Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

September 16, 2007

Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought this would be a good post to get back in the swing of things.

One would think that by now people in the U.S. would be experts regarding Iraq. Since George W. Bush talks so much about “bringing freedom” to the Iraqis, saying things like “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad”, I assume all law-abiding, patriotic citizens should at least know something about Iraq’s culture, its geography, languages spoken, not to mention everything about the daily struggles of the Iraqis. Yeah right, and first thing tomorrow morning, I’m buying a Jaguar for myself and a Porsche for my wife.

It is so incredibly frustrating that the average American is completely ignorant of the current human crisis and refugee situation in Iraq. If this were the 1930’s, with no TV, print, or internet, I would understand, but nowadays information is at the tip of the fingertips, one search engine away.

Take this recent article from WireTap Magazine:

Child prostitution is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Damascus. Out of economic desperation, Iraqi refugee women and girls are forced into these roles. Frequently, women who have lost their husbands or girls who have lost their fathers resort to prostitution to support their families. And sometimes families that have no other financial resources sell their daughters into the sex industry. It is a tragic and horrifying reality.

There are no official figures as to how many of the Iraqi refugees work as prostitutes. But Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women’s group Women’s Will, told The Independent that she puts the figure at 50,000. No one knows how many of the prostitutes are children.

Take a guess if this has EVER been discussed, or at least mentioned, in the mainstream media, with the seriousness this deserves. You certainly won’t hear it from the likes of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. They just don’t to talk about the problems, and even if they do, they certainly won’t address the causes of it:

The increased trafficking and prostitution is yet another result of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There are roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, perhaps 2 million within the Middle East. UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqi refugees arrive in Syria each month. This situation represents the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948 and is currently the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Syria has been accepting more refugees without visas than any other country in the world. On Sept. 11, however, the Syrian government announced new visa restrictions that will sharply decrease the numbers of Iraqis wishing to enter Syria.

50,000 Iraqi refugees each month. That’s over half a million last year just to Syria alone. Syria has done a lot for Iraqi refugees, yet you really don’t hear much about it. What you do hear is that Syria might get a can of good ol’ butt whoopin’, shock-and-awe style, if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. If George W. Bush really cares that much for Iraq’s people, then he must be bending over backwards helping Iraqis, right? Wrong:

[…]In a July 2007 press statement, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, states, “The Syrian authorities have responded very positively to the Iraqis’ needs, but they and the Jordanian authorities should not be left to bear the weight of this crisis alone.” He went on to scold nations who had previously committed to providing financial assistance but had yet to cough up the funds.

But a lack of money is not the only problem. Refugees International underscores that offers from the international community to resettle Iraqi refugees have also been scarce. For example, the United States initially promised it would accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by October of this year, yet, to date, has accepted only 133. Sweden, which had allowed thousands of Iraqis to resettle, has recently closed its borders to them. The silence of other nations on this issue is deafening.

7,000 measly visas for Iraqi refugees that are fleeing violence, civil war and ethnic cleansing, and of those only 133 have been accepted. Is this the high standard the U.S. currently has in place for the refugees in the very same fucking country it is “liberating”? I mean, give me a fucking break. It’s not like the U.S. has never helped refugees before. In 1975, President Ford brought to the U.S. 131,000 South Vietnamese that had worked for the Americans.

We can do a lot better. But I digress. The average American, especially those belonging to that elusive “28%” of the population that still backs Bush in whatever fantasy he spits out of his mouth, doesn’t have a clue as to what an average Iraqi refugee has to live with:

According to the UNHCR, Iraqis arrive with three to five months’ worth of savings. Due to a scarcity both of resources and of housing, they live in overcrowded neighborhoods outside of Damascus, such as Jeremana, often cramped seven to a room with few furnishings. Iraqis are not allowed to work in Syria, so when their funds run out, they are unable to support themselves. Consequently, many work illegally. Yet these jobs are difficult to come by and poorly paid, and workers frequently face discrimination. A report published by UNHCR and UNICEF last year states that an estimated 450,000 Iraqis in Syria “face aggravated difficulties” related to their “ambiguous legal and unsustainable income.” As their savings dwindle, the situation of Iraqi refugees is bound to deteriorate further. Sybella Wilkes, the UNHCR Regional public information officer in Damascus, says that “64 percent of the people who have arrived here have run out of savings.”

