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Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is one critic’s analysis of the geopolitical realities that maintain the Bush/Obama doctrine of permanent war, Middle East division.  Whether or not all the players (Shia, Sunni, Isis, Isil, Kurds, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc.) are correctly ordered and the power relationships perfectly defined, what is true is that it is all about markets and oil. That is, the business and profit making elements of capitalist economy, backed by governments’ foreign policies and military might, are what determine the course of action.  The needs, desires, dreams, rights, etc. of living human beings are trumped by the capitalist Behemoth.  I for one cheered when Obama was forced not to attack Syria earlier in the year (remember sarin gas?) and opened for the fist time in decades a dialogue with Iran with the possibility of resolving the nuclear issue and thereby ratcheting down the tensions between the U.S. and a major middle east power.  But as it turns out, it was too good to be true.  The drive to protect economic interests (read: corporate and military) wins out again.  

I want to repeat something I posted yesterday from an article by Murray Dobbin about the Ottawa shootings, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski :

We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.

In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998   Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

The answer is in.

 

WEEKEND EDITION OCTOBER 24-26, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org

by SHAMUS COOKE

How did Obama manage to botch U.S. foreign policy so stunningly? The promising speeches he gave in 2008 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his inspiring words have since been buried in the rubble of Libya, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The region that once viewed Obama as a peace messiah now rejects him as a warmonger. And with every new foreign policy zigzag Obama only finds fresh “threats” while never managing to find the path to peace.

Obama would like peace in theory, but doing so requires he shake up his Middle East alliances. The U.S. stands pigeonholed in tightly-wound alliances with the most hated regimes in the world, sandwiched between the global pariah Israel and the brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. The other important U.S. ally is war-hungry expansionist Turkey, while the smaller U.S. allies are the remaining Gulf state monarchy dictatorships.

Allies like these make peace impossible. Obama recognizes that these friends restrict the ability of the U.S. to retain regional credibility. Consequently, there has been much speculation about a massive shift in U.S. alliances that hinges on peace with Iran, possibly supplemented by strengthening the alliance with Iraqi Kurds.

Americans and Iranians would celebrate a peace between nations, but this scenario now seems off the table. After “talking” peace with Iran for the first time in decades, Obama chose the warpath yet again.

This decision was finalized recently when the “ISIS deal” was struck between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, again cementing this ugly alliance. In exchange for Saudi Arabia attacking ISIS, the U.S. would commit to war against the Syrian government, which the Saudis want toppled to undermine their rival Iran. The Syrian rebels that Saudi Arabia agreed to train — with $500 million from U.S. taxpayers — will be used against the Syrian government, not to fight ISIS. The U.S. allies in the region understand the war against the Syrian government as a first step to war against Iran.  Even if a nuclear deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran the path to war will have been set.

Economics is a key reason that U.S. allies want Iran destroyed. Iran stands as a competitor for markets and investment throughout the region, and the destruction of Syria and Iran would open up new markets for the vulture-like U.S. allies. The economic oil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has recently heated up, with Saudi Arabia selling oil at extra low prices to put political pressure on Iran. This, coupled with the ongoing “economic war” that Obama is waging, has the potential to weaken Iran via internal chaos, softening it up to possible invasion if the Syrian government falls.

Iran’s military is another reason the U.S. wants regime change. There are U.S. military bases scattered around the Middle East, though none in Iran, which has a powerful regional military force that patrols the strategic Strait of Hormuz, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. It’s intolerable for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that one fifth of the world’s oil production must pass through this Iranian controlled area.

Iran’s regional power is bolstered by its political and religious connections throughout the Middle East. Not only does Shia Muslim Iran exert automatic authority over Shia majority Iraq, but also over Shia Hezbollah and Shia-led Syria. This region-wide dynamic is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent.” There also exist sizable oppressed Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Turkey that act as intrinsic political thorns in the sides of these Sunni sectarian governments, giving Iran a powerful political base in each case.

For example, when Saudi Arabia recently announced a death sentence for a popular Shia cleric, Iran responded that there would be “consequences” if the sentence were carried out, thus re-enforcing Iran’s self-portrayed position as “defender of the Shia.”

In Yemen there already exists a strong Shia insurgency against the pro-U.S. Sunni government that is using al-Qaeda-linked fighters against the Shia; the results of the conflict will either empower Iran or weaken it.

These regional religious tensions have been exponentially deepened by the U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government, which has relied on systematic Sunni Islamic sectarianism to attract jihadist fighters and a flood of Sunni Gulf state donations.

The Sunni fundamentalism in Syria — loosely based on the Saudi fundamentalist version of Islam — views Shia Muslims as heretics worthy of death. The executions of Shia in Syria have reverberated throughout the Middle East, acting as an implicit threat to Shia Iran while increasing tensions in the Shia populations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and beyond. The regional Shia backlash against the Sunni fundamentalists have strengthened Iran’s regional influence, one likely reason why Obama made the peace-killing deal with Saudi Arabia against ISIS and the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are adamant that the U.S. make no peace with Iran. Both sent strong messages after Obama’s 2013 last minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government, and his brief flirtation with Iran.  Saudi Arabia went as far as refusing a seat on the UN Security Council.  Israel protested the decision too, after it had lobbied heavily in the U.S. Congress through AIPAC to ensure the bombing took place.

The Kurdish Question

Turkey has long assisted the U.S. in attempting to topple the Syrian government, and has recently been insisting on a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which would be directed against the Syrian government, since ISIS has no air force. Turkey has no good intentions in Syria, and has long wanted to grab easy oil-rich land for itself; which happens to be where the Kurdish population in Syria resides.

The call to enforce a no-fly zone to “protect the Kurds” on Turkey’s border, if achieved, will be similar to the no-fly zone in Libya — to create a “humanitarian corridor” — that was used instead to create a massive U.S.-led bombing campaign for regime change.

