Archive for January 12, 2014

By Rawa Haidar
October 01, 2013

BAGHDAD/BAQUBA — Prisoners in two Iraqi prisons that saw mass breakouts earlier this year say they are victims of much harsher treatment as a result.

In exclusive interviews with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq, three prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Al-Taji prisons said guards have stepped up abuse since hundreds of prisoners escaped from the institutions in July.

“The food is very limited in quantity and of very poor quality to the point of being inedible even by animals,” said one inmate at Abu Ghraib, on the outskirts of Baghdad.

“The treatment is very bad, and sectarian. Every other day they come and beat us with hoses and cables. The sick or injured do not receive any treatment. We were not allowed any visits; whoever came to ask about us was turned away. This is how it is ever since the assault on the prison.”

The prisoner’s identity has been kept confidential for his own protection.

On July 22, hundreds of convicts, including senior members of Al-Qaeda, broke out of Abu Ghraib jail when militants launched a synchronized military-style assault on it and Al-Taji prison, north of the capital.

More than 50 people, including 26 guards and Iraqi soldiers, are known to have died in the nighttime attack by teams of heavily armed gunmen and suicide bombers. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the operation.

Those prisoners who did not escape say that they are now paying the price for the ones who did.

‘Commonplace’ Torture, Murder

Another Abu Ghraib inmate told RFE/RL that previous privileges, such as receiving food provided by families, have been revoked and that that punishments are administered randomly.

“Inside the prison of Abu Ghraib, the counterterrorism special forces beat us and this causes bruises on our bodies but the correctional officers do not beat us unless there are disputes,” the inmate said.

“The special forces beat us randomly, on any part of our bodies that they chose. Every week they come to beat us, and then they leave. Our beatings last from early morning until about 2 p.m. We can say nothing. We can’t ask why.”

Another prisoner at Al-Taji prison, who also asked not to be identified, described torture and murder at the jail as commonplace. “We are subjected to abnormal torture; they call the prisoners names, then execute them or spray them with acid while handcuffed,” he said. “Yesterday, they executed four who were in solitary confinement. Also they once tossed grenades in two cells and killed everyone there.”

This inmate also said that, after the July assault on the prison, the number of guards was increased. But the new guards, who are particularly brutal, wear masks so that the prisoners are unable to identify them.

All of the inmates’ testimony is impossible to independently confirm. But the common allegation in their accounts is that the Iraq government has cracked down on prisoners remaining in the two institutions as if they were part of the breakout conspiracy.

After the July breakout, some officials have alleged it was an inside job. At the same time, opposition politicians charged that the scale of the attack showed that the government had lost any semblance of control over security, which has been steadily deteriorating across the country since late last year.

Sectarian, Political Influences

Iraqi officials asked by Radio Free Iraq to comment on the prisoners’ allegations say there is no organized program to introduce a harsher regime in the two prisons.

“There are many infringements and violations but they are all carried out by individuals and not by the government; they are not part of an official policy, and we have never denied their existence,” said Kamil Amin, a spokesman for the Human Rights Ministry.

“They are a source of concern; we are talking about one-and-a-quarter million personnel in the armed forces and the police, and it is to be expected that a significant number of them will abuse their authority as a result of sectarian, geographic, or political influences.”

Abuses within the prison system are regularly brought to the attention of the Iraqi parliament’s Human Rights Committee. But the chairman of the committee, Salim al-Juburi, said the complaints about abuse were sometimes exaggerated.

“We have received many complaints, some of which are supported by photos and video clips, depicting inhumane practices against prison inmates,” he said.  We do not consider this information as being totally accurate, but we do assign committees to investigate them further in order to establish the facts. Regrettably, some of the complaints are true.”

Juburi added that any reports of brutality were worrisome because there should be no abuse in the prison system at all. “Even if abuse is resorted to during investigation and interrogation, such abuse should not be used on prisoners who have been duly tried and convicted,” he said.

The human rights organization Amnesty International routinely gives Iraq abysmal marks for its treatment of prisoners. A report in March said that “torture is rife and committed with impunity by government security forces, particularly against detainees arrested under antiterrorism legislation.”

Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

September 11, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi authorities are resorting to desperate measures to quell rising violence, ordering huge numbers of cars off the roads, bulldozing soccer fields and even building a medieval-style moat around one city in an effort to keep car bombs out.

