Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, August 18, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, judges remain targeted, the political stalemate continues, the refugee crisis continues, tomorrow is World Humanitarian Day, and more.
CNN reports that James Jeffrey "presented his diplomatic credentials" today in Baghdad.  He is the new US Ambassador to Iraq.  (Most recently, he was the US Ambassador to Turkey.)  Arthur MacMillan (AFP) quotes him stating, "It is a great honour for me to return to Iraq. I look forward to renewing old frienships, strengthening our ties with Iraqi leaders and deepening our civilian egnagement for the long term throughout this historic land." Return?  MacMillan notes that June 2004 through June 2005 saw Jeffrey serve "as deputy chief of mission and then charge d'affaires" in Iraq.  It's also notes he was "deputay national security adviser" under Bully Boy Bush.  NSA.  Pay attention to that term if you want to know where US involvement in Iraq is headed.
Jeffrey is the new Ambassador to Iraq.  The old US Ambassador to Iraq sat back and did nothing as Iraq entered into a poltical stalemate.  Atul Aneja (Hindu) observes, "Analysts point out that the significant spurt in Iraq violence in recent months can in large measure be attributed to the political vacuum after the March parliamentary elections."

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 11 days.
Last night, Flavia Krause-Jackson and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reported on the old ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, and his ludicrous farewell conference. As they note, he pinned his hopes on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stepping in to end the political stalemate. Here's Hill talking about al-Sistani:

It's really hard to say. I mean, we know that he's following this issue on a daily basis. He obviously has a lot of wisdom about the political process. He knows it very well. He knows the players very well. All the players have gone and seen him. They're in constant communication with him. So I suspect that any role he can play, he's playing. And I suspect that he is playing it in the best way he can to ensure that there's a positive outcome here. He believes -- and everybody agrees there, just about everybody agrees -- that when the government is finally formed, you will see Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds in that government together. You will see a government that's very much balanced. When you look at the offers made to Iraqiya, they have been offered -- Iraqiya, as a party that -- where most of the Sunnis voted, you will see substantial offers of important positions there. So I think everyone understands the need to bring all, as they say in Iraq, components -- that is Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia -- together. And I think Sistani has made very clear his view on that and how he is conveying that view is probably best less to him -- left to him.
Not addressed in the press briefing was the rumors that the US government (via Jeffrey Feltman) has threatened the Iraqi officials with the declaration of a State of Emergency is the stalemate is not ended -- maybe that's an example of the "advise-and-assist role" Hill was blabbering away about.
"And that's why we monitor very closely this issue of Sons of Iraq and making sure that payments are being received and issues like that," Hill maintained in the press conference and no one challenged him on that -- even though the checks aren't coming and that's one of the reasons al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is allegedly trying to recruit from Sahwa.
Today Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports on the Freedom City in Najaf, which the Mahdi Army vows they will fill up as they attack US forces should US forces not leave on December 31, 2011. That's the date in the Status Of Forces Agreement. Hill was asked about the treaty yesterday and replied:
Now, that overall Status of Forces Agreement extends till December 31st, 2011. That is the basis on which we have any forces in Iraq, and I think any future forces, any speculation about that, would have to depend on a new agreement, and there is no agreement right now. So the agreement that people are focusing on is the agreement that ends in 2011. So I'm not going to stand here and speculate what will happen in a year and a half from now, except that there needs to be a new Iraqi Government, they need to look at the implementation of the current agreement, and they need to look at what they see as necessary in the future after the expiration of the agreement.
The Status of Forces Agreement was dealt with on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer yesterday as they addressed that day's violence. George Stephanopoulos filled in for Diane as anchor. For their Baghdad section, he was joined by Martha Raddatz.
George Stephanopoulos: Baghdad was rocked by two deadly bomb attacks today, exactly two weeks before the last US combat troops leave Iraq. It's the kind of carnage we saw constantly when the war was raging. A suicide bomber killed dozens of people at an Iraqi army recruiting station and later a fuel truck bomb killed at least 8. So let's bring in our Martha Raddatz for more on that and clearly, Martha, some are trying to take advantage of this turnover that's coming in just a couple of weeks.
Martha Raddatz: It sure seems that way, George. This was really a horrific bombing. There were Iraqi recruits trying to join the Iraqi army. Thousands of them lined up, they had been there all night, desperate for jobs. Someone walked in, apparently wearing a suicide vest, mingled among all these recruits and blew himself up. The vest was packed with nails. They say as many as 60 were killed, about a hundred injured. And there was also that fuel truck bombing that you mentioned where eight were killed so very, very reminiscent of the early days of the war, George.
George Stephanopoulos: Despite these bombings, no second thoughts by the Americans or the Iraqis.
Martha Raddatz: Well absolutely no second thoughts yet. Of course, American troops are supposed to be out of Iraq completely in 2011, the end of 2011. Only the Iraqis can change that and, I have to tell you, George, most of the people I talk to believe the Iraqis eventually will decide to change that and have many American troops remaining in country.
Similar statements about the SOFA were made yesterday by Hill and Monday in the joint-news conference the State Dept's Michael Corbin and DoD's Kahl Colin held and Kahl replied to a question asking about US forces remaining in Iraq after 2011,  "The second question you asked about the post-2011 situation, I mean, it's a hypothetical so I can't comment on it because we don't have an Iraqi Government yet. The terms of the security agreement are clear, though, right? The terms of the security agreement, where were negotiated by the last administration and the Iraqi Government are that remaining U.S. forces will depart by the end of 2011. Any revision to that would have to be initiated by an Iraqi Government. We don't have a new Iraqi Government yet, and so it's -- and so if we have a new Iraqi Government and they come to us with a specific set of requests -- I don't think we can answer that question." And pair it with Corbin's assertion that "we're not leaving"  in the following exchange:
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that, please? In your discussions with Turkey about the drawdown, are you talking about the possible Turkish military presence in the north of Iraq to ease the concerns of (inaudible) about the PKK?            

