First, thank you Steve Buyer. You're a Republican so you won't get a thank you from me very often. But after two days of being outraged -- two days in a row -- by government officials blase attitudes to their own screw ups that waste tax payer dollars and do nothing to help veterans, I applaud Representative Buyer for being as fed up as I was. And for expressing it. And for expecting accountability from government officials. I'm sure I've seen him at hearings before, but he's never stood out before. Today, he stood out. He wasn't going to let the official (Katherine Stevenson) from the Interior get away with dismissing the awful conditions of a cemetery the Interior Department is supposed to keep up. The photos he showed? All wonderful photos until he got to the Interior. They should be ashamed and to hear Stevenson offer blah-blah-blah blase attitude that appeared not to be overly concerned with the disgrace was just appalling. So again, thank you to Steve Buyer. Great job.
Second, thank you to the witnesses who listened to the chair John Hall. Katherine Stevenson was among those who didn't listen. But many others did and summarized their prepared statements or offered additional information. Vivian Cisneros Wersel of Gold Star Wives, for example, added the fact that she'd used her benefits to continue her education.
Third, Max Cleland. The former senator was prepared. Asked to summarize his statement, he did it without needing to refer to any paperwork. Asked a question, he either had an answer or noted that others with him might and he was happy to yield to them. He did a great job and wins erudite of the week award. How often does someone testifying before Congress give a nod to Pericles and the Peloponnesian War?
Fourth, thank you to the chair. John Hall had to call a recess after the first panel. They had to vote and do some other things. When he returned, he noted they would have to vote again in another hour and he would like to be done with the second and the third panel before that so no one had to wait around. That was what he wanted and he pulled it off.
Fifth, Katherine Stevenson has a flat affect and I'm not sure how much of her rudeness was intentional and how much was her natural affect. But I wouldn't suggest she be the go-to person when it was time to testify to Congress next.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, September 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, things get hot in a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee meeting today, a new report is released on Iraqi refugees, a family tries to raise money to travel to Iraq for the hearing of the men accused of forcing their son to take his own life, and more.
"From the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, American service member have given their lives for this country," declared US House Rep John Hall as he brought the US House Veterans Committee's Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs to order this morning. Among the problems Hall cited is that there's no space for needed cemeteries. At least 31 more cemeteries are estimated to be needed and 2015 is the soonest that for a location "that will meet the current criteria for the establishment of a new national cemetery." The requirement is that a region's population have at least 170,000 veterans before it can have a national cemetery. Subcommittee Chair Hall also noted that the VA's $300 for a funeral plot and $300 for burial does not begin to cover the costs.
There were three panels. The first panel included former US Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland who is the Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, Arlington National Cemetery's John C. Metzler , DoD's Lynn Heirakuji and Dept of Interior's Katherine Stevenson. The second panel was composed of American Veterans' Raymond C. Kelley, Ft Logan National Cemetery's John Nicolai, Gold Star Wives of America's Vivianne Cisneros Wersel, Disabled American Veterans John Wilson and National Funeral Directors Association's Lesley Witter. The third panel was the VA's Steve L. Muro (with VA's Ronald Walters). We'll cover the strongest moment of the hearing.
During the first panel, US House Rep Steve Buyer opened with a visual display showing various cemeteries. Normandy American Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. These were "beautiful" and up to standard. He then went to a national cemetery run by the Department of the Interior, Andersonville National Cemetery. Pointing to the dingy, dirty headstones, "This should not matter that this is the marker of someone who died in the Civil War. It shouldn't matter. It shouldn't matter if it was someone who died in the Revolution or someone who died that's interned in Mexico City." He then "So when you said in your testimony that you gently, finely clean the markers, well that's going to take you a lot of time. This is not a standard for which we should have in America. I think Mr. Cleland, if you saw that in one of yours, you would just freak out." Buyer explained that he complained about the weeds and the result was they pulled out everything, including the grass.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Let me ask you something, Ms. Stevenson, tell the committee here, what are your needs? What do you believe your needs are to raise the standard within the Dept of Interior?
Katherine Stevenson: The report that I just mentioned [in opening statement] will have some recommendations for funding and it will have recommendations for increased treatment of, uh, cleaning and so on.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: What are your goals?
