Monday, April 05, 2010

Election aftermath, refugees

WAM reports that the United Arab Emirates Vice President and Prime Minister, the Emir Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, met with Ayad Allawi yesterday and "reviewed issues of mutual concern and ways of enhancing brotherly bilateral ties for the best interest and stability of the two countries and the region at large." Allawi's political slate won the most seats in Parliament in last month's elections. Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law came in second, with two seats less. Since the results were announced, Nouri has refused to accept the results and declared them illegitimate as he attempts to hang onto power. He has assistance such as from Press TV which continues Tehran's assualt on Allawi by insisting he's barred from being Prime Minister by Iraq's Constitution. Back on planet earth, the Providence Journal editorial board offers the following on the elections:

In democracy, laws and the legal results of those laws may be challenged. But Mr. Maliki may also be helped by a legislative commission with the power to tip the result one way or the other. That body had disqualified some 500 candidates before the election, mostly Sunnis with links to deposed tyrant Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
That Sunnis -- with only 20 percent of the population -- voted anyway shows how much they want democracy.
Now the commission wants to disqualify even more candidates. That strikes us as potentially unfair. We hope that Mr. Maliki will heed the message sent by the entirety of his nation's voters and keep the post-election wrangling on the up and up. If he does not, Sunnis could go back on the warpath, and that could -- and indeed should -- delay the pace of the U.S. withdrawal.
Let's hope not. We assume that President Obama will also be keeping a sharp eye on how this plays out.

The Irish Times editorial board also weighs in:

Mr Allawi's background gave him an advantage in organising his campaign. A secular Shia, he appeals to Sunnis who were excluded from policy-making after the United States invasion and occupation in 2003 and were suspected of supporting the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Mr Allawi's solid record in criticising that regime gives him credibility, as does his ability to attract support from other traditions in Iraq's complex cultural mix and from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He offers a refreshing change from the sectarian and increasingly authoritarian outgoing government of Mr Maliki, with its roots in Shia Islam and close links to Iran. His criticism of the opportunist de-Baathification which disqualified many candidates gained him extra votes. Iraqis also used the open list electoral system to reject prominent pro-American candidates.

"Maliki should be believed when he says there has been widespread cheating," maintains Brian Binley (The Scotsman), "his side were involved in most of it." Citing MP Struan Stevenson's findings, Binley writes:

According to allegations sent to Stevenson by Iraqi citizens and officials, at the end of polling, election observers were ordered to leave voting stations, doors were locked and ballot boxes were stuffed with pro-Maliki votes, while pro-Allawi ballot papers were marked with a second tick to invalidate them.

Nouri, of course, was not concerned about cheating until after the results. Many people were concerned about the cheating and calling it out -- that includes Allawi's slate and the Ahrar Party. But Nouri only became concerned about possible cheating when he came in second to Allawi. N Janardhan (IPS) offers the analysis of UAE University's Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.

Radio note: Deborah Amos is the author of the just released Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. Monday, April 5th, Amos appears on The Exchange with Laura Knoy, New Hampshire Public Radio which first broadcasts at 9 a.m. EST. Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "These days, puppets pull the strings" went up last night. On the subject of Iraqi refugees, Michael Gisick (Stars and Stripes) reports that interpreters for the US in Iraq are stating they may be forced to leave the country due to the fact that the government or 'government' in Baghdad is demanding various details about "their identities" which might "endanger themselves or family members living in Iraq or elsewhere in the region." Iraqi Christians already are over-represented in the refugee population. Edward Stourton (Telegraph of London) reports on the continued exodus from Mosul:

The campaign of violence against Christians is one of the most under-reported stories of Iraq since the invasion of 2003. And it could change the country's character in a fundamental way; by the time the dust finally settles on the chaotic current chapter of Iraq's history, the Christian community may have disappeared altogether -- after 2,000 years as a significant presence. About 200,000 Iraqi Christians have already fled the country; they once made up three per cent of its population, and they now account for half of its refugees.
Erbil, in northern Iraq, has become a magnet for Christian refugees who are too poor to leave Iraq or do not want to abandon their country. It is the seat of the Kurdish Regional Government, which treats the Christians well; it is safe; and there is an established Christian community to welcome them. Many of them gravitate towards the traditionally Christian suburb of Ainkawa.

At the BBC, Stourton reports on Iraq's various religious minorities and we'll note the following:

Iraq's Mandaeans face an even more uncertain future. Mandaeans believe that John the Baptist was the last great prophet.
Running water is central to all their rituals, and they go for weekly river baptisms in the way Christians go to church.
In Baghdad, I met the second most senior Mandaean priest, Sheik Alaa.
He looked exactly as if he had stepped out of a film about the life of Christ. Around his neck, where a Christian bishop would carry a pectoral cross, he wore a heavy, beautifully-worked silver image of a baptismal shawl draped over crossed staves.
Sheikh Alaa explained to me that the Mandaeans are pacifists, and that by tradition many of them work as silversmiths and goldsmiths.
Being a non-violent jeweller in a society where violent crime and robbery are commonplace is a rotten combination.
The Mandaeans regard themselves as Christianity's close cousins and, like Iraq's Christians, they have been targeted by Muslim extremists who erupted onto the Iraqi scene in the chaos following the invasion.

