Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, September 22, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues, Anthony Shadid provides strong observations and insights on the stalled process, some note the fallen, an Iraq War veteran dies in Iraq, and more.
SUSANNAH GEORGE: Iraq's parliament has held just one official session since the national elections in March. It lasted less than 20 minutes. That was just enough time to play the Iraqi national anthem and complete the swearing in. About 20 Iraqi legislators met yesterday in an informal session. The lawmakers pledged to make decisions, not speeches. But the only decision they made was to continue to meet this week. Still, Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi who was at the meeting, expressed hope that it could yield results.
ADEL ABDUL MAHDI: It will put the pressure on the members of the House of Representatives individually and the blocs. I think we accomplished a good step forward.
GEORGE: But not all the Members of Parliament share the vice president's optimism. They point out that while the violence continues, there is still no government.
MAHMOUD OTHMAN: It is still in square one.
The ongoing political stalemate. March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "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 six months and fifteen days with no government formed.
Terry Gross: There's still no government that's formed in Iraq.  So do you think the insurgents are exploiting that vacuum.
Anthony Shadid: I think that's absolutely their-their intention. How successful they are is another question.  But that is their intention.  You know, it's hard to overstate how anxious the moment in Iraq is right now. I think what you're seeing emerge is a -- is a divorce between the people and this political class -- a political class that was in some ways imposed on the country by the United States in those early days of the occupation. There's a -- almost universal disenchatment with these politicians.  And what-what's struck me the past couple of months is that when you talk to people it's not criticism of the prime minister or his main rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, for instance.  It's criticism of that entire political class.  Now what does that lead to? It's hard to say. It may not lead to anything. But I think it does show this kind of -- The people themselves are calling into question the political system that's been set up.  And I think that does -- If it doesn't question the legitimacy of the system, it maybe raises some concerns about the viability of that system over the long term.
Terry Gross: So you're talking about disenchantment with a system that the US helped set up and with candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid:  That's right and I think that's going to be one of the legacies of this American occupation, is empowering politicians that have not succeeded in building support among the population.
Terry Gross: Is that because you think it would be hard for anyone to build support right now in Iraq? Or is it a reflection of the candidates that the US helped empower?
Anthony Shadid:  I think it's a little of both.  But, I mean, you do see a, I think the only grassroots movement you see in Iraq right now is Moqtada al-Sadr -- Shi'ite cleric whose followers fought the Americans several times in 2004 and afterwards. He does have a grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots movement. It's probably the only grassroots  --
Terry Gross: He's the guy who hates us --
Anthony Shadid: That's right
Terry Gross: -- and is always attacking the US.
Anthony Shadid: That's right. And he is -- And I think it says something about Iraq today that he is the one grassroots movement that plays a role in politics.  I'm not talking about the Kurdish areas, I'm talking about the Arab areas of the country.  The Sadrists, they are one of the largest Shi'ite blocs in Parliament today.  They're going to have a say in the country's future. The politicians on the other hand, the ones that were in some ways empowered by the Americans early on?  You know, I think it's a mix of having been gone from the country for so long. I think they often look at Iraq through kind of sepia tinted glasses.  I mean, they see an older Iraq that just doesn't exist anymore in the rough and tumble streets of Baghdad today.  They also have not either made the effort or been able to make the effort to build any kind of constituency.  They're often in the Green Zone, heavily guarded.  They have electricity which most people don't. They have water which most people -- they have but it's not very clean. They're living a life that is very divorced from the everyday reality of most Iraqis.
Terry Gross: There hasn't been a group that's been able to build a coalition so there really isn't -- there isn't a prime minister yet.  There isn't leadership yet.  So, help me out here, who was it that said if this political void, this inability to form a government continues for another six months, there's a risk of a military takeover?
Anthony Shadid:  I think that was [US] vice president [Joe] Biden --
Terry Gross: That's what I thought.
Anthony Shadid: -- that made that point.
I don't think it was.  Great interview with Shadid -- and there's much more to the interview -- but I don't believe Joe Biden said that publicly.  As always, I could be wrong (I often am).
Ned Parker, Raheem Salman and Saad Fakrildeen (Los Angeles Times) quoted former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker last month stating, "If the civilians continue to flail over the next three-four years, the chances of a military coup are likely to go up.  That could bring with it something like the 1958 revolution." The British Ambassador to Iraq, John Jenkins, floated the idea of a military coup before the Iraq Inquiry on January 8th of this year.  But September 1st, Joe told Margaret Warner (PBS' The NewsHour -- link has text, audio and video):
MARGARET WARNER: Here's another thing we hear from Iraqis. They blame this upsurge in violence on the politicians' failure, six months after they all went to the polls to vote, the politicians' failure to form a government. Do you think there is a connection?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Look, if I were an Iraqi, that's what I would think as well.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think it?