Katherine Stevenson: Our goals are the same as the goals set by the National Cemetery Administration. We have the same three standards, height and alignment, clean stones and level grave sides as they do.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: How many cemeteries did you go to in the review?
Katherine Stevenson: Four.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: How many do you have in your system?
Katherine Stevenson: Fourteen.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Why wouldn't you go to all fourteen cemeteries?
Katherine Stevenson: We wanted to do it as quickly as we could and get some sense of uh what was going on -- in the ones that you mentioned, for example, Andersonville was one of them. So we took ones that were fairly close to Andersonville.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Did you go to -- what are the four that you went to?
Katherine Stevenson: Andersonville, Andrew Johnson, Fort Donaldson and Stones River.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Andrew Johnson? Is that the -- that's the one in Tennessee? That's the one in Tennessee? [Stevenson nods.] Have you sent inquiries out to the other ten?
Katherine Stevenson: No, sir. No more than usual. I mean, we-we talk to them a fair amount.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Alright. You've got fourteen. Alright, there's a disconnect here. I'm not going -- I'm not in a fight with you here, okay? I want us to raise the standards, so when this review -- this report -- comes out, I'm going through it.
Katherine Stevenson: Good.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: The light's on you, okay? So what I -- what I -- My immediate sense here is is when I think the Secretary tells me he's going to do a review, that it's going to be of all 14 cemeteries. I don't want something done quick and easy. Alright? I want this to be done correctly. And if your sense is and your counsel to us is that four is going to be sufficient well [shrugs] that's fine but is what you're asking me is, "Steve, just pause here. When you get the report, you're going to be satisfied?"
Katherine Stevenson: [speaking very slowly] You know, you can choose a photograph in any of these cemeteries and [picking up speed] any, I bet, of the veteran cemeteries that are managed by other people and we will have some scenes that are perfect and some scenes that are not. And I know that that's true in the cemeteries that we manage. We are trying to do our very best for the veterans and for their burial places.
US House Rep Steve Buyer: Alright. Well your standard of very best doesn't meet the standards established by others. So we're going to take your standard of very best and we're going to raise it. We're going to raise your very best even higher. Okay? And, uh, I didn't go out and selectively choose to find what I think would be the worst photograph. It's easy to go out there and take that photo. And I was extremely upset the day I saw a veteran being buried in a cemetery like I saw. It's one thing -- it's one thing, you know, we've all been to cemeteries and we've seen the conditions of some of them but to think that this was an active cemetery under the stewardship of the federal government was extremely disheartening. I-I-I'm going to pause here, Mr. Chairman, give it back to you under the time.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall asked when the report would be finished and Stevenson stated it was complete but "it just needs to go through formal review." From the third panel, we'll note two exchanges. First up, an informative exchange between US House Rep Deborah Halvorson and the VA's Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, National Cemetery Administration Steve L. Muro covering outsourcing issues and homeless veterans.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: I'm really concerned with something that just came up with the fact of this outsourcing of jobs. Can you explain to me what's happening with outsourcing of our jobs? Are they truly being taken away from veterans and going to other companies and not our veterans?
Steve Muro: Well, let me explain what we've done. As we open new national cemeteries, we keep certain jobs in-house: the internments, the rep work. And we do the headstone and mowing, we contract that out. We have increased FTEE [Full Time Equivalent Employee] in our system, we're up to 1600. So we're doing in-house work and some contract -- same thing at some of our closed cemeteries where it is more difficult to get employment. The gentleman spoke about south Florida, it actually took us two years to fully staff that cemetery with-with veterans, those that were willing to apply. We had a high turnover there because of the cost of living. So in many areas, the cost of living has forced us to look at other ways to get the work done. But we still, each year we've increased our FTEE, all our new cemeteries open with approximately 15 FTEE to manage the cemetery so we are keeping the-the internment work in-house, we're keeping the rep work and all of the public affairs type work in-house. The mowing, the trimming and the setting of headstones, we do contract out.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Well because we're doing everything in our power to create opportunities for veterans, I don't want to be embarrassed when I hear that veterans' cemeteries and groups like yourselves are going outside of our veterans groups. So --
Steve Muro: And those -- those that we're hiring are disabled veterans companies. We are hiring with disabled veterans companies.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Because?