The Kurdish people face the same situation they’ve faced for hundreds of years: other nations have used the Kurds for their own self-interest. The Kurdish people want and deserve their own independent nation state, but they’ve been betrayed countless times in the past and the situation now seems no different. Promises are made and arms given to the “good” pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds, while across the border in Turkey another faction of Kurds are labeled terrorists and repressed by the government.

Recently, the Kurdish Syrian town on the border of Turkey was invaded by ISIS and militarily defended by the “bad Kurds” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in Turkey. The Turkish military watched across the border as ISIS relentlessly attacked Kobani, while the Turks used military force to prevent Turkish Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to help defend the Kurdish city.

This reinforced perceptions that ISIS was, in part, a Turkish creation, since Turkey’s border has long been an uncontested point of entry for foreign jihadists to enter Syria. Turkey defended its actions by essentially equating the Kurdish PYD and PKK with ISIS, dismissing all of them as “terrorists.” In Turkey, Kurdish protests erupted against the government’s actions and inactions in Kobani, leaving 40 dead. Protests also occurred in other Kurdish regions including Iran.

Turkey ultimately proved that it fears the Kurds more than ISIS, and further proved that negotiations with its domestic Kurdish population will never result in an independent Kurdistan on any inch of Turkish territory.  Turkey will likewise be violently opposed to any creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq or Syria, since it would empower the Turkish Kurds while preventing Turkey from grabbing the oil-rich regions for itself.

This dynamic acts as an impossible barrier for the Obama administration to “re-balance” its Middle East alliances by using the Kurds. No nation with a sizable Kurdish population — Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria — will buy in to a possible U.S. policy of Kurdish statehood, since they would lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds live on.

Not only would the U.S. lose regional allies by advocating Kurdish independence, but if such a state were to emerge, it would be a weak nation, since the Kurds are already divided into various factions, and thus not strong enough for the U.S. to rely on to achieve regional objectives.

Consequently, Obama feels compelled to continue down the same war-torn path as his predecessors. But Obama’s perspective is colored by his assumption that the United States must remain the regional power in an area thousands of miles from its border, and that U.S. corporations should dominate the oil, banking, weapons selling, and other markets in the region.

The U.S. is long past the point where it can claim that its Middle East goals are “peace, stability, and democracy,” especially after invading and destroying Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now the dirty war against Syria.  The oil, minerals, and other wealth that attracts the U.S. corporations that steer U.S. foreign policy prevent any real lasting peace to be achieved. The logic of corporate America is to crush the competitor by any means necessary.

Peace with Iran and Syria could be achieved if Obama told the world the truth about the above dynamics in the region, and treated Iran and Syria with the respect that an independent nation deserves, while working to curb the power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both depend on U.S. financial, military, and political support.

But instead Obama has dug in his heels and re-enforced alliances that demand the continuation of the Syrian war, and after that Iran. A war-shredded region remains on the bloody path to a potentially even wider war, while the billions of U.S. tax dollars funding this genocide will remain unusable for domestic projects like job creation and climate change reduction and preparedness. During this election season both Democrats and Republicans agree on continuing Middle East war.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: the great minds of the presidency, the Pentagon, the CIA, etc. don’t get it right even in terms of their own imperial objectives, much less with respect to what is moral and just.  The Keystone Kops who own and manage the United States military industrial complex would be entertainingly amusing, if the results of their machinations did not result in bloody death and destruction.  From Bush to Obama/Hilary Clinton the U.S. interventions in the Middle East have only served to strengthen he hands of their counterparts, the Muslim extremists.

http://www.democracynow.org, August 13, 2014

The United States is sending 130 more troops to Iraq amidst a bombing campaign against ISIS militants in the north and a political crisis gripping Baghdad. We are joined by veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, author of the new book, “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.” Cockburn addresses the power struggle in Baghdad, Hillary Clinton’s claim that President Obama’s “failure” to support Syrian rebels helped fuel ISIS’s advance, the role of oil in the current U.S. airstrikes, and his fears that Iraq is entering a “new, more explosive era far worse than anything we’ve seen over the last 10 years.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A hundred and thirty additional U.S. marines and special forces have been sent to Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Tuesday speaking to marines at Camp Pendleton in California.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: I recommended to the president, and the president has authorized me, to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The news comes one day after the U.S. confirmed the CIA was directly arming Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, who are battling Sunni militants of the Islamic State who have seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Earlier today, France announced it would also send arms directly to the Kurds.

The Guardian is reporting the United States is also preparing to send the Iraqi government a shipment of missiles, guns and ammunition, but it is waiting to do so until Haider al-Abadi officially becomes Iraq’s new prime minister. It remains unclear if Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will relinquish power to Abadi, who has the backing of both Washington and Tehran. Maliki has rejected Abadi’s appointment, saying it violates Iraq’s constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: On the humanitarian front, the United Nations says 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis may still be trapped on the arid Mount Sinjar where they fled, fearing attacks from Islamic State militants. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák said, quote, “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours.”

To talk more about the situation in Iraq, we’re joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent in Britain. He was in Baghdad last month. His new book, The Jihadis Return: ISISand the New Sunni Uprising, is out this month with OR Books.

Patrick, it’s great to have you with us from Cork, Ireland. Can you talk about the latest news, the sending of an additional 130 more U.S. marines and advisers, as the U.S. calls them, into Iraq?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it shows a little more U.S. commitment to the Kurds. I don’t think it makes an enormous difference. The most—the really significant action was the airstrikes, although limited, a few days ago. That was important. That raised Kurdish morale. That meant a new U.S. military involvement in Iraq. So I think that’s what’s really significant.