Bassam Alkadi, of the Syrian Women’s Observatory, agrees that the economic desperation is leading to an increase in prostitution. “The standard of living for Iraqis,” he says “has gone downhill very quickly.”

Yet according to Dubya, freedom is on the march. Sometimes I wish I were more eloquent so I can convey my thoughts and emotions better, but such is not the case here. The Iraqi refugee crisis is something I, along with others that truly give a damn about human rights, have been discussing since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One of my main gripes, though, is the hypocrisy that people have towards all of this. They care about the Iraqis, yet don’t want or don’t care to find out what’s really happening. It is all horseshit. Just admit it – this war has nothing to do with WMDs (guess who still believes that nonsense), democracy, or human rights. The average American does not understand or care much about human rights, and neither does Dubya.

Who are you going to believe, me or the president of the United States? Hint: I have been known to be right on occasion.


Who pays the price of war? Iraqi children, that’s who.

May 9, 2007

Who pays the price for war? Iraq’s children.

Postings have been erratic lately – this happens when I’m locked up studying for medical tests and boards. I’ll make it up to my faithful readers during the summer with the usual critical postings about global health and human rights.

But right now this article from the Independent UK is making my blood boil:

Infant Mortality in Iraq Soars as Young Pay the Price for War

Two wars and a decade of sanctions have led to a huge rise in the mortality rate among young children in Iraq, leaving statistics that were once the envy of the Arab world now comparable with those of sub-Saharan Africa.

A new report shows that in the years since 1990, Iraq has seen its child mortality rate soar by 125 per cent, the highest increase of any country in the world. Its rate of deaths of children under five now matches that of Mauritania.

Wow, Iraq went from the “envy of the Arab world” league to “sub-Saharan Africa” status. “Envy of the Arab world” is quite a statement. I wonder what led to such a decline:

Sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime were imposed by the UN in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and remained in place until after the coalition invasion in 2003. The sanctions, encouraged by the US as a means to topple Saddam, were some of the most comprehensive ever put in place and had a devastating effect on Iraq’s infrastructure and health services.

Precisely how many children died because of sanctions is unknown but a report in 1999 from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), suggested that between 1991 and 1998 an additional 500,000 died.

Denis Halliday, who resigned as the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in protest at the sanctions, said at the time: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”

Oh that’s right, Clinton sanctioned the hell out of Iraq, but Bush bombed the hell of it. Make no mistake, infant mortality in Iraq started rising well before Bush illegally invaded Iraq. In 1996, then Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was asked by Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes the following regarding the Iraq sanctions:

We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

To which Ambassador Albright responded, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

So the question should be, who pays the price of war? Children do. Poor children, and especially the children of the poor do, to be precise. You haven’t seen Bush’s daughters enlist yet, have you?

Unsurprisingly, just pennies a day are needed to truly save the world’s children.

“More than 10 million children under age five still die each year. That’s almost 28,000 a day, almost all in developing countries,” said the charity’s US president, Charles MacCormack. “Vaccines, oral rehydration therapy and insecticide-treated mosquito nets are not expensive. Yet, sadly, many mothers and children lack access to these life-saving measures.”

What’s the budget of the Pentagon these days?

Here is a list of the 10 worst countries with the worst child mortality rate.

