Showing posts with label Iraq. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iraq. Show all posts

August 17, 2016

The *Only Gay Speaking Iraqi Making His Country Safer for Others



 
Amir Ashour the only Iraqi gay *speaking at a One Young World event 

 

“I don’t like being known as the ‘only gay Iraqi activist’”, Amir Ashour says, brow furrowing slightly.

But the label is hard to escape: Ashour, originally from Sulaimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been beaten up and arrested because of his sexuality. In 2015, he was forced to flee his home and seek asylum in Sweden, fearing for his life. 

Now 26, he’s already been through more than many people could ever imagine - but, Ashour says, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. 

“It is not exactly a choice”, he says. “It is not easy… it’s draining. But there is nothing else I would or could do. Everything I’ve been through, everyone I’ve met who has inspired me, it’s all relevant.”  

  
Ashour is the founder and leading voice of IraQueer, the only LGBT+ rights awareness organisation operating in Iraq, which is forced to carry out most of its work anonymously. The growing network of activists, most using synonyms rather than their real names, is a precious resource for Iraq’s gay community, which remains almost completely underground for fear of dying at the hands of armed vigilante gangs, rogue police officers, or family members unable to accept them. 

As recently as 1995, Saddam Hussein created a paramilitary group with the sole purpose of identifying, torturing and executing LGBT+ individuals, as well as women accused of adultery, and the memory - as well as the taboo - is still fresh for many. Post-Saddam, the gay community began tentatively organising parties and meet-ups in gay-friendly spaces, but militia attacks have increased again in recent years, driving the community further underground.

While same-sex relationships were decriminalised after the US invasion, Iraqi law offers no constitutional protection for LGBT+ citizens, and the state often turns a blind eye to the horrors non-conforming Iraqis face if outed. Shiite militias who claim to be fighting Isis under the banner of the Iraqi army have been accused of multiple murders by the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission.
 
IraQueer’s role is vital in providing advice and safe houses for LGBT+ people - often teenagers - who have been disowned by their families, or fled for their own safety. Doctors and officials will often refuse to deal with people they think are gay, so IraQueer tries to connect vulnerable people to allies, too.

The group has about 40 regular contributors and has been growing steadily for two years, now reaching up to 11,000 readers a month via essays and safety warnings tirelessly translated from Kurdish or Arabic into English or vice versa. Yet its members have only just met face to face for the first time, at a workshop organised by Ashour in Lebanon last month. It was a fantastic experience, he says. 

“Technology, and especially social media, have changed the face of activism, they’ve had so much impact for us”, Ashour says. “That me and my fellow activists can talk long-distance and hide our identities… that would never have been possible before the last few years.” 
 
Ashour has lived in Malmo in Sweden since last year. He loves life in Europe, where he is free to be himself. “I have never hidden who I am. It was never a question of ‘coming out of the closet’, there was nothing to escape from,” he says. Ashour's family, and group of friends and activists at university, were all very accepting, he says. But even in a relatively liberal area such as Iraqi Kurdistan, witch-hunts are still mounted for people suspected of being gay, or partaking in ‘sinful’ behaviour.  

This is what happened to Ashour. He was forced to leave the country to escape rumours which bought him to the attention of local vigilantes, started while he was working for a women's rights group in Baghdad. But he also has the strength to use his experiences to speak out, in the hope that others will not have to suffer the same discrimination.
 
I met Ashour while he was in London this summer to meet with UKLGIG, a UK charity which works to support LGBT aslyum seekers and refugees, and One Young World (OYW) representatives. OYW was founded in 2009 with the aim of bringing together young leaders to effect lasting, positive change. Meeting others from across the world who face the same LGBT struggle as he does, or stand up for other worthy causes, has “shaped the way I look at the world... The core, the root of everything I try to do, is giving the voiceless a voice,” Ashour says. 

The renewed scrutiny of Muslim attitudes towards homosexuality following the Orlando LGBT nightclub shooting by an closeted Muslim man has, for Ashour, driven home how important this is. “There is no room for the gay Muslim narrative, even now”, he says. “I never had to come out of the closet. But I still could never have functioned without my support network. And that’s what IraQueer is to many people now.” 
But, as Ashour concedes, the opportunities opened up to IraQueer by the internet and secure smartphone messaging is both a blessing and a threat. While the net helps LGBT+ people in Iraq find each other, an uncleared browser cache or public comments or likes on a gay-friendly Facebook page can help vigilantes identify and track down people they suspect of homosexual behaviour. 

