But last month's brief gun battle in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region sent chills through the three provinces in the north that are held up by U.S. officials as a beacon of stability in a country where politics and violence often intertwine.
The scuffle between forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls this city, and energetic supporters of a breakaway faction called Change was the most serious in what the latter calls a campaign of intimidation by the ruling power.
That's the opening to Leila Fadel's "Clashes in Iraq's north underscore fierce political rivalry among Kurds" (Washington Post). The elections are already underweigh in Iraq due to early voting -- in Iraq and around the world in 16 other countries due to Iraq's large refugee population. Simon Hooper (CNN) also reports from the KRG
The three northern provinces of Erbil, Suleimaniyah and and Dohuk, which call themselves the "other Iraq," have mostly been spared the carnage and civil unrest that followed the U.S.-invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraqi Kurds trace their own democratic roots back further still to the 1992 elections organized following the creation of a United Nations-backed northern safe haven in the aftermath of the first Gulf War which established the region's de facto independence from Baghdad.
Since then, control of the region has been carved up between the KDP and the PUK -- though the rival factions fought a civil war in the 1990s. But the two parties are now facing a new challenge to their dominance. Goran, formed by Talabani's one-time deputy in the PUK, Nawshirwan Mustafa, won almost 25 percent of votes in last year's elections for the Kurdish region's parliament.
One of Goran's leading candidates, Hama Tofiq Rahim, told CNN the party expected to do even better in Sunday's ballot on the back of a campaign promising transparency in government and an end to corruption. Rahim said the party hoped to win around 20 seats in the Iraqi parliament.
It's day two of early voting. "Voting began today in Iraq's Parliamentary elections," Katie Couric noted yesterday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. "And as it did, three separate bomb attacks in Baghdad killed 17 people. Insurgents have vowed to sabotage the elections. There targets today were soldiers and police officers who were voting early since they were scheduled to be on duty Sunday when most of the votes will be cast." Diane Sawyer (ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer) also noted the violence as she tossed to Miguel Marquez who, she informed, "has been to Iraq more than a dozen times, tells us that what has happened in the city of Baghdad is a triumph of spirit and resolve."
Miguel Marquez: Today we can go places. Places we couldn't go for years. This is [al] Shurja market, it's the biggest in Iraq. It's also one of the biggest in the Middle East. It has been five years that I've been coming to Iraq, it is the first time that I've actually been able to come down to this market and it's an incredible place to see.
And he continued to yammer away. All garbage. Miguel's been reporting on Iraq for some time. He's been with ABC since 2005. So in five more years, he may be telling us, "This is the first time I've been able to travel without bodyguards." In other words, quit b.s.-ing, no one's in the damn mood for it. Something it takes you five years to note? Not really worth noting. Obviously, you're yet again LYING and we can tell that how? Besides the bodyguards, there's who you talk to. Men. Men, men, men, manly men -- it may be the theme to Two & a Half Men. But it's not news. Save your crap ass trash, spare us all. You went out and spoke to some men and you think you can hail Iraq a success. What a piece of crap, what a piece of work. I'm not in the mood for this garbage and I'm getting real damn tired of 'reporters' telling us today that something's an 'improvement' because they couldn't do it X number of years ago -- only back then they weren't telling us they couldn't do it and they were still hailing Iraq a 'success' by focusing on something else. And word to ABC News, we don't need crotch watching in our newscasts. America didn't need the look-the-penis-moves-to-the-left-and-now-to-the-right-and-now-to-the . . . tight, tracking shot on the crotch of a man's pants.
What do Iraqi voters think? Don't you mean Iraqi males? The press fascination with Iraqi men never dies. Male or female, the reporters all make like Sally Rogers desperate for a fellow to drag over to Rob & Laura's. Arwa Damon (CNN -- link has text and video) visits an Iraqi coffee house to talk to male voters. We'll skip that and note this from late in the article:
Critics have lashed out at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with some going so far as to call him a dictator, accusing him of trying to consolidate power and abusing his authority over the Iraqi security forces.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Maliki denied these allegations.
"It doesn't bother me, because I know I am not like that. But they are not distinguishing between a strong man who believes in the constitution and is committed to the constitution and handles issues based on the authorities granted by the constitution, and not being weak. If I was weak, the country would be lost."
Al Jazeera offers this on polling, "This election is also expected to see a significant percentage of Iraqis voting along non-sectarian lines for the first time since the fall of the former regime, with a number of credible polls suggesting that secular Allawi’s Iraqiya might come on top. However, these same polls indicate that neither Iraqiya nor the three other major groups - Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance led by Ammar Al-Hakim, the Kurdish Alliance – are likely to win an outright majority." The Ahrar Party issued the following release this morning:
Ahrar Candidate and Goodwill Ambassador to UN - Dr. Mufada Kamal - speaks to Al Mostaqbal TV
Leading Ahrar candidate Mufada Kamal - who is also a United Nations through the limsam organisation - reinforced Ahrar Party's plans for the revival of the Iraqi economy in an interview for Al Mostaqbal television earlier today. The interview will be shown this evening repeatedly between 19:00 and 23:00.to the
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0) / +964 (0) / +964 (0)
Meanwhile, as we noted earlier in the week, rumors are political currency in Iraq. (And elsewhere.) Anthony Shadid (New York Times) attempts to sort out the rumors of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who is reportedly in Iran, reportedly is considering coming back to Iraq to rally his followers, reportedly has an arrest warrant out that will see him chained and shackled should he enter the country and reportedly a foe of Nouri al-Maliki. From the article:
Supporters here handed out leaflets with a picture of Mr. Maliki laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery, juxtaposed with images of Iraqis arrested and killed by American troops. "For their killers, flowers," it read. "For our youth, bullets."