AMY GOODMAN: The situation of what’s happening now in Baghdad with the new prime minister, the current prime minister, and what this all means, who will be the actual prime minister?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, that Maliki is finished. I think he’s been finished for some time. The question was: Would he fight it out? He had military units that were personally loyal to him, but he found that after the new prime minister had been appointed, the Iranians had turned against him. They wouldn’t support him. He didn’t have any outside political support. His own party was disintegrating or would no longer support him. So I think that the transition will happen.

But I think what is wrong is to think that—almost everything now is being blamed on al-Maliki, both inside and outside Baghdad, that he was the person who provoked the Sunni uprising, he was the hate figure for the Sunni, he produced an army that was riddled with corruption. But I think that it’s exaggerated, that it’s as if there was a magic wand that would be used once al-Maliki had gone. But there were other reasons for this uprising, for the creation of ISIS—notably, the rebellion in Syria in 2011. This changed the regional balance of power. That was a Sunni rebellion, which Iraqi politicians over the last couple of years were always telling me, if the West supports the opposition in Syria, this will destabilize Iraq. And they were dead right. It wasn’t just al-Maliki.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, you mentioned that the current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is obviously not solely responsible for the situation there now. You’ve also pointed out in a piece that he still retains the support of Iraq’s Shia majority. What do you think the consequences of that will be with this shift in power to Abadi?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I think he did have that support. I don’t think it’s going to last very long, because he had it because he had portrayed himself as the Shia leader who protected their interests, and he tried to get away from the fact he had presided over one of the greatest military defeats in history, when ISIS took Mosul, by claiming that he’d been stabbed—the army had been stabbed in the back by the Kurds, that there had been treachery. But he still had support because he had power, because he controlled the budget, $100 billion, because he controlled millions of jobs. I think once he’s no longer in control of the executive and the money, that support will diminish very fast. There are millions of Iraqis who have their jobs through Maliki. Now that’s changed, and so will their support.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking Tuesday.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today and a force, ISIL, and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army, and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, you have written a book on ISIS, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. I just want to point out, as it has come as such a shock to people in the United States, you had time to write a whole book about who they are and their rise. But can you respond to what Hagel says? What has added to their surge of power now, and do you think that will change?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, as you said, they’d been growing in strength over the last two or three years. They captured Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, at the beginning of the year, and the Iraqi government didn’t have the power to get rid of them. That showed that they were growing. I think that Hagel—in fact, the U.S. government as a whole—and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq. Now Washington is saying, “We oppose ISIS in Iraq, but in Syria we want to get rid of the Syrian government,” which is the only real opposition to ISIS. So there’s a different policy towards ISIS in these two different countries. And just as before, ISIS will benefit from that difference.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, you’ve also said about ISIS that it’s made very few military mistakes. Could you explain what you think accounts for the extraordinary victories that it’s had in recent months in Iraq and Syria?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, it’s this blend, a rather terrifying blend, of extreme religious fanaticism combined with military expertise, and at times caution. Where does that expertise come from? I think it comes primarily from having fought in Iraq in 2004 to 2009 against the Iraqi Shia government and against the Americans, and again gaining experience in Syria. There’s probably the involvement of some former Saddam Hussein officers or special forces, people who have been well trained. But I think a lot of it is just military experience. And when you have a long war, the survivors who are still around and still fighting are probably pretty good at it.

AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s policy on Syria. She said, quote, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” So this has become a big brouhaha. Hillary Clinton and President Obama will be meeting tonight at the house of Vernon Jordan. There’s a big party for Ann Jordan. Hillary Clinton’s people have put out that they’ll hug it out. David Axelrod has tweeted about the issue of stupid moves Hillary Clinton was talking about: Not making stupid moves is not a policy. President Obama, apparently, had talked about not making stupid moves. And David Axelrod said, “’Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision,” alluding to Hillary Clinton voting for the original attack on Iraq in 2003. But can you talk about this difference? It’s particularly significant, of course, because she is possibly running for president.

PATRICK COCKBURN: True. Yeah, I mean, I was—I’m pretty contemptuous of it, to be honest, because it’s opportunism by Hillary Clinton. And it’s nonsense. You know, the idea, which is very widespread, that there was a moment that, with a few more guns and ammunition, that a moderate Syrian opposition could have taken over in Syria in 2011 or ’12 or ’13, is just unreal. There are 14 provincial capitals of Syria. Assad held all of them until last year, when he lost one of them, Raqqa, toISIS, not to any of these moderates. These moderates are an endangered species on the battlefields of Syria. The opposition is now dominated—military opposition is dominated by ISIS. They hold a third of the country. But the other military opposition are people like Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official representative of al-Qaeda, of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and some other jihadi organizations. So this is sort of fantasy that there was a moderate Syrian military opposition which, with a bit more support from Obama, could have taken power in Damascus. It was never going to happen. It’s just sheer opportunism.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn. He has a new book out; it’s called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. We’ll come back with him in a minute, and then we’ll be speaking in Brazil with Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mohammed Saleh, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, I want to ask you about Obama having said that the military strikes in Iraq will not just last for a few weeks, it’s likely to be a longer fight. And I want to turn to comments that senior Pentagon official, Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, made. He was speaking to reporters on Monday about the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE: We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians and other minorities. … In the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And—but I, in no—and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect theISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So, I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Lieutenant General Mayville speaking on Monday. So, Patrick Cockburn, could you talk about what you think the objectives and the length of this military campaign will be, given that the general has pointed out that the operation with regard to ISIS has not been by any means conclusive and also that Obama said that the operation would go far longer than a few weeks?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, they’re being cautious, and probably sensibly so. They want to stop the ISIS advance on Erbil, and they wanted to prop up Kurdish morale, and they probably have the same objectives in Baghdad. I mean, ISIS has been advancing around Baghdad. It took one important town a couple of days ago to the northeast. And it’s been getting stronger—and this is very important—in the towns to the south of Baghdad. So, in theory, they could cut it off. There are seven million people in Baghdad. But they could sort of besiege them, in which case I guess that Obama would want to prevent the fall of Baghdad, but doesn’t want to get sucked into a bigger war.