Many Iraqis question the security benefits of the heavy-handed efforts, lampooning them online and complaining that they only add to the daily struggle of living in a country weathering its worst bout of bloodshed in half a decade.

Over the weekend, authorities began banning several hundred thousand vehicles from Baghdad streets each day in a bid to stop the increasing number of car bombings. Cars with license plates ending in odd numbers are allowed on the streets one day, followed by cars with even-numbered plates the next. Government cars, taxis, trucks and a few other categories of vehicles are exempted from the policy.

“Easing the traffic load on checkpoints will make it easier for security forces to search vehicles without causing long lines,” an Interior Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Big backlogs of cars, he said, “put pressure on the security forces to do hasty searches.”

Deadly violence, much of it caused by car bombs, has spiked in recent months as insurgents capitalize on rising sectarian and ethnic tensions. The scale of the bloodshed has reached levels not seen since 2008. More than 4,000 people have been killed over the past five months alone, according to U.N. figures.

Still, many Iraqis think the license plate policy is a step too far. “Our genius security officials have turned license plates into the sole solution for all of Baghdad’s security problems,” said Haider Muhsin, a government employee and father of three. He fears he’ll lose out on a good chunk of the $400 in cash he earned on the side each month by shuttling colleagues to work, and won’t be able to take his children to school on certain days.

Another Baghdad resident, Qais Issa, is now spending much more on taxis on days he can’t drive. “Once again, the leaders of this country are failing. They keep coming up with primitive and useless solutions that add more problems to our life,” he said.

The new policy has become a big topic among Iraqis on social media sites like Facebook. Many posts ridiculed the decision, with some joking that the government will next allow people to go out only according to the first letter in their names. Underneath a photo showing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II getting off a bus, someone quipped that her plate number must end in an even number on an odd-number day.

The al-Sharqiya television channel, which known for its anti-government stance, has launched what it’s calling the “Pedal It” initiative, offering more than 2,000 bicycles to Baghdad residents hurt by the license plate limits. It started handing out the first batch of bikes this week.

In June, authorities in Baghdad temporarily banned all cars with temporary black license plates. Those cars made up a large percentage of older vehicles on the roads, but their ownership history is difficult to trace, and authorities feared they were more likely to be used in car bombings. Now only black-plated cars from outside Baghdad are banned.

Earlier this year, authorities ordered the closure of Iraq’s border crossing with Jordan, plugging up one of the country’s most vital economic lifelines. Officials cited unspecified security concerns, but many residents in the western, Sunni-dominated Anbar province where the crossing is located saw the move as collective punishment for anti-government protests. It was eventually reopened.

In the volatile province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, the local government recently launched a campaign to bulldoze several soccer fields after a series of deadly bombings during games killed or wounded dozens of spectators.

The head of the local soccer federation, Salah Kamal, said more than 20 soccer fields have been razed, causing the cancellation of several matches and angering young people who have few options for leisure activities.

“The solution should have been providing better security at the fields instead of punishing the youth,” he said. Police turned down earlier requests for extra protection, he added. Authorities in the province have also urged residents to avoid holding large funerals after a series of deadly attacks on mourners.

And north of the capital, authorities have completed more than 70 percent of a medieval-style dry moat around much of the city of Kirkuk, home to an ethnic mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen who all have competing claims to the oil-rich area.

The 57 kilometer (35 mile) -long trench will surround much of the city, according to Rakan al-Jubouri, the deputy Kirkuk governor. Al-Jubouri said the project will be finished by the end of the year at a cost of $2.7 million, and will significantly improve the security of the city by keeping many car bombs out.

But many Arab and Turkomen residents fear the real goal is to tie Kirkuk more closely to Kurdish regions to the north. The Kurds want to incorporate Kirkuk into their self-rule northern region. The city is hit frequently by attacks on mosques, commercial streets and security forces.

September 01, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Deadly violence erupted at a contentious Iranian exile camp inside Iraq early Sunday, leaving international observers scrambling to determine the cause of the bloodshed and the number of casualties.

The dissidents alleged that more than 50 were killed and accused the Iraqi government. Baghdad said an internal dispute was to blame. And the United Nations mission to Iraq, which has been closely involved in trying to find a viable long-term solution for the dissidents, acknowledges it does not have a clear picture what happened.