One of the crucial aims of IraQueer’s first in-person workshop, which took place in secret in Lebanon last month, was to help teach members how to keep themselves safe online, whether by using fake names and accounts or switching to services much harder to hack such as encrypted messaging and Tor browsers.

It’s sad, Ashour notes, that the international community only focused on the lack of gay rights in the Middle East after Isis’s hatred placed the issue on the world stage. Horrific reports from Idlib and Kirkuk of public executions by  al-Nusra and Isis, as well as images of gay men forced to jump from buildings, reverberated in the world’s media. 

And while Isis’ atrocities continue to grab international attention, gay people continue to suffer across the Arab world, Ashour says. “The problem is so much wider, and deeper rooted, than this recent flare of extremism”, he adds.

Ashour is also sceptical of Kurdish efforts to portray the now autonomous regions across Iraq and Syria as gay-friendly. “It’s an attractive idea politically, gay rights, it is an encouraging sign to the West,” he says. “Talking is easier than action, though. And Rojava [Kurdish region] is still yet to be tested like that.”

I ask Ashour whether he thinks his battle is hopeless. He says he still has hope, and if it’s ever possible to be openly gay in Iraq, he’ll be the first to go back. One day he wants to run for office in his native country. But for now, he’s strengthening IraQueer, and enjoying being able to date in Sweden.

“I want to be the one who makes it possible to be gay in Iraq. Maybe I’ll be attacked for it, it’s possible. But winning is a mindset. And as long as IraQueer exists and grows, we are prepared, we are winning. All we need is time.”


*The only speaking (out) gay Iraqi  

June 7, 2016

An Iraqi Gay Love Story that Didn’t End in Death



                                                                         
Image result for gay in iraq                                                                         
                                                                         

















Brushing each other’s hair out of their eyes, exchanging quick kisses, and whispering sweet nothings in Arabic, Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami are clearly a couple in love.

“I am proud of our life,” Allami told TakePart, tapping his heart with one hand and gesturing toward his husband with the other. But it wasn’t too long ago that the two were forced to keep their relationship a secret.


Hrebid and Allami are the subjects of the documentary Out of Iraq, which made its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival last week. The film tracks their 12-year relationship, following the couple from their forbidden romance in Iraq to a years-long battle to gain asylum in the U.S.

Hrebid and Allami fell in love in 2004 while both were working in the military, Hrebid as a translator for the U.S. Marines and Allami as a soldier in the Iraqi army.

Being openly gay in Iraq was not an option, and even revealing their feelings to each other came with a risk.

“I wanted to tell him, ‘I love you,’ but was afraid,” Allami says in the film. Their relationship was sealed with a kiss four days after they met.

Consensual homosexual relationships are not expressly illegal under Iraq’s penal code, yet LGBT Iraqis have faced harassment, beatings, and brutal executions because of their sexual orientation. Militant groups have systemically persecuted LGBT Iraqis, but family and community members present the most common, most lethal threat, according to a 2014 report from Out Right International.

“For my family, it’s a lot about shame—that people will [say] bad things about them,” Hrebid told TakePart. “They want anything to kill this shame. That’s what I was most worried about.”

Along with fearing persecution, Hrebid was in danger because of his work with the Marines. In 2007, his name appeared on the hit list of a militant group that targeted translators as traitors. Hrebid was granted a visa and resettled in Seattle in 2009. He was forced to leave Allami, who was denied both tourist and student visas. 

The next six years were filled with efforts to get Allami out of the Middle East. He spent several years living illegally in Lebanon—he deserted his post in the Iraqi army in 2010—after his family threatened his life after discovering his sexual orientation. With dozens of identification checkpoints throughout Lebanon, the couple feared that Allami’s illegal living situation would be discovered, and he would be sent back to Iraq.

From Seattle, Hrebid worked with advocates to send Allami money, file paperwork, and schedule interviews with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Allami had nine interviews with UNHCR—one of which lasted 11 hours—but he was repeatedly denied refugee status. Allami pursued asylum through a Canadian program and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2013. In 2015, he was granted a visa to live in the U.S.