JOSEPH BIDEN: The truth of the matter is, they're taking too long to form this government. But the second piece of this is, the Iraqis went and voted. But guess what? No clear -- not only no clear majority, barely a plurality. So, in a parliamentary system, this is not unexpected. But I am confident that they are now -- all have run the course of what other options they have, and it's getting down to the point where, in the -- in the next couple months, there's going to be a government.
The only thing I have said in the name of the president, and as it relates to this government, the government has to reflect the outcome of the election, which is another way of saying, all the four major entities that did relatively well have to be included in the government. That's a difficult thing to put together.
Doesn't sound like Joe's worried.  Anthony Shadid will go on to state that the remark was made to a colleague of his at the paper.  That would be Michael R. Gordon.  A transcript of an interview Gordon conducted with Biden September 1st was posted online by the paper the night of September 9th.  Here's the section, Biden is speaking:
But what happened is, the difference is that there is actually a military that is able to function and provide security, notwithstanding the government hasn't been formed yet. And so that is the reason why Odierno and these guys have the confidence even though the government is not formed. Now if, in fact, you could come up with a scenario where if six months from now it is still not formed, then everything begins, then the worry I have in that circumstance is not so much that you know Al Qaeda Iraq will be emboldened and reconstituted. My worry will be that generals in the military will start saying: "Wait a minute, which way is this going to go? Which way is this going to go?" I worry then that it goes from right now everybody saying, "Salute Iraq" to "Whoa, let's figure this out." And what is now a unified command, what is now an integrated military, including some of the pesh merga, including some of the Sons of Iraq. That's when I would begin to worry because then everybody might start to say: "What's my calculus here? It looks like they are not going to pull this together."
Is Joe speaking of a military coup?  That's not how I read it.  He's noting the pesh merga, for example -- Kurdish forces -- who were being integrated (and the spin was 'successfully integrated') into the Iraqi military at that time.  He's noting Sahwa whose issues and compliants Joe Biden was very aware of at the time of the interview.  He appears to be saying that if a government isn't formed in six months, the cohesion supposedly taking place in the Iraqi forces would fall apart.  Would that mean coup?
It might.  But what Joe likely meant was that the Iraqi forces could fall apart and violence could therefore increase.  The gains of 'unified command' would fall apart.  Is a military coup possible?  I think it's a possibility if the stalemate continues but I don't believe Joe Biden has raised that issue publicly.  I could be wrong.
Alsumaria TV reports today that Iraqiya is officially denying rumors that they have decided to forgot their first-rights to form a government (rights they won by coming in first in the March elections). Yesterday, Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reports the State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance are giving "themselves five days to pick a single candidate for prime minister, and one politician said the incumbent". Today Alsumaria TV reports that members will only be able to pick from two candidates: either Nouri or Adel Abdul Mehdi (currently the Shi'ite Vice President of Iraq). Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) offers, "A five-day deadline for Iraq's Shi'ite-led political blocs to choose a candidate for prime minister may not be enough and there is no guarantee incumbent Nuri al-Maliki will win a second term, Iraqi politicians said." Meanwhile Sawsan Abu-Husain (Ashar Alawsat Newspaper) interviews Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari about the stalemate:
Q) Has the Arab League intervened to help remedy the stumbling of efforts to form an Iraqi government?
A) There is no intervention, but contacts and consultations are held through the league mission to support the political process.
Q) It was recently reported that Syria would host a meeting between the Iraqi political blocs to help the formation of a government, with the assistance of the Arab League. It was meant to keep the plan secret, but the dialogue suddenly stumbled. How true is this?
A) The idea was in fact put forward, but it was mostly reported by the media and no adequate preparations were made for it. The reason is that the plan required the agreement of all the parties and this did not happen because, an Iraqi government should be formed in Baghdad in our view, not abroad. I mean not in Iran or Washington. This is an Iraqi decision and an Iraqi issue. Thus, the idea was broached by the media, failed to produce anything, and came to an end.
Q) What was the aim of this idea on which the media focused?
A) One of the points was that the political leaders have failed to form a government, and that it was interesting to look for a place for dialogue and an equitable and fair side [to help]. Certain Iraqi sides have put forward this alternative, but it did not materialize.
Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation's Sabah Jawad offers (at, "We can now see what has been created in Iraq, because as a result of it, six months after the elections that took place last March, Iraqi parties participating in the political process are still unable even to agree on a Prime Minister. For the past six months they've been fighting and threatening each-other. We've seen a new parliament elected in March where the 335 members of parliament, the most highly paid MPs in the entire world, have only had one meeting lasting 20 minutes in the past 6 months, and this was actually only to declare that they are going to leave this session open indefinitely until the political parties and blocks reach an agreement on who is going to be Prime Minister!"
The New York Times' Anthony Shadid feels that Iraq has a circular pattern and not a linear narrative.  He explained that to Terry Gross (Fresh Air) today and noted, "What you hear in 2010 is what you often heard in 2003.  There is no electricity, the water's filthy, there's sewage in the street. That we're not sure what the intnetions of the American and we're not sure of what Iraqi officials can do to better our lives.  Those things were said in 2003, and they're still said today.  So the lives of the Iraqis, is miserable too strong of a word?  I'm not sure. It is incredibly difficult. And the city itself is a buried, deteriorating capitol." 
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three police officers, a Baghdad mortar attack injured two people,  a Mosul roadside bombing injured one person, a Mosul roadside bombing injured one child, 1 person shot dead in Mosul, and a Jurf al-Sakhar assault on a Sahwa checkpoint resulted in 1 Sahwaand, dropping back to Tuesday night,  a Madhatiyah home explosion claimed 3 lives and left fifty injured. DPA reports a Hilla roadside bombing has claimed 1 life and left at least fifty-six people injured.
Meanwhile BBC News reports that Iraq War veteran Karl Bowen died in Iraq September 14th while the former UK soldier was "working as a bodyguard in Iraq".  The Daily Echo adds, "The father-of-two was killed in the crash alongside an Iraqi interpreter. An American colleague was critically injured."  Kelly Miles (WalesOnline) informs, "Tributes have flooded in describing Mr Bowen as a great father, a 'legend', and an outstanding friend and football player who was the life and soul of the party and lived life to the extreme. A father of two young girls, Elise, 11, and eight-year-old Lois, Mr Bowen had returned to Iraq just days before the car he was driving suffered a double blow out."  Mother Clare Bowen tells the BBC:
She said he returned to Iraq after a spell in civilian jobs, because he wanted to return to work with former army colleagues.           
"I think he always wanted to get back to the boys - because the boys were his family," she said.                    
"He loved the boys he worked with -- the camaraderie."           
Yes, the Iraq War continues.  Stephen Farrell (New York Times) reports knick knacks sporting "Operation New Dawn" flood the Green Zone. Jennifer Bushaw (Atlantic Special) offers this take:
Even after the recent drawdown of US combat forces from Iraq and plans for a full withdrawal in the next year, many Middle Easterners don't believe that American influence in Iraq will end. Steven Lee Myers of the The New York Times supports this theory by pointing out that in spite of the withdrawal, US Special Operations have not changed in size or role. Middle Easterners still see American interests pervading in Iraqi economic, political and security concerns as efforts to continue to control the country.
Whether this is true or not, certain issues lend themselves to the United States maintaining a presence in Iraq. But the last thing it wants to do is look like oil jockeying cowboys of yesteryear.
At Liberal Dog, Charley echoes Myers, "One should not presume that 'withdrawal' which we commonly understand to mean complete withdrawal will occur. Don't be surprised if the agreement is explicitly altered or re-interpreted to have a different meaning, one that will allow a substantial number of troops to remain there after 2011. The remaining force would continue to have an assist/support function to back up Iraqi security forces who have not been able to this point to provide an adequate level of security, and it may be a number of years before they can operate on their own. And in an e-mail Charley writes, "While our invasion of and continued stay in Iraq is one of my major grievances about our foreign policy, nevertheless it does amus me when I hear 'Iraq' and 'sovereignty' in the same sentence. The most recent linkage of the two words was made by acting Prime Minister Nuri al-Mlaiki on August 31. I'm sure international lawyers would find that okay with their legalistic framework, but to we non-lawyers, it is offensive because it is unsupported by crucial facts.  For nearly seven months the country has gone without a government based on the March elections, they are unable to preserve their own security without the continued use of our troops and, while they have a budget surpus, we must continue to fund much of wht thaty do.  So where is the sovereignty?" For further elaboration on this, the url is"
In other Iraq news, Lion Paintings For Sale noted yesterday that Tuesday marked exactly two years that US Army Spc Ahmed Kousay al-Taie had been missing in Iraq."
US Air Force Senior Airman Jimmy Hansen died serving in Iraq last week. Battle Creek Enquirer notes that the 25-year-old's funeral is scheduled for ten o'clock Saturday morning at St. Philip Catholic Church. From the obituary posted at Shaw Funeral Home:

He was born May 24, 1985, the son of Richard and Emily Hansen, Sr. in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.                 

