Saturday, December 20, 2008

Assyrians not even safe in Northern Iraq

This is a map of Iraq. It shows the sectarian strife, factional clashes and internal feuding in Iraq today. There are Sunni and Shiiate Muslims and Kurds living in Iraq, occupying what they claim is their land but where are my people, the Assyrians safe? I know what you're thinking. How safe were Assyrians during Saddam Hussein's regime? Once upon a time Assyria was a country we could call home, land that belonged to our people. But decades of sectarian and factional clashes led to our near demise.

Below is an article from the ASSYRIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS AGENCY which exemplifies the struggles we face as a nation today. Despite my peoples' cry for help, many Assyrians feel like the U.S. has turned its back, looked the other direction, and failed to help a race that is on the brink of dying.

Mosul, Iraq (AINA) -- Kurdish soldiers carried out a search operation in Assyrian homes in Mosul between September 15 and the beginning of October, confiscating weapons the families were keeping for protection. The confiscations and searches were only carried out in Assyrian homes, especially in the Al Sakr and Al Bakr neighborhoods. One man, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he was the only non-Muslim in his neighborhood. Soldiers from the mainly Kurdish Second Army Unit in Mosul came to his house in three military vehicles, ordering him to surrender any weapons he had. They did not approach any other residents of his neighborhood. Several other Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) AINA interviewed told a similar story.

AINA has learned that agents from the Kurdish Asayesh intelligence service are currently confiscating ration cards of families who have fled from the violence in Mosul (AINA 10-16-2008) to the Nineveh Plain. The families are told the only way for them to retrieve their ration cards is to remain permanently in the Nineveh Plain.

Several independent sources have accused the two dominate Kurdish political parties of staging the attacks against Assyrians for political reasons. Several Iraqi MPs have pointed out the KDP party, headed by Massoud Barazani, is responsible (AINA 10-17-2008).

Media reports of the events in Mosul assumed the killings were the work of Al Qaeda, overlooking several facts which not only indicate Kurdish involvement but also disclose the close connection between the events in Mosul and the interests of the Kurdish political parties in north Iraq.

On October 19 Iraqi MP Yonadam Kanna, a native of northern Iraq, said 90% of the attacks occurred in the areas which are under the control of the second army unit in Mosul. The second army unit in Mosul is composed almost exclusively of Kurds.

A Times article quotes a Christian woman who put the blame on Kurdish paramilitaries, saying: "I suspect they were Peshmerga [armed Kurdish fighters] because their Arabic was broken and they looked like Kurds." A Reuters reporter stated, after speaking to Assyrians in the town of Alqush in the Nineveh Plain, "Some blame Islamic militants, while others quietly point a finger at Mosul's politically powerful Kurdish minority. Most are too frightened to go into details."

Six individuals have been arrested in connection with the Mosul attacks, including four Kurdish men affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in north Iraq (AINA 10-17-2008). The US military has so far declined to confirm the capture of the four KDP affiliated men.

The killings against the Assyrians of Mosul began on October 4 with the murder of two Assyrians (AINA 10-08-2008). Twelve more Assyrians were killed in the subsequent two weeks and direct threats were sent via mobile phone text messages, leaflets, and loud speakers, telling the Assyrians to leave or be killed. Simultaneously, several Assyrian church leaders in the city of Dohuk, which lies inside Kurdish controlled area, were informed by Kurdish intelligence agents, known as Asayesh, that they had captured a terrorist cell in Mosul which had pictures of their churches, though no proof was provided. The church leaders were told there are direct threats directed towards their church buildings and community in Dohuk and they should be cautious.

The word spread among the Assyrians in Dohuk, putting the community in a state of panic and fear. The churches, in coordination with the Kurdish affiliated organization called The Popular Council of the Chaldean Syriac Assyrians, (PCCSA) increased security around all churches in the Dohuk province. PCCSA is a Kurdish funded group (AINA 7-24-2008) set up in 2007 in Arbel. The group works to annex the predominantly Assyrian Nineveh Plain into the Kurdish administered area.

