US Papers Mon: Bombing as Christians Flee Mosul
Iraqi leadership rallies behind Christians: Iran meddling in SOFA?
Threats/violence toward Christians in Mosul and the SOFA negotiations are the main stories today. Also, Adm. Michael Mullen calls for PTSD screening for all returning U.S. soldiers. Not too many topics, but a good amount of coverage of them on this year’s Columbus Day (not the biggest of holidays, here in Iraq).
There has been a mass exodus of Christians in the past few days from the northern city of Mosul, as threats are left on their doors, and about 15 are slain. Two suicide bombers also struck on Sunday, killing at least five and wounding dozens more. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to beef up security in the city, where it has long eluded U.S. and Iraqi forces, despite their successes in other parts of the country.
The exact number of Christians who have fled is uncertain, but it is sizable.
Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell of the New York Times put it at 485 families in their report, while the Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan quotes Duraid Kashmulah, governor of Nineveh province, as saying it is at least 1,000 families. AP just says “thousands”. On Friday, Maliki ordered National Police forces to protect Christians and secure churches in Mosul. The Times article explains as follows...
In keeping with Mr. Maliki’s orders, Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, sent two police brigades to the city with orders to protect Christian churches, create security for Christian families who have remained and protect those who want to return to their homes, said Brig. Abdul Karim Khalaf, the ministry’s spokesman. On Sunday evening, local Christians said that they were awaiting the police reinforcements but that they had not yet seen them.The Washington Post article gives the most background.
Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president, met Sunday with Christian leaders in Baghdad, including Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Patriarchate, and two other bishops. “The Iraqis stand in solidarity with the Christians,” Mr. Hashimi said, pledging to press for immediate action to protect them.
“We want to make our voice heard by all senior officials,” said Monsignor Warduni, who said he was “satisfied” with what he heard from the vice president, “but we want it to be put into practice.” “We are Iraqis, and we want to be part of this Iraq,” he said after the meeting. “All Iraq is ours and we are for Iraq.”
Mr. Hashimi also condemned security operations in Nineveh Province, where Mosul is located. “All the displaced families should return to their homes and all places of worship should be protected,” he said. “Christians have the same rights as we have” and the state has the same duty “to protect them from criminals and killers,” he added.
There were many theories about who was culpable for the Christians’ persecution. Some Arab politicians blamed the Kurds, but not by name. Kurdish politicians said former Baathists and “terrorists” were responsible. They noted that when the Christians fled, they chose to go to a Kurdish area north of Mosul for safety.
Christians make up about 3 percent of Iraq's population of 28 million, about half the size of the community before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to church leaders and human rights organizations. Many Christians left the country after being kidnapped or harassed by Islamist extremists and criminals.Both articles make mention of a bombing and the assassinations of two Awakening council members in Baghdad on Sunday, with a death toll of at least 13.
Some Christians had moved in recent years to northern Iraq, which appeared safer. But in February, the archbishop of Mosul's Chaldean Catholic community, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped. His body turned up weeks later. A new wave of panic has spread through the Christian community in Mosul in recent days as several of its members appeared to be targeted for their faith. Among those killed were a 15-year-old boy and a man in a wheelchair. In the most recent incident, armed men burst into a music store in the city Sunday and killed its Christian owner, police said.
Anti-Christian leaflets have appeared in the city, signed by a group called the Iraqi Islamic State. And on Saturday night, armed men blew up three empty houses belonging to Christians in the al-Sukar neighborhood, local authorities said. ...Kashmulah blamed "al-Qaeda and their followers, and people who want to destroy relations between the people of Mosul," historically known for their religious tolerance.
Others suggested the killings were politically motivated. They noted that Christians have held protests since the national parliament passed a provincial elections law last month that eliminated quotas in parliament for religious minorities. President Jalal Talabani has urged legislators to restore the guarantees, and they are studying the matter.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal gets you up to speed on the SOFA negotiations. Though we’ve all heard for months and months that a final draft is just around the corner, there are a few new developments that suggest there may be something to the claims, this time. One is that the American side has relented on its insistence that U.S. forces who commit crimes off-base and off-duty be immune from Iraqi law, and the other is a stated lack of resistance to any agreement that the Iraqi parliament signs off on by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Negotiations have sped up recently as both sides moved toward compromise on the immunity issue. Talks also moved forward because of a new sense of urgency from Iraqi officials, worried about any uncertainty about U.S. troops in the country after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post writes that Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said Sunday in an interview that American intelligence reports suggest Iran has attempted to bribe Iraqi lawmakers in an effort to derail the SOFA draft agreement. "Clearly, this is one they're having a full court press on to try to ensure there's never any bilateral agreement between the United States and Iraq," Odierno said. "We know that there are many relationships with people here for many years going back to when Saddam was in charge, and I think they're utilizing those contacts to attempt to influence the outcome of the potential vote in the council of representatives."
