Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 16, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the mock/joke 'elections' in Iraq remain scheduled for March 7th, US Gen Ray Odierno fingers two as working closely with Iran, Iraq's human rights record is examined in Geneva and more.

On the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) which began airing Friday, Jasim al-Azawi addressed the tensions stemming from the election chaos (national elections are currently scheduled for March 7th) with guests Anas al-Tikriti and Saad al-Muttalibi.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Anas, let me ask you the last question in my intro.  Is al-Malki upholding the law or is he playing with fire?
Anas al-Tikriti: Jasim, I think that most people recognize electioneering when they see it and while most people would recognize that we entered electioneering mode several weeks ago, practially, well we are in election mode. But several weeks ago, every single stance and every single statement feeds into the election campaign.  But this, I fear, this risks to drag the entire country back to the brink.  One thing that we were all looking forward to -- and you and your viewers will recognize that I'm an incredible, fierce critic to the entire political structure that was set up in 2003 -- but we were looking forward to this coming election as being some sort of landmark and turning point in the history of Iraq in terms of us transcending the sectarian lines that were drawn over the past six, seven years. Unfortunately, it seems there are elements -- and particularly al-Maliki, surprisingly -- who initiated the national reconcialition effort a couple of years ago and inisisted that that was his slogan, it seems that now he is hell bent on drawing the entire country back to where we were three, four years ago. There is nothing good that can come from this.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Not only that, Saad al-Muttalibi, but the appeal panel that was constituted and empowered by Iraqi Parliament to look into the banning of candidates has just given its verdict and that verdict is it's going to exclude many that's on the list, primarily Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani. How will that impact the political process? Many people feel that violence may come back with vengence.
Saad al-Muttalibi:  No.  Definitely no.  No return to violence. The rulings have clearly indicated that em, uh, a political section or sector of people in Iraq will not be able to participate in the coming elections. And those are the Ba'athists. Those Ba'athists were initially -- under item seven of the Constitution -- were barred from entering politics and the political life in Iraq; therefore, we don't see -- I personally don't see any chance in what is happening. The hype, the excitement that took place, was directed because Mr. Saleh al-Mutlaq's name was mentioned on the list. Him as being an activist within the political process --
Anas al-Tikriti: But Saad --
Saad al-Muttalibi:  -- within the last four years has proved.
Anas al-Tikriti: But Saad, if I may, if I may interrupt you.  The ironice -- the actual hilarity of this situation is that Dhafir al-Ani andSaleh al-Mutlaq have both been members of the Parliament that drew up the Constitution that approved of Article 7, that you're talking about, over the past six, seven years.  Why now? Why come up with this particular decision now if not to actually inflame tensions that we were hoping were left to lie this time around and then hopefully allow us to depart from violence?  Why now? They were part of the Parliament that you sit in, al-Maliki sits in.  They were part of approving the Constitution that now they're being vilified for. As well as that Article 7 you mention -- it also mentions besides the Ba'athists, it also mentions sectarian parties.  Are you telling me that there are no sectarian parties who are going to fight this coming election?
Saad al-Muttalibi:  All sectarian -- and as you clearly said, sectarian, Ba'athist, whatever, they are to be banned from the coming elections.  The list?  You mentioned only two names. But the list was mainly constituted of two-thirds Shia and one-third Sunni who were excluded from participating from the elections so there is no question that this is being pointed at a particular section of society -- sector of society. It's not --
Jasim al-Azzawi: How do you explain, Saad al-Muttalibi, that the Defense Minister is also excluded.
Saad al-Muttalibi:  Because he was an ex-Ba'athist. [Chuckles at himself.] Nobody decides, there is a data base --
Anas al-Tikriti: Saad, Saad, how many --
Saad al-Muttalibi:  -- with a red mark.
Anas al-Tikriti: How many, how many of your colleagues were ex-Ba'athists? How many of your colleagues?  How many Iraqis do you know, do you work with today, who are leaders of parties that are going to fight the next elections are Ba'athists.  More than 78% of the Iraqi people had to become Ba'athists in the past. All along, this law is a wrong, immoral law simply because it was inoperable and secondly because it would reach people who had to join the Ba'ath Party simply because of the brutal regime of the past.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Before he answers [cross talk] the question, Saad al-Muttalibi, the governor of Baghdad has threatened to dismiss all Ba'athists from office.
For those wondering, al-Muttalibi never answered the host's question. Nor did he ever answer the question of "why now?"  That question was on the mind of Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) recently, "Maybe I can understand it if the commission was banning only newcomers, new names -- new faces that have not been part of the political scene before -- people whom it has just now investigated and decided to reject. But to suddenly, after years of silence, and in the critical period of time that precedes national elections, cross out names that have been part of Iraqi politics for years – How "un-political" a ruling can that be?" Saturday, Reuters noted seven people wounded in Baghdad bombings in what are seen as attacks on various political parties or politicians (including Saleh al-Mutlaq who is 'banned' from participation). That was only reported attack.  Monday Xinhua reported a political party's office in Baghdad was hit by a bombing injuring a security guard and damaging the office   Meanwhile Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) translated a bulletin from Iraq's south:

