Thursday, January 29, 2009

Early voting in provincial elections

Fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces vote in the provincial elections Saturday. Tina Susman's "Iraq voters cast early ballots in provincial elections" (Los Angeles Times) is a close look at the early voting for "soldiers, police, prisoners and hospital patients" that contains a number of details and facts. One that stands out is her explaining that nearly 15 million people have registered to vote. That figure may suggest voter fraud. The CIA's current (July 2008) estimate for the population is 28,221,180 Iraqis. That's an estimate and it's only remotely accurate if Iraq's had a baby boom in the midst of the illegal war (it may have). You have had the "brain drain" (the flight of the technocrats, medical profession, etc), you have had the refugee flight (which follows the "brain drain" -- follows it several years later). It also doesn't appear (short of an ongoing baby boom in Iraq) to acknowledge the approximately 1.5 million Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war.

But let's stick with 28 million while noting the figure is questionable. That would mean 13 million are not registered to vote. Since we know some adult Iraqis are refusing to take part in the process, that means the 13 million is made up more of than just the youth (defined here as "under legal voting age"). The 15 million figure seems rather high considering all the deaths during the illegal war, the brain drain, the refugee crisis, etc. (And note, the US State Dept estimates the population in Iraq to be 27,499,638 -- an estimate that still seems high.)

Susman notes there are 440 council seats up for grabs with 14,467 people competing for those slots and that, unlike in 2005, Sunnis are expected to participate in this election at higher rates. From the article, we'll note this section:

In southern provinces, the battle lines are drawn among Shiite parties vying for influence in oil-rich Basra and other Shiite-majority areas. Last year in March, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki launched a military offensive in Basra against militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. Maliki is hoping his Islamic Dawa Party will reap the benefits of that offensive with a win over the rival Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council -- a victory that would bode well for him in national elections this year.
At a polling site for police in Basra, officer Maitham Hasan said he had selected a Dawa candidate. "I voted for the slate that made Basra safe from criminals," Hasan said.
Salman Jassim, a headmaster hospitalized in Basra, agreed. Maliki "restored security to Basra after the hegemony of the armed groups," he said.
Another patient, who did not want his name published, said he had backed the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. "I feel they are better than others," he said.

Zaid Sabah also covers early voting in "Tens of Thousands Vote Early in Iraq" (Washington Post) and includes this category among the early voters "and residents forced from contested towns". Sabah informs that "three Kurdish provinces" intend to vote later this year and no one knows when Kirkuk will be allowed to vote. And al-Maliki continues trolling for votes in an election he's not a candidate in:

The Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose popularity has been bolstered by the decline in violence, is seeking to chip away at the power of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which controls four of the nine predominantly Shiite southern provinces. Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose men have fought rival Shiites, the army and the U.S. military, are backing lists of nominally independent candidates.
"What makes us happy is the preparations we are seeing today -- a slap in the face of those who are betting that Iraqis will not go to the ballot boxes because they are despairing," Maliki said during a televised election rally in the southern city of Amarah.

In this morning's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin and Peter Baker offer "Obama Seeks Accord With Military on Iraq" details Barack's dance where he pretends to want to end the illegal war. The reporters see him as "recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency." He's never pledged to end the illegal war. He did infer -- in statements at rallies -- that he would pull all US troops out of Iraq but his actual 'plan' was combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months leaving behind as many as 80,000 potentially (the White House unofficially says the number would be 70,000). That 'plan' was revealed as empty words by then-foreign policy advisor Samantha Power when speaking to the BBC in March 2008 and by Barack when speaking to CNN in June of last year. We'll note this section of the article:

Among those consulted by the president was Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, who has developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama’s campaign timetable, by pulling out two brigades over the next six months. In an interview in Iraq on Wednesday, General Odierno suggested that it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly.
"I believe that if we can get through the next year peacefully, with incidents about what they are today or better, I think we're getting close to enduring stability, which enables us to really reduce," General Odierno said as he inspected a polling center south of Baghdad in advance of provincial elections on Saturday.
General Odierno said the period between this weekend's elections and the national elections to be held about a year from now would be critical to determining the future of Iraq. While some American forces could be withdrawn before then, he suggested that the bulk of any pullout would probably come after that.

In other words, after nearly six years of illegal war, it's still too soon to judge whether or not the US can drawdown -- drawdown, not withdraw. No one's promised withdrawal -- Barack refused to pledge that, if elected, all US troops would be out of Iraq by the close of 2012.

Yesterday, the US Embassy in Iraq issued the following press release:

U.S. Bank Executives Attend Iraqi-International Banking Conference
January 28, 2009
The American Embassy today welcomed representatives of U.S. banks and other U.S. banking experts to attend the Iraq-International Banking Conference held January 28-29 at the Adnan Palace adjacent to the International Zone.
Representatives from J.P. Morgan Bank, Citibank and other international banks as well as experts from Financial Service Volunteer Corps are in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi private banks during the two-day conference sponsored by the Trade Bank of Iraq under the patronage of the Minister of Finance.
The Minister of Finance and the Minister of Electricity, as well as representatives from six state-owned banks and 33 private banks are meeting with visiting bankers and other industry professionals to discuss establishing banking correspondent relations that would deepen commercial relationships between Iraq and international businesses. The participants are discussing new business opportunities for banks in Iraq and the requirements necessary to engage in trade finance and other international banking operations. Discussion also includes possible areas of assistance that could be supported by these private companies, the offices of the U.S. Embassy's Treasury Attache' and the Coordinator of Economic Transition in Iraq.
The relationships formed at the conference will help strengthen the ongoing efforts of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement established January 1 to promote a growing and prosperous Iraqi economy.
Ambassador Marc Wall, Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq at the U.S. Embassy applauded this initiative stating: "The U.S.-Iraqi partnership to strengthen the banking sector and engage the private sector will provide the building blocks for a broader economic role for Iraq in the region and the world."

The following community sites updated last night:

Wally and Cedric did their humorous joint-post as usual. The others stuck with a theme: rumors.

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oh boy it never ends