Steve Muro: So we are giving the work to veterans. We work with VBA [Veterans Business Association] to hire OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom], OAFs [Operation Afghanistan Freedom] instead of going through different training programs. Each network -- we have five networks throughout the system -- are required this year and last year to hire 5 OAF and OIFs. So we are hiring vets. You know, 70% of our employees are veterans.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Okay, I just want to make sure that that's happening. I mean, as you know, we're doing everything to make sure that, because we're having more and more veterans come back, and I just want assurances that we're doing everything we can to make sure that we're hiring veterans, we're giving incentives to hiring veterans. I don't want to be talking about our Veterans Administration, of all people, aren't doing what -- We can talk all the time, but until we practice what we preach, you know, that's not doing us any good.
Steve Muro: And I understand that and we are.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: Great. One last question is one thing that I know that we're interested in exploring and something that the Secretary is very interested in, you know, is homelessness among our veterans. But also where you're concerned with, can you take us through some of the situations. What happens with burial issues with regards to those who are homeless veterans and what happens when a veteran doesn't have any family members? How do you deal with that situation?
Steve Muro: Our cemetery directors work closely with the different coroners' offices and they -- we try to determine eligibility, we work with the regional office to determine eligibility so that if we do find that they are a vet -- those that they find on the street, the homeless -- so that we can ensure that they can be buried in a national cemetery.
US House Rep Deborah Halvorson: How do you know that they're a veteran if they don't have --
Steve Muro: We get finger prints. So long as they haven't cremated, we can get finger prints. And as long as they have finger prints, we go to FBI with the finger prints and we can find files. And we've been really successful throughout the country doing that. Working with the coroner's office.
In the final minutes of the hearing, Subcommittee Chair John Hall would follow up to ask if Muro was stating that the contractors hired were all veterans and whether they used veteran workers? Muro replied that they are all veteran contractors and they are encouraged to use veteran workers. Next up, music. If a veteran's getting a burial, he or she is entitled to the send off expected. Instead, many are being buried without bugles.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I just wanted to ask you, Secretary Muro, in the -- continuing and following up on a comment that was made by the Ranking Member of the full committee, Mr. Buyer, when he was here earlier, talking about artificial or digital bugle machines. As the token musician on the panel, I [laughter] -- a French horn player and a decent, at one time anyway, a decent trumpeter and bugler, there are many very accomplished high school band bugle players -- or trumpet players who can play a bugle just as well -- does the, uh, is this in your purview? Is this something that the NCA in the process of working with the families handles? I just came from a 9-11 ceremony -- as did many of us recently -- where there were two buglers calling-answering backing and forth to each other, playing real bugles and it's a very moving moment with the Color Guard standing attention and the crowd and survivors in our -- in my, one of my five counties, 44 family survivors of 9-11 victims and I can only imagine how much less moving the moment would have been if someone had pushed a button on the tape or a CD, you know, had an artificial reproduction. So I'm just curious, have you contacted, do you work with local schools or find people who actually play the instrument?
Steve Muro: Yes, well, couple of things we're doing to get real buglers at the cementeries for not only services but for ceremonies. We worked closely the last three years with Taps Across America, Bugles Across America, to get more interest in buglers to come and volunteer. We work with the local school districts, the ROTC that may have buglers and we try to get them scheduled for our services so that we can utilize them to support the families. The artificial bugle? It's actually a real bugle with -- with an electronic device that goes in, instead of looking like a --
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: That's not a real bugle, I'm sorry.
Steve Muro: You're right. But it is better than the boom box.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: Well it looks better. It's a boom box that's shaped like a bugle.
Steve Muro: But we are trying to get volunteers.
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I understand, sir.
Steve Muro: And there are those that charge the families, unfortunately. You see the papers, people advertise, "I can do a bugle for this amount." We don't encourage it, but we can't stop the families from hiring them. So we try to work with the VSOs and the schools --
Subcommittee Chair John Hall: I appreicate that, sir. I used to get paid to pay organ at Mass when I was a teenager but it didn't mean that maybe I shouldn't have volunteered but they offered and I was mowing lawns and doing other things to. But anyway.
