Tuesday, January 19, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, barring political candidates in Iraq continues, one of the ones doing the barring is running for office, the Iraq Inquiry continues in London and the war (a witness insists) was what Americans wanted, and more (including more delusions from the Iraq Inquiry).
Starting with Al Jazeera's Inside Iraq which began broadcasting its latest episode Friday night. Jassim al-Azzawi's guests were Mustafa al-Hiti, Adnan Pachachi and Abdul-Hadi al-Hassari -- all members of Iraq's Parliament -- while the topic was the banning of political parties and candidates in Iraq.
Jassim al-Azzawi: Mustafa al-Hiti, I would like to start with you. This latest crisis has two dimensions: a political and a legal one. Let's start with the legal one. The Constitution established the Commission of Justice and Accountability but Parliament per se did not sanction it, did not authorize it, did not vote even on the members. So to what extent its decision is legal and binding?
MP Mustafa al-Hiti: It is clear, as you say, there is no member of the committee, I mean Parliament denied all of them and if they said then ''we can go back for the old committee, the Ba'athification,' it is not. In fact there isn't any committee. And I will be very happy if anybody from your guests will tell me the names of the committee if there is any. As far as I understand, long time ago, during the time of [Paul] Bremer there was a committee of up to ten members from the governorate council and no one of them -- Jalal Talabani, [Masoud] Barzani [Ibrahim abd al-Karim Hamzah al-Ashaiqir], al-Jaafari, all of them were committee member. They are out by now. So I don't think there is any legal background for the committee to work now.
Jassim al-Azzawi: Adnan Pachachi, this commission -- which inherited the de-Ba'athification -- the infamous commission established by Paul Bremer -- and the members, they just moved from the old de-Ba'athification Commission to this new Accountability and Justice Commission. Is this legal?
MP Adnan Pachachi: Well there is a law which has been adopted by Parliament and signed by the presidency council, The Law of Accountability & Justice, and, under this law, a commission or a group of seven is supposed to be elected by Parliament and to replace the de-Ba'athification Commission. When the names were proposed by the government, the Parliament did not give its assent and agreement to all the names which means there is now no commission under The Law of Accountability & Justice. But I think there has been an explanation which is, I think, rather dubious and open to question that in the absence of a commission under the present law, we can use the former commission of de-Ba'athification. But you know the most important thing is not the legal situation or the legal problem. But I think this was an ill conceived decision which may have very serious effects on the whole democratic process in Iraq. And we have to make sure that this democratic process must succeed because there is no other option for the people of Iraq except democracy.
Jassim al-Azzawi: I will come to the impact of that, Adnan Pachachi, of that decision. But let me engage Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani. You heard the two gentlemen. The committee itself is not legally sanctioned and consequently all decisions emenating from this commission will be null and void.
MP Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani: Thank you for your question. Actually the gentlemen have -- Mr. Adnan and Mr. Mustafa al-Hiti explained, the source and root of this commission is come from the Constitution. The Constitution is very obvious and explicit in saying that the people who be barred from taking place in the political process. If they find them legally binded to the Ba'athist Party, that didn't mean if we didn't pass the names, the law is not there. The law is there and binded. People who didn't belive in democracy, they didn't believe in civilized and cast a vote and didn't believe in taking part and building a new Iraq, they, by the Constitution, have no right to be part of the true process unless they reform. They haven't shown any reformation and they haven't shown any repetence, they haven't shown any remorse.
Jassim al-Azzawi: Yes.
MP Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani: So we have no option except to implement by the commitee eivdence of are they really binded to the Ba'athists, are they supportive o fthe Ba'athists.
MP Mustafa al-Hiti: I want you to really answer me about this equation. Do we really have a council for the commision? By now? Even the old one. And who is the names, how many of them? Who is taking the decision? How much votes you need to pause the decision in order to be executed by the others in the de-Ba'athification? Do we have any people now? How many of them? There is -- what you call in the formula, in the structure of the commission the high council -- who take the decision -- and the other who is the execution. Ali Faisal al-Lami is one of the execution men who will receive the information or the decision from the committee and pass it down there and he should pass it according to the rules and according to the Constitution 2005. So I want really to ask you and please answer me for my information and the information of the people, do we have a committee? Really the old one? And how many of them?
