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The Latest
Othman: Maliki-Backed Groups, not Kurds, Lie Behind Displacement of Christians
06/23/2009 9:10 PM ET
Iraqi MP Mahmoud Othman, representing the Kurdistan Coalition in the Baghdad Parliament.
KRG.
Iraqi MP Mahmoud Othman, representing the Kurdistan Coalition in the Baghdad Parliament.
Amid an ongoing war of words between prominent Iraqi political factions over the forced displacement of members of the minority Christian population in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman has claimed that militias loyal to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are behind the violence against Christians in the northern Iraqi city.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled the city of Mosul last fall after a wave of violence that targeted their community.

Allegations from Arab quarters, including the outspoken Mosul-based MP Usama al-Najifi, have often focused on Kurdish militia forces deployed in Mosul as allegedly lying behind the mass displacement, a charge denied by Kurdish leaders, while others have linked the anti-Christian violence to broader inter-ethnic power struggles in northern Iraq.

However, as INA reports, a Kurdish MP has lashed back, with Mahmoud Othman choosing to point the blame at the ruling party in Iraqi government, which has little support in the predominantly Sunni Arab and Kurdish city of Mosul.

"Kurds welcome any investigation into the question of the forced displacement and killing of Christians in Mosul," Othman said, adding that The Kurdistan Coalition "supports any investigation (into the forced displacement and killing) to clarify to all the party lying behind" the acts of violence.

The Iraqi government has formed a committee but it’s disappointing that the government did not publish the results of the investigations and I don’t know the reason for the government’s holding an investigation and not publishing its results, As IraqSlogger reported earlier, the results of a government investigation into the anti-Christian displacement in Mosul were not released.

The reason for the non-disclosure of the results of the investigation is the involvement of militias loyal to Nuri al-Maliki in the forced displacement operations in Mosul Othma denied that Kurds have any hand in the forced displacement, saying that the evidence of that is the Christians who have fled Mosul for the autonomous Kurdistan region and taken up residence there.

A source in PM al-Maliki’s Da'wa Party dismissed Othman’s remarks, saying provocatively that the Kurds, more than others, know who lies behind these crimes.

The Latest
17 Percent of Exiles Have University Degrees
06/22/2009 8:32 PM ET
The government of Iraq issued a call on Monday to professors living abroad to return to the country to use their expertise in rebuilding the country.

Once boasting one of the most educated populations in the Middle East with a well-funded education program, Iraq's educated classes were devastated by years of economic sanctions, war and sectarian and criminal violence.

Although the level of violence has dropped in the country over the last two years, hundreds of Iraq's professors have not returned, al-Malaf Press writes in Arabic.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, the political advisor to Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki said at the beginning of a three-day conference organized by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher education and Technology that Iraq’s professors are an integral piece of Iraqi society and could affect the future of the Iraqi economy should they choose to return.

At least 350,000 Iraqis living in exile have university diplomas, or about 17 percent of the roughly two million Iraqis who have left the country since 2003, the agency adds.

About 200 Iraqi professors came to the gathering in Baghdad, al-Malaf Press writes, some of whom expressed misgivings at the idea of returing to a country where violence continues to smolder.

Muhammad al-Rabi'i, an Iraqi professor of engineering at Dublin University reportedly told Reuters that he planned only to make short visits to Iraq, adding that while many professors did not seek to return to Iraqi to reside, but suggested that short-term projects involving expatriate experts could still benefit the country.

Daily Column
War Funding Bill Passes Senate, Hard Times for Iraqi Refugees in US
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/19/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Iraq news today is based back home in the states, with nothing filed from Iraq – but with all the papers we include in the roundup offering something. Coverage includes the war-funding bill now set for President Obama’s desk, problems adjusting for both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi refugees, and even comedy news shows about Iraq can’t get ratings.

Stateside
Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that the rate of Army soldiers enrolled in treatment programs for alcohol dependency or abuse has nearly doubled since 2003, what he calls “a sign of the growing stress of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army statistics and interviews.” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the paper, "I'm sure there are many factors for the rising numbers (of enrollments) ... but I can't believe the stress our people are under after eight years of combat isn't taking a toll." Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told a pentagon briefing, “We're seeing a lot of alcohol consumption."