“That’s the moment I’d been waiting for all of my life,” Hrebid said of the couple’s interview at the U.S. consulate in Montreal. 
While the pair’s story has a happy ending, they hope their film will spread awareness about the plight of LGBT Iraqis and the difficulty of obtaining refugee status based on sexual orientation.

They are giving back to their community by sponsoring LGBT Iraqis in Seattle. So far, they’ve worked with eight refugees, helping them find jobs and adapt to American culture.

“First time, we needed help,” Allami said. “Now we can help.” 






Samantha Cowan

July 24, 2015

Baghdad’s ‘secret’ shops for ‘sex’ toy’s












Iraqis shop at the Souk al-Shorja wholesale market in central Baghdad, Aug. 30, 2008. (photo by Getty/AFP/Ali Al-Saadi) 
BAGHDAD — In Souk al-Shorja, in the center of Baghdad, a young man called out to his friend, pointing to a street vendor on the crowded sidewalk.
Summary⎙ Print Iraqi citizens and the central government are outraged by the spread of sexual products in popular markets across the country. 



“See? Even in the West, such merchandise is not on display in popular markets,” the young man said.
A woman walked by and saw the man pointing. She looked out of curiosity, but quickly turned and hurried away.
The popular markets spread many surprises over Iraq's sidewalks. You can find anything in these markets, even medicine. But the last thing one expects to see are sex toys, like dildos and other items for both men and women in various colors and sizes and a wide range of sexual performance enhancers.
These are surprising and strange things to find in a popular market, especially one in a capital where Islamist forces control political life and those in power frequently meddle in citizens’ everyday affairs in the name of ethics and religion.
Al-Monitor watched the shoppers in Shorja and saw many youths stop in front of these vendors, smiling and joking. Some went as far as waving a dildo in the air for their friends to see. Some were taken aback and asked the vendor questions like “Do people really buy these things?”
Iraqi society is known for its tribal and conservative nature, and religious control seems to have taken firmer hold in the past decade. It is odd that such merchandise is so openly sold, especially in a huge public market like Shorja, where products such as foodstuffs, clothes and cosmetics are the most common wares and where the open sale of sex toys appeared only relatively recently. Nevertheless, one such vendor said he believes his merchandise is as “normal as any other.”
The authorities have not turned a blind eye to this phenomenon. In 2012, Baghdad’s city council, annoyed with the spread of sexual products, called for legal measures against the networks involved in their trade. But the authorities were not powerful enough to control or limit this trade, and the merchandise has only become easier to find.
There are no specific laws against the trade of sex products, although selling them is widely considered indecent and immoral.
A vendor who wished not to be named told Al-Monitor, “This merchandise has been available in the market since 2004. We would sell it secretly to women’s beauty salons and to some women called 'dalalas,' who were known for selling the merchandise in popular neighborhoods. However, they have been sold on sidewalks in some popular markets for a long time.”
The vendor added while fixing his stand that he mostly “sells these dildos to men for fun and pranks.” But he asserted that some men “really need them, although they pretend to joke about the issue.”
According to the vendor, “Most women do not buy dildos from the stand. Usually, they order them on the phone” from stalls in the market.
Bab al-Sharqi market is a surreal oasis of illicit products. In the completely unregulated marketmedicine is sold alongside shoes, military uniforms, toys, sexual performance enhancers, porn movies and mysterious ointments.
All products are on display, with no supervision or interference by the authorities. Vendors are audacious and blunt. Here, however, unlike Shorja, the shoppers are restricted to men.
Hussein Koulshi, a young vendor who sells sex drugs and toys, told Al-Monitor, “The police are always after us, but they cannot take over the Bab al-Sharqi market. It is our source of living, and we have our own ways to protect it.”
"Koulshi," whose nickname means “jack-of-all-trades,” noted that many clients buy toys and sexual enhancers. “Many teenagers buy this stuff,” he added, noting, “Prices vary between $40 and $200, but some merchandise is more expensive and rarely demanded.”
Abdul Hussein al-Kaabi, a pharmacist who owns a medicine warehouse, told Al-Monitor that the products come from China and are sometimes hidden in shipments of medicine or clothes and smuggled through ports or land border crossings.
“Most of the merchandise is not up to health standards and might lead to diseases and inflammation,” he said, adding, “Sexual enhancers might result in death, especially since they are taken without a doctor’s prescription.”
Ali Jassim al-Maytoti, a member of the Iraqi parliament's National Security and Defense Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Allowing such immoral products to enter Iraq is no less of a crime than IS’ destruction of society.” He added, “There is corruption at the border crossings, and this explains the entry of products banned by the state. Some networks aim to destroy society by supplying products that are against Iraq’s social mores.”
Maytoti does not have much information about these products, how they enter the country or how they are traded on the Iraqi market. However, he blames the “unstable security situation in Iraq, which makes it hard to pursue deviant social phenomena.”
Neighboring countries such as Iran, Jordan and Syria consider Iraq to be one of the places where products below global health standards are sold. The government has discovered counterfeit medicine and tainted food supplies being sold to Iraq from neighboring countries several times.
With the rampant security chaos and corruption in the government, limiting these phenomena or even passing laws to ban the importation of substandard products seems almost impossible.
Author Omar al-Jaffal  
Translator Pascale Menassa


