Friday, February 5, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq is slammed again with bombings resulting in mass fatalities, election chaos continues, was Tuesday all a Democratic photo op, and more.
Today, Iraq is again slammed with bombings resulting in mass fatalities. Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports, "Two car bombs went off at the same time on a bridge named Wadil- Salam which is located east of Karbala, 80 km south of Baghdad, an Iraqi interior ministry source told Xinhua. The two cars loaded with heavy explosives were parked at the two ends of the bridge respectively, said the source who refused to give his name." AFP states it was a mortar bomb. Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports it was a suicide car bombing immediately followed by the mortar attack. CNN goes with two car bombings. The Washington Post's Ernesto Londono (at the Financial Times of London) explains, "Investigators were trying to determine whether there had been one or two explosions." Skipping the specifics of the bombing types, Al Jazeera notes, "Al Jazeera has learned that three Iraqi army vehicles were also destroyed in the attack." This morning AP counted 27 dead thus far and at least sixty injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) also counted 27 dead but 131 injured while noting that the numbers would likely rise throughout the day -- which they did. Muhanad Mohammed, Sami al-Jumaili, Michael Christie and Jon Boyle (Reuters) report the death toll has now reached "at least 40 people [dead] and wounded 145 others" according to "health officials". The US State Dept released the following statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
The United States condemns the series of bombing attacks against Shi'a pilgrims in Iraq over the past week. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Attacking men, women and children engaged in religious pilgrimage is reprehensible and exposes the cynical immorality of the terrorists who seek to replace Iraq's hard-won progress with violence and intimidation. They will not succeed in breaking the will of the Iraqi people. Iraqis are committed to realizing the promise of their democracy. There is no better rebuke to those who traffic in terror.
BBC News (link has text and a clip of the aftermath of the bombings) offers, "The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says that the stakes are high; a peaceful and credible election would allow the country to draw a line underneath the bloodshed and turbulence of recent years, he says. But, he adds, these recent bombings have raised fears of a return to sectarian violence, just as American forces prepare to withdraw." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) explain, "The bombings play to the worst fears of Iraqi and US officials that attacks could re-ignite the kind of sectarian violence that plunged this country into civil war three years ago. They sparked anger even among security officers." Anthony Shadid (New York Times) observes, "There was a sense of fatalism to the attacks, one of dozens this week on pilgrims that the Shiite-led government had girmly predicted but was powerless to stop. The killings have underlined the very meaning of the pilgrimage: a religious ritual to commemorate Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed whose death in the battlefield in Karbala in A.D. 680 gave Shiite Muslims an ethos of suffering, martyrdom and resistance." Sayed Mahdi al-Modaressi (The New Statesman) explains:
For Shias, Hussein is the ultimate moral exemplar: a man who refused to bow in the face of tyranny and despotism. Shias see his martyrdom as the greatest victory of good over evil, right over wrong, truth over falsehood. In the words of the Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal: "Imam Hussein uprooted despotism for ever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation . . . Hussein weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth."
But why would all these people walk for hundreds of miles to remember a painful event that took place over 13 centuries ago? Visitors to the shrine of Hussein and his brother Abbas in Karbala are not driven by emotion alone. They cry because they make a conscious decision to be reminded of the atrocious nature of the loss and, in doing so, they reaffirm their pledge to everything that is virtuous and holy.
The first thing that pilgrims do on facing his shrine is recite the Ziyara, a sacred text addressing Hussein with due respect for his status, position and lineage. In it, the Shia imams who followed him after the massacre in Karbala instruct their followers to begin the address by calling Hussein the "inheritor" and "heir" of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
There is something profound in making this proclamation. It shows that Hussein's message of truth and freedom is viewed as an inseparable extension of that list of divinely appointed prophets.
Pilgrims go to Karbala not to admire its physical beauty, or to shop, or to be entertained, or to visit ancient historical sites. They go there to cry. They go to mourn. They go to join the angels in their grief. They enter the sacred shrine weeping and lamenting.
Liz Sly and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) provide this context, "Overall, there have been eight suicide bombings in Iraq the past 11 days, targeting hotels and government buildings as well as pilgrims, in a sign that the Sunni extremist insurgency appears to be regrouping in an attempt to destabilize the country ahead of the March 7 election." In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadise bombing which claimed the life of 1 pilgrim and left fifteen more injured.