Staying with al-Sadr and his supporters, Ali al-Saffar (Foreign Policy) writes of his father who died at the hands of Moqtada supporters:
My father was targeted during an investigation he was conducting into corruption in the Ministry of Health, which had become a fiefdom for the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr. He was on the verge of exposing explosive evidence that funds earmarked to improve Iraq's health sector were being diverted to sectarian militias, helping them carry on the fight against their opponents. Those directly implicated include his fellow deputy minister, Hakim al-Zamili, who took such exception to the threatened public disclosure of his association with violent militias that, I believe, he responded by having my father kidnapped.
Zamili was arrested in 2007, and an Iraqi court leveled the same charges against him that my father had made: that he had been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Sunnis who had arrived at the hospitals run by the Ministry of Health. After a two-day trial that featured widespread accusations of witness intimidation and many irregularities, Zamili was freed. In a morbid reversal of justice, Zamili has quoted Gandhi in describing his arrest and claims that it was actually a boon for his political career. He is now a leading candidate for parliament in Iraq's March 7 election, and his candidacy has been spotlighted on the front page of the New York Times.
Niraj Warikoo (Detroit Free Press) notes that Iraqis in Michigan will "vote today at polling sites in Warren and Dearborn". Deborah Amos (Slate) reports on the refugees:
Under a new election law, the externally displaced have voting power, because their vote counts as if they were living in their home province. Voter registration began this week; an Iraqi passport counts as proof of citizenship, but so does a U.N. refugee registration card. Iraq's electoral commission expects as many as 180,000 exiles to cast ballots in 23 voting centers across Syria, and Iraq's Sunni politicians are courting the exile vote.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi exiles scattered across the region are connected to Iraq through chat rooms, cell phones, Web cameras, and satellite television, part of a virtual Iraq that exists beyond borders. While this crucial election is a test of Iraq's fragile democracy and of the potential for long-term stability, its outcome may also determine whether Iraqis remain in exile as a destabilizing population in the region or return home to help rebuild the country. Political reconciliation can happen only if Sunnis feel they have a fair share of power. The exiles will judge the election outcome by what it reveals about the strength of the sectarian fault lines that contributed to the exodus and displacement of 20 percent of the pre-war population.
Iraqi refugees will vote in the US, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Iran, Canada, England, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands.
USA Today offers their examination of how things stand as elections begin:
Iraqis have settled none of the key issues that were supposed to be resolved by now. There is no law divvying up the nation's vast oil wealth among its Shiite, Sunni and Kurd factions. There is no agreement on potentially explosive territorial disputes between Arabs and the quasi-independent Kurds. Worse, an election commission invited insurrection by disenfranchising Sunnis, including leaders who turned on al-Qaeda and sided with the United States. About 150 were barred from Sunday's ballot, not the best way to engage a pivotal and potentially violent minority that boycotted the last major elections in 2005.
Stephen Farrell reports on early voting in a video at the New York Times At War Blog.
We didn't forget NBC in the news coverage. We're going out with them. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams led with Iraq last night. At Brian Williams' blog, you've got the first half (with Andrea Mitchell). And here, you can find both segments in video form.
Brian Williams: Good evening. It will go down in history among the events that shaped our times, the decision by President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq after the United States had been attacked on 9/11 with no direct connection between the two. The United States has paid a heavy price for the war which will be seven years old later this month -- that's a year longer than all of World War II. 96,000 American servicemen and women are still stationed in Iraq, more than 4300 Americans have died there, more than 31,000 have been wounded. The war's financial cost is estimated to be north of $700 billion and growing. The Iraq War is back in the news tonight because of new violence there just like the old days and because of a new take on the war from an old hand in the Bush operation, Karl Rove. We begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
George W. Bush [footage]: The architect Karl Rove.
Andrea Mitchell: Now Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's elections, says if not for the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, there probably would have been no Iraq War. In Courage and Consequence, which we bought at a Washington bookstore before it's official release, Rove writes, "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the threat of WMD." But since no such weapons existed, Rove asks, "So, then, did Bush lie us into war?" His answer: "Absolutely not." Some other Bush insiders back him up.
Stephen Hadley: I think it's not that we did it on a false pretense, we did it on the basis of intelligence that turned out not to be true.
