Category Archives: Iraq

Journalist Serwa Abdul-Wahab Killed In The Streets Of Mosul Sunday

Gunmen pulled reporter Serwa Abdul-Wahab from the taxi she was riding in, shooting her once in the head. As the woman laid dead in the street of Mosul, she joined the ranks of journalists who have been killed in Iraq for reporting the news.

There are conflicting reports to who Serwa Abdul-Wahab worked for in Iraq. Fellow journalists say that she contributed to www.muraslon.org. an Iraqi news site.

Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist. Since 2003 the Committee to Protect Journalists based in New York estimates 127 journalists have died. That figure does not include Abdul-Wahab yet.

In a nation where there are so many cultural and religious conflicts journalists have been targeted for the very nature of their work. Reporting on any one side of the conflict will bring forth enemies from the other sides.

In February Shihab al-Tamimi, 74, was gunned down in an attack on his car. He was the head of Iraq’s biggest journalist organization.

CPJ says that three journalists have been killed so far in 2008 while Reuters puts the number at 5.

Not only is Iraq a dangerous region for journalists to cover the news but it has a horrible track record in bringing justice for the murders. At this time there are 79 unsolved journalistic murders.

In Mosul journalists struggle to both bring the news and remain low profile. Al Qaeda has threatened those who attempt to bring forth current news in the area. Mosul is the last city stronghold of the Sunni Islamist group.

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Bilal Hussein Is Free After Two Years Of Detention

A Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist has been freed after two years of being detained by the United States military. Bilal Hussein was handed over to AP colleagues today at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

“I want to thank all the people working in AP … I have spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank everybody,” Hussein said after being freed.

Hussein is now resting with his family after the long ordeal.

He is a journalistic face of how the United States military has been detaining individuals deemed to have ties to insurgents without having to file charges.

Last week Hussein’s case was finally over when an Iraqi panel dismissed all charges. Since that time it’s been a waiting game for the photographer’s release from Camp Cropper in Baghdad

Showered with candy and flowers Hussein embraced his family in an emotional reunion. A feast is being prepared in his return with two sheep being roasted.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York is thrilled by his release.

He now joins a growing list of journalists detained in conflict zones by the U.S. military for prolonged periods and eventually released without any charges or crimes ever substantiated against them,” said Simon. “This deplorable practice should be of concern to all journalists. It basically allows the U.S. military to remove journalists from the field, lock them up and never be compelled to say why.”

It really is a time to celebrate when a journalist is released from prison. This man had been proven time and time again to be innocent. Finally justice has prevailed. Covering this story for the past few months I have received letters from others trying to free this man. I am happy to see the light beaming brightly as Hussein steps back into the sun.


Bilal Hussein Should Be A Free Man Soon

The story of a journalist for the AP has finally got a bit of good news. An Iraqi judicial panel has dismissed all criminal allegations from Bilal Hussein and ordered his release after a detainment of two years and one day with the U.S. military.

The Federal Appeals Court has granted Hussein amnesty on the allegations that the photographer had improper contacts with insurgents who killed Salvatore Santoro.

In December 2004 Hussein and two other journalists were taken by gunpoint to photograph Santoro’s corpse.

The decision made by the panel demands that Hussein be released immediately by the U.S. unless they can prove he has a connection with something else.

The U.S. military has made allegations that Hussein was in co-operation with terrorists and had bomb making materials in his home.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photographer has maintained his innocence throughout his detention. He states that he was only doing his job in a war zone.

The ruling of amnesty closes the case under amnesty law. Hussein has never been taken to trial by the United States.

“We are grateful for the decision of the Amnesty Council and the Iraqi judges,” AP President Tom Curley said after the ruling Sunday. “We look forward to Bilal’s safe return to his family and to AP.”

Hussein has been in United States custody since April 12, 2006 when he was arrested at the apartment he was staying at in Ramadi. He was eventually transferred to Camp Cropper in Baghdad. He has since that time been allowed visits from defence lawyers, family representatives and representatives of the AP.