Though known drug abuse percentages haven’t increased substantially, writes Zaroya, soldiers diagnosed by Army substance abuse counselors with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, increased from 6.1 per 1,000 soldiers in 2003 to an estimated 11.4 as of March 31. Duration of deployment and active wars since 2001 are cited as mitigating factors.
He said identifying and treating substance and alcohol abuse will help improve the Army's mental health care and curb suicides, which reached a record 142 cases in 2008. There have been 82 confirmed or suspected suicides this year among active-duty, compared with 51 for the same period in 2008.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson and Kristen Chick cover American streets being found not to be paved with sometimes-promised gold for thousands of Iraqi refugees entering America's resettlement program. They write that “only 11 percent are finding work this year, compared with 80 percent two years ago. Many are frustrated as benefits dwindle, cash runs out, and eviction notices pile up.” In the past three years, 25,659 Iraqi refugees have arrived, and nonprofit resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are urging this week an overhaul of America's three-decade-old refugee policy.
Refugees "never imagined that they would be struggling to survive here in America," says Alaa Naji, a refugee from Baghdad who now works in Atlanta for the IRC. "They expected more from a country that was involved in the violence that destroyed our land, homes, and loved ones."

...Some argue that US officials have oversold refugees' prospects. "You'll see there's a universal theme to complaints, which is that they were told they were going to have a great life, and they're completely shocked when they're given jobs like washing cars," says Ann Corcoran, a Washington County, Md., farmer who runs a critical blog, Refugee Resettlement Watch.
"We came here because we had no safety or security because of the US war in Iraq," said one refugee. "But we didn't think people were allowed to live like this in America.... If we could go back to Iraq, we would."

War Funding
On Thursday, the Senate approved the $106 billion war-funding bill with much less ado than its friends in the House did earlier in the week. All but three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, resulting in a 91-5 tally.

As Bernie Becker in the New York Times points out the following, in the article with the most and clearest information.
The support by Republicans stood in stark contrast to their counterparts in the House, where all but five Republicans voted against the bill. The division signaled continuing disarray within the party more than six months after it suffered steep losses in the November elections. Still, Republican support in the Senate did not come easy, and party members nearly succeeded in blocking the measure on a procedural motion that left Democrats scrambling for votes.
The Wall Street Journal’s Corey Boles and Josh Mitchell and Kendra Marr of the Washington Post both hardly mention that war funding is even involved in the bill, and focus on the "cash for clunkers" car trade-in voucher program attached to the bill.

Iraq on TV
The Colbert Report broadcasts taped in Baghdad last week as a USO event wasn’t able to get much better ratings than the real news coming from here, as reported by Lisa de Morales in the Washington Post.
According to Nielsen, about 1.4 million people watched Colbert from Iraq last week. That is fewer viewers than he had the last time his show was live. Colbert's visit to Iraq also seems to have sent some of his younger fans fleeing. The median age of his audience last week was 40. The same week a year ago, it was 33.9.
Colbert should be given points, though, for emulating WWII-era Bob Hope radio broadcasts, even if it isn’t popular, and even if the broadcasts were somewhat gimmicky (as reported by a member of the seldom-used Iraqslogger network in New Haven, CT - who chose to remain anonymous, for security reasons).

One problem might have been that, though they finally relented and let some journalists here in Baghdad attend the broadcasts, the US military (or perhaps Comedy Central) made it very difficult for the media to cover it, for some reason.


Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at dwsmithemail@yahoo.com

Daily Column
Iraqi Officials Expect Moves Amid Corruption Inquiry
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/24/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, there are people who were kicked out of their homes due to violence and people who may get kicked out of government positions due of corruption. Also, opinions on detainee abuse photos and KBR.

From Iraq
Nada Bakri of the Washington Post writes of displaced Iraqi Arabs who have ended up in the bleaker-than-bleak Qalawa refugee camp, in the very Kurdish territory of Sulaimaniya. They fled the deadly sectarian violence in places like Baghdad, and though surrounded by hopeless squalor, have no intention of returning back any time soon. Bakri shows a talent for coherently summing up complex situations in an approachable way.
The camp illustrates some of the problems Iraq faces as it attempts to build the institutions of a modern state: Although there is a semblance of peace, the country remains riddled with fault lines of sect and ethnicity, and saddled with competing authorities. Jaffar and his neighbors live at the intersection of those realities. They cannot return home, and they cannot rebuild their lives, a situation that threatens to make a temporary solution permanent.

Iraq has witnessed many tragedies, with tens of thousands dead in what amounted to a civil war. But added to the hardship of these displaced Iraqis is a feeling of helplessness. In a no man's land in the suburbs of this city in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, the families deem themselves the victims of Kurdish officials who have no interest in helping them and a distant government in Baghdad whose authority falls too short to provide assistance here.
"It is much better here," one of the more upbeat residents says. "I am happy to endure this hard life than go back and get killed."