al-monitor.com/pulse

Contributor,  Iraq Pulse
Omar al-Jaffal is an Iraqi writer and poet. He is an editor of Bayt and Nathr, two intellectual magazines that are published in Iraq. He is also the chief editor of Al-Aalam al-Jadid, an electronic newspaper. 

June 8, 2015

A Human Underground Railroad in Iraq



     
                                                                       


A Human Underground in Iraq. Iraq? Didn’t we liberate Iraq with thousands of Americans deaths and billions in dollars? All true except we never liberated Iraq. Iraq was a fragile web held together with Sadam Hussein’s tape. Once that came off all those religious factors came apart to kill each other and anyone on their way, because nothing kill like a belief that extends over the hereafter. Wether there is one or not it doesn’t matter as long as the majority believes it.
                                                                          -*-

Driving through the Iraqi city of Dohuk in Osman Hassan Ali Abu Shijaa’s Chrysler feels relatively safe. At least, safer than the world Abu Shijaa has had to pass through to reach this relative safe haven. That world is crumbling at the hands of the so-called Islamic State group, and that world is one Abu Shijaa escaped — only to repeatedly return, of his own accord.
Abu Shijaa, a wealthy middle-aged businessman from the village of Khanasor in northern Iraq, is a member of the religious minority the Yazidi. Often left out of conversations of Sunni vs. Shia, the Yazidi religion is ancient, predating Islam and Christianity and deeply influenced by Sufi beliefs. It’s also, according to the Islamic State group, heretical and akin to devil worship. Since last August, the Islamic State group has killed hundreds of Yazidis in mass shootings that have become a grim trademark of the group. It forced many more into slavery, most of them women and children. The elder women are held as servants, while the younger ones are forced to marry Islamic State fighters. Some have been brutally gang raped. 
And Abu Shijaa escaped all that. Since then, he’s returned, slipping into dangerous territory on rescue missions, rescuing some 150 Yazidi women and children. His first mission came about when he managed to establish contact with seven Yazidi women held by an Australian-born Islamic State fighter and his wife.Certainly, there was heroism here — but also a dose of luck. The militant’s wife became aware of the escape, and decided not to intervene. “She wanted to get rid of the girls; she feared her husband might marry one of them,” says Abu Shijaa. The women were taken to a safehouse by a small team near the Turkish border. They disguised themselves in abayas, the traditional black dresses Muslim women wear, and then a member of Shijaa’s team drove them into Turkey, to safety. 
But even Abu Shijaa acknowledges that his efforts are but a drop in the ocean.
There is some entrepreneurial savvy going into what might seem a brazen hero-mission. Other efforts to rescue Yazidis from the Islamic State group are ongoing, says Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. Most rescuers find ways to pay off ransoms. Abu Shijaa, on the other hand, pretends he’s going to do that … and then uses the distraction to dive in and smuggle the prisoners out.
Abu Shijaa’s know-how comes from his business days and contacts: He’s got some farmer in him — he grew wheat and barley and bought and sold other farmers’ produce and livestock — but also worked in the complex Middle Eastern oil biz, importing and exporting oil and petrol. The daring isn’t quite new, either: he occasionally did business illegally. Today, he lives in a sparsely furnished modern flat in a newly developed housing complex in Dohuk, quite an upscale one by Iraqi standards. He is portly, a bit avuncular, with a neatly trimmed mustache and endearing spectacles. While we talked, one of his younger daughters, about 6, came in to bring us sugary tea; he was affectionate, and spent more than a few minutes interrupting our interview to take calls and texts, all related to this singularly focused work.
Early last August, the Islamic State group struck at the Yazidi heartland. Resistance quickly crumbled and thousands fled to Mount Sinjar, an elongated plateau that grabbed world attention during the desperate struggle to fend off the Islamic State group’s onslaught. That’s also when Abu Shijaa lost his business — his home and the areas he used to trade in are now under the Islamic State group’s inimitable control, borne of impressive recruiting strategies, an ability to occupy land, fundraise and organize across borders in an unprecedented manner. Eventually, the attack was repelled when Kurdish militias from Syria broke into the encirclement to establish a humanitarian corridor and to strengthen the defenses on the mountain (aided by deadly U.S. airstrikes). Most of the some half-million Yazidis have since found their way to hastily built refugee camps.