I mean, it’s important to realize that ISIS is really pretty—is not only strong but has a lot of territory now. It has an area probably greater than the size of Great Britain or the size of Michigan or some such U.S. state, stretching all the way from the Iranian border to just east of Aleppo. It probably has a population of five or six million. Now, how many fighters do they have? You know, maybe they probably had only about 6,000 to 10,000 fighters at the beginning of June. But an Iraqi security official told me that where the jihadis take over, where ISIS takes over, they recruit five or 10 new fighters for every one they had initially. So if they had—you know, so we’re probably up to 40,000 to 50,000 fighters now. So it’s an expanding and strengthening organization all the time. And it has arms to equip them—American arms in Iraq taken in Mosul, and Russian and other arms taken in recent victories that ISIS has had in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: In an article in The Independent headlined “West’s ‘Mandate’ Limited by National Borders—and Don’t Dare Mention Oil,” your colleague Robert Fisk writes, quote, “recent reports suggest that current Kurdish oil production of 200,000 barrels a day will reach 250,000 next year—providing the boys from the caliphate are kept at bay, of course—which means, according to Reuters, that if Iraqi Kurdistan were a real country and not just a bit of Iraq, it would be among the top 10 oil-rich countries in the world.” Can you talk about that word that has not been talked about by the Obama administration—oil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I think that it underlies everything. I mean, it’s—you know, why is there so much interest in the Middle East, in general, over the last century, you know? If the Middle East, if Saudi Arabia and Iraq, if Iraq was—I think the second-biggest export of Iraq used to be dates. If it was dates rather than oil, would there be such acute interest in what goes on in Iraq? Kurdistan doesn’t produce much, apart from some crude oil. So I think that’s true generally of the Middle East, and it’s true of Iraq, and it’s true of Syria. It’s worth pointing out that ISIS is very interested in oil and gas, and they’ve taken most of the oil and gas fields in Syria, and now they’ve taken some in Iraq. That’s how they’re funding their campaigns. They can’t sell it necessarily directly onto the market, but if you control the oil wells, you can, some point, if your price is low enough, you can generally get them to a refinery, and you can make money.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, what happens to companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, I think, you know, they were involved in Kurdistan. They were involved in the rest of Iraq. Some of the very biggest companies, like Exxon, they have resources elsewhere. But I think that there’s probably a feeling that what they’re expected from Iraq is going sour. It’s going sour in southern Iraq, the big superfields there, because they’re beginning to worry about security. And they’re right to do. I mean, this is a Shia area, but there’s a great, big western desert. ISIS could send forces to attack these oil fields. They’re not very well defended. And in Kurdistan, they thought, well, security is good here, and this was a sort of boom town. It was one of the few areas in the world that was booming in recent years—you know, big hotels in Erbil filled with oil executives and other company executives. And I often wondered—I sat in those hotels wondering if these guys know how far they are from Mosul. You know, they’re a half-hour car drive. I think that some of them may be noticing which part of the world these new oil fields are in and realizing just the extent of the insecurity of Kurdistan and Erbil, as well as Baghdad.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Cockburn, before we conclude, I want to ask you about the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of these Sunni militant movements. You’ve suggested that it’s not only because of financing, private financing principally from Saudi Arabia, that these groups have become as strong as they have, but also because of the ideology of Wahhabism that originates in Saudi Arabia. Could you explain what that is and how it spread?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the Wahhabi ideology is very—has always been very similar to that of al-Qaeda. It’s a puritanical Islamic ideology, very bigoted. They’ve been blowing up shrines in Mosul. But the Saudi government has also been responsible for shrines being removed. In Bahrain in 2011, when a Saudi force entered to support the Bahraini government against a protest by the majority Shia community, they destroyed 20 to 30 Shia shrines and mosques. They bulldozed them. So, I think Wahhabism and the ideology of al-Qaeda and the ideology of ISIS today is very similar—Shia are regarded as heretics, so are Christians—that there isn’t that much difference. And this has had enormous impact, because it’s backed by Saudi Arabia’s enormous wealth. You know, if somebody wants to build a mosque in Bangladesh where it’s going to cost $30,000, where would he get $30,000? Normally it comes from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. So I think one of the most important things that’s happening in the world over the last 50 years is the way in which mainstream Sunni Islam, which is the religion of about one-and-a-half billion people in the world, has been increasingly colored and taken over by the very intolerant Wahhabi faith.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, the U.S. government’s, you know, fierce opposition to Iran and close cozying up to Saudi Arabia, whether it’s President Obama, Clinton, the Bushes, of course, well known for that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, after 9/11, all the links of the hijackers—15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Bin Laden was part of the Saudi elite. U.S. investigations all showed that money had come from private donors in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. But they always ignored this. And I think it’s one of the reasons that al-Qaeda survived, and its ideology, its ideas and so forth have now been transmuted into ISIS. You know, it is extraordinary that you had this war of terror, and hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars spent on it by the U.S. and other governments, and 13 years later that there’s an al-Qaeda-type organization, worse in many ways than al-Qaeda, more violent than al-Qaeda, which has taken over a great chunk of the Middle East. I mean, this is a tremendous failure, and very little attention is being given to it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick Cockburn, before we end, could you give us a sense of what your prognosis is for Syria and Iraq? You outlined it in your August 10th piece, “The End of a Country, and the Start of a New Dark Age.”

