Monday, March 22, 2010

And the count goes on (and the violence goes on)

Just off the Mosul road that runs through the vivid green plains of Iraq's Nineveh Province, a Kurdish security officer - a peshmerga - checks our documents, though we are several miles outside Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) borders. "Careful," he says, gesturing at the road ahead. "There are Arabs."
The checkpoint, manned by Kurdish forces, is on the country's "trigger line", a 300-mile unofficial boundary between the areas run by the KRG and the Iraqi central government - a border that some fear will be the setting for the country's next civil war. The KRG claims that areas of northern Iraq with a large Kurdish population ought to be part of its jurisdiction, and says its peshmergas were invited across the official green line by US forces to help protect the local people. Arab nationalist parties accuse the KRG of occupying disputed land.
The governance of these areas, particularly the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, is a focal point for post-election bargaining over the make-up of the ruling coalition. US forces have begun to play an important role in managing Arab-Kurd tensions, but they are scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year, leaving little time to cut a deal.

The above is from Abigail Fielding-Smith's "In northern Iraq, Kurds warn: 'Beware the Arabs'" (New Statesman) and the March 7th elections also took place in the KRG. They've gotten far less attention (other than the press crumbs of "kingmakers") but Tatiana Harrison (Press Democrat) reports from the region today:

This state of being in a safe zone within a war zone made for one fun aspect of election day on March 7. All polling stations looked like wildly popular, hip nightclubs, with everyone being wanded, holding their arms up for the pat down and so forth.
Sure, most nightclubs are not operating out of a local school and staffed by drafted local teachers and lawyers, with representatives of every political party sitting, panel-style, in every voting room.
But everyone did look more dressed for a night on the town than for performing a civic duty. From the older, traditional Kurdish clothes sported by the senior citizens, to the young women with their matching head scarves and patent-leather boots, to the posses of modelesque young men, everyone was dressed to the nines.

An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers offers this walk-through at Inside Iraq:

Results showed that Iraq’s current prime minister didn’t win the elections as expected but he is leading the results against his rival secular Shiite Ayad Allawi.
After calculating the announced results in Iraq’s 18-provinces it showed that Al Maliki is leading the results but not with big difference from his closest opponent. These results will probably add more complicity to the countries already fragile political situation.
To form the government the winning bloc will need 163 votes and to choose a president it will need 217 votes, which no bloc could obtain.
This fact will force the political entities to make alliances and to make concessions to other smaller blocs to be able to form a government.

What if the prime minister is neither Allawi nor al-Maliki? It's more than possible. Not only is Ahmed Chalabi said to have arranged for himself to be installed should State of Law prevail in the elections but it's also true that Nouri is a divisive figure. Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) looks at those rumored to be waiting in the wings:

If neither Maliki nor Allawi makes it to the premiership, Iraqis will need to search for a prime minister who is acceptable to both parties. Two names that originally surfaced were Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Adel Abdul Mehdi, both members of the Iran-backed Iraqi National Alliance (INA), which is currently placed third in the poll and is likely to win 68 seats.
Jaafari was immediately written off by Sunnis, since he failed to bring security to Iraq during his 2005-2006 tenure as prime minister. He was unable to control civil strife after terrorists struck at a holy Shi'ite shrine in February 2006, three months before he was replaced by Maliki.
Abdul Mehdi, although acceptable to Iran, is also an unconvincing candidate due, mainly due to objections to him from within the INA. Mehdi's greatest opponents are his own allies, men like Jaafari who have their own eyes on the premiership, or Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who has always seen Mehdi as an Iranian stooge.
One compromise candidate is Jaafar al-Sadr, a member of the State of Law Coalition who has excellent relations with both his cousin, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the prime minister. Muqtada has made it clear that he will not support Maliki gaining a second term, saying: "During his years in power, Maliki worked for his own personal benefit, not for the people of Iraq."

The count is still preliminary. It is also partial. 95% of the preliminary count is known. Friday, 100% of the vote is supposed to be known. Whether a recount will take place or not is currently up in the air with the election body stating that they will only review charges of fraud and not conduct a recount. That may change as Nouri ramps up the rhetoric. But these are not official results, remember.

As the counting continues, so does the violence. Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured six people, a Baghdad shooting which claimed the lives of 2 police officers, a Kirkuk car bombing which wounded one police officer, a Baghdad shooting which claimed the lives of 2 Sadr City council members and left one person injured and, dropping back to Sunday, a Baghdad shooting which attacked "the convoy of Muaid al-Lami, the chief of the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate, and wounded his driver "

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "The nail biter" went up last night.
Reminder the three-day edition of El Spirito ends today (returns to just Sundays next weekend). It goes out shortly. (Ava and I just finished our column and Maria, Francisco and Miguel are selecting final photos of yesterday's march.) David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). We'll close with this from Bacon's "MARCHING FOR CALIFORNIA'S FUTURE THROUGH TODAY'S DESOLATION" (New American Media):

As the March for California's Future heads up the San Joaquin Valley towards Sacramento, participants are coming up hard against the reality of the economic crisis in rural California. The march began in Bakersfield, the day after widespread protests swept through the state's schools and universities on March 4. It is a protest against the impact of state budget cuts on education and social services, and marchers are finding that Valley communities are among those that feel their effects most strongly.
"Watsonville has a 27% unemployment rate," says Jenn Laskin, a teacher at Renaissance Continuation High School there. "It's the strawberry capital of the world, and strawberries are a luxury. In a recession, people stop buying them, so workers no longer have a job in the fields. I have many students who have both parents out of work, who grow food in our school garden for their families."
But in the Central Valley, she thinks, things seem worse. "The towns we've been passing through feel a lot more desolate," Laskin explains. Those include the small farm worker communities of Shafter, McFarland, Delano, Pixley and Tulare. "I see a lot of fields with nothing planted at all. I was in a Mexican restaurant in Pixley and there was not a Mexican in sight. The problems I see in Watsonville might even be sharper here. I see more need here, and I'm guessing probably fewer services."
She's not far off. The official unemployment rate in December in Kern County was 16%. Since Bakersfield, a major urban area, has a lower rate, towns like Shafter and McFarland have even more jobless. Crossing into Kings and Tulare Counties, unemployment jumps to over 17% in each.

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