Monday, December 24, 2007

He tried to explain to me the changes that have taken place in Baghdad, he said that the situation is about 5% better than how it was when I was Iraq, he says "do you remember the men we used to see on motorbics who used to kidnap people and kill people? Alqa`ida men?" I said "sure", he goes "well, yeah, now they call themselevs the Awakening men of Adhamiya, they have removed Alqa`ida masks from their stinky faces and now wearing the masks of the awakening wave, he said you would be amazed if you come to the area and see the checkpoints ran by even children, you may see a 14 year old kid rasing a gun in your face and asking you to obey him in order to check you for guns and explosives, he said the only reason that the situation now is a little better in the area is because the American troops have paid those guys money in order to work with them", he continues saying "the whole issue is about money, give money you get alliances".


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Alive in Baghdad Reporter Killed

Ali Al-Moussawi, the Iraqi correspondent for the Alive in Baghdad video blog, was found killed at his home in Habibiya, just south of Sadr City, on December 14th, 2007. An Iraqi Army convoy had raided his street that night and neighbours heard shots fired. Al-Moussawi, 23, was found shot with 31 bullets to the head and the chest.

You are either a "Concerned Citizen" or a "Terrorist"

The video posted below provides a rare, behind-the-scenes look at U.S. military dealings with some of the Sunni "Awakening" movements. It is purported to be a recording of a meeting between an Iraqi tribal leader, identified as "Sheikh Mahi," and Col. Stephen Lanza, commander of the 1st Cavalry's 5th Brigade Combat Team, responsible for the Rashid sector of southern Baghdad (includes the districts of Dora, Mahdiya, Abu Dshir, Saidiya, Bayya', Amil, Jihad, Attiba', Shurta, Suwaib, Muwasalat, I'lam, Risala, Ma'alif, and the nearby rural areas of Radhwaniya, Rai, Duwanim, Girtan, Rashid, Hor Rijab, Arab Jubour, Al-Bu Aitha and Arab Dulaim).

The undated video is painful to watch, both because of the terrible editing and the subject matter, but it doesn't appear to be dubbed. The posting that accompanied the video, originally found on Al-Jazeera's web forums, mentioned that the video was 30 minutes long and that it was filmed by someone attending the meeting in order to intimidate the tribal leader. The commander accuses the sheikh of being a "terrorist" for not reporting insurgents attacking Americans in his area. The sheikh looks devastated at this treatment, but he swallows it and offers to form a tribal force to guard the area, in return for U.S. funds and arms, of course.

EDIT: Apparently the video is from a 2005 PBS Frontline documentary, and the sheikh was brought in for interrogation after a rocket hit the U.S. military base in the area, wounding a soldier. So, I guess ignore the above paragraph.

It is hard to blame the sheikh in the video, despite the humiliating treatment he received, both from the U.S. commander and the Iraqi translator--who by the look and sound of him seems to be one those Chalabi-style exiles who have lived most of their life out of Iraq and then return and revel in treating their countrymen like dirt in order to please their newfound masters. The sheikh has the choice of accepting insurgents, or worse Al-Qaeda, to operate in his territory, risking that Americans come after him and his family, destroy his property, or kill them all in a strike against "suspected insurgents." Or, he could join forces with Americans to form an "awakening" group, and then risk that insurgents come after him for collaboration. Or, he could simply pack up and flee the country, like millions of Iraqis facing this dilemma decided to do rather than choose one or the other. The Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces are clearly not an option in this equation for well-known reasons.

I provided a transcript of the whole video below.