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, ISIS is very strong. It’s not going to evaporate. It’s not even necessarily going to get weaker. And it’s also at the cutting edge of a new sectarian war. It’s an organization that kills Shia, that kills Yazidis, that kills anybody who disagrees with it. So I think this is a—the wars that we’ve seen over the last 10 years in Iraq are expanding and going to get worse. ISIShas no plans to negotiate with anybody. Its ambitions are boundless. It wants to spread its faith to the whole world, not just the Muslim community. So, I think we’re in a new, more explosive era, far worse than anything that we’ve seen over the last 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Oxfam said something very similar today, saying Middle East is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in decades with over 28 million people in need of aid spread across Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. Oxfam’s Jane Cocking said, quote, “In my entire career, I’ve never seen so much need in the Middle East. The crisis across the region has escalated over the last five weeks with the outbreak of conflict in Gaza and increasing violence in Iraq.” Would you agree, Patrick Cockburn?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, not just in Gaza and not just in Iraq, but look at the places in between. You know, there’s suddenly been a new level of fighting in eastern Lebanon. Though nobody much reports it these days, but there’s lots of fighting in Syria, with, you know, hundreds of people killed—thousands of people killed, and ISIS advancing, you know, getting very close to Aleppo now. So I think there’s a great swathe of violence, from the Iranian border right over to the Mediterranean, right down to Gaza. And it’s not getting any less. And I think that Washington, other foreign governments, they sort of are horrified by it. They’re kind of hoping it will go away. They disclaim responsibility for it. They’re not really changing their policy. And they can’t think how to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, we want to thank you for being with us, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, was in Baghdad last month. His new book is called The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. He was speaking to us from Cork, Ireland. When we come back, we go to Brazil to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

Iraq Secular Coalition Halts Poll Campaign February 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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(Roger’s note: Remember Iraq?  The Obama government would like us to forget about it, and as usual the corporate lapdog media is cooperating.  The US is in the process of pulling out of Iraq, right?  That’s what the president would like us to believe.  The US “pull-out” involves leaving 50,000 troops, uncounted thousands of highly paid mercenaries, dozens of military bases, the world’s largest mega embassy, and a Quisling government.  Now that’s what I call a doozy of a pull-out.  Operation Iraq Liberation (O.I.L.) has certainly been a success, especially for Bush, Cheney and their war-profiteering buddies; that is, if you don’t count thousands of dead US soldiers, tens of thousands of wounded and traumatized American soldiers and their families, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, millions of refugees and destroyed families, and a country’s infrastructure destroyed.  Small price to pay, I suppose, to be liberated by God-fearing Americans.)

Published on Sunday, February 14, 2010 by Al-Jazeera-English

A secular Iraqi political coalition has suspended its election campaign over a ban on some of its candidates, as blasts hit political offices across Baghdad.

[Backers of a coalition composed of Sunni Arabs and secularists demonstrate in Baghdad in support of lawmakers who were among candidates banned from running in Iraq's March national elections. (Ali Abbas / European Pressphoto Agency / February 13, 2010)]
Backers of a coalition composed of Sunni Arabs and secularists demonstrate in Baghdad in support of lawmakers who were among candidates banned from running in Iraq’s March national elections. (Ali Abbas / European Pressphoto Agency / February 13, 2010)

The blasts late on Saturday, as well as the ongoing dispute over banned election candidates, have heightened tensions during the run up to Iraq’s parliamentary vote, scheduled for March 7. 

The secular Iraqiya list, which is led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, suspended its campaign for three days while it attempts to negotiate the return of dozens of its candidates.

Hours later a blast struck the political offices of Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni politician and co-founder of the Iraqiya list, who is among those barred from the election.

Another bomb was thrown into the garden of a building used by Sunni scholars, including poll candidates, in Mansour in west Baghdad, wounding two guards.

A third blast damaged the headquarters of the United Iraq list in east Baghdad.

Another blast wounded two people when it struck the headquarters of the Moderate Movement list in Karrada in east Baghdad and one other person was hurt when a bomb struck a building used by an election list led by Nehru Abdulkarim al-Keznazani.

Al-Qaeda threat

The blasts follow the release of an audio recording by Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in which he threatened to foil the elections.

In a statement posted on the internet on Friday, al-Baghdadi said: “Sunni participation in this election will certainly lead to the establishment of the principle that Sunnis in Iraq are a minority who have to be ruled by the rejectionists.”The term “rejectionists” refers to the country’s majority Shias, which al-Qaeda in Iraq sees as heretical.

In the recording he said this had prompted his group to attempt to “prevent these elections” using “primarily military means”.

The recording could not be independently confirmed, but the US-based SITE Intelligence Group that monitors such websites said the voice seemed like that of the person previously identified as al-Baghdadi.

Election turmoil

Saturday’s blasts feed into Iraq’s election turmoil, already strained by the back-and-forth over the ban on candidates accused of ties to the outlawed Baath party of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president ousted by the US-led invasion in 2003.

US officials are deeply concerned the ban could threaten Iraq’s political stability ahead of the withdrawal of American combat troops by the end of August.

The ban, which blacklisted more than 500 candidates, among them both Sunni and Shia, has most severely affected the Iraqiya list.

A spokesman for the group said it was unclear how many of the coalition’s candidates had been banned from running, but said election officials initially put the number at 72.

Al-Mutlaq, who is among the banned candidates from Iraqiya, has been strongly critical of Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shia prime minister.

A panel confirmed the ban on al-Mutlaq – who has acknowledged he was a Baathist until the late 1970s when he quit the party – earlier this week.

All but 177 candidates have dropped out or been replaced by their parties.

The appeals panel has only cleared 26 names on the blacklist, according to Faraj al-Haidari, the head of Iraq’s election commission.

© 2010 Al-Jazeera-English

Law legalizing rape in marriage prompts outcry April 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, Women.
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From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — It used to be a mission to give a future to little girls. Now the government is scrambling to explain why Canadian troops are fighting for an Afghanistan that legalizes rape within marriage.

The new Afghan law, apparently approved by President Hamid Karzai, led Western diplomats in Kabul to call an emergency meeting and hammer out a concerted response, pressuring the Karzai administration to back down.

