Sunday, September 06, 2009


Bush and al-Hakim
The month of August ended last Monday and the totals for reported deaths and wounded were 509 dead and 1919 injured. That is just reported, the actual figures are obviously higher. So it was a real suprise and laugh when the Iraqi ministries released their totals and attempted to claim only 456 deaths -- this despite Reuters and McClatchy's reported daily death tolls adding up to 509. Even with their ridiculously low totals, August ended up being the highest monthly death toll in the last 13 months.

Tuesday (Sept. 1st) saw 3 people reported dead and five wounded. Wednesday saw 6 reported dead and eleven wounded. Thursday saw 14 reported dead and 129 injured. Friday saw one reported death and ten reported injured. Saturday saw 5 reported deaths and twelve reported wounded. For the first week of September (running from Tuesday through Saturday), Iraq saw

29 reported deaths and 167 reported wounded.

Thursday the US military issued the following announcement: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -- Two Multi-National Division - North Soldiers were killed and five wounded in a vehicle rollover accident in the Diyala province of northern Iraq Sept. 2." he number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war is 4338. That's offered despite the fact that ICCC went down on Wednesday and has remained down ever since.

The two killed were Todd Selge and Jordan Shay. 22-year-old Shay was a fellow Blogspot user and he posted the following to his blog (through amber lenses) August 27th:

Thanks to the hand-tying status of forces agreement between Iraq and the United States, American soldiers are not allowed to operate in urban areas without having the Iraqi Police or Iraqi Army present. Exceptions apply, but they're few and far between.

By the time our squad had regrouped around the front of the building, our IA escort forces from outside the city had exited their humvees and stood around smoking and joking with each other. They were dressed in USMC desert fatigues, military body armor, and commercial tactical vests. They were also carrying clean weapons outfitted with modern American optics and flashlights. Apparently, Iraqi Army Special Forces are fairly well funded.

Amnesty International released a report last week. CNN (link has text and video) was one of the few who covered it:

Naamua Delaney: Six years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has one of the highest rates of execution in the world. That is according to Amnesty International which just released a report that 1,000 Iraqis are currently on death row, about a dozen of them women. Arwa Damon met one woman who could be executed soon despite her claims of innocence.Arwa Damon joins us now from Baghdad. Hello, Arwa.

Arwa Damon: Hi, Naamua. And what is especially disturbing about that Amnesty International report is it says that many of the death sentences that were handed down followed court proceedings that did not meet international standards. Additionally many of the alleged confessions were extracted under duress. This is something that we have heard countless times from a number of different organizations over the last few years. Samar Sa'ad Abdullah's case is one which tragically embodies all the shortcomings of the Iraqi judicial system. We first met Samar Sa'ad Abdullah in the spring of 2007 at the al-Kadhimiya women's prison in Baghdad. She'd already been on death row for two years and she was terrified.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: Give me life in prison. Even 20 years. I don't care. Anything but this.

Arwa Damon: Samar was sentenced to death by hanging for being an accessory to the murder of three members of her uncle's family. She maintains her innocence and there are disturbing questions about her conviction. But now Samar is in a place that brings death a step closer. On the other side of this door is the corridor that leads to the cells here at Baghdad's maximum security facility. There are more than 500 prisoners who have been brought here waiting to be executed. We are not allowed to film anything outside of this room. And this is where we meet Samar again. This time we're not allowed to film her face. She looks frail, pale, her eyes bloodshot.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: (Crying) My life is meaningless. I can't think about anything else.

Arwa Damon: Once her life had meaning and joy. She had a financee, Saif.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: I was so happy before when he asked for my hand in marriage.

Arwa Damon: But she says one day Saif took her to her wealthy uncle's house. He shot three members of her family, including her cousin. They'd grown up like sisters. And then she says Saif turned the gun on her.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: There was nothing that made me suspect that this was a guy who would kill. I still remember him pulling the gun on me and saying take me to your uncle's room. I am in prison and he is outside wandering in the street -- happy. And I am in prison.

Arwa Damon: Her parents swear she's innocent. They say the Iraqi police picked her up the next day after Saif dumped her in front of their house and disappeared. "We keep trying to tell her everything is going to be okay and not be afraid," Samar's mother sobs. At her trial, Samar said that she'd been tortured by police into confessing that she went to her uncle's house to steal.