The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Suadad al-Salhy report that Prime Minister al-Maliki and Parliament appear to be on the verge of carrying out an extensive housecleaning of senior cabinet officials, with lawmakers on Saturday naming as many as a dozen ministers they intend to question or investigate about allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

It is brief, but to the point, giving a reason why al-Maliki lawmakers are suddenly so shocked that graft and inefficiency exist in the Iraqi government.
With elections less than nine months away, Iraqi political leaders have been trying to find a way to aggressively address, or at least be perceived as addressing, the endemic corruption in the government. For now, their answer seems to be a wide-ranging campaign by officials to investigate ministers on corruption charges and push for their ouster.

The electoral success of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s party in January’s provincial elections seemed to stem in large part from the perception, which he promoted vigorously, that he had brought security and rule of law to Iraq. Since then, Mr. Maliki has been promising to fight corruption and bring about a significant government shake-up.
Trade Minister al-Sudani, who was grilled in parliament on corruption last week, is expected to resign before a no-confidence vote is held. Next up... Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq’s friendly-neighborhood Oil Minister.

Also mentioned are two American contractors killed on Friday in the Green Zone – one by a rocket, and the other found mysteriously bound and stabbed in a car.

Opinion
The New York Times Editorial page has a small piece about KBR, “the offshoot of the Halliburton conglomerate once run so lucratively by former Vice President Dick Cheney,” now “far from suffering for its shoddy military contracting in Iraq.” You can tell which side they’re standing on. Congressional investigators have found that KBR Inc. was awarded $83 million in performance bonuses, more than half of them awarded after Pentagon investigators linked faulty KBR wiring to the electrocution of four soldiers.
How such settings (showers and a swimming pool) became part of harm’s way for the military was the question put to an electrical engineer hired by the Army who reported finding that 90 percent of KBR’s wiring work in Iraq was not done safely. Some 70,000 buildings where troops lived and worked were not up to code, according to the engineer, who told a Congressional hearing of “some of the most hazardous, worst-quality work I have ever inspected.”
Also in the Times, Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review, and author (with Errol Morris) of “The Ballad of Abu Ghraib”, chimes in on whether hundreds of additional photos of detainee abuse which occurred in US-run facilities should be released. Gourevitch is in no way one to want what happened covered up in any way, but still thinks the photos are better off left in files marked “classified”.
Crime-scene photographs, for all their power to reveal, can also serve as a distraction, even a deterrent, from precise understanding of the events they depict. Photographs cannot show us a chain of command, or Washington decision making. Photographs cannot tell stories. They can only provide evidence of stories, and evidence is mute; it demands investigation and interpretation.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no Sunday Editions.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


Exclusive
Substandard Aid Meant for Displaced Families in Sadr City Arrives, is Removed
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/23/2009 10:25 PM ET
Just What's Needed For A Baghdad Summer - Cheap, Moldy Blankets
Iraqslogger
Just What's Needed For A Baghdad Summer - Cheap, Moldy Blankets

BAGHDAD – Last week in Sadr City, the local council awaited a shipment from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, destined for poor refugees within the densely populated Baghdad district. Trucks carrying a variety of supplies, from food to clothing, were expected.

When they arrived, council members were shocked, according to a source within the council. Though they had been told that thousands of dollars had been spent on the supplies, what arrived was much less than expected, and of poor quality. Most of what the shipment consisted of were thin, scratchy, grey woolen blankets – of little use in the sweltering summer in Baghdad. Many smelled of mold. Among the other supplies delivered were a selection of children’s shoes and 25 boxes of canned tuna.

Sadr City officials had been expecting considerable supplies to assist up to hundreds of families. The idea of calling for an investigation was spoken of, into the possibility that funds had been intercepted by Displacement and Migration Ministry officials, who had ordered the cheapest supplies possible (a form of corruption not unheard of within Iraq). The decision was made to keep the shipment intact until inquiries could be made.

Displaced Families Arrive at Sadr City's Council Building to Receive Humanitarian Aid
Iraqslogger
Displaced Families Arrive at Sadr City's Council Building to Receive Humanitarian Aid
Council members were told that questions were put to the ministry, but any discussions that may have occurred were not made public to the entire council. A few days later, it was announced by council leadership that the supplies would be moved and mostly dispersed to the families, one reason given being that there “was not enough storage capacity.”

The next day, families arrived in droves, and were just as puzzled by the inadequate assistance as teh council members had been. Particular displeasure of the blankets was expressed.

Minister of Displacement and Migration, Abdul Rahman Sultan, did not return calls from Iraqslogger.


Members of Iraqslogger’s network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report, but choose to remain anonymous, for security reasons.
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