Friday, February 06, 2009

Even if you spin it, not good news for Nouri

"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's strong performance in Iraq's provincial elections was also a victory for American goals." No. al-Maliki wasn't a candidate. That's the lede to Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londono's Washington Post article and it's incorrect and they are not the only reporters/outlet to get it so wrong.

Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in provincial elections. These, as Londono himself has explained, are the equivalent of state legislature elections in the US. Did anyone assert that victory for Republicans in (pick one of fifty states) in (pick 2001 through 2007) was a victory for George W. Bush? No.

al-Maliki wanted to get some press and wanted to make the elections about him. He estimated a minimum of 70% of registered Iraqis would turn out. (51% did.) He thought this was going to be his big moment on the international scene.

For a reporter, it is very tempting to make it about al-Maliki for a number of reasons. For example, making provincial elections about the prime minister frees you of having to . . . cover the actual candidates. And there were 440 winners -- none of whom were named "Nouri al-Maliki." It's so much easier to stamp "al-Maliki Victory" and be done with it.

Alissa J. Rubin's "Prime Ministers Party Wins in Iraqi Vote but Will Need to Form Coalitions" (New York Times) does a little better than the Post. The headline writer captures it and Rubin does as well for most of her article; however, sentences like the following trip her up: "In Baghdad, where Mr. Maliki ran a strongly nationalist campaign, he appeared to have had some success in winning votes from Sunnis, but in the Sunni-majority provinces to the north, his party's slate barely made a showing." He ran a strong nationalist campaign? And how many votes did he receive? What did he say in his victory speech? When will he be sworn in?

Here's reality, if you're going to wrongly make the provincial elections about Nouri al-Maliki, you're going to have to judge the success or failure of al-Maliki and the reality is "his party's slate barely made a showing" in the north. The reality is that Iraq has 18 provinces -- three of which have scheduled votes for this spring -- and to claim al-Maliki has 'won' a national campaign is not only premature, it doesn't even jibe with the actual (preliminary) results.

Raghavan and Londono tell you that the Dawa Party (al-Maliki's party) "won in nine provinces" -- with "an outright plurality" (NOT a majority) in Baghdad and Basra while it was a narrow win for Dawa "in the other seven provinces." Or, as Rubin puts it, "the party fell short of being able to operate without coalition-building."

That's a win? 14 provinces held elections last Saturday and Dawa didn't squeak out a majority win in any province, it only got "an outright plurality" in two provinces and, to govern, they need to coalition-build with other parties. That's not a win. Not for al-Maliki -- who was not a candidate -- and certainly not for Dawa.

What is troubling - - and what no one's pointed out -- is that we don't expect, for example, Barack Obama to head over to Oregon when they're electing their state legislature. We don't expect him to campaign for them or butt in. That al-Maliki was allowed to hit the road (attempting to buy votes) goes to how problematic the election actually was. Rubin writes, "Some politicians have voiced concerns in recent months that too much power was being concentrated in Mr. Maliki's hands, and the election results suggested that Iraqis were not ready to rally around a single leader." It's a shame the press never bothered to question why a prime minister was attempting to repeatedly inject himself into provincial elections?

Rubin writes, "Except in areas where Sunnis were voting for the first time, the large, prominent parties with nationally known leaders won the most seats, showing the power of incumbency and the difficulties facing the newer secular parties." Well if you're going to make that observation, you might also question why the country's prime minister is interfering in provincial elections? These are not the equivalent of US Congressional elections (that would be Iraq's Parliament). That issue was never raised. But, no, it is not normal for the highest office holder in the country to try to inject her or himself into local elections. And it's not normal -- when the press is lauding 'democracy' -- for no one to question that injection. Another question to ask: Did al-Maliki's injection depress voter turnout?

