Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Iraq Inquiry and other jokes

If you wanted to know what really went on in the run-up to the Iraq war, Matthew Rycroft would be the person to ask. He was Tony Blair’s private secretary for foreign affairs from 2002-4 and saw just about everything that happened at first hand. No doubt that is why the Iraq inquiry has just seen him in secret.
The inquiry has just published an update on what it has been doing since public hearings ended in July. It visited Iraq, as promised, and has published the names of some of the people it spoke to, but not what they said. It has also revealed that it saw two witnesses in what it insists on calling “private hearings”. Of the two, Rycroft is undoubtedly the more significant.
What is intriguing about Rycroft’s secret session is that we are not told why. The inquiry coyly points to its protocol on witness evidence, which states that most witnesses will be seen in public but sets out reasons for secret hearings. These include the usual issues of “national security” and “vital national interests” but also “to protect any [junior official] who may wish to give evidence that runs counter to others”.
This is the Iraq inquiry in a nutshell. Are they trying to sit on sensitive information to protect the British state from embarrassment? Or trying to make it easier for people to blow the whistle? We won’t know until the report is published — early next year — and even then we won’t know what, if anything, we are not being told.

The above is from Chris Ames' "Key Blair Aide's Iraq Evidence Behind Closed Doors" (Index on Censorship). The Inquiry has turned itself into a joke. Moving on to other non-humorous punch lines, the political stalemate in Iraq. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports, "Former Iraqi premier Ayad Allawi stepped up efforts to lure deputies from Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki’s alliance, in a bid to form the largest group of seats in parliament and secure the right to form the new government, as a political impasse nears its eighth month."

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 seven months and seven days and counting.

Yesterday Nouri went to Syria and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Alsumaria TV quotes al-Assad stating, "Our attitude about the formation of the government is clear: the solution must be Iraqi. [. . .] Iraqis own that decision." Asked at the State Dept yesterday about the meet-up, spokesperson Philip J. Crowley stated, "Well, on the formation of the Iraqi Government, these are fundamental decisions that Iraq itself must make. And they should make these decisions without outside interference. That said, there is an important role for other countries in the region, including the United States, to encourage Iraq and its political leaders to put aside political interests and work more intensively to form an inclusive government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and recognizing that all of the major blocs that achieved significant support during the election six months ago deserve to play a role in Iraq's future. But that said, we are certainly supportive of the dialogue that has occurred today between Syria and Iraq. They must have -- they should have constructive relations so that each can play an appropriate role to help reintegrate Iraq into the region." On another meeting, Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) reports:

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, who heads the country's mainly Sunni Iraqiya bloc, held talks on Sunday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received the head of the Shia Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Ammar Al-Hakim, in Ankara.
Both leaders were reportedly discussing with the two Sunni-dominated countries efforts to form a new government as Baghdad marked seven months of political stalemate after the 7 March disputed elections.
The Saudi official news agency said Abdullah and Allawi, accompanied by top leaders from the Iraqiya List, "reviewed the current situation in Iraq" at their Riyadh meeting.

In other news of Iraq and its neighbors, Today's Zaman reports, "Turkish Parliament on Tuesday approved a government motion seeking an extension of a mandate from Parliament to conduct military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq." Hurriyet adds, "The secret session was closed to the press, and details will remain private for 10 years according to Parliament regulations. With 447 deputies in attendance, the decision was passed with 14 objections and one abstention."

A few general comments. Those e-mailing last night and this morning about only seeing one entry (the Iraq snapshot), that's a Blogger/Blogspot issue. That's nothing I did. If you go to any of the community sites currently, you'll see that all are displaying only one entry or post. This happened once before and Blogger/Blogspot fixed it within 24 hours. I have no idea on this and it's beyond anything I can do on my end. (If you scroll down, on the right side you have the option of going to any entry this week -- scroll way down -- or selecting another week. The other morning entry that just posted is currently displaying with the snapshot below it.) In terms of the permalinks, I don't update those. Again, Blogger/Blogspot. Wally and Cedric are the only ones currently showing to have written last night. That's not me doing anything on my end. When everyone posted new content last night, it should have shown up on the permalinks.

Lastly, David Swanson's "Perriello-Hurt Debate Pathetic" reports (War Is A Crime) on a debate and this is the opening:

The only debate thus far between the Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress from Virginia's Fifth District was held Wednesday evening. It excluded a third candidate who is on the ballot and was finished in 27 minutes minus the time devoted to advertisements. Somehow, I'm not overwhelmed with the health of our democracy. Have we really got this democracy thing down well enough to be bombing other nations in the name of spreading it -- something that both Robert Hurt (Republican challenger) and Tom Perriello (Democratic incumbent) support?
The wars went unquestioned and unmentioned in the debate. The moderator began with a truly useful and substantive line of questioning, using a graphic to display, with only slight inaccuracy, where our federal dollars go, including how much goes to the military. But when Hurt said he would balance the budget without cutting the military, and when he claimed to prioritize job creation (something that military spending is even worse at than tax cuts) he wasn’t pressed on it. And when Perriello claimed that he would consider cutting the military, he wasn’t asked how or when. He wasn’t challenged on his record of having backed every military and war bill yet placed in front of him. He wasn’t asked what steps he’d taken (he has taken none) to cut anything at all in the military.

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