Tuesday, March 9, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, ballot counting continues, a new Inquiry begins in London, March 20th is a day for action in the US, and more.
Sunday Iraq held Parliamentary elections. Yesterday on The NewsHour (PBS link has text, video and audio options), Gwen Ifill spoke with the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf about the elections.
Gwen Ifill: Jane, it took 156 days to negotiate a new government in 2005, when the outcome was close as this one is expected to be. Is similar instability feared this time as well?
Jane Arraf: There is actually quite a lot of concern, Gwen. In fact, that's probably the major concern, because, really, what we're looking at is a very closely fought race, in which it's not clear who is going to emerge the winner. But what is clear is that whoever it is doesn't have the power to actually form a government by themselves. So, that means we're looking at weeks, if not several months, of jockeying for position and bargaining to actually form a government. And that's really what a lot of US, as well as Iraqi officials are worried about. What happens in between, in between the time that this parliament actually phases out and the new one is set to come in? There are some safeguards that have been put in place. But, certainly, it's a worry as to who actually holds the reins of power and what happens if there's an emergency.
Yesterday on the radio program The Takeaway, Iraq was discussed at length. We'll note this section.
Miles O'Brien: Alright, Phebe, this sets the clock or starts the clock on the withdrawal of US combat forces. What role does the US play at this point?
Phebe Marr (Middle East Institute): Well it plays, I think, and increasing less role -- less of a role. It's-it's muscle, of course, gets less. As we know, we're to have 50,000 there until the following year and then all troops are set to be out. But I would like to put one caution in. If things don't go so well or violence tends to flare up, say in the Kurdish area, we could possibly configure a slow-down of that withdrawal although nothing at the present moment suggests that's going to happen. I personally think that there's a possibility after the election gets settled and a new government comes in that we may actually be asked to keep a small contingent there because we're rely -- we're expected under the strategic agreement to be training, supplying, equipping, there'll be logistics and so forth for the Iraqi and all of that might require some troops -- not, perhaps, combat troops -- on the ground. And, of course, we have a huge diplomatic mission and the Iraqis are going to have to turn to us for a number of things including the debt and elimination of many US restrictions and so on. So they're still going to be a behind-the-scenes, definite role for the United States. Perhaps as a discreet mediator in some of these disputes.
Also on the program was Anthony Shadid (the New York Times is one of the producers of The Takeaway) and he spoke of how fraud was expected in the election and had been a part of the previous post-war election and how the question many are asking is how much fraud is allowable. Iraq was placed under 'crack-down' for several days due to Sunday's elections. Shaalan Juburi, Li Laifang, Jamal Ahmed and Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) report that government ministries and schools reopened today and Abu Ahmed thinks the election process was fine "but he told Xinhua that he is afraid of any fraud in the counting of ballots." Many outlets are reporting that the race is between A and B. Votes are still being counted. Not only are they still be counted but the plan to release a preliminary count today has been aborted. We're not going to make the snapshots about who may be in the lead or who it may be between. The 2000 US election was about controlling the press when the vote was unknown with both the Al Gore camp and the Bully Boy Bush camp attempting to win the day's news cycle. We're not playing that game here. Nouri has been courting the press. Last week, Hannah Allem (McClatchy's Middle East Diary) noted that Nouri threw a luncheon for -- not at -- the press. Even that was apparently too much for Nouri:
At the lunch before the news conference, journalists sat at banquet tables as sharply dressed waiters served us the grilled Iraqi fish known as mazkouf, trays of lamb, several kinds of rice and honey-soaked pastries from Baghdad's best confectionary. Everyone was hungry, but we were advised not to start until "the host" arrived. Until that moment, nobody had realized Maliki would be dining with us, which is rare for a man whose administration has had a testy and often combative relationship with the media.
Maliki swept into the dining area in a navy suit and tie. He didn't work the room, he didn't greet journalists with anything more than a cursory nod and mumbled "As salamu alaikum," followed by an order for everyone to sit. Aloof and somber, he had a hangdog look about him, and none of the charm of, say, an Ayad Allawi or Ahmad Chalabi.
It was a bit awkward, honestly, to be tucking into a delicious Iraqi meal a table over from the prime minister, who was technically our host but barely acknowledged his guests' presence. I sneaked a few glances at him and found him picking at a small piece of lamb, sipping a Diet Pepsi and trying only a forkful of the rich dessert. He indulged in an after-meal chai and then slipped away to prepare for the press conference.