Title : Bulletin from the movement for the liberation of the South, condemning the statements of Ahamedinejad and his interference in Iraqi affairs.   

" With all the arrogance, audacity and disrespect towards the feelings of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi soil, Ahmedinejad proclaims that he will not allow the return of the Baathists to Iraq. And here we are not debating whether the Baath party should return or not. We are however very surprised by the arrogance of this leader who stated his intentions, knowing full well that this public statement is an open admission of his country's involvement in Iraqi affairs. And by doing so, he (Ahmadinejad) is embarrassing his friends more than his opponents, but it seems that the game is now in the open, this time round.
The Tehran government is clearly the winner out of this (American) Occupation of Iraq, otherwise Ahmedinejad would have not said what he said.   
But let Ahmadinejad and company know that there is a people in Iraq, who will never allow their occupation and let them know that their end as well as that of their (Persian) empire dream, will be made a reality through Iraqi hands, by the will of Allah.     
And who is Ahmedinejad to speak on behalf of the Iraqis. Let him and those who follow him know that if a people want a thing, no one can stop them and if a people hate a thing, nothing will make them love it, even if that thing covers their hands with rings and rosaries.                         
We, in the movement for the liberation of the South, consider this statement by Ahmadinejad, a public admission that all the decisions taken by the Justice and Accountability committee were made in Tehran and by Iranian orders. We shall retain our right of reply.            
So from today onwards, we do not want anyone to shy away from intervening in Iranian affairs, whoever that person is, in removing the rule of the mullahs. Had Iran not started and intervened in Iraqi affairs, we would have never contemplated interfering in its affairs. The one who started this is the real oppressor.              
We are committed and adamant about the liberation of Iraq and her people first, and the Iranian people second, from this fascist tyrannical regime."     
Saturday, the New York Times offered the editorial "Mr. Maliki's Dangerous Ambition" which included:
To resolve a dispute with the Tikrit provincial council this week, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq did what any good autocrat would do: He sent in the army. The problem is, Mr. Maliki isn't supposed to be an autocrat. And the United States didn't train Iraq's Army so it could be used for political coercion.
This is just the most recent example of thuggery by Mr. Maliki, who is determined to do anything he can to win re-election next month. If he and his Shiite-led government continue this way, the vote will not be seen as legitimate and opposition groups may well return to violence. That would be a disaster for Iraqis and the United States, which is supposed to be on its way out of Iraq.
Today, the Toledo Blade offered the editoiral  "Don't yield to Iraqi stunts" I which includes:
On the one hand, the occupation government's snub of U.S. pleas to open up the elections is evidence of some independence on its part, even if it is in defense of an unhelpful approach.
On the other -- pointing toward a more-likely outcome -- excluding Sunni and nonsectarian candidates from the electoral process leaves the field clear to Mr. Maliki and the Shiite Iraqi National Congress of former U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi. That would invite a Sunni boycott, as occurred in 2005, and likely subsequent civil disorder.
Ahmed Chalabi? If Bush were the 'tough guy' his cheerleaders think he was, Chalabi would have been found with a bullet to his head long ago. If the US was the democracy it's supposed to be, Chalabi would be standing trial -- right alongside Bush and Cheney -- for War Crimes. Instead the coward and double and triple agent roams Iraq, his knuckles dragging against the ground. AFP reports Coward Chalabi has accused the United States of 'interference.' Interference? From Chalabi? The man who spent over a decade building lies and pressure to force an Iraq War -- a war he was too cowardly to attempt on his own. And now he wants to accuse foreign governments of interference?

