July 15, 2008

Iraq to open consulate in San Diego

The Los Angeles Times reports that Iraq will open a consulate in San Diego to assist Iraqis with documentation, passports, visas and other consular services.

Coming soon to California: a consulate of Iraq. To take the strain off the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C., and help expatriates scattered around the United States, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry plans to place consulates in Detroit and San Diego. Detroit and San Diego? “Yes, there’s quite a big community in Detroit,” Labid Abbawi, Iraqi foreign undersecretary, said. “Also we have quite a big number in San Diego as well,” Abbawi said. “There are also in Los Angeles a lot, but we thought San Diego was more suitable.” There were 3,705 Iraqis in Detroit, 2,039 in Los Angeles and 822 in San Diego, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

But there are also Iraqi communities in east San Diego County, particularly Christian Chaldeans. Many small market owners and professionals in the area are Iraqi. Some estimate that, including second generation, there are 25,000 Iraqis in the county. Those numbers are likely to increase as the U.S. State Department gears up its post-war refugee program. The Bush administration set a goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year.

The San Diego consulate should open before the end of the year, Abbawi said. It will assist Iraqis with documentation, passports, visas and other consular services. Americans flying from the West Coast to Iraq will also find it convenient. Now they will be able to pick up their visas in San Diego, which could be preferable to waiting a day or two in Amman, Jordan, to get the necessary papers. For now, it may be only reporters and military contractors who would care, but Abbawi thinks wider need could be coming soon. If Iraq has turned the corner on security, as Abbawi believes, tourism should follow.

“We hope the day will not be too long where you’ll be able to come and have a walk in Baghdad quite freely,” Abbawi said. “I hope this will not be long.”

Filed under Foreign Relations, Iraq by

September 28, 2007

California opposition growing to Blackwater military base

The recent shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater USA contractors has helped galvanize the opposition to their plans to build a private military base in California. In the most recent incident, Blackwater employees shot into a group of cars in a Baghdad square, killing at least 11 Iraqis and wounding 12. The Blackwater employees said they were ambushed but witnesses have described the shooting as unprovoked murder. “This is a nightmare,” a senior U.S. military official told the Washington Post. “We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib”. Iraq’s Interior Ministry concluded that Blackwater was at fault and ordered their license revoked causing still another embarrassment and huge headache for the Bush administration, which has relied heavily on private contractors for the occupation of Iraq.

Blackwater describes itself as “a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations firm and has won more than $750 million in U.S. contracts for work in Iraq. It is owned by billionaire named Erik Prince, one of the largest donors to the Republican Party who is said to have links to the religious right and other far right political causes.

North Carolina-based Blackwater now wants to set up a paramilitary training base in the rugged mountains east of San Diego. The base is planned for Potrero, California, a small border town 45 miles east of the City of San Diego. The 24-acre facility is to have rifle and pistol ranges, helicopters and a helipad, armored vehicles and a defensive-driving motor course; and will have as many as 700 people present at any given time. The company typically hires highly trained former military personal such as Navy Seals for its security and paramilitary operations.

Residents of San Diego and Potrero have been organizing and began fighting this facility earlier this year on a number of issues- including environmental, local land control, noise, traffic, the risk of fire danger and basic opposition to the nature of Blackwater USA which many consider to be a mercenary group. It is strongly suspected that Blackwater has selected the San Diego border area in order to secure Federal Government contracts for border security.

Opponents to the expansion of Blackwater USA will stage a major rally and encampment at the gates of the proposed “Blackwater West” site in Potrero on October 6th and 7th. “The public is waking up to the atrocities attributed to Blackwater and to the private mercenary soldier industry now staring us in the face,” said Raymond Lutz, coordinator of Citizens’ Oversight Projects (COPS) and “The intimidating nature of these mercenary boot camps has kept locals from speaking out but, the tides have changed, when Blackwater USA tried to put in a jungle training camp in the Philippines they has to pull out after fierce public outcry. We can do the same here in San Diego County, we are resisting the further expansion of corporate mercenary armies and unregulated training of U.S. Armed Forces in residential areas.”