We will quote Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) observing, "Facts are scarce, and spin is everywhere, in the aftermath of Iraq's election"
Some initial thoughts: voter turnout was 62 percent, according to initial reports from Iraq. That's down from about 75 percent in the 2005 election. In Baghdad, the key province with 70 seats in parliament at stake, turnout was the lowest in Iraq, at 53 percent. It isn't clear, yet, if that total includes any or all of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled Baghdad during the sectarian purge of 2005-2007, mostly Sunni voters who either fled to Syria and Jordan or to safer provinces in western Iraq. According to initial reports, again, election officials at polling places were ill-equipped to handle displaced voters, meaning that many internally displaced persons didn't get to vote. If the election is close, and perhaps even if it isn't, the disputes over the votes of refugees and displaced persons will be bitter and explosive.
Today at the New York Times' At War Blog, many correspondents contribute to an entry on voting in Iraq and we'll note the following Iraqi voices from Sam Dagher's section on Kirkuk:
Jabbar Mohammed, 45,
North Oil Company employee
Mr. Mohammed, a Sunni Arab, said he would vote for a candidate within Ayad Allawi's coalition.
"He is a well-spoken man, educated and has previous experience in parliament," he said. "We want to change the situation. I hope Kirkuk becomes an Iraqi city again. We boycotted the last elections but these elections are different."
Karwan Hamid, 19
Mr. Hamid said he and his friends voted for the Kurdistan Alliance. Asked why he did not vote for the new reformist group Gorran Mr. Hamid said "They did not even assume power and already they cut deals with Baathists and enemies of Kurds."
Kamal Fares, 57
A Turkmen, he voted for a candidate on Ayad Allawi's slate. "He's like me, a Turkmen."
The United Nations was an international organization in Iraq observing the voting -- and they are observing the counting of ballots. They issued the following from Ad Merlkert, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Iraq (SRSG):
I congratulate the more than 12 million Iraqis who went to the polls, some braving insecurity to cast ballots for a better future, marking the historic character of election day. This turnout was beyond the expectations of many. I commend the IHEC Board of Commissioners and the more than 300,000 Iraqis engaged by IHEC, for their efforts to conduct elections in a well organized and professional fashion. UNAMI is proud to have supported their work.
I congratulate the Iraqi Security forces, who were solely responsible for all security on eleciton-day for safeguarding the electoral process, despite effots by some to deter Iraqis from voting. There can be nod obut that the Iraqi people stand together in their wish that reason prevails over confrontation and violence.
UNAM visited polling centers in Anbar, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, Najaf, Sulaimania, Salahadin, Diyala, Basra, Dohuk and Baghdad. We were pleased with the conduct of the vote and the evident enthusiasm for the elections among the different Iraqi communities. I join Iraqi and international leaders in the call for patience and restraint as the results are counted and tabulated. I also encourage political agents and observers to continue to monitor the process, and to direct any complaints to the IHED in accordance with the law. Only IHEC can announce the official results of these elections, which will be certified by the Federal Supreme Court.
The most crucial moment will arrive when the results are announced. The UN calls on all candidates and parties to unite in accepting the results. This will set an example for a culture of democracy that requires commitment beyond elections. The UN also calls on all those newly elected to move resolutely to seat parliament and form the new government so that political, economic and social progress is not delayed.
On the topic of the UN and the Iraqi elections, Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press) reports:
While there is much to be said about the Iraqi elections just held, the UN can't seem to get it act together on what to say, or even what it should be talking about. Top UN envoy to Iraq Ad Melkert spoke for the second time in a month to correspondents at UN headquarters Monday, this time by video, and painted a rosy picture of the election.
Inner City Press asked about the sample complaints of Ayad Allawi, about irregularities and confusion at polling stations, and his call for an investigation. We are aware of points of various candidates, Melkert said. It is is not my task to comment on particular statements. Video here, from Minute 10:42.
But how could Melkert's rosy assessment not be seen as an implicit rejection of Allawi's complaints, Inner City Press asked. Video here, from Minute 11:52. It is not my task or UNAMI's task, Melkert replied, to assess complaints. I did not refer to fair elections, only that turn out was good, that it was a big day, Melkert said. "You cannot attribute to me any assessment."
Along with the UN, the US had observers. Among them were members of the National Foundation of Women Legislators who issued "U.S. Elected Women Observe Iraqi Elections; Witness Fearless Determination" yesterday:
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- A delegation of U.S. elected women from across the nation selected by the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State served as official Election Observers in Baghdad yesterday.
