Sunday, August 23, 2009


We saw an elderly woman shopkeeper sorting out debris in her street-level store. The bomb knocked her to the ground and buried her underneath her shelves and goods. A taxi driver helped her out. His car was smashed and totaled by the bomb. We ask her a couple questions and she rails on the government that she says let this happen.
"Our house is destroyed. Where are we going to sleep tonight? It would be better if I had died," she says.

Adam Ashton (Modesto Bee) reported the above in the aftermath of the Baghdad bombings. that rocked Baghdad on Wednesday -- but that was just one of the violent

days. Last Sunday saw 13 reported dead and 41 reported injured. Monday saw 24 dead 59 wounded. Tuesday the reported death toll was 5 and 24 were reported injured. Wednesday 102 were reported dead and 572 wounded. By Thursday evening, 22 were reported dead with 67 injured. Thursday night 33 more deaths were reported and 145 wounded. Friday saw 8 deaths reported and 31 people wounded. Saturday saw 4 dead 11. That's a total of 211 reported dead and 950 injured.

PBS' NewsHour explored the violence (link has text and audio and video options) but among the commercial broadcast networks, only NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, had anything to point to with pride, offering the most in depth network report on the bombings.

Lester Holt: This is one of the bloodiest days in a long time in Iraq. It's certainly the most violent since US forces withdrew from Iraqi cities in June. Multiple bombings killed at least 95 people in Baghdad and wounded more than 500. A major test for Iraq's security forces and for US policy. We get more now from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Mick, good evening.

Jim Miklaszewski: Good evening, Lester. US officials are already blaming al Qaeda for today's bombings in an effort to stir up sectarian violence but whos ever responsible, today's bloody and blatant bombings raise serious questions about Iraq's ability to take over its own defense. Six powerful bombs rocked Baghdad within minutes in one of the deadliest days of the entire Iraq War. One blast shook up a meeting of tribal leaders. As smoke filled the room, the speaker called it terrorism. The carnage began with a suicide car bombing at Iraq's Finance Ministry at about eleven this morning. Only three minutes later, a massive truck bomb exploded outside the Foreign Ministry. Then over the next ten minutes four separate bombs tore through Baghdad in a highly coordinated attack. The Foreign Ministry took the most devastating hit -- two tons of explosives shredded the front of the building, killing at least 59 Iraqis. The wounded flocked to Baghdad hospitals. This man said one explosion threw his car into the air. The attacks come less than two months after American combat forces withdrew from Baghdad in an agreement with Iraq's government. Iraqi forces were supposed to take over security operations, but after today's bombings, NBC News producer Ghazi Balkiz says the Iraqis admit they failed in their mission.

Ghazi Balkiz: In a surprising statement tonight, the Iraqi Defense Ministry admitted that the attacks were the result of Iraqi forces negligence and said that they should take most of the blame for the security breach.

Jim Miklaszewski: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could ask the US forces to return to the cities but that would be political suicide and it's unlikely American combat forces would step back into the middle of an Iraqi sectarian war.

Ret General Barry McCaffrey: The last time we went in to take Baghdad, we had several thousand killed and wounded. We won't do it again. We shouldn't do it again.

Jim Miklaszewski: And despite today's attacks and a recent spike in overall violence, US military and Pentagon officials say they still intend to withdraw all US combat forces on schedule. According to one senior official, it's time for the Iraqis to step up and take over ready or not. Lester.

Lester Holt: Jim Miklaszewski, tonight at the Pentagon, thank you.

The targets of the Baghdad bombings on Wednesday were primarily the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspaper) quoted Um Khatab asking, "Where are the police? I lost a brother, and they are sitting in their cars with air conditioning?" Ashton reports, "Her cries of mourning reverberated in the street while teams of police officers sifted through the site, making their way past burnt-out cars and scorched pavement." Jane Arraf (Global Post) added, "An anguished mother stumbling over her shoes asked everyone if they'd seen her missing daughter." Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) quote Gaith Abdulla stating, "I saw people killed and wounded on the ground and many cars were ablaze. The security forces started shooting and were firing randomly. Then another massive explosion shook the whole place."


Last week the US military announced the deaths of Private 1st Class William Z. Vanosdol (August 19th, Qadisiyah) and Specialist Matthew D. Hastings (Baghdad, August 17th).

Also last week, "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq," a 67-page report [PDF format warning, click here] by Human Rights Watch was released. The report covered the targeting of Iraq's LGBT population and utilizes personal testimony, such as the testimony of Hamid:

It was late one night in early April, and they came to take my partner at his parents' home. Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. All that, I heard about later from his family.

He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage. His genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out.Since then, I've been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now. I don't have friends other than those you see; for years it has just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble, by ourselves. I have no family now -- I cannot go back to them. I have a death warrant on me. I feel the best thing to do is just to kill myself. In Iraq, murderers and thieves are respected more than gay people.

Their measuring rod to judge people is who they have sex with. It is not by their conscience, it is not by their conduct or their values, it is who they have sex with. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human being, a human life. It is cheaper than an animal, than a pair of used-up batteries you buy on the street. Especially people like us.