Samar Sa'ad Abdullah: They kept beating me. Finally they made me sign a blank paper, they filled it out afterwards.

Arwa Damon: Under Iraqi law, the courts should have investigated her claim that she confessed under torture but the judges disregarded that. Human rights groups say Samar's case is one of many where justice has failed. In a report about Iraq's Central Criminal Court which tried Samar, Human Rights Watch said, "It is an institution that is seriously failing to meet international standards of due process and fair trials. Abuse in detention typically with the aim of extracting confessions appears common." Local organizations welcome the support.

OWFI's Yanar Mohammed: As a human rights organization in Iraq, we find out that we need some backup from abroad to put pressure on our government to -- as a first step to stop the executions of these women who -- some of whom are innocent and we also need to see a new Iraq where execution is not a right for the state anymore..

At Amnesty International's blog, Neil Durkin observed, "It's people like Samar Sa'ad 'Abdullah who we're talking about. She's a 27-year-old woman who's been found guilty of murder but only, she says, after she was viciously tortured (electric shocks, beatings with a cable) into making a false confession. If past examples are anything to go by, being beaten into making a phoney confession is common in Iraq, and meanwhile Samar's trial lasted a grand total of one and a bit days and one of her lawyers was even ordered out of the court by the trial judge."

Despite an overflowing death row, Wednesday saw four men sentenced to death by hanging for their crimes during the July 28th bank robbery in Baghdad in which 8 security guards were killed. A number of the robbers were moonlighting from their day jobs as bodyguards to Iraq's Shi'ite vice president.

The Friday August 21st, Inside Iraq broadcast addressed the topic of press freedom and touched on the robbery and the attacks on the press that followed a piece of satire being published. Host Jassam al-Azzawi was joined by panelists Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor), Saad al-Muttalibi (Ministry of National Dialogue) and Freshta Raper (Iraqi reporter).

Jassam al-Azzawi: And yet, Saad al-Muttalibi, in the package we've just seen we saw Jalal Talibani, the Iraqi president, in a way sniping at the Iraqi journalists and the Iraqi media for somehow covering the Rafidain robbery and there are enough circumstantial evidence to implicate the Iraqi vice president Abdul Mahdi. Why Jalal Talabani being so super sensitive?

Saad al-Muttalibi: Well start with we're in the process of building a stable state and that requires legislation and that requires that even at the darkest moments to look at the press, freedom of the press, and to look at other aspects of the state of Iraq. And I'm not here to defend anybody, I'm just saying that there were no evidence. For somebody to write a piece, an article in a state-owned newspaper and claim that he knew in advance that somebody, anybody has the intention of doing the robbery and buying blankets and distributing the blankets through -- during the elections, that sounds to me like going out of the norm, this is not media reporting, this is accusation and without any evidence. I mean the journalists didn't have any evidence for his case. A journalist's job is uh to produce the news uh to convey the news and events that happen in the country and as truthfully and honest as possible and but not to make interpretation, their own interpretation of events. Thank you.

Jassim al-Azzawi: Freshta Raper, of course that journalist is in hiding right now fearing for his life. The article he wrote pretty much is a tongue-in-cheek, political satire if you will, rather than a direct accusation. But let me talk to you about yourself. You are one of the Iraqi journalists, if I'm not mistaken, whose name is on a list. Tell us about it.

Freshta Raper: Last year, last year exactly, just July to say of a year ago, I -- the paper has leaked from the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] official offices that 14 journalists are the most wanted and has to be take care of and we even -- again we make sure that this was a genuine statement. I personally sent a letter e-mailed to Nechirvan Barzani personally sent to the Iraqi the embassy, we sent a letter to everyone of them to make sure this is genuine or is this a joke because if this is a joke, this is a sick joke to threaten people with killing. They have been doing it for many years and Jalal Talabani has to condemn this because he has a lot for himself to cover up, a lot of dirty secrets what are they doing against the journalists. The only thing I have done in the past four or five years, I'm writing more as criticizing the abuse of power, the corruption, and there are billions of evidence over there of how they misuse the power and how they are abusing people and abusing the system in a daily light. So I am -- I am one of those who could become a victim and at the time I was a lucky one. The person in Baghdad, I feel sorry for.