Rumors started circulating in Dohuk that the Assyrians in Mosul would face a massacre on October 9. People were encouraged to inform their relatives to leave the city. One of the priests who ordered his parishioners to urge their relatives to leave Mosul is Father Quryaqos, from the village of Shioz, just outside the city of Dohuk. Father Quryaqos said he was instructed by Mr. Jamel Zeyto, the leader of PCCSA, to say they were warned to leave Mosul by their relatives.

On October 15 the Christian finance minister of the Kurdish region, Mr. Sargis Aghajan, said in an interview in the arabic internet site, which is read mainly by Assyrians, that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has amended its constitution to allow the Assyrians to have administrative rights if they vote to join the Nineveh Plain into the Kurdish region. The Kurdish finance minister has not announced the news about the amendment in any other media outlet.

The evidence points to a political motive behind the Mosul events. The aim seems to be to increase Kurdish political influence in Mosul ahead of any provincial elections by driving out the Assyrian community. While the KRG is portraying itself as the true protector of Assyrians, it appears to be driving them to vote for the annexation of the Nineveh Plain to the Kurdish controlled area.

Friday, December 19, 2008

أحذية Arabic for SHOES

To Iraqis, Muntadhar al-Zeidi is a hero. Zeidi is also an Iraqi journalist, now infamously known for hurling his shoes at President Bush. I thought that by now, we (the media) would have stopped discussing the shoe fiasco but here I am blogging about it. Does anyone remember when Iraqis were seen slapping their shoes on Saddam Hussein's statue after his fall? That may put it in perspective for you, just how disrespectful it is to slap or hurl your shoes at someone in the Iraqi culture. An Iraqi throwing shoes at President Bush was a sign of disrespect at its deepest level, and it was interesting to see how Iraqi television stations covered the incident. They hailed him a hero. Demanded his release from prison. I'm willing to bet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki secretly has the desire to free him, but he has to remember to appease the public and take careful care of Iraqi/U.S. relations.

Shoe story aside, we've been distracted. Does anyone care to know what President Bush was in Iraq FOR? Didn't think so. You'd rather watch the embedded youtube video of President Bush dodging shoes.

Here it's just one of hundreds of versions on the internet.

Now for the real story.
SOFA (state of the forces agreement) AKA "the status of forces agreement which provides a schedule for America's withdrawal from it unpopular engagement in Iraq and the rules governing America's presence there until then."

A SOFA deal is exactly what Americans and Iraqis have been waiting for, and all we can talk about is a pair of size 10 shoes being thrown at Mr. Bush. Well, I'm done laughing. More importantly, Al-Maliki signed the dotted line. The agreement in short, outlines a withdrawal date. Forces will stay in Iraq until December 31, 2011, BUT they will withdraw from Iraqi streets by the end of June 2009.

My thoughts inserted: I never saw the end coming. According to the SOFA agreement, the U.S. is finished with Iraq. But here's some food for thought: after we leave, there will be no shortage of sectarian strife, factional clashes or internal feuding. I wonder where Iraqis will be three years from now. Better off? Or are they worse off now and in the future then they were before the Baathist regime came to an end? And has it REALLY come to an end?

Most recent report dated Dec. 17, 2008: Up to 35 Iraqi Ministry of the Interior officials (some ranking as high as General) were arrested over the past three days. The New York Times says they're accused of "quietly" working to reconstitute the Baath Party.

Iraq has long been run by corruption. It will take at least a century of political dissension to change that. Maybe even longer...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Private Jet

It generates only one image in my mind: Celebrities. Thoughts of a planet in peril aside, if you were offered a private jet or had the means to fly the friendly skies in your very own aircraft, surely you'd oblige. But we're not celebrities or high profile politicians. You're none of the above. But you do happen to be a multi-million dollar executive. You are Alan Mulally, Robert Nardelli and Richard Wagooner. As the CEO's of Ford, Chrysler, and GM you are entitled to your private jets. And that's where it ends.

