previously said the U.S. should reexamine its policies toward Iraqi refugees based on concerns about terrorism.
"We've exempted 60,000 Iraqis in the last three years," he said on "The Dennis Miller Show" in April. "My question is, for one, are any of them intending to do us harm? And two, we won the war in Iraq -- why would they be running from a democratic government?"
He said earlier in June that Iraqi refugees should not be allowed to remain in the U.S. unless they could find work.

We're not picking on Rand Paul because he's a Republican.  We're picking on him because he's being stupid.  His father, former US House Rep Ron Paul, is clearly a great deal smarter on the topic of Iraq.  I can't imagine anyone else in the Senate saying anything so stupid as Rand Paul has now with "we won the war in Iraq -- why would they be running from a democratic government?"

Rand Paul takes some brave stands and that's what he usually ends up noted in the snapshots for but that's a really stupid statement to make and hopefully we'll be able to get into just how stupid tomorrow.

However,  yesterday's snapshot included Secretary of State John Kerry's important remarks noting Pride Day, inclusion and progress.  There was also a brief Q&A and I said we'd include that today:

SECRETARY KERRY:  Please sit down. I gather we’re going to do a couple questions, so we’ll – I’ll do that.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great, great. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I loved what you said about where homophobia rears its ugly and frightened head, we’ll be there. I thought that was a really powerful statement, and demonstrates your long-held and heartfelt belief in equality and human rights for everyone. So thank you very much. Thank you as well for your mention of GLIFAA, and it’s great to know that we have your back – or you have our back, and you’ve got our back, and we’ve got your back.

SECRETARY KERRY: You’ve got to have mine too, folks, or I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) I’m counting on you.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: So – and thank you for answering a couple of questions. We asked our GLIFAA post representatives overseas – we’ve got about 100 serving in our embassies and consulates – to send us some questions that maybe we could pose to you. And you’ve got probably time for about two of them, if that’s okay.


MR. KERO-MENTZ: The first question from our GLIFAA post rep in Kyiv, Ukraine, Doug Morrow. He asks, “I’ve noticed a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements made by host country government officials and religious leaders in many countries around the world, including Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, and elsewhere. There seems to be a relationship between this sort of state-sponsored homophobia and increases in hate crimes against LGBT activists and individuals. Many of us have seen it firsthand. I know that the Department in our missions overseas are promoting human rights for everyone, including LGBT persons, but what more could we reasonably do to combat state-sponsored homophobia?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s a great question. What we need to do is do things like we’re doing here today, where you speak out and where you show people what is appropriate as well as permissible. In a lot of places – I’ve seen it for years. I used to – when I was in the DA’s office, I used to be a prosecutor. I remember going and meeting with kids, young kids, because I wanted to find out why kids were falling into the criminal justice system at age – whatever, 14, 15, 16. And almost invariably, almost ninety-whatever percent it was, I found kids who came from very troubled families, from places where they didn’t have adult input. And like everybody in life, we all learn from people ahead of us.
And so this is going through a huge generational transformation where, in fact, today, we’re kind of learning from a younger generation where the kinds of things that older folks who lived in a different norm are not as in touch with, but where the younger folks coming up are realizing none of this really matters. They’re just growing up with a different sense of what’s important. And as kids have come out in high school or in college or whatever, and their friends are their friends, they realize this person isn’t any different, and it breaks down the barriers. So what you had is a whole transformation taking place that hasn’t taken place in many of these other countries.
I’ve never met any child – two and half, three years old – who hates anybody. They hate their broccoli maybe, or they hate – but they don’t hate people. They haven’t learned it yet. And so the issue is really one of teaching people, of setting up rule of law, of establishing a different norm where people begin to break down the fear and they recognize that they’re not, in fact, threatened. And I think – it doesn’t mean you’re going to change everybody’s minds overnight. There are people who hold a strongly held religious belief or cultural belief, and they may go to their grave believing that, but that doesn’t mean they have to be intolerant.
And that’s the key thing that I think America has so much more than almost any other place that I know. We’re not without fault. We’re not without ability to be criticized. But by and large, we are capable of showing more tolerance than almost any other people. Not exclusive; there are people in Europe and people in some other countries who also share that.
But I think what we have to do is help people to feel they are protected in their ability to be able to stand up, as they have in France recently, against very bitter opposition, very divisive, but they won. And it changed things, and it will change things, and the next generation that comes along will see that. And over time – and I mean time, real time – we will break down in some of these more difficult places this notion that you have to actually hate people and punish them for who they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it doesn’t mean you have to adopt that – or whatever, that you can give people space to live and live their life.
Now, interestingly, in a lot of these places where that challenge is particularly difficult, we also face the challenge of just getting them to accept democracy, or getting them to accept reasonable standards of rule of law and the ability of people to speak their mind and a whole bunch of other things that we value enormously as the defining assets of our nationhood and of our citizenship. Those things have to be able to be promoted elsewhere. So I think doing what we’re doing, going out and advocating, standing up against that injustice, speaking out in various countries about human rights as we will continue to everywhere we go, will over time allow the same evolutionary process to take place in some of these places of resistance as it has here and in other parts of the world, in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. And I think ultimately we just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity, and I guarantee you under this Administration we certainly will continue to do that and, I hope, for the long-term future.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, this next question comes from our GLIFAA post rep in Tijuana, Mexico, Victor Garcia-Rivera, who asks, "What preparations has the Department of State made for when DOMA is struck down, particularly with regards to expedited naturalization for our foreign national same-sex spouses? Should the court strike down DOMA, as hoped, can we all – can we expect all things to be equal, including immigration rights?"

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I should probably let Pat Kennedy and Linda tackle this question, because they’re the ones who are working this through, but we’ve talked about it in our meetings. We are planning for the expectation that DOMA will be struck down in some form, and we’re laying the groundwork for all the things that we need to adjust. And I will just tell you, frankly, we are looking forward to the opportunity of doing that, because it will define the road ahead for us much more easily, it’ll be far less complicated, and I think everybody here will breathe a sigh of relief if that ruling comes through the way we hope it will.
So we’re laying all the groundwork necessary so that every law or every practice or every – whatever process is in place by history and precedent here will be evaluated against the notion that that law is no longer the law of the land, and therefore that everybody is indeed fully equal and we have to apply policies accordingly. And you can count on the fact that that will happen. And I think we’ll probably get a decision before too long here. So Pat Kennedy is anxiously awaiting that decision, folks. He’s crunching down further in his seat right now. (Laughter.)
Thank you. Anyway, Happy Pride to all. Thank you for the privilege of being here, and I wish you well. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

the associated press
sameer n. yacoub