A funeral is not a spur of the moment elopement in Vegas. While you might endure a recording of a wedding march being played at your elopement ceremony, a burial isn't last minute and there's no excuse for using a recording. With the bases across the US, all the bases, there's no reason a veteran's funeral on a national cemetery or a private ceremony can't be supplied with a bugle player. High school (and middle school players as well) are very talented and can be used in a pinch but why, when the military has countless bugle players, they're not dispatching them automatically to ceremonies is a question that needs to be asked. And the word for using an 'electronic' bugle is tacky. It's tacky and it's beneath the service that's been given by the veteran. It'd be cheaper to use flag decals on the coffins instead of cloth ones. But the point of veterans funerals isn't do do them on the cheap. Survivors shouldn't have to hire a musician for a military funeral nor should they have to endure canned music.
"A loss in any family is hard to take," Shane Wilhelm, father of Keiffer P. Wilhelm, tells Cary Ashby (Norwalk Reflector). Keiffer Wilhelm died of "a gunshot wound to the head" in Iraq August 4th. It is thought he took his own life and that this resulted from abuse he suffered from other soldiers. The US military has charged four soliders in the matter and the military states a date has been set for the hearing, however, it isn't giving out the date. Ashby explains, "Shane and Shelly Wilhelm, Keiffer's stepmother, want to attend the hearing. The couple said Sept. 14 they're not sure if the military will allow them to attend or testify, but they want the chance to share their side of the story and the impact Keiffer's death has had on them." Marcia noted earlier this month that the First Merit Bank of Willard has set up a Memorial Fund for Keiffer Wilhelm to raise money for the family to attend the hearing (419-935-0191, Cari McLendon for more information and donations can be sent by mail to First Merit Bank, 501 Ft. Ball Road, Willard, OH 44890). Dropping back to the August 21st snapshot for details on the death:
Today the US military announced that Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt Bob Clements, Sgt Jarrett Taylor and Spc Daniel Weber are all "charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates . . . The four Soliders are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately." CNN states they are accused of "cruelty and maltreatment of four subordinates in Iraq after a suicide investigation brought to light alleged wrongdoing, the military said Friday." Michelle Tan (Army Times via USA Today) reports, "The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of the subordinate soldiers, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for Multi-National Division-South wrote in an e-mail to Army Times."
Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) has reported that Keiffer Wilhelm "was abused by his 'first-line supervisors,' Sgt. Brandon LeFlor wrote in an e-mail. He is a spokesman for Multi-National Division-South in Basra, Iraq."
Turning to some reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports two Baghdad roadside bombings with no casualties reported.
Reuters notes an attack on a Mosul police checkpoint in which two police officers were wounded.
AINA reports that Dr. Sameer Gorgees Youssif was released by his kidnappers following his August 18th abduction. The explain the fifty-five year-old man is at least the fourth doctor kidnapped in Kirkuk in the last two years.His family paid $100,000 for his release. His injurries include sever pressure uclers along the right side of his body, "open wounds around his mouth and wrists" (from being bound and gagged) and bruises all over his body.
The big news of the day? Prison break. Xinhua reports that 16 prisoners have escaped from a Tikrit prison after they "broke through a ventilation duct in the prison" -- five of the sixteen were on death row. Al Jazeera cites Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf claiming six "are considered dangerous." Reuters notes one of the escapees was captured post-escape. Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) adds that Tirket is now under "complete curfew" and that "The facility from which the inmates escaped was a makeshift prison, built on the compounds of one of Saddam's former palaces. Inmates were housed in a former school of Islamic studies, surrounded by tall concrete blast wallas and guard towers." Sabah al-Bazee and Missy Ryan (Reuters) report, "Mutashar Hussain Allawi, governor of Salahuddin, said an investigation had been opened into the matter and that it appeared there may have been police involvement or negligence."