Canadian officials insisted that Mr. Karzai still has some “wiggle room” before the law is implemented, and waited impatiently for the President’s first public comments on the law.

The Conservative government expressed outrage, and opposition politicians said Canadian soldiers did not fight and die for an Afghanistan that would pass such a law.

But the thorny question of whether Canada might withdraw support – cut some of its aid, for instance – left cabinet ministers at a loss.

“We haven’t had a chance yet to talk with the other ministers, so we haven’t made any decisions or had any discussions on next steps,” International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said. “It’s very problematic. It’s a great concern and it is going to be a difficulty for Canada.”

As the United States, Canada and allies moved to lower expectations about whether they will leave Afghanistan a democracy that respects human rights – and as they increasingly back reconciliation with elements of the Taliban insurgency – the outcry over the new law may foreshadow painful tradeoffs to come.

For the Conservative government, which has emphasized advances for women and the ability of girls to go to school in Afghanistan, the law presents an immediate political quandary. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the government must make it clear to Mr. Karzai that the law is unacceptable, while the NDP said Afghanistan should not expect Canadian troops and aid if it passes such laws.

“How can the government say our soldiers have died to protect the rights of women when Hamid Karzai passes this law?” NDP Leader Jack Layton asked in the Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an interview with the CBC from the G20 summit in London, called the move “antithetical” to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

“The concept that women are full human beings with human rights is very, very central to the reason the international community is engaged in this country…” he said. “It’s a significant change we want to see from the bad, old days of the Taliban.”

Canadian government officials said yesterday they still aren’t certain if the law had been fully passed or signed by Mr. Karzai. But Alexandra Gilbert, a women’s-rights project co-ordinator for the Canadian agency Rights and Democracy, said from Kabul she understands through women MPs that the law has been passed and signed.

It is a new family-law code for Afghanistan’s Shia minority, and while it does not apply to all, women’s groups in Afghanistan fear the precedent, Ms. Gilbert said.

“Women don’t have access to public life. To education, to health care, they can’t leave the house without the approval of their husband … and [wives] cannot refuse sexual relations,” she said.

Many believe Mr. Karzai is backing the law to build support for the presidential election he faces in August. University of Toronto foreign-policy expert Janice Stein said she’s hoping it will win votes from Shiites and also resonates with Pashtun Afghan elders in the south.

She and other analysts believe that Western allies are still caught between competing visions of the Afghan mission, even though U.S. President Barack Obama has moved the goals from democratic nation-building to preventing the re-establishment of a staging ground for terrorists.

University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris said the new law is so egregious that Western nations had an easy choice to oppose it, but as they scale back emphasis on democracy and support reconciliation with Taliban elements, other hard choices will come.

Still Preparing to Attack Iran: The Neoconservatives in the Obama Era December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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IRAQ PULITZERS PHOTOS

Nick Mottern and Bill Rau

www.truthout.org December 3, 2008

When Barack Obama becomes president, he will inherit a human rights debacle in Iraq, now entering a phase in which the US appears ready to bulldoze thousands of its Iraqi prisoners over a legal cliff into Iraqi government prisons where they face the possibility of torture and execution.

    The darkening future for the detainees comes with the approval on November 27, 2008, of the US-drafted Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the Iraqi Parliament. The agreement requires that on January 1, 2009, the US:

    “Shall provide the Government of Iraq available information on all detainees who are being held by them. Competent Iraqi authorities shall issue arrest warrants for persons who are wanted by them. The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner.”

    On the face of it, the agreement sounds just. An examination of the situation on the ground suggests the opposite.

    Sunni Gulag

    The US began capturing Iraqis on a wholesale basis in 2003 with the invasion. World attention was focused on the fate of Iraqi detainees by the revelations in 2004 of detainee torture by US forces at Abu Ghraib prison. Because of Abu Ghraib, the US improved the physical conditions of detention, but detentions increased in 2007 as a fundamental tactic of the US military “surge.” Iraqis were, and continue to be, arrested on a daily basis, with those deemed not threatening set free.

    Since the beginning of the occupation, as many as 90,000 Iraqis have been imprisoned by US forces, according to a spokesperson for Task Force 134 (TF-134), the US command running the US prison system in Iraq. The total number of Iraqis in detention at any one time reached a peak of nearly 26,000 in October 2007, according to figures provided by TF-134. By November 2008, with the reduction in numbers of detentions in 2008 and the release of detainees, the number of Iraqis in US prisons had declined to about 15,900, according to TF-134.

    In August 2008, a TF-134 spokesperson reported that approximately 80 percent of the detainees were Sunni. The larger proportion of Sunni captives may result from greater resistance to the occupation in the Sunni community, but it is likely also the result of government forces being under the control of the Shia-dominated government. “Most detainees were captured as the result of an Iraqi-generated warrant for some act that would classify them as a threat,” according to a TF-134 spokesperson, commenting on the process leading to capture.

    During the debate preceding the passage of SOFA, Sunni legislators, according to Reuters, demanded that detainees without charges against them be freed. As will be discussed, this would free all of the US-detained Iraqis.

    No Legal Rights, No Evidence

    Iraqi detainees in the US prisons are being held without charges, without access to lawyers and without appearance before any judicial body – all violations of international law. This has been a continuing concern of the United Nations (UN) and international human rights groups, but totally ignored by the US and the Iraqi occupation government.

    For example, a human rights report of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) released December 2, 2008, said that the agency continues to be concerned about the imprisonment of detainees by US forces “without judicial review of their cases” as well as about “administrative review procedures that do not fulfill the requirement to grant detainees due process in accordance with internationally recognized norms.” A UNAMI report in 2007 made the identical point.

    A 2006 Amnesty International (AI) report, reflecting the concerns of numerous human rights groups, said: “Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces, mainly the US forces, without being tried and without the right to challenge their detention before a judicial body.” AI made a similar observation in a November 28, 2008, statement of concern about transfer of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody.

