Thursday, February 4, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Little Nouri attacks the press, Little Nouri tries to reinstate banning of political opponents, the Iraq Inquiry forgets the "Iraq" part, and more.
The Times of London notes this week's bombings resulting in mass fatalties and that "Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, has made security a central theme in his re-election campaign." And that, in response to the latest wave of bombings, Nouri made the usual move: "He called on security forces to offer greater protection." This as Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports that Nouri's "accidental rise to power" has not brought him a huge number of supporters -- leaving him "politically isolated and regionally estranged" and she explains:
Iraq has a multiparty parliamentary system. Lawmakers choose the president, who in turn gives the largest coalition in the parliament the first opportunity to choose the prime minister and form the government. If Maliki's bloc can win the largest number of seats, a majority in the parliament will still be needed to endorse his government. Without alliances, that could prove impossible.
"He has to manage to get alliances with others or he's done," said Askari, the independent Shiite politician.
Erstwhile allies say they will not support Maliki this time around.
Fadel goes on to note that Moqtada al-Sadr supporters are among those who feel burned by Little Nouri. No surprise there after his assault on Basra which also added an assault on Sadr City at the same time (2008) when protests began there against the Basra assault. Distanced from many Shi'ite sects, never embraced by Sunnis and no friend to the Kurds, time for Nouri to stomp his feet and again reveal his nasty side.
Shortly after being installed, the first thing Nouri al-Maliki (thug of the occupation) did was begin floating notions of curtailing media freedoms. When the Green Zone was stormed in June of 2006 (stormed but not breached), the 'crackdowns' became a regular feature of daily life and Little Nouri worked on a 'plan' that the media repeatedly misrepresented -- US media repeatedly misrepresented. It applauded the various planks -- including the neighborhood patrols which were already taking place and were neither an idea of Nouri's nor something that needed to be implemented. In addition, considering the ethnic cleansing that would soon take place (what some dub the civil war of 2006 and 2007), maybe armed militias really weren't something to applaud? But if they weren't giving Nouri credit for things he didn't do, the US press might have to call out the plank attacking journalism. The BBC called it out. Foreign outlets called it out. It was in the US reporting that you never heard about it. Nouri had been installed only months prior and had already made repeated anti-media remarks publicly, but his plank attacking journalism, his plank that required registration and more, it didn't register in the US media.
Considering all the waves of attacks on journalism that have followed under Nouri (most infamously when a New York Times reporter was 'fired' on by a member of the Iraqi military who then laughed because there was no bullet . . . this time), maybe the post-war mea culpa that's needed is the one for refusing to loudly and vocally defend the rights of the press? Nouri's at it again. From the Committee to Protect Journalism:
New York, February 4, 2010 -- An Iraqi government plan to impose restrictive rules on broadcast news media represents an alarming return to authoritarianism, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ denounced the rules and called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to abandon their repressive plan.
CPJ's review of the plan found rules that fall well short of international standards for freedom of expression and that appear to contravene the Iraqi constitution, which provides for a free press. The new rules would effectively impose government licensing of journalists and media outlets, a tool that authoritarian governments worldwide have long used to censor the news.
The rules would also bar coverage that the government vaguely describes as incitement to violence. CPJ research shows that such broad and unspecified standards are often used by repressive governments to silence critical coverage.
A copy of the plan, obtained by CPJ, can be downloaded here as a PDF (9 MB, Arabic).
"The regulations suggest either a lack of understanding of the news media's role in a democratic society, or a deliberate attempt to suppress information and stifle opposing views," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon . "Either way, the rules should be rescinded immediately so that the media can do its job free of government intimidation."
The new regulations were drafted by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a government body that does not appear to have legal authority to draft such rules, CPJ research shows. The CMC was created with a narrow mandate to administer broadcast frequencies and other technical issues.