1. Sierra Leone: 282 (per 1,000 live births)
2. Afghanistan: 257
3. Niger: 256
4. Liberia: 235
5. Somalia: 225
6. Mali: 218
7. Chad: 208
8 (tied) Democratic Republic of Congo: 205
8 (tied) Equatorial Guinea: 205
10. Rwanda: 203

For the geographically-impaired, 9 of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. The other country is Afghanistan, which has the second-worst rate. You want to take a guess if the Bush invasion has helped Afghanistan’s healthcare statistics? How bad do you think the child mortality will get in Iran if the Bush decides to invade that country? Hint: the child mortality is not that hot now in Iran.

When you hear George W. Bush or Dick Cheney saying that they “care about the people in the Middle East”, you should now be informed enough to know that statement is pure B.S.


Gardasil studies stopped due to sucess

March 2, 2007

I just found out about this – rest assured I’ll post more about it when details surface:

LONDON, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Clinical trials of Gardasil, the recently launched cervical cancer vaccine marketed by Merck & Co Inc and Sanofi-Aventis SA, are to be halted because of the success of the product.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, a joint venture of the two companies, said on Tuesday the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board for two trials had recommended they be terminated on ethical grounds, so that young women on placebo could receive Gardasil.

Gardasil was approved last year as the first vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. GlaxoSmithKline Plc has a rival product called Cervarix in development.

People without scientific or epidemiological training may be confused about this result. For the uninitiated here are some explanations.

People are somewhat familiar with clinical trials, in which the drug is given randomly to one group and a placebo to the other. It is unethical to not give a patient a treatment that we know that works, so in the case of clinical trials we give one group the experimental drug and the other group the established standard treatment – again, it is unethical to not treat patients.

Specifically, these are parallel track phase III studies, one previously completed in females, the other ongoing in older females and in adolescent males, which had not been completed at the time of original licensure.


Low-Cost Antimalarial Pill Available!

March 2, 2007

A child finds out he got Malaria

God, finally some good news to cheer my day up!

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

Needless to say, this is a very good thing, and a team effort as well:

“This is a good thing,” said Dr. Arata Kochi, chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program, who has publicly demanded that drug companies stop making pills that contain artemisinin alone because they will lead to resistant strains of malaria. “They’re responding to the kind of drug profile we’ve been promoting.”

[…]Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

See, ain’t that the way to do things? Major disagreements, but communication is still open, and compromise. I know a government or two that could apply these principles into practice.


Violating Iraqi Women – a Courtesy from the U.S.A.

February 24, 2007

This is one of the most disturbing posts I have done. So hard that I don’t even know where to start. Wait, yes I do:

According to Iraqi human rights advocate and writer Haifa Zangana, the first question asked of female detainees in Iraq is, “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Are you Sunni or Shia? Are you a virgin?? In other words, do you remember the first time you got raped? I can’t find this any more appalling.

The mainstream media has ignored Iraq, but the whole fucking world has ignored the plight of Iraqi women under U.S. occupation. Beaten, humilliated and ignored, Iraqi women are among many of the “collaterals” of the U.S. “war on terror”.

The above is from a story from MADRE, an excellent international women’s rights organization. The article is entitled “Iraqi Police Commit Rape—Armed, Trained, and Funded by the US” and you can pretty much see why I’m so outraged by this.

The international news media is flooded with images of a woman in a pink headscarf recounting a shattering experience of rape by members of the Iraqi National Police. Most of the media coverage has focused on her taboo-breaking decision to speak publicly about the assault, but has missed two crucial points for understanding—and combating—sexual violence by Iraqi police recruits.

As Iraqi women’s organizations have documented, sexualized torture is a routine horror in Iraqi jails. While this woman may be the first Iraqi rape survivor to appear on television, she is hardly the first to accuse the Iraqi National Police of sexual assault. At least nine Iraqi organizations as well as Amnesty International, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Brussels Tribunal have documented the sexualized torture of Iraqi women while in police custody. These include Women’s Will, Occupation Watch, the Women’s Rights Association, the Iraqi League, the Iraqi National Association of Human Rights, the Human Rights’ Voice of Freedom, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Media and Culture Organization. […] And the United Nations special investigator on torture is reporting that torture in Iraq is worse now than under Saddam Hussein

Where is the outrage? It is not like these abuses have not been documented. They have been extensively documented – click on any of the links above and you will find plenty of references and eye-witness accounts. Why is the U.S. mainstream media ignoring this whole issue? I know it is kind of touchy, but that is why you are in the news business – to discuss and highlight serious issues, and bring to light those that need attention, not to “discuss the ramifications” of Britney Spears shaving her head.