The draft agreement still contains a goal for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, although that could be amended depending on conditions on the ground. As a precursor to that possible drawdown, American soldiers would pull out of cities by the end of June 2009 and move to bases outside those areas, a move that has already begun in many parts of Iraq.
For months, the U.S. has resisted an Iraqi request that American soldiers be subject to criminal prosecution under Iraqi law in any circumstance. The current compromise being discussed would strip immunity from American soldiers who commit extremely serious crimes while off duty, such as rape or murder, said Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the talks.
The U.S. decided to compromise on jurisdiction based on assurances the provision would provide adequate legal protections for the U.S. military, according to people familiar with the matter. For example, jurisdiction would be limited to extreme cases. Tough, due-process standards are a pre-condition to Iraqi prosecution, these people said.
In other countries that have a U.S. troop presence, such as South Korea, American soldiers are subject to local prosecution for crimes committed off duty. But those measures are in place in peaceful nations that enjoy robust rule of law. Iraq is essentially still a war zone with an inadequate legal system.
Odierno said he had no definitive proof of the bribes, but added that "there are many intelligence reports" that suggest Iranians are "coming in to pay off people to vote against it." The reports have not been made public. The U.N. resolution that sanctions the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq expires Dec. 31. Failure to reach a deal could hasten the withdrawal of U.S. troops and allow Iran to expand its influence in Iraq, a predominantly Shiite, oil-rich nation at the center of the Middle East. Efforts to reach Iran's ambassador in Baghdad and the embassy's spokesman on their cellphones Sunday afternoon were unsuccessful. Iranian officials have denied undue interference in Iraqi affairs. They accuse the United States of using Tehran as a scapegoat for what Iranian officials describe as failed American policy in Iraq.Stateside
Many Iraqi lawmakers and government officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, spent time in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule. They tend to value Iraq's close relationship with its largest neighbor, which is also a key trading partner.
In recent months, Iran has courted potential allies in Iraq's parliament, including Kurds and Sunnis, said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman. The Arab Sunni speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, recently traveled to Iran on an official visit.
"Iran has been doing this for the last six months," said Othman, a vocal backer of the bilateral agreement, adding that he has not been approached by Iran. "They will try their best to influence anyone they can. They will tell people that this is dangerous, that this is not good for Iraq."
USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook reports that Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is calling for all returning combat troops, from privates to generals, to undergo screening for post-traumatic stress with a mental health professional, a move aimed at stemming an epidemic of psychological issues among veterans. There has been a rise in the tide of awareness of these issues in recent months in both the psychological and military communities, and the days of just shaking one’s head at a veteran with difficulty and calling him/her “shell-shocked” are hopefully on their way out. "I'm at a point where I believe we have to give a (mental health) screening to everybody to help remove the stigma of raising your hand," Mullen said. "Leaders must lead on this issue or it will affect us dramatically down the road." It’s a brief but important article, so here’s most of it.
About one in five combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress or depression, according to a study by the RAND Corp. In all, RAND estimates that 300,000 veterans have been affected and it could cost more than $6.2 billion to treat them. Half of the troops RAND surveyed reported that they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression were highest among soldiers and Marines, the study said. "The PTS issue is something we just all have to focus on," Mullen said. "I think it's a bigger problem than we know."
Mullen's proposal is in its infancy, and there are no estimates about its potential costs or when it would start. Another potential complication is the number of available mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Pentagon budget records show the military has increased signing and retention bonuses for these professionals in recent years to make up for shortages.
Troops also know how to evade certain mental health questions to avoid treatment. Mullen said the Pentagon still has not addressed the negativity surrounding mental health care, which has kept many troops from seeking help.A trained mental health professional who meets one-on-one with a service member can detect signs of post-traumatic stress in as few as five minutes.
Troops worry their careers will suffer if they seek mental health care, said Terri Tanielian, co-director of RAND's Center for Military Health Policy Research. If Mullen's plan increases access to confidential care, she said, "we will go a long way to removing the stigma associated with getting mental health care."
Christian Science Monitor, no Holiday Edition.