Tin cups in hand, the CEO's of three major U.S. automakers begged the House Financial Services Committee for a $25 billion dollar loan. With promises of trimming down their businesses AKA cutting jobs, all three men testified that without the funding, bankruptcy loomed on the horizon. How have three of the most successful automakers in our country managed to drive their businesses into the ground? That's one question with a plethora of answers, and we've heard them all. What I want to know is: how do you justify flying a private jet to meet with a committee you are begging money from? Ah-ha. If ever faced with the choice of flying commercial versus a private jet, I'd go for the ultra-fabulous, fuel-guzzling aircraft. Shameful I know. But I'm not a millionaire running a multi-billion dollar corporation that is going down the tube. Flying a private jet sends the wrong message: you are an elitist. And although we already know you think you are above everyone else (money and power), exercise logic. How about downgrading to a first-class commercial flight? I digress; that is a high expectation. Maybe jet-pool?

So now that they have been publicly humiliated, if faced with the choice between commercial versus their fancy jets, what would they choose? At this week's hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) said, "I'm going to ask you to raise your hand if you are planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial. Let the record show, no hands went up."

Clearly these CEO's down give a damn. They have no problem cost-cutting as long as it's not coming out of their pocketbooks. And don't forget; they won't hesitate to slash thousands of jobs. So while you're waiting in the unemployment line, pondering how you'll recover from this economic downturn, Alan Mulally (Ford), Robert Nardelli (Chrysler) and Richard Wagooner (GM) will still be flying their private jets that YOU helped pay for. And when you ask why, remember their answer: it's COMPANY POLICY.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shame on Us.

The day AFTER I blog about it, the media has latched itself on to LIPSTICK ON A PIG like a leech. And boy are they going to suck this subject dry. Why am I even shocked? I get it. Some people are outraged. Cue the feminists. Cue the ultra-sensitive citizens. The media has got a top story on its hands.

I told you. It was with great hesitation to blog about Barack Obama's LIPSTICK ON A PIG comment, but people can't shut up. You want to talk about it. Go ahead. You want to be offended. You're entitled. This isn't about diffusing your highly charged emotions or telling you how you should feel. This blog is about how my fellow journalists (reporters and anchors) that I admire are highjacking the airwaves and dedicating endless coverage to LIPSTICK ON A PIG.

I have to keep remembering my motto...

“A news sense is really a sense of what is important, what is vital, what has color and life - what people are interested in. That's journalism.”

SO...if THIS is what is important to people, then let's discuss it. Are we making an issue out of non-issue? That's what we should be asking ourselves.

It doesn't matter that the oldest political phrase out there is LIPSTICK ON A PIG. John McCain has used it half a dozen times, most recently when referring to Hillary Clinton's health care plan. Did anyone call him a sexist? Go ahead, form an opinion but the media needs to stop beating a dead horse. Let's move on and FOCUS ON THE REAL ISSUES. We covered it, move on. Politics may be a dirty business, but should we drag ourselves into the mud with it?

The truth is there aren't many things I share my opinion about in public because I have to remember to respect my boundaries as a journalist, but I think I have a right to say something about my industry. I am disappointed. There are other things on people's minds besides lipstick on a pig. Every candidate in this race should be treated equally, every candidate should be faced with tough questions. The media has a tremendous impact on public opinion. It's a responsibility we have to remind ourselves of. This is an election year. America's future is in all our hands and the public depends on us when it comes to getting information about the candidates running for President. That's why I say, let's move on and FOCUS ON THE REAL ISSUES.

I better stop before someone shuts me up!

Before I sign off...
Tonight I'll be watching ABC's Charlie Gibson along with what I imagine will be millions of other fellow Americans. Gov. Sarah Palin in the hot seat. It's a highly anticipated interview, so I'm guessing an analysis of it will be my next blog.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig.

Lipstick. It could possibly qualify as an obsession. For me anyway. In fact, I may wear too much of it sometimes. My color of choice no matter how many times I try to venture away from it is PINK. I love lipstick. And lately, LIPSTICK is becoming the new buzz word in the political arena. Who would have thought that a colorful cosmetic could have so much impact?

We all heard Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin say the only difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull is lipstick. Enter Barack Obama. The Senator and Presidential hopeful told a crowd today "You can put lipstick on a pig" (insert giggles and clapping here)..."It's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."

Insert outrage and backlash here. You guessed it. The McCain camp came out swinging. McCain's campaign says it was "offensive and disgraceful." Say your sorry he says. Obama's response? He wasn't referring to Palin when he made the comment about LIPSTICK ON A PIG. Maybe he was calling McCain a pig?

You decide. Personally, I find it comical (oink, oink). Thanks for giving me something to blog about. Now let's focus on the real issues.

In case you missed it...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Adventures of Reporting

Oh boy. It's been a while. Since I blogged, that is. On this site anyway. And I may be the only one reading my posts (lol), but in case there are a few of you out there that check back from time to time, I'll continue my journey in trying become a full-fledged blogger. Although, I prefer to stick with a term that sounds so much more eloquent to me. Writer. Yes. That's what I am. I am a Writer. Today's blog is centered around my recent adventures in reporting. It seems simple enough on a Sunday afternoon. From here on out though, I pledge to be better at this writing stuff. If there's any excuse that I can use it's that I find it hard to blog about things I want to. The divide that separates "me" from "journalist" is a thin line. If you can call that a divide. Seems to me as though the two bleed into each other, and quite often.

So let me begin before I babble too much. Wait a minute. I can babble if I want to. No copy editors here. No time limit to my story. I'm my own boss on Now there's something to smile about. Although I'm not generating much revenue. None at all. But sometimes, or arguably most times our happiness is derived from the things that we hold most dear to our heart.

Here I've pasted some photos taken with my photographer's (Mike) iPHONE. They are just pictures of me in action with short captions that follow. Like I said, it's Sunday afternoon.

Why not start with American Idol? LOL. The show gets more votes than presidential elections. Although one could argue that the Democratic National Convention had quite the turnout. That could be my next topic in blogs. Barack Obama's speech. A more than 80,000 turnout in the stands alone. I'll be interesting to see how John McCain spins the pendulum back in his direction. Although one could say that the pendulum is already swinging, following his VP pick announcement. Sarah Palin. Quite the strategy. Alright, back to my day at the first ever American Idol Auditions held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have to say Utahns have a way about them. They turn out for EVERYTHING. I love that about Utah. Seriously. There was nothing like reporting in a crowd of people (5,000) for nearly half the Fox affiliates in the country. I thought a lot about my sister though. A 17 year-old beauty with the voice of a mature opera singer. There were so many talented people at the auditions. But what would AI be without the crazies? The ones who have the worst singing voices? Now that's what I tune in for. This day was fun, but exhausting. Even more annoying, Ryan Seacrest was there. Who knew that I would be denied access to meeting him. At least Simon, Randy and Paul weren't there. They will be here for the next round of auditions in September (25th). And by golly gee, if I don't get to say hello to Randy. We go way back. I owe him some gratitude quite frankly. I interviewed him years ago (in college), not in regards to AI, but about the "state" of state universities in California. I included my interview with him on my resume tape. It's the first clip I put on it! Maybe Randy's star power impressed my first News Director? Doubt it.

Speaking of American Idol...
David Archuleta. Need I say more?

Meet Rhett Davis...
He's from Hooper, Utah by the way. Yeah, if you're not from the beehive state then you don't know. Here's all you need to know. A farming community. But growing none the less. So if you stare at the picture long enough you'll notice a couple cars hunkered down into the ground. They were put there by Rhett Davis. He wanted to STICK IT TO HIS NEIGHBORS. What a great story. This guy gained national attention with his antics. That land is his. There's a farm with barn yard animals and everything. The works. So here's the deal. A new development is proposed and built. Quite clearly there's a farm in front of these new homes. The new homeowners, who I assume fully knew about the farm and the smell of dunk began to complain about the farm across the street. The smell, the sound etc. So like a true "redneck" as Rhett calls himself, he built a fence. With cars. It was his way of saying, "I was here first." The good news (oh how cliche of me), there was a HAPPY ENDING. Rhett and his neighbors made up. They are on good terms, and yes the car fence is coming down.