Andrea Mitchell: But others say President Bush had decided to go to war long before the UN could evaluate the evidence. As early as July 2002, former State Dept official Richard Haass writes Condolezza Rice brushed away his concerns about Iraq "saying the President had made up his mind." That same month, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was told in this memo from his advisors [Downing St. Memo], "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin."
David Gergen: They wanted to take out the Saddam Hussein regime. The Weapons of Mass Destruction only fueled that drive. I think what really changed things was 9/11 and it made them feel that they could not take the kind of risks after 9/11 that they might have been willing to live with before 9/11.
Andrea Mitchell: Rove also answers critics of the president's infamous fly-over of New Orleans on Air Force One, after Hurricane Katrina, writing, "Our decision was right for the relief effort but wrong for President Bush's public standing."
David Gergen: It was clear to I think everybody other than people who lived in the cocoon, that he still had to go. To bear witness, to understand, the suffering that was going on there.
Andrea Mitchell: In his book, Rove blames local and state officials for the disastorous response to Katrina which most outsiders say, as much as Iraq, marked a turning in the Bush presidency. Brian?
Brian Williams: Replaying a little history here, Andrea Mitchell --
Andrea Mitchell: Indeed.
Brian Willaims: -- starting us off here in Washington. And a quick programming note here, much more on Karl Rove and what's in the book when he appears on Today tomorrow and next Monday and Tuesday morning here on this NBC station. Meanwhile, as the debate over Iraq continues, so does the war itself with another election at hand and new violence just today that left at least 17 dead. But life is very different for the nearly 100,000 Americans still stationed in Iraq. The story from our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel who is in Iraq tonight, embedded with the 1st Armored Division.
Richard Engel: They were lined up to vote, but a suicide bomber in Baghdad slipped into the crowd. But American troops today didn't secure any of the blast sites. America's new mission in Iraq is strictly behind the scenes. To understand it, we joined an army platoon living on an Iraqi police station in southeast Iraq. Here Lt Jesse Krim coordinated American drones over voting stations
Lt Jesse Krim: We're not kicking down doors with them in anyway.
Richard Engel: No direct combat as US soldiers are severely limited. Under a new security agreement, US troops are mostly confined to their bases. They rarely leave without Iraqi permission. It's a training mission now and some American soldiers have mixed feelings about it. When Sgt Kyle Fogerty was in Baghdad on his last deployment three years ago, his unit was attacked by roadside bombs 18 times a week. This time, most of his soldiers haven't fired a shot.
Sgt Kyle Fogerty: It's a positive thing, seeing our hard work that we've put in over the years has paid off.
Richard Engel: But some soldiers here feel they're no longer needed.
Sgt Kyle Fogerty: I believe it's time for us to move out. I mean, it's come to the point, we train these guys, they already know everything we're training them and I mean they're acting on it, you see the success.
Richard Engel: Time to go?
Sgt Kyle Fogerty: It's time to go home.
Richard Engel: His platoon leader, Lt Krim, disagrees but admits most of his soldiers would rather be in Afghanistan, in the fight, not cooped up on base.
Lt Jesse Krim: Say if you trained all your life to be a doctor and then you came to a country and all you did was help out doctors you had to stay in the waiting room and basically try to help them out the best that you can. That's basically what we're doing here. You know, it's frustrating at times but it's necessary.
Richard Engel: It's a new role and some soldiers here are struggling to adjust. Richard Engel, NBC News, Nasariyah.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
Americans have a longstanding love affair with food -- the modern
supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products. But do we really know what
goes into making the products we so eagerly consume? On Friday, March 5
at 8:30 PM (check local listings), David Brancaccio talks with Robert
Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., which
takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on
the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary secrets are so closely guarded, their
impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are
actually empowered to make a difference.
Staying with TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the table this week are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Michael Duffy (Time magazine) and John Harwood (CNBC, New York Times). And along with catching the show, you can click here for Gwen's take on two of the current political scandals (text report). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Sam Bennett, Karen Czarnecki, Nicole Kurokawa and Patrice Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. And at the website each week, Bonnie and her guests offer an extra video on a topic not covered on the show. The current web extra is a discussion of retirement proposals to 401(k)s and IRA accounts. For the broadcast program, check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes:
"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers"
"60 Minutes" will be pre-empted this week for a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers." This hour explores the world of Spanish bullfighting brothers Francisco and Cayetano Rivera-Ordonez, top matadors from one of Spain's most famous bullfighting families. Bob Simon follows the bullfighters outside and in the ring, where the "dance of death" nearly ends the life of Cayetano in a horrifying moment caught on camera. | Watch Video
"60 Minutes Presents: Blood Brothers", Sunday, March 7, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Radio notes. Today on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR and streams online live beginning at 10:00 am EST), the panelists for the first hour discussion (domestic) are Jeanne Cummings (Politico), Ross Douthat (New York Times) and Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune). For the second hour (international), the guests are Tom Gjelten (N PR), Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy) and David Sanger (New York Times). The show also podcasts and archives online. In addition, The Diane Rehm Show had won the Shorty Award for brief news for their Twitter Account.
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