Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Biden visit


Joe Biden finished up his visit to Iraq on Monday. The visit began on Saturday. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) quotes State of Law's Ezzat al Shahbandar stating, "Even the most nationalist figures want American pressure right now. The Americans need to interfere now because the atmosphere is seething and we see no solution soon." Surprisingly, it's not an uncommon sentiment in the region. However, it's not the only sentiment or even the majority one. Kelly McEvers (NPR's All Things Considered -- link has text and audio) filed from Baghdad yesterday:

Vice President JOE BIDEN: The United States is committed we're committed to cement that relationship through economic, political and diplomatic cooperation, not just by the use of arms.

MCEVERS: Analysts here say this may be what the American people want to hear, but not necessarily what the Iraqis want to hear. On one hand, the radical Islamists, both Shiite and Sunni, want the U.S. military all the way out of Iraq. Others say American soldiers should stay, to protect people against the radicals and to ensure that whoever takes power does not become another dictator. Abdulhalek Zengela is a Kurdish member of parliament. He says Biden was his usual frank self with Iraqi leaders and that's the way the Americans should remain.

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government.

Yesterday, it will be four months since those elections concluded. And still no prime minister. Mu Xuewuan (Xinhua) quotes Baghdad University's Saba al-Shiekh stating of Biden's visit, "I believe that his visit came to press Maliki's and Allawi's blocs to come together to form the new government, and today there is more possibility that the two blocs are coming closer. If it happens, then, the Shiite National Coalition (State of Law and Iraqi National Alliance) will probably collapse, especially after the two Shiite parties have failed to reach an understanding over the candidate for the PM post as Sadr followers rejected Maliki who is the only candidate for his coalition for the post."

On Sunday, Biden met with Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki. Lu Hui (Xinhua) reported on Biden's visit with President Jalal Talabani on Monday and Hui notes that both Nouri and Allawi issued statements following their meetings -- statements which sought to make it appear they had the edge and nod from Biden. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) notes, "In a statement e-mailed from his office in Baghdad today, Talabani described Biden as 'a friend' and said they had discussed ways of 'finding a solution'." Michael Jansen (Irish Times) offers an indepth overview and notes "the post-election political process, as laid down in the constitution, has stalled. parliament, which was convened on June 14th for deputies to take the oath of office and remains in open session because it was unable to elect a speaker on that date. On July 14th, parliament is meant to name a president or three-man presidential council. But these posts cannot be filled until the shape of the new government is decided."

Alsumaria TV (which correctly notes that Biden was on a three-day visit) explains
suggestions were made during the trip: "An official speaking on condition of anonymity pointed out however to two proposals. The first stipulates to divide Premiership term between Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki and head of Al Iraqiya List Iyad Allawi, two years each. The second proposal calls to amend Prime Minister’s authorities in favor of Iraqi President which recalls the statements of US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill." Yesterday on Morning Edition (NPR, link has audio and text) stateside Mary Louise Kelly spoke with Lourdes Garcia-Navarro who is in Baghdad about the visit and the violence that accompanied it.

KELLY: Well, and what was your sense of how that message was received? Has he walked away with any tangible achievement here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senior administration officials traveling with the vice president have made it clear, Mary Louise, that there's been a real shift in U.S. policy. They say that they're not backing any candidate, that the U.S. has not hidden agenda here, that the days when it would dictate to Iraqis what they should do with their political process is over. They said the vice president was here to listen, to urge the sides to move together, and to give voice to U.S. concerns over issues like who gets to be in charge of the ministries once the government is formed. You know, they spoke about things that the U.S. was concerned about, but they were clear to say the U.S. is here, not to dictate, simply to try and move these two sides together.

Also addressing the visit and the political stalemate was The NewsHour (PBS -- link has text, video and audio options) where Judy Woodruff spoke with the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are the sticking points related to the sectarian groups, the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds, or is it more than that?

JANE ARRAF: It is related to that, in a sense. But, more than that, a lot of this, so much of it, in fact, is related to personality, the personality of the prime minister, who has been prime minister for four years and wants to hang on that post, the prime minister of Ayad Allawi, another strong leader, a strong man, as Iraqis see him. A lot of it really is about individuals. It's not so much about issues, which is what Iraqis think it should be. This is a country where it's the beginning of summer, 110, 120 degrees, six hours of electricity a day, no jobs, and people here really feel that politicians should put their own interests aside for a second and just get on with it and form a government and do something.

Lebanon's Daily Star offers the editorial "Iraq's nostalgia for Saddam:"

It's almost insulting that US Vice President Joe Biden chose the 4th of July to visit one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces in Iraq and later press Iraqi leaders to end a power struggle that has gripped the country since its general elections four months ago.
July 4, after all, celebrates those Americans who in 1776 freed themselves of their British occupiers by declaring their nation's independence. And many of Iraq's problems, including the current feud in Baghdad, are in one way or another tied to America's own illegal invasion and ensuing occupation of the country.

Friday, 2 US service members died in Iraq. One was Maryland's 19-year-old Spc Morganne McBeth, the other was Sgt Johnny W. Lumpkin who "died July 2 in Balad, Iraq from injuries he sustained in an incident the day before in Taji, Iraq." Meredith Armstrong (WRBL, link has text and video) notes that the Columbus soldier is survived by parents Jan and Wayne Lumpkin, a wife (July 4th would have been the couple's ninth wedding anniversary) and three children.

The International Herald Tribune features an important letter today:

Former President George W. Bush sent U.S. troops streaming into Afghanistan supposedly in "hot pursuit" of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It didn't take long, however, for him to recast the war as a much more general fight for the forces of good.
Then Iraq caught his eye, and he lost interest in either winning the Afghan war or ending it via diplomacy.
Unfortunately, that left the U.S. military stuck there.
Even more unfortunately, the Democrats haven't found the fortitude to fight for an end to the increasingly pointless conflict.
Already there are hints that President Barack Obama's much-touted 2011 withdrawal date may slip. If that happens we can forget about withdrawal before January 2013; after all, there'll be an election to consider.
And by 2013, who knows what other reasons will have been found by Mr. Obama, or by his successor, to stay.
If America's political leadership won't find a way to end the fighting, the children and grandchildren of today’s U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan may be serving there as well.
Eric B. Lipps, New York

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 David Bacon's "Another Immigration Policy Is Possible!" (Truthout):

Thousands of leftwing activists just spent a week at the US Social Forum in Detroit, gathered again under the banner "Another World is Possible!" Among them hundreds added a new subtext: "Another Immigration Policy is Possible!"
This theme was especially popular among grassroots organizations in immigrant communities. Today non-traditional worker centers are spreading across the US, including ones for day laborers, domestic workers, farm workers and other low-wage immigrants. Most are Spanish-speaking migrants from Mexico and Central America, but many also come from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, China and the Caribbean.
If anyone should be in favor of immigration reform, these groups should be. Yet instead of embracing the proposals made in Washington by Representative Luis Gutierrez and Senator Charles Schumer, they reject them.
The Social Forum was over by the time President Barack Obama made a speech about immigration policy a week later, but the forum's message could as easily have been given to him as well. There are no significant differences between Obama's ideas and those of Gutierrez and Schumer.
These grassroots groups don't like the proposals for new guest worker programs. They have been fighting raids, firings and increased immigration enforcement for years, and are angry that the Washington proposals all make enforcement heavier. They want the border demilitarized. And they believe any rational immigration reform must change US trade policies that displace people in other countries.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.