Take this horrowing account from June 2006. All emphasis is mine:

MALTREATMENT AND PROOF: On 20 April 2004, Abdul-Bassat Turki, the first Iraqi minister of human rights, gave an interview to The Guardian on the condition of female prisoners in Iraq. Turki had recently resigned from his post in protest against the human rights violations committed by American forces and Paul Bremer’s determination to ignore his reports and to refuse him permission to visit Abu Ghraib.

Turki told the Guardian that he had warned Bremer repeatedly of the abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but that Bremer had consistently ignored all warnings. In December 2003, a month before the US military mounted its own secret investigation into Abu Ghraib, Turki phoned Bremer to complain of the treatment of female detainees. “They had been denied medical treatment. They had no proper toilet. They had only been given one blanket, even though it was winter,” the former minister said.

[…]One of the rare occasions in which Anne Clwyd, the British human rights envoy to Iraq, was moved to speak out about human rights violations after the invasion was when she learned of the arrest and subsequent torture of a 70-year-old woman, whose torturers forced her into a makeshift bridle and then mounted her like a donkey.

[…]Hoda Al-Ezawi relates that she was kept in solitary confinement for 156 days. Then her sister was arrested and thrown into the cell with her, along with the corpse of their dead brother. Among the other types of torture inflicted upon her was to be kept standing for more than 12 hours straight while subject to continual threat and intimidation. US forces and the Iraqi National Guard arrested Al-Ezawi along with her two daughters, Nora, 15, and Sara, 20, on 17 February 2005 on the charge of supporting the resistance.

Ali Al-Qeisi, the man whose torturers thrust a bag over his head, forced to stand on a crate as they coiled wires around him and then photographed producing the picture that has become a worldwide symbol of the occupation and the horror of Abu Ghraib, recalls his anguish at hearing the screams and cries of female detainees. “Their food was brought into their cells by naked men,” he relates, adding, “we felt helpless as we listened to their screams, unable to do anything but pray to God Almighty.”

[…]Suheib Baz, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, told The Independent that he had personally seen a 12-year-old girl being tortured: “She was naked, and crying out to me for help while being beaten.” He also relates that prison wardens would photograph these horrors.

[…]This is the tip of the iceberg. A report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights on 29 October 2005 found that women held in Interior Ministry detention centres are subject to numerous human rights violations, including “systematic rape by the investigators and to other forms of bodily harm in order to coerce them into making confessions”. The report added that prisons fail to meet even the most basic standards of hygiene and that the women were deprived of facilities as fundamental as toilets. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed the accuracy of the report.

In such circumstances, it is insult to injury that female detainees are often forced to sign a paper prior to their release in which they testify to being properly treated. The purpose of this affidavit is to silence them and deprive them of recourse to litigation in the future.

It should be noted, here, that the first question that is put to female detainees is: “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Of course, this is all the work of a “few bad apples”. Basically, the U.S. has turned a blind eye towards everything that is going on in Iraq. It is not only causing these atrocities, it is fomenting, paying for them, and then ignoring them. Does the Bush administration think people are stupid, that we can’t fact-check what the say, and especially, what they don’t say?

