Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ramadi slammed with bombing, Chris Hill spins

Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections should be about jobs, public services and government competence. Candidates should be focused on the country's security and on reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Instead, the national vote once again is turning into a sectarian brawl in which Shiite parties jockeying with one another for dominance are stirring populist fears of a return of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party. Never mind that Hussein was executed in 2006 or that the discredited Baath Party already is outlawed. The Accountability and Justice Committee, led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite politician and onetime darling of the George W. Bush administration, has been purging candidates who were members of the Baath Party and, in the process, fueling minority Sunnis' suspicions that the real motive is to further reduce their power.

The above is from the Los Angeles Times' editorial "Baath-bashing in Iraq." Currently, elections are scheduled for March 7th. Chris Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq. We'll note this exchange between him and CNN's Elise Labott from yesterday at the State Dept (link has text and video):

Elise Labott: Can we go back to the idea of the Ba'athists and the election -- on the banned candidates? You spoke earlier this morning about the sensitivities about the Ba'athist issue, but more from the kind of whole Iraqi population. I was wondering if you think that there’s any danger of not a resurgence of the Ba'athists, but a kind of backlash by pro-Ba'athists in terms of, you know, more violence or anything like that as a result of this.

Chris Hill: Well, the country, there's no question there are Ba'athist elements in the country and there's no question that some of these Ba'athist elements are very unhappy with the current state of affairs. I will say that the -- in terms of violence, we have a government that is increasingly capable of handling violence, and we did not see any signs of insurgency of the kind that we saw back in the wake of the '05 --

Elise Labott: Right.

Chris Hill: -- elections. So what we see are acts of terror that are – have already happened; in many cases, in our judgment, happened because of al-Qaida elements. But we don’t see that this issue of excluding Ba'athist candidates is one that is leading to violence. Frankly, they were able to come together and work out a solution, and I think it's a solution that most people are living with.

Elise Labott: But-but if I could just quickly follow up, I mean, some of these banned candidates were, if I’m correct, previous -- some of them were even in parliament previously; is that right?

Chris Hill: Yeah.

Elise Labot: And so, I mean, do you think that there's a danger that they feel like they used to have the political process and now they feel disenfranchised and --

Chris Hill: Well --

Elise Labott: -- and that's a kind of, you know, formula for, you know, being bored and not having a lot to do and being kind of bitter and, you know, turning back?

Chris Hill: Well, being bored is not a formula for getting elected, but --

Elise Labott: Well, you know I'm being -- well, but you know what I'm saying.

Chris Hill: I think it's important to understand that there are candidates who are unhappy at having been on the list, but there was a process by which they were able to appeal, there was a sequestered panel of judges from the cassation court that looked at these cases. In some cases, they ruled that the people should be able to stand for office; in others, they ruled against it. We know that some of the candidates who were disallowed or not permitted to run, they have accepted the result and they’ve called on their -- on people to vote. So we don't see a sign that this type of dissatisfaction is of the quality that would cause an outbreak of an insurgency. But obviously, we track these issues very closely. We're in very -- we really follow these things. We're in touch with all the politicians. And this is going to -- this is, to be sure, a rocky road, but I think we can -- we have every reason to believe that we’ll get through this election process.

For those paying close attention, the US has thrown in the towel re: elections. They word now is that it doesn't matter if some candidates are excluded or not, it's not big deal. And with that nonsense, the US attempts to paint a pretty picture. Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) notes that elections might take place but . . . "Another scenario is that the elections will be called off altogether, due to rising violence and Sunni resentment with Maliki's handling of the pre-election process. The controversy of disqualifying candidates, which has rocked the Iraqi scene for more than three weeks, is ongoing as 145 candidates are now officially confirmed as ineligible to run for office, due to their alleged ties to the outlawed Ba'ath Party." Mohammed A Salih (Asia Times) adds, "The ban on high-profile Sunnis who have been part of Iraqi politics after the war is considered a significant blow to Washington's efforts to bring back the moderate elements of the mostly Sunni-led Ba'ath Party into Iraq's political process and reintegrate Sunnis into the country's politics."

Chris Hill delivered a lengthy opening statement before taking questions ('or abuse' he joked). We'll not note it all. On the elections, he stated:

