Thursday, July 01, 2010

Iraq, the forgotten war

With most policymakers focused on the war in Afghanistan, Delahunt is warning that the continued inability of Iraqi leaders to form of new government risks a return to civil war -- just as the bulk of American troops are scheduled to withdraw later this summer.
"Ironically, it wasn't too long ago that Afghanistan was the forgotten war," Delahunt, who is not seeking re-election this year, said in an interview. "In the Congress, Iraq is not on the front burner and yet I think it has the potential to be far more significant than Afghanistan. Iraq is the linchpin to a stable Middle East."

The above is from Bryan Bender's "Delahunt fears Iraq, at key turning point, is becoming 'forgotten war'" (Boston Globe) about US House Rep Bill Delahunt's obvious concerns. Delahunt fears that the inaction on the political front in Iraq is placing the already precarious situation in further doubt and he is calling on Nouri al-Maliki "to create a national unity government with Allawi."

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 Zahraa Alkhalisi, Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reported that the State Of Law and Iraqi National Alliance are stating they have decided on a candidate for prime minister . . . they just aren't sharing with anyone who they've selected. Previous similar statements have been made since March and they haven't panned out. This one may or may not but, at present, there's nothing further than the announcement Alkhalisi, Alexander and Ajrash reported on.

Back to Bill Delahunt, his office released the following Tuesday:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt announced today that he would oppose further funding for military operations in Afghanistan.
Delahunt, who serves as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, said the following:
I believe that the time has come for a new approach in Afghanistan. Rather than the massive military and nation-building endeavor currently underway -- that continues to produce dubious results, according to the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction -- the United States and its allies should focus our energy on combating al Qaeda and its ideology. Most importantly, emphasis should be placed on refuting al Qaeda’s twisted perversion of Islam through public diplomacy, development, and other changes in policy that encourage ordinary Muslims to reject the fanatics who are trying to hijack their religion.
Until there is such a shift in strategy, I cannot support any further funding for the war in Afghanistan.
I have not come to this decision easily. For years, I supported the effort in Afghanistan. It was one of my reasons for opposing the Iraq war. That conflict undeniably distracted from Afghanistan, as I predicted at the time. The previous Administration took its eye off the ball, prioritizing its obsession with Saddam Hussein over the pursuit of al Qaeda. The invasion of Iraq actually strengthened al Qaeda by convincing many in the Muslim world that the U.S. is – as Osama bin Laden falsely claims – at war with Islam. That further undermined our efforts to defend America and bring to justice those who actually attacked us on 9/11.
Furthermore, there is the painful reality that our economy is still in serious trouble, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come at an enormous cost to the American taxpayer – close to $1 trillion, according to some estimates. And of course, we have already lost over 1,000 Americans in the war in Afghanistan. Thousands more have been injured, many so badly that they will require care for the rest of their lives. There will never be an appropriate price tag for the suffering they and their families have had to go through. But if we are to be serious about fiscal discipline, we must reconsider the costs of this war and whether this is the best way to use our military in the defense of our nation.
I want to be clear: I am not proposing that the United States abandon the Afghan people. We have a moral obligation to help them. I am particularly concerned about the fate of women in Afghanistan, and believe that we cannot allow them to suffer as they did underneath the Taliban. But the fact of the matter is that our current policy is not succeeding in bettering their lives.
Likewise, I am not naïve about the dire threat to the United States posed by al Qaeda. Unlike Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda really are out to kill us, and simply withdrawing from Afghanistan will not appease their hatred. Osama bin Laden and his cohorts must be brought to justice – or destroyed. But we have to be smarter in how we combat them. Our highest priority must be convincing the Muslim world that al Qaeda is a cancer that Muslims themselves need to eradicate. We should redouble our efforts to that end.
As I said, I have not come to this decision lightly. I continue to support President Obama’s overall foreign policy approach, because I am convinced that he is succeeding in changing global perceptions of America in ways that will ultimately make our country safer and more prosperous. But I no longer believe that his current strategy in Afghanistan will be successful. President Obama must use the opportunity presented by the change of commanders in Afghanistan – a move that I support wholeheartedly – to adjust course. Until that happens, I will oppose further funding for the war in Afghanistan.