Negligence describes the Iraqi government's treatment of refugees. Alive in Baghdad's Omar has had to leave Syria and go to Sweden due to threats. Threats keep many refugees on the run. Minority Rights Group International has released a new report, written by Chris Chapman and Preti Taneja, entitled [PDF format warning] "Uncertain Refuge, Dangerous Return: Iraq's Uprooted Minorities." The 37 page report focuses on conditions in and out of Iraq for refugees. It notes the minority groups in Iraq: Baha'is, Black Iraqis (ancestors "believed to have migrated from East Africa"), Christians, Armenians, Chaldo-Assyrians, Cicassians, Faili Kurds, Jews, Palestinians, Roma, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabacks, Turkmen and Yazidis. Yes, that is a bit more complex than the Sunni-Shi'ite pimped by the media repeatedly. (Yes, sometimes they'll toss in Sunni-Shi'ite-Kurd and they really seem eager for Arab v. Kurd.) The minority groups are repeatedly targeted and have been since the start of the Iraq War:
Many of Iraq's minority communities have been present in the country for more than two millennia. Others have made their homes there over generations. During the conflict that began in 2003, minorities had suffered disproportionate levels of targeted violence because of their religions and ethnicities, and have formed a large proportion of those displaced, either by fleeing to neighbouring countries or seeking asylum further afield.
Today, the survival of Iraq's minority communities remains at high risk, even as the focus of international attention shifts from Iraq to conflicts elsewhere. Inside Iraq, the threat of violence against minorities is still very real. Across Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains where Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen have historical roots, violence shows no signs of abating. Recent attacks have particularly targeted Turkmen villages. This is connected to the struggle over Kirkuk and Nineveh, which is escalating between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government. Minorities are caught between the two, and their relatively smaller numbers and lack of recourse to justice contribute to their vulnerability.
The report notes the minority communities have left Iraq and "scattered across the world" -- a dispersion that puts the communities at risk of losing many traditions and rites as well as at risk of host governments with little grasp of the communities. Host governments also are feeling an economic pinch -- the report does not note that Nouri al-Maliki publicly boasted that Iraqi money would be sent to those hosting refugees and that it still hasn't happened -- which further leaves Iraqi refugees at risk.
On the press loved but factually unsound Myth of the Great Return, the report notes:
This has led some asylum countries to start deporting rejected asylum-seekers back to Iraq. Returns, however, must be viewed in the context of refugee situations. Many refugees find it difficult to afford to stay in the countries to which they have fled, not least if they have not been granted permission to work. Meanwhile, the Government of Iraq, in collaboration with host governments, is providing incentives for people to go back. But the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other organizations, including MRG, do not yet consider it safe to return to Iraq. The verdict of minorities, according to testimony collected in Jordan, Syria and Sweden, three countries where the Iraqi minority presence is particularly high, is striking: despite incentives, none of those from minority communities interviewed for this report said they would ever return to reintegrate in Iraq.
I know it's Thursday and that the US' manic depressive Ambassador to Iraq peaked some time ago, but could someone please consider reading the above paragraph to Chris Hill who continues to insist not only that Iraqi refugees must return but that the fate of Iraq hinges on their return. You have to wonder how Chris Hill would have handled Germany if he'd been the US Ambassador there post-WWII?
If Hill still can't get it, read him this testimony from a 55-year-old Armenian now living in Damascus:
"In Baghdad there was unlimited suffering -- fear of kidnapping, killing. When you go to work it's like going to fight in a war. I didn't get a mobile because I was afraid of receiving threats by mobile. On my son's birthday, I went to get a cake, I was surrounded by four people with masks, threatening me with a gun. They were from the Islamic parties. They told me that they are investigating me, my work with the Americans. They told me to pay $50,000 or be killed; my cousins paid $15,000. After they released me, I decided to leave Iraq; next time they might kill me. They also told me to leave the house because it wasn't mine.
"First we came to Syria, then Armenia. There is a foundation that helps you settle in Armenia, but you have no rights there, they just give you temporary residence. Armenia is very poor. My salary was $250, working eight a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. It was better than Iraq, at least we could sleep well.
"They put my daughter and son in classes two years below their age. I asked why; they said Maths is in English, they have to learn it from scratch. Then the support from the foundation ended, my wage was too little, so I came back to Syria.
"The kids are confused. They were studying in Russian in Armenia, here in Arabic, possibly another language if resettled. They lost three years of studies. They will suffer in the future."