Reuters notes 1 pilgrim was injured by a Baghdad sniper shooting and that 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Interior Ministry employee Brig Gen Ali Ghalib was kidnapped last night in Baghdad.
Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul ("kidnapping victim riddled with bullets").
The war that never ends. Jake Armstrong (Pasadena Weekly) notes that Tuesday, February 2nd was the 2,405 day of the Iraq War and, using DoD figures, notes 4,378 deaths of US service members in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. The elections and violence were discussed today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- which is archived and you can also podcast) when Diane spoke with Bryan Bender (Boston Globe), Youchi Dreazen (Wall St. Journal) and Elise Labott (CNN).
Diane Rehm: And now let's talk about Iraq and it's election commison which has delayed start of campaigning for Parliamentary elections. How come, Elise?
Elise Labott: Well an Iraqi appeals court this week overturned an effort to bar hundreds of candidates from upcoming elections. Many of these were aligned with Saddam Hussein's former Ba'ath Party. Many of them were members of Parliament to begin with, in previous elections [post-invasion, previous elections] and they had already been vetted. But the ban, you know, really threatened to disenfranchise Sunnis once again and open up possible sectarian tensions that we've seen over the last few years. The court overturned this ban. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said, you know, no, that's fine, it's a Constitutional -- it's unconstitutional to overturn the ban. And so now they've postponed the elections [she means the start of campaigning for the elections].
Diane Rehm: So what's that going to mean for the whole government, Youchi?
Youchi Dreazen: There's that wonderful line in [Francis Ford Coppola's] The Godfather III where Al Pacino says, "Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in." And the US, we've thought that the war is over, that the violence has stopped, the sectarian tensions are gone, Maliki's a strong leader, we can focus on something else and pull our troops out. And what's been made clear over the last few weeks -- both politically as Elise talked about but much more horrifically in terms of suicide bombings, one of which destroyed our office -- the [Wall St.] Journal offices and, of course, much worse, many human lives at the Hamra hotel in Baghdad where I lived myself for close to two years.
Diane Rehm: Really.
Youchi Dreazen: The violence is back in force and what you're seeing is the kind of syncronized attacks throughout Baghdad that you saw in the worst days of '06, '07. So this belief that we won was resting, basically, on two pillars. One, violence was gone. Two, sectarian tensions are gone. What we're seeing now is that both are still back.
Bryan Bender: I think the seriousness with which these recent developments are viewed in Washington was evident by the fact that Vice President Joe Biden was sent to Iraq a couple of weeks ago in the wake of this decision to bar these candidates because there's some real concern that the longer the elections are delayed, the more this friction is there -- and the violence increase, that you could see things unravel there.
On the elections, Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report that the ruling -- which didn't clear the 500-plus candidates of charges, only stated the charges would be evaluated after the election -- is questioned by the electoral commission, will result in Little Nouri meeting with "the Presidency Council, the parliamentary speaker and the top judge on the supreme court" and, if needed, with Parliament Sunday. As Nada Bakri (New York Times) points out, already the conflicting back and forth means that election campaigning is now scheduled to start February 12th and Bakri observes: "The latest escalation in the dispute over who is permitted to run in the elections has unsettled the political landscape. Iraqi law remains untested and perhaps bereft of mechanisms to reach a solution just a month before the vote." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) covers the issue here. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that the potential Parliament meeting on Sunday is "an extra-ordinary session" Little Nouri is calling and that, meanwhile, other avenues are being stopped such as yesterday when "the seven-judge appeals panel postponed the review of the demands submitted by some of the banned politicians to check their charges till after the March 7 elections, giving a green light to the banned politicians to run in the elections." Should Little Nouri succeed with the supreme court or the Saturday meeting of the Sunday meeting, the banned candidates will once again have to scramble in an attempt to run for office via appeals -- appeals which have currently been stopped. Pakistan's The News reports Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi stated in DC yesterday, "The decision taken by the appeal committee should be espected by all parties. Hopefully, it will be debated in the parliament but at the end of the day I think nobody (has) the right to block the decision taken by the committee." Alsumaria TV breaks the news that Nouri's decrying the decision as foreign interference and "State of Law Coalition political committee held on Thursday an urgent meeting attended by head of Party Nuri Al Maliki. The meeting discussed the appeals panel decision and political pressure and interference in this regard." The New York Times editorial board offers the suggestion that Iraq 'get on' with the March 7th election:
Right now, Mr. Maliki and the Parliament should get on with the campaign. Instead of trying to keep competitors off the ballot, Iraq's leaders should be debating their country's many serious problems and telling voters how they will fix them. For Iraq to be stable and to thrive -- and for American troops to safely go home -- the candidate list, and the next Iraqi government, must represent all of Iraq's people.