“The only thing we can confirm is there are a lot of casualties,” said Eliana Nabaa, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission to Iraq. “How, why, when? It’s difficult to assess.” If the exiles’ claims of the number of casualties are proved true, it would mark a stunning blow for the remaining core of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq members still living at Camp Ashraf. The Saddam Hussein-era community northeast of Baghdad had been home to only about 100 members of the MEK before Sunday’s events.

The MEK opposes Iran’s clerical regime and until last year was labeled a terrorist group by the United States. Thousands of other MEK members who had been living in Camp Ashraf agreed to move to a Baghdad-area camp last year. They remain stuck in a country that does not want them as a process to resettle them abroad slowly drags on.

A statement issued by the U.N. in New York said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplores events at Camp Ashraf that “reportedly left 47 killed,” though the U.N. cautioned that figure had not been confirmed.

A spokesman for the MEK’s parent organization, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that those killed died in a raid launched by Iraqi security forces early Sunday. The spokesman, Shahin Gobadi, said some of those killed were found with hands cuffed behind their backs.

Gobadi said that 52 people inside the camp were killed, and he provided photos allegedly from the scene that showed several people that appeared to have been killed with gunshots. It was not possible to independently verify the authenticity of the photos.

Iraqi officials offered conflicting accounts of what happened. Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said a preliminary investigation suggests several camp residents died as a result of infighting inside the facility. He denied that Iraqi forces were involved in the violence, and said authorities are still trying to determine the number of casualties.

Gobadi dismissed the government spokesman’s claim as “preposterous” and “absolute lies.” Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Shimari, a provincial police chief in Diyala who oversees the external protection of the camp, reported at least 24 people killed. He said Iraqi forces stationed outside heard gunshots coming from inside the camp, and said there appeared to be “some kind of struggle among the residents.” He denied involvement and said his forces at no point entered the camp itself.

An intelligence official involved in helping secure the perimeter of the camp reported 19 killed, and said the clashes involving Iraqi forces broke out when camp residents tried to attack them. A police official in Diyala province, where Camp Ashraf is located, offered a similar casualty figure. They agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The United Nations and the United States both condemned the violence, though neither ascribed blame. “The priority for the Iraqi government is to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured and to ensure their security and safety against any violence from any side,” said Gyorgy Busztin, the acting U.N. envoy to Iraq.

Busztin said that the U.N. mission “is using all possible means to conduct its own assessment of the situation.” The U.S. condemned the attack and voiced support for the U.N.’s fact-finding efforts, demanding that those found responsible be held accountable and urging Baghdad to aid camp residents.

“We further call on Iraqi authorities to act with urgency to immediately ensure medical assistance to the wounded and to secure the camp against any further violence or harm to the residents,” the State Department said in a statement.

The MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were granted sanctuary inside Iraq by Saddam. The group renounced violence in 2001 and was taken off the U.S. terrorism list last September.

Iraq’s current Shiite-led government, which has strengthened ties with neighboring Shiite powerhouse Iran, considers the MEK’s presence in Iraq illegal and wants its followers out of the country. It has been working with the U.N. to resettle MEK members, but the process has been slow.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard welcomed news of the MEK members’ deaths, which it called “divine revenge.” In its statement, carried by the official IRNA news agency, the Guard noted the MEK’s alliance with Saddam and expressed hope that their deaths would please the relatives of their past victims.

Iranian state television took note of the attack too, reporting at one point that 23 MEK members were killed by “the Iraqi people and mujahedeen.” It gave no sources for the information and didn’t air any footage.

Previous Iraqi raids on the camp, including one in April 2011, claimed dozens of lives. Camp Ashraf was once home to more than 3,000 MEK followers, but most moved to a former U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad last year while the U.N. works to resettle them abroad.

The Baghdad-area camp, known as Camp Liberty, has since been targeted by militants in rocket attacks that have killed 10 people and injured many more, according to the MEK. The MEK last month accused the Iraqi authorities of deliberately cutting off water and electricity to Camp Ashraf, a charged denied by Georges Bakoos, who oversees the MEK issue for the Iraqi government.

He said in an interview last week that authorities would be moving ahead with court proceedings to evict the last Camp Ashraf holdouts, possibly as soon as in the next few weeks. Bakoos could not be reached for comment Sunday.