In other news, British, Irish and Iraqi citizen Margaret Hassan was murdered in Iraq (2004) where she worked as the director of CARE International. Only one conviction has taken place in her kidnapping and murder. BBC News reports that Ali Lutfi Jassar was supposed to face the start of a retrial today; however, that has been postponed to April 18th. Belfast Telegraph adds:

The aid worker's sister, Deirdre Manchanda, said: "We want Ali Lutfi Jassar to stay in prison because we are convinced he was definitely part of the kidnap gang because he knew too much to have got it from the internet or any other source.
"The other reason we want him to stay in prison is he's claimed many, many times in these transcripts to know where Margaret's remains are.
"We want to find our sister's remains because we want to bring her home to be buried and we want justice for her.
"It's not just justice for Margaret. It's justice for everybody. It's justice for the people of Iraq and it's justice for the British people because she was British. Apart from anything else, a terrorist murderer should not be on the streets of Baghdad."

Meanwhile Benjamin Joffe-Walt (The Media Line) reports on post-war realities for Iraqi women:

"In general women were living much better off under Saddam," Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights advocate with the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq told The Media Line. "The Iraq that I grew up in was a very modern Iraq and we had basic human rights."
"It was more fashionable at the time to give more rights to women and even Saddam followed the more progressive tendency in the region," she said. "So the Personal Status Law of the time, passed [in 1959] even before Saddam, established a minimum age for marriage, made it very difficult for a man to take a second wife and one almost never saw clerics ruling on civil matters."
"But then the U.S. occupation created a political vacuum and allowed what they call the 'cultural groups' to have their way in Iraq," Mohammed continued. "These religious groups were able to gain access to the constitution and allow people to turn to Sharia instead of civil law. So there is no longer any strong civil law to protect us and there are now big parts of Iraq which are being ruled under Sharia, in which women have very little rights."
"The Americans just let the rule of the jungle go ahead - whoever is the strongest will rule - and the Islamists are the strongest," she said. "So now we are living in a new Islamist Iraq, with Islamic courts all over Baghdad and women totally vulnerable to religious law: a man can marry four wives, a girl that is twelve years old, it's almost impossible for women to get divorced. None of this was the case in Saddam's time."
Dr Haitham Numan, Director of the Baghdad-based Asharq Research Center, argued that the situation for women has significantly worsened since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
"We cannot say that education for women or the general situation for women is better today," Dr Numan told The Media Line. "On the contrary it is worse."

Yesterday Baghdad was slammed with bombings including the three targeting embassies resulting in at least 41 deaths and over 200 people wounded. Andrew England (Financial Times) covers it today and the article features an AP photo of some of the aftermath. Adam Schreck (Daily Record) also reports on the bombings today (and article features a photo of a bloodied survivor):

TV news footage showed civilians loading casualties into police vehicles and ambulances as bloodied survivors tried to flee.
Shopkeeper Hassan Karim, 32, ran outside after his store windows were blown out by the blasts. He said: "I saw children screaming while their mothers held their hands or clutched them to their chest.
"Cars were crashing into each other in streets, trying to find a way to flee."

We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "Democratic Forces Face Tough Time in Egypt's Coming Election" (Veterans Today):

Although Egypt’s heir apparent Gamal Mubarak says next year’s election “is going to be free and fair,” his father Hosni’s regime has tightened the election laws to block other contenders to his presidency, an American magazine says.
Mubarak senior has also used the odious Emergency Law to jail five of the 16 leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the past year and is imprisoning secular critics as well. People are afraid to speak out, much less run for office. Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Joshua Hammer of The New Yorker magazine that “Hundreds of bloggers are being summoned, kept for days, or weeks, or months, and then released.” One blogger, Mosaad Abu Fajr, who ripped the government’s human-rights abuses against Bedouins, has been imprisoned since 2007 and Kareem Amer, who mockingly referred to boss Hosni as a deity, is serving a four-year term for his joke.
Enacted in 1981, the Emergency Law “has been used to jail thousands of people without charges,” Hammer writes, and bans public gatherings of more than five people without prior official permission. This makes it nearly impossible for opponents of the dictatorship to fill the streets with protesters in a show of support. And just so his political opponents get the message, Mubarak’s regime jailed Ayman Nour, a lawyer who finished second in the farcical 2005 presidential election. Nour, whose “fraud” conviction bars him from running again, was freed last year ahead of schedule perhaps because of U.S. pressure (Washington gives the Egyptian dictatorship $2 billion a year).
Even as the U.S. says makes a show of calling for fair elections in Egypt, its CIA has rendered suspects there without due process of law for interrogation and likely torture by electro-shock. Egypt is one of 28 countries that detain U.S. suspects from its bogus “War on Terror.”

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