Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Editorial: Shame on JACOBIN

JACOBIN is a self-proclaimed Marxist publication though some critics argue it's the bible for the DSA and a sheepdog for the Democratic Party.  It can be both, it can be neither.  Whatever it is, it frequently offers coverage of issues that otherwise go ignored.  

Which is why there was hope when their video podcast was going to address Iraq.


Hope that vanished quickly.

What they aired was empire.  They can pretend and lie and whore if they want, but all three people -- the hosts and the guests -- promoted xenophobia and empire.  


Add one arrogant asshole to two giggly co-hosts and it's going to get embarrassing no matter what the topic.  


But the Iraq War -- an ongoing war, an ongoing tragedy -- was reduced to jokes and snide, above-it-all sneers.  Never once were the Iraqi people noted.  It was their lives that were destroyed and are being destroyed but in typical Mad Maddie Albright fashion, they were rendered invisible.  Everyone involved should feel ashamed of that broadcast.


The US-led war has turned the nation into a country of widows and orphans.  Weapons the US used in Iraq have resulted in birth defects.  The Iraqi people live under a system created by the US government and it does not represent them.  Year after year, the US installs or co-installs prime ministers who fled Iraq like cowards while Saddam Hussein was the leader, cowards who only returned to Iraq after the US invaded.  They don't represent the Iraqi people.  They don't even pretend to represent the Iraqi people.


It's a corrupt system -- again, one set up by the US government -- where millions and millions disappear every month from the public funds while certain politicians -- Nouri al-Maliki, for example -- get rich and richer and no one's ever supposed to notice.


It's a corrupt system which has resulted in over a year of steady protests.  The security forces attack the protesters.  And the world either yawns or looks the other way.


Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch published "World Report 2021" and this is from their section on Iraq:

Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of demonstrators by Iraqi security forces in late 2019 and into 2020 led to government resignations and the nomination of a new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in May 2020. Despite an initial seeming willingness to address some of Iraq’s most serious human rights challenges, al-Kadhimi’s government failed to end abuses against protesters.

Iraq’s criminal justice system was riddled with the widespread use of torture and forced confessions and, despite serious due process violations, authorities carried out numerous judicial executions.

Iraqi law contained a range of defamation and incitement provisions that authorities used against critics, including journalists, activists, and protesters to silence dissent.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a particularly harmful impact on students kept out of school for months during nationwide school closures, many of whom were unable to access any remote learning.

Excessive Force against Protesters

In a wave of protests that began in October 2019 and continued into late 2020, clashes with security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, nominally under the control of the prime minister), left at least 560 protesters and security forces dead in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern cities.

In July 2020, the government announced it would compensate the families of those killed during the protests and that it had arrested three low-level security forces officers. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no senior commanders have been prosecuted. After a spate of killings and attempted killings of protesters in Basra in August 2020, the government fired Basra’s police chief and the governorate’s director of national security but seemingly did not refer anyone for prosecution. In May 2020, when Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took office, he formed a committee to investigate the killings of protesters. It had yet to announce any findings publicly as of late 2020.

In May, security forces in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region arrested dozens of people planning to participate in protests against delayed government salaries, a persistent issue since 2015. At August 2020 protests by civil servants in the Kurdistan Region demanding unpaid wages, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces beat and arbitrarily detained protesters and journalists.

Silencing Free Speech

Iraq’s penal code, which dates back to 1969, enshrines numerous defamation “crimes,” such as “insult[ing] the Arab community” or any government official, regardless of whether the statement is true. Although few individuals served prison time on defamation charges, the criminal process itself acted as a punishment. Reporting on corruption and abuses by the security forces was especially risky.

Authorities also invoked other laws and regulations to limit free speech. The Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a “financially and administratively independent institution” linked to parliament, in 2014 issued without legal basis “mandatory” guidelines to regulate media during “the war on terror”—a phrase it did not define. These guidelines were updated in May 2019 and renamed the “Media Broadcasting Rules.” They restrict freedom of the press to the point of requiring pro-government coverage.

The CMC suspended Reuters’s license under its broadcast media regulations powers for three months and fined it 25 million IQD (US$21,000) for an April 2, 2020 article alleging that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country was much higher than official statistics indicated. Authorities lifted the suspension on April 19.

The KRG used similar laws in force in the Kurdistan Region to curb free speech, including the penal code, the Press Law, and the Law to Prevent the Misuse of Telecommunications Equipment.

Civil society efforts were successful in preventing passage of a deeply flawed cybercrimes bill in November.

Arbitrary Detention

Iraqi forces arbitrarily detained Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects for months, and some for years. According to witnesses and family members, security forces regularly detained suspects without any court order or arrest warrant and often did not provide a reason for the arrest.

Iraqi authorities also arbitrarily detained protesters and released them later, some within hours or days and others within weeks, without charge.

Despite requests, the central government failed to disclose which security and military structures have a legal mandate to detain people, and in which facilities.

Fair Trial Violations

In January 2020, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) published a report assessing the criminal justice system, based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal court trials, 619 of them for men, women and children charged under Iraq’s dangerously overbroad  counterterrorism law. It supported Human Rights Watch findings that basic fair trial standards were not respected in terrorism-related trials.

Iraqi judges routinely prosecuted ISIS suspects solely on the overbroad charge of ISIS affiliation, rather than for the specific violent crimes they may have committed. Trials were generally rushed, based on a defendant’s confession, and did not involve victim participation. Authorities systematically violated the due process rights of suspects, such as guarantees in Iraqi law that detainees see a judge within 24 hours and have access to a lawyer throughout interrogations, and that their families are notified and should be able to communicate with them during detention.

Detainees have shared graphic accounts of torture during interrogations in Mosul’s prisons under the control of the Ministry of Interior, in some cases leading to their deaths. These allegations are consistent with reports of the widespread use of torture by Iraqi forces to extract confessions instead of carrying out robust criminal investigations.

Authorities can prosecute child suspects as young as 9 with alleged ISIS affiliation in Baghdad-controlled areas and 11 in the KRI,  in violation of international standards, which recognize children recruited by armed groups primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, and call for a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 14 years or older. One Mosul committee improved its handling of the prosecution of child suspects.

Conditions in Detention

Authorities detained criminal suspects in overcrowded and in some cases inhuman conditions. According to media reports, authorities released 20,000 prisoners in April as a preventive measure in response to the Covid-19 pandemic but did not share any information on the identities of those released and the criteria for selecting them. Authorities refused to respond when asked to share or make public the number of people in Iraqi prisons, making it impossible to assess whether the releases sufficiently reduced the acute overcrowding to enable social distancing. In July, there were 31 Covid-19 cases reported at a prison in Baghdad.


None of these issues were addressed.  In what can only be described as Empire Privilege, Felix Biederman pontificated endlessly about jokes he wanted to tell and 'online' activism and how he always knew this and that (yeah, right) but it never left the domestic shores, did it?  Pity we can't say the same for the US military and contractors that were unleashed on Iraq.  

The Iraq War continues and it will always continue when so-called discussions about Iraq render the Iraqi people invisible.  Shame on all involved.

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