MR. CORBIN: Colin, I don't know if you have anything to say. We -- our drawdown is based on our -- President Obama's plan for our presence in Iraq and we are, of course, consulting with all our regional neighbors and explaining that, but we don't -- and we do, as -- we consider the PKK a terrorist organization and we do work closely with the Iraqi Government and the Turks together and the representatives of the KRG on means to combat PKK terrorism. But we --                   
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. What about after you leave? I mean, do you think Peshmerga is --

MR. CORBIN: Well, the first thing is we're not leaving and this type of civilian cooperation, which is led by, for example, in this trilateral process that we have, it's led by civilians. It's the ministry of interior from the Turkish side, it's the Embassy with support from USFI on our side, it's the Kurdish minister of interior equivalent, and it's the – it was the Iraqi minister of state for national security affairs who was running this. So this type of cooperation has got to continue and it's important.           
Violence? At least 12 reported deaths and 31 reported injured.  The targets today were primarily police officers, Sahwa and Iraqi soldiers.  Yesterday, attempts were made to kill 8 judges and 2 were successful attempts.  Today, another 2 judges are reported assassinated.  
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded two people, two more Baghdad roadside bombings left ten people wounded, a Baghdad mortar attack injured two people, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier (two other people were injured), a Ramadi roadside bombing which wounded three people (including one police officer) and a Kasma Kilo car bombing which left three police officers and four by-standers injured. Reuters notes a Tikrit roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left two people wounded.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad assassination of 1 "government employee," the Baghdad assassination of Judge Jabir Jumaa and the Baghdad assassination of Judge Najim al Talabani (which follows yesterday's targeting of 8 judges, three of which were killed), a Baghdad Sahwa checkpoint was attacked leaving 1 Sahwa dead and two more wounded,  1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul, 2 police officers shot dead in Kirkuk and, dropping back to Monday, 1 man shot dead in Mosul "and his young son" left wounded.

Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Mosul
Yesterday CNN and the network's Alexander Mooney reported on the latest CNN - Opinion Research Corp poll which found "69 percent oppose the war in Iraq -- the highest amount of opposition in any CNN poll." And while respondents support a withdrawal they do so with eyes open to the possible issues arising when a withdrawal takes place: "Six in 10 say they are not confident in the Iraqi government's ability to handle the situation in that country." That's bad news for War Hawks.  Opposing withdrawal, War Hawks always want to whine, "Think what will happen!"  Americans, juding by the poll, are aware of the possibilities.  They're also probably aware that the alternative is permanent occupation which they don't favor. Sentiment against the illegal war hardened sometime ago.  And the poll indicates that attempts by War Hawks to insist the illegal war continue for 'humanitarian reasons' (so Samantha Power) will not work as a scare tactic.  Iraq will rise or fall on its own when US forces leave -- whenever that is.  The Iraqi people will determine their future and that may include determining that the exile class installed by the US government does not represent them or their country's best interests. 
The violence already exists in war-torn Iraq and has never vanished.  It's created the Iraqi refugee crisis, the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948.  Tomorrow is World Humanitarian Day.  The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) explains:
 Thursday marks an important occasion for the staff of UNHCR and all humanitarian workers. It is the day that militants detonated a massive truck bomb in Baghdad in 2003, killing 22 people including 18 UN staff members and injuring dozens more. Last year, the UN and other humanitarian organizations began honouring the anniversary as 'World Humanitarian Day' in order to recognize the contribution made by humanitarian workers worldwide.

Here at UNHCR, we spoke to a handful of our staff about their experience on the job. One story that we are publishing today, which is available here, reports on the unique challenges of working in Iraq and the broader Middle East. In another, which can be read here, Vincent Cochetel, who was kidnapped and held for nearly a year in Chechnya while serving as head of UNHCR's north Caucasus office, discusses the ordeal and the lessons it holds for his colleagues in the field.

To learn more about World Humanitarian day, go here.

Wafa Amr, Helene Caux, Farah Dakhlallah, Nabil Othman and Sireen Khalifeh look at the Iraqi refugee crisis on behalf of the UNHCR: Depending on the organization estimating, there are between 3.9 million refugees and 4.5 million.  Iraq's population (non-refugee) is largely young (only 59% are estimated to be over the age of 15).
For UNHCR Iraqi staff member Wafa, just going to work and returning home at the end of the day is a life-threatening experience. Elias Shalhoub, a psychologist and protection officer in Lebanon, says the challenge for him lies in discussing the needs of refugees and not knowing whether he can help. Martha Kow-Donkor, a field officer for UNHCR in Yemen braves tribal checkpoints and mine fields to help deliver aid to internally displaced people there. Her main worry is failing to reach people in time.            
All three are struggling to balance the hardships, dangers and frustrations of their work with the UN Refugee Agency with the goal of helping some of the world's neediest people.
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) observes of the refugee crisis, "This enduring tragedy shows few signs of easing even as US troops prepare to leave Iraq next year. After the British-American invasion of 2003, Iraq sank into the bloody chaos of insurgency and sectarian violence. Entire neighbourhoods of the country's cities, particularly Baghdad, were cleared of either their Sunni or Shia inhabitants.Jonny Abo and Abdul Jalil Mustafa (DPA) note al-Mortagi Abdel-Moneim al-Kaabi, an Iraqi who became a refugee following being shot multiple times and who says, "I still suffer from a lot of diseases but thank God I'm alive, although I feel like I am psychologically bleeding because I cannot forget the painful memories."  Now he and his wife (who has breast cancer and is receiving treatments for which charitable assistance -- from the UN -- only pays 40% of the cost ) live in Syria.  Syria and Jordan have the bulk of Iraq's refugee population.   Fiyaz Mughal (Daily Star) explains, "The Syrian government estimates that there are 1 million refugees in the country, the overwhelming majority coming from Iraq. In Jordan, estimates for Iraqi refugees range from 600,000 to 700,000 and the influx has led to a steep rise in real estate and food prices in urban areas. As a result, many Jordanians harbor increasing resentment toward refugees."  Lebanon and Egypt also have a large amount.  The western world has not done a very good job on the issue -- despite a lot of public pronouncements.  Andrew Ward (Finanical Times of London) reports Sweden cares little for Iraqi refugees as evidenced by the tape interview of Iraqi Riyad with Swiss immigration officials.  Riyad explains his brother was, beheaded, that, "They murdered my brother and would have done the same to me."  To which the immigration official replies, "Yes, I know that. But it doesn't count that they might do the same thing to you; you have to prove there is an actual threat."  Riyad's brother can prove it -- but of course that required his dying.  Apparently, when Sweden deports Riyad, if he's killed in Iraq, they'll say, "Well, you proved it.  You're dead, but we'll give you citizenship after-the-fact.  Congratulations." A very small number make it to the US.  (Detroit, the San Diego area and Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas in Texas have been among the areas many Iraqi refugees have settled in.)  Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) reports on Iraqi refugee Elham who lives with Ayd (her husband) in Maryland where she now works "as a doctor's assistant."  In Iraq, Elham was a doctor, a gynecolist.  She states, "Before we arrived, we were told that as doctors we would be welcomed with open arms. But when we got here, everyone told us we were over-qualified and that we should not mention our degrees, so that I could get a job as a housekeeper. [. . .]  I was respected in Iraq as a doctor and now I come here and I am nothing. It's very difficult for me to accept this idea."
Among the hardest hit communities -- probably the second hardest hit when you break it down into percentages (the Jewish community in Iraq has vanished, they would be the worst hit) -- in the country is the Mandaeans which now counts, Stephen Starr (Asia Times) notes, 70,000 external refugees and only 5,000 still in Iraq.  Starr offers this background:
Mandaeans are followers of John the Baptist and moved from the Holy Land to the expanses of today's southern Iraq and southwest Iran around the second century AD. Their religious origins are thought to have been drawn independently of Christianity and may even be older. They are monotheists - thought to be the oldest in the Middle East - believing in a single god.                  