U.S. officer: The only way I can convince Col. Lanza not to put you in jail today is that there is an agreement that if you see these men, if you know they're setting up rockets, if you know they're fixing to set up some sort of ambush, then you have somebody call us and let us know that it's happened.
(Col. Stephen Lanza walks into meeting)
Sheikh: Welcome, I'm honoured. I apologise to the colonel.
Sheikh: Some people--
U.S. officer: In the district area, there is a misunderstanding going on between him and the people.
Sheikh: As far as I'm concerned, since the first day--
Sheikh: But some things could happen and I'm unaware of them.
U.S. officer: But there's things will happen, he doesn't know about.
Sheikh: So if my presence--my presence in the area is a problem, I'm ready to leave the area if you order so.
U.S. officer: If you want him to leave the area, he's ready to leave.
Col. Lanza: I have no reason to trust you. I have no reason to believe you. I have no reason to even believe anything you've told me today.
Col. Lanza: And there is no way, no way that you cannot know what is happening in your area.
(Iraqi interpreter provides translation)
Col. Lanza: And now you are asking me to give you a chance.
Col. Lanza: You come here today with no specific information.
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: I already know this ... So you have offered me nothing.
Col. Lanza: Rockets have been fired from your property, bombs have been planted right near your neighbourhood, right near your houses, right near your family's houses. It takes time to dig those bombs in, and people watch, people know, they watch the men dig those bombs, and they do nothing
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: You come to me today as the victim.
(Iraqi interpreter translates "victim" as "suspect" into Arabic)
Col. Lanza: But really you come as a terrorist ... as part of the Mujahideen.
(Iraqi interpreter)
Sheikh: I will bring together the people in my area, and we will set up guarding duties. If he [the colonel] orders, we can recruit the tribe as guards. Or how else does he want it?
Iraqi interpreter: He's gonna make some kind of neighbourhood watch or guards, if you want I can do that--
Col. Lanza: Why didn't you do it before? If you can do it now, why haven't you done it before?
(Iraqi interpreter)
Sheikh: I'm afraid of them [the Mujahideen], afraid.
Col. Lanza: This has been going on for eight months ...
(Iraqi interpreter)
Col. Lanza: The blood of two of my soldiers as well as numerous Iraqis are on your hands.
Iraqi interpreter: Tell them this thing should happen. Will they do it?
Sheikh: I don't have it.
Iraqi interpreter: What you just signed now is useless. This information you gave us, we already know. (Throws paper at sheikh)
Sheikh: You are correct.
Iraqi interpreter: Where are their addresses?
Sheikh: I will write their addresses now.
Iraqi interpreter: You know their addresses?
Sheikh: You mean their houses?
Iraqi interpreter: Write down their addresses. (Sheikh starts writing on paper)
Iraqi interpreter: He knows the addresses now.
Sheikh: I will write their addresses now. This one Fathi, first ... Dora.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Immigrants, carrying no travel documents, who said they were from Iraq and had sailed from Lebanon, sit on the beach of Kato Zakros on the Greek island of Crete on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007, the Silver Wave cargo ship is in the rear. Coast guard officers transported 193 illegal immigrants to shore Thursday after being spotted on the the Silver Wave cargo ship off the island of Crete. The Merchant Marine Ministry said one man was found dead on the ship, while seven people were arrested on smuggling charges. The ship had no flag." (AP Photo)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Rot Here or Die There

Iraqi refugees in Lebanon are coerced to return to Iraq or they are detained by Lebanese authorities and imprisoned indefinitely, Human Rights Watch said in a report today.

From the press release:

Lebanon’s refusal to legalize the stay of Iraqi refugees affects not just the relatively small proportion of Iraqi refugees who are arrested and detained. As a result of this policy, most Iraqi refugees in Lebanon live in fear of arrest. Without legal status in Lebanon, Iraqi refugees are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by employers and landlords.

Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to grant Iraqi refugees a temporary legal status that would provide, at a bare minimum, renewable residence and work permits. Apart from the small number of Iraqis who have been able to regularize their status, most Iraqi refugees are prohibited from working, and many have run out of their savings. Although entitled to attend public schools, very few Iraqi children enroll because their parents cannot afford to pay for transportation, clothes and books, and because the children are needed to work to contribute to the family income.

All Iraqis who have fled south and central Iraq to seek refuge in Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East are generally recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not give legal effect to UNHCR’s recognition of Iraqis as refugees. Instead, the Lebanese authorities treat as illegal immigrants Iraqis who enter Lebanon illegally or enter legally but then overstay their visas, regardless of their intent to seek asylum. Iraqi refugees are then subject to arrest, fines and detention by the Lebanese authorities.