A total of 162 MEK members have been resettled abroad so far, mostly in Albania.

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed reporting.

Thursday, 09 January 2014

An Indonesian non-governmental organization has collected nearly $15 million from Indonesia’s poor and rich alike to build the first Indonesian hospital in the Gaza Strip. The hospital, which will serve those Palestinians living in northern Gaza, is nearly finished and awaiting some equipment before it starts receiving patients. It is due for completion in May.

Southeast Asian countries are known for their strong support for Palestine, especially the Muslim communities who spend many efforts to visit and support Gaza. Fikri Fikri, a 24 year-old young man from Sumatra, is a volunteer at Indonesia’s Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, known as MER-C. He and 28 other Indonesians have been in Gaza for nearly four months to finalize building the hospital.

Fekri told that: “We are nearly 30 people between workers, engineers, doctors and technicians. Many of us have already returned home because the work here is almost completed.” Fekri described how “Indonesian civil society groups in Jakarta collected donations from people who were happy to support Gaza, even though many of them suffered uneasy financial situations.”

When asked if they face any problems in Gaza, Fekri responded that: “The people like us here. We have only encountered a small problem with the local Ministry of Health because the organization wanted to have an office near the hospital but the ministry refused to allow this. But we will solve it.”

Fekri, who studies sharia at the Islamic University of Gaza, explained how: “We have taken risks to complete the hospital. It’s a nice feeling to help the wounded in Gaza who suffer from Israeli aggression. We have come here and we know that it’s not easy, but we are happy. I have learned Arabic in an acceptable way. However, I’m not married so I miss my home and my country.”

Abu Mohammed, a 42 year-old Indonesian engineer who joined the mission, said: “I feel sad sometimes because I have been here for so long. I feel lonely, but because I work for Palestine and Gaza, I am proud of what I do. We are nearly done. There are a few Indonesian workers here who take a symbolic wage. They all came to work for Palestine. We should finish our work and transfer the hospital’s administration to the Local Ministry of Health in May 2014. We work near the borders and it is unsafe. I do not know how to describe my feeling when I hear the explosions and Israeli airstrikes; however, I am ready to die for Palestine and for the weak and the just. I am going to be very happy when the hospital is completed and ready to serve the people of Gaza and when I return safely to my family in Jakarta.”

The Health Ministry of the Hamas-led government in Gaza and Indonesia’s MER-C signed a memorandum of understanding on 21 November 2011 stipulating the financing of the hospital.

Shadi Abu Herbein, the deputy director of the hospital, explained that the hospital is established on an area that is 3000 square meters and has 100 beds, eight of which are for the intensive care unit, ten for the reception, and four rooms for surgeries.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


9 January 2014

The National Coalition for Supporting Legitimacy has called on its supporters to rally every day during the next week to fail the referendum.

Voting on the newly-drafted constitution is expected to take place on 14 and 15 January inside Egypt.

“In the lives of nations, there are decisive days … so march forward with your revolution as you hang on to peaceful, innovative resistance,” the alliance said.

In a statement released today, the Islamist coalition, which backs former President Mohamed Mursi, urged the masses to rally all week long “in order to push the coup to the edge, the edge of the abyss beyond which there is no rise”.

The voting process for Egyptian expatriates has already begun on Wednesday in various Egyptian consulates and embassies abroad.

Source: allAfrica.

January 11, 2014

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Ariel Sharon’s death Saturday elicited a wide range of responses from Palestinians, but sadness wasn’t one: Some cheered and distributed sweets while others prayed for divine punishment for the former Israeli leader or recalled his central role in some of the bloodiest episodes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians widely loathed Sharon as the mastermind of crushing military offensives against them in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza and as the architect of Israel’s biggest settlement campaign on lands they want for a state.

The intensity of those feelings appears to have faded a bit because Sharon left the public stage eight year ago, when he suffered a debilitating stroke and slipped into a coma. Sharon died Saturday afternoon at a Tel Aviv hospital.

The news traveled quickly in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, where Israeli-allied forces systematically slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in September 1982, three months after Sharon engineered the invasion of Israel’s northern neighbor.

Sharon was later fired as defense minister over the massacre, with Israeli investigators rejecting his contention at the time that he didn’t know the attack was coming. “Sharon is dead!” a 63-year-old Palestinian woman in Sabra said, pointing to a text message from her daughter. “May God torture him,” said the woman who only gave her first name, Samia. “We should celebrate. We should be firing in the air.”

