Alissa J. Rubin's "Iraq's Leader Pushes for Election Gains, but Some Fear Iron Hand" runs on the front page of this morning's New York Times and Rubin's examining puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki. Those who bother to read it may be shocked (we've noted it here) by news of two attempts by the Parliament to oust Nouri: "The anger at Mr. Maliki from the political class is strong enough that he has twice narrowly missed being voted out of office, in December and in late 2007." Those are not the only attempts to get rid of him, just FYI. Rubin goes on to explain that al-Maliki is popular with some Iraqis and, even later, goes on to explain why: Doling out pennies. Hmmm. It's a shame no one ever noticed that al-Maliki was sitting on all that money. It's a shame no one has thought to call for an audit of it.
al-Maliki's creation of his private guards, so similar to Saddam Hussein's actions, are noted as well. The US government backed Saddam and they've backed al-Maliki. Should the Iraqi people not have their way, it will be important to remember who created the puppet in forty years. His private guards are the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Task Force which bypass everyone else and report only to him and have no supervision or transparency. A Kurdish MP, Mahmoud Othman, is quoted observing, "The country is being militarized. People think he has overreached."
And for those who can't grasp why the US should have already left (should have never gone but is continuing to do damage), note this section:
American military commanders privately defend Mr. Maliki, saying that he has had to exert control over security forces and that having forces loyal to him reduces the influence of Shiite and Kurdish militias that function within the security ministries.
For those not aware, the US military -- or any military -- is not the person to judge what's best for democracy or democracy building. Democracy building is not a task a military should ever take on because it is beyond its scope and ability. The judgments being made by the US commanders? You damn well better believe they impact orders on down the chain and it's putting the US military into the position Joe Biden warned against in April, choosing sides in a civil war. He also declared, in that Senate hearing, "Just understand my frustration, we want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist."
That paragraph in Rubin's article should alarm but it will just sail over most heads because there is so little interest in Iraq and there is such a meager knowledge base on what a military can and can't do and what democracy actually is.
Biden warned that the US military was being put in the position of propping up one set of thugs. For those who doubt that's taking place, from Rubin's article:
Other parties accuse these military forces [al-Maliki's two private guards] of detaining their members for political reasons. Ammar Wajih, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party's political leadership, said the senior Sunni member of the provincial council in Diyala, Hussain al-Zubaidi, had been detained since November.
Provincial elections are scheduled to be held in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces on January 31s, five days from now. Rubin's reporting on how al-Maliki's tossing the pennies around in various areas in the hopes of increase support for his political party, Dawa. Also covering the impending elections is Kimi Yoshino's "Iraqis skeptical about politicians ahead of vote" (Los Angeles Times):
In fact, ask them to list their most important issues in local elections Saturday, and security takes a back seat to basic services, the economy and culture, if interviews with more than 20 Iraqis across the country are anything to go on.
Some are so soured on the government's ability to get things done, they've already turned apathetic in Iraq's early days of democracy.
"I won't participate in the upcoming elections," said Nahar Fakhri Sadoon, 58, of the southern city of Basra. "What happened in the past is the best proof. We challenged the enemies and the security situation, yet regrettably, those we voted for didn't give us the simplest things, and that is services."
Election officials say interest is running high, citing the fact that more than 14,400 candidates are competing for just 440 seats. About 14.8 million of Iraq's 28 million people have registered to vote in the 14 provinces holding elections, compared with the 15.5 million in all 18 provinces who registered in the 2005 elections.
And at the paper's blog, Babylon & Beyond, Monte Morin offers some numbers:
Election kits, including indelible ink bottles and ballot stamps -- 607 tons.
Registered voter lists, wall posters and complaint forms -- 20 tons.
Ballot papers -- 559 tons.
Polling screens -- 180 tons.
Also at the paper's blog, Tina Susman provides some commentary on various regions and photos of various campaign posters.
Brandy e-mails to note that Third's "Editorial: Barack kicks the can" and also Tom Eley's "Obama's orders leave framework of torture, indefinite detention intact" (WSWS):
On Thursday, President Barack Obama issued executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in a year's time, requiring that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military personnel follow the Army Field Manual's prohibitions on torture, and closing secret CIA prisons overseas.
While the media is portraying these orders as a repudiation of the detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration, they actually change little. They essentially represent a public relations effort to refurbish the image of the United States abroad after years of torture and extralegal detentions and shield high-ranking American officials from potential criminal prosecution.
In cowardly fashion, Obama staged his signing of the orders in a manner aimed at placating the political right and defenders of Guantanamo and torture and underscoring his intention to continue the Bush administration's "war on terror." He was flanked by 16 retired generals and admirals who have pushed for the closure of the prison camp in Cuba on the grounds that it impedes the prosecution of the global "war" and reiterated in his own remarks his determination to continue the basic political framework of the Bush administration's foreign policy.
The continuation of the ideological pretext for wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights ensures that the police state infrastructure erected under the Bush administration will remain intact. This is further reinforced by Obama's assurances that his administration will not investigate or prosecute those officials -- including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and others -- who were responsible for the policies of torture and illegal detention.
If I can find time at some point today, I'll also go into Third's editorial and add a "also see ___" at the end. I know Mike will want to highlight Eley's article because Mike's been covering this issue so I'll also e-mail him on it.
Bonnie notes Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Who Could Have Guessed" went up yesterday.
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