Filed under California Politics, Defense and Military, Iraq, U.S. Government by

April 6, 2007

California may call for end of U.S. occupation of Iraq

Legislation has been introduced in the California State Legislature calling on President Bush to immediately begin the “safe and orderly withdrawal” of all United States forces from Iraq. California Senate President pro Tem Don Perata announced plans to place an advisory measure on California’s statewide ballot as part of next year’s February 5 presidential primary. The text of the resolution is as follows:

“The people of California, in support of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, urge President Bush to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and immediately begin the safe and orderly withdrawal of all United States forces; and further urge President Bush and the United States Congress to provide the necessary diplomatic and non-military assistance to promote peace and stability in Iraq and the Middle East.”

Filed under California Legislature, California Politics, Iraq, U.S. Politics by

March 28, 2007

Fluential gets $1.2M defense contract for Arabic translation software

“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded a $1.2 million contract to Fluential Inc. for a two-way speech translation technology, the company said. Sunnyvale-based Fluential said the contract calls for technology for English-Arabic to be used by service members in Iraq. Fluential said it received the contract under DARPA’s Spoken Language Communication and Translation System for Tactical Use, which is focused on finding technologies that enable spontaneous two-way tactical speech communications between English and “target-language speakers.”

Filed under Defense and Military, Iraq by

March 7, 2007

California medic convicted of desertion for refusing Iraq duty

“A U.S. Army medic who refused to return to Iraq because he believes war is morally wrong was convicted of desertion Tuesday and sentenced to an eight-month prison term – far short of the maximum seven-year sentence. Specialist Agustin Aguayo, 35, of California and his attorneys turned to each other and smiled after Judge Col. R. Peter Masterton read out the sentence. Aguayo, a U.S. citizen born in Guadalajara, Mexico, had been jailed for 161 days awaiting trial and his attorney, David Court, said he did not expect him to serve more than about six more weeks. ‘We’re grateful that the military judge gave a light sentence,’ Court said, adding that he believed Aguayo convinced the judge he was sincere and that ‘the judge is concerned with justice’. “

Filed under Defense and Military, Iraq by

February 27, 2007

Schwarzenegger calls for Iraq pullout timeline

“Aligning himself with congressional Democrats in the debate on the Iraq war, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reiterated Sunday that the U.S. needs to set clear timelines for bringing troops home, lest Iraq devolve into a quagmire with no end in sight. Republican Schwarzenegger, speaking on CBS’ ‘Face the Nation,’ said Americans won’t support a war that becomes an open-ended commitment — a point, he said, that needs to be made to the Iraqis. ‘We should let the Iraqis know that we are here until this time. And then we’re going to draw back,’ Schwarzenegger said. ‘We’re going to draw our troops out of Iraq. I think a timeline is absolutely important because I think that the people in America don’t want to see another Korean War, another Vietnam War, where it’s an open-ended thing’. “

Filed under Defense and Military, Governor Schwarzenegger, Iraq by

February 15, 2007

California Senate passes resolution opposing Iraq escalation

The California Senate passed a resolution Monday urging Congress and President Bush not to escalate U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. The 22-14 vote was along party lines with all Republicans voting against the measure, and all but one Democrat voting in favor. During a contentious hour-long debate Democrats said they continued to support American troops fighting in Iraq, but they disapproved of Bush’s request for more troops and money. Republicans argued that the measure could harm troop morale or embolden terrorists. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) even seemed to say that those who voted for Democrats in the last election were terrorist sympathizers, “This resolution emboldens our enemies,” he said “This resolution simply tells Al Qaeda and other state sponsors of terrorism, ‘We’ve got the Americans on the run. First, we had the election in November and now … all we have to do is hold out a while longer. They are crumbling in Washington and they are crumbling in state legislatures all over the country.’ Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat, responded: “Balderdash. If anything is supporting and emboldening our enemies, it is this war…. This war was a mistake, and the rest of the world knows it.”

Filed under California Legislature, Iraq by

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