Though many have been silent, as Marcia noted last night, US House Rep Alcee L. Hastings' office issued the following statement:

The US House has three openly gay members: Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis. Not one of them issued a statement last week on the report; however, US House Rep Alcee L. Hastings' office issued the following statement:

The report documents the extrajudicial persecution, torture, and execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis. In recent months, hundreds of gay men have been tortured and murdered in Iraq in a systematic campaign of social cleansing by Shiite militiamen and extremists. Furthermore, victims and witnesses allege that Iraqi security forces have colluded and joined in the killing.

"The alarming testimonies detailed in this report are undeniable evidence that the rights and safety of gay Iraqis are at risk," Hastings said.

"Gay Iraqis should not have to live in fear of being tortured, mutilated, or murdered by their countrymen. International human rights law explicitly condemns torture and guarantees the right to life and the right to effective state protection. These abuses fundamentally threaten the rights and safety of all Iraqis."I urge the Iraqi government to stem this tide of violence and hate and to protect its LGBT citizens," he said. "I also commend Human Rights Watch for raising awareness of this urgent matter and for its ongoing dedication to defending and protecting human rights around the world."

It is not just an issue for gays and lesbians in the US to raise and we congratulate and thank (straight) Rep Hastings for stepping up to the plate but it is a bit distressing that not one of the three gay members of the House offered anything on the report.

From Monday through Friday, C.I. included the report in every Iraq snapshot, including Wednesday's where the other community coverage of the report was noted:

Rebecca noted that last night and that "it's really shocking how little we seem to care about that in this country." "The supposedly liberated Iraq is encouraging the assaults on their own LGBT community," Trina wrote yesterday. Mike followed the same train of thought with, "It's not 'renegades' or a 'few bad apples,' it's the Interior Ministry, it's the security forces, it's anyone with a beef -- most likely imagined -- in Iraq. And they get away with it and they have gotten away with it. And no one says, 'Just one minute'." Marcia observed, ""I hope people in this country get that it could be them. It could be them because they're gay, because they're a person of color, because of their gender, because they have X kind of eye color. Bigotry isn't 'scientific'." Tying it into lynchings targeting African-Americans in the US during the last century, Ann explained, "So when I read the above and realize that Iraqi LGBTs are being targeted, I do identify. I do know what it's like to wonder, as I did when I first learned of lynchings, 'Why does someone hate me so much? What have I done to them?' Iraq's LGBT community hasn't done anything to anyone. They are being targeted because of bigotry and that's due to the fact that some people can't feel good about the day if they can't start it off hating someone else." Elaine weighed in with, "The bigotry is always about fear. Ramiz and others are being targeted not because they did anything to anyone else but because they are feared. Sometimes it's a fear that if others know about Ramiz, they might decide to live their own lives freely. Other times it's a fear that if you don't make an effort to beat up Ramiz, people may figure out that you are gay yourself." On the silence that has largely been the response to the report, Stan advised, "Picture yourself as gay and ask yourself what message you're then receiving as you go from left website to website and see nothing on the report or on the continued assault on Iraq's LGBT community." Ruth noted the silence and tied it into the lack of "people to speak out strongly on behalf of Iraq's LGBT community." As Betty pointed out, "We have nothing to lose in America by speaking out on this issue. We are protected and we are safe. And our speaking out could mean so much to a persecuted group of people. And I don't understand why we refuse to do that. If it were you being targeted, you'd want someone to speak out for you. If it were your child, you'd want someone standing up." Kat wondered, "What if that was your boyfriend? Or your girlfriend? And, on top of everything else, you couldn't publicly mourn?"

That should have been one of the biggest Iraq stories last week. It was not.

Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) filed a report as did Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times). And the other major daily newspapers?

Friday on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, Susan Page (USA Today) filled in for Diane Rehm and Iraq was a topic the second hour with panelists Thom Shanker (New York Times), Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) and Brian Winter (USA Today). No one raised the issue of the Human Rights Watch report which was puzzling only if you didn't grasp that the three papers all ignored the report. (Online, USA Today did a brief blog post. )

NPR's Steve Inskeep and Mark Merrott both filed online reports. And as the week slowly passed away, it became obvious that it would be easier to list those who reported on it than all those who stayed silent.

NPR's Deborah Amos (All Things Considered -- link has text and audio) reported on the other big development, General Ray Odierno's proposal for US troops to go into northern Iraq in large numbers to assist Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish pesh merga in getting along with each other and in combating violence. The top US commander in Iraq told Amos, "Unfortunately, they are killing a lot of innocent civilians, and so that is not acceptable to the Iraqi government, and it's not acceptable to us. So we are trying to come up with solutions to solve this problem."

This week, Barack Obama will be vacationing on Martha's Vineyard and Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan will be there:

"There are several things that we wish to accomplish with this protest on Martha's Vineyard.

First of all, no good social or economic change will come about with the continuation or escalation of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We simply can't afford to continue this tragically expensive foreign policy.
Secondly, we as a movement need to continue calling for an immediate end to the occupations even when there is a Democrat in the Oval Office. There is still no Noble Cause no matter how we examine the policies.
Thirdly, the body bags aren't taking a vacation and as the US led violence surges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so are the needless deaths on every side.
And, finally, if the right-wing can force the government to drop any kind of public option or government supported health care, then we need to exert the same kind of pressure to force a speedy end to the occupations."
Cindy Sheehan will arrive on the Vineyard on Tuesday, August 25th.
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