Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Little Nouri's Big War

Like the knee-jerk decision to dismantle the Iraqi army, the U.S. decision in 2003 to ban members of the former ruling Baath Party from joining the new Iraqi government was one of the biggest blunders of the early American occupation of post-Saddam Iraq. It instantly alienated an entire spectrum of civil servants and politicians, many of whom didn't have much loyalty to the old regime and could have been enlisted in the construction of a new government. And because many of them were Sunni, it helped widen the sectarian split in Iraqi society that eventually led to civil war.
Though American policy subsequently shifted, and the Iraqi parliament has nominally watered down de-Baathification laws, the early effort to purge the old regime still haunts Iraqi politics. Last week, the Accountability and Justice Commission, the remnant of a de-Baathification committee set up by the Americans, banned 499 Iraqi politicians from running in the national parliamentary election on March 6. Not only does the move damage 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.

The above is from Andrew Lee Butters' "Could a Ban on Sunni Candidates Imperil Iraq's Election?" (Time magazine). So 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. Of the 'committee' making the disqualifications (a power they may or may not have), Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) noted 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." Golly, jolly, gee. Now what's the process. The US military releases a prisoner and then Nouri's people determine guilt or innocence. Ali Faisal al-Lami's arrest was covered by Nicholas Spangler and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) and, last fall, The Huffington Post became a source for him to lash out because apparently Chalabi buddies are welcome at the site that once ridiculed Judith Miller for running with Chalabi's unproven claims (which, for the record, is what Arianna's site did this fall with al-Lami's claims). Released last fall, instantly cleared and returned to the commission. Leila Fadel and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) report:

The commission, led by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi politician who supplied faulty intelligence to the United States in the run-up to the war, and Ali Faisal al-Lami, a former U.S. detainee, was established to help cleanse the Iraqi government of officials who adhered to the ideals of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
But the panel sent shockwaves through Iraq's political establishment when it recently announced the disbarment of 511 candidates for their alleged allegiance to the party. The move has led to recriminations that Iran, through proxies, is trying to rig the vote to ensure that Iraq is solidly in the hands of politicians loyal to Tehran.
U.S. officials, who were caught off guard by the decision, now fear that it could reignite sectarian violence and dash their hopes of political reconciliation in Iraq -- the end goal of the U.S. military strategy known as the "surge."

The new Saddam, Little Nouri, knows how to work the angle to his advantage. From 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.

Over 500 politicians have been banned with talk of more to come. Among the banned are chief rival of Little Nouri: Saleh al-Mutlaq. Nada Bakri (New York Times) profiles al-Mutlaq:

Mr. Mutlaq, 63, has a lot of questions these days. He has publicly questioned the evidence used to bar him from the vote. In unguarded moments, he has speculated that his own allies might have had a hand in the decision. And seven years after rising to prominence after the fall of Mr. Hussein's government, and just two months before an election that might have delivered him his greatest influence yet, he has wondered whether his political career may have taken an insurmountable step back.
"I don't know my friends from my enemies anymore," he confessed.
The dispute is not yet over. On Monday, Ali Faisal al-Lami, the head of the Accountability and Justice Commission, which has vetted the candidates, said it had decided to disqualify 511 individuals, all of whose names were forwarded to electoral officials.

Meanwhile Nicole Gomez (El Paso Times) reports Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman is the "second Fort Bliss soldier . . . convicted of mistreating subordinates" including Keiffer P. Wilhelm who is believed to have taken his own life last August as a result of the abuse. Gomez notes that Sgt Jarrett Taylor was already convicted and that Staff Sgt Bog Clements's trial is set for February 14th (Spc Daniel Weber no longer faces charges).

Renee Tessman (KARE) reports on the Saturday send-off ceremony in St. Cloud Minnesota for the three-hundred-plus members of the 367th Engineer Battalion of the Army Reserves. They are headed to Iraq for a year. Amanda Kistner is among those deploying to Iraq and she tells Tessman she enlisted because of her grandfather, Richard Juhl, while Kistner's father, Chad Bakkelun, enlisted because of his daughter.

From Sherwood Ross' "PANETTA TURNS BLIND EYE TO CIA KILLINGS" (Veterans Today):

In a tribute to the seven CIA agents killed December 30th by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, Agency Director Leon Panetta wrote, "Our officers were engaged in an important mission in a dangerous part of the world."
What he neglected to tell readers of the Washington Post, the Juneau Empire, the Monterey Herald and other mainstream publicity outlets is that CIA agents, like the United States itself, have no business in that part of the world. The U.S. is only in Afghanistan because eight years ago it launched a war of aggression against that small country and occupied it. Now Panetta is distressed as militants there strike back at the occupiers---occupiers who are breathing life into a crooked, dishonest, Kabul regime whose stellar achievements are dope-peddling and vote-stealing.
Panetta also failed to tell readers that, if not for such CIA actions as the violent overthrow of the government of Iran in 1953 to get that country’s oil, and the 2003 U.S. aggression against Iraq to get that country’s oil, the Middle East might not be quite so violent today. Those aren’t Boy Scout camps President Obama is reinforcing in Afghanistan.
Panetta begins his article of January 13th, “CIA Victories Come At A Cost,” by playing on the sympathy of American readers. He opens with the words, “The horrible news on Dec. 30 that a suicide bomber had taken seven American lives in Afghanistan may have been, for some, a stark reminder that we are at war.” All well and good as we recall John Donne’s famous line "Any man's death diminishes me” and we grieve for the loss of those men and their suffering families.
But Panetta admits in his own words, "In the past year we have done exceptionally heavy damage to al Qaeda. That's why the extremists hit back.” Got that? It is extremism for al Qaeda to hit back but it is not extremism for the CIA to launch its drone aerial rocket strikes against al Qaeda---assassination strikes that a protesting Pakistan government has urged the U.S. halt as they are killing innocent civilians, in aggregate probably in the hundreds.

Remember Mike's "In Massachusetts, the view's far different than in NYC" went up yesterday. We'll close with this from Elizabeth DiNovella's "Obama's Gitmo" (The Progressive):

On his second day on the job, President Barack Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo by January 22, 2010. As we near the deadline, the U.S. detention center remains open, and nearly 200 detainees are still being held at the prison, including dozens already cleared for release.
To mark the ninth year of detaining prisoners without charge or trial, human rights activists are protesting in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, January 11, Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights collaborated on a vigil in front of the White House and a briefing at the National Press Club, where two former detainees at Gitmo addressed the audience via phone and video link.
"Nothing's changed inside the prison," said Omar Deghayes, a former inmate who now lives in the UK. "People are still being tortured, still being beaten, psychologically harmed."

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.