Following a request by the Iraqi Election Commission (IHEC), UNHCR stands ready to facilitate the participation of Iraqi refugees living in the countries neighbouring Iraq in the forthcoming elections. The 7 March elections are considered to be a major opportunity to consolidate national reconciliation.
As of December 2009, UNHCR had on its records some 300,000 Iraqis who are believed to still be present in the region (including over 210,000 in Syria), of whom close to 190,000 are of voting age. Based on host government sources, the total number of Iraqis in the region is much higher, as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis do not register with UNHCR for a variety of reasons.
In close cooperation with the competent Iraqi authorities and the host governments, UNHCR's assistance will be limited to providing demographic data on the registered Iraqis, informing them of their rights to participate in the elections, and providing logistical support that may be needed for a smooth and orderly election process.
At the US State Department today (link has text and video option), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on the elections.
Lachlan Carmichael (AFP): Just a quick reaction on the charges against the 10 Americans in Haiti. And also if I may add, is the United States studying the idea of withholding recognition of the Iraqi elections in March if the 500 Sunni candidates are excluded? The reason I ask is Vice President Hashimi told a few of us State Department reporters last night that that was the case. He raised it with you and he heard that you're stdying it.
US Secreaty of State Hillary Clinton: Well, first, Lachlan, on the 10 American citizens detained and now charged in Haiti, we are providing consular services. We have full access to them. The American ambassador is speaking with his counterparts in the Haitian Government. Obviously, this is a matter for the Haitian judicial system. We're going to continue to provide support, as we do in every instance like this, to American citizens who have been charged, and hope that this matter can be resolved in an expeditious way. But it is something that a sovereign nation is pursuing, based on the evidence that it presented when charges were announced. With respect to Iraq, we were heartened by the decision earlier this week to reverse the deletion of the 500 names from the election lists for the upcoming election. We care very deeply that this election be free and fair and viewed by -- legitimate by all of the communities within Iraq and by the neighbors. This is an extraordinary opportunity for Iraqis to consolidate their democracy. We have not made any decision about reacting to events that might occur within the context of the elections, but we certainly were heartened by the court decision earlier.
In a follow up, Clinton refused to speculate on what the position would be if the 500-plus candidates were again banned and reiterated the support for the appeals court decision allowing all the candidates to run. James Hider (Times of London) offers this in terms of the mood and prospects:
The stand-off does not bode well for a country where the security gains of recent years are seen by a deeply traumatised population as fragile and reversible. The streets are filled with heavily armed security forces but suicide bombers manage to negotiate multiple checkpoints with ease.
Many analysts are unsure as to who will emerge victorious from the elections, some touting the pro-Western former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, others believing that Mr al-Maliki may be able to pull together enough backing for a second term.
Waiting in the wings are the Shia Islamist blocs the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists, with the former hoping that they can clinch the prime minister's office.
Meanwhile Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) speaks to the State Dept's Deputy Secretary Jack Lew who tells him the Dept will be increasing their role in Iraq and a FY2010 supplemental request for $2.1 billion has been made to raise the level of State Dept positions in that country to 664 by September 2010. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday (this is me, not Rogin) and the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates repeated that State Dept was beefing up their role in Iraq and, asked in the House why the Defense costs in Iraq have not come down, he stated that the hand-over with the State Dept as well as handing things over to Iraqis has resulted in the still large expenditures but that (for the Defense Dept) they would decrease in FY2011.