James graduated from Athens High School in 2003, attended Kellogg Community College and Central Michigan University. He continued his education while in the Air Force through CMU's College of Extended Learning and was working toward his Bachelor's degree. He began his service in the U. S. Air Force in May 2008 and was Senior Airman specializing in air field management. He was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida and deployed to Iraq in 2010.             

James is survived by his parents, Richard and Emily Hansen, Sr. of Athens; brother, Richard A. Hansen, Jr. (Tara Roth) of Midland; his fiancée, Megan Bottomlee of Battle Creek; his grandmother, Dee Dee Aiello of Union City. He was preceded in death by his paternal grandparents, Arthur and Gloria Hansen; maternal grandfather, James Aiello; aunt, Angella Aiello and uncle, John Mastroianni.                    

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's office issued the following statement today:
LANSING - Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today ordered United States flags throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters lowered for one day Friday, September 24, 2010, in honor of Senior Airman James A. (Jimmy) Hansen of Athens, Michigan, who died September 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, while supporting Operation New Dawn.  Flags should be returned to full-staff Saturday, September 25.           
Senior Airman Hansen, age 25, died from injuries suffered during a controlled detonation.  He was assigned to the 46th Operations Support Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Airman Hansen's family has requested that flags be lowered Friday, September 24; visitation is Friday from 4-8 p.m. at the Athens High School gymnasium.  The funeral service is scheduled for Saturday, September 25, at St. Philip Catholic Church in Battle Creek, with burial at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Michigan.           
Under Section 7 of Chapter 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code, 4 USC 7, Governor Granholm, in December 2003, issued a proclamation requiring United States flags lowered to half-staff throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters to honor Michigan servicemen and servicewomen killed in the line of duty.  Procedures for flag lowering were detailed by Governor Granholm in Executive Order 2006-10 and included in federal law under the Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks Federal Flag Code Amendment Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-41).                         
When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the United States flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position.  The flag should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.
When a member of the armed services from Michigan is killed in action, the governor will issue a press release with information about the individual(s) and the day that has been designated for flags to be lowered in his or her honor.  The information will also be posted on Governor Granholm's Website at in the section titled "Spotlight."

While I do like Jennifer, that's not why her statement is being noted.  Generally, we noted governor's announcements in the morning entries and leave it at that.  But a number of service members have died recently and, you may have noticed, we don't have governor's statements.  And, if you're wondering, I've also checked their US Senators.  Nothing. I find that really sad.  I especially find it sad if you're a senator and if, for example, you make statements that some may see as grandstanding during the hearings but you never even note the passing of the fallen from your state.  Let's also be clear that the group of people I'm talking about? They're also not attending funerals of the fallen.  Governor Jennifer Granholm has noted every fallen service member in Michigan.  It's a real shame that other governors can't even make the time.
Turning to music,  Heart's Red Velvet Car is the group's latest studio album, their latest hit album.  Kat reviewed the album by the band led by vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson.   And if you need a reason for good music to be noted in the snapshot, check out Kat's review of Ann's 2007 solo album Hope & Glory which found Ann singing out about the things that matter when many of her peers seemed unaware of the world around them.  The Wilson sisters are interviewed by Mike Ragogna (Huffington Post) and an album producer friend asked me to work in a plug for Ragogna's interview.  If you haven't heard Red Velvet Car, you're cheating yourself out of some of this most enjoyable music of the year. (Disclosure, I know Ann, Nancy and Cameron Crowe.) Excerpt from the interview:
MR: It's great to hear that we're talking with "Eco-friendly Heart."   
NW: Well, we're sisters, and we're women, and we've had our ear to the ground, listening to Mother Earth for a long time as songwriters, and what Mother Earth is going through right now is pretty drastic, and we're feeling it too. We need the playground of Mother Earth and the bosom of Mother Earth to still be around for our kids, and the kids of our kids, as beautifully as she was there for is. So, we must be the custodians, harder than ever.          
MR: That's really beautifully said.           
NW: That's our mother! There's a lot of disrespect to our mother going on.         
MR: There really is. So, let's talk about another one of the songs on this album, which comes to mind?        
AW: I'd say "WTF," you know?            
MR: Okay, "WTF" it is. 
AW: The song is probably the son of "Barracuda," not on purpose necessarily, but this song came out of a blast of feeling that happened from looking in the mirror after making a series of repetitive, stupid mistakes.  
MR: Like everyone, I guess. 
AW: Like everyone, and expecting a different result, but not getting it, and finally just looking and saying, "What...!!" There is a lot of anger in the song, and frustration, but also a very clear message of hope to it because you're talking to yourself.