When blood becomes cheaper than water
HOW are the Iraqi people managing to rebuild their lives and country, after being 'freed' at so much cost from dictatorship? How is the country known from ancient times as the most fertile in the Middle East, and in modern times the most developed, coping with the destruction caused by war and today's environmental problems?
A recent report from the Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq concluded gloomily that women had felt safer and freer under the rule of Saddam Hussein, when they could please themselves what to wear and walk down the street without being attacked. Now they suffer not just from lawlessness, but from the power given religious reactionary politicians and the encouragement given their thugs.
Another report, coinciding with the murder of Kurdish journalist Sardasht Osman, says Iraq is the most dangerous place on earth to be a journalist.
23-year old Osman had been brave enough to suggest wrongdoing and corruption involving members of the Barzani family, one of two which between them run Iraq-Kurdistan. He was heading into the University of Salahaddin in Erbil when he was grabbed by two men and bundled into a car. His body was dumped later, still handcuffed, and with two bullet wounds to the head, near the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, whose leader Jalal Talabani is also president of Iraq.
But you don't need to stick your nexk out or look into the affairs of the rulers to find yourself a target for murder gangs.
Among the latest murder victims were Faisal Hassan, his wife and their two young children, killed not in some remote lawless mountain or desert warzone, but when gunmen broke into their west Baghdad home. The motive was not sectarian, political or even economic - but water-related.
Forty-year-old Hassan worked in Abu Ghraib, the city whose prison became notorious for torture first under Saddam Hussein and again under its American 'liberators'. Hassan's job might have seemed safe and peaceful enough, in the government department supervising water distribution to farmland in and around Abu Ghraib. But he was the third irrigation department employees in the city to be killed in the past three months, according to Mohammed Khudhair, a police investigater.
"All these employees had nothing to do with politics or anti-militant activities, but instead were victims of the nature of their work, which has become a risky one," he said.
In Iraq’s rural areas, the breakdown of national government with the imperialist invasion unleashed traditional tribal and clan allegiances and rivalry, sometimes encouraged by covert counter-insurgency operations launched by the occupiers. Conflict over land and water resources has been worsened by damage and problems with water supply and distribution.
''Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves.''
"Today, we don’t have a fully functioning government as it is totally preoccupied by the security situation and political wrangling so we don’t have a strong role to deter any possible widespread conflict," Karbala-based analyst Jaafar Moahmmed Ali said. "Besides, we have an acute shortage of water nationwide and a very bad economic situation that makes it very hard for farmers to do other work."
Tribal sheikh Ali Ismael al-Zubaidi from Diwaniya Governorate, about 200km south of Baghdad, said he had been having "tough negotiations" over water allocations with another tribe that lives upstream from his. "We have daily problems with water. They are siphoning water with huge electric water pumps and leave only drops for us," al-Zubaidi said. "Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves."
Al-Zubaidi said he needed to hold more meetings with the upstream tribe to resolve the water dispute "but that doesn’t mean that we can wait a long time. We will act swiftly to secure the water we need for our land even if we have to take up weapons."
Iraq was one of the more fertile countries in the region, thanks largely to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
However, in recent years water levels in the two rivers have steadily fallen due to below-average rainfall and the construction of dams upstream in neighbouring Turkey and Syria. In addition, the country’s agriculture has been hit by decades of war and insecurity, underinvestment and the unchecked felling of trees for firewood, which has increased soil salinity and caused desertification in some areas. Large tracts of once fertile agricultural land have been transformed into semi-arid desert and are causing an increasing number of sandstorms as soil-binding plants shrivel up.
In response, the government has adopted measures to regulate the amount of water being used for irrigation in each province but has faced difficulties implementing them. "The farmers didn’t adhere to the water distribution regulations. We advise them to follow the regulations this year because we cannot guarantee the amount of water we’ll have," says Mahdi al-Qaisi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture.
(thanks to IRIN and Malak Hamden , for this information, provided via Iraq Ocupation Focus).
Homeland ruined, Refuge refused
WHILE Iraq remains neither safe nor sound, Britain and several other countries have begun forcibly repatriating refugees, both to Iraq proper and Iraq Kurdistan. Refugee officials and rights groups have urged them not to forcibly repatriate Iraqi asylum seekers, particularly members of minority communities, because of prevailing insecurity in the country.
Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway all announced deportation plans. Some 40 asylum-seekers arrived in Baghdad on 17 June – the UK’s third deportation in that week. They said they had been beaten by British border police to force them to board and then leave the plane taking them back to Baghdad. Thirty-six of the Iraqi men who were removed against their will were still being held at Baghdad airport, where they had arrived early Thursday, the BBC reported from the Iraqi capital.
It said the deportation was carried out by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) under conditions of 'complete secrecy'. The UKBA declined to comment on the specific allegations, except to say that minimum force is only used as a last resort when an individual becomes disruptive or refuses to comply. The Iraqi deportees were grabbed by the neck and beaten, one of the men, Sherwan Abdullah, told the BBC. 'They nearly kill them, they cannot breathe,' the Kurdish man reportedly said.
The UKBA has said that the deportations were based on court rulings, which found that it was safe to return people to Iraq. But the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, cautioned against deportations in a statement from Geneva, saying that violence and human rights violations are still prevalent in parts of Iraq.
“Our position and advice to governments is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from Iraq's governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection,” Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a press briefing on 8 June.
“Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq,” she said.
Iraqi minorities - including Christians of various denominations, Yazidis and the Shabak – living in third countries are particularly fearful of any forced returns. A Chaldean Christian Iraqi refugee who has lived in the Netherlands since 2006 said he feared being singled out for deportation because of the many attacks against his community in Iraq. "Kidnappings and politically motivated killings continue to take place in what seems to be an attempt to resettle or eradicate Iraq's indigenous population," he said.
He is one of more than half a million Iraqi Christians who have fled since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. According to the US-based Brookings Institution, an estimated 500,000 Christians remain in Iraq since numbering between 1 million and 1.4 million before 2003.
“Christians continue to be targeted and there is no protection from the Iraqi authorities,” said Dr Ghazi Rahho, a Christian Iraqi who fled the country several years ago and now works as a professor in Jordan.
Rahho’s cousin, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, a leading Christian authority in Iraq, was kidnapped and killed in February 2008, an incident that led to some 12,000 Christians fleeing Mosul, about 400km northwest of Baghdad. “To date, kidnappings and assassinations are taking place. And other tactics are used to terrorize Christians. Our churches, for instance, are being bombed," said Rahho.
According to an April 2010 Amnesty International (AI) report, more than 100 people were killed between mid-July and mid-September 2009 in attacks targeting Christians, Sabean-Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkoman Shias, Shabaks and Kaka'is.
AI has called on the international community to “end all forcible returns to any part of Iraq; any return of rejected asylum-seekers should only take place when the security situation in the whole country has stabilized.”
Iraqis are the second largest refugee group in the world, according to UNHCR's 2009 Global Trends report, with an estimated 1.8 million seeking refuge primarily in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. The report, released in advance of World Refugee Day on 20 June, said voluntary repatriation worldwide in 2009 was the lowest for 20 years, with around 251,500 returns, of which only 38,000 were Iraqi.