In the final paragraphs of Rubin's article she notes Anbar and quotes various complaints from Tamouz ("a nongovernment organization monitoring the elections"). She tells us that the Iraqi Islamic Party is Sunni. She tells us nothing about the make up of Tamouz. Tamouz is making accusations. Readers have a right to know who they are and the use of "nongovernment" will translate to some as 'from outside Iraq.' That's not reality. But we don't get a lot of reality in this morning's election coverage. Back to the Washington Post's article, the following should never happen:

The Obama administration appeared as pleased at what did not happen on election day as it was about the results. "Any election where [there is] fairness and generally aboveboard practices, where the people get a chance to vote and they're not rioting in the streets and throwing bombs . . . is a good result," a senior administration official said in Washington. "We should celebrate that. So far, so good."

There is no reason to grant anonymity for the above. If the 'celebrator' can't be named, his or her comment doesn't need to be included. When you start granting anonymity for prattle, you're degrading journalism standards.

Yesterday Diyala Province was rocked by a bomber who took his/her own life as well as the lives of at least 15 civilians. Monte Morin and Tina Susman cover it in "16 killed in suicide attack in northern Iraq" (Los Angeles Times):

"I was sitting at the back of the restaurant having my lunch when a very huge explosion took place," said Majid Hussein, 25. "I felt everything around me smashing and the pressure of the explosion pushed me through the window."
Tensions are high in Khanaqin between Arabs and Kurds, who control a semiautonomous area in northeastern Iraq known as Kurdistan.
Although Khanaqin is part of Diyala province, the Kurdistan government wants to include the oil-rich city in the planned referendum on whether to incorporate Kirkuk and other disputed areas into its region.
Last summer, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish troops nearly clashed over Khanaqin after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki sent soldiers there to remove fighters from Kurdistan who had secured the predominantly Kurdish city for years.
Local media reported that most of the victims in Thursday's bombing were Kurds, and added that the bomber was a woman, a statement U.S. and Iraqi authorities could not immediately confirm.

Iran's Press TV reports United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Iraq and meeting with Nouri as well as Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president.

The Kurdish Regional Government notes the following:

The Wall Street Journal, 14:44:02 05 Feb. 2009
Minister Falah Bakir's letter to Wall Street Journal: "Don't forget Kurds' role in Iraq"

Wall Street Journal,
Letters to the Editor

Your editorial "Obama and Iraq" (January 27) highlights many factors regarding the US strategy in Iraq but neglects to mention the role of the Kurds. Within Iraq, the Kurds have been America's strongest ally in both Iraq's liberation from Saddam Hussein and in the democratic transition after the fall of the previous regime. Our peshmerga forces have fought and died alongside US soldiers combating terrorists in Iraq. The Kurds deeply appreciate what the US has done by ridding Iraq of a regime that employed chemical weapons against us and that was responsible for the death or disappearance of more than 180,000 Kurds.

The autonomous Kurdistan Region is a model for the rest of the country with respect to our culture of tolerance and our commitment to good governance. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also unwavering in its support for federalism and the Iraqi constitutional process. We are also concerned about any possible trends that seek to accentuate tensions between Arabs and Kurds, whether in Mosul, Kirkuk, Diyala or elsewhere.

The KRG agrees that the drawdown of US forces must be responsible, and driven more by conditions inside Iraq rather than by a timetable. The gains in Iraq over the past year have been substantial, but the politics remain fragile, especially following the provincial elections held on January 31. We still must navigate the referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement to take place late this summer, and parliamentary elections to be held by the end of 2009. Should there be a US redeployment in Iraq, the KRG is fully committed to working as a partner with the US to ensure security and stability in Iraq.

Falah Mustafa Bakir
Erbil, Kurdistan Region

Minister Bakir is head of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The following community sites update last night:

I included this site because Joan references last night's "I Hate The War" and notes David M. Herszenhorn's "Senators Draft List Of Cost Cuts In Stimulus Plan" -- "A draft. According to the New York Times." Yes and the story makes the front page (and that is the print edition headline). Joan's right, it's a draft. Still being written. Most people who endorse legislation wait until it's written to do so.

The e-mail address for this site is

the washington post

ernesto londono
the new york times
alissa j. rubin
the los angeles times
monte morin
 tina susman

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends