Friday, March 27, 2009

Yesterday's bombing and the meanings

There was a numbed moment Thursday, the interregnum between an attack and its carnage. Then the anger unfurled, as survivors took stock of a car rigged with explosives that had detonated in a market crowded with women and children in northern Baghdad, killing 16 people and wounding dozens more.
"All of this is your fault!" Sgt. Ali Abbas, one of the policemen who arrived at the scene, recalled women shouting at him and his colleagues.
Amid the panic of survivors and the screams of the wounded, elderly women threw sandals at them, he said. Others spat at the police officers and shouted insults.

The above is from Anthony Shadid's "After Bombing, Iraqi Police Face Local Ire" (Washington Post) who does a strong job capturing the reaction to yesterday's latest bombing, a car bombing in Baghdad. One thing he doesn't do, because he's a reporter and not a columnist, is offering his own personal speculation. So we'll note that this anger -- which is expressed more and more often by Iraqis -- has a lot to do, it can be argued, with the constant claims of 'improved' Iraq, 'safer' Iraq. You keep hearing that repetition long enough, it takes a toll and it raises your expectations. When your expectations are not met, you have a situation where people in office can be thrown out. Parliamentary elections are supposed to be held in December. We'll come back to that topic in a minute. First well note this from Raheem Salman and Ned Parker's "Iraq car bombing kills 26 in Baghdad" (Los Angeles Times):

"Before, the concrete barriers didn't allow the cars to enter this market . . . but these T-Walls were removed recently by the security forces," said Mohammed abu Mariam, 45, who was shopping at the time.
He described seeing dead women and children and dismembered bodies on the street. The explosion set cars on fire and shattered car windows, and the air smelled of burned flesh. Others described women wandering the street shouting for loved ones.
The blast was the third major attack in the capital this month. Although the overall number of civilian deaths is far lower than during the country's civil war several years ago, hopes that Iraq could completely end the bombings and killings that have defined it since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have proved illusory.
With the relatively improved security, the Iraqi government has been eager to remove the concrete barriers that wall off districts, major intersections, markets and other gathering spots, where militants once set off car bombs sometimes two or three times daily.

As usual, the Los Angeles Times' Iraq bureau offers a strong context and perspective. Campbell Robertson covers the bombing for the New York Times -- the bombing and everything else that can be piled up on Robertson. Robertson's report is actually three and it's a real shame, with all the money the paper throws at Iraq, they refuse to use that resource (including market it to sell the paper) in a way that makes the money spent worth it. Along with the violence he notes that the provincial elections -- held January 31st in 14 of Iraqi's 18 provinces -- are finally ratified and that the provinces will get the results Sunday. But we're going to zoom in on this paragraph:

The 11th annual human rights report released Thursday by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office lauded Iraq for its gains in security as well as for its progress in judicial independence, political openness and respect for human rights, saying Iraqis were "arguably freer now than at any time in the country's history." The report said serious challenges remained.

That is hilarious and you have to wonder of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the words of Stevie Nicks, "Who in the world do you think that you are fooling?" ("The Two of Us," The Other Side of the Mirror) [and Fleetwood Mac is on tour and Stevie's live album comes out next Tuesday -- a live DVD also is released Tuesday].

Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a British governmental office so this is a government report and apparently the decision to withdraw nearly all British forces by the end of July led the government to get creative (or maybe they just missed all the 'fun' they had in the lead up to the illegal war). That is flat out wrong and it's not just me saying that, it's the US government. Yesterday's snapshot included this, "The report itself [PDF format warning, click here] is fairly straightforward and we may come back to it in a later snapshot to grab something unrelated to withdrawal." We're coming back to it.

DOD, UN, and human rights reports have identified significant shortcomings
in Iraq's judicial system. A December 2008 Human Rights Watch report, for
example, concluded Iraq's central criminal court "seriously" failed to meet
international standards of due process and fair trials. Some of these reports
raise concerns that detainees in Iraqi custody may be tortured or mistreated
because Iraqi officials often rely on coerced confessions instead of physical
evidence, particularly in criminal cases. Whether contractors could
renegotiate their contracts given the changes in circumstances would depend
on the terms of their contracts, according to DOD officials. These officials
said that U.S. contractors and their employees are subject to host government
jurisdiction in other countries where U.S. forces operate under a status of
forces agreement. Moreover, they note that many U.S. contractor employees
are Iraqi nationals and, as such, would be subject to Iraqi jurisdiction.

