Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kirkuk the "old fashioned land dispute"

The general with the easy smile has been here before. A little over a decade ago, Saddam Hussein dispatched him to this province where the oil wells belch orange flames day and night.
Now another Iraqi Arab leader has sent him north, in a battle of wills over Kirkuk that has awakened the past and raised fear of new fighting in the territory that the Kurds consider their Jerusalem. Already, one of his units has confiscated some Kurdish farmland for a base, stirring memories of Hussein's attempts to uproot the Kurdish population and settle Arabs.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Amir Zaidi laughs at the rumors about him swirling in Kirkuk province, especially the one about him being related to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who ordered Zaidi here to head a new Arab-led army division after he pulled out the Kurdish-led 4th division in July.
Zaidi is firm about what the government intends to do -- remove Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, from this bitterly disputed province, which is home to as much as 13% of Iraq's oil reserves and borders the semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

The above is the opening to Ned Parker's "Iraqi general's presence in Kirkuk stirs dark memories" (Los Angeles Times) and Parker will go on to explain that the US military "has increased its presence from one battalion to a combat brigade" and that the US military is being forced to mediate the conflict. But yesterday, Chris Hill, nominee to be the US Ambassador to Iraq, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Kirkuk "just an old fashioned land dispute." And remember, this 'insight' came after Hill was given 'wisdom': "I had the briefing. It turns out it is a very complex issue." Wow. It's "just an old fashioned land dispute." But it's "complex." Imagine how more pathetic his answer might have been without that briefing.

Let's remember that the committee chair, John Kerry (who supports Hill's nomination), started the hearing with a list of "challenges" which he felt the next ambassador to Iraq would have to address and Kirkuk made the list, in fact, it topped the list:

First, resolving the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories. Arab - Kurdish tensions run high in Kirkuk, which remains a potential flashpoint for violence, and meaningful efforts to reach agreement on Kirkuk's final status cannot be put off indefinitely. In Mosul, a strong showing in recent provincial elections by an anti-Kurdish coalition illustrated rising tensions there, as did a tense military standoff in Diyala province last summer between the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga . If progress is not made in defusing Arab-Kurdish tensions while American forces remain in Iraq, the window for a peaceful resolution of Kirkuk and other disputed territories may close.

No wonder Kerry yawned when Hill was yapping on at the start of the hearing. (And for those not present, this was a ful blown yawn. Wide mouth yawn. No attempt to put a hand over the mouth and cover it. No attend to hide the yawn.)

Chris Hill has many things on his resume. His performance yesterday demonstrated a severe lack of interest in the region or the country as he stumbled and fumbled making one mistake after another, remarks that even a casual observer of events in Iraq would have cringed over. But Hill didn't cringe. He honestly thought he was prepped and prepared. If that's the best he can offer, he is not fit for the job. And your biggest clue of how awful he was is how hard the MSM is working to avoid commenting on the hearing itself. They'll give you (as the Boston Globe) does a story on Republican opposition, for example. They'll do something about the nomination. But they won't go into detail about the hearing itself. Why should they? He looked like and sounded like a lunatic.

Iran's Press TV zooms in on one issue of Hill's hearing yesterday:

The US President's choice of envoy to Baghdad, Christopher Hill, blames Iran for the failure of Washington's strategies in Iraq.
He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that "The real problem in the region for Iraq remains its ancient neighbor, Iran."

Al Jazeera also zooms in on that issue. In fairness to Hill, he also issued platitudes about the US wanting Iran and Iraq to get along beautifully. He was all over the map and constantly contradicting himself. A great thing about the link is that it shows you some of Hill's hair problems. Look at the photo. And to four whining drive-bys in the public e-mail account: (1) I reserve the right to speak of anyone's hair cut anytime I want. (2) I didn't do that in yesterday's snapshot nor did I say whether it looked "bad" or not. (3) I made the point that he did not run a comb through his hair when he clearly needed to. (4) Proper grooming before testifying at a public hearing isn't a "fashion issue" (as one insists) or even a hair or beauty issue. It goes to how much respect you have for yourself and your audience or how little respect you have for them. (5) There's also the impression you send and Hill's impression was weakend by having his hair sticking up all over.

And it was all over -- on the top, in the back. I have a friend who's famous for her hair and famous for never worrying about the back of her hair, insisting she can't see it, so why worry. So she doesn't worry about what it looks like back there. And maybe if Chris Hill had a legion of people attempting to wear their hair like his (as my friend has), he could get away with something similar. But the reality is he was appearing before the Senate and should have combed his hair. I'm pretty sure my friend would and she's an actress, not a career diplomat.

Laura Rozen (Foreign Policy) blogged
last night:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held Chris Hill's confirmation hearing to become US ambassador to Iraq this morning. Though chairman Sen. John Kerry, ranking Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), two former Bush-appointed ambassadors to Iraq John Negroponte and Ryan Crocker, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as Generals David Petraeus, Ray Odierno and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have come out in favor of getting Hill into place in Baghdad quickly, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to vow to continue to oppose him.

In a functioning world, an alternative media (we don't have one in the US) would not repeat the narrative from Big Media (which is "Republicans oppose him!" and translates as, "All Democrats, unite! Support Hill!"). In a functioning world, with a real alternative media, the issue would be: John Negroponte and Zalmay Kahlizad -- two of the crookedest 'ambassadors' the country has ever seen -- support Hill so we should be very worried. But we don't live in a functioning world and we don't have an alternative media (in this country). So we will have the dumbed down discourse that Bob Somerby's been pointing out and decrying all month -- such as Tuesday:

In a rational world, progressives would moan at that kind of reporting. In this case, we cheered for it. Why?
We ask because of an e-mail we got asking why we’d want to criticize Keith Olbermann. We think the e-mail raised so many key questions that it deserves to be answered in public. We’ll post the e-mail at some point this week, then work from its issues next week.
In our view, the liberal and progressive movements have important public obligations. We mustn't behave like a gang of hacks, in the manner which defines so much of the modern press world. And yet, wherever we look, we see a nation ill-informed, ill-advised, as parts of the liberal/progressive world decline into forms of Kewl Kiddism.

Yesterday Dan Froomkin participated in an online chat at the Washington Post and we'll note this section:

Chicago: I like Obama, but I must say I am distracted by his constant teleprompter use. I've seen him make some embarrassing stumbles using it, so now every time he uses it I'm nervously waiting for another stumble to happen. He is an extremely gifted speaker, which makes his reliance on it kind of hard to understand. I wish he'd wean himself off it.
Dan Froomkin: Hmm. OK, maybe I've dismissed the matter a bit too cavalierly. But it still doesn't rise to the level of if-he-didn't-have-a-Teleprompter-could-he-talk?
The best explanation I've seen for why Obama wants to get every word just right, by the way, was in a profile of Obama speechwriter John Favreau, by
Mike Dorning
of the Chicago Tribune: "'I've never worked for a politician who values words as much as the president does,' Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said. 'The speechwriter is an unusually important person in the operation. [Obama's] willingness to entrust his words to others is limited.'"

Why are we noting it? It goes to this entry yesterday and what Ava and I will be addressing Sunday. (In other words, you can consider it a teaser or the fact that I've already packed this morning and don't want to lose a scrap of paper I'd write a note on between now and the next flight. And thank you to a friend at the paper who passed it on knowing Ava and I could use it for Sunday's topic.)

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