Covering the President...
Okay. It's not everyday that a reporter (local anyway) gets to cover the President. Politics aside. Personal opinions shoved on the back shelf. It's the President of the United States of America. And that is Air Force One. Enough said.

Reporting LIVE in a hard hat...
I'll spare you, because unless you're a bridge enthusiast you won't care about a multi-million dollar project to replace and restructure bridges in Utah. 12 of them to be exact. Only took them 12 weeks thanks to state-of-the-art technology. This was their (UDOT) last bridge replacement, and I was at the bridge farm which required me to wear the hard hat. Oh and the visors and vest as well.

I'm on a bus!
Yeah, this photo is completely personal but I found the experience quite surreal. I was driving to the gym one afternoon (nobody told me about the bus campaign, thanks by the way) and as I'm trucking along I get to a stop light. I turn my head to the right and there I am staring back at myself. I let out a loud shriek. Thank the Lord we are all at a standstill. Full disclosure about our bus campaign would have been nice.

And last but not least...
Just one of many soldiers who left for Afghanistan in 2008. It'll be a year long deployment. To all the men and women who serve our country, thank you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Texas Raid

1. Was it justified?
2. Where's the 16 year-old girl who alerted authorities about the alleged abuse?
3. And where will 416 children be sent to? will they be better off in the end?

For those of you who haven't been following this story out of Texas. Here's a QUICK recap. Texas Cops, clad in full body armor and automatic weapons raided an FLDS Compound in El Dorado, built by followers of the FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs who is now in behind bars in Kingman, Arizona after being found guilty of arranging a marriage between an underage girl and her cousin among other charges. Back to the raid...authorities say a 16 year-old girl called them on a cell phone and told them she was being abused by her 50 year-old husband, whom she was forced to marry. The raid resulted in the removal of 416 children who (some of them) according to authorities were believed to have been physically or sexually abused or in danger of being victimized. 139 women (their mothers) went along with them, staying at a shelter in Texas. But after some of the FLDS women talked to the media, Texas officials forced most of the mothers (more than 100) to go back to the compound without their children. The children's fate will be decided in a courtroom. That process will take MONTHS.

Now that you've been updated. I've been listening to the women at the ranch talk about what happened to them. This is their story. Read along and let me know what you think.

Flds Mother: "Our children need us and they have been taken away from us."


Flds Mother: "I was never served any papers, I have not seen my children."


Flds Mother: "I have continually petitioned the cps...we've even gone to the governor...and even invited the president to come see what is happening in Texas."


Flds Mother: "We are a very private people."


Child Protective Services: "I can tell you that today, the children at the shelter are doing well. They're happy, they're smiling, they're playing, they're interacting with staff."


Flds Mother: "No one has ever seen her or know of her...that was a prank phone call."


Flds Mother: "We are not a people of force..."
Flds Mother: "We decry against that...we are a people who do not partake or participate in child abuse in any way."
Flds Mother: "we haven't done anything wrong."


Flds Mother: "That is not correct, you are accusing and you have no fact."


Flds Mother: "We all love it here and we all want to be here and if we don't want to be here, we don't have to be here."
Flds Mother: "When I was 12 years old I chose to come back to the ranch, not to this ranch but I chose to come back to live and it's my choice...I love it here, I would never choose to go back."

*These women are upset because their children were taken away from them. Any mother can understand that. Anyone can understand that. But watching the full interview this morning, I couldn't help but to feel for these women. Have they been brainwashed? Are the men at the compound feeding them lines? They said they choose their lifestyle, they are happy with their lifestyle and if they wanted to leave, they are free to do so. But anyone who has experience working with women of domestic violence and abuse know that these women could be suffering and may be too afraid to speak out about what could be really happening. We've heard from women like Carolyn Jessop talk about escaping a polygamist lifestyle and we've heard other women who lived through it talk about the horrors of polygamy.*

My questions: are we judging and categorizing them because of their lifestyle? Do you believe what they say or do you think they've been brainwashed?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Going back Generations...

It's February and that means SWEEPS. It also means I get to work on a special series of stories. The stories are always original ideas that have to be exclusive to our T.V. station. This month I worked on two stories. You can find the first one under the blog, "Pocket Paternity."