    In October 2008, a spokesperson for TF-134 said in an e-mail: “There is no place for legal representation in the THREAT BASED system that we operate.”

    Now it appears, based on a November 23, 2008, report from the Associated Press (AP), that the vast majority of detainees are also being held without any hard evidence. The AP said that the US intends to release most of its detainees under SOFA, but that it is “rushing to build criminal cases against some 5,000 detainees it deems dangerous.” The report contained the remarkable admission attributed to Brig. Gen. David Quantock, commander of TF-134, that the US has evidence against “only a few hundred” of those detainees considered most dangerous.

    “At the end of the day,” the AP quotes General Quantock, “if there’s not enough facts to justify a court case (in the Iraqi Court system), then we’ll have to release … We have a lot of work to do.”

    Iraqi Court System Tilted

    The basic premise of the terms of the SOFA detainee section, and the reported rush by the US to build cases against detainees, is that the Iraqi judicial system is fair, open and impartial.

    Karen Parker, a noted international human rights lawyer, says that the Iraqi judicial system does not meet international standards. The 2007 UNAMI report elaborates on her point:

    “Serious pretrial irregularities (in Iraqi courts), which prejudice the chances of subsequently receiving a fair hearing, include the failure to bring defendants before an investigative judge within a reasonable amount of time, and failure to promptly apprise detainees of the reason for their arrest and of the details of the charges and evidence against them … The vast majority of defendants are represented by counsel appointed by the court, whom they have never met and who have little or no knowledge of the substance of the charges or evidence against their clients … Proceedings at trial are typically brief in nature, with sessions lasting an average of some fifteen to thirty minutes, during which the entire trial is concluded. Deliberations also typically do not last more than several minutes for each trial, including complex cases resulting in life imprisonment or the death penalty … Denial of prompt and adequate access to counsel, and lack of continuity in legal representation, mean that in many cases those convicted lose the opportunity to appeal their sentences as they become aware of their rights only after the deadline for submissions has passed.”

    The UNAMI report noted that trials in the flawed Iraqi court system “are increasingly leading to the imposition of the death penalty.”

    The Iraqi courts are not able to operate freely, Ms. Parker said, in part because judges and lawyers are often under intense political pressure and even fear for their lives, with the division between Sunni and Shia a major factor.

    In January 2008, for example, gunmen assassinated Iraqi appellate court Judge Amir Jawad al-Naeeb, a Sunni, who, The New York Times reported, was considered by Baghdad lawyers and judges to be “one of the country’s most competent and even-handed judges.”

    The Iraqi Lawyers Association reported in 2007 that at least 210 lawyers and judges have been killed since the invasion; that, according to IRIN News.org, hundreds of legal workers had left the country because of threats and persecution, and that:

    “With tensions so high in Iraq between the Sunni and Shia Muslim communities, legal workers are being put under intense pressure to make judgments according to religious sect. Lawyers often find themselves in a lose-lose situation.”

    Jonathan Hafetz, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing two detainees in US custody, agreed with Ms. Parker that the Iraq judicial system does not meet minimum standards for impartiality and due process, and he said that the system is tilted against Sunni defendants. With respect to the detainees, he said the length of time that they have been held without charge is alone a significant enough factor to prevent them from having a fair trial or hearing.

    “Danger in the Custody of Others”

    Ms. Parker says that international law allows prisoners to be turned over to a justice system only if that system it meets international standards for independence and fairness. In addition, under international law as well as US military standards as set forth in US Army/Marine Corps Counter-Insurgency Manual:

    “There are certain conditions under which US forces may not transfer the custody of detainees to the host nation (in this case Iraq-Ed.) or any other foreign government. US forces retain custody if they have substantial grounds to believe that the detainees would be in danger in the custody of others. Such danger could include being subjected to torture or inhumane treatment.”

    The Iraqi detention system is widely believed to treat prisoners harshly and only slowly, if at all, processes its detainees through the justice system.

    “We find a lot of mistakes and mistreatment in the Iraqi-run prisons as a remarkable number of their facilities are not fit for those detainees and those who are in charge do not have enough knowledge of human rights, so ill treatment can occur, ” said Basil al-Azawi, who is head of the Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, as reported November 17, 2008, by IRIN.

    “A suitable life inside the prisons must be guaranteed according to the Iraqi constitution and law. More visits to Iraqi prisons must be allowed by international and local human rights activists, and the treatment [of prisoners] must not be based on their sectarian background,” al-Azawi is quoted as saying in a November 2, 2008, IRIN report.

    An Iraqi parliamentarian, Mohammed Al-Dainy, held a press conference in Geneva on October 31, 2008, charging that Iraq has 420 secret detention centers where “conditions are much worse than in the official prisons.” He said that 40,000 are being held in Iraqi government prisons and that this is one-quarter of the total number of people being held by the government.

    The UNAMI 2007 report indicates that mistreatment of prisoners in Iraqi custody is a long-standing problem. The UNAMI, the report said, “remains concerned about the continuing failure of the Iraqi government as a whole to seriously address issues relating to detainee abuse and conditions of detention … The authorities have yet to demonstrate the political will to hold accountable law enforcement personnel suspected of involvement in torture and other abuse of authority … The continuing failure to take decisive action in this regard can only serve to encourage the climate of impunity that prevails today …”

    Visiting a National Police detention center in the northwest Baghdad suburb of Kadhimiyah in July 2007, Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported in The Los Angeles Times that the facility had been built to hold 300 detainees but that it then held nearly 900. She observed:

    “The stench of human confinement intensified as the guard led the way to the back of the room and down a dark, flooded hallway to the bathroom, where half-naked detainees stood barefoot amid muddy puddles, broken floor tiles and stopped-up urinals. A shower and sink were filled with human waste.