In December 2007 the United States military referred his case to an investigating judge who after reviewing the case turned it over to the amnesty panel.

The AP has been following the case of their friend and employee. They have made extensive reports on his case. At no time in their investigation was the man who won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005 found guilty of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer.

His detention has been widely reported and drawn protests from rights groups and press freedom advocates.

I, myself have been following his case for several months and am very happy that the light at the end of a long tunnel seems to be shining a little brighter. Hopefully Hussein can soon return to reporting the news by his photography skills.


Iraqi Prime Minister Wants Answers From Blackwater

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wants answers from the U.S. government concerning the renewal of Blackwater. Al-Maliki says the company has yet to answer for the “massacre” of 17 people last year on September 16 at Baghdad’s Nusoor Square.

The fact that the security company’s renewal in Iraq wasn’t brought up to Iraqi officials is a sore spot.

No judicial action has been taken and no compensation has been made,” al-Maliki said Sunday. “Therefore, this extension requires the approval of the Iraqi government, and the government would want to resolve the outstanding issues with this company.”

According to victims from the massacre the security company opened fire without provocation. The guards that were involved has been accused of committing premeditated murder. There is an ongoing investigation with the FBI on the matter.

After that incident a joint Iraqi-American committee was set up to enforce the rules of engagement and the use of force had to be changed.

Now a State Department security official is required to be with any convey that is manned by contractors. Each vehicle in the convoy is also required to have a security camera on it to monitor behaviours.

On Sunday the prime minister said that the renewal of the Blackwater contract is not final “because they committed a massacre against Iraqis and until now this matter has not been resolved.”

About 25,000 private contractors employed with Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp work in Iraq to protect diplomats, reconstruction workers and government officials. Because of a provision put in place early into the U.S. occupation in Iraq these contractors have immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

In 2006 the US signed a five-year contract with Blackwater. The deal is up for review every year and will be up for renewal next month. The US has announced that the renewal will go through for another year. Iraq is not confirming that order though.

According to Greg Starr, acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Blackwater must follow Iraqi laws.

However, Starr said, “I am not going to prejudge what the FBI is going to find in its investigation. It’s complex. I think the U.S. government needs protective services.”

Blackwater is defering all questions to the State Department.


Op-Ed: Did KBR Know They Were Putting Employees In Danger With Sodium Dichromate?

Halliburton’s KBR is back in the news for allowing workers in Iraq to be exposed to a “mild irritant.” That irritant is sodium dichromate and it’s a little more than an irritant. It’s a highly toxic chemical that causes cancer.

Nine American contractors are suing KBR according to a report from the Boston Globe. For 2 1/2 months they were covered by a substance that turned out to be sodium dichromate as they rushed to finish Qarmat Ali water injection plant that is a key component for the Iraq oil infrastructure in 2003.

The chemical was on their hands and clothes for each day that they were racing the clock to get the plant up and running. There were 22 Americans working on the project in addition to the more than 100 Iraqis. By the end of that 2 1/2 month period as many as 60 percent of those were dealing with nosebleeds, ulcers and shortness of breath.

“You cannot be exposed,” Max Costa, an expert witness in the Hinkley case who is chairman of the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University Medical Center said. “It gets into your cells, damages your DNA, depresses your immune system, and down the road, it causes cancer.”

The chemical causes skin burns. It also damages the liver and kidneys. It causes chemical burns to the respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure can cause a lifetime sentence of asthma. It may impair fertility and if a pregnancy does occur it and alter genetic material. In other words it’s not a chemical that should come in contact with human beings.

Safety goggles and protective gloves are required to be used around this chemical. Protective clothing is another key safety measure.

Questions about the chemical can be answered by calling 800-424-9300.

There’s a problem though with the lawsuit and it’s called the Defense Base Act. Back during the Second World War federal employees are protected from employee lawsuits unless the employees suing can prove the company committed outright fraud.