We're here really to report on where things stand with three weeks to go. I think anyone who follows Iraq knows that there are twists and turns to any destination in Iraq. Certainly, de-Baathification was a major issue and a very tough issue, a very emotional issue, but I think we've gotten through that issue. The campaign has really started in earnest. There are campaign placards all over every surface in the country, it seems, right now. There are some 6,172 candidates. There are 18.9 million registered voters. There are 300,000 poll station workers. There are 50,000 polling stations spread over 9,000 polling centers. There will be out-of-country voters and they're prepared to handle that in 16 different countries, voting that will actually start on March 5th. We are working very closely with the UN and with the U.S. forces to help secure having 26 four-person monitoring teams. These are actually just U.S. monitoring teams to be spread out over 18 provinces, including four in Baghdad and 22 in other provinces. We'll have extra teams in some of the sensitive areas in Anbar, Basra, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninawa. There will be nine diplomatic missions who are represented in the overall monitoring, including from -- those from Turkey, UK, Denmark, Canada, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland. The European Union will have five or six journalistic embeds. We’ll also have special needs voting that begins on March 9th -- March 4th, rather. And our teams will be deployed about March 1st and return March 9th. So this is a major undertaking. It is an election that in many respects will determine the future of Iraq, the future of the U.S. -- and also the future of the U.S. relationship with Iraq. For us, this is a very important election because it’s an important election that will enable us to continue to develop what we see as a long-term and very important relationship, strategic relationship, with the Republic of Iraq.

He wanted to talk about many things in his opening statement and oil was at the top of his list. Oil and 'progress'. Chris Hill insisted, "Iraq has made important strides in its economy in recent months. They’ve reached some oil lease deals with many of the major oil companies in the world. So if all of these go well in the next some 10 years, we will see a country producing some 10 million barrels of oil per day. I mean, this is a substantial amount. This will put Iraq in the category of or in the sort of orbit of a country like Saudi Arabia. It will make Iraq an oil exporter to the tune of some four times what Iran is currently exporting. So all of these developments are happening as we speak. There are more and more oil infrastructure companies coming in to get ready for this, and I think we can see that Iraq is really taking its rightful place on the world stage."

Ten years, Chris?

Ten more years?

Geoff Kelly (Art Voice) interviews US House Rep Brian Higgins who states, "In Iraq, do you remember [President Bush] said he was going to do the surge in late 2006? The war wasn't going well. He puts Petraeus in charge and they commit 20,000 more troops. The surge was supposed to give breathing room for the political parties -- Shia, Sunni, and Kurd -- to resolve their differences. The surge succeeded militarily by tamping down the violence, but all the existential issues, all the standout issues, are still unresolved -- and will very likely be resolved violently. The sharing of oil revenues, the disputed areas in the north, Kirkuk, political reconciliation between the three major factions -- they're still not resolved."

They're still not resolved, says Higgins.

Important strides, crows Hill . . . before adding . . . ten more years.

Meanwhile Xinhua reports that Hussam Dawood al-Eqabi, an Iraqi radio journalists, was kidnapped in Kirkuk today. Meanwhile Ramadi is slammed with a bombing. Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports it was a suicide bombing and that the death toll has reached at least 12. Ali al-Mashhadani, Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas, Jack Kimball and Louise Ireland (Reuters) note twenty-one are wounded, that a hospital source says 13 corpses have been received with 26 people injured, and "A restaurant worker in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, said that bodies littered the scene, close to a complex housing provincial government buildings. Blood stained the ground, and gutted police and army vehicles smouldered nearby." Al Jazeera adds:

Mohammed Dulaimi, the owner of a restaurant that was badly damaged in the blast, said the attackers were "trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election".
"They want us to miss the opportunity to vote, as we did before," he said, referring to a boycott of 2005 general elections by Sunni-led political parties.

Yousif Bassil and CNN report that the attack took place at a security checkpoint "close to the provincial council office." In addition, Reuters notes a Mosul bombing injured "a former police officer and a tribal chief".

Over the last days, four Iraqi Christians have been shot dead and a fifth wounded. Once again, Iraqi Christians are being targeted. The following press release was sent to the public e-mail account and we're noting it in full:

Irondale, AL (February 17, 2010) -- (EWTN) At the invitation of the bishops of Iraq, EWTN Rome Bureau Chief Joan Lewis has begun reporting live from this war-torn country on the plight of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East.
You can hear Lewis' reports exclusively on the EWTN Radio Network until Feb. 28, and read about her findings on her blog, "Joan's Rome," at
Live radio reports begin at 6:05 a.m. ET, Monday through Friday, on "The Son Rise Morning Show" with Brian Patrick, which airs from 6 a.m. ET to 8 a.m. ET, Monday through Friday. She can also be heard live at 9:15 a.m. ET, Wednesdays, on "Catholic Connection" with Teresa Tomeo.
In addition, Lewis will break in at various times on "Open Line," which airs live from 3 p.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, and encores from 10 p.m. until midnight.
To find an EWTN Radio affiliate in your area, click To find out how to get EWTN on satellite radio, click here
EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 28th year, is available in over 150 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories. With its direct broadcast satellite television and radio services, AM & FM radio networks, worldwide short-wave radio station, Internet website and publishing arm, EWTN, is the largest religious media network in the world.
Contact: EWTN Global Catholic Network AL, 35210 US
Michelle Johnson - Director of Communications, 205-795-5769
Keywords: EWTN, Iraq, Middle East, Joan Lewis
Category: Catholic Organizations


A.N.S.W.E.R. and other organizations are sponsoring March 20th marches in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The march is to demand the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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