Thursday, July 23, 2009

Early voting begins in the KRG

Amid a canopy of colorful campaign banners and a stream of breathless programs on party-run television channels, there’s an eerie quiet on the streets of this regional capital just days before elections in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
People are afraid to say whom they want to vote for on Saturday -- "afraid of the police and security forces, of being fired from their jobs," said Dara Saeed, who was sipping tea outside a cafe.
Saeed, who is voting for the upstart Gorran (Change) List, was one of the few opposition supporters willing to go on record opposing the ruling coalition, run by two powerful families.
Many echoed Saeed's comments, saying they are afraid of repercussions if they speak out against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who have united as the Kurdistani List, after years of often bloody rivalry, for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The above is from Heath Druzin's "In Iraq's Kurdistan, tension before the vote" (Stars and Stripes). The KRG holds provincial and presidential elections Saturday, early voting has begun. You wouldn't know that to look at the bulk of the domestic (US) outlets, would you? Do you remember January 31st when 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces held elections? Do you remember the non-stop weeks and weeks of coverage the New York Times and others provided ahead of the election? We're not seeing that, are we?

Kurdish politics in Iraq have long been dominated by two political parties, Jalal Talabani (president of Iraq) represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani (president of the KRG) represents the Kurdish Democratic Party. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports that there are challenges to the two-party dominance:

The biggest threat to the List is a group of former PUK members, fed up with the party's leadership, who have cobbled together an alliance to challenge the old guard. Calling themselves the Change slate, they are poised to capture several seats, analysts say.
They are attracting voters who are frustrated with what they say has been corruption, curbs on democracy and the neglect of basic services in recent years. "They made so many promises and told us so many lies," says Omer Mahmud Salih, a resident of the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil. "Corruption exists in every country, but ours is beyond limits."
Any weakening of the two parties' hold on power could have repercussions beyond the enclave's border. Tensions between KRG officials and the federal Iraqi government -- long a cause for concern in both Baghdad and Washington -- have been heating up.
The Kurdish parliament recently approved a draft constitution that has angered Baghdad because it claims several bits of contested land, including the oil-rich Kirkuk region. Kurdish officials had hoped to include a constitutional referendum in the July 25 ballot, but Iraqi federal officials overruled them.

NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition) follows that theme for his report and notes the so-called Change Party. Lawrence offers his opinions and those of others. It's an overview and one that is cheapened by the snarky intro Linda Wertheimer offers. Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) offers the opinion (he's doing a column, not a report) that "the status quo is likely to continue for a while" and, on the power-sharing/horse-trading of the past, "The PUK and KDP, as a coalition government, have a number of agreements to divide key governmental positions equally between them. The Kurdistan region presidency, for example, is held by the KDP in return for its support for a Talabani presidency in Baghdad. Most important of all is the KRG premiership which carries a host of decision-making powers. A KDP official, Nechirvan Barzani, also holds this position. He should have relinquished the role to the PUK in 2008 but, with Talabani's consent and against the will of PUK politburo members, is to carry on until after the elections; the understanding was that he would then make way for leading PUK candidate Barham Salih." Early voting has begun. AFP explains:

More than 100,000 Kurdish members of Iraq's armed forces were voting on Thursday, along with police, prisoners and the sick, ahead of election day.
Saturday's vote is being held six months after the rest of the country went to the polls in provincial elections and as the US military is planning its pullout from the country in 2011.
In the election run-up, tensions between Barzani and the central government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki heightened over Kurdish claims 16 disputed areas including oil-rich Kirkuk and parts of three other historically Kurdish-populated provinces -- Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin.

Staying with the topic of the KRG, we'll note this release from them:

KRG launches Kurdistan Investment Guide

London, UK ( -- The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Representative to the UK yesterday in London launched the new edition of Invest in the Future, a publication promoting the Region’s investment and trade opportunities.

Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman launched the 2009 investment guide at the Middle East Association (MEA), the UK’s leading trade association for British-Middle East business and trade. She said, “In the Kurdistan Region there is high regard for the UK and a great willingness to develop closer trade ties. For example in education, which is a key plank of our government capacity-building strategy, we already have ties with several British institutions and hope to develop more including in private English language education for all ages and levels, as well as vocational training..”