CPJ's review found that the rules are replete with broad and vaguely expressed restrictions. While demanding that all local and international broadcast media be licensed and that all individual journalists be accredited by the CMC, the rules provide little information on the criteria the government would use in issuing such licenses. (All equipment must also be registered with the government.) The plan also states that news media must abstain from "incitement to violence," but it does not define what would constitute a violation.
Media deemed to violate the rules could face closure, suspensions, fines, and confiscation of equipment.
CPJ found other alarming aspects to the rules. They stipulate, for example, that media organizations submit lists of their employees to the government. While the clause raises privacy concerns, it is particularly ominous in light of the recent history of journalist murders in Iraq . Of the 140 journalists killed in Iraq since 2003, at least 89 were targeted for murder, CPJ research shows. Another 43 media support workers, such as drivers and interpreters, were also murdered. In case after case, CPJ research shows, these journalists were targeted because of sectarian or work affiliations; many have gone to great lengths to conceal their profession for fear of reprisal.
In discussions with foreign reporters in Iraq, CMC representatives made it clear that media organizations would have to reveal confidential sources if they sought to challenge a determination made by the agency. If the CMC finds that a media organization has published information it deems inaccurate or inflammatory, the identification of sources would be central to any challenge to CMC findings, journalists who attended the meetings told CPJ.
"The regulations themselves, and the explanations provided by CMC officials, suggest that sources could be compromised, reporting could be censored, and Iraqi staff could be intimidated," Simon added.
Michael Christie (Reuters) observes, "It remains risky for Iraqis to be associated with foreign companies and Western media fear that handing over staff lists places them at risk from militia, insurgents like al Qaeda, or kidnap gangs. Many reporters working for foreign media do not tell their neighbors what they do. [. . .] Reuters and other media are already routinely threatened by officials with lawsuits or expulsion because of disparities between the number of bomb victims reported by their police and interior ministry sources, and official death tolls."
Yesterday came news of a decision reached by a ruling body in Iraq on the elections issue. Already Nouri is striking back at the decision. To recap, we'll note this from yesterday's snapshot:
On Al Jazeera's Riz Khan yesterday, the issue of the elections were addressed with Riz Khan asking, "How free and fair is an election when a government bans certain people from running? Iraq goes to the polls on March the 7th but has barred more than 500 candidates which could ultimately plunge the country into chaos, even civil war." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports today that the government has managed to avert "a political crisis of its own making" as a result of the ban being overturned today "by a panel of seven judges". The Economist calls it "Best news in weeks." Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) explains, "The decision now opens the way for full-fledged campaigning to begin, as scheduled, on February 7. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the banned candidates would accept the compromise decision, or how the decision might affect the election outcome itself." Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "But if the ruling stands, there's a catch: those blacklisted will still be subject to investigation after the vote for past ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein." And what would happen then? Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) observe, "Election Commission official Hamdia al-Husseini told Agence France-Presse that those later found to have links to the Baath Party would be 'eliminated.'" Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports, "The ruling enraged the architect of the blacklist, Ali Faisal al-Lami, who is a close aide of the head of the former de-Ba'athification Commission, Ahmed Chalabi. That commission, which was a signature body of the post-Saddam Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), evolved into a contentious group known as the Accountability and Justice Commission." And to clear up a nasty rumor, there is no known sex tape of Ahmed Chalabi and his boy pal Ali al-Lami being distributed in Basra. Absolutely not. Nasty, hurtful rumors. Unless a tape should surface. Ammar Karim (AFP) notes, "Chalabi, who has close ties to Iran, was appointed deputy prime minister after the invasion but intelligence he provided in support of those claims in the run-up to war later turned out to be flawed and he subsequently fell out of favour with Washington." The decision is still being studied and Al Jazeera notes Saleh al-Mutlaq, of the sectarian National Dialogue Party and who was one of the banned, "declined to give an immediate comment."