The report notes that Iraqi's minority communities account for a large number of the external refugees and that this is due to "specific forms of persecution suffered by these communities". A table offers a look at some destinations for Iraqi refugees. We'll note the top five neighboring countries and then compare it to the US.
Syria has 1.1 million refugees with 174,000 being Christians, 8,400 Yazidis, 9,500 to 11,000 Sabian Mandaeans and 742 Palestinians. Jordan is second ranked with 450,000 Iraqi refugees of which 56,000 are Christians, 900 are Yazidis, 3,100 are Sabian Mandaeans and 386 are Palestinians. Coming in third is Lebanon with 50,000 refugees -- at least 17,000 are Christians (only group ranked). Fourth is Turkey which houses 8,000 refugees and breaks down three groups: 5,000 Christians, 100 Yazidis and 100 Sabian Mandaeans. Fifth place is Egypt with 30,000 (600 of which are Christians).
Of the ten countries listed, the two who have accepted the least number of Iraqi refugees are the US and Canada. Australia beats the two indidivually and Australia beats the US and Canada if you combine the two. Sweden and Germany also have accepted more Iraqi refugees. And all the five neighboring countries in the previous paragraph have accepted more (than the US and Canada). [For any wondering, about the numbers for Western countries, the endnote for the table reads: "Figues of total Iraqi refugees in Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweded and US from UNHCR, Statistical Online Population Database, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a013eb06.html accessed 18 August 2009.]
Chris Hill appears to think Iraq's external refugees just decided, "Hon, let's summer in Syria!" A Sabian Manadaen couple in Amman, Jordan share their story.
[Husband] "An American patrol came into my jewellery store for 10 minutes, and then said they would come back. After they left, three of the Mahdi Army came and called me a dirty Mandaean. They asked, 'Why did you let the Americans come into your shop -- why are you dealing with them? You must be a spy'."
[Wife] "Afterwards, they sent a threat, then they broke into the house. They held my daughter with a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if I didn't tell them where my husband was. I didn't know what to do. They tore at my clothes, they were going to rape me. I said I was pregnant. They kicked me and said, 'This is what you deserve, you filthy Mandaean.' I bled, I fainted. I miscarried after the trauma. It is hard for me to talk about this.
"We have lost hope here, but at least we are secure. When I hear loud voices I feel traumatized and scared. I wake in the night and I am afraid, even when someone just slams the door. This is reflecting on my daughter. I don't let her go out. She is always asking me, 'Why don't you let me go and play?' I embrace them even when I am sleeping."
[Husband] "I pressurize my wife because I am so tired. When I go out she gets angry and I get upset. We have thought of separating because of the pressure we have been through. I am supposed to support her, look after her and the kids and prepare for her delivery. I see myself unable to do anything. Everyone has left. Why not us? We are stuck here."
The report concludes:
In the long term, the objective must be to maintain that diversity by ensuring that minorities, who said that they would not go back 'even if they beg' or 'even if I were President,' can learn to see the country as their home again. The Iraqi government must do more than make rhetorical gestures about safeguarding minorities in order to recreate a sense of belonging. It must pass laws guaranteeing minority rights, building on Article 125 of the Constitution, and set up mechanisms for minorities to participate effectively in decisions that affect them.
Security must be provided, by involving minorities themselves in policing, and by strengthening discipline and accountability.
As UNHCR notes, that stage has not been reached, and it is not an option to return Iraqi refugees, minorities or not. The international community must therefore provide genuine access to protection. Asylum procedures must be fair and asylum adjudicators must recognize the continued instability and uncertainty facing minorities in Iraq. The international community must therefore ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is respected. Resettlement must remain available for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the region, including minorities. Additionally,the world community must give more support to the already overburdened countries in Iraq's neighbourhood that are home to the vast majority of the displaced.
The report's release comes as Xinhua reports Asghar Abdulrazaq al-Moussawi, Deputy Minister of Immigration, states that "30,000 families have been displaced from northern Iraq's Nineveh province since the U.S.-led war in 2003". And for the tiny number of Iraqi refugees who are granted asylum in the US? Hannah Allam's "Web forums help Iraqi refugees adapt to America" (McClatchy Newspapers) explains:
One of the best-known Iraqi forums is Ankawa.com, which draws about 30,000 visitors a day, or nearly a million a month. Ankawa, named after a small town in northern Iraq, began 10 years ago as an online meeting place for Iraq's Christian minority, said the site's Sweden-based manager, Amir al Malih.