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has emphasised the role of the private sector as the engine of economic growth and development. The experience of the Kurdistan Region in the last several years has demonstrated the effectiveness of this model. Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of Foregn Relations in Erbil, also issued a statement about the Investment Guide: "The KRG's leadership has promoted private sector activity and foreign investment. This publication provides entrepreneurs and visitors with an excellent guide to the Region, as well as an overview of commercial opportunities and the investment climate."

The KRG's High Representative explained how the Kurdistan Investment Board and the Trade Ministry can help foreign companies to register an office locally, and she encouraged British and international companies to visit the Region and see for themselves the opportunities and good security situation. The MEA plans to take its fifth trade delegation to the Region in the autumn.

When asked about hydrocarbons policies, Ms Abdul Rahman said that from the outset the KRG has been very transparent on oil and gas, and published the model production sharing contract and companies with contracts on the government website.

Ms Abdul Rahman was also asked about measures on good governance. She said, "We are doing a lot to improve governance and learn from the experience of other countries. PricewaterhouseCoopers is advising the KRG on good governance and e-government, and the British civil service training college the National School of Government has been training our senior civil servants in quality assurance."

Mrs Feride Alp of the MEA chaired the launch. Over 60 companies representing different sectors as well as the British and Kurdish media attended the launch.

Read or download Invest in the Future 2009 (6.88 MB) as a PDF file.

To obtain a hard copy of the publication, please contact Newsdesk Media, the KRG UK Representation, US Representation or the Department of Foreign Relations.

Keelan notes James Bamford's "The NSA Is still Listening to You" (Information Clearing House):

This summer, on a remote stretch of desert in central Utah, the National Security Agency will begin work on a massive, 1 million-square-foot data warehouse. Costing more than $1.5 billion, the highly secret facility is designed to house upward of trillions of intercepted phone calls, e-mail messages, Internet searches and other communications intercepted by the agency as part of its expansive eavesdropping operations. The NSA is also completing work on another data warehouse, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.
The need for such extraordinary data storage capacity stems in part from the Bush administration's decision to open the NSA's surveillance floodgates following the 9/11 attacks. According to a recently released Inspectors General report, some of the NSA's operations -- such as spying on American citizens without warrants -- were so questionable, if not illegal, that they nearly caused the resignations of the most senior officials of both the FBI and the Justice Department.
Last July, many of those surveillance techniques were codified into law as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FAA). In fact, according to the Inspectors General report, "this legislation gave the government even broader authority to intercept international communications" than the warrantless surveillance operations had. Yet despite this increased power, congressional oversight committees have recently discovered that the agency has been over-collecting on the domestic communications of Americans, thus even exceeding the excessive reach granted them by the FAA.
I am an author and journalist specializing in national security issues and terrorism, and often communicate with parties in the Middle East as part of my work. Because of concerns that my communications might have been monitored, in early 2006, shortly after NSA's warrantless surveillance program was revealed by the New York Times, I became a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the NSA that argued that the program was illegal and should be shut down. We prevailed in federal district court, with Judge Anna Diggs Taylor finding that President Bush had violated both the law and the Constitution, but lost on the government's appeal when the court ruled the plaintiffs could not prove that they were personally victims of the secret eavesdropping program. In a decision worthy of Lewis Carroll, the appeals court held both that the government could refuse to confirm or deny whether it had monitored plaintiffs' communications and that plaintiffs could not challenge the constitutionality of the program unless they could show that their communications had been monitored. A dissenting judge pointed out that the court's decision was inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent and would effectively render the program unreviewable by the courts.

Project Censored's Peter Phillips' "Obama Administration Continues Drive For US Global Military Dominance" (World Can't Wait):

The Barack Obama administration is continuing the neo-conservative agenda of US military domination of the world— albeit with perhaps a kinder-gentler face. While overt torture is now forbidden for the CIA and Pentagon, and symbolic gestures like the closing of the Guantanamo prison are in evidence, a unilateral military dominance policy, expanding military budget, and wars of occupation and aggression will likely continue unabated.
The military expansionists from within the Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, G. W. Bush administrations put into place solid support for increased military spending. Clinton’s model of supporting the US military industrial complex held steady defense spending and increased foreign weapons sales from 16% of global orders to over 63% by the end of his administration.
The neo-conservatives, who dominated the most recent Bush administration, amplified this trend of increased military spending. The neo-cons laid out their agenda for military global dominance in the 2000 Project for a New American Century (PNAC) report Rebuilding America’s Defenses. The report called for the protection of the American Homeland, the ability to wage simultaneous theater wars, to perform global constabulary roles, and to control space and cyberspace.

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