But not all. Last October, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) estimated that around 2,300 Yazidis were being held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. And it was around the same time that Abu Shijaa started to chip away at that number. He used his business connections to build up a clandestine network of willing helpers that reached all the way to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate. (It’s that network that makes the difference, says Qadir Murad, a relative of one of the other women that escaped the Tunisian. “We don’t have the network” without him.) Abu Shijaa has been back to Raqqa, the site of his first rescue, a few times, but most of his time is spent coordinating the rescue efforts from the outside. 

In a tent in the Karpato refugee camp near Dohuk, Khalid Khalid Ali tells of her escape. The camp isn’t squalid, but utterly basic. Families live in large tents with a few kitchen and toilet amenities attached; about 28,000 people live there, a half-hour from Dohuk, part of a veritable set of suburbs of sprawling refugee camps. Her story: She and her five daughters had been taken to Syria after being captured in Kocho, where the Islamic State group added to its notoriety by butchering most of the men in the village. Together with two other Yazidi women and three children from Kocho, they were held in a town near Raqqa by a Tunisian jihadist. She hid her eldest daughters, 12-year-old Hawler and 10-year-old Hawnaz, by keeping them indoors. “If any ISIS fighters had seen the girls, they would have taken them for themselves,” she says. Several Yazidis told OZY that fighters have a habit of marrying prepubescent girls, which Human Rights Watch has confirmed.
Khalid, for her part, was too old to attract the sexual interest of her captors, and the Tunisian lost interest in his captives. He consented to the women’s plea to be ransomed, and allowed them to call relatives in Iraq. The relatives reached out to Abu Shijaa, and a plan was hatched to snatch the women. Their captor agreed to move the 11 Yazidis to another town, where they would be handed over to intermediaries after he had received tens of thousands of dollars in ransom via an informal money transfer service that still functions in the war-torn region. Abu Shijaa’s smugglers searched the town until they found the Yazidis, rescuing them when the Tunisian fighter was on the way to collect the ransom. The money was never transferred.
But even Abu Shijaa acknowledges that his efforts are but a drop in the ocean. Since he activated his network, the number of Yazidis held in Raqqa has risen, he says, as the Islamic State group has trucked in other captives. And the young boys are particularly endangered; escapees say boys are brainwashed and trained as jihadists. Then there’s the money. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which has kicked in funds in the past, is hamstrung by a gaping budget deficit and the costs of keeping its forces in the field. It is now largely up to the families of the captives to raise the funds to secure their release. Joe Stork, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the region, says he’s pessimistic. The Islamic State group’s mercy “certainly seems limited.”

There is also the constant dark specter of death. Three of his accomplices have been killed smuggling Yazidis to safety, and the Islamic State group’s reach occasionally extends into Kurdish territory, as a recent car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in the capital Irbil proves. And Abu Shijaa, though not a braggart, seems to take some pride in refusing to lay low; he in fact regularly posts about his successful operations on social media. On Facebook, he has officially exceeded the allowed number of friend requests.
FLORIAN NEUHOF
   OZY 