MP Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani: As you know if we don't really abolish a law, the previous law is still valid by its own so de-Ba'athification law under Ahmed Chalabi was really the head of de-Ba'athification was really the de-Ba'athification for accountablity. We tried to nominate certain people as everybody know. We fail to pass them
MP Mustafa al-Hiti: Yes, I agree with you --
MP Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani: But many of them are still there. This doesn't mean --
MP Mustafa al-Hiti: But just Ahmed Chalabi, just Ahmed Chalabi take the decision --
Jassim al-Azzawi: It is obvious to me, Dr. Adnan, by the spirited discussion of the two gentlemen that this crisis has to be resolved one way or another and it was no accident that Parliament has established a committee that consists of seven judges in order to look into the legality of the decision by the commission. Will that go forward?
MP Adnan Pachachi: Yes, the Parliament has already agreed to the appointment of these seven judges who are all members of the appeal court and they will look into all claims by those who have been disqualified from joining the -- from being members -- from being candidates for Parliamentary elections. So I think those who have been -- have been included in the list, I understand there are about 500 of them at present -- which may become even more later on. They'll be able to lodge an appeal with these seven judges who will have to decide on the matter as expeditiously as possible.
Ali Faisal al-Lami was mentioned above. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) noted Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) noted Ali Faisal al-Lami yesterday, "Far from dissipating, the political turmoil caused by the accountability commission -- a little-known government agency headed by an official who until August was in an American prison on charges of orchestrating a 2008 bombing in Baghdad that killed two American embassy workers, two American soldiers and six Iraqis -- only worsened over the weekend." But others are noting al-Lami as well. Leila Fadel and Ernesto London (Washington Post) note, "The committee that announced the disbarments is known as the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice. Its chairman, Chalabi, is an erstwhile Pentagon and CIA ally who played a crucial role in the run-up to the invasion. He's fallen out of favor, and most U.S. officials now call him an Iranian agent. Chalabi's deputy on the commission, Lami, spent nearly a year in U.S. custody after being implicated in the bombing of a Sadr City government building that killed two American soldiers and two U.S. Embassy employees. He has denied involvement in the attack and claims that U.S. interrogators tortured him." For example, al-Lami who is determing who is eligible to run and who isn't? He's running for public office. Reidar Visser (Iraq and Gulf Analysis) explains:
How can the Watani list be so confident and go ahead with the publication of its candidate lists even before the IHEC has formally approved them? The explanation is very simple, and is contained in the Watani lists themselves: Its candidate number twenty-four in Baghdad is named Ali Faysal al-Lami and belongs to the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi. Sounds familiar? Yes, that's right, Lami is the director of the accountability and justice board that recently moved to bar several hundred candidates from taking part in the elections. No resistance was offered, and today no one in Iraq seems to be making a big point of the fact that he himself is a candidate in the elections! Little wonder, then, that the Watani leaders seem confident about proceeding with the release of their list: It is they who effectively control the vetting process for the entire elections process. They enjoy full support in this from Iran; meanwhile their leaders are being feted in Washington, where Adil Abd al-Mahdi has just been visiting.
Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) observes that the "the move damages the fragile reconciliation process between Sunni and Shi'ite factions, but it also throws the country's democratic process into disarray just as a landmark election is scheduled to take place a few weeks from now." J. Scott Carpenter and Michael Knights' "Iraq's Politics of Fear" (Foreign Policy):
The ban will mainly affect candidates from the Iraqiyya coalition, a cross-sectarian alliance dominated by secular nationalists and led by Iyad Alllawi, the first Iraqi prime minister of the post-Saddam era. Saleh Mutlaq, one of the three most senior leaders in the coalition, was among the candidates struck from the ballot -- along with all candidates from his party, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. Wathab Shakir, the Sunni Arab head of the national reconciliation committee, was also banned, alongside numerous candidates of the Unity of Iraq coalition, another cross-sectarian nationalist alliance.
Even if the decision is overturned, damage has already been done. The exclusion of Sunni Arab candidates has coincided with other factors that are reducing public confidence in the success of the elections. Al Qaeda in Iraq continues to plan and undertake mass casualty attacks against government and civilian targets, fueling sectarian distrust and the risk of heavy-handed responses by the predominantly Shiite security force in Baghdad.