It’s no surprise that we’re hearing allegations of rape against the Iraqi National Police, considering who trained them. DynCorp, the private contractor that the Bush Administration hired to prepare Iraq’s new police force for duty, has an ugly record of violence against women. The company was contracted by the federal government in the 1990s to train police in the Balkans. DynCorp employees were found to have systematically committed sex crimes against women, including “owning” young women as slaves. One DynCorp site supervisor videotaped himself raping two women. Despite strong evidence against them, the contractors never faced criminal charges and are back on the federal payroll.

Owing young women as slaves. A videotape by a supervisor raping two women. Giving them a blank check so they can continue to do whatever it is they do. Aren’t these war crimes? Again, where is the outrage? Why isn’t ABC news, CBS, NBC, Fox News (yeah, right), or CNN covering this?

I’m not overly religious, but do believe we eventually have to pay up what we do on Earth. I can’t even fathom how many lifetimes we are going to need to “repay” these atrocities. Then again, hell is too good for some evil bastards.

Hell is too good for some evil bastards


HPV: maybe it is women’s fault (Cartoon of the Day)

February 20, 2007

Bad news

(From Nick Anderson, Houston’s Chronicle’s excellent editorial cartoonist)

Ah, so what is it gonna be, conservative idiots? As a future doc, this picture sums up my feelings quite nicely.

Given all the brouhaha over HPV and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s order to implement a mandatory vaccination program for all school-age girls in Texas, I found an interesting nugget that has been largely ignored:

First lady’s influence?

Also, a spokesman indicated that first lady Anita Perry’s strong support for the vaccine may have played a role in the governor’s decision. A former nurse and the daughter of a doctor, Anita Perry works for an organization dealing with sexual assaults.

“I know they have discussed it, and it’s something they both feel very strongly about,” said Press Secretary Robert Black.

But some who oppose the bill have suggested that a political contribution from the vaccine-maker influenced his decision.

So his wife, a former health professional, may have had a bit to do with it. Do I buy that? Sure, why not – but lots of first ladies are involved in humanitarian and educational endeavors as well. If politicians actually listened to their wives a little, things would be a lot better in ALL countries.


Seizing the chance to end homelessness

February 19, 2007

Mother & Baby homeless picture

(Picture by John McCabe, from AliceBernstein.net)

Here is a great op-ed by Henry Cisneros (yes, the one that was persecuted a la Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades) about the need, and opportunity, to end homelessness in the U.S.:

The most recent estimate, and the first in more than a decade, shows that at minimum 744,000 men, women and children experienced homelessness in the United States on any given night in January 2005. Distressingly, about 23 percent had a disability and were homeless for long periods.

These numbers are derived from taking a snapshot of the problem; the reality is that homelessness is quite fluid and that over the course of the year about 3.5 million people are without a home.

These grim statistics add up to a single truth: There are too many people who experience homelessness and far too many who spend years — quite literally — sleeping on the streets. What these statistics do not address, but what we know is also true, is that many more people are living on the periphery of homelessness, at risk of eviction or living in a precarious situation because they cannot afford their housing.

Certainly we have the resources to end homelessness. And, importantly, we have the knowledge. Across the country, new solutions have emerged, strategies that focus less on shelters and soup kitchens — the proverbial hot and a cot — and much more on long-term solutions like preventing homelessness in the first place and getting people back into permanent housing rapidly instead of letting them languish in emergency shelter.

He is definitely right in that we do have the resources. In fact most countries do – they just need to focus the money on where it counts, not on petty things like war and corruption. This is especially true after hurricane Katrina.

While only government can fully stamp out homelessness, individual civic groups are the ones that are leading the way:

One breakthrough strategy is called Housing First. This approach minimizes the time people spend in a shelter by providing access to permanent housing and then, after people are stably housed, services that address other needs. That way, the individual or family has stable housing while they sort out how to make improvements in their lives.

I have seen great success with this approach across the United States, with marked decreases in homelessness. In San Francisco, Housing First approaches helped reduce homelessness by 28 percent; in Columbus, 46 percent among families; and 43 percent among families in Hennepin County, Minn.

The entire article is pasted below… Read the rest of this entry »