The NFWL Delegation released the following statement:
We were honored to bear witness to the Iraqi People's fearless determination to exercise their right to vote, even in the wake of violence and bombs aimed at disrupting the election. We met a brave woman who assured us, "I voted today as a challenge to the terrorists!" She told us that violent attempts to scare Iraqis would only encourage more people like her to get out and vote. We witnessed a determined man named Ahmed bring his wife and 2 daughters ages 2 and 4 to vote. He was eager to tell us that, "For 30 years, we lived under Saddam's dictatorship without the freedoms we're voting for today. Even though there are bombs and violence, and people will die trying to vote today, the people of Iraq will vote because we see it as a tax for freedom that we are willing to pay for with our lives. We are on a train to freedom and my family and I will do our part in making sure we don't come off that freedom track." In the face of death and violence, today [March 7th] the National Foundation for Women Legislators proudly stood with courageous Iraqi voters as they cast their votes for democracy.
· State Representative Debbie Riddle (R-Houston, Texas), Chairman Elect NFWL
· State Representative Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis, Missouri)
· State Representative Bette Grande (R-Fargo, North Dakota)
· State Representative Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie, Florida)
· State Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington, Delaware)
· State Representative Susana A. Mendoza (D-Chicago, Illinois)
· State Representative Diane Winston (R-Covington, Louisiana)
NFWL is one of only two groups of Americans that were invited to oversee Iraq's election on March 7th. The other group includes former Members of Congress.
NFWL has been asked to participate in the Iraqi elections due to the unique status of women in Iraq. There are over one million widows in Iraq, many very highly educated, and there is a requirement that 25% of the candidates on the ballot be women. NFWL is charged with bringing a calm and credible presence to the elections, and women leaders such as the hearty band of 7 women leaders representing NFWL recognize the importance of free and fair elections to the stability of Iraq and the United States' national security.
The women leaders were invited to join this delegation to lend their integrity and experience to a process that is new to the citizens of Iraq, and graciously answered the call.
"These incredible women have shown themselves to be strong leaders through NFWL and I know their presence in Iraq during this historic time will ensure the Iraqi people have a real chance at Democracy," stated Robin Read, NFWL's President and CEO.
NFWL has been invited by the U.S. Department of State and foreign nations to bring delegations of elected women together to monitor elections, mentor women leaders across the globe, and participate in important dialogues concerning free trade and other vital issues on several occasions starting in 1993.
"There is a sense expressed by our elected women that Iraq is an incredibly important place to reach out, not only because of the United States' current relationship with the country but also due to women in Iraq traditionally having enjoyed a unique level of education and public visibility." stated Read. "We see a wonderful opportunity to empower and support women in public leadership in Iraq."
About the National Foundation for Women Legislators, Inc. (NFWL)
Through annual educational and networking events, the National Foundation for Women Legislators supports elected women from all levels of governance. As a non-profit, non-partisan organization, NFWL does not take ideological positions on public policy issues, but rather serves as a forum for women legislators to be empowered through information and experience. www.womenlegislators.org
Along with who won, what the elections mean or meant is still unknown. Paul McGeough (Sydney Morning Herald) observes, "As Iraqis voted on Sunday, a message emanating from the White House was that the elections and its aftermath were now 'in the hands of the Iraqis.' But the visit of a leading Kurdish politician to Washington this year and direct intervention by Barack Obama in settling the pre-election stand-off suggest a continuing hands-on role. And if American hands are on the Iraqi levers, others can be expected to grasp for them, too -- particularly neighbouring Iran, which sees Iraq as a proxy theatre of engagement with the US."
Violence continues in Iraq . . . .
Reuters notes 1 person shot dead at a Mosul bus terminal, an armed Mosul clash resulted in 1 police officer and 1 assailant being shot dead, Iraqi police wounded a 'suspect,' in Kirkuk the district police chief's convoy was targeted injuring two bodyguards and, dropping back to Monday, 2 people were shot dead in Falluja (another was injured).
Amy Goodman and Anjali Kamat (Democracy Now -- link has video, audio and transcript) addressed the violence of the Iraq War today with guest Wafaa Bilal who lost his brother Haji in 2004 when a US missile hit their Kufa home six years ago. In memory of his brother and other Iraqis who have died in the illegal war, Wafaa Bilal is getting tattoos. He's using the more accepted number of 100,000 dead Iraqis (one million was estimated some time ago) and he explains:
"... And Counting" is a new project I'm doing, which is using a tattoo as a medium and playing with the idea of visible-invisible issue. You have 5,000 American deaths in Iraq, and you have 100,000 Iraqi deaths, as the consequences of this war. And what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to create something as an engagement. I'm trying to create a platform, a virtual and physical platform, one people could come and even just, as a start, acknowledge the number. The number is just staggering.
And when I was invited by the Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts to talk about the Iraq issues and the death, I didn't know -- or I didn't want to create another physical monument that's going to be abandoned after a few years or few months, few days maybe. And how do you remember human being that's been killed by an aggression? And what I wanted to do, I wanted to create that monument, when I could carry it with me.
