Friday, December 26, 2008

Iraq realities

With provincial elections scheduled for the end of January, Iraq appears to be plagued by political troubles that seem closer to Shakespearean drama than to nascent democracy.
There is talk of a coup to oust the prime minister. The speaker of the Parliament has abruptly resigned, making angry accusations on his way out the door. And there have been sweeping arrests of people believed to be conspiring against the government, both in Baghdad and Diyala Province.

The above is from Alissa J. Rubin's "Political Power Plays Unsettle Iraq" (New York Times) which runs on the front page of the paper this morning. Rubin explores the conflict between those wanting centralized control and those wanting provinces to have more control. She notes that US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and former top commander in Iraq General David Petreaus are fond of using the term "fragile" to describe Iraq. No, that's not the equivalent of a 90% democracy. Rubin explores how al-Maliki is seen to be consolidating his power and doing so at the expense of others. She explores his "controversial" program of putting tribal councils on his personal payroll. For those paying attention in April, this is what Joe Biden was publicly warning against.

Rubin notes that despite the amnesty for Sunnis, the bulk remain imprisoned, she notes that along with talks of coups in Iraq, there is talk of holding a no-confidence vote to replace him:

But unless there is a consensus about a successor, the government could drift for months as it did after the elections in 2005, when there were several months of discussions about who would become prime minister, and in 2006, when the previous prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was removed. It's billed as a "NEWS ANALYSIS" and is probably the strongest thing on Iraq that's made the front page all year.

Meanwhile al-Maliki just finished a visit to Turkey. It did not go well. He breezed in dismissing concern over the PKK and mouthing remarks about bi-lateral trade and how there were so many issues that Iraq and Turkey had to address, important issues. As Carole King sings in "Chalice Borealis" (which she wrote with Rick Sorensen), "Didn't turn out quite the way you wanted, how were you to know?" So when the news shortly after he arrives is that the PKK in northern Iraq has just killed three Turkish soldiers with seventeen more injured, it demanded a statement and he had nothing to offer but mealy mouth words. Repeating, he came into Turkey dismissing the need to address the PKK (despite Iraq's president and vice president both visiting Turkey in the last seven days to address the issue of the PKK and other issues)and, when the news broke of the dead and wounded soldiers, he fell back on soundbytes he's been using since 2007. It was not a diplomatic success. But Turkey was only one stop on his tour of diplomacy. Or was supposed to be. Dalya Hassan and Aziz Alwan's "Iraqi Prime Minister Cancels Iran Trip; Attack in Mosul Kills U.S. Soldier" (Washington Post) informs that the planned trip to Iran has been cancelled and no one is sure why that is:

The cancellation prompted speculation among Iraqi officials that Maliki changed his plans for a possible visit to Baghdad by President-elect Barack Obama, or because of the tumult in parliament that followed the resignation this week of its abrasive and sometimes strident speaker. Others suggested that Maliki was simply required to be in Baghdad ahead of the implementation of a new agreement that, starting Jan. 1, regulates the once almost unquestioned authority of the U.S. military here.
"We don't know what is going on and why the prime minister canceled his visit to Iran," said Bassem Sharif, a parliament member with the Shiite-led Fadhila Party. "The whole issue is not why the visit had been canceled. We don't know even why he wanted to go to Iran."

Back to Turkey, Hurriyet explains "Turkish army wants Iraq to contribute to fight against PKK terror:"

Turkey, provided with intelligence by the United States, has stepped up its campaign to crackdown on the PKK both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq, after the terror organization increased its attacks on Turkish soldiers, as well as civilians.
"We also wish that Iraqi authorities contributed to the fight against the separatist terrorist organization," he said when asked about Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's remarks and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's visit to Turkey.
Earlier this week, Maliki met earlier this week Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara to discuss possible measures against the PKK. His visit came as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spoke of the possibility of the PKK laying down arms and disclosed a staged plan to end terror.

Repeating, Talabani and Tariq al-Hashemi went to Turkey to address the issue (al-Hashemi is the Sunni vice president). They didn't need to be prompted and, most importantly, they didn't arrive in Turkey issuing dismissals to the press about how there were other things to talk about (as al-Maliki did repeatedly stressing bi-lateral trade). Talabani, a Kurd, actually made his strongest statements yet on the matter and was well received. A luke warm reception was what al-Maliki received (his own fault).

We'll note Samah A. Habeeb's "Hunger across Gaza as Bread Runs Out" which went up yesterday at Dissident Voice and is a photo and text essay:

The misery in Gaza pushed me to report on the hunger of my people.
I stopped by Al Shanty Bakery in the middle of Gaza City. It is one of the biggest bakeries in Gaza and provides tens of thousands with bread. Hundreds of people were crowded outside the bakery in a very long, long line waiting for bags of bread, which is running out in Gaza.

Also on Christmas, Judy ____ _____ surfaced. Dear Judy . . . who knew she was still alive? And after the initial buzz passed, even fewer cared. Judy's been selling out to the patriarchy all the way back to the days of the SDS.

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alissa j. rubin