Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Provincial elections?

Yesterday, the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi Parliament staged a walk-out over a bill regarding the alleged provincial elections that allegedly would take place October 1st. The walk-out means the already much postponed provinicial elections may be postponed further. Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) reports some are ceterain the bill would be vetoed (most likely by Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who sits on the presidential council) or fail to stand up "in constitutional courts" and it's also being called a "secret vote" by Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman. From Youssef's "Kurds storm out as Iraqi parliament OKs Oct. 1 elections:"

Iraqi politics has pivoted this entire year on holding provincial elections. Newly emerged local leaders hoped to win a legitimate role in government, and major political blocs were vying for support among their base. The U.S. has called the process crucial for much-needed political reconciliation.
Some Iraqis think that the offensives that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched in the southern cities of Basra and Amara and the Baghdad slum of Sadr City were to weaken his political rivals, the Sadrists, who controlled those areas.
The possibility of a months' long delay in the elections could fundamentally alter the priorities of local and national politicians.

The dispute is over the oil-rich Kirkuk which has been a source of tension since the start of the illegal war with some factions arguing it should be grouped with the centeral government in Baghdad and others arguing it should be grouped with the Kurdish region. As the dispute has continued, the Kudish region has moved Kurds into Kirkuk (sometimes through force) to change the population makeup of the ethnically diverse city and attempt to bolster their argument that Kirkuk is part of the Kurdish region. From Ned Parker and Saif Hameed's "In Iraq, Kurds walk out of parliament in protest" (Los Angeles Times)

The contentious issue was among several points that have delayed a vote on the law that would pave the way for the first local elections since January 2005, when most Sunni Arabs and many Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada Sadr boycotted the vote. U.S. officials believe the participation of such groups could go a long way toward righting the balance of power in provincial politics, in which a small number of parties, mainly Kurdish and Shiite Muslim, have dominated.
The elections, sought by U.S. officials for more than a year, have stalled amid political competition as parties in the Iraqi government have feared that local elections could cost them influence. Disagreements have centered on the question of whether voters should be allowed to choose individual candidates or pick from closed party lists. Lawmakers have also argued about whether parties could use religious imagery in the campaign and whether parties with links to militias could participate.
The government had aimed to hold the election in October. But the country's election commission announced over the weekend that the date was unrealistic and that the law needed to be passed by the end of the month if Iraq wanted to hold the elections by December.

The status of Kirkuk has proved to be a major stumbling block. Last week, the parliament's Kurdish bloc led its first walkout over a draft of the electoral law because of its provision to either delay provincial elections in Kirkuk until the city's future is decided or to redistribute power equally among Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens.

Alissa J. Rubin's "Kurds Object to Iraqi Provincial Election Law" (New York Times) provides some backstory:

The disagreement centered on the multiethnic city of Kirkuk, one of several areas in Iraq where there are competing claims over which province a city or district belongs in. The question for Kirkuk is whether it should be absorbed into the Kurdistan region -- a particularly charged question because the city sits on some of the largest unexploited oil reserves in the country. Both Arabs and Kurds lay claim to the area.
At bottom, the disagreement is also about the ethnic identity of Iraq and about Arab frustration with the Kurds. Although the Kurds are a minority, they have proved adept at turning the political process to their advantage, often to the chagrin of larger ethnic and religious groups.
It is an article of faith among Kurds that Kirkuk should be part of the Kurdistan region, a principle on which they have refused to compromise.
Kirkuk, the capital of Tamim Province, is home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens as well as Christians. Successive political policies altered the demographics of the area. Saddam Hussein forced Kurds out and moved Arabs in.
After Mr. Hussein's ouster, the Kurds tried to reverse his policies, pushing Kurds to return and Arabs to leave.

If you're a drive-by and this is news you, you may be a consumer of Panhandle Media which has (for years) allowed a US voice to steer the conversation on Iraq while failing to note that he is paid lobbyist for the Kurdish region. That was apparently too much information to provide you with. (Though The Nation and it's laughable offshoots have played dumb, it should be noted that The Nation's Tom Hayden addresses it in his book that came out last year.) From the Assyrian International News Agency earlier this year: "Peter Galbraith, a Clinton-era ambassador retained by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to lobby on their behalf, even suggests constructing a U.S. military base in the region." Former ambassador and advisor to the Pentagon. As Jane Mayer noted in 2004 ("The Manipulator," The New Yorker):

Peter Galbraith, a former Ambassador to Croatia and a human-rights activist, who has long supported Chalabi's efforts to depose Saddam, suggested that if the Administration was unhappy with the outcome in Iraq it had only itself to blame. "Chalabi is one of the smartest people I know," he told me. As Galbraith put it, Chalabi "figured out in the eighties that the road to Baghdad ran through Washington. He cultivated whom he needed to know. If he didn't get what he wanted from State, he went to Capitol Hill. It's a sign of being effective. It's not his fault that his strategy succeeded. It's not his fault that the Bush Administration believed everything he said. Should they have? Of course not. They should have looked critically. He's not a liar; he believed the information he was purveying, and part of it was valuable. But his goal was to get the U.S. to invade Iraq."

Galbraith was stating that in 2004. To provide some context, in May 2003, Jack Shafer (Slate) was already offering this in "Reassessing Miller:"

Now, thanks to the reporting of the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, we understand why Miller and the administration might have seen eye-to-eye on Iraq's WMD. On the same day as the Times editorial appeared, Kurtz reproduced an internal Times e-mail in which Miller described Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraq leader, former exile, and Bush administration fave, as one of her main sources on WMD.
"[Chalabi] has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper," Miller e-mailed Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns. Miller added that the MET Alpha--a military outfit searching for WMD after the invasion--"is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work."
The failure of "Chalabi's intell" to uncover any WMD has embarrassed both the United States and Miller. As noted previously in this column, she oversold the successes of the post-invasion WMD search. On April 21, she reported in the Times that an Iraqi scientist had led MET Alpha to a site where Iraqis had buried chemical precursors for chemical and biological weapons. "Officials" told Miller this was "the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons."