And what I'm doing is, the entire product is three stages. Stage one, I lay down the Iraqi cities, Iraqi map with no border. Then I am putting 100,000 dots, one dot for each Iraqi, in an invisible ink. It's not going to be visible unless you have a UV light. And stage three is the 5,000 American deaths going to be on top of the 100,000. So, at the first glance, on my back, you are going to see the Iraqi cities in Arabic and the 5,000 dots that represent American death. And there are different circumstances when you have a UV light. You are going to see the 100,000 dots come to life. And that is examining the issue of Iraqi death is not being visible, is not being acknowledged. And the number, it's so high we cannot even comprehend.
With that project, a place and a dot, for each dot, we are -- people donating one dollar for Rally for Iraq organization to raise a scholarship money for Iraqi children who lost their parents during this war. And this is just an objective of leaving something tangible, not just the art piece on my back, but also something that's practical, something that gives hope to the Iraqi generation under this war.
Meanwhile, in England, there's a new inquiry, the al-Sweady Public Inquiry. What's going on? In the face of claims that following a 2004 battle (which the British dubbed "Danny Boy"), British forces violated the human rights of Iraqis and via mistreatment and at least one alleged killing, the inquiry was set up "to seek to establish the facts as required by its terms of reference. The Chairman will make appropriate recommendations in light of his findings in fact." Great Britain's Socialist Worker states, "Evidence of torture includes close-range bullet wounds, the removal of eyes and stab wounds." David Sapsted (UAE's The National Newspaper) reports that the assertion is that at least "20 Iraqis were unlawfully killed" and Hamid al-Sweady was a 19-year-old who died during "Danny Boy."
Thayne Forbes is charing in the inquiry -- among other things, his past achievements inclduing presiding over many courts as a judge. Lee Hugehs of the UK Ministry of Justice is sitting on the inquiry. Jillian Glass, Jonathan Acton Davis, Jason Beer and Emma Gargitter are all attorneys -- all four -- four more than sit on the Iraq Inquiry
Yesterday, we covered David Miliband's testimony to the Inquiry and the announced plan was to follow that in the next snapshot with critical press examination of his testimony. The press decided to avoid calling David out in the UK. Iran's Press TV offers a critique:
Miliband also claimed that the UK is now in a "stronger position," believing that UK decisions on Iraq have not "undermined our relationships or our ability to do business" in the region.
The top official meanwhile alleged that "many Iraqis" view Britain as having been instrumental in "freeing the country from a tyranny that is bitterly remembered."
This is while according to polls conducted by The Arab American Institute and the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2007 and 2006, the majority of people in the Middle East and Europe viewed the war negatively and believed that the world was safer before the Iraq War and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
In peace news, protests and marches are being planned for March 20th. Among the organizers is A.N.S.W.E.R. who notes:
On Saturday, March 20, 2010, there will be a massive National March & Rally in D.C. A day of action and outreach in Washington, D.C., will take place on Friday, March 19, preceding the Saturday march.
There will be coinciding mass marches on March 20 in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The national actions are initiated by a large number of organizations and prominent individuals. To see a list of the initiators, click this link.
We will march together to say "No Colonial-type Wars and Occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Haiti!" We will march together to say "No War or Sanctions Against Iran!" We will march together to say "No War for Empire Anywhere!"
Instead of war, we will demand funds so that every person can have a job, free and universal health care, decent schools, and affordable housing.
March 20 is the seventh anniversary of the criminal war of aggression launched by Bush and Cheney against Iraq. One million or more Iraqis have died. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have lost their lives or been maimed, and continue to suffer a whole host of enduring problems from this terrible war.
This is the time for united action. The slogans on banners may differ, but all those who carry them should be marching shoulder to shoulder. Click here to become an endorser.
Meanwhile Military Families Speak Out issued the following last month:
As we face the 1,000th troop death, the next horrific milestone in the Afghanistan War, Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), an organization of over 4,000 military families opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls on the 111th Congress to honor the fallen and prevent further deaths by taking action to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), and their chapter Gold Star Families Speak Out (GSFSO), will be participating in nationwide vigils to commemorate the 1,000th U.S. troop death.
On March 20, 2010 MFSO and GSFSO members will travel to Washington, D.C. to call on the incoming 111th Congress to act decisively to curtail more deaths and any more horrific milestones by de-funding and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How many more lost lives will it take before our Congressional leaders will demonstrate the kind of courage our loved ones in the military show every day? When will Congress stop thinking about political posturing, show the courage to end the war, to put a stop to further unnecessary death?
Across the nation, members of Military Families Speak Out will honor the more than 1,000 troops who have lost their lives and mourn the countless Afghan children, women and men who will die daily until Congress uses its "power of the purse" to fully fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and de-fund the war.
the new york times