Friday, January 23, 2009

Provincial elections loom, Crocker prepares to depart

His style diverged from that of his predecessors, including L. Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Bremer was a familiar face who wore combat boots and suits, a kind of imperial chic. Khalilzad also became well known among Iraqis. Though a fluent Arabic speaker, Crocker kept a lower profile; on a recent day, hardly anyone in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood was familiar with his name.
But he seemed to draw a deep loyalty from his staff, culled from embassies across the Middle East, who appeared to share his sense of the country. A U.S. official quoted an adage he attributed to Crocker about politics in Iraq: "Everything here is harder than you think it is, everything will take longer, and something will come along to screw it up."
Iraq is far different today from what it was in 2006 and 2007, a period that Iraqis sometimes elliptically refer to as "the events." Others, more bluntly, call it the sectarian war. While Baghdad and parts of Iraq remain remarkably violent -- bombings still punctuate any day in the capital -- the breathtaking bloodshed that marked that period has fitfully receded.
Ironically, Crocker said, as that violence has diminished, unresolved conflicts have come into sharper relief: tension between Arabs and Kurds, a debate over power-sharing between the federal government and the provinces, and divisions within Iraq's sectarian and ethnic communities.

The above is from Anthony Shadid's "Departing U.S. Envoy In Iraq Sees Risks Ahead" (Washington Post) and Timothy Williams covers the same story for the New York Times with "Departing U.S. Ambassador Warns Against Quick Withdrawal From Iraq" from which we'll note:

He has said he may retire to his home state, Washington, though he reminded reporters that he had previously announced his intention to retire, most recently before President Bush selected him to be the ambassador here, replacing Zalmay Khalilzad, who had been appointed ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. Crocker, who has also served as ambassador to Pakistan, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, said this year would be a critical one in Iraq, particularly because of provincial and parliamentary elections on Jan. 31 and a referendum on the security pact in July.
"The conduct and outcome of those elections I think are going to be very important for the country, in particular that they be -- and be perceived as -- free and fair, in at least a general sense," he said. "They're not going to be perfect elections, I think we all know that. But it is important that they be credible elections."

As always, we disagree with the bulk of Crocker's assessments. He's pictured below at the US Embassy/Fortress in Baghdad's grand opening with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and former US Ambassador to Iraq (and all around War Criminal of many decades) John Negroponte.

Crocker, Talabani, Negroponte

Those who would prefer audio can refer to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro All Things Considered report and it needs to be noted that none of the three reporters mentioned thus far in this entry knows as much about the Status Of Forces Agreement or of the 16-month 'promise' as they seem to think they do. We'll again link to Meredith Buel's Voice of America report because, propaganda outlet or not, she did a better job of grasping reality and conveying it.

Crocker says in the NPR report, "It is a year of elections. The conduct and outcome of those elections are going to be very important for the country, in particular that they be, and be perceived as, free and fair in at least a general sense. They are not going to be perfect elections. I think we all know that. But they have to be credible elections."

And for those wanting a text report worth reading, Tina Susman's "U.S. envoy to Iraq warns against abrupt troop withdrawal" (Los Angeles Times) handles the twists and turns while offering the perspective her reports are becoming famous for:

Obama would like to have all the troops out by spring 2010. An agreement forged by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government calls for the last troops to leave by the end of 2011, though it is subject to change.
Whatever happens, the ambassador said that if it were to be a "precipitous withdrawal, that could be very dangerous." Crocker said he was confident that was not the direction Obama was going. However, the president campaigned on a promise to end the war in Iraq, and with violence at its lowest level since 2003 and commanders in Afghanistan saying they need more troops, Obama will face pressure to move quickly on his campaign vow.
In a conference call Wednesday night with Obama, Crocker said, he and the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, gave their assessments of the security situation in Iraq. He would not say what they told the president, though Odierno has also urged caution in reducing forces.

Marines and Crocker

Provincial elections are scheduled to take place in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces on January 31st. A number of issues are being focused presently including security and who votes. On the first topic, Viet Nam News' "Second provincial poll crucial test of Iraq stability" offers this:

Bombings and the assassination of candidates have increased as the election approaches prompting widespread fear that the vote may spark a new round of bloodshed.
Although the incidents cannot prevent the election, they confirm the ferocity of the continuing power struggle.
It is struggle that is unlikely to end anytime soon.
The number of candidates also makes the election more complex.
More than 14,000 from about 400 political parties might show an increasing interest in representative government among the people.
But it may also further make national consensus more difficult.

On the latter topic, Afif Sarhan's "Hardships For Displaced Iraqis to Vote" (Islam Online) offers some numbers including that 100,000 is the number of internal refugees in Iraq who've signed up to vote. To put the number into context, International Organization for Migration Iraq's most recent report on internal refugees put the number at 2.8 million. (That report was released this month. PDF format warning, click here.) Sarhan notes approximately "2.9 million Iraqis are registered to vote" and we'll note this section:

Wissam Muhammad, a displaced Iraqi shopkeeper, is scratching his head how to travel from the outskirts of Babel to Baghdad to vote in the January 31 local elections.
"We don't have money to go to the polling stations," Muhammad, 38, told
"Few displacement camps will have the chance to have a moving station or be driven by someone to vote.
"In our case, like many other displaced families here, our polling station is in Baghdad and we cannot vote here."

Alsumaria offers an Arabic report on the reaction of Iraqis to the campaigning. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) offers this:

This year, campaigning falls during the 40 days of mourning for the death of Imam Hussein and election posters compete for space with Shiite flags on buildings, concrete walls and intersections.
Even many traditional Shiite candidates are highlighting their nonreligious credentials.
"People know me for my faith and my scientific qualifications," says Tunis Farhan Aziz, a lawyer on the list of the First Martyr Sadr, named for Moqtada Sadr's uncle the Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr Sadr, executed by Saddam Hussein. "We need to build a strong economy with different facets.... We will try to fix the mistakes that happened before.
Hisham al-Suhail, deputy commissioner of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, estimates security has improved by more than 90 percent in all provinces besides Mosul and Diyala. He says this election, the first held in a fully sovereign Iraq, will be largely free of widespread allegations of voter registration fraud in the previous vote.
"We will avoid the problems of previous elections," he says. "This election is controlled purely by Iraqi hands."

The United Nations helped with the Vote For Iraq blog which contains information for those planning to vote in the provincial elections.


The e-mail address for this site is

the washington post
anthony shadid
the washington post
anthony shadid

lourdes garcia-navarro