Malih, responding by e-mail to questions from McClatchy, said the site's popularity had soared with the exodus of Iraqis displaced by the U.S.-led war and sectarian violence. In the early days, Malih said, a volunteer legal adviser monitored refugee-related forums to ensure accuracy. Now, he said, so many resettled Iraqis of all backgrounds visit the site that the community is self-policing.
Joan Lownds (Wilton Bulletin) reports on one Iraqi refugee family that relocated to Connecticut, "The Wilton group worked with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a New Haven nonprofit group, which has sponsored 112 refugees from 19 countries in 25 years, according to the IRIS Web site. The families are carefully vetted under a U.S. government program 'for suitability and for the legitimacy of their refugee status as victims of persecution in their native land,' according to Stephen Hudspeth of Glen Hill Road, housing committee chair of the Wilton Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee. Both church and individual donations have helped to sponsor the family, and volunteers give them rides to lessons in English As A Second Language, medical appointments, and other activities."
Those who remain in Iraq face additional problems this summer. UPI notes that Iraq's water crisis not only continues but worsens and beyond the issues of the Tigris and Euphrates' natural flow being circumvented by dams to supply more water to Turkey, a new problem has emerged: "encroaching tidal waters from the Gulf that are poisoning vital farmland, the result of climate change." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) focuses on the drought which is destroying farms as well as the fish, " Vast lakes have shriveled. River beds have run dry. The animals are sick, the birds have flown elsewhere and an ancient way of life is facing a new threat to its existence. The fabled marshes of southern Iraq are dying again -- only this time the forces of nature, not the hand of man, are to blame."
Meanwhile WUWM reports that the Wisconsin Air National Guard is en route to Iraq, this will be their fourth deployment and the WNG "currently has 32-hundred soldiers and airmen serving in Iraq." Delaware News Journal reports the state's Air National Guard's 261st Signal Brigade is scheduled to return on Friday after a year in Iraq (this is the brigade that Beau Biden, son of US Vice President Joe Biden, serves in). Bernie Quigley (The Hill) reports on a movement to get all National Guard troops home, "The Bring the Guard Home movement brings state-based opposition to the Cheney/Bush/Obama/Biden war now meandering through Afghanistan. Bring the Guard Home is a national movement of state campaigns to end the unlawful overseas deployment of the National Guard, their ewebsite states."
Socialist Workers Party notes a photo exhibit in Dublin running from September 25th through October 9th (Monday through Friday, 1:15 p.m. to 4;15 p.m.) at 55 Middle Abbey Street. The exhibit is on the futility of war and includes images from Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. "We plan touring with this exhibition in countries that have any involvement in any wars or the arms industry and also other Irish locations to highlight the use of Shannon Airport being used as a stopover by the American military." At Foreign Policy In Focus, Erik Leaver reviews IraqiGirl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq) and notes:
A new book now joins that list of must-reads, IraqiGirl. This compilation of blog posts stands out from the rest because of the age of the writer. Hadiya published her first post on July 29, 2004 at the age of 15. Her writing focuses far more on her family and school than on the politics and battlefield that consumed the writing of Riverbend and others. On one hand, it makes the book less useful for scholars of the war but on the other, it is an essential tool for activists and those teaching younger generations in the United States and around the world about what it's like to live with war surrounding you.
The daily trauma of war is illuminated in nearly every blog post. Hadiya writes, "At the beginning of the war, when we heard an explosion we called all the family to make sure that they are fine. But now because the explosions don't stop all day, we stopped calling each other."
As the war goes on, the writing and story lines remain a constant. Hadiya worries about school, her family, and her friends. One keeps reading hoping to see a change on the ground. After all, President George W. Bush repeatedly assured the American public that we were "succeeding". But one of Hadiya's most oft-repeated phrases of the book is that "things are getting worse." Indeed, even in her final few posts in November 2007, she writes, "The basic fact is that we are still insecure and in danger even when we are in our own homes."