Reuters reported this morning that Nouri's mouthpiece, Ali al-Dabbagh, posted to his website the following: "Postponing implementing the law of the Justice and Accountability Commission till after the election is illegal and not constitutional." Anne Tang (Xinhua) notes the cries of "illegal!" as well while Margaret Corker (Wall St. Journal) adds, "Faraj Al Haidari, the head of the electoral body running the election, says he has asked the Supreme Federal Court to weigh in on the political controversy to quell the mounting accusations among political parties that the closely watched poll set to take place on March 7 has been tainted by sectarianism." Corker explains that Al Haidari doesn't believe that this would delay elections but if elections are scheduled for March 7th and it's February 4th, exactly when would candidates campaign? While they were 'banned,' they couldn't campaign. Now with the question mark Nouri's throwing on them, they may not be able to campaign -- and certainly some of their time will be taken up with this mess even if they are campaigning. How do you have fair and free elections when candidates aren't even sure they're going to be on next month's ballot? How do you have fair and free elections when Iraqi voters are using their own limited time (just as limited as any American voter or any voter in any other country) to study up on the issues and deciding, "Well, if I have to cut back somewhere, maybe I just won't look into these candidates who might not even make the ballot"? That's not speculation, BBC News reports, "Iraq's electoral commission has said it will delay the start of campaigning for next month's parliamentary elections."
And it is apparently not enough to toss the matter to the courts -- or rather, back to the courts again. Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor via Gulf News) reports, "Baghdad: Iraq's premier has convened parliament for Sunday to debate what his government branded an 'illegal' decision to reinstate candidates with alleged links to ousted dictator Saddam Hussain in next month's election, state television said." So the decision to allow ALL candidates to run is being targeted by Nouri with a court appeal and an appeal to Parliament. And if the two are in conflict? Or if the two both shoot Nouri down? Where does it end? And when does it end? March 5th when candidates are left to scramble? This is nonsense and it's turning the entire elections into a joke. (Or, if you prefer, a bigger joke.) Gulf News, after yesterday's decision, was editorializing in praise of it and noting, "Elections serve no purpose if they are seen to be manipulated, since the government that emerges from a corrupt process will not have a popular mandate. Elections must have transparent rules that are published well in advance and do not change. This allows parties to form, adopt political positions, campaign for support and form electoral alliances. Any last-minute shift in the rules necessarily corrupts this complex process." Instead, those who are seen as threats to Nouri are left to scramble.
Jomana Karadsheh and Yousif Bassil (CNN) note, "While U.S. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military official in Iraq, said about 55 percent of the group were Shiite with alleged links to the Baathist party, the most prominent politicians on the list were Sunni Arabs. Members of that community swiftly deplored the move and even threatened an election boycott." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reminds, "Ali Lami, executive director of the separate Accountability and Justice Commission, which ordered the disbarments, condemned the judges' decision as representing 'American interference' in Iraqi politics, and vowed to fight it in the courts. U.S. officials have charged that Lami has close ties to Iran. The chairman of the accountability commission is Ahmad Chalabi, who was once a Pentagon favorite but fell from grace after he was suspected of passing information to Iran." NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered -- link has audio and text) reports:
According to Human Rights Watch, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice -- a body without clear authority that compiled the list -- mainly targeted candidates from the two largest secular coalitions. They are both expected to do well on March 7.
Veteran Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak, who had been on the banned list, told NPR in a interview this week that the commission targeted him because the current crop of elected officials are afraid losing power.
"They are scared because most of them, they don't even have the qualifications to be a parliamentary member or they are corrupted financially, or their hands are not clean from the Iraqi blood. So they know that the coming government is going to go after them, and there will be a law if there is a decent government, and the law will follow them," Mutlak says.
The above and more has resulted in a letter to the White House, House Reps William Delahunt, Howard Berman, Gary Ackerman, Donald Payne, Russ Carnahan, John Tanner, Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Brad Miller, Keith Ellison, Jim Moran, Dennis Kucinich, Edward Markey, Steve Cohen, David Price, Maruice Hinchey, John Conyers, Earl Blumenauer, Bob Filner, Jan Schakowsky, John Tierney, Jim McGovern, Rosa DeLauro, John Olver, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch and Richard Neal have [PDF format warning} written President Barack Obama:
We are writing to express our strong support for a continued focus by your Administration on the upcoming general elections in Iraq. These elections, currently scheduled for March 7, 2010, will determine Iraq's political future -- and America's relationship with that nation.