Jassim al-Azzawi: And you are remarkably lucky in the sense that you live in London and you contribute to the news and you appear on the news but, Jane Arraf, not everybody is as luck as Freshta. Iraq has been for the last few years perhaps the most dangerous place on earth. More Iraqis as well as foreign journalists have been killed in Iraq than in any other war zone and you have covered many of these war zones.

Jane Arraf: Absolutely I think they're some of the bravest people on the earth and one of the amazing things about this past six years has been that throughout the tragedy Iraqi journalists really keep coming out and trying to tell the news. Now they are working in a very difficult background. This is a new industry. Press freedom here is not developed as we're talking about. There also aren't a lot of entrenched standards for the press but one of the things that you see over and over is just an absolute proliferation of journalists who, despite the fact that almost 200 journalists and media workers have been killed here, still feel that they are going to go out, go out on those streets, stand up to those officials and it's -- it's absolutely amazing.

Jassim al-Azzawi: And yet Saad Muttalibi, this proliferation Jane Arraf is talking about, you cannot help but seeing a tinge of sectarianism in it. Most of the newspapers and most of the TV stations and the radios somehow, one way or another, they are affiliated by or financed by this political party and that political party and they take a life of their own. They pretty much attack the others based on sectarian, on ethnicity and other calibrations.

Saad al-Muttalibi: Absolutely right. Hence we require regulations. We require laws to define rights and to define limitations. Journalists jobs in Iraq is probably the hardest job to do, the most dangerous job --

Jassim al-Azzawi: What will laws do if you have militias assigned to a political party? They do the actual on behalf of that political party if they're politicians are attacked.

Saad al-Muttalibi: I must interrupt you -- I must interrupt you. There are no militias anymore. [The two journalists on the panel react in disbelief to the statement.] The militias were crushed in a very bloody way last year and we have now remnants of gangs that could be --

Jassim al-Azzawi: Hold that statement for a second.

Jane Arraf: That's an extraordinary statement.

Jassim al-Azzawi: Jane wants to say something.

Jane Arraf: I'm sorry.

Jassim al-Azzawi: Go ahead Jane.

Jane Arraf: I was just going to say that would really be wonderful if that were the case but that's not the evidence that we are seeing, that we are hearing from Iraqis when we go out in the street. They're -- I think the consensus is that there are militias. There certainly are not the militias there were a year ago that is certainly true but there are places where militias are creeping back and a lot of it depends upon how you define militias.

July 29th, Haley Williams was among the loved ones of British hostages holding a press conference. She is the mother of Alec Maclachlan's child. Alec was kidnapped in Baghdad on May 29, 2007 along with four other British citizens: Jason Crewswell, Alan McMenemy, Peter Moore and Jason Swindelhurst. Both Jasons are confirmed dead. The July 29th press conference was held after the British government declared they believed that Alec and Alan were dead. At the press conference, Haley Williams declared, "These reports are the worst possible news for us but we continue to hope that they cannot be true. But whatever Alec's condition, he no longer should remain in Iraq. We appeal to those holding him to please send him home to us. I speak to you as the mother of Alec's son. We are not the people holding your men but I do understand your feelings cause you're going through the same pain we are going through. If we had any influence over the release of your men we would release them to you but we don't. Please send him home because as a family we can't cope with this anymore."

The kidnappers are the League of Righteous or League of Righteous. Until this spring, the US military had their leader and his brother in custody. While they won't release reporters, they gladly negotiate with terrorists. They released the two men and were 'rewarded' with the corpses of both Jasons. Last Wednesday a third British corpse was turned over and Thursday it was announced it was Alec's. At the end of the week, Hannah Allem's "Chalabi aide: I went from White House to secret U.S. prisoner" (McClatchy Newspapers) backed up Eli Lake's "EXCLUSIVE: Iraqi official's top aide linked to Shi'ite terrorists" (Washington Times) from the week before: Ahmed Chalabi's secretary Ali Feisal al Lami had ties to the League of Rightous. While briefly imprisoned, Lami brags, he encountered his old friend, leader of the League of Rightous, "I asked him, 'So, Sheikh Qais, which is better: your military way or my political way?' He said, 'It's all the same. We're both in prison.' He was right and I was wrong."

That's only some of the news from Iraq last week. (We cover Ibrahim Jassim's wrongful imprisonment and Steven D. Green's sentencing for War Crimes in separate articles.)
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