Yesterday's snapshot noted the US House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. Wally, filling in for Rebecca, noted Chair Bob Filner's joke to the Ranking Member ("A hearing, a joke, a non-starting election") and Trina provided an overview and critique of the hearing ("The budget, our dollars"). Kat ("Collen Murphy wants the truth about daughter's death") noted Staff Sgt Amy Seyboth Tirador died November 4th while serving in Iraq. Jessica M. Pasko (Troy Record) reports that Colleen Murphy believes "the military is covering up the real cause" of her daughter's death and that the military is in the midst of 'creating' and 'amplifying' minor issues in order to make the death appear a suicide. Collen Murphy stated, "No one that knew Amy would believe that she'd ever commit suicide. In my opinion, it was a set-up. It was premeditated, and it was the perfect set-up."
Also in the news this week has been Don't Ask, Don't Tell which garnered a great deal of media attention following Tuesday's Senate Armed Services hearing. For coverage, see Tuesday's "Iraq snapshot," Trina's "Senate Armed Services Committee DADT," Wally's
"Armed Services Committee, Heroes," Kat's "Barack pretends to care about Don't Ask Don't Tell," Marica's "Not doing cartwheels right now," Betty's "Barack tries to trick big donors" and Marcia's "And they wonder why American voters are cyncial." Yesterday, James Hohmann (Politico) reported that US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is saying that actual voting on repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell probably won't take place until November 2010 at the earliest -- doing little to dispell the critique that the whole thing was a song and dance effort by Democrats to trick Big Donors who have decided to Just Say No while the policy is Don't Ask, Don't Tell into donating again -- just in time for the mid-term fundraising. While Nancy and others may have time for fun and games, there are people's lives at stake here -- people who've put their lives on hold, people who dream of getting back into the military and people who fear being outed and kicked out of the military. NPR's Ina Jaffee (Morning Edition, link has audio and text) tells the stories of veterans like Julianne Sohn who was a ramine until she was kicked out under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and she says, "Serving my country was a huge honor, and I was willing to sacrifice my personal life to go into the Marine Corps. [. . .] I was out to some of my close friends . . . these are lieutenants and captains . . . but a lot of them didn't care. All that really matters is getting the job done."
In London, the Iraq Inquiry resumes public hearings Monday when they are scheduled to hear from Gen John McColl followed by (in a return appearance) Jack Straw. Hearings concluded for the week on Wednesday but might as well have stopped on Tuesday after Clare Short's testimony to judge by the media's focus (that would be non-US media since US media has largely ignored the hearings). Last Friday, Tony Blair testified and those not talking about just Clare Short were often also talking about Tony Blair. Peter Biles (BBC News) covers Short's Tuesday testimony today, "She swept into the QEII Centre on the arm of one of the officials, but the former international development secretary needed no help. She had come, not for her day in court exactly, but to place on record an outpouring of anger that has been festering for the past seven years." Alan Cowell (New York Times) offers a column on Blair's testimony. Unlike Cowell, Dan Milmo (Guardian) notes today how Blair was heckled last week. Blair's inane testimony was called out by Short (called out and corrected by Short) and there's been other developments this week. As noted in Wednesday's snapshot: ". . . Elfyn Llwyd on Clare Short's assertion that Blair was frantic to support the US. Tomas Livingstone (Wales News) reports MP Elfyn Llwyd has stated that the the 2002 Crawford ranch meeting is where Blair and Bush agreed to go to war -- no hesistations, no ifs, just to go to war. He tells Livingstone that a memo exists noting this agreement and that he will gladly testify before the Inquiry eitehr in private or in person." Today BBC News reports:
The leader of Plaid Cymru's MPs has said he has a memo showing Tony Blair and George Bush struck a secret deal to invade Iraq a year before the 2003 war.
Elfyn Llwyd told the BBC's Straight Talk he had written to Iraq Inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot to say he would be prepared to hand the document over.
He said the memo, which is marked "Top Secret and Confidential" contradicted statements made by Mr Blair.
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.
Staying with TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen are Jackie Calmes (New York Times), Michael Duffy (Time magazine), Martha Raddatz (ABC News) and Pete Williams (NBC News) . Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Andrea Pennington, Tara Setmayer and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes doesn't air this Sunday but returns February 14th.