On Jan. 12, all movement in Baghdad was abruptly curtailed as the city went into lockdown as a result of a newly-foiled terrorist plot against key ministries. The reaction to this incident -- pervasive rumors concerning an attempted neo-Baathist military coup -- was significant. The rumors were magnified by various military parades and U.S. overflights that attended the Iraqi Armed Forces anniversary, which were misconstrued by a wary Baghdad populace. By manipulating well-justified cultural and historical fears, the Shiite sectarian parties have also stoked fears of a "Baathist return" as part of their election strategy. These concerns have not been effectively assuaged by the United States and its allies. For example, there was insufficient explanation following the Jan. 8 statement by John Jenkins, the British ambassador to Iraq, warning of a future coup.
Once upon a time, 2007, the White House came up with a list of benchmarks and Nouri al-Maliki agreed to them. Among those benchmarks were "Reversal of de-Ba'athification laws." How'd that work out? People need to pay attention to the benchmarks because some members of the do-nothing Congress think they can vote for the continued Afghanistan War by attaching benchmarks and proving their anti-war cred. Congress said in 2007 and 2008 that they would hold the administration to account with benchmarks. They never did. If they had, maybe what's going on right now in Iraq -- the purging of Sunnis -- wouldn't be happening. And at some point, maybe someone will wonder why the US even bothers to have an ambassador to Iraq when he is so totally ineffective. At what point has Chris Hill not been caught off guard, not been playing catch up? That's what happens when someone with no experience in the region is made the ambassador. Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) states, "As the disqualification of some 500 leading Iraqi politicians on the grounds of alleged ties to the Baath Party is continuing to roil Iraqi politics, Arab papers today report that both U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Vice President Joseph Biden have been intervening with Iraqi officials in an attempt to find a way to walk back the disastrous decision -- perhaps by postponing the implementation of the committee's decisions until after the election. The commission in turn is complaining about foreign interference, while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki broke his silence by calling to 'not politicize' the process (a bit late for that, no?) and some Iraqi outlets are screaming about alleged American threats. There is still a chance that the appeals process could provide an exit strategy, but this doesn't seem hugely likely at this point; the final list of those disqualified is set to be released tomorrow." Which really means bi-polar and manic depressive Chris Hill is having yet another episode and Biden's got to play adult. One of the political rivals Nouri is attempting to silence is Saleh al-Mutlaq. Nada Bakri (New York Times) profiles al-Mutlaq here.
In today's reported violence, a rocket was launched on the Green Zone, Reuters reports.
Turning to London where the Iraq Inquiry is in the midst of a busy week. Yesterday they heard from Tony Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell and today they heard from Sec of Defence (2001-2005) Geoffrey Hoon. The rest of the week, they will hear from: Mark Lyall-Grant (Director General Political, FCO, 2007 - 2009), David Omand (Permanent Secretary Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, 2002 - 2005), Jack Straw (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001 - 2006), Suma Chakrabarti (Permanent Secretary, DFID, 2002 - 2007) and Nicholas Macpherson (Permanent Secretary, HMT, 2006 - 2009). Before getting to hearings, BBC News reports over "3,000 people have applied for seats at Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry. The inquiry, which has 60 seats" will raffle or lotto (no charge) them and has set up a room with additional seating (total of 1,400 seats will be made available).
Jonathan Powell appeared before the committee yesterday (link goes to video and transcript options) and insisted there was no blood oath signed in Crawford, Texas by Bully Boy Bush and Tony Blair. Whether or not they just became spit brother (spit on the palms and then shake) remains an unknown. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) takes on Powell's fluff here. David Hughes (Telegraph of London) offers this evaluation of Powell's appearance: "Well, who'd have thought it? Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, has told the Chilcot inquiry that 'when our forces went in, we were absolutely amazed to discover there weren't any weapons of mass destruction.' Bet you could have knocked them all down with a feather. I can just picture them all --Blair, Powell, Alastair Campbell, Sir John Scarlett -- sitting around in the PM's office scratching their heads in complete and utter bewilderment." Looking like a more emaciated John F. Burns (New York Times' London correspondent), Powell scowleded and furrowed his brow throughout his testimony -- apparently in the hopes that such extreme and 'heavy' facial expressions would add gravitas to his facile statements.
How facile? Have you seen the episode of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy where Lois runs for mayor? And the easy answers she tosses out? And her 9/11 changed everything? Jonathan Powell declared (more than once), "Well, I think 9/11 changed everything for the United States." He offered that on September 12, 2001, Tony Blair and Bully Boy were phone buddies and Bush brought up Iraq during that phone call. Other phone buddies were David Manning and his American counterpart Condi Rice. December, January and, as late as February 14th, Rice, Powell believes, assured Manning that the US had no "concrete" plans for Iraq.