We can continue and go to other sources but that's from the Government Accountability Office's study entitled "Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight" which was published earlier this week. (And we'll be noting the report again in the next entry.) "Often rely on coerced confessions." Goodness. If only reporters had attempted to remember that when running with what Muntadher al-Zaidi allegedly said -- a flattering apology to Nouri al-Maliki which could not be independently verified and which, as soon as Muntadher could speak publicly, he denied.

Larry Kaplow (Newsweek) offers an 'analysis' of Iraq's political situation currently -- we're back to provincial elections -- and he has some strong points and some incredibly weak ones. Weak? Nouri al-Maliki was not a candidate in provincial elections so therefore he was not a "winner." His party didn't do amazingly well, but he wasn't even a candidate. At some point, American writers are going to have to learn the names -- and how to spell them -- of politicians in other countries but that day's apparently not arrived yet. He notes tensions from "Kurdish leaders" and they do exist but he appears to draw some line from provincial elections to these tensions and that's not accurate. More to the point, the Kurdistan Regional Government DID NOT hold provincial elections January 31st. They're due to hold them in May. And, no, Nouri is not expected to be a 'winner' because he's not on the ticket but his party is also not expected to do well. Here's where Kaplow mixes insight and ignorance most generously:

Though their numbers in the provincial councils are now lower, the Kurds, ISCI and the Iraqi Islamic Party are still formidable in the parliament (which is not up for election until January) and are supposedly discussing ways to curb Maliki’s burgeoning power. One way would be to hold a no-confidence vote that could turn Maliki into a weakened, caretaker prime minister. But that could also backfire, allowing Maliki to blame his opponents for the government's failure to provide services, like electricity and water.
The parliament could also try to invoke more of its powers to examine and investigate the prime minister's offices. It already cut his budget. Any of this could be alarming to American officials, since it could cause paralysis and friction as U.S. troops begin to pull out.
To keep his momentum, Maliki has clearly been seeking to broaden his alliances. After using government forces last spring to pound into submission illegal militias led by renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, he has been reaching out to Sadrist politicians in parliament, negotiating top ministry positions he could offer to their partisans.

To keep his momentum? No. That is a complete misunderstanding of the Parliamentary system and the parties participating and appears to confuse provincial results with the Parliament. Provincial elections (in 14 of 18 provinces) were the equivalent of electing, in Colorado, people to the state Congress, your state legislature. Parliament is the equivalent of the US Congress. The two are not related. There is a similarity in that -- as with Parliament -- provincial councils will be ruled by coalitions. That's because it's a multi-party system and coalitions are necessary to claim a 'majority.' al-Maliki's had to have coalitions since the US installed him -- coalitions in Parliament.

Kaplow wants to argue that deals can be made at the provincial council level that will result in Parliamentary support. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December (though they may or may not take place then). No one but a political idiot of an incumbent in Parliament is going to go along with some deal crafted for the provincial council. It's like your own state legislature telling you that s/he will get your US senator to do something -- it's a promise that can be legitimately made. At any time. But especially not when Parliamentary elections are months away and (see earlier points above) the Iraqi people have been repeatedly told 'security' is here and it's not. They have the anger of the voters to deal with, they don't have time for horse-trading done at a local level with no real benefits to them. (And no member of a provincial council can promise that Parliament will agree not to move to a no-confidence vote on Nouri. S/he has no vote in Parliament. You can't promise a vote that's not your own.

Laith Hammoudi's "Fifth big bombing this month in Baghdad claims 16 lives" (McClatchy Newspaper) deals with the bombing and the reaction to it:

The bombing rattled public confidence in government efforts to promote an atmosphere of business as usual, with three world leaders visiting Baghdad this week. The blast, which also wounded more than 45 people, called into question just how safe Baghdad is these days.
The explosion occurred around noon in Shaab, a Shiite Muslim-majority area surrounded by Sunni Muslim neighborhoods on the northern edge of the city. The market, a collection of illegal vendors and a few legitimate shops along a main street, was packed with people shopping for their daily meals.
The explosion turned the marketplace into chaos. Vegetables and fruit were covered in the blood of grocers and customers. The car detonated near a small carpet shop, and the stench of burning sponge and nylon filled the air.

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