The coast seems to be looking clear for KBR. Well almost clear. It seems that they may have screwed up more than just some employees healths. The company did some shifty hiring of those Americans to avoid paying payroll taxes. They hired their workers through two subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands. Oops, by going around the edges to not pay the government hundreds of millions of dollars for Social Security and Medicare taxes on their employees they shot that Defense Base Act in the foot. They are no longer an employer that is protected by the federal law. They are just some third party company that really screwed up and is liable for paying out millions when this lawsuit reaches the courts.

“What was done to us, I believe, it’s criminal,” said Danny Langford , a motor specialist from Texas who worked in the most contaminated room in the facility. “I think it was deliberate. They wanted this six month job – get you in, get you out, and send you on your way, and 10 years later you start dying of cancer.”

In the run up to the war in Iraq KBR signed a secret no bid contract to revive the oil wells after the proposed tumble of Saddam Hussein.

In relation to this chemical KBR knew that it was toxic. They knew that even a small exposure was taking a huge risk. They knew that and yet told employees that they were safe.

“We didn’t know what it was,” Langford said. “I kept going to the [Human Resources] department when we went back to Kuwait. They kept giving me pills. They said that maybe we were allergic to the sand. I said, ‘I have been around sand all my life, and I have never been allergic to it.’ “

The chances that KBR will step up to the plate though are slim to admit it’s wrongdoing. Did they play their ‘we’ve got buds in the White House’ card one to many times? Only the results from this lawsuit will give that answer.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if at the end of the day I didn’t think I could do something for the people I’m representing,” said Doyle. “But the reality is, so far, they have pretty much been able to escape scot-free.”


Iraq, Another Bloody Day

The remains of two U.S. contractors who were kidnapped in Iraq have been found according to the F.B.I. on Monday. The two had been held by their kidnappers for over a year. Their families have been notified by the F.B.I.

They have been identified as Ronald Withrow of Roaring Springs, Texas, abducted on January 5, 2007, and John Roy Young of Kansas City, Missouri, who was captured on November 16, 2006.

Young worked for Crescent Security Group and Withrow worked for JPI Worldwide Inc. based out of Las Vegas.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed on Sunday night in a roadside bombing. Those deaths have taken the death toll of U.S. military over 4,000 since the start of the Iraqi War.

President Bush made remarks about lives lost in Iraq at the State Department on Monday.

“One day, people will look back at this moment in history and say, ‘Thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come,’ ” he said. “I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I’m president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain; that, in fact, there’s an outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made.”

At least 35 Iraqi civilians also died on Sunday as the result of suicide bombings, mortar fire and gunmen who opened fire on a outdoor market.


Soldiers Dying By Electrocution In Iraq

At least 12 soldiers in Iraq have been killed by electrocution. One of those was a soldier from Pittsburgh who died by a jolt of electricity while taking a shower. A U.S. House committee chairman has started an investigation into the deaths.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked to turn over documents relating to the management of electrical systems at military facilities in Iraq.

On January 2 Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24 died while taking a shower at his barracks in Baghdad. His parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit on this past Wednesday against KBR Inc., the Houston company that is a contractor that maintains the barracks in Iraq.

The lawsuit against KBR alleges that the company continued to use electrical systems “which KBR knew to be dangerous and knew had caused prior instances of electrocution.”

“I expected that if I lost one of my sons (in the war), it would be due to an IED or firefight,” Maseth’s mother, Cheryl Harris, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I never expected to hear he would be electrocuted, that something so senseless happened to him.”

Since 2003 there have been at least 12 service men killed because of faulty electrical systems resulting in electrocutions.

In 2004 the Army issued a safety alert that noted that five soldiers had died because of improper grounding. Waxman has requested reports on all of the victims.

The Maseth family received a memo on Jan. 21 that stated the Chinese-made pump was acquired before KBR took over maintenance of the building and did not meet U.S. safety standards.

KBR has not comments on the lawsuit but is cooperating with the agencies investigating the soldier’s death.

KBR once was owned by Halliburton Co. the oil service that at one time was led by Vice President Cheney.