Select testimonies from Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon featured in the report:

“No one tells me how long I am going to be in prison. I see people who have been here for eight months. If I can’t regularize my status, I will go back to Iraq. If I go back to Iraq, I will be killed. I don’t want to go back, but it is better for me to go back than to spend one more day being locked up with criminals.”

– An Iraqi refugee detained indefinitely in Roumieh Prison in Greater Beirut

“When we go out, we don’t know whether we will return. When I see a police man or a member of the authorities, I am very afraid, despite the fact that I am old and sick. Any time there is a checkpoint, we can get caught.”

– An Iraqi refugee living with his family illegally in Greater Beirut.

“I don’t want to go back to Iraq. I want to stay in Lebanon, even if they break every bone in my body, even if we don’t feel safe here, because we are illegal.”

– An Iraqi father recounted what happened when Lebanese authorities arrested and detained him and his son for illegal entry in 2005. After several months in Roumieh prison, they agreed to return to Iraq in exchange for release from detention. Once back in Iraq, the son was kidnapped. After paying a ransom, they fled again to Lebanon where they are currently living illegally.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sweden's Iraqi Refugee Trafficking Business

Here is an investigative report on the multi-million dollar Iraqi refugee trafficking business that was aired on a Swedish radio station and translated by the Assyrian International News Agency. Thousands of Iraqis, mostly from Syria and Jordan, but also from Iraq, pay smugglers about 10-15 thousand dollars to get them to Sweden, where they apply for asylum and then bring their family members (nine out of ten Iraqi applicants receive asylum). Many of my friends and relatives have taken that route out of desperation despite the high risk of fraud and it was something we also considered for my brother Nabil this year. I know some people in Iraq and Jordan who are trying to save enough money to make the same arduous trip across Europe.

Some excerpts:

"In Damascus we meet Mikhael yet again. He is waiting for information about how the trip will be arranged. He has come up with the money by selling everything that he owned and had. To him -- as to most others -- there is no way back. When we meet him again he has just had contact with yet another smuggler who transports people between Turkey and Greece, hidden in an UN truck. -- That is where Mikhael will be hidden in a large wooden box together with 8 others.

He said that I have to pay him seven thousand dollars for it, and he said that he only takes seven to eight people every time. They will put them in a box, cover it, and make a small hole in the box in order to let air in so that one can breathe. Then they will put the box in the middle of the truck. Even if they stop the truck they would not discover the box, since it is in the middle of the truck platform. It is a truck which will bring things for the UN, from Turkey to Greece, and from Greece to Turkey."


"A man we met our first night in Damascus has decided to bring all his family with him on the journey. He does not dare to leave his wife and his children -- three and five years old. He has already bought the trip -- they will climb down inside the tank of a tanker with about forty other men, women and children. There they will hide during the journey over the mountains between Turkey and Greece, a trip which takes 24 hours. He has shifty eyes when I wonder how he will make a small three-year-old be quiet inside the steel tank for twenty four hours. He quietly says that it has to work, this is the only way out, because here in Damascus the money is running out, everything only gets more and more expensive."


"Another refugee, Mohammed, is a Sunni Muslim and was threatened to death by Mujahideen, the Islamic militia in his home district of Dora in Baghdad. He does not dare to meet us in public, so we meet in a lumber room behind a café. Five times Mohammed has tried to escape to Europe, but has been left by the smugglers on the road between Turkey and Greece.

He has had the maximum of bad luck. Three times he has been left at the border and been arrested. Twice he succeeded in passing the border, but the promised truck did not show up. No trucks came. He had been deceived by the smugglers. They had bluffed. Every time he was arrested he had to spend ten days in custody. Every time he lied, and said that he was a Palestinian. Had he said the truth, that he was an Iraqi, he would have been deported.

Now Mohammed tries to earn money for yet another trip, but it is hard because the prices are increasing all the time. There is no guarantee that he will not be deceived once again, because deceiving desperate refugees has also become a business. We meet many -- both in Damascus and in Sweden -- who have been deceived by smugglers, or people claiming to be smugglers, into paying large sums of money."