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Daily Column
US Papers Sun: Blackwater Lawyers Cry Foul
Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Named; Women in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 12/07/2008 02:00 AM ET
Since it is Sunday, we only have the Times and the Post to work with. There are three stories - a few developments in the Blackwater indictments (covered in yesterday's Media Watch), President-elect Obama chooses a controversial figure to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, and an update on the stagnant (and often backwards)progress of women's rights in Iraq.

The five security guards employed by Blackwater indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for a shooting incident which left 17 Iraqis dead have been named. Attorneys are calling the Justice Department reckless. Del Quentin Wilber and Julie Tate of the Washington Post report...
The five guards -- a sixth is in plea negotiations -- were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Washington in the shooting, which occurred on Sept. 16, 2007, in Baghdad's bustling Nisoor Square, according to several sources familiar with the case. The indictment was sealed, and the exact charges are not known. The guards, all former military personnel, are expected to surrender to federal authorities tomorrow, the sources said.
Sources and the guards' defense lawyers named them as Evan Liberty, 26, a former Marine of Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, 25, a former Army sergeant of Sparta, Tenn.; Dustin Heard, 27, a former Marine corporal of Maryville, Tenn.; Donald Ball, 26, a former Marine corporal of Salt Lake City; and Paul Slough, 29, of Sanger, Tex., who served in the Army and the Texas National Guard. All signed contracts with Iraq after completing their military service. Slatten’s attorney, Tom Connolly, said "Once the jury understands the events of Sept. 16, they are not going to do what the Department of Justice is doing -- which is second-guessing honorable men in a firefight," Connolly added. "Even if they have jurisdiction, we will prevail when we meet them on the facts."

The New York Times’ Katherine Zoepf and Tariq Maher write...
The guards have said that they fired after coming under attack, and Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong.

In Baghdad, Ali Khalf Selman, a traffic officer who said he witnessed the killing of 21 people on the day of the shootings, recalled things differently. “They started shooting randomly at people without any reason,” he said. “I wish I could see the criminals in person, and Ihope that they will pay a price for killing people who just happened to be in the wrong place on that bad day.”
Jackie Calmes reports from Chicago for the New York Times that president-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, elevating the former Army chief of staff, who was vilified by the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war for his warning that far more troops would be needed than the Pentagon had committed.
In his choice of General Shinseki, which Mr. Obama will announce here on Sunday, the president-elect would bring to his cabinet someone who symbolizes the break Mr. Obama seeks with the Bush era on national security. The selection was confirmed by two Democratic officials.

General Shinseki, testifying before Congress in February 2003, a month before the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, said “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. In words that came to be vindicated by events, the general anticipated “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems,” adding, “and so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

The testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, whose war plans called for far fewer troops. Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked General Shinseki’s comments as “wildly off the mark,” in part because Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.
General Shinseki, 66, was the highest-ranking Asian-American in the military. He commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia and is a native of Hawaii. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he suffered serious wounds and lost much of a foot.

From Iraq
Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post writes a nice article from Erbil that gives a bit more of an in-depth understanding of the current situation for women in Iraq than most. It divides the focus between two women.

It begins with Hawjin Hama Rashid, a journalist who works for women’s rights in Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish north, as she looks at photos of dead women in a morgue office, to research tribal killings of women. "A week doesn't pass without at least 10," the morgue director said, showing Rashid pictures of corpses on his computer screen.

First, a bloated, pummeled face. Next, a red, shapeless, charred body. "Raped, then burned," the director said. Then, another face, eyes half-closed, stab wounds below her neck. Rashid leaned closer to the screen. It was the bloody corpse of her best friend, Begard Hussein. Hussein had complained to police about her ex-husband, who had threatened to kill her if she refused to annul their divorce. Rashid had wanted to publish a photograph of her friend's body after she was killed in April, but officials said none existed. "They lied to me," Rashid said as she left the morgue, her sorrow fusing with anger.

From the southern port city of Basra to bustling Irbil in northern Iraq, Iraqi activists are trying to counter the rising influence of religious fundamentalists and tribal chieftains who have insisted that women wear the veil, prevented girls from receiving education and sanctioned killings of women accused of besmirching their family's honor.

In their quest for stability in Iraq, U.S. officials have empowered tribal and religious leaders, Sunni and Shiite, who reject the secularism that Saddam Hussein once largely maintained. These leaders have imposed strict interpretations of Islam and enforced tribal codes that female activists say limit their freedom and encourage violence against them.
"Women are being strangled by religion and tribalism," said Muna Saud, a 52-year-old activist in Basra, and the second woman looked at in the story, as she tries to help a young woman get a job. She speaks of the alarming number of “honor killings” in Basra.
Anwar Indalel Shubbar, a local government official with the ultra-religious Fadhila Party said that women are entering "illegal relationships" if they have premarital sex and that honor killings are sanctioned by tribal laws. "Our religion rejects the honor killings, but we can't stop the habits and traditions we have inherited," Shubbar said. She said she favors the imposition of Islamic law.

Even the biggest victory of Iraqi women is bittersweet: A quarter of all seats in Iraq's parliament are constitutionally required to be filled by women. But out of 25 committees, only two are led by women. And most female lawmakers belong to the ruling religious parties. "It's all abayas and female mullahs," Saud said.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

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