Mandaeans are also Gnostics, believing in mysticism and a heightened role of the natural world. Very little has been recorded of the Mandaean religion and traditions and in principle people cannot convert to, or leave, the religion. They speak their own language and have quietly been struggling to keep their customs alive for almost 2,000 years.
Mission Network News released the following on Monday:

Iraq (MNN) -- "Get up! Grab your things. We need to go!" Imagine these words said in panic, as you and your family are given less than 24 hours to gather your belongings and leave your home in Iraq.                                 

Open Doors USA says for thousands of Iraqi Christians, this scenario has become a real life nightmare, as extremist Muslims force them to either leave their homes or pay with their lives.                     

Often, believers only have time to grab a few essentials and leave with the clothes on their back. Among these items is usually a Bible, as they cling to it and its message of hope.

To help these refugees, Open Doors is aiding in the set up medical projects, as well as distributing emergency packs, which include basic necessities.                    

However, their response is dependent on faithful supporters lending their gifts and prayers.

Pray that God will grant courage to these fleeing families. Pray that they will not back down from their faith, even in the midst of persecution.                       

Also, you can give financial support to Open Doors USA's relief efforts by clicking here.

Steve Inskeep: And let's just emphasize here, is this turning into almost a permanent refugee population, a permanent population of Iraqis who will be outside their country the same way that there are Palestinians who have been outside of the Palestinian territories for decades now?       
Deborah Amos: It begins to look that way.  Not that there was ever a flood of returnees, there wasn't, but 2010 has been less than 2009. And people are making this calculation, that as long as there's a government crisis as the Americans drawdown, why would you go back now?  It is not easy to be a refugee.  It's likely that your kids are out of school. It is likely that your diet is a mess, that you're probably eating mostly, you know, sugared tea and bread, for at least two of those meals.  The international community's largesse -- while never large, is less. People want this crisis to be over.            
Steve Inskeep: And I suppose if you had another round of sectarian warfare, you'd have to be prepared for that possiblity of another million people coming across the border at some point.             
Deborah Amos: You know, 18 months ago that was the nightmare scenario.  As Americans drewdown, there would be a return to the full out sectarian war.  It doesn't look like that's going to happen.  However, it is this randomness of the violence and, more important, it is the inability of this government to find some power sharing agreement between Sunnis and Shi'ites.  As you know, the majority of the refugees outside are Sunnis and Christians. They are watching a government that cannot come to terms with a Sunni-backed political coalition that won the most seats in Parliament, and yet has not been able to use that power to come into the prime ministership. Every country in the region is now meddling in Iraq because of the weakness of the state. And so, it is very difficult for them to consider returning. Better to wait, better to wait and see what happens.                
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