Saturday, March 06, 2010

The elections, the violence, the futility

On the eve of Iraq's national elections, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill told American diplomats and U.S. troops that the stakes are high for both the U.S. and Iraq in Sunday's vote.
"This election is big. It is simply enormous," Hill said during a visit to this U.S. base near the north-central city of Tikrit. "If this goes well … and if the government formation goes well, this could usher in a whole new beginning for this country and also U.S. relations with Iraq."
USA TODAY accompanied Hill as he visited U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) stationed in six Iraqi cities on Saturday, just one day ahead of the national election to choose 325 Parliament members.

The above is from Aamer Madhani's "U.S. official: Election of 'enormous' importance to Iraq" (USA Today). It's already Sunday in Iraq (and the current temperature is 57 degrees) and voting is underway in the last day of voting. These are the first Parliamentary elections since December 2005. Martin Chulov (Guardian) states, "Attitudes in Iraq to the poll during a fortnight of campaigning have been mixed. Memories remain vivid of the 2005 election – which heralded three years of violence, largely because of a Sunni boycott that led the already disenfranchised minority to lose further status in post-Saddam Iraq." An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy writes at Inside Iraq, "Al Qaeda in Iraq announced, Friday, a curfew on March 7 - Elections' Day, in all of Iraq! And that all God fearing people - especially in the Sunni neighbourhoods, will be expected to observe these instructions and stay at home. The way I understand this is that anyone outside their home on Sunday will be considered an infidel – No? And in their (al Qaeda's) instructions' book, you go to heaven if you gun down an infidel – No? Bad news. God preserve us."

Saturday saw more violence in Iraq. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing left three injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing which injured three police officers and a Najaf car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left fifty-four people injured. Reuters drops back to friday to note a Kirkuk shooting in which seven people were injured. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports that the Najaf death toll rose to 7.

Deng Shasha (Xinhua) offers a look at some of the major players in Iraqi politics. Elizabeth Palmer (CBS News -- link has text and video) examines the women running for office:

At a Baghdad Women's Day lunch, Ishtar, Iraq's answer to a girl band, played traditional music.
The guests - housewives, students and professionals - included Maysoun Damlouji, an architect and member of parliament who is running for re-election Sunday.
She's one of 2,000 female candidates who hit the campaign trail for this election, an unprecedented showing in this male-dominated society.

Among the parties vying for votes is the Ahrar Party:

Ayad Jamal Aldin: What you do today really matters

Ayad Jamal Aldin, leader of Ahrar 374, has urged all Iraqis to get out and vote this weekend in order to build a new Iraq.

In a final rallying cry to supporters broadcast across Iraq in advance of Sunday's parliamentary elections, he said: "What you do today at the polling station really matters. Now is the time for the Iraqi people to unite and change Iraq for the better. I encourage every Iraqi, regardless of sect or religion, to vote for a better future and a united and safe Iraq.

"There is violence on our streets and outside our homes. But if we want a better future, we must not be intimidated. We must summon the strength to stand against the outsiders and corrupters who would divide us. This violence exists because this government has lost control. The militias incite this violence because they know that tomorrow we have all the power and they are trying to intimidate us. Remember this: YOU have the power.

"Tomorrow, the Iraqi people have their chance to say no to those that preach death, hatred and division. Instead, we have a unique opportunity to build a united Iraq with security, jobs and fresh, clean running water for all.

"Let us show the world that our land is the land for all people - Muslim, Christian, Kurd and Arab. Imagine the Iraq you want your children to live in - and let us, together, start building that Iraq tomorrow.

"Iraq's future is in your hands - Only a vote for Ahrar 374 is a vote for a genuinely secular, independent future and jobs, electricity and security for our people. And when you vote today, remember how precious your vote is."

For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:

Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

On today's Weekend Edition (NPR -- link has audio and text), Quil Lawrence spoke with voters:

Quil Lawrence: The nightmare for the Americans is the Sadr Movement, says a Sadr supporter named Abu Haidar. And he means that as a compliment. He proudly recalls that even Muqtada al-Sadrs father, a revered cleric, was anti-American. Abu Haidar and many people in this poor Shiite slum on the east side of Baghdad say they think the continuing violence in Iraq is engineered by the Americans as a pretext to stay. Another Sadrist, Ali Abu Aqil, chimes in. [. . .] The American spider web covers the entire Arab world, he says, and they're aiming to keep a base in Iraq forever. Its a popular theory among Sadrists. Sadr's candidates are allied with the religious Shiite parties following a bargain they struck in neighboring Iran. If the Shiite list wins, its not clear who their prime minister would be. Some of their members are friendly with the U.S. But their list also includes Ahmed Chalabi, who over the years has fallen out with the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House. Chalabi is about the only candidate in the elections that U.S. officials have gone out of their way to slam, accusing him of ties to Iran. But among moderate Iraqis at least, the message behind the American silence may be getting across. In the mixed Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk, Juad Kadam Hussain(ph) drives a taxi.

Sunday, we didn't note an article by Arab media which referred to things in the SOFA that weren't in the SOFA:

We're ignoring an Arab media report that a number of people have e-mailed. It is incorrect about what the SOFA says. What becomes increasingly obvious is that not only do most not understand the SOFA, most have never bothered to read it. But they hear this or that in the media and think, "Oh, it says that!" I don't have time to do a link. On Thanksgiving Day 2008, we dealt with the SOFA when all the alleged 'peace' types couldn't be bothered. They'll air their "Columbus slaughtered the New World and enslaved the Native Americans" specials but you'll notice they'll take that holiday off. (I believe the Native Americans were enslaved. I'm not questioning that. But I don't grand stand in front of a microphone the day before every Thanksgiving and then take the Thursday and Friday off.) So pull up that week's archives and, when you do, you'll also found the SOFA because we posted it on Thanksgiving Day as well. And to be clear, we're not talking about a misreading of what the SOFA does or does not do, we're talking about a claim that X is covered in the SOFA when X is never mentioned in the SOFA.

For those too busy to read the SOFA, Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) puts you wise:

The pullout agreements -- including a July 2009 deadline for turning urban security over to the Iraqi military and the departure of all U.S. military forces by December 2011 -- were signed two months before Obama's inauguration. In one of his first major foreign policy decisions, Obama inserted an interim withdrawal date, pledging to remove all designated U.S. "combat" forces by August this year, with 50,000 troops remaining to carry out training, diplomatic security and select counterinsurgency missions with Iraqi counterparts for 16 months.

The dropping down to any number in August is not, NOT, in the SOFA.

Meanwhile WISN (link contains text and video) notes, "Hundreds more Wisconsin National Guard troops are getting ready to head to Iraq. Ceremonies were held across the state Saturday, including one in Medford." We'll close with this from Nadia Hijab's "HIJAB: A Tale of Two Richards" (Global Agency):

They hail from opposite parts of the globe, but they have much in common: Jewish; experts on and passionate defenders of international law; and pummeling bags for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And the future of the law of war lies at the heart of the campaigns against them. Read More…

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