William Rivers Pitt (Truthout via OpEdNews) observes
, "It would be a hell of a thing if this country, its people and its "mainstream" media could focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn't it? Because we are still at war in Iraq, too. Soldiers are still dying there - 38 this year, seven this month - along with dozens of Iraqi service members and policemen. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians are killed and wounded every month, just like in Afghanistan, but we have somehow allowed ourselves to accept the farcical notion that things are settled enough over there that we can ignore what's going on." It's an interesting column but, to be clear, I don't agree with his opening paragraph (not quoted here). Since I haven't weighed in on the Rolling Stone/McCrystal issue yet, I want to make that clear. We quoted the New York Times last week on that issue and that's in line with what my take is. The plan was to make that the thrust of Friday's snapshot since I didn't have time to get to it last week.

In this morning's paper, Timothy Williams and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) report on the continued targeting in Iraq, focusing on those attacked for their paid positions: "Some 150 politicians, civil servants, tribal chiefs, police officers, Sunni clerics and members of Awakening Councils have been assassinated throughout Iraq since the election -- bloodshed apparently aimed at heightening turmoil in the power vacuum created by more than three months without a national government." And in terms of the media on this topic, it's really just been the New York Times this week (and this is Williams' second time reporting on this topic this week). TV (broadcast and cable) shows little interest and a lot of the print outlets appear to either be on vacation or filing lifestyle pieces from Iraq. (To be clear, I'm sure the date story -- date trees -- was important but I just couldn't get through it. Not because it was poorly written but because it did not strike me as one of the top 20 issues effecting Iraq this week. That's me.)

Did someone say lifestyle pieces? Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports on Iraq being turned into one big US Army Navy Store and Iraqis purchasing and Hannah Allam files "When U.S. troops leave iraq, their tailor may follow them" (McClatchy Newspapers). Again, my opinion, there's more than a place for these lifestyle pieces -- even from hard news reporters like Sly and Allam -- but generally speaking you do them when things are slow. Between the violence and the political horsetrading -- not to mention a new nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq -- there seem to be more important topics to cover to me. My opinion. And on the ambassador issue, has either outlet even bothered to report on it? Last I checked, CNN and Politico were the only domestic outlets treating the nomination seriously (the wire services -- including AP -- treated it seriously). Someone's nominated for US Ambassador to Iraq . . . and it's all hush-hush about how bad a job Chris Hill was doing. Seems like that might be a news story.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan." See the June 16th snapshot for a summary of the report and for audio coverage of the report, earlier this month Marco Werman spoke with HRW's Jessie Graham for The World (PRI, link has audio and text). Sarah Tung (Time magazine) reports on Female Genital Mutilation today and here's her opening:

For many young girls in the world, a life-changing experience might be reaching puberty or discovering a first crush. For Gola, a 17-year-old student from Iraqi Kurdistan, it was the moment her mother and sister-in-law took her to get circumcised. "They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open and cut something," Gola, whose real name has been withheld for privacy reasons, recalls in the new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "'They Took Me and Told Me Nothing': Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan."

On the political stalemate, Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports:

Maliki is popular in the street but widely resented by many other political leaders, including fellow Shiites. They accuse him of behaving like a dictator in measures that included setting up separate security services during his four years in power and launching military offensives without consultation.
Adeeb, reelected to parliament as a member of Maliki's Dawa Party and a firm supporter of Maliki, says their Shiite alliance had agreed on a mechanism that would clip the wings of a new prime minister to prevent such unilateral action.
“We reached an agreement with the national alliance … in order to restrict or bind unilateral movement by the prime minister,” he says. “The prime minister will be the representative of this entity and therefore he should restrict himself to the strategies or the political programs of the alliance.”

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oh boy it never ends