Jonathan Powell: So, really, I think it was February and March that they started to get into more concrete plans.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: Concrete plans for what?
Jonathanon Powell: For considering how they would actually deal with Iraq. You remember there was the State of the Union speech in which he talked about the Axis of Evil, and, again, David spoke to Condi Rice on 14 February to make sure the Americans would not plunge into any plans before the Prime Minister met the President at Crawford and received an assurance that they wouldn't. The first face-to-face encounter we had on this was with Vice-President Dick Cheney, who came to Number 10 on 1 March 2002. He was on his way for a Middle East tour and he wanted to discuss Iraq with us before he discussed it with Middle East leaders. The Prime Minister warned him of the law of unintended consequences. If you are going to deal with something like Iraq, you have to think ahead about what might happen and that you do not expect.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: What was Dick Cheney's view at the time? What was he proposing?
Jonathan Powell: Dick Cheney was proposing to go and consult the Middle East leaders on what should be done in Iraq, to see what their tolerance would be for action. He said at the end of the meeting --
Committee Member Usha Prashar: But the action was about regime change?
Jonathan Powell: The action was about -- yes, about replacing Saddam, and, at the end of the meeting, he said that a coalition would be nice, but not essential.
Jason Beattie (Daily Mail) emphasizes Powell's admission that there was no proof that WMDs existed and quotes him stating "Intelligence is something that suggests something -- not proves something" as opposed to Tony Blair's September 2002 insistance to the public that there was intelligence demonstrating "beyond doubt" Iraq was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) live blogged the hearing. Before moving on to today, we need to note another development. Last week (Tuesday), the Inquiry heard from Alastair Campbell who had been the spokesperson for then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) noted Sunday that Campbell has now provided a "clarification" for his testimony:
He appeared, he said, to be suggesting that the then prime minister could have claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "beyond doubt" even if intelligence chiefs disagreed.
"This is clearly not correct," he said in a written memo to the inquiry which had grilled him about the Government's controversial 2002 dossier which was used to justify the invasion.
Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) adds:
It's just not how a leading professional communicator should be treated, is it? Alastair Campbell tonight faces a demand from the former Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, that he be recalled to the Chilcot inquiry after I spotted that the former Spin King had written to Chilcot, "clarifying" his evidence.
Campbell decided he needed a second go at saying what he really meant over an issue which is emerging as a key area of interest for the enquiry. It is the claim, written by him in the WMD dossier, and repeated by Tony Blair, that the "assessed intelligence" had established continued Iraqi WMD production "beyond doubt." But the intelligence, of course, established nothing of the sort, as both Blair and Campbell must have known.
Now we move on to today's testimony by Geoffrey Hoon (link goes to video and transcript options -- transcript is over 200 pages). Channel 4 News reports, "As the session started a previously unpublished letter from the then Attorney General was made public, revealing that Lord Goldsmith complained that Mr Hoon had put him in a "difficult position" by claiming Britain would be 'perfectly entitled' to use force against Iraq without a specific United Nations mandate." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) reports, "Documents released today by Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the war show that Lord Goldsmith wrote to rebuke Goeff Hoon, then the defence secretary, for stating publicly that war could be justified in international law. Mr Hoon made the claim in a television interview on March 24, 2002." Now to the testimony. 200 pages of transcript and damn near nothing worthy of recording.
Doubt it? How about when Hoon blamed the Iraq War on 9/11 and Americans reactions to 9/11?
Geoffrey Hoon: I was never really persuaded -- I have family and I have lived in America and I have many friends there. I don't think the United Kingdom ever quite grasped the extent of the shock that 9/11 caused to the United States, both to the political system, but also to ordinary people, and I think the Americans became very anxious to avoid being taken by surprise again and looked hard at the kinds of risks that were around. Iraq was one of them, but I would say in the pre-Crawford period, as far as the Ministry of Defence was concerned, it was only one of them.