August 21, 2014

Besieged Iraqi town begs for military to help


                                                                           
 al-Qaida militants kill Iraqis


 Members of a minority Iraqi Shiite community whose town has been besieged by Sunni militants appealed to Iraq's military and the international community to intervene to end the siege, a lawmaker said Wednesday as the U.N. started a massive aid push to help Iraqis uprooted by the extremists.
Also Wednesday, scattered attacks killed at least 11 people in and near Baghdad. The city has not been spared the almost daily violence even as the country grapples with the onslaught by the Islamic State group and their militant Sunni allies.
The siege of the northern town of Amrili, populated by Shiite Turkmens, is part of the Islamic State's offensive, which seized large swaths of western and northern Iraq this summer and also pushed further in neighboring Syria.
The militants' rampage, however, suffered a major setback this week when Iraqi and Kurdish troops backed by U.S. airstrikes dislodged the Islamic fighters from a strategic dam near Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city which militants overran in June.
Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram said almost 15,000 Turkmens in Amirli, about 105 miles north of Baghdad, have been besieged for the past two months by militants affiliated with the Islamic State.
The siege has left the residents in a dire situation, despite of recent army airdrops of weapons, food and medical supplies. The town has no water or electricity, yet the residents are putting up a fierce resistance, al-Tarzi said.
"Amirli is besieged from all sides and calls for help are falling on deaf ears," he said, urging the U.S. to consider airstrikes on militant targets around the town.
Resident Jaafar Kadhim al-Bayati, a 41-year-old father of three, told The Associated Press over the phone that children in Amirli are getting sick and that the town needs more help.
"We are starving, we ran out of food and the only clinic is not functioning now due to lack of medicines," he said. He added that a pregnant woman died while in labor this week, she was brought to the clinic but there was no one to help her there.
Like other religious minorities in Iraq such as the Christians and the Yazidis, the Turkmen community has also been targeted by the Islamic State, which considers them to be apostates. Thousands of Turkmens have been uprooted from their homes since the Islamic State took Mosul, the northern city of Tikrit and a spate of towns and villages in the area.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held talks with outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the premier-designate, Haider al-Abadi, during a one-day visit to Baghdad. Al-Abadi has until Sept. 11 to submit a list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval.
In Rome, Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said that Italy intends to supply light, portable arms for the Iraqi Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State. She said there would be checks in place in Iraq "to control that the arms get where they are supposed to go."
In Baghdad, six civilians were killed and 12 were wounded when a parked car bomb ripped through Palestine Street, a police officer said. Mortar rounds in the northern Sabaa al-Bour neighborhood killed three and wounded nine, another police officer said.
And in the town of Mahmoudiyah, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad, a bomb hidden in a garbage pile killed two people and wounded five, according to police officials there. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
The Islamic State blitz has forced some 1.5 million people to flee their homes since June while thousands more have died, prompting the U.N. to declare its highest level of emergency last week.
On Wednesday, the U.N. refugee agency launched a massive air, road and sea 10-day operation to help the displaced, including a four-day airlift with Boeing 747 planes that will bring in aid from Aqaba, Jordan, to Iraq's northern Kurdish region.
The first flight landed on Wednesday afternoon in the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, carrying 100 metric tons (110 tons) of emergency aid, the UNHCR said.
Shoko Shimozawa, the UNHCR representative for Iraq, welcomed the first cargo flight.
"This is by large, by far, one of the largest relief operations we are doing," she said. "But this is also comparative because of the enormity of the situation. And the crisis that we are facing."
Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, warned that "conditions remain desperate" in many places.
"Many are still coming to grips with the tragedy they've been through in recent weeks - fleeing homes with nothing, and many trying to cope with the loss of loved ones," he said.
The gains made by the Islamic State have brought U.S. forces back into the conflict for the first time since American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011. America's renewed involvement on the battlefield was a reflection of the growing international concern over the Sunni extremists' blitz. Washington began carrying out dozens of airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8.
But in a horrifying act of revenge for the U.S. airstrikes, the Islamic State released a grisly video on Tuesday showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley who went missing in Syria in November 2012. The militants have also threatened to kill another hostage, U.S. officials said.
by Associated Press and writer Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Italy