In the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis, a few dozen supporters of two militant groups, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, gathered in the main street, chanting: “Sharon, go to hell.” Some burned Sharon pictures or stepped on them, while others distributed sweets to motorists and passers-by.

Throughout his life, Sharon was at the center of the most contentious episodes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, starting as a young soldier fighting in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. In the 1950s, he led a commando unit that carried out reprisals for Arab attacks. In 1953, after the slaying of an Israeli woman and her two children, Sharon’s troops blew up more than 40 houses in Qibya, a West Bank village then ruled by Jordan, killing 69 Arabs, most or all of them civilians.

He fought in the Israeli-Arab wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973. He launched the 1982 invasion of Lebanon as Israel’s defense minister. After his dismissal as defense minister, he gradually rehabilitated himself politically. By the early 1990s, as housing minister in a right-wing government, he oversaw a massive settlement drive in the West Bank.

As opposition leader in September 2000, Sharon visited a contested Jewish-Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, setting off Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into an armed uprising. Less than a year later, he was elected prime minister. In 2002, after a string of Palestinian shooting and bombing attacks, he reoccupied the West Bank towns that had been handed to Palestinian self-rule in previous interim peace deals.

Sharon also placed his longtime nemesis, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, under virtual house arrest in the West Bank town of Ramallah. A close Arafat aide at the time, then-intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, said Saturday that Sharon’s death was proof that the Palestinians will prevail.

Sharon “wanted to erase the Palestinian people from the map,” Tirawi said. “He wanted to kill us, but at the end of the day, Sharon is dead and the Palestinian people are alive.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refrained from commenting on the death of Sharon, whose decision in 2005 to withdraw from Gaza helped bring the Islamic militant group Hamas to power two years later.

Sharon pulled out of Gaza without consulting with Abbas, a step believed to have contributed to the rise of the Hamas forces that eventually defeated troops loyal to Abbas in Gaza. Khalil al-Haya of Hamas said Sharon had caused suffering to generations of Palestinians. “After eight years, he is going in the same direction as other tyrants and criminals whose hands were covered with Palestinian blood,” he said.

Some Palestinians expressed disappointment that Sharon hadn’t been put on trial or had suffered a violent death. “I always wished he would be killed by a Palestinian child or a woman, like he killed children and women,” said Mohammed el-Srour, a Sabra resident who lost his father and five siblings in the massacre.

In Qibya, the village Sharon’s forces raided in 1953, residents stage a memorial march each year. Village resident Hamed Ghethan, 65, said earlier this week that he was sorry to see Sharon and the others involved in the attack escape punishment. “We were hoping the world would hear our voice and try them,” he said.

The international group Human Rights Watch expressed a similar sentiment, saying in a statement: “It’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Chatilla and other abuses.”

__ Hadid reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Hatem Moussa in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, and Dalia Nammari in Qibya, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The chairman of Jordan’s Joint Water Committee, Saad Abu Hammour, told Anadolu News Agency on Thursday that his country is considering importing additional water from Israel. The kingdom already purchases water from the Israelis under the terms of the Wadi Araba peace treaty.

Concluded in 1994, the treaty stipulates that Israel will provide Jordan with certain quantities of water and any additional quantities the Kingdom might need. Abu Hammour explained that thousands of Syrian refugees now in Jordan’s northern governorates, mainly Irbid, Ajloun, Jerash and Mafraq, will require the government to purchase between 10 and 15 million cubic meters of water extra in order to supply these areas. According to an agreement signed in 2010, said Abu Hammour, the cost will be 37.5 US cents per cubic meter. The water will be taken from Lake Tiberias and the Dajana water line. He denied Israeli media claims that the order has already been placed. “It is simply under consideration,” he insisted.

Jordan hosts nearly one million Syrians, almost half of whom are registered as refugees. Around 130,000 live in designated camps, according to official statistics. This makes Jordan the main host country for Syrian refugees who have fled their country since the violence erupted in 2011. They live mainly in four major refugee camps: Zaatari is the largest; Mrejeib Al-Fhood; the park camp in Ramtha; and the Cyber City refugee camp which also houses Palestinian “double” refugees who used to live in Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.