He's even more vocal with Iran's Press TV

Press TV: Why do think Washington has been behind a lot of pressure on the Iraqi government into allowing these individuals who have been affiliated with the Baath party to run for office?                      

Chalabi: It is unfortunate that the United States has put very narrow foreign policy interests in its relationship with Iraq over the will of Iraqi people. I believe that what the US is following in this regard is the continuing conflict towards Iran. They think that the presence of Baathists in the government and parliament of Iraq would be important card in their hands in stopping the so called spreading influence of Iran in Iraq.                     

It's unfortunate that a coward like Ahmed Chalabi who fled from Iraq shaking in his boots and pissing in his drawers and then hid out for years and years in other countries only to take his yellow tail back to Iraq AFTER the US invaded was ever installed into leadership. The Iraqi people deserve better, a lot better.  Gordon Campbell (New Zealand's Scoop) noted, "Amazingly, there are signs that the shortlist of viable compromise figures includes the perinnial Shia opportunist Ahmad Chalabi, the former Jordanian fraudster who was the US neo-cons favourite candidate to lead the nation after the 2003 invasion -- at least until he turned out to be a double agent working for the Iranians." Speaking to DC's Institute For the Study of War today by video link, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, declared that Chalabi and Ali al-Lami are strongly influenced by the government of Iran and that they meet with senior-level members of the Iranian government regularly. Lara Jakes and Anne Flaherty (AP) report, "Odierno told an audience in Washington at the Institute for the Study of War that al-Lami 'has been involved in various nefarious activities in Iraq for sometime' and called it 'disappointing' that he was put in charge of the commission." 

Over the long weekend, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reported
that Ahmed and his boy-pal Ali al-Lami run the extra-legal Justice and Accountability Commission which has banned various candidates including Saleh al-Mutlaq who states, "It is not possible to raise the white flag. The entire country and its people shall be threatened." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Mr. Mutlaq, a member of Parliament since 2006, held the No. 2 spot on the ballot of Iraqiya, a secular coalition of Sunnis and Shiites that has emerged as a strong rival of the election bloc led by Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The No. 3 candidate on the Iraqiya list, Dhafir al-Ani, was also barred from running." Pure coincidence that Nouri's two biggest rivals got knocked out of the race, right?  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains that al-Mutlaq's Iraqi National Movement party has temporarily "suspended campaigning Saturday and hinted at a possible boycott of next month's elections to protest a decision to uphold a ban on candidates because of their alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party. [. . .] The group called for an urgent meeting of top leaders, a review of the banning process and an emergency session of parliament."  Monday, Naseer Al-lly (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reports that now Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is being accused of "supporting terrorism" by MP Asharq al-Awsat. This is what passes for 'campaigning.' Oliver August (Times of London) observed, "Politicians are engaged in crude power games meant to destroy rather than defeat opponents. Murder, blackmail, corruption and intimidation are a central part of the process used to choose the next government."  Mohammed Abbas (Reuters) notes that "Maliki is likely aware of his dented popularity as he has reverted to proven vote-winning methods, like stirring up Shi'ite fears of a return of Saddam's Baath party, to win the ballot, analysts say." It's 'campaigning.' Of course, the last time 'campaigning' like this took place, ethnic cleansing (popularly known as "the civil war") took place for the following two years.  Fanning those flames was Iraqi MP Baha al-Araji.  AFP reports that that MP from Moqtada al-Sadr's political bloc declared "the majority denomination (the Shiites) was the victim of a plot since Abu Bakr [573-634] until Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr [1912-1982]." Nouri's mouthpiece, ali al-Dabbagh, insisted the statement was outragoues and a violation of Article 7.  He then warned it should not happen again.
Article 7 was violated?  Well that would mean expulsion from the elections.  That's exactly what was established on Inside Iraq -- by both guests.  Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .

Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi service members and left two bystanders wounded, another Mosul roadside bombing left two Iraqi military officers injured as well as one bystander and a Mosul car bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi police officers and left nine people injure.
 Reuters notes 1 Iraqi Christian was shot dead in Mosul and another wounded and, dropping back to yesterday for the rest, 1 Christian was shot dead in Mosul and  1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Mosul. And Reuters notes a Kirkuk shooting today at a police officer's house by unknown assailants who left the police officer injured.
 Reuters notes 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul on Monday.
 Aaron J. Leichman (Christian Post Reporter) explains, "Iraq officially kicked off the campaign season Friday and Christians, while a minority, have typically been the election-time targets of insurgents who try to push them out of the electoral process by casting fear into them and driving them out of their homeland" and that, since Friday, 1 Iraqi Christian has been kidnapped while four have been shot. Jalal Ghazi's "Eye on Arab Media: Middle East Christains Face Uncertain Future" (New American Media) focuses on the entire region and we'll zoom in on Iraq:

Al Sharqiya satellite television in Baghdad reported that out of the 1.4 million Iraqis Christians who lived in Iraq before 2003, only 800,000 remain. Al Jazeera English also reported that over half of the estimated 20,000 Christians who lived in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq prior to 2003 have already left.
Iraqi Christians are kidnapped and murdered; their shops and churches are burned and destroyed and their leaders assassinated. According the London based Arab News Broadcast (ANB), some Christian communities now dig trenches to protect their homes and neighborhoods.
It is unclear who is behind the acts of violence against the Iraqi Christians. Some accuse extremist groups. Others accuse the Kurds, saying that they are trying to intimidate Christians into moving out of contested areas such as Kirkuk and Mosul. Others blame the United States and British-backed Iraqi government.
Father Shafiq Abu Zaid, an Oxford University lecturer, told ANB, "The Christians constantly feel that a war is being declared on them and they don't know where it is coming from"
What is clear, however, is that Christians were not under attack when the former regime was in power. Abu Zaid said that despite Saddam Hussein's many shortcomings, Iraqi Christians felt safer under the Baath regime of the former president.
Baath, which means resurrection, was a form of pan-Arab nationalism that was founded by the Syrian Christian Michael Aflaq. It is still the ideological foundation in Syria, where large numbers of Iraqi Christians fled.
"You can't compare the situation of Iraqi Christians when they were under Saddam to now. They were much better off," said Abu Zaid. They were safe and they held very influential positions, including Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister. He was sentenced to 15 years to prison in March 2009 by the Iraqi supreme court.
The collapse of pan-Arab nationalism in Iraq created a vacuum that was quickly filled by many extremist groups, which have been further radicalized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. These groups do not necessarily differentiate between Iraqi Christians and western Christians, whom they blame for the bloodshed in Arab and Muslim countries.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the United Nations' Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review Working Group is holding their seventh session to examine human rights issues involving several countries: Qatar, Nicharagua, Italy, El Salvador, Bolivia, Fiji, Gambia, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The latest session will mean 112 nation-states out of 192 that are members of the UN will have had their records examined. Stephanie Nebehay (Reuters) reports the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada were some of the nations who "pressed Iraq on Tuesday to clean up its human rights record by investigating allegations of torture, halting honour killings of women and abolishing the death penalty." Michael Kelpsch (Germany) called out the assaults on journalists and freedom of the press, Julie Garfieldt Kofoed (Denmark) expressed concern about "the widespread use of torture" and "the short period of time between sentencing and execution." 
We welcome this opportunity to participate in the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review of Iraq and we welcome the Minister of Human Rights and the rest of the Iraqi delegation. We view this as an opportunity to collaborate with government representatives, non-governmental organizations, and UN officials who share our strong interest in helping Iraq's democratically elected government improve the human rights situation. We hope to see the new government sustain and improve its commitment to human rights by standing up and empowering the constitutionally-mandated Human Rights Commission.                
We commend Iraq's efforts to improve respect for human rights and address poor prison conditions, investigate allegations of detainee abuse, and bring all detention facilities and prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. To make further progress, we recommend that Iraq complete the transfer of detainees to Ministry of Justice custody. Additionally, we recommend that Iraq continue to improve conditions in Ministry-operated facilities and hold accountable any law enforcement official suspected of involvement in torture, abuse, or coerced confessions.                 
The United States is deeply concerned about the protection of vulnerable communities, in particular religious and ethnic minorities, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Continued attacks on religious places of worship, kidnappings of clerics, and other sectarian violence hamper the ability of Iraqis to practice their religion freely. The Government's role in providing security for minority communities and allowing them to expand their full political rights needs to be strengthened. We welcome Iraq's efforts to investigate acts of violence and intimidation against minority communities, and recommend that Iraq continue to combat the culture of impunity surrounding violence against these vulnerable populations. We recommend that Iraq thoroughly investigate crimes against women and minorities and fully implement laws intended to enforce constitutional protections for women and minorities, including laws against discrimination, and extend greater protection for these groups from targeted attacks.           
We recommend that Iraq make efforts to ensure that all Iraqis, including religious minorities, can participate in elections that are safe, fair, and free of intimidation and violence, and make certain that the new government fully protects religious freedom.                  
The United States further recommends that Iraq do more to ensure that the hard-fought freedom of expression is guaranteed by the government and protected under Iraqi laws and in Iraqi courts. The United States also recommends that Iraq take steps to end intimidation and abuse of journalists by government officials and hold all perpetrators of violence against and harassment of journalists fully accountable.          
For those attempting to keep track, Griffiths now joins US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Dept spokespersons for noting the assault on Iraq's LGBT community.  Others in the executive branch of the US government?  Not a peep.
Finally from  from Ron Jacobs' "Once Again, Get the Hell Out!" (Dissident Voice) we'll note the following: :