If elections are accepted by the Iraqi people and the world as free, fair and successful, they will deepen Iraq's democracy and provide a basis for a stable, respectful relationship between our countries. But -- as we have already seen in Afghanistan and Iran -- if the elections are seen as fraudulent, they could inflame tensions inside and outside the country and undermine efforts to strengthen democracy. In the worst case, they could even lead to a civil conflict and a resumption of wide-scale violence.
The impact on the U.S.-Iraqi relationship of a failed or fraudulent election would be equally disastrous, particularly as U.S. troops continue to withdraw from Iraq as mandated under the U.S.-Iraq bilateral agreement which entered in to force on January 1, 2009.
With regard to that agreement, we commend your commitment to it and support your plan to bring our troop levels down to 50,000 by August 2010 and to withdraw all U.S. force by the end of 2011. We believe that it is important that your Administration deliver a clear message to the Iraqi government and people that, while we are committed to helping Iraqis stabilize their country, we will not change our withdrawal plans based on the date or outcome of the elections. Our continued presence in Iraq -- even after the successful June 30, 2009 withdrawal of our combat forces from Iraqi cities -- is already an issue in Iraqi politics. To explicitly tie our withdrawal to the elections or their outcome would only further exacerbate existing tensions.
We believe that, as part of our commitment to helping Iraqis stabilize their country and strengthen their democracy, the U.S. should encourage Iraqi leaders to comply with the recently agreed-to election date of March 7, 2010. As you well know, the elections have already been postponed from the original target in January. Further delays will only undermind the confidence of the Iraqi people in the elections and will have a correspondingly negative impact on the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship.
Furthermore, it is critical that all political parties can field candidates in the elections. Rather than banning politicians from participation, the Iraqi authorities should trust the Iraqi people to decide who they want to elect. Otherwise, the appearance of manipulation of the ballot -- even before votes are cast -- could compromise the legitimacy of the election. We ask you to work with Iraqi authorities to ensure the Iraqi people have a full range of options on the ballot.
We also strongly urge your Adminstration to assist Iraq in ensuring the elections are free and fair. The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has repeatedly called for international organizations to send monitors to Iraq. However, to the best of our knowledge, few have responded. We urge you to allocate emergency funding for U.S. NGOs and encourage them to go to Iraq to observe the election. We also suggest that your Administration increase its cooperation with the United Nations in supporting Iraqi domestic observers. And we recommend you explore other avenues -- perhaps through regional organizations -- to encourage non-U.S. international observers.
Finally, we commend your Administration's assistance to Iraq in its efforts to end the UN Chapter VII mandates still pertaining to that country, and urge you to make this a priority over the next year. We also urge you to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement agreed to on November 17, 2008 to enable more non-military collaboration between our two countries. Taken together, these efforts will demonstrate to the Iraqi people our continued commitment to their nation's stability and our desire for a realtionship based on mutual respect and support.
In conclusion, Mr. President, we believe the upcoming elections in Iraq will be the most improtant in that nation's history. We urge your Administration to do all it can to ensure that they are successful and viewed as free and fair. And we commit to working with you toward that goal.
If you control who runs, if you intimidate the press, how are you different from Saddam Hussein? That's a question that might be asked in the near future if this issue isn't resolved. Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
KUNA reports a suicide car bombing in Mosul which claimed the life of the driver as well as the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers while leaving eight people injured. Reuters notes 1 man was shot dead as he departed a mosque in Mosul.