This second sweeps piece, which I'm thrilled about is called "Know my Roots." While my photographer and I were out shooting the paternity story, we discovered the same company, Sorenson Genomics helps people track their ancestry through DNA. Imagine, a small string of mitochondrial DNA, passed down from your mother has the answers to who you are. Part of you anyway... is a Salt Lake City based website that claims to get people from your past (living and dead)connected. I decided to demonstrate the results and sent my DNA in to the lab. Two weeks later, I met with a Geneticist (a very impressive Dr. Scott Woodward) who was able to pin point where my great, great, great (tack a couple more "greats") grandmother was from. We went back generations...3,400 years ago to 1400 B.C. Turns out she was born somewhere between Turkey and Syria, solidifying what I've been told all along growing up. I'm Assyrian.

It was a unique opportunity to be able to share a piece of me with viewers. And after more than three years as a journalist, the word "Assyrian" finally makes it into one of my reports.

I've pasted the promotion for the story, which airs this Friday. By then, there will be a link that directs you to the two part story, which can be viewed at

UPDATE: here is part 1 & 2 of "Know your Roots" that aired and generated a lot attention from the Assyrian community! Like I said, this is just the beginning. One day, people will know who the Assyrians are.



Thursday, February 7, 2008

Investigative: Caught in the Act

It costs Utah businesses more than 34 million dollars a year and it's the fastest growing scam in the nation: workers compensation insurance fraud. Get busted and you could pay a hefty price, even spend time behind bars.

This is an investigative story about Utahns caught in the act. Catch part 1 & 2 on the link below. Clips will be posted and accessible on this blog soon.;jsessionid=707CF3B8CDE90BDE262F54BCA4363BFD?contentId=4982895&version=1&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=1.1.1&sflg=1

Pocket Paternity

Do-it-yourself DNA kits could be hitting a drug store near you. They're already available in some Rite Aid stores. They're confidential and you can get results in less than a week for under 120 dollars. The maker of the "Identigene Branded Paternity Test" is Sorenson Genomics, a Salt Lake City based company in Utah.

This is a story I worked on this month for my local Fox station. You can access part 1 & 2 on the link below. I'm working on downloading the news clips so you can watch my special series stories on this blog.;jsessionid=60B325FA014553B57C289B294E7F3E49?contentId=5703961&version=3&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=1.1.1&sflg=1


If you want to access my news blog in Utah, the link is below.

I blog almost daily about the news stories I cover.

Willard's Writing on the Wall

What a political bombshell.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney suspended his campaign today. "This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose," Romney told a crowd of people at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this morning.

His chief rival, John McCain has now sealed the Republican presidential nomination. It takes 1,191 delegates to win the nomination. At last count, McCain was leading with 707 delegates. Compare that to Romney's 294. Mike Huckabee scored 195. The writing was on the wall.

Romney's decision to leave the GOP race leaves the top man standing. The delegate hunt was going to be a mathematical impossibility for the former Massachusetts Governor. Romney was counting on winning Iowa and New Hampshire, two key states that never delivered the win he was hoping for. Super Tuesday left him with mostly small caucus states.

Romney, who is also a venture capitalist poured more than $40 million dollars of his own money into his campaign.

Romney labeled himself a Reagan-era conservative. He used 12 months of campaigning to talk about his strong family values, his opposition of abortion and gay marriage and support for tax cuts for the middle-class. But he was charged by the public and his rival, McCain as a flip-flopper. That may have been part of his downfall. John Kerry (2004) was also a so-called flip-flopper. But perhaps, what brought Romney into the spotlight to begin with is his Mormon faith. It's a topic that was not only questioned by voters, but vigorously be the media as well. Skeptics pressured Romney to explain his faith. His speech on December 6th in College Station, Texas assuaged the media, but were voters ready to accept a Mormon president?

This leaves an open discussion on religion. I found it particularly interesting since I live in Salt Lake City, the heart of Temple Square and the LDS Church. Was America, a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities ready for Romney?

Willard, by the way is Mitt Romney's first name.