Support for the war in the US, ahead of the March 2003 invasion was not as Hoone portrays it. Maybe it's really past time that the committee insist witnesses testify to that which they, here's the key word, WITNESSED. "Witnessed," hence the term "witness." Hoon's a blustering fool. Check [PDF format warning] questions 43 and 44 of the CBS News - New York Times poll for October 3 - 5, 2002. Question 43 has 63% of respondents stating the United Nations should be given more time for weapons inspectionwhile question 44 has 70% saying Bush should obtain authorization from Congress before starting the Iraq War. Let's move to January 24, 2003 when CBS News reported on the latest poll: "The poll found 63% of Americans want President Bush to find a diplomatic solution. It also found support for military action -- if it becomes necessary -- is still high, but it has slipped from just two months ago -- 64% now compared to 70% last November. What's more, Americans seem to want hard evidence that Iraq is cheating. More than two-thirds (77% to 17%) say if inspectors haven't found a smoking gun, they should keep looking.
For the moment, diplomacy is the clearly favored course with regard to Iraq, a feeling that hasn't changed from two weeks ago." After a Conga Line of Media Whores -- all of whom now hide behind Judith Miller -- wrote op-eds insisting Colin Powell's laughable presentation (February 6, 2003) meant 'case closed,' Americans were again polled by CBS and NYT and: "The public is divided on whether the Bush Administration has yet presented enough evidence against Iraq to justify military action right now. 47% say they have, 44% say they still have not." That's pretty much an even split (plus/minus 4% was the margin of error for the poll). Now we can go round and round with the polling of other outlets, it's not going to make Hoon right. He was wrong. He offered testimony that either he knew was wrong or should have. He doesn't know the first thing about popular opinion in the US and he obviously didn't bother to familiarize himself with it before he testified. Just saying it's so doesn't make it so. Ask Collie Powell and ask him how that blot feels (it's not going away). Hoon's a liar and the committee needs to get some guts and some gumption. It is past time that they call out these witnesses who come before them and offer 'testimony' about things they have no way of knowing and that they did not witness. That's speculation and, pay attention, if all they're doing is gathering speculation, the Inquiry is going to be of little value because you can't use anything from an inquiry (in a later case) that was speculation. But I have a feeling the Inquiry already knows that. Sometimes he offered non-stop speculation -- to paint others. Anything that might make him seem culpable? He pled he was an innocent and unknowing lamb. Ann Treneman (Times of London) boils down the essance of his performance:
Geoff Hoon is the man who was never there. He is like Macavity but not as much fun, for there is little of mystery, or indeed cattiness, about the man who was Defence Secretary for six years. Six years! Can it be? Can you be that important and yet be so very unimportant for six long years?
When I say that he wasn't there, I mean it. He was asked if he was at a crucial meeting at Chequers just before Tony Blair met President Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. "Actually I wasn't," he noted, "and I haven't been able to establish precisely why."
So, after Crawford, where military intervention in Iraq had been discussed, what had the Prime Minister told him? "I don't think he told me anything directly. I saw a record of the meeting." So did he know that Mr Blair was writing little billets-doux to George saying: "I'll be there for you"? Mr Hoon said he did not and seemed puzzled why anyone should ask such a question.
Emma Albercici (Australia's ABC) emphasizes Hoon's claim that he warned Blair that Iran was what needed to be focused on and his claim that the British military suffers today due to cuts the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made in 2003 when Brown was chancellor. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) covers the military aspect. Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) offers a look at Geoff Hoon the person (as opposed to the buffoon). Glen Oglaza live blogged the hearing for Sky News and he notes Jack Straw's appearance on Thursday is expected to be a media event. Sunday, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ."
In the US, Phyllis Bennis (ZNet) notes:
As for the wars - while the Obama administration is so far fulfilling the letter, if not the spirit, of the Bush-negotiated withdrawal plan from Iraq, we are already hearing from Secretary of Defense Gates and others that there are talks already underway to insure that U.S. troops remain in Iraq even after the end of 2011, supposedly the date for the "final" withdrawal of "all" U.S. troops from that country. The Afghanistan war is escalating, and there are new drone strikes in Pakistan. And now, Yemen. The UN has just reported that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were higher in 2009 than any earlier year of the U.S. war. This seems to be the Obama-as-president version of the Obama-as-candidate promise to not only end the war in Iraq, but "end the mindset that leads to war."
IPS just issued its one-year report card for Obama and his administration. We gave him a barely passing C-minus. And the lowest grades were those in war and peace.
We have a lot of work to do.
Independent journalist David Bacon reports on the education of K through 4th grade students:
David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).
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