March 7, 2014

Iraq Finally Comes Back as Major Oil Producer and Exporter

oiliraq

 pic: The Independent




Iraq is reclaiming its rank as the world's fastest-growing oil exporter, cushioning consumers from Libyan supply outages for now and, perhaps, reviving Opec market share rivalries down the road.
Despite worsening violence due to spillover from the war in Syria, Iraq — already Opec’s second-largest producer — is likely to post one of the biggest annual output jumps in its history as BP, Exxon Mobil and other companies tap its southern fields, which are untouched by the unrest.
With many export bottlenecks now cleared at the southern Basra terminals — from which almost all of Iraq's crude is shipped — Baghdad is expected to keep up, or even exceed, the rapid pace of oil sales reached in February — at 2.8m barrels per day (bpd), a 500,000 bpd rise on the previous month.
"Iraq is doing its best to export as much as possible and directionally things are improving," said a senior oil executive from a major oil company at work in Iraq.
So much so that, after momentum slowed last year, many in the industry expect a significant increase in 2014 from the country that holds the world's fifth-biggest oil reserves.
"We think the average for the year is probably going to be about 2.9m bpd, so maybe in the latter part of the year there will be a little bit more than that," said a Western oil executive from another company working in Iraq.
If Baghdad can sustain oil sales of 2.8m bpd, its revenue could swell to more than $100 billion at $100-a-barrel oil. Average exports of just under 2.4m bpd last year earned Iraq $89bn.
So far, the leap in Iraqi shipments has yet to weigh on oil prices and is being welcomed by other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), as it is making up for outages in Libya and reduced exports from Iran due to Western sanctions.
"As long as Brent is $100-$110 there is no problem for Opec and the higher volumes from Iraq are welcome," said a Gulf Opec delegate. "Their crude is required."
Another delegate agreed, while indicating that view could change should output recover elsewhere.
"When the situation is settled in Libya with production of 1.5m barrels per day and Iranian crude comes back, it will have an impact on prices. But not now."Oil revival
The world’s leading oil companies have been expanding Iraq's giant southern fields — Rumaila led by BP, West Qurna-1 run by Exxon and Zubair operated by Eni — since 2010 when they signed a series of service contracts with Baghdad.—Reuters
                                                       

March 10, 2013

Tony Blair Have to Answer Some Q’s About IRAQ

 The assertion at the time that Britain would intervene militarily against the Iraqi dictator only if all other avenues, including weapons inspections and United Nations sanctions, had been exhausted.
Mr Blair is accused of being “evangelical” in his approach to the world and hence to toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, of making mistakes which led to British forces being ill-prepared for the invasion and caught out by the violent aftermath, and of being so determined to support President George W Bush that he imposed no preconditions for Britain going to war alongside the United States.
Meanwhile, senior Bush White House staff confirmed for the first time to The Sunday Telegraph that they had viewed it as a certainty that Mr Blair would back any US-led invasion, long before he publicly committed Britain to taking part.
They say he made clear his unwavering support for US policy nearly a year before the invasion, after a visit to the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.