Today in the US, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Fiscal Year budget request for 2011. Comittee Chair Bob Filner noted voting would mean they had to get the first panel started quickly so that the members could then go off an vote. Ranking Member Steve Buyer would use his opening statement to ask a series of questions -- questions, he himself pointed out, he'd be unable to hear the answers to because he was rushing off to a Comcast hearing. That more than set the tone for the hearing.
Chair Bob Filner: Mr Secretary, you and the President have requested a VA budget of $125 billion roughly including a total discretionary request of $60 plus billion. And the VA medical care represents 86% of the total discretionary budget. Also for FY2011, the administration is requesting $51. and a half billion in resources for this VA medical care. Appropriated resources for FY2011 have already been provided in last year's consodlidated approriations act and the funding level is an increase 4.1 billion or 8.6% over FY2010 levels. Rest assured that this committee will be working closely with our counterparts in the administration and the Senate to make sure the process moves forward to ensure that veterans have the medical care resources they need when fiscal year 2012 begins in 2011.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki would deliver a lengthy statement supposedly taking accountability for various misteps and repeatedly insisting (such as when it came to processing medical claims) that the VA's actions were not 'good enough' and needed to improve. But for someone supposedly interested in accountability, the issue of the 2009 fall sememster checks that should have gone out in August under the GI Bill was not addressed, this depsite the fact that as of January 1, 2010, over a thousand veterans were still waiting for the checks they should have received over four months prior. When the VA steps forward this year to suddenly claim they need addtional funds for the GI Bill remember that Shinseki ignored addressing that program (a program which VA has clearly failed at thus far) when delivering his request for Fiscal Year 2010 funding.
That really summarizes the entire hearing. Yesterday's snapshot addressed a House Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assault in the military, Wally, filling in for Rebecca, covered it last night with "House Armed Services' Military Personnel Subcomittee," Trina covered it with "Niki Tsongas asks the question" and Kat with "Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services." If any cover today's hearing, we'll note it tomorrow. (Wally may cover a joke told in the hearing, I'm not aware of anyone else expressing great interest in the hearing for the reasons outline above. Trina may do an overview.)
The Iraq Inquiry held hearings in London yesterday and will hold its next scheduled public hearing on Monday. Of yesterday's hearing, the Yorkshire Post notes Kevin Tebbit's testimony that the military "had to cut projects for helicopters, warships and Nimrod spy planes" due to then-Chancellor Gordon Brown cutting military spending. Brendan O'Neill (Guardian) focuses on Ann Clwyd's testimony and offers:
Clwyd is Labour MP for Cynon Valley and head of Indict, a group that campaigned for many years for the arrest and punishment of Saddam Hussein and his cronies under international law. On the eve of the Iraq War – 18 March 2003 to be precise – Clwyd wrote an article for the Times in which she claimed that Saddam had a people-shredding machine.
Apparently the Ba'athists would dump their opponents into a machine "designed for shredding plastic", and later put their minced remains into "plastic bags" so they could eventually be used as "fish food".
It gets worse: apparently these unfortunate men were put into the shredder feet first so that they could briefly behold their own mutilation before death.
Not surprisingly, Clwyd's shocking claims spread around the world like a virus. The then prime minister of Australia, John Howard, talked of Saddam's "human-shredding machine" in a speech justifying his decision to send troops to Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration's hawkish deputy defence secretary, expressed his admiration for Clwyd's article and a link to it was posted on the US state department's website. Numerous pro-war journalists repeated Clwyd's claims.
There was only one problem: there was no strong evidence, and there still isn't, that Saddam had anything like a people-shredding machine.
When I investigated this story for the Spectator and the Guardian in early 2004, I found no convincing evidence that such a medieval-sounding contraption ever existed.
Meanwhile, the Inquiry is being watched by the world. Neil Berry (Al Arabiya News Channel) offers this take on how some may be seeing it:
The objective of the Chilcot inquiry is to examine how Britain came to be involved in the Iraq war and identify what lessons may be learned. The official hope is that it will achieve "closure" by demonstrating to the British public and the wider world, and not least to the grieving relatives of dead British servicemen, that, however unhappy its consequences, Britain undertook military action in good faith. What is now overwhelmingly apparent, following Blair's testimony before the inquiry and the testimonies of fellow politicians, diplomats and civil servants, is that "closure" is not in prospect.