    “The guard dropped his cigarette butt in a puddle as detainees relieved themselves in two holes and rinsed off under a broken water pipe.”

    Hennessy-Fiske said that “Col. Daniel Britt, who heads the US military’s National Police Transition Team, which advises the detention center staff, said the conditions were ‘appalling’ but met international standards. US soldiers visit almost daily …”

    In May 2007, Joshua Partlow reported in The Washington Post that Deputy Justice Minister Pusho Ibrahim Ali Daza Yei acknowledged overcrowding in Iraqi prisons, and the article went on to say that it had been reported that “beatings and torture are common.” An anonymous UN official was quoted commenting on one Iraqi jail:

    “Routine beatings, suspension by limbs for long periods, electric shock treatment to sensitive parts of the body, threats of ill treatment of close relatives. In one case, one of the detainees said that he was forced to sit on a sharp object which caused an injury.”

    The 2008 UNAMI report affirms that gross mistreatment of detainees continues in Iraqi prisons:

    “Ongoing widespread ill-treatment and torture of detainees by Iraqi law enforcement authorities, amidst pervasive impunity of current and past human rights abuses, constitute severe breaches of international human rights obligations and represent examples of challenges faced by the Iraqi government.”

    Los Angeles Times staff writer Tina Susman, reported in September 2008 that she interviewed prisoners in Iraqi government jails who had been held for 18 months and longer without access to any judicial hearing or explanation of their detentions.

    In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, security forces known as Asayish operate control of the regional government’s Ministry of Interior, according to a 2007 report by Human Rights Watch and based on research conducted in 2006. HRW interviewed many former detainees and reported that the system regularly violated Iraqi and international law. The report lists violations, including “… failure to inform detainees of the grounds for arrest, failure to bring detainees before an investigative judge in a timely fashion, failure to provide a mechanism by which suspects can appeal their detention, failure to provide a trial without undue delay, failure to provide access to legal representation, holding suspects for prolonged periods of pretrial detention, and extracting confessions through coercion.”

    An amnesty law passed by the Iraqi parliament in February 2008 was supposed to facilitate the release of Iraqi prisoners, but the process has been very slow, with only several thousand having been released, according to Susman’s informants.

    Currently, the US funds lawyers and trains Iraqi judges in order to improve Iraq’s justice system. (The US has spent $50 million on Iraqi court facilities and $10 million in training lawyers.) However, that funding could stop with changes arising from the new security agreement. One Iraqi lawyer told Susman, “If the Americans stop providing the money, I don’t think the Iraqi government will sponsor us.”

    Third Party Solution

    Ms. Parker said that under international law, when the US arrests an Iraqi, it has the responsibility to make specific charges and state whether the detainee is being held on criminal charges or as a prisoner of war: “Basically, people ‘detained’ for reasons related to an armed conflict have a right to challenge their status – either as POWs (prisoners of war), civilian detainees or those with criminal charges.”

    All, she said, must have legal representation, be provided with legal counsel if they are indigent and have a forum for their defense that meets international judicial standards.

    Ms. Parker cited a UN draft guidelines and principles document on human rights and terrorism, prepared by Kalliopi K. Koufa, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Human Rights and Terrorism of the former UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights, laying out rights of a person arrested as a terrorist, which include:

    “Persons detained under suspicion of engaging in or planning terrorist acts at all times have the right to know the charges against them. A charge of being a terrorist is insufficient and must be accompanied with charges of specific acts.”

    International standards also require that a prisoner facing criminal charges must not only be represented by legal counsel, but must have his or her case presented in a judicial proceeding within four days, Ms. Parker noted, although there have been attempts to extend that period somewhat in terrorism cases.

    If a person is held as a prisoner of war or a civilian detainee, Ms. Parker said, he may not be held in prisons, but in camps “that meet minimum Geneva Conventions standards.” The Conventions spell out a highly detailed list of POW rights, including legal rights, the right to wear their own clothing, not prison garb, and protection against abusive interrogation.

    Since the Iraqis in US prisons have been offered none of their rights under international law to challenge their confinement, Ms. Parker said, all the detainees should be released.

    If this is not done, she continued, the next best alternative might be to have the detainees moved to a third-party country where hearings can be held before an internationally recognized judicial body. If detainees are held after their hearing, the US would have to place them in a facility in a country in which their rights would be protected.

    Stakes Higher in Iraq

    President-elect Obama is reported to be seeking a way to try prisoners from the US Guantanamo Detention Camp in US courts to at least give the impression of trying to achieve justice, however belated, for about 250 detainees. In Iraq, the stakes are higher for the US military and the Iraqi occupation government, who aim to keep off the streets thousands of people they view as threatening.

    In addition, Ms. Parker said, the US wants its Iraqi detainees put into Iraqi prisons “to have one more step between them (the US) and a lawsuit,” pointing out that the failure of the US to provide the Iraqis with due process makes it vulnerable to legal action by international human rights lawyers on behalf of the detainees. The transfer of the detainees, she said, “gets us (the US) off the hook.” It is part of a “mad scramble,” she said, in which the Bush administration is “hot and heavy covering its tracks.”

    Ideally, the UN and perhaps the European Union will intervene, demanding that all US detainees in Iraq be given amnesty, based if nothing else on the fact that they have been denied their legal rights. At a minimum, these bodies could call for open hearings in an internationally supervised court in which detainees would have legal representation.

    The international community has proved ineffectual to the Iraqi detainees so far, however. Their hope most probably lies solely with their families, friends and supporters who will oppose their illegal disappearance into Iraqi prisons.

»


Nick Mottern is director of ConsumersforPeace.org. Bill Rau is a researcher on development issues based in Washington, DC, and the author of “Feast to Famine: Official Cures and Grassroots Remedies to Africa’s Food Crisis.”