Senior Bush White House staff say Tony Blair made clear his unwavering support for US policy after a visit to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas
The revelations come in a series of exclusive interviews and articles for The Sunday Telegraph ahead of the 10th anniversary of the “shock and awe” bombing campaign that began on March 20, and the land invasion involving 45,000 British troops that followed a few hours later.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to Washington during the run-up to the war, writes in this newspaper today that Mr Blair’s mistakes on Iraq flowed from a “black and white” world view that was “more evangelical than the American Christian Right”.
He says that Mr Blair’s “unquestioning support” for the president “eliminated what should have been salutary British influence over American decision-making” after the prime minister became “an honorary member of this inner group” of neo-conservatives and military hawks who were setting the agenda in the United States.
He notes that a “failure to plan meticulously” for the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow “led to almost a decade of violent chaos and the ultimate humiliation of British forces”.
Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the Armed Forces at the time, describes how the government’s “political nervousness” delayed military preparations for the conflict.
Mr Blair’s government “wanted to avoid giving the impression that war with Iraq was inevitable”, he writes inside this newspaper; as a result, the formal decision was taken “somewhat late in the day, which inevitably foreshortened the Armed Forces’ preparation time”.
Another senior officer, Maj Gen Graham Binns, who commanded a front line brigade in Iraq, discloses that financial restraints left British forces undertrained and lacking key equipment. In addition, the British were “inadequately prepared, mentally and physically, for post-conflict stabilisation”, he writes.
Stephen Hadley, Mr Bush’s deputy national security adviser, said that at a private meeting between the prime minister and the US president almost a year before the invasion was launched, “Mr Blair said that if it came to it, then at the end of the day, he would be with us if we had to move militarily against Saddam Hussein”.
He said that during the meeting at Crawford in April 2002, the position spelt out by Mr Blair was, “I am with you to see this through to the end.”
Andrew Card, the president’s chief of staff, said: “I don’t recall that any conditions were discussed. What was clear was that we shared values and stood together.”
Mark Etherington, a Foreign Office official put in charge of an entire Iraqi province six months after the invasion, said there were inadequate troops to keep it secure because the Iraqi army and police “had ceased to exist as coherent groupings”. He says the British effort was “fatally lacking binding strategy under unified leadership”.
The revelations follow years of debate and recrimination over the decision to commit Britain to joining in the invasion, including its legality, and over the failure to locate any of the weapons of mass destruction whose supposed existence was the main official justification for going to war.
Mr Blair has been accused by critics of being a “war criminal” for his role in the conflict which ultimately cost the lives of 179 British soldiers and an estimated 100,000 civilians, and admitted last month that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision”.
Last week, David Miliband, the former foreign secretary, said the election of George W Bush as US president was “the worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair” because of the direction in which he led the world.
The decision to go to war in March 2003, after United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq and without the fresh UN resolution that Britain and the US had been seeking, divided opinion in Britain and led to resignations from the government. In the end the Conservatives backed the decision, but the Liberal Democrats opposed it.
A lengthy inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the circumstances, ordered in June 2009, heard evidence from hundreds of witnesses and examined thousands of documents — including confidential correspondence between Mr Blair and Mr Bush — but is still several months from producing its report and conclusions.
The statement by former White House officials that Mr Blair laid down no conditions for British support for the US-led operation comes despite Downing Street assertions to the contrary.
Mr Blair has said that he pushed for the United States to put more weight behind efforts to reach a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and that he encouraged the US to attempt what became known as “the UN route”.
But it was widely believed that soon after the 9/11 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda, the “neo-conservatives” within the Bush administration, led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, decided that the Iraqi regime posed a similar threat and must be dealt with militarily.
Sir Christopher lays out a series of missteps by British and US leaders but writes: “The biggest mistake of all was to conflate Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, as if they were cut from the same violent cloth.”
Despite delivering crucial diplomatic support for Washington as other European states wavered, Mr Blair’s concerns about domestic politics meant that military preparations for the invasion were hampered, even though British Armed Forces chiefs had long considered the war inevitable.
Gen Binns, who commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade in the invasion, describes political and financial constraints on preparations for war. “Our higher level training, due to take place in Poland, was curtailed for financial reasons,” he writes. “I took my officers away for some conceptual training around a model but this limited activity was no replica for realistic training.”
As the force began to assemble in northern Kuwait, he recalls, they discovered that the wrong kind of clothing had been sent from Britain.
He says: “We were grateful for several boxes of chefs’ whites and ceremonial dress, but would have preferred more body armour and desert camouflage uniform.
“The Marine Corps was very generous with its supplies – not always knowingly.”
Gen James Conway, the US Marine commander in charge of a force of 90,000, of whom 25,000 were British, recalled asking General Robin Brims, the commander of the 1st UK Armoured Division, what his capabilities were.
“He said: ‘I have great tanks, but I don’t have the logistics for them to go very far’, so everything pointed to them taking and holding Basra.”
Military chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic excoriated the decision by Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief, to disband the Iraqi army and sack all officials who belonged to Saddam’s party shortly after the victory.
Soon afterwards the insurgency began, leading to years of bloodshed and the loss of more lives than during the invasion.
Gen Jackson writes of the “inexplicable decisions to disband the Iraqi security forces and to sack Ba’ath party members, however junior”. Gen Conway said: “I’ve been disappointed by the results in Iraq. I think we had a great opportunity for a much better end-state.
“One of the first things the CPA did was to disband the Iraqi army. We ended up fighting those same men in Anbar province for four years.”
He also expressed shock that no weapons of mass destruction were ever discovered, since that was “in large measure” why they were in Iraq. “We checked every bunker between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad and there were just none to be found.”
Ari Fleischer, the official White House spokesman at the time, said the US was equally let down. “I don’t believe that George Bush would have gone to war if we concluded that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD.”
British soldier to be questioned by Iraq war crime investigators 
 Britain in Iraq 2003-2009

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