Perhaps, there was once a time when most westerners could pretend that the US-led onslaught against the Afghan people was a good thing. Perhaps they convinced themselves that because the government of that country had allowed Osama Bin Laden to live in the mountains there that there was reason enough to attack his neighbors and destroy what remained of their nation. Perhaps, too, westerners (especially US citizens) believed that the true purpose of the US-led military mission in Afghanistan was to capture Bin Laden and destroy his terror network.
Yes, perhaps there was a time when the facade of justice and righteous revenge provided enough of a moral veneer to the US war in Afghanistan that even intelligent westerners could live with the death and destruction occurring in their name. However, that time is long past. The war has gone on for more than eight years without any sign of cessation. Indeed, since Barack Obama took up residence in the White House, the casualties in that war have spiked. There are at least 40,000 more US troops in the country since that date last January and another thirty or forty thousand more getting ready to go there. In addition, the number of mercenaries has similarly increased .The reasons provided for this escalation range from going after terrorists to creating a civil society. As I write, another offensive against Afghans is being prepared. It primary purpose is to install a governor appointed by the US-created government in Kabul. No matter what the reason, it is painfully clear that those of us expecting a truthful explanation for Washington's presence in Afghanistan will not receive it from those who continue to send troops and weaponry over there. Nor will they receive it from those in Congress that continue to fund this lethal endeavor.
Yet, the antiwar movement–which should know better–remains virtually silent. A day of bi coastal demonstrations is planned for March 20, 2010, but otherwise there is not even a whisper of protest. Students go to classes while their generational cohorts in uniform face the prospect of death and killing. Antiwar organizations send out the occasional email or call for action, but there is no action. Congressmen and women ignore the letters and faxes constituents send them asking that they refuse to vote for the next war-funding legislation. Furthermore, these legislators refuse to make the connection between the destruction of the US economy and the trillion dollars spent to kill Afghans and Iraqis the past eight years. The media rarely covers the war except to promote the glory of the men and women sent to do America's dirty work. There is no critical debate in the mainstream media. Opponents of Washington's imperial program–rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media at any time–are now completely ignored.