And to provide a little more context, one year later, Liar Chalabi was back in the news. Richard Engel (MSNBC) would report that Chalabi's campaign for Prime Minister of Iraq included bragging about his claims to the illegal war including a campaign poster that read: "We liberated Iraq!" (and of course featured Chalabi's grotesque face). From that report:

The idea that Chalabi 'liberated Iraq' is a growing theme with his party. A few days ago we spoke to the editor of Chalabi's newspaper about the Los Angeles Times report that the U.S. military has been planting articles in Iraqi newspapers. The editor told us he didn't see a problem with it.
"We brought the Americans here," he told us, "so why wouldn't we print the military's point of view?"
It was as if he was saying, we used the U.S., so why not let them use us a little?

In 2004, realities about Chalabi were well known. From Rick Kelly's "Ahmed Chalabi and the 'liberation' of Iraq" (WSWS):

While in Lebanon, Chalabi developed his connections in the Middle East. In 1972 he married the daughter of the speaker of the Lebanese parliament. He also made full use of his family’s monarchical contacts. The Chalabi family maintained their ties with the Jordanian Hashemite monarchy after the coup in Iraq, and in 1977 Crown Prince Hassan invited Ahmed to establish a bank in Jordan.
Chalabi's Petra became the second largest commercial bank in the country. The rotten foundation underlying its growth was only uncovered in the aftermath of a severe financial and currency crisis that gripped Jordan in the late 1980s. As the Jordanian dinar’s value plummeted, the country’s central bank demanded that financial institutions deposit 35 percent of their holdings into the central bank's reserves. Petra was the only bank that proved unable to comply. A subsequent audit revealed evidence of unprecedented fraud and theft.
Foreign exchange assets on the bank's books had disappeared, while millions of dollars of depositors' money had been illegally transferred to other businesses and financial institutions owned by the Chalabi family. This extraordinary looting operation cost Jordan an estimated $US500 million—equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Escaping prosecution, Chalabi fled Jordan in August 1989. Three years later, after a comprehensive investigation, he was charged on 31 counts of theft, embezzlement and illegal currency speculation. He was sentenced, in absentia, to 22 years hard labour. Four of Chalabi's brothers were also convicted over the affair.
After Petra's demise, the authorities in Switzerland shut down two Swiss-based financial institutions run by the Chalabi family, amid reports of illegal practices. Two of the brothers who had been involved in the Petra fraud, Jawad and Hazem Chalabi, were prosecuted on charges of falsifying documents, and received six-month suspended sentences in September 2002.

Laura Rozen (Washington Monthly) had to word his actions a little more carefully, noting he was "a longtime advocate of the Iraqi Kurds". More than many bothered to do.

From Team Nader:

Nader and Gonzalez to Campaign in Austin, Texas, Sun., July 27

Monday, July 21, 2008 at 12:00:00 AM


Contact: Chris Driscoll, 202-360-3273,


Who: Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader and Vice Presidential Candidate Matt Gonzalez
What: Nader/Gonzalez News Conference and Campaign Rally
When: Sun., July 27, 7:00 p.m. News Conference and 7:30 p.m. Campaign Rally
Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, 600 East 50th St. Austin, TX 78751

Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader will campaign in Austin, Sun. July 27, hosting a news conference and campaign rally with Vice Presidential Candidate Matt Gonzalez at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 600 East 50th St. Austin, TX 78751. The news conference starts at 7:00 p.m., followed by a 7:30 p.m. campaign rally. Suggested donation for the rally is $10/$5 students.

Mr. Nader and Mr. Gonzalez will address critical issues the major party candidates have taken "off the table" that the Nader/Gonzalez Campaign has put on the table, including:

  • a comprehensive, negotiated military and corporate withdrawal date from Iraq;
  • a single-payer, Canadian-style, private delivery, free-choice public health insurance system for all;
  • a living wage and repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act;
  • a no-nuke, solar-based energy policy supported by renewable, sustainable, energy-efficient sources;
  • a carbon tax to deter global warming;
  • an end to the corporate welfare and corporate crime that has resulted in millions losing pensions, savings and jobs and squandered tax dollars; and,
  • more direct democracy reflecting the preamble to our constitution which starts with "we the people," and not "we the corporations."

About Ralph Nader
Celebrated attorney, author, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader has been named by Time Magazine one of the "100 Most Influential Americans in the 20th Century." For more than four decades he has exposed problems and organized millions of citizens into more than 100 public interest groups advocating solutions. His organizations have helped establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and enact the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and countless other pieces of important consumer legislation. Because of Ralph Nader we drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water, and work in safer environments. Nader graduated from Princeton University and received an LL.B from the Harvard School of Law.

About Matt Gonzalez
Matt Gonzalez was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2000 representing San Francisco's fifth council district. From 2003 to 2005 he served as Board of Supervisors President. A former public defender, Gonzalez is managing partner of Gonzalez & Leigh, a 7-attorney practice in San Francisco that represents individuals and organizations in mediation, arbitration, and administrative proceedings before state and federal regulatory bodies. Gonzalez graduated from Columbia University and received a JD from Stanford Law School.

For more information on the Nader/Gonzalez campaign, visit

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robin long