For many in the Arab world, its very personnel is bound to make it hard to respect the inquiry's bona fides. The fact is that two of its five members, Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, are Jews who supported the war. Yet the question of the propriety of including two such figures without any corresponding representation of the Arab point of view can hardly be raised in Britain without inviting the charge of anti-Semitism. The BBC reported that Sir Martin Gilbert told an online Israeli settlement radio station of his hurt at being named as a Jew by "anti-Semite" writing in British newspapers. Gilbert was referring among others to the former British diplomat, Sir Oliver Miles, whose manifest concern was not with Gilbert's Jewishness but the counterproductive consequences of including Jewish supporters of the war in the panel of an inquiry that is surely meant to command international respect. Not that you would have understood Miles' qualms from the BBC's tendentious report.
Among others, the Inquiry has refused (thus far) to call Hans Blix (who's made clear he's willing to testify). Gulf Daily News points to others who are being excluded:
Why have no Iraqis, or Americans for that matter, been asked to testify about an event that affected them more than anyone?
If, as so many people believe, the war was about oil, why not call Hussein Al Sharistani to testify? He was a prisoner in Abu Ghraib under Saddam, escaped, resettled in London and returned to become oil minister.
Or what about Ahmad Chalabi, the former leader of the Iraqi opposition in exile?
He was accused of providing misleading intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that helped make the case for the invasion.
He is now regarded as an Iranian ally. He was certainly at the centre of events leading up to the war.
So too was Ayad Allawi, the Surrey-based opposition figure, openly supported by the British government and now a candidate in next month's elections.
All three had front-row seats in the run-up to the war, its conduct and the aftermath.
Iraqis could also help establish whether this war was justified, not in the narrow legal sense that has obsessed politicians in Britain, but morally.
Meanwhile This Is Somerset notes, "Relatives of Radstock soldier Corporal Gordon Pritchard, pictured -- who was the 100th serviceman to die in the Iraq war -- say they are disgusted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair did not say sorry or that he regretted the loss of life when he appeared at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war last week. The 31-year-old soldier who lived in Radstock with his wife Julie-Ann and their three children, was killed by a roadside bomb on January 31, 2006." Still for some it's all about the elections in England and specifically about whether or not Labour will be harmed. Deborah Orr (Guardian) threw a text tantrum over the matter and we called her out here. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) does a better job of taking on her agument here and observes, "If the effect on voters is an important test of the Inquiry's usefulness – and I am not saying that it is -- it may prove to be very useful. Despite Sir John Chilcot's best efforts, it is giving the opposition a stick with which to beat the government and could -- as many Labour MPs are said to fear -- have a significant impact on the coming election. So a comparison between a pre-Inquiry election and a post-Inquiry one would not support Orr's thesis."
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
Has the Democratic Party abandoned support of reproductive rights? Next on NOW.
To gain their historic control of Congress, Democrats fielded moderate candidates who didn't always follow the party line, especially when it came to abortion. Now that the Democratic Party has the legislative upper hand, are they willing to negotiate away reproductive rights for other political gains? On Friday, February 5 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW goes to Allentown, Pennsylvania to ask: Are abortion rights now in jeopardy at the very hands of the party that has historically protected them? Among those interviewed are pro-life Democratic U.S. Representative Bart Stupak and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean.
"If there was a bill on the floor to reverse Roe vs Wade, and says 'life begins at conception,' I would vote for it." Congressman Stupak tells NOW.
Jen Boulanger, director of the often-protested Allentown Women's Center, says, "I would expect more from the Democratic Party, to stick to their ideals, not just throw us to